Food & Cooking

New Year’s culinary resolutions for the kitchen | Food & Cooking

The ads start in November sometimes. They inundate us after Christmas. They are a constant reminder that many people want to make changes to how and what they eat. They are the diet advertisements.

A change in your diet can be just the right thing you need for 2022. Maybe it’s cutting calories, zeroing out carbs, or adding more fruits and veggies into your daily routine. There is no shortage of options or pitches being made to you right now.

But not all food goals for the New Year have to revolve around revolutionary changes to what you eat.

Whether or not you decide to make healthier changes at the start of the New Year, I have some culinary resolutions you should consider that can either run parallel with what you plan to put on your plate or be independent of it altogether. They are goals that are fun and will keep you from going back to the same old food routines. Done right, they can actually make dining more interesting and perhaps even healthier.

First, aspire to learn an entirely new kind of cuisine in 2022. We have more variety of world cuisines in certain parts of Montana than when I was growing up, but delving into a new, tasty regional cuisine could be something that spices up your diet. In 2021, I made it a goal to explore the diverse and delectable dishes of India, with some mind-blowing and satisfying results.

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But you may have your own food pockets of the world you’d like to explore — Vietnamese, Peruvian, North African, or maybe taking a hard look at the food traditions of your ancestors. Buy one cookbook from a respected food expert in your area of choice and follow some good food mentors online. Become a student of the cuisine.

Second, endeavor to make more of your food from scratch. Many decades ago, there were advancements in food that allowed for more pre-prepared meals that capitalize on our need for convenience. I definitely have days where those ready-made items are a necessary part of keeping life on track, but we can overdo it.

When you look at some of the ingredients in your favorite instant meals, there could be a bit of shock when you look at salt levels, preservatives, or the presence of sugar when you otherwise wouldn’t expect it. The benefit of scratch cooking, even if it’s part of the time, is understanding 100% of what’s in your food. Also, you’ll find that with enough effort, what you are able to make will be far tastier than some of the meals that come ready-to-go.

Third, let local ingredients and products be your guide. We grow and make some amazing things here in Big Sky Country, which often leaves our borders or even gets shipped out of the country. Take chickpeas and lentils, for example. I didn’t grow up eating them, even though they are grown in many parts of Montana only to be shipped to Asia. They are great sources of protein that are popular all around the world, and it’s time we made them widely popular right here.

Local farmers’ markets during the growing season can also be inspiration for what ends up on your plate. The popularity and size of farmers’ markets has grown immensely in just the last 20 years. When they are in season, spend some time there and let the ingredients drive your decisions on what to make.

Finally, as you go down the path of new adventures in the kitchen, make sure that practice and repetition are a significant part of your culinary goals. A few years ago, I decided to have scratch-made pasta as one of my resolutions. Doing it once a week gave me opportunities to learn from failures, make adjustments, develop a reliable process, and gain a feel for how to do it predictably and efficiently.

Over this next year, I will have several columns that circle back to these culinary resolutions, such as how to make your own hummus from Montana chickpeas, great Indian dishes that use local ingredients, some scratch-made meals you can make and freeze for those nights when you need something quick, and some basic lessons on homemade pasta.

I hope you will continue to follow my kitchen adventures, and spend the next week figuring out what yours should be for 2022.

Jon Bennion is a native Montanan, born and raised in Billings. Outside of his day job as an attorney, you can find Jon experimenting in the kitchen and developing recipes that often feature a Montana ingredient or story. Jon posts on Instagram as Intermediate Chef (@intermediatechef) and lives in Clancy.