By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — If the thought of figuring out what to make for dinner tonight doesn’t exactly get your heart racing, cookbook author Nina Simonds understands.
“Even though I’ve written 11 books, cooking dinner is drudgery,” she said. “We’re all under pressure. Nobody wants to cook every night.”
Nevertheless, you have to eat. And Simonds thinks it should be something tasty, satisfying and — especially important, given the rise in obesity — healthy.
“I’ve always had a particular interest in food that’s delicious and healthy,” said Simonds, a longtime Salem resident. “I don’t say ‘food as medicine,’ I say ‘food as health-giving and disease-preventing.’”
The award-winning writer recently started a new business, opening up the kitchen of her Warren Street home for small classes and one-on-one counseling, with a special emphasis on wellness.
The classes generally run on Wednesday or Thursday evenings and are limited to 12 people. In addition to learning new recipes, participants are able to sample each dish. The classes cost $100 each, or $90 if you sign up for more than one.
Simonds’ life has been a whirlwind of cooking, traveling and fine foods, starting when she moved to Taiwan to study Asian cuisine at age 19.
“I was naive and young,” she said, “and it was probably one of the best decisions I made in my life.”
Along the way, she’s written about cooking for Gourmet magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, among others. Then, there are the books she’s authored, recently including “A Spoonful of Ginger” and “Spices of Life,” both of which earned her James Beard awards.
Though she studied in Paris at Julia Child’s suggestion, Simond specializes in Asian cuisine, with an emphasis on health that was formalized when she completed a one-year program offered by the National Institute of Whole Health. She also studied Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine in China, India and Singapore.
Everybody knows they should eat healthy foods, Simonds said, but many people are unable to take that knowledge and apply it directly to their everyday meal schedule.
“I sort of feel like I’m the missing link,” she said.
Simonds has been teaching for decades in a variety of venues, including corporate conferences and cooking schools, and says that one of the best parts of teaching is the social aspect. She tries to keep her classes informal and entertaining, as well as educational.
“I love to encourage people to ask questions,” she said. “That’s how you learn.”
The key to keeping people’s attention when it comes to healthy eating is making sure things don’t get too difficult — and keeping the food flavorful, she said.
“You can talk about healthy food until you’re blue in the face,” she said, “but if it isn’t delicious and fast and accessible, then forget it — people aren’t going to do it.”
The individual coaching sessions that Simonds offers focus on developing better eating habits and overall health. Participants begin with a personal assessment, then progress through a program that focuses on ways to change their food choices and habits. She even takes participants on a virtual tour of a grocery store via a PowerPoint presentation, explaining the abundance of good choices available to the modern shopper — even among prepared foods.
“At Market Basket, it’s amazing what you can do,” she said. “It’s fantastic what you can buy.”
Among Simonds’ upcoming offerings are a “Chinese Dumpling Workshop” next week, “Easy and Creative Ideas for Winter Vegetable Dishes” in February and “Meal-in-One Warm Salads” in March. For more information or to sign up, visit her website at www.spicesoflife.com.