Nancy Walker earned certification as a natural chef from Bauman College, a program specializing in holistic, therapeutic and whole food cooking. She founded The Wellness Kitchen in October 2010 with the aim of creating “a peaceful place for education, health and recovery.”
In June 2012, the nonprofit moved to its current location across from Twin Cities Hospital in Templeton, where it has been able to expand its offerings, including a weekday lunchtime café that’s open to the public.
As The Wellness Kitchen website notes, “In a supportive, healing atmosphere, our mission is to provide healing foods to those in critical need along with education resources and nourishing meals for individuals wanting to regain or sustain optimal health.”
Q: What ingredient have you chosen to showcase?
A: I’ve chosen to prepare amaranth — appropriate for January and the need for comfort foods. The Wellness Kitchen prepares weekly transitional foods for individuals who are dealing with a health crisis, perhaps having difficulty swallowing due to mouth sores, throat issues, difficulty with digestion, or even a lack of appetite.
Amaranth is a tiny little seed the size of a poppy seed; it cooks up like a grain and has among the most protein, magnesium, iron and fiber of all of the gluten-free grains — important if you are not able to consume much food.
Q: How are you currently using it?
A: Recently, we delivered a soothing amaranth porridge that had bits of fresh ginger cooked into it (helps with nausea), drizzled with coconut milk (rich in magnesium, helps with sore muscles and nerves), sweet mangoes (superior source of vitamins A and C), and sweetened with a sprinkle of unrefined organic coconut sugar (which is considered low glycemic) and lime zest.
Q: How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?
A: We have a client who orders food weekly for herself and her 92-year-old mother. She gave us a testimonial that read: “My mother’s chronic intestinal problems have dissipated since starting on the foods offered through your wonderful program! I can’t thank you enough — not only have they changed her intestinal health, she loves foods I never thought she’d eat!”
It is our belief at The Wellness Kitchen that healthy food and delicious food should not be at opposite ends of the table. If we’ve created dishes that soothe the stomach, provide comfort to the heart, and taste good too, then we’ve successfully prepared a dish to fit our motto: “Don’t send it out until you’re proud of it.”
Q: How would home cooks approach this ingredient in their own kitchens?
A: The wonderful thing about amaranth is not only does it make a great porridge, when processed into flour it makes an excellent thickener for roux, sauces and soups. And it’s fun to “pop” in a dry skillet, it pops like tiny popcorn, making it a nice crunchy topping for a salad!
Q: What is your favorite dish to cook at home and why?
A: I’m craving my greens lately! I love using olive oil (pressed from our own olive trees), a pinch of cayenne pepper flakes, fresh garlic and then tossing a massive amount of mixed greens (i.e. kale, chard, spinach, collards) into the pan, cooking it until just barely wilted. The yumminess of the toasted garlic and greens is so good the hard part is seeing how such a massive amount of greens cooks down so quickly into such a small serving that I may have to end up sharing!
Q: What is your favorite food and wine pairing and why?
A: As the founder of The Wellness Kitchen, is it all right to admit that I love a really good piece of dark chocolate and a glass of Changala Winery’s Basque Blend Wine? You bet! Another favorite motto we have at The Wellness Kitchen is “love the chocolate and the chocolate will love you.”
Recipe: Amaranth Porridge
Makes: 2 1-1/4-cup serving
- 1-1/2 cups whole organic coconut milk, plus some for drizzling on top
- 1-1/2 cups filtered water
- 1 cup amaranth
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
- 1 mango, peeled, pitted and diced
- Zest from 1/2 lime
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
In a saucepan, bring coconut milk and water to a gentle boil. Stir in amaranth and ginger and reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed and the amaranth has softened, about 20-25 minutes. (Add more water if mixture thickens before the amaranth has fully cooked.)
Stir in lime juice and a little coconut sugar to taste. Serve in bowls and top with a drizzle of coconut milk, mango and a sprinkle of lime zest.