With so many diet trends out there, it’s hard to decide which approach to healthy eating is best for you. Are you on the Whole30 wagon? What about Keto? Maybe you should go vegan. Fortunately, Alex and Sonja Overhiser, the husband and wife team behind the popular blog A Couple Cooks, are making it simpler than ever to clean up your act. In fact, it’s all in the name of their just-released debut cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking ($27).
The couple want us to focus on getting in the kitchen and back to basics. That is, with nourishing recipes using whole foods and fresh produce. It’s delicious, uncomplicated, and totally approachable. With dishes like cornbread pancakes with strawberry jam, chipotle black bean tortilla soup, kale and goat cheese rigatoni, and a tender mixed greens salad with peaches, don’t you think you could get on board? There’s even an entire section on (gasp!) dessert. We’ve got our eye on the dark chocolate sea salt skillet cookie.
We love their approach so much, we asked Sonja for a few kitchen tips, go-to recipes, and her signature entertaining move (spoiler alert, it’s easier than you think!). Make sure you scroll to the end — she’s sharing a teaser recipe from her book for quick-fix pinto bean tacos, and you’re going to want to make it for dinner ASAP.
Brit + Co: You’ve described this book as a vegetarian cookbook for non-vegetarians. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Sonja Overhiser: Many people look at a vegetarian cookbook and think, “Well I’m not vegetarian, so it’s not for me.” Alex and I wanted this cookbook to be for anyone who wants to eat more vegetables: no matter what your diet preferences.
B+C: With so many diet trends out there today, what’s your advice for someone just getting started on their own path toward healthier eating?
SO: Cook real food. Focus on first cutting back on processed foods and cooking at home. Even just cutting out soda can be a huge step. Next, load on those vegetables. All the diets out there can be confusing, but most of them can agree that eating more colorful vegetables is a step toward health.
B+C: Favorite veggie of all time?
SO: Garlic. We put it in everything! Next to that: cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes.
B+C: Must-have kitchen tools?
SO: A very sharp kitchen knife. It’s absolutely key to getting around in the kitchen — a great knife is better than 100 bad ones.
B+C: Go-to vegetarian proteins?
SO: Lentils! They’re cheap and a great, filling source of protein. We also love nuts, eggs, beans, and cheese. Eating vegetarian on the regular, we make sure to balance our meal with enough filling protein. We don’t do a lot of meat substitutes, but our favorite “meat-like” vegetarian protein is tempeh.
B+C: Favorite recipe to win over a new date?
SO: Homemade ricotta gnocchi with vodka sauce. It’s in the book and has incredible flavor. It’s a fun one to make together too!
B+C: Favorite holiday cooking memory?
SO: I’m from Minnesota and my family is partly Norwegian, so I grew up making lefse, a flatbread made out of potatoes. My great grandmother passed it down to my mother, and it’s fun to experience that heritage during the holidays.
B+C: Signature entertaining trick/recipe/move?
SO: A bar of dark chocolate for dessert. Most of the time it’s hard enough for me to get a main dish and sides on the table, so I like having something super simple to end the meal.
B+C: Your favorite “non-meal meal” (i.e. avo toast, cereal, smoothie)?
SO: We have a great recipe for muesli (homemade breakfast cereal) in the book. I could eat pounds of it.
B+C: Top food guilty pleasure?
SO: Fries. I’m a salt junkie.
B+C: Meal prepping — yay or nay?
SO: Kind of… Alex and I like to make meals when we have time to cook, and then eat the leftovers later. It’s not really meal prep, but it works well for our lifestyle. Also, we do like to make things in advance (like brown rice, etc) or do “pantry” meals where we find ingredients on hand and come up with a creative meal concept.
B+C: You recently welcomed your (adorable!) son Larson into your family. Has your cooking changed since becoming parents? Any tips for feeding little ones?
SO: It’s funny… since we had established patterns of cooking in our lives before Larson, we’ve had the privilege of fitting HIM into our cooking life, not the other way around. Luckily, so far Larson loves what we cook. Our main tip is: Feed your kiddos what you eat. Easier said than done sometimes, so we always have backups on hand: eggs, peanut butter toast, yogurt, blueberries, cheese, things that we know he loves just in case. But most of the time, he loves trying what we’re eating.
B+C: What are your biggest sources of inspiration for new recipes?
SO: Food blogs, cookbooks, the farmers’ market, going out to restaurants to try new and different flavor combinations.
B+C: Okay, most important question. You’re stranded on a desert island for months. What’s the first meal you eat when you’re finally rescued?
SO: Great question. I think pizza margherita (can I be in Naples too?). There’s nothing better.
Quick Fix Pinto Bean Tacos
(Makes 8 Tacos)
- 1 small white onion
- 1 15-ounce can pinto beans
- 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice (1 lime)
- 2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 8 corn tortillas
- 2 cups baby spinach leaves or other baby greens, loosely packed
- ½ cup feta cheese crumbles
- Mexican-style hot sauce, for serving
1. Prepare the vegetables. Peel and mince the onion. Drain and rinse the pinto beans. Cut the corn off of the cob or warm frozen corn to room temperature (if using).
2. Marinate the cabbage. Juice the lime. Thinly slice the red cabbage, then mix it with the lime juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt.
3. Cook the beans and eggs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes until translucent. Crack the eggs into the skillet and cook with the onion, stirring constantly until the eggs are scrambled into small pieces and just set, about 2 minutes. Add the beans and stir to combine, then stir in the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and ¾ teaspoon kosher salt. Cook for about 3 minutes until warmed through.
4. Char the tortillas. If desired, char the tortillas by turning on a gas burner to medium heat and placing the tortilla directly on the grate. After about 15 seconds, when the edges are lightly charred, use tongs to flip the tortilla and heat on the opposite side until lightly charred. Repeat for all tortillas, taking care that they do not catch fire.
5. To serve, place the spinach on the tortillas, then top with the beans, red cabbage, feta crumbles, corn, hot sauce, and additional toppings as desired.
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(Recipe and photos via Pretty Simple Cooking)