Transitioning to the Primal Blueprint way of eating should be simple. There’s no need to invent the wheel at every meal. That said, it does likely mean shifting some of your routine in the kitchen. If you’re used to processed food, enjoy getting your hands a little messier. If you’re used to take-out, capitalize on the chance to use your creative skills. (Don’t worry, you’ve got an abundance of recipes and cookbooks right at your fingertips.) That said, all Primal cooks—beginners to old-timers—can make life easier with a few select tactics.
Cook Large Pieces of Protein
We could also call this “Learn to Love Leftovers.” If you’re turning on your oven and cooking something, you might as well make a lot of it. Instead of cooking a pork chop or a chicken breast, cook a pork roast or a whole chicken. Large pieces of protein (e.g. roasts, chickens, salmon filets, etc.) can provide several different meals over the course of a week. Check out this past kitchen tips post for a short primer on how to cook any large cut of meat.
Be Fearless with the Produce
Salads are great. Keep eating them. But don’t use the convenience of pre-washed salad greens as an excuse for neglecting the likes of Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, collards, and other dark, leafy greens. These greens provide a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and they’re easy to cook. They don’t deserve to get passed up in the produce aisle—or to die a slow death in the bottom of the vegetable crisper.
Here’s what you do: First, swish the leaves in cold water or rinse under running water. Shake the excess water off, but don’t worry about drying the leaves; the moisture will help them cook faster. If the stems are thick and woody, tear the leaves off the stems into bite-sized pieces. The leaves can also be cut into thin ribbons, making the greens less chewy and easier to eat. Add raw greens to soups and stews in the last 10 minutes before serving.
For greens as a side dish, heat a drizzle of oil (or bacon fat) in a skillet, add garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Add greens a handful at a time, letting each batch wilt slightly before adding more. Sauté only about 4 minutes. For softer greens, sauté 4 minutes, then add a ½ cup of stock and saute 5 minutes more. There you go.
Roast, Don’t Steam
Yes, steaming is an easy and healthy way to cook vegetables, but roasting will get you more flavor every time. Buy two rimmed baking sheets—the rims keeps things from dripping or rolling off the sides but are low enough to let air circulate, which means the outside of whatever you are roasting will brown nicely. Cover the baking sheets with parchment paper, which makes clean-up nearly effortless.
Cut veggies the same size so they cook evenly, coat lightly with oil, salt and pepper. Spread the veggies out evenly. This is no time to crowd the pan. Roast at 400º F for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice (cooking time might be longer or shorter depending on the vegetable). Look for lightly browned and crispy on the outside and insides that are easily pierced with a fork. Cook large batches, and eat the roasted veggies all week as a side dish or on salads. You can even puree them for a soup if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
Cut Down on Cooking Times
Want to magically cook great tasting food in a half or a third of the time that it usually takes to cook? (Is there really anyone who would say no to this?) Buy a pressure cooker. A popular, user-friendly brand is Instant Pot, which can quickly make stews, bone broth, curries, short ribs and much, much more. These days, Primal and paleo pressure cooker recipes are easy to find, so you’ll have no shortage of recipes to try.
Meet Two Pots That Make Your Kitchen Life Easier
A cast iron skillet and a Dutch oven are worthy investments. Both will last forever—people pass these things on as heirlooms. Use either to sear meat on the stovetop, then go directly into the oven. A cast iron skillet can be used for any type of vegetable or protein, even a whole chicken. A Dutch oven is a go-to for stoups, stews, braises and roasts.
Never Over-Cook Your Meat
You don’t need a degree in culinary arts to cook a perfect steak. You just need an instant-read meat thermometer. This simple tool helps both beginner and expert cooks know exactly when meat is done. Buy one and use it regularly.
Expand Your Idea of Breakfast
Many a person has been undone by a breakfast rut. Smoothies, eggs, and bacon are great, but you don’t need to eat them every morning. Any and all leftovers in the refrigerator are fair game for breakfast. Sip a mug of hot soup or broth, grab a cold chicken drumstick on your way out the door, eat leftover salmon with a dash of hot sauce, or have a bowl of fresh berries and nuts.
Add Umami in Three Easy Ways
Think of the condiments fish sauce, soy sauce, and coconut aminos as secret ingredients that amp up flavor. Keep a bottle of each in your fridge, and add a drizzle of one or more to soups, stews, chili, and tomato sauce. When you sauté or stir-fry vegetables, add a dash in the last few minutes. Add a tablespoon to marinades for bigger, bolder flavor.
Use One Simple Trick for Tastier, Healthier and More Appealing Food
Let’s be honest: visual appeal matters. And so does the perception of freshness. Herbs are perfect for this. It’s hard to think of a meal that won’t improve with a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Chefs don’t just sprinkle fresh herbs on dishes because the green color offers a visual “pop.” Herbs also make everything taste fresher and bolder (and they have some fascinating health benefits to boot). Use kitchen shears to snip herbs over almost everything you serve. Parsley is the most versatile herb and keeps well in the refrigerator. Thyme, mint, cilantro and basil are good all around choices, too.
Note Three Ingredients No Cook Should Do Without
There are many types of healthy fats you can, and should, cook with. But here are my go-to basics. Avocado oil is my hands-down favorite for cooking itself because of the high smoke point (and I happen to think it tastes great in salads, too). Two others I always keep on hand are high quality butter and olive oil.
Yes, “good” butter and olive oil are more expensive, but they can be used sparingly after a dish is finished. If your meal tastes a little blah, simply top it with a small pat of really good salted butter or a drizzle of great olive oil. It can make all the difference.
That’s it for today, folks. How’s your transition coming along? What are the kitchen tips you use the most and would offer to beginning Primal types? Thanks for reading.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.