Lest we forget, I’ve never been to culinary school. So writing a post of 101 things I learned there wouldn’t really exist. It is, however, the name of a clever little book my friend, Kristine, sent me for my birthday a while back. The author, Louis Eguaras, describes the book as an “insight into many facets of the culinary world, from its business to its art.”
Thing #39, “Eight ways to make a plate look better,” got my attention, especially since part of what makes a food blog successful are the photos of the food that is written about. Right? I mean, tell me you don’t read my blog just to mock my attempts at witty banter.
And though I’m not the greatest nor most well-equipped photographer ever, I decided to make Eguaras’s thing #39 my newest blog project: cooking dishes specifically to focus on one of these 8 things that will magically make my food look better on the plate (and thus in my photo). I’ll post the tip I followed and the dish I create in the next few weeks until I’ve purposefully tried every tip.
My first victim: sweet potato and black bean quesadillas–a dish I first enjoyed in Portland, Oregon, courtesy of my creative cooking friend, Julia. Because quesadillas are, by nature, a rather flat food, and just as round as the plate they’re served on, I chose to tackle tip number 2: avoid flatness. Eguaras advises: “Arrange or shingle food at different heights.” Here’s what I came up with:
Aside from the quality of the photos produced from my simple point-and-shoot camera, you can see that I tried to build some height on the plate by layering the wedges of quesadilla. This strategy also enabled me to better display the quesadilla filling, hinting at the flavors to come.
A 1977 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discussed the positive effects of “pre-eating” one’s food; that is, if a dish looks appealing, the body will absorb more of nutrients from the food (this happens to be Eguaras’s Thing #8). While a tortilla overflowing with dense sweet potato and black beans is not the sturdiest thing to stack up on a plate, I was pretty pleased with the way that these quesadillas looked on the plate, though I couldn’t begin to guess what percentage of its nutrients my body absorbed. What do you think? Which is your favorite design? What other creative ways can you think to serve something flat (and initially round) like quesadillas? Leave a comment to share your thoughts!
Oh, and if you’re interested in how to make this healthy nod to Mexican food, here’s whatcha do:
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas (inspired by Julia)
Serves 1 hungry person
1. Stab a medium-smallish sweet potato all over with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350F for 30 minutes to an hour. When it’s cool enough to handle, peel of the skin, and mash the insides with a fork. Set aside.
2. Drain and rinse a 14-oz. can of black beans. Mince 1 clove of garlic and add to the beans, along with a sprinkling of ground cumin. Mash it up with a fork – it doesn’t need to be pureed, just a rough mash is fine.
3. Peel and slice half an onion. Sautee in a bit of olive oil in a skillet until soft and evenly golden brown. Remove and set aside.
4. With the heat on medium under your skillet, lightly warm 2 tortillas – one at a time – in any remaining olive oil, about 2 minutes on each side. When you’re on the fourth side, gently spread about half of the sweet potato and 1/4 of the black bean mixture onto the tortilla. Add your sauteed onions, and a generous handful of shredded cheddar cheese. Top with the second tortilla.
5. Heat until the cheese has melted – about 5 minutes, flipping the whole shebang as deemed necessary. (I sometimes throw the lid on top of the skillet to help it heat more evenly and quickly).
Repeat for as many quesadillas as you’d like. They’re rather filling! If Alex and I are both really hungry, we can each finish one whole quesadilla. For a lunch, we’d split one. Oh, and if you’re making more than two at a time, you might consider baking them on a baking sheet in the oven. Enjoy!