Here’s how it’s done in restaurants.
When it comes to building a healthy entree like the restaurants do, Chef Jason Fullilove promotes one essential word: balance.
When you want to whip up a healthy meal that looks as good as it tastes, aim to have balance of textures, colors, flavors, and nutrients. A dish that’s all brown, all green, all heavy, or all light, is going to bore your taste buds. No surprise: It may also be lacking in certain necessary nutrients. Specific vitamins and minerals create the various hues of fresh fruits and vegetables (consider how most orange-colored veggies are high in vitamin A, or red-hued produce is high in lycopene), so eating a rainbow of foods could prevent unwanted nutrient deficiencies.
Somewhere on your plate, try to have something crunchy, something creamy, and something chewy. While fried food may be appealing, an entire plate of crispy fried breading will eventually get boring or even unpleasant. (Even fried chicken joints get this: That’s why they serve a side of coleslaw or potato salad!)
When it comes to taste, balance different flavors while making sure they complement each other. You could start by trying to have some sort of unifying ingredients throughout the plate—like onion, garlic, or a specific herb. For example, look at how a Mexican dish combines different components with varying flavors and textures, yet they all have a hint of lime, chopped cilantro, or raw onion. Similarly, Italian dishes will have side dishes that utilize garlic, oregano, tomatoes, or Parmesan, just like the pasta they accompany.
Consider your taste buds when coming up with side dish ideas: Counter something bitter (like broccoli) with something zesty (like a lemony salmon), and balance a warm, nutty grain (like brown rice) with a bit of sweetness (like balsamic-roasted beets).
Whatever you do, don’t disregard the recommended food groups! Be sure to fill your plate with veggies, grains, and proteins, and you’ll be off to a great start.
To plate your entree like the pros, try stacking. Artists, interior designers, and food stylists alike have long touted the benefits of using vertical layers to add visual appeal.
Chef Jason uses a fresh, vibrant sauce or vegetable puree at the bottom of the plate, which adds a colorful backdrop to the items that will be stacked above it. Next, he stacks the grains, veggies, and main protein at different angles so all components can still be seen. Finally, he finishes with a garnish—fresh herbs, microgreens, or something a little surprising, like a few radish slivers or some pickled onion.
Jason Fullilove is the executive chef/owner of Barbara Jean in Los Angeles, a modern take on globally inspired soul food with a focus on nutrition.
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I chose these ingredients because
this is a really nice light meal.
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It's really hot out here in California,
so I was looking for
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something quick, delicious,
and light to keep us going.
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What's better than protein and vegetables?
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You have this here.
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Last thing we're gonna add is we
have some beautiful red quinoa,
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that we just gently cooked
off a little salt and pepper.
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Quinoa is a super grain, it's very high
in protein, it's really good for you.
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It's gonna fill you up and keep you going,
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the nuttiness of the quinoa is gonna
go really well with the fatness
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of the salmon, [INAUDIBLE] so
again it's all about balance,
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pulling things together putting the right
amount of everything on a plate.
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What I like to do is to build
the dish from the bottom up.
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A lot of chefs like to stack things.
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We're kinda stacking here, but
we're gonna change up a little bit.
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So we're gonna start with the sauce
on the bottom of the plate,
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we're gonna put the quinoa
in a straight line and
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then build the vegetables on the quinoa
are going down kinda like every other one.
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And then on top of that we're gonna put
the salmon, we're gonna garnish with
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the pea tendrils and then we're gonna
finish with the pickled onions just to
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give you that acid in
the dish that it needs.
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We have some pea tendrils here, and
a puree we made from the pea tendrils.
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This is very easy to make,
we take the pea tendrils,
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we blanch them in salty water again, we
shock them, then we puree them with salt,
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pepper, and a little bit of olive oil,
and you get this really nice sauce here.
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We don't do a lemon sauce or
a really heavy, buttery sauce with this.
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You wanna keep everything fresh and light.
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So this beautiful vibrant green sauce
we're just gonna put down on the plate,
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couple spoonfuls of that.
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A lot of things that we like
to do at the restaurant here,
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we always have a lot of different
vegetable purees made, and
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we use a lot of vegetable purees on
plates, as opposed to using sauces.
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Vegetable purees add a really nice,
light freshness to the plate,
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they're not as heavy, especially with
the hot weather that we get out here,
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we wanna keep all our dishes
very light and very fun.
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So we're just gonna take a couple
spoons of the quinoa here.
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This is kind of stacking
put off to the side.
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So all I've done was I made a circle of
the sauce kind of a rough circle, and
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we put the quinoa in a straight line.
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And then we're just laying our
beautiful vegetables on top,
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every other one, just like they
kind of fell out of the sky.
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Now we're going to place
our salmon like this.
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This dish might look complicated,
but this is very simple cooking,
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very fresh cooking, this is gonna be
very easy for you to do it at home.
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We're just gonna finish this right
here with these pickled red onions.
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And that's our completed dish.
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Roast salmon, quinoa, vegetables.
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Pea tendril puree and pea tendrils.
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