Recently Oldways had the opportunity to speak at the Whole Grain Summit in Minneapolis, where our president ,Sara Baer-Sinnott, had the pleasure of sitting with author, chef, and restaurateur Brenda Langton at lunch.
When Sara returned from the conference she could not wait to tell us all about Brenda, her long history in the Twin Cities, and her new book, The Spoonriver Cookbook. We have all been gazing at page after page of her delectable recipes, inspired from her 40 plus years in the kitchen. We then thought, what better way for us to recognize all her work than to conduct a Q&A and introduce Brenda to all of you? (That is if you aren’t already familiar with her!)
OLDWAYS: For those who may not be familiar with you or your restaurant, can you tell us about the inspiration behind your cooking?
BRENDA: I have been cooking for almost 40 years and have owned my own restaurant for more than 30. My food is about what makes you feel good. It nourishes the body and is built on healthy, fresh, natural foods.
I spend a lot of time on sourcing to ensure we always start with the best ingredients and buy local and organic whenever possible. My menu is ﬁlled with dishes that incorporate whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, such as our selection of croquettes, but we also have dishes that feature fresh seafood, local farm-raised chicken, and grass-fed beef.
OLDWAYS: In addition to running your restaurant, you teach courses on healthy eating. If you could impart a single piece of advice in terms of healthy eating that could make the biggest diﬀerence in one’s health, what would that be?
BRENDA: I think that whole grains are wonderful – they ﬁll us up, slow digestion, and are loaded with good nutrients and great for overall health. In the classes I teach, I always talk about how to easily incorporate more whole grains in your diet.
OLDWAYS: Your philosophy of “animal protein not needing to dominate to satisfy” and plant-based eating is right in line with our traditional diet pyramids and, what we here at Oldways believe and educate others about on a daily basis. For those looking to adopt a more plant-based diet, what simple ﬁrst steps do you recommend?
BRENDA: I am all about plant-based eating. For years I have been a semi–vegetarian, but I also enjoy eating some animal protein. I think that the word “vegetarian” scares oﬀ some people, so talking about it in the context of “plant-based eating” is a way to soften things.
We serve many dishes at the restaurant such as a lentil loaf that meat eaters are surprised to ﬁnd very ﬁlling and satisfying. Too many Americans eat too much meat, so even starting with smaller animal protein portions is a move in the right direction. I think that starting with whole grains can really help someone trying to make the transition as well as looking at ways to augment the animal- based protein with wonderful protein-packed legumes and hearty vegetables.
OLDWAYS: Being as busy as you are, are you still the one who cooks dinner at home? What’s an example of something you will make on a busy night when there isn’t much time to cook?
BRENDA: I do cook a lot at home, but it is very simple. I truly believe that cooking at home makes your home a home. The key is to not make it stressful, have a plan, and keep it easy for weeknights when we know we are busy. The quintessential staple in my cupboard, my diet, and my dining room table is whole grains. I cook up extra so I am able to build multiple meals around a particular grain.
OLDWAYS: We know you must have some great tricks of the trade that made you think, “Oh my gosh, how did I ever live without knowing this?!” Can you share one or two of your favorite tips with our readers?
BRENDA: Two of my favorites are, caramelizing onions and using them as a roux. I caramelize them, puree, and add to sauces for a wonderful sweetness. And I must say I am a coconut milk enthusiast! I use it in place of regular milk, or cream, and use it in a variety of preparations from baking to soups and smoothies.
OLDWAYS: We would kick ourselves if we missed this opportunity. Can you give us permission to include one of your Spoonriver recipes in this blog post and on our website?
Brenda: Absolutely, I would be glad to share my Quinoa Corn Soup recipe. I think it a nice recipe that takes advantage of all the fresh corn we enjoy this time of year and we get some whole grains in too!
Quinoa Corn Soup
This soup can be made with fresh or frozen sweet corn. When sweet corn is in season, use two large ears.
8 cups water or vegetable stock
½ cup quinoa, rinsed well
2 ears fresh sweet corn or 1 (10-ounce) bag frozen sweet corn
1 medium onion, ﬁnely diced
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or marjoram or ½ teaspoon dried
Cilantro or ancho chili powder, for garnish
Combine the water, quinoa, and corn in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. (if using fresh corn, cut the kernels oﬀ the cobs)
Add the onions, carrots, celery, salt, parsley, and oregano and continue cooking for another 8 to 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro or, for a smoky hot touch, add a pinch of ancho chili powder.