This week we're joined by professional chef, Meera Keshav! Meera gives us some great tips on how to make restaurant-quality meals at home including advice about salt and recipe substitutions. She shares her go-to kitchen tool and how it can help make everything from minced garlic to decadent sauces.
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I'm Riley and I'm Roni. And this is the plan to eat podcast, where we have conversations about meal planning, food, and wellness. To help you answer the question what's for dinner.
Roni: thanks for joining us for another episode of the Plan to Eat podcast. Today's interview is with Meera Keshav. She is a personal chef. Um, she currently works in Newport Beach, California. She's originally from San Diego, and we are so excited to talk to her today.
Riley: Our conversation with Meera was just so down to earth. She talks about her culinary journey, how she became a. We also talk about a ton of tips for recipe ideas and how to make your recipes better and how to make them taste like the way they tasted at a restaurant, and even some awesome kitchen tools that she uses for everything.
This was a excellent episode for the Home chef, uh, but also for an like, if you're a more professional chef, there's [00:01:00] just so much content here, uh, and we can't wait to share it with you, and we hope you love the episode.
Roni: Meera, thanks for joining us on the podcast today. We appreciate you taking the time to be with us.
Meera: Thanks for having me. All time zones included early or not happy to be here.
Riley: Awesome. We're happy to have you. So let's jump right in. Why don't you talk to us about who you are and what you do.
Meera: Um, I am a private chef in the Southern California area. Um, I'm from San Diego, but I live in Orange County now. Uh, I work for a. Investment company, which is sort of an odd thing to say when you say private chef, But I, I work for this firm that is really lucky to have a kitchen in their office with a bunch of executives, to make lunches for the whole staff every day, about 20 people.
Yeah, and I, I love it. I, um, used to do restaurants, used to do families, and I came across this job like in the end ish of the pandemic. . and it became my, my permanent spot for now at least. [00:02:00] So,
Riley: That's awesome. Do you have a team or is it just.
Meera: It's just me. I, uh, I have, um, a manager sort of that runs the office and she's really great. She helps me out. But for the most part it's, it's just me. Yeah, we're lucky with two dishwashers, so like, not physical people, dishwashers, machines. So that's really nice, you know, everybody is kind enough to like, you know, they rinse their dishes and put them away, but, um, yeah, otherwise it's, it's all one, one man show
Riley: Yeah, that's a really unique job.
Meera: It is. It's hard to explain to people sometimes. I've gotten the hang of it in the last year that I've been working there, because before I was like, I'm a chef, but I work for, like when people ask me what I do or where do I work, and I'm being like, investment firms, they're like, you're a banker. Like what do you do? Used to saying. I'm like, no, I'm a private chef, but I work here. hard to navigate, but
Roni: So do you have, do you have a particular like type of food or cuisine that you [00:03:00] are a master in or, is it kind of all across the board?
Meera: Master's a strong word. Um, I don't even think you could ever be really a master except maybe sushi. Cause people train really long time for that. Um, but, I trained in a couple different cuisines besides going to culinary school. I trained in an Indian restaurant for six months. It was sort of a.
Modern mixed cuisine Indian. It wasn't all from one area necessarily, but it was definitely out of your ordinary chicken teka masala sort of place. Um, I trained in Italian and Mediterranean and then I also worked for a paleo keto kind of, place in San Francisco, so I got sort of a whole gluten free belt going as well as some of the other stuff.
I, I definitely had a lot of people that want healthy eating. Um, and being Indian and loving that cuisine, it's really hard to be healthy when you eat Indian food. So I would say like, that would be my area that's most, you know, sort of like the in Asian cuisines. But a little healthier is sort of my [00:04:00] area.
Um, yeah, I wouldn't say I'm a master anywhere though. There's always, for the grow.
Riley: What's your favorite? Which one is your favorite?
Meera: Ooh, it's definitely still Indian food.
Meera: Yeah, . I actually never grew up making it. I always grew up eating it and I love to cook, but that seemed like a pretty hard, you know, leave that to my grandma and my mom area. So I switched to learning it eventually, and I was like, now it feels so proud to have to know how to do this
And still, I think it's not as good as theirs sometimes.
Riley: You know? Man, I say this all the time, Roni food is such a nostalgic thing for people. I say it, oh man, I think I've said it every podcast the last six months, but it doesn't really, it's like your mom and grandma making it. It has so much more to do with, I mean, it, mine tastes better because there are things that my mom makes that certainly tastes better.
Um, my grandma for sure. But there's just so much like attached to it, like with your heart that I think that, that it just tastes better because your heart's involved.
Meera: [00:05:00] Yes. I, there's one, one of my favorite books that I love to read. Um, it's called Like Water for Chocolate. and this woman, like, you know, she, when she cooks and she's really sad, people taste the sadness in her food and they cry. And then when she's happy, it's like the most amazing meal they've ever had.
And, um, it's sort of, you know, it seems like magic when you're reading it, but then when you think about it, you can sort of feel it, well, can someone's really down when I cook, when I'm not in a good mood? people are like, eh, it wasn't that good today, . And when I'm in a great mood, it's like, this was the best meal today.
Like this was so good even though I've made that a hundred times before. So definitely, you know, what you put into it is what you get out of it, and that's a big thing, thing besides even nostalgia, which makes a difference too.
Riley: Yeah. It's funny that you say that because when my husband hears this podcast, he's gonna be like, see, I told you you've gotta put love in it. , he always says that cuz. But for my husband, love means. More butter, more like, like how like, like it always tends toward like, it's like if I've made something [00:06:00] healthier, like the, the love that he's
Meera: didn't have
Riley: always goes in the other direction.
So but I mean, it does make things good. So
Meera: I think there's a whole scientific area to be explored about. I mean, people make good food, but sometimes good food means like the Michelin star chef that use the most expensive ingredients from the, you know, the fanciest place, um, versus like, , you know, at home we used canned beans to make whatever it is we made and it was still fantastic.
There's an, you know, is it the food, is it where it comes from, which is so important with farm to table and all that versus like, what are you putting in it from what yourself, you know, and your soul. Um, there's a whole, I'm sure there's a whole scientific research that could be done about that.
Riley: There you go. There's your second career
Meera: Mm-hmm. That sounds like a good, good area. Actually.
Riley: Yeah. It'll be really cool to explore that.
Roni: That's so true though, because you know, a lot of the time you go to like a quote unquote greasy spoon [00:07:00] restaurant and you're like, this is the best food I've ever had. You know, and then, yeah, and then you can go to, you know, like a really fancy restaurant and be like, it was great. But, you know, maybe the, maybe sometimes the, the diner food is a little bit better, and maybe it also depends on who you are as a person.
Meera: I don't know. I, I had a conversation like this with my sister recently. Like my favorite food probably to this day is still grilled cheese. And it could be like Wonder Bread with craft slices, grilled cheese, or it could be like the fancy sourdough with the really expensive $10 cheese you bought at Whole Foods with all the expensive Irish butter and like still, those are two pretty amazing things.
Separate on their own, but still grilled cheese, right. , like where does that go? And you weigh the, you know, like, it's just hard to say, but they're still amazing on their own, right?
Roni: Well, and I would think that some, there's, I would say that some people. Would actually prefer the like craft singles version of that. Like they would be [00:08:00] like, don't give me any fancy grilled cheese over here. Like I grew up on the Wonder Bread and the craft singles. Maybe that's
Meera: that's where it's at.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, I agree. I actually think that's important when people ask me about recipes is to say like, you know, cuz a lot of people stress out about, like, I don't have that one ingredient, is it gonna turn out the same? Um, there's always a substitute for everything, but the reason why recipes are hard to give to people in my, in my mind, at least,
I don't always have the same stuff on hand when I make that recipe every time. And it's hard to convey to people sometimes when I really try to to be like, it's okay. It's still gonna turn out all right. , you know, what you have in your kitchen is still gonna be great. And that's what makes it your own.
And that's how you know originality is like. , there's no originality sometimes in this world. We have so much stuff going on all the time. Um, social media makes everything common in like a heartbeat. So what makes it your own is what you put into it, right? What you have on hand makes it special. [00:09:00] And
Riley: Yeah, there's that. Actually, it's just ringing true with me because there's times when I'll make the same recipe that I've made forever, and sometimes it's amazing and sometimes it's
just kinda like, oh, well it was fine, you know? But I think that that's so true. It's like, cuz I just am a, I'm very okay with winging it if I don't have the thing or, uh, or trying something new this time and I'm really bad about writing it down.
really good at doing it. And so it's like I ne it's just the trying the different things or like, maybe one time I pureed it and the next time I didn't. And that makes a recipe totally different if you parade something versus not, it's like chunky versus, yeah. And, uh, yeah. So I, I love that you're saying.
Meera: In my short period of time, um, between college and actually becoming a chef in culinary school, and I always loved to cook. Even at home, I didn't have a food processor and that used to stress me out like crazy. I was like, how am I gonna chop this? How am I gonna make salsa hummus? Like, what am I doing?
Even the blender, I was like, it doesn't do it the same like it used to. [00:10:00] So stress me out and I had to just. work with what you have. That's what makes you a good cook, and that's what just makes it more fun. So you're not worried about all that stuff, , how it's gonna turn.
Riley: yeah. So what, um, what made you decide to become a chef?
Meera: I always really loved to cook even when I was a kid. My mom loves to tell this story about how my favorite restaurant was Benny Hana's and cause I just wanted to watch the guy cook the whole time, even though I never ate anything. I was super picky as a kid, oddly. But, um, yeah, I just always loved it and I always used to say I wanted be a chef and there's a short span of time.
My dad's a dentist. I used to be like, I wanna be like my daddy. I wanna be a dentist. and then I realized people's mouths are gross and I just couldn't, couldn't go into that. Uh, but yeah, I was just always on that. And then it, you know, many years ago now, it was really, really hard to be a chef. It was just, you know, a really tough life and didn't make any money.
And it's still not easy necessarily, but. [00:11:00] It wasn't a path that I was really like set to just choose. So I, you know, I was like, maybe I'll be a pharmacist. Maybe I'll go into food science. Maybe I'll, I looked, I did college for a first year, um, regular four year, and I was like, I can't do any of these things,
And my dad at the end of it was like, if you really wanna go to culinary school, like we'll help you go and you should, you should do that. Um, cause I worked at restaurants all through my four years of undergrad college and I just loved it. And I had a chef tell me, you know, This is your, he gave me my first kitchen job in LA and he was like, if you really wanna do this, you have to really, really, really love it.
Like you have to love being here all night long. You have to love like really being hot all the time and then cold all the time. You know, standing at the quote unquote, smoke breaks, even if you don't smoke, when you stand in like next to the dumpster in the back. , you have to love the whole thing. And so I did it.
I was like, okay, I'm gonna go in and I'm gonna try it. And it was rough for the first month or so, and then I was like, no, actually this is like weird energy high that I just, I can't [00:12:00] get away from. I love learning about food, being around people who love it all the time. And so I was like, this is for me for sure.
And yeah, I just stuck to it. I was like, you have to. Once I made the decision, I was like, Nope, I'm gonna commit. I'm going all the way. So ,
Roni: I love that too. Yeah. I, I worked in, uh, I've mentioned this before on the podcast, but I worked at a. a restaurant for seven years before I started working for a plan to eat. And um, I was in the front of the house. But there is just a, there is kind of an energy about working at a restaurant, particularly when you work in an environment where everybody gets along really well.
Like it is kind of a special environment to be a part of. I, I kind of, I love meant the fact that, uh, a lot of times people who work in restaurants are like viewed as maybe like a little like lower class or something.
Meera: Yeah. Me too.
Roni: You know, because we all love to go out to eat. Right. but that, that was hard sometimes to feel like people were maybe judging me by working in a restaurant
Meera: I think culturally too, like, um, being from [00:13:00] an Indian family, it was like, why are you gonna shoot for like the lowest level? And to me it was like, no, the best thing we do is cook together and sit around a table. It's what we do all the time. Like imagine if I could make money doing this, that would be fantastic.
And I just, yeah, I never saw it that way cuz I love to go out to eat, you know, always since I was young.
Riley: Who doesn't? Right?
Riley: The thing that really stood out to me about that is that your dad was so supportive. Um, and that resonates with me because, uh, I went to school for photography and my dad is an engineer and, uh, I have a, like a lot of engineer relatives, PhD relatives, and, in some ways I felt like. I felt like it was hard, like for him to say that, but at the same time, he wanted to support me in what I wanted to do and what I, what my goals were for my life. And so I always have really appreciated that my dad did that for me, because he could have very easily pushed me into something else or tried to steer me in a different direction, and instead he supported me in that.
And so I, I love that your dad [00:14:00] was like, no, we'll help you do this. You should do this.
Meera: Yeah. Him and my mom both. It was, it was literally like the tail end of my first year of college. I was doing so poorly and he was like, if you wanna do this, he was like, you have to, you know, you have to decide now. And I was like, At that point I was like, if I don't finish a degree of any kind now, like the four year, I probably won't go back to it.
So I almost dropped out to enroll in culinary school. I'd filled out the application and everything and I was like, no, I'm gonna finish a business degree. Cuz I always wanted to own my own place at that point. And, and I was like, no, I'll go to culinary school afterwards. He's like, if you still wanna go, you should still go.
And then I graduated just like a semester early so that I could enroll in culinary school after that.
Riley: Oh, that's awesome. And a business degree background is perfect for you,
Meera: I still come from a, a family that's like, no, a four degree, four year degree's important. You need that
Riley: Yep. Yeah, and that's what mine was too. And that's that, that was like almost the compromise for my dad was
like, let, you can do this, but it needs to be a four year
Meera: like, but you need to be educated [00:15:00] in something else, in case
Riley: Yeah. Yeah.
Meera: it was totally worth it cuz Yeah.
Now, I mean, weirdly, I. Thought I'd say I worked for an investment firm, but that's also, you know, an interesting thing that I have a business background and I work for them. Cuz it's cool to hear about other people's job all the time, you know, what they're doing and investing and that world is crazy right now, but
So when you are, how do you go about creating a menu for 20 other people? You know, I'm guessing you do it on like a, maybe a weekly basis or whatever. How do you go about picking out, you know, like what recipes you're gonna use, or what flavors you're gonna put into your menus?
Meera: So I, I, when I started working, I asked them what, you know, what kind of food they like and what was sort of their aim for what they wanted out of that, you know? And just like anyone would say, we're open to most cuisines pretty much anything, but just make it healthy. We don't wanna have like fried food every day and dripping in butter every day, but, You know, [00:16:00] you know what we like and we wanna make sure there's a protein for everyone, vegetarian and non-vegetarian.
So I usually pick a cuisine or sort of. and I'd say like a cuisine, but it's not always just like American or Mexican. It's sort of like a meal. So I usually center it around a protein. And then my starch item. So, you know, let's see. Today is, today's menu is gonna be a really big Italian chop salad. Um, and some days I sent it around a salad or a soup instead.
And that'll be like the main, and then all the. Things that go along with it will be a couple of vegetables, a protein or two, and then some sort of grain or starch. So today will be all the leftover bread I have. I'm making it into croutons, which who doesn't like croutons? yeah, big chop salad with tons of different veggies, you know, olives and tomatoes, cucumbers, the whole nine yards.
And then, um, some sort of chicken dish. I usually. Stick with thighs because they don't try out and for so many people to cook them, [00:17:00] who has time for that? yeah. Different Italian seasonings, roast 'em in the oven and then I usually pick some vegetables. I've got tons of broccoli leftover sweet potatoes.
Do like a roast and grill 'em on the, you know, on a pan like lemon and garlic, just fine flavors that sort of already accompany the sort of cuisine you picked cuz I think people get caught up in the idea of, This cuisine has to stay this cuisine. And you know, Italian food is lots of garlic, lots of herbs.
So I just, you know, stick with that area and not really feel like I need to stick to a special dish. And so, you know, balsamic is Italian and red wine vinegar is Italian lemons. Um, just sort of stick with those flavors. And any combination of those together is gonna be good no matter how you.
Meera: So I usually start my meals that way of saying like, what kind of flavors do I want?
Not necessarily cuisine. And then, yeah, pick a, pick a protein, pick a grain, pick a vegetable or two, a salad, and go from there.[00:18:00]
Riley: Do you do the same cuisine or same flavor type every day for a week, or do you change it up every single day?
Meera: I usually change it every single day. I'll pick five of like five kinds, I guess I would say for the week. Um, you know, do a couple different Asian cuisines because everybody loves Asian food and you know, That's anything from Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, you know, the whole Japanese, so a couple of those, even Indian.
And then I'll do an American, you know, one day like a soup and salad, um, which is always a healthy and good pick for lunch. And then, yeah, anything in between there. Cuz you know, Italian's good. French is hard cuz they have to have so much butter, and everybody wants butter. But, yeah, it's sort of like, I, I actually use, you know, plan to eat as the app.
Um, and I save my recipes, some ones that I write myself and plenty of ones from everywhere else. And so I'll, I'll look through that and just get some inspiration. I have pretty much every bon appetit. [00:19:00] The last 10 years. And so I, I usually, when I'm really starved for ideas, I'll sort of leaf through it.
I keep menus from restaurants. Every restaurant I go to that has a paper menu that I can keep, I ask for it, um, mark it up, and then keep them for future reference. You don't need the recipes, but it's nice to just have an idea. Right.
Riley: That is a great idea to keep menus from restaurant.
Meera: Mm-hmm. . I have a little folder. It's awesome. And then I actually, I mean, more recently too, a lot of restaurants change their menus.
Like every few weeks, months. If I go back there, they're not gonna have the same thing again. And so, you know, and they recycle their menus out. Having worked in restaurants, I know they've reprint like menus every few hours. You know, they get dirty. so you don't feel like you're really taking much from that.
And they're always happy to see, you know, people interested. It's a nice, nice thing to have, just like a collection of ideas always sitting there, so.
Roni: yeah, that's a really great idea. Um, You talking about those flavors though, makes [00:20:00] me think of, I, read the book. Salt Fat, acid
Meera: Salt fat, acid. Heat. One of my favorites.
Roni: Yeah. And, uh, she talks in there a lot. Like she basically makes these pinwheels of like, here's like a type of cuisine and , here's all the possible flavors that could be involved in that type of cuisine.
And it was really eye-opening to be like, okay, so yeah, like an Italian cuisine isn't just like five flavors, it's like 50 flavors that you could put in to create, you know, this specific cuisine. So, um, if anybody really wants some, some great practical ways, like putting flavors together. That book was awesome.
Meera: I, I think that's the second step. So the whole menu, I would say you pick flavors and a cuisine, you know, sort of, and then each item that you make, Should have a little bit of those elements of the salt, fat, acid, heat. When people are worried about how to season something, I usually say something always needs, you know, salt, fat acid and heat of some kind.
I don't always think it needs to be spicy necessarily cuz [00:21:00] heat can be misconstrued as that. Um, but you know, whether it's a hot dish or a cold dish or you know, pep pepper versus spicy, you want a little bit of that. So that's what makes the balance of anything that tastes good. So,
Meera: Really good. Um, I would say resource even for any Chef professional or otherwise.
Roni: Yeah. Honestly, her story kind of mimics yours a little bit in the way that she like worked in a restaurant for a really long time before she decided to be a little more classically trained. And I bet that most people who are great chefs have so much of that practical, practical experience before actually going and like learning how to apply those things.
Meera: I think a lot of chefs in are a certain mindset too, that culinary school is a waste of time and money. A lot of them would think that just working in a restaurant will give you all the experience you need. I had a couple more than one chef tell me that they were like, if you wanna work here, just, you know, work for us full-time.
You don't need to go to school. Just quit school. And I, I wanted to go to school [00:22:00] because I wanted to be immersed in it all the time. But it's definitely, you know, Hands-on experience that you're in all the time will get you so much knowledge that you'll never learn in any school.
Um, and that makes a difference. I tell people are like, I'm not good at cooking, but practice makes perfect. It really does.
Riley: Yeah. I, I think that, I think the school is maybe not right for everyone, but like a school was right for me. I'm gonna go back to my photography thing. Uh, school was right for me in that way. But, and it's like a, it's like a combination of the hands-on, like I couldn't be a photographer with never having picked up a camera. And so there's like this dual aspect of like, the school part was really good for me cuz I liked the community aspect and the immersed aspect and the um, even the critiquing having other people. What I did or, or in your case, taste what you made and give you back on it. I, to me, that's really beneficial for the way that I learn.
And so, yeah. So for some people, just being in a kitchen all the time is [00:23:00] probably the right course, but not for everyone. Cuz school could be really beneficial for other people. Ju just depends on the way that they learn and the way that they wanna
take on their career or whatever it
Meera: Mm-hmm. .I've always been a bit of a nerd, I should say. I, I always really liked being in school. Um, I like to read a lot, you know, I like to do all the stuff that school involves. There are plenty of people in my culinary school class that were not good students and they've graduated just fine, if not even better than me as chefs, you know?
Just cuz that's not the way that they're used to learning. So I think. , the hands-on is definitely a different but equally important approach. And to me, culinary school was very enco all encompassing of a lot of different practices versus a specific restaurant with a specific cuisine. And it was like, you know, nine to five, like all day, you're just in it.
Um, with the various, you know, we. the same kind of steak like 10 times to get practice at it. And that might not have been something I got practice at in [00:24:00] a restaurant because you're cooking for somebody at that point. And that's like a very stressful thing for me on the line of learning, I was like, oh no, someone's actually gonna eat this.
So yeah, I think that that made a difference for me.
Riley: I could see that I, I could, for me, I, yeah, I would feel the same way. I've never cooked this before. I'm not gonna cook it for somebody else. I'm gonna cook it for me first, see if it's okay. And then I'll make it for somebody else.
Meera: My, my sister, God bless her, loves to tell people all the time that like I really was never, not always a good cook. She's like, trust me, I've had that bread that you made that was like a brick . It's terrible . And you know, we all have those stages. Like even as chefs today, there's some stuff that I make that's just.
Good. You have to practice a lot of things to make it turn out well. You have to test a lot of things and so you know, you have to just be okay with that. Some things are not gonna be good.
Riley: Nothing like a sibling to keep you humble.
Meera: Yep. Always [00:25:00] Let forget that one.
Roni: it makes me, feel good though that you, uh, say that not everything that you make turns out well, because I just had experience a couple weeks ago where I made dinner that was, Not good. We actually ended up throwing it away and eating, you know, like scavenging in our refrigerator instead.
And my husband was like, it's okay. Like we've been together for how many years? And like there have been so few times that we've actually thrown away the food that you've made.
Like this is true, but there's something about cooking. And I don't know if it's just because it's like, hm. It's something that you, like, you're giving to somebody else.
Like, you're like, like the focus is on, like, I'm nourishing you, I'm providing this for you. That like, when it goes wrong, it is such a, a painful experience. Yeah.
Meera: part of it too, you feel, you often feel like, oh my God, I just wasted food too. Like I put so much effort in it and it was for nothing. It does definitely, it breaks you down a little bit.
Riley: This is that heart thing. This is that you put your heart into it. You tried to. Thing. I dunno if it's consuming something, giving something to somebody else to consume feels
Riley: you know, it's not like giving somebody a T-shirt and being like, here, I got you a present, and then not fitting them very well.
You're like, oh, bummer. Well, I guess we can figure that out. You can't fix it. You know, you can't, there's no result. Like, I mean, you know, like there's some ways you maybe could save a recipe once it's already served, but
Meera: Yeah. Not, not as often. Yep.
Riley: Right. Yeah, but you can't. Yeah. It's, it's a, it just that heart thing.
You put so much into it, they're gonna consume it. It's, you know, it's like a, doesn't last long. It's a short term gift. There's so many elements of it that's, It's like go down the, like the, like the heart and the like, what goes into it, the emotional aspects of cooking.
Cuz I would love to know more. And this conversation is just backing that up,
Meera: Yeah, absolutely. I, in the same vein, I think most commonly I try to reuse my leftovers. Like if, you know, we happen to have a day when people work from [00:27:00] home a lot, and then I made food and like nobody was there. I, my most common Google searches are, how can I repurpose? So and so, because I wanna make sure that I'm not wasting any food all the time.
And I, it's a hard thing, but the internet's a good place for Google's. Google's pretty helpful. Um, I think everyone's most common one was Thanksgiving is like, how do I repurpose all my leftovers? and I think I made Turkey sandwiches and then someone was like, make a soup. And then we made like burritos so much to do with it.
But then after two times you're like, I'm tired of eating this
Roni: Our coworker, Shelby, actually with her Thanksgiving leftovers, makes, um, Like egg rolls, basically like she buys like the egg roll paper and then like puts Turkey and a couple, I don't know, like vegetables or maybe like the stuffing or something in with the, in the roll and then she dips it in gravy and
Meera: Really, really fantastic
Roni: Sounds [00:28:00] really good.
Riley: that is the most unique repurposing I've ever heard
Roni: I know. It's so creative.
Meera: Can you get like the crunch with all the soft stuff? Yeah.
Anything in an egg roll is good.
Riley: What would you say is your number one favorite thing to cook?
Riley: Okay. It doesn't have to be number one. It could be in the top 20 because as a chef I'm sure you've got a long list.
Meera: I would say the most favorite thing for me to make is probably one of the most favorite things for me to eat, which is usually Mexican food. enchiladas are a big, like, it's one of those things that takes you so long to make and you put so much into it, but the end result is so worth it after doing all that work.
And I mean, I'm from San Diego, so I grew up on plenty of Mexican food and yeah, it's partly nostalgic and partly just like this is, this is the good food that I wanna eat all the time. Um, so yeah, both eating and making, that's one of my favorites. I would say
Riley: [00:29:00] I'm a big Mexican.
food fan too.
Meera: Any Mexican if we're really gonna come down to it, but enchilada specifically.
Roni: Do you make your own homemade enchilada sauce, or do are, are you okay with just the can enchilada
Meera: I often make my own, but the, my making my own is a lot of work. So, and I actually grew up on the canned and jarred sauce, so sometimes I'll take the canned sauce and just doctor it to be my own. You know, you can add plenty of seasonings to it. Sometimes the cans want it spicy. Add some tomatoes. You can easily make a canned sauce like, Phenomenally restaurant level if you just add some stuff to it. So yeah, a little bit of both.
Roni: I've tried to make my own homemade enchilada sauce before and it. Of work and I felt like, I think whatever I did the, like, spices never quite dissolved, you know? So it was like a little bit grainy,
Meera: Yeah. You get
Roni: So it was, yeah, it was not a, I, I pretty much stuck with canned sense then, cuz it wasn't a successful experience for me.
Meera: I think I've, I've found a lot of recipes [00:30:00] that were, um, they were asking for a lot of those dried chilies, and while they're easy enough to find the dried chilies to work with them is like a whole ordeal because of the seeds and blending and all of that. And so I've, I've definitely mixed recipes that I found and adjusted them to become my own because a simple recipe just didn't cut it for me. Yeah.
Roni: Yeah. Do you happen to have a, so you talked about food press, food processor before, not having one, but do you have a favorite cook cooking tool or like the cooking tool that you would recommend to everybody? Like, this is the thing
that's the life changer.
Meera: Ooh. It's somewhere between the Neutra bullet or like a blender, like in the Vitamix blender. . Um, I do everything in that little neutral bullet. I mean, it's a tiny one. It's old. Um, I mean the Vitamix has one of those too, so it's pretty awesome. Um, but that little thing can get you so far and so fast.[00:31:00]
Um, every, everything from smoothies to chopping garlic to dressings and you know, so every kind of sauce under the sun, like I do everything in that. I even grind pepper and coffee in that thing. So it's amazing.
Riley: Wow. Really versatile.
Meera: recommend the coffee because the coffee will taste like whatever you had in there before so you just make sure you wash it really thoroughly first.
But, um, everything else, it's probably the number one tool I use for sure.
Riley: actually made whipped cream in mine
Meera: Oh, that's a good
Riley: which I know is like if there is a professional baker, maybe even you thinking that is totally inappropriate, but it makes it in about 25 seconds and . It is kind of amazing.
Meera: I'm a big, someone asked me that recently, like, the, you know, the hand blender was broken and I just stuck the whipped cream and the sugar in a, like a deli container with something with a lid that seals well, it just shook it up for like five or 10 minutes and it made whipped cream. It was [00:32:00] like the equivalent.
There's the solution for everything.
Riley: see. So for the home chef, the Nutri bullet, Vitamix situation is a really great tip and also a really great kitchen tool. Do you have any other things that come to mind that you would suggest, for somebody who's just trying to be a better cook at their own, at their house?
Meera: Yeah. I. a lot of recipes that chefs, any recipe that you find in New York Times, Bon Appetit, all those magazines and you know, professional outlets that will publish recipes. They're often using diamond crystal, kosher salt or some version of kosher salt. And that messes up a lot of people's measuring when they're measuring for salt in their recipes.
The only thing about that salt, if it's important to you, it's not iodized, but otherwise, That salt is the one that you're gonna, that will probably get you exactly the flavor that, you know, that recipe was looking for. And so I think, you know, that's the number one problem of people being like, [00:33:00] it's not salt enough, it's not salty, or it's too salty.
And that, that's a number one tip is always like, adjust for that. And I would recommend that buying that salt, you get it in a big box and it'll last you forever. . Another tip is make sure your oils are good. They actually do go bad. People forget that your oils have an expiration date and they'll go rancid, and that's probably a reason why it doesn't end up as good as you want.
So just check that your expiration date it, it actually does mean something on the oil. And make sure you're not burning your oil. , they have a lot of, um, different oils that are not meant to be super high heat or fried in. Those are my number, number two tips. I would say number one and two. Beyond that I would say that everything can be substituted.
Butter can be substituted for another kind of oil. Um, you know, any vinegar you have, you know, it says that you need this specific type of vinegar. It can be substituted for another vinegar. And the only way that you'll know is to test it. But you know, in your own recipe, As what you're [00:34:00] doing, but definitely don't feel stressed about that.
Riley: Those are great tips. I, I feel like we could have a whole episode about salt because
Meera: probably could. Mm-hmm.
Riley: there's some that are saltier than others, and like you just said, that that is what they use. And if you're looking for that exact thing, salt is a key player in recipes a lot of the time. Yeah.
Meera: the time when people say like, it's missing something, it's probably missing salt. That's like the number one thing I go to any, any person's house. Anyone that asks me that question, I'm like, did you put enough salt ? And the, I think the tip that I found most helpful in culinary school too, was when you're cooking and you're throwing a bunch of different things into the pot, every time you throw something in the pot puts just enough salt for that one thing. For each item instead of putting a bunch of salt all at once, because how are you gonna know if you're just adding like that little pinch? And I, I never use a spoon. I'm a hand pincher. But, um, you just put enough salt to salt that one thing, and then when you add something else, Salt. That [00:35:00] too, when you add something else, salt that too.
If you're salting, you know, if you're gonna put a piece of meat in the pan, salt that first and put it in the pan. Um, and I think that's the best way to go about that because that's how you know you're putting exactly enough for everything in that you're making in that pot or pan.
Riley: This is. It, but I just started thinking about you measuring salt with your hand and not with a spoon. And I would guess that you like just know you just, it feels a certain way in your hand. Like as an expert in that department, you're like, oh no, this, that, just do it. And
Meera: so weird. But the thing, when we learned that in culinary school, they were like, you don't use a spoon. They were like, you don't sit down there with a recipe all the time when you're in a restaurant kitchen. You just salt. And we have, my mom makes fun of me all the time. She's like, why don't you have a spoon in the salt?
But I just, I, I can't with a spoon. It doesn't. I, I.
Riley: You feel it?
And another reason they use that diamond crystal kosher salt is that it's grainy. It has like, you know, they're all different shapes, the pieces of salt. So it [00:36:00] stays in your hand. The round table salt is round and just falls outta your hand and that
doesn't work. Um, so yeah, it's a weird, there's a science . Behind that. Salt
Roni: well there's a reason why in the salt fat acid heat, that salt is the num first thing, number one. Like it's the first thing on the list and there's a whole section. Um, yeah, like. . If anybody listening is confused about salt, seriously, go read that book it, that that was, that chapter in and of itself was the most eye-opening thing for me to become a better at-home cook.
Like salting your meat ahead of time, like, you know, like hours before you start cooking to like bring out the flavors of things. Yeah. Not using iodized table salt because it gives like a metallicy flavor to your food. Like so many things about salt, but salt, I think. The thing that changes recipe, like the thing that's gonna change a recipe the most is like what kind of salt you use and how much salt you, well, you know all the things with salt
Meera: Yep. She has a Netflix episode too, if nobody's keen on reading.
Roni: Oh [00:37:00] yeah.
Meera: all that in the Netflix episode too. It's just a single episode on the salt. Um, I think it's also important people forget that like some of your ingredients are salty too. Like your fish is already kind of salty, comes from the sea.
Soy sauce is already salty. You don't need more salt always if you add that or miso, Something like that, that stuff's already super salty, celery's, naturally really salty. You don't need tons of salt when you add those things. Um, or your seasonings, if you buy pre-packaged like mixes, a lot of them already have salt in them.
So I would add those and then taste before you add more salt, because that's what's gonna be like crazy salty. Yeah. It, it's salt is an entire, we could make episodes, multiple episodes about salt
Roni: Yeah, it's pretty fascinating.
Roni: Well, so this episode's gonna be coming out close to Valentine's Day. For anybody who cares, who's listening, who cares? Do you Meera? Do you have, um, a recommendation for maybe a great like at home date night recipe that you know you make that just [00:38:00] seems to always turn out really well.
Meera: So I think there's the easiest recipe that has the least number of ingredients that is the most impressive on Valentine's is actually French onion soup. . It literally has like five or six ingredients. Um, if you're not keen on the onion texture, like my own boyfriend, I would blend the onions cuz there's a place here that does like a blended onion soup and it's fantastic, but it feels really impressive.
Once you sit down with it. You, you know, you don't need a lot of bread. You need like that one really big piece of crusty bread on top with a big mountain of cheese. It feels super decadent cuz you're using butter and the broth and all of. , um, it feels impressive even though you didn't have to do that much work for it.
And it's really, really, really comforting. Especially like it's, you know, still winter February you wanna be cozy and you're not eating a steak to be like super bloated or heavy afterwards, you wanna fall asleep. It's the sort of perfect medium. Yeah.
Riley: That's a, that's a great recipe and [00:39:00] I really like the suggestion to blend it because I think that can be a lot of people's hesitations
Meera: Yep. ,
Riley: french onion soup. So
Meera: it's, it's just a texture thing. Um, and I actually think the blended one tastes better because it's all in there. You're not getting like a specific bite of broth and onion. They're separate. You're just getting it all in one and that tastes a lot better.
Roni: That's a fantastic tip. I think I've only ever made french onion soup one time, and I did. It was easy, but I did feel like I just, I made this, you know, really fancy recipe, like I'm so excited for other people to eat it and like it.
Meera: Mm-hmm. and I, I recently tested it with the vegetarian broth version too. Um, you add a, you can add a couple ingredients like soy sauce or, um, like mushrooms or something to add that sort of umami that you don't get from beef broth. It's still pretty amazing. I'm still equally easy to do for, you know, vegetarian option.
Riley: That's awesome.
Meera: favorite foods. I'm like, really? I'd be happy with that French onion soup all the time.[00:40:00]
Riley: Well, this might be redundant, but we end every episode by asking people what their, something that they ate recently or made recently that they really, really enjoyed. So I mean, give us another recipe. That's what this episode's about,
Meera: Let's see. I, I went to a place recently, um, in Santa Ana over here. It's called detention, which is actually really funny because it used to be called Playground. Now it's called Detention What, what prompted the change in name, but, they had a really cool menu of a bunch of different variety, you know, foods.
It wasn't all one kind of cuisine. But they had this really incredible couple, two dishes I would say. One was this sweet potato and it was a Japanese white sweet potato that was just roasted. but they made this sort of sesame, like tahini sauce to go over it. It was so good. And they sauteed some like garlic broccoli and put that over the top.
And it definitely felt like there was a lot of butter in there somewhere. So that was really yummy too. But it seemed like [00:41:00] something pretty simple to recreate. You know, just, you know, roast your sweet potato and some butter, add that tahini sauce over it adds like a squeeze of lime or something, and then your veggies, and that's like, that could be a whole meal on its own, even though it's just a side dish.
Um, something that's fairly healthy too, minus the butter maybe, and then the other dish was this mushroom toast, and I think they were trying to, Mushrooms into like a fake bacon. Um, but they roasted these oyster mushrooms to be super crispy and almost have a chewy texture, like bacon mite. Um, and it was smokey, so they must have added smoked paprika or some sort of, you know, liquid smoke option that you can get.
And they made it said emulsions eggy emulsion, which I. I have to do a little more research and science behind what that is exactly, but it was definitely a bit of like a cheesy egg sauce that they made, over the top on this piece of toast that just had like a big piece of provolone, grilled to it.
They put the cheese on it, grilled it right on the pan [00:42:00] with the cheese touching the pan so that it got all crispy, and then they just took that as the toast. It was like a very weird but fancy mushroom toast dish. It was so good, and I would just eat that over and over again. Like I could eat that for breakfast all the
Riley: Yeah, that sounds like a really unique place to go eat
Meera: Yeah, they had like a Peruvian, if you've ever had Lomo Salata, which is like the french fry steak dish. Um, they had a lot of unique stuff on the menu. It's definitely a place I snagged the menu from to
Meera: Um, but it was, it was cool. It was nice to try some new stuff. Um, they had like a sticky toffee pudding for dessert, which was also amazing.
the whipped cream was salted and not sweetened, which was a unique touch I thought. For something. That's so sweet. Yeah, so unexpected. You, you take a bite of whipped cream and you're like, oh, I really thought that was gonna be sweet. But sticky. Tuffy Pudding has that like caramelly sauce over it, which is so sweet.
And the salty whipped cream went so well with it. It was just a really, like, I didn't expect it, but it tasted [00:43:00] so good. The balance, you know, salt, back to the salt. So
Roni: Well, this conversation has been awesome. I, um, feel like we could talk forever just about salt, just about
recipes. Um, so thanks for taking some time and chatting with. Today.
Meera: Yeah. Thank you guys. It's been really fun. Hopefully I can take you guys to detention one day,
Riley: that. We'd love it.
Riley: We'll be right over
Meera: I'll be waiting.
Riley: Uh, thank you so much, Meera.
Meera: Thank you guys. Brilliant. Great talking to you.
Roni: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Plan to Eat podcast. We love hearing different approaches to food, and we hope that you enjoy hearing it too.
Riley: We would love to invite you to find all the recipes mentioned on the Plan to Eat podcast, um, in our podcast account on Plan to Eat you can go to plantoeat.com/PTEPOD that's PT, E P O D and the variety of recipes that you've heard about and the variety of eating [00:44:00] types that we talk about, those can all be found in that account.
Roni: Thanks again for listening.