If you love cooking or even just cooking shows, you probably know the convivial Samin Nosrat, star of the popular Netflix show Salt Fat Acid Heat and author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook of the same name. Nosrat appears at the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music this Wednesday.
Nosrat started cooking for herself as an adult after she took a job busing tables at Chez Panisse, the flagship restaurant of locavore trailblazer Alice Waters, while studying English at U.C. Berkeley. Fast-forward almost 20 years, and Nosrat divides her time between cooking, teaching, and writing (besides cookbooks, she’s a columnist for New York Times Magazine). And she’s frequently on the road for speaking engagements.
Nosrat talked with us about how she balances it all — and how she keeps making meals for herself in the process.
This is an edited and condensed transcript.
With the many roles you juggle, it’s an understatement to say that you’re busy. How do you save time in the kitchen?
As we move into fall, I make chicken stock once a month and freeze it. When I have stock on hand, I feel mere moments away from a satisfying meal.
I adore my rice cooker, which can be set for a certain time and keep rice warm for days, and my toaster oven, which I use to roast veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. It preheats in just two minutes.
I used to be such a snob about canned vs. dry, but canned black beans and chickpeas have saved me so many times, and cutting the meat out of dinner is also a big time-saver. I’ll focus on a vegetable or two, with a starch and maybe an egg.
“Salt Fat Acid Heat” is all about finding joy in cooking. What advice would you give to those who are so busy that cooking feels like added stress?
The biggest hurdle isn’t always the time but the motivation hump you need to get over to make something. Sometimes I need to remind myself how good it feels and smells to cook. If I don’t know what I want to make, I’ll turn on the oven and stove, start sautéing an onion, and get a pot of water boiling. By the time that’s all underway, I’ve gotten out of my head enough to let the smell guide the way. I’ll add some greens or whatever’s calling me rather than overthinking. A stocked freezer and pantry keep me from being stressed.
What ingredients do you always keep on hand?
In the fridge, I have a shelf of condiments, like mango chutney, rooted in flavors from all over the world, along with butter, Parmesan, eggs, and usually a vegetable and a green. I make a lot of kimchi fried rice with eggs and whatever vegetables and are around, so I always have kimchi, and usually medium-firm tofu. I say this as a person who did not grow up eating tofu, but I’ve been converted.
My pantry has essentials that can be turned into a meal quickly — multiple kinds of rice, farro, pastas of all shapes, dried and canned beans, and canned tomatoes.
In the freezer, I have the stock, peas, broccoli, broccoli rabe, and spinach. You can turn any frozen vegetables into a pasta dish.
What are some of your go-to weeknight meals?
With the chicken stock, I’ll throw in grated garlic and ginger, poach an egg into it, and add chopped spinach to create this gingery green soup. I love using the stock to cook grains, too. It makes them so much heartier.
At least once a week, I do jasmine rice with tofu. I cook broccoli or broccoli rabe, and then drizzle the tofu with Bragg Liquid Aminos — an unfermented version of soy sauce — and fry it in coconut oil. The oil gets so hot that the outside of the tofu gets this lacy, golden-crisp exterior and the inside turns into this molten custard. It’s just so good. I always burn my tongue because I can’t wait for it to cool. You can make the whole thing in the time it takes to cook the rice.
How about an easy snack?
I’ll smear a hard-cooked egg with butter and shichimi togarashi. It’s this combination of Japanese chilies and white and black sesame seeds — so pretty and crunchy.
What other ingredients do you use to pack in flavor?
Hot sauce can really fix anything. It’s a source of salt and acid. There are also these Chinese-style chili oils with onions, garlic, and peppers that are fried for a super-long time until the little pieces turn into chips; somehow the chips never get soggy. [Lao Gan Ma’s] Spicy Chili Crisp is a classic one.
Parmesan cheese and the rind can make a huge difference. It has all the tastes — sweet, salty, umami, tangy. I use it in anything with a European origin. On my grave, it’ll say “Parmesan on everything.”
Spices are powerful — just don’t wait years before you reinvest because they lose their aroma. Mixes like garam masala can quickly turn a pot of lentils into something delicious.
What time-saving recipes might fans anticipate in your next book, “What to Cook”?
I imagine the book as a choose-your-own adventure that’ll train you to make better decisions. Real people have real constraints — whether that’s time, available counter space, or a child that’s going to lose their mind if you don’t get dinner on the table. Those things are rarely addressed by a recipe. My goal is to teach people how to take stock of what ingredients they have, the time they have, and who they’re serving ... When I see people post after work that they’re making my braised beef, I’m like, “Don’t contact me at 2 in the morning when you’re eating it.”
Do you have any plans for when you’re in Philly?
My one dream, and I’m not sure if I’ll have time, is to visit South Philly Barbacoa.
If you go: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., $25-$55, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org