The effects of COVID-19 have turned the world on its head. Traffic isn’t a thing anymore. Shopping centers look post-apocalyptic. And somehow we’re paying through the nose for double-ply. If there’s a silver lining anywhere, it’s the cosmos forcing us to spend valuable time with our families as we play games, get to know each other better and, most importantly, cook together. But not knowing when life will return to normal has many people shopping for comfort food filled with sugar, salt and an excess of fat.
Chef Oren Zroya works as a private chef in Malibu, CA, having cooked for the likes of Owen Wilson, Gerard Butler and former President Bill Clinton, among others. He is also the co-creator of the Radical Pan, a new skillet with an innovative, safe non-stick design that allows for healthier cooking with less required butter and oil. For Chef Oren, the path to healthier cooking begins with good equipment and ends with good ingredients — it’s that simple.
So we decided to talk to Oren to get some tips for healthy quarantine cooking.
“Part of the problem is cheap ‘non-stick’ cookware. Most won’t last more than a few months if you cook a lot, and most people are cooking every day right now. When it starts to wear down, they end up using more olive oil or butter so the food won’t stick which adds unnecessary fats and kills the taste of your food. If you’re already paying money for the best ingredients, you should also be using the best cookware.”
But one of the main issues, he says, is that this is often overlooked for convenience’s sake. While finding the best deal may be second nature for online consumers, quality has to play a prominent role when choosing your cooking materials. He sees evidence of this on social media in home cooking videos with burnt or stuck-to-the-bottom bits of food.
The second key to healthy at-home cooking — the types of food being cooked. And this is especially true for beginners.
“All over Instagram, I see people posting pics of their home-cooked meals. Sometimes I see things that have lots of sugar or fats. I think if you want a piece of chocolate cake, sure have a piece, enjoy it. But finding the middle is key. Now more than ever, people need to be eating nutrient-dense meals instead of ultra-processed foods. A good non-stick pan, like the Radical Pan, and the right ingredients could be the difference between a few extra pounds and your pants still fitting when you go back to work,” Chef Oren said.
8” Radical Pan: Nonstick Frying & Saute Pan, Skillet, With Stainless Steel Handle, for Gas, Induction, Electric Cooktops, Hard-Anodized, Dishwasher Safe. Oven safe, SGS & NSF Certified. PFOA-free
To combat the thousands of unhealthy #foodporn posts he sees on social media, Chef Oren has taken to creating easy recipe videos and partnering with celebs like Shannen Doherty to livestream healthy cooking demos (from separate kitchens) that teach viewers how to create easy quarantine recipes with items found in the back of most cupboards.
“There was a point back in February where everybody was going crazy at the markets buying out of fear. Some people didn’t have a chance to get the food they needed. That’s why I want to show people how to use the stuff they already have or that’s easy to get to cook good food. Things like kidney or garbanzo beans, quinoa or lentils are things most people bought and forgot they had. Even if it’s in a can, you can still turn it into something delicious,” Chef Oren said.
Other items, he said, specifically in the produce section, you can easily find at most grocery stores. Foods like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and broccoli are high in nutritional value and are the foods that people should be reaching for in a time when having a strong immune system outweighs satisfying your sweet tooth. For meat eaters, these might not sound very exciting. But for Chef Oren, creativity goes a long way.
“One of my go-to dishes is Vegan Quinoa Cakes. You can make them as simple or as fancy as you want and the base is just a few ingredients stores will always have or that you might have at home already. They’re perfect as an appetizer or as a main dish with a side of roasted cauliflower or homemade hummus. Even my one-year-old loves them!”
If you’re vegan, you’re going to love these. If you’re not, you’re still going to love these. Here’s how to make Chef Oren’s Vegan Quinoa Cakes:
What You Need:
For the Cakes:
- 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
- 2 tbsp. ground flax
- 6 tbsp. water
- 4 cups raw spinach (once cooked, you should have about 1 cup)
- 1/2 cups Baked sweet potato (you can eyeball this)
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chili flakes (optional)
For the Garnish:
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Handful of sprouts, I like pea sprouts
- 1 radish, sliced for garnish
- The Radical Pan (or another non-stick pan)
- Baking Sheet
- Large Mixing Bowl (or food processor)
- Wooden Spoon
Bake sweet potato until you can put a knife through it easily. Cook quinoa according to the package. Place spinach into boiling, salted water for 1 minute and then strain. Allow it to cool and squeeze out all excess water.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. The mixture should be slightly wet but should hold its shape.
Pro Tip: If the mixture seems to be too wet, add some type of flour or breadcrumbs, 1 tsp. at a time, to help absorb the excess liquid.
Form 12 equal size balls. With damp hands, flatten them down gently into cakes.
Heat up your Radical Pan. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil and cook the cakes on each side until lightly golden brown. BE GENTLE!
Allow the cakes to cool down. Serve on a plate and garnish with sliced avocado, sprouts, sliced radishes, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Yields 12 vegan quinoa cakes.