HEALTHY CHOICES with Liza Baker: An Intro to Kitchen Formulas (and a pesto recipe)


In last month’s column on meal planning, I mentioned that one step toward cooking from scratch on a regular basis is to learn a few basic recipes and techniques you can use over and over.

What does that mean?

For starters, I encourage you to start looking at a category of recipes (soups, stews, salad dressings) as similar—or at least related—rather than viewing each one as a completely different set of ingredients and instructions.

I call this “deconstructing” recipes, and you can read more about how that works on my blog.

Kitchen formulas

What happens when you deconstruct enough recipes is that you can start to see some underlying formulas.

For example, let’s take a look at a vinaigrette-style salad dressing.

A basic vinaigrette usually uses 1 part acid (lemon juice, vinegar, etc.) to 3 parts oil; a basic marinade is usually the reverse—1 part oil to 3 parts acid. Of course, there are usually some other ingredients, such as salt, pepper, maybe some herbs, garlic, a little sugar or honey or maple syrup, etc.

You can see that you can now make a vinaigrette with what you have on hand:

  • Red wine vinegar + avocado oil?
  • Balsamic vinegar + olive oil?
  • Apple cider vinegar + walnut oil?
  • Rice wine vinegar + sesame oil?

You can also make a little bit (1 tablespoon vinegar to 3 tablespoons of oil) or a lot (1 cups vinegar to 3 cups oil) as long as you stick to that ratio—1:3.

Ready to try out another recipe?

Basic pesto

“Pesto” comes from the Italian word for “to pound or crush,” and the paste is traditionally made by crushing basil, garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts, and olive oil in a mortar and pestle—these days it’s easier to use a food processor.

My basic recipe for 1 cup basil pesto uses:

  • 1 c tightly packed basil leaves
  • ¼ c pine nuts
  • ½ c olive oil

Of course, it also contains “extras” such as garlic, Parmesan, salt + pepper, which can be used to taste.

You might be thinking, “But basil is a summer crop, and aren’t you all about seasonal and local ingredients?”

Never fear—that’s why we’re deconstructing the recipe!

If you look at the main ingredients as a formula, it’s 1 partnuts to 2 parts oil to 4 parts basil (1:2:4).

If you weren’t able to put up a stock of basil pesto in your freezer at the height of summer, you can still make it!

I recommend sticking with olive oil, but you can certainly use just about any leafy herb or green you have on hand, including my favorite—kale!—in place of basil, and you can use any nuts or seeds you have on hand in place of pine nuts: just stick to ¼ c nuts to ½ c oil to 1 c greens.

See you in the kitchen!

You can download a copy of the entire pesto recipe to try out.

As an aside (and a plug for my favorite veggie), the cool thing about kale pesto is that it doesn’t turn brown as quickly as basil pesto, so you can keep it around to use for all kinds of dishes: use a dollop on your favorite meat, fish, poultry, roasted vegetables, vegetable salads, or eggs. Also makes a great dressing for potato, pasta, and grain salads as well as chicken and tuna salads.

And if you’re looking for holiday gifts, you can get $5 off my cookbook (MI buyers/buyers outside MI) through the end of 2018by using the coupon code “weloveA2” at checkout.

Ann Arbor’s Liza Baker, a WLAA health columnist, is a full-time Integrative Nutrition® health coach, cookbook author, part-time consultant, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four. Liza lives in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and exercise, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice. You can get a taste of her work at, buy her cookbook at, and join the (Sorta) Secret Sisterhood, her membership site for women over 40, at


Tags from the story
Written By
More from Liza Baker

HEALTHY CHOICES with Liza Baker: To die(t) or not to die(t)

 ‘Tis the season for resolutions—do yours include going on a diet? I...
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *