Grab a cooking partner and get in the kitchen, suggest award-winning actress Abbie Cornish (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing,” “Missouri,” Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” and the upcoming “The Virtuoso” with Anthony Hopkins) and chef and yoga instructor Jacqueline King Schiller.
A few years ago, the close friends—who met 14 years ago—began a Sunday routine of shopping at farmers markets near their Los Angeles homes and then cooking and dining together. The outgrowth of this ritual? Their new cookbook: “Pescan: A Feel Good Cookbook” (Abrams, 2019), featuring plant-based fare with seafood and eggs (but no dairy or meat).
In the book, the authors emphasize how cooking with “feel good” ingredients leads to health and happiness. One of those ingredients? Friends. “Researchers at the University of Oxford found in a study that the more people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel satisfied and happy in their lives,” the authors explain in the book. “They also found that people who eat socially are more likely to feel better about themselves and have wider emotional support networks, a key contributor to psychological health.”
On the food front, the duo define “feel good” ingredients as “any ingredient that contributes to your well-being (pretty much anything that grows out of the ground that you don’t mess with too much),” Schiller explains. From dark leafy greens to cacao nibs, such foods can help improve your mood, energy, sleep, eyes, skin and figure, Cornish adds.
When asked to select two of her favorite ingredients, Schiller chose chia seeds “because they have so much nutrition in such a tiny package.” She also picked leafy greens, explaining that “you can’t go wrong with adding them to whatever you are eating. … Greens are very energizing, plus super filling and low-calorie.”
Meanwhile, Cornish highlighted turmeric. She combines the powdered version of the anti-inflammatory root with almond milk and honey, simmers the fresh version with water (and sometimes also ginger and lemon) or whisks the powder with water. Cornish also vouched for the health benefits of cacao, explaining how it’s rich in magnesium and antioxidants, plus versatile in both sweet and savory recipes.
In the book, the authors introduce a few less commonly used ingredients, including umeboshi plum vinegar, spirulina, rose water and coconut aminos. Nutritious and flavor-packed, they up the taste and health factor of many recipes.
Just get cooking
As someone who did not know how to cook until a few years ago, Cornish understands the intimidation factor for newbies. “I think there is some fear around being in the kitchen and making mistakes, especially when feeding other people,” she says. “The only way to eliminate that fear is through experience.”
For that reason, the authors encourage readers to begin with the basics: buying healthy, fresh ingredients at the grocery store and then preparing them in simple, delicious ways. Those foundations become the building blocks of more complicated recipes, Cornish and Schiller explain. “You get into the flow, and cooking becomes an enriching, healthy part of your daily life,” Cornish says. “Get into a routine, however it works for you,” Schiller adds. “That’s why I’m a big advocate of having a TV in the kitchen.”
Learn your cooking ABCs
Master the basics of healthy cooking and you will develop the confidence to prepare almost anything. In “Pescan,” Schiller and Cornish teach key principles, including the following:
- Keep produce vibrant, paying heed to acid. Acid (such as lemon juice) highlights the brightness of white and purple vegetables (purple cabbage, red onions, red beets, white asparagus, button mushrooms) and helps prevent avocadoes, apples, pears and bananas from browning. However, it dulls the color of green vegetables (such as broccoli and leafy greens). Avoid overcooking the latter because doing so will also mute their color.
- Make beans a part of your routine. The night before, rinse and then soak dried beans. The next day, simmer them with kombu (dried kelp) and spices, adding any acid at the end.
- Prepare a couple of types of whole grains each Sunday. Rinse and soak most varieties overnight. The next day, simmer in a salted liquid. Schiller and Cornish prefer cooking grains with vegetable stock to add flavor and then tossing the finished grains with fresh herbs, such as parsley and chives.
- When making vegetables, cut them into equal-size pieces so everything cooks evenly. If roasting, use a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cook in one layer, trying not to crowd the baking sheet or pan.
- Satisfy palates by reaching for umami-rich ingredients. Umami (the savory fifth taste) can be found in soy sauce, tomato paste, mushrooms, seaweed, balsamic vinegar, miso, tomatoes and more.
- DIY plant milks. In most cases, soak overnight, rinse and puree with fresh water. The authors opt for a 3:1 ratio of filtered water to soaked raw nuts, seeds or oats (drained and rinsed).
Choose nourishing rituals
Cornish and Schiller rely on healing foods and drinks when feeling blah or under the weather. “If you wake up and are depleted and drink a big green juice, you can almost feel yourself perking up,” Schiller says. After tiring workout sessions, she reaches for tofu and beans.
In addition to turmeric tea for everyday wellness, Cornish opts for smoothies with vegan protein—especially after workouts. When Cornish feels she is getting sick, she turns to vitamin C, juices and soups. “Liquids are very soothing. Plus, [they] will keep you hydrated and are easy to digest if you are not feeling great,” Schiller says.
All that said, the duo’s Sunday shopping-and-cooking routine is their top ritual. “When you are cooking, you have to be really present,” Schiller explains. “All your senses are being used. Any activity that is creative and helps you be more present will be relaxing and therapeutic.”
Inspired yet? Find a cooking buddy and get started. Cheers to food and friendship!
Two recipes from “Pescan: A Feel Good Cookbook”
RECIPE CREDIT: By Abbie Cornish and Jacqueline King Schiller
People who say they don’t like tofu probably haven’t had it prepared the right way. If you’d only eaten plain boiled (or worse, uncooked!) pasta, you would think it was pretty boring, too. Well, like pasta, tofu needs to be dressed up. This scramble is sure to convert any skeptic. It’s bursting with umami-rich ingredients and fragrant spices that transform the tofu into a gorgeously piquant dish.
- 2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
- 1 onion, diced
- ½ cup (30 g) sliced cremini mushrooms
- Pinch kosher sea salt
- 1 (16-ounce/455-g) package super-firm tofu, crumbled (see Notes)
- 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
- ½ teaspoon black salt (optional; see Notes)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- ½ cup (120 ml) vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- ½ cup (70 g) grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup (20 g) lightly packed baby spinach
- Handful (about ¼ cup/13 g) fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus additional for garnish
- 1 avocado, thinly sliced
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and salt and sauté. Until the onion begins to brown, about 2 minutes more.
Add the tofu to the pan and stir to coat it in the oil. Sprinkle the tofu with the nutritional yeast, black salt, if using, the black pepper, turmeric, curry powder, and red pepper flakes. Pour in the vegetable broth and tamari and stir to distribute the spices evenly. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes, until most of the moisture has been absorbed, then fold in the tomatoes, spinach, and cilantro. Cook until the spinach is just wilted and the tomatoes are warmed through, about 1 minute more.
Serve the scramble with the avocado slices and a sprinkle of the fresh herb of your choice.
CHEF’S NOTES: Look for vacuum-packed super-firm tofu, which is sometimes called high-protein tofu. If this is not available, you can substitute water-packed extra-firm tofu. Just be sure to drain the tofu well, wrap it in a dish towel, and gently squeeze to remove excess moisture before crumbling it. Tempeh also works nicely here.
Black salt, or kala namak, is an Indian volcanic rock salt with a distinctive sulfur smell. It can add a desirable eggy note to egg-free dishes such as this one. Find it at any Indian or Pakistani spice market or order it online.
You can turn this scramble into awesome breakfast tacos. Simply divide the filling among 8 warm corn tortillas, top with the avocado and fresh herbs, and serve with hot sauce and lime wedges.
Jacq: “I learned this recipe from my dear friend Faith, who is from Jamaica. She told me this is how they do it down in the islands, and oh, man, do they do it right! The fish comes out tender and flaky and the vegetables add the perfect balance of acidity, sweetness, and heat.”
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into ¼- by 2-inch (6-mm by 5-cm) strips
- 3 carrots, cut into ¼- by 2-inch (6-mm by 5-cm) strips
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- ½ lime, cut into 3 wedges, plus additional lime wedges for serving
- Generous pinch red pepper flakes
- Kosher sea salt and black pepper
- Olive oil
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 whole firm white fish (3 pounds/1.4 kg), such as snapper or sea bass, gutted and scaled (see Note)
- 1 lemon
- 1 small bunch thyme
- Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a loaf pan or small baking dish, combine the bell pepper, carrots, and half the onion. Squeeze the juice from the 3 lime wedges over the vegetables and toss. Add the spent rinds to the vegetables. Sprinkle with the red pepper flakes, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Add 3 tablespoons oil and the vinegar and toss again to coat.
Working on the baking sheet, rub the fish with oil and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Score the fish by cutting three deep diagonal lines along each side. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise and thinly slice it into halfmoon shapes. Stuff each cut in the fish with slices of lemon and a branch of thyme. Fill the cavity of the fish with the remaining lemon, thyme and red onion.
Put the fish and vegetables in the oven. Roast until the flesh of the fish is opaque and the vegetables are tender-crisp, 25 to 30 minutes.
Before serving, add the cilantro to the vegetables. You can serve the fish whole on a platter for a dramatic presentation and allow people to lift the fish away from the bones at the table, or you can go the more traditional route and cut the fish into fillets (see page 183). Enjoy with the pickled vegetables and a wedge of lime.
CHEF’S NOTE: You can use two smaller white fish such as branzino in place of the large fish. They will cook more quickly, in about 20 minutes.
Photo credit: Renata Fuller; Camraface; Renata Fuller (2)