I recently talked to Ana Sortun of Oleana about her new Chef Sets, kits for making Turkish-market inspired dinners at home. Sortun affirmed the last thing the world needs is another celebrity chef product, but she called this a “love affair project,” begun when nutritionists approached her about developing healthy but satisfying recipes for their clients.
SetPoint Nutritionists wanted the glorious Middle Eastern flavors on Sortun’s menus in meals that accommodated diabetes, obesity, and metabolic concerns.
Sortun was all empathy.
“Since I was five or six-years-old I battled a slow metabolism; I was always on a diet. I was always sitting at a table watching people enjoy food, but I had to eat the “healthy” thing; it was a punishment to eat healthy.”
“I just think people need a little help,” Sortun says, talking about the struggles of busy lives and balanced eating. “I see these meals as a tool, a reasonable, healthy solution” to achieving the right balance of protein, carbohydrate and good fat. The nutritionists made sure that part worked.
Azuluna Pork with Moorish Spices, Saffron Rice, Cherries, Olives & Radicchio is on the menu tonight at Oleana; Sortun’s cookbook is titled “Spice, the flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean;” but, amazingly, Sortun says says it was in developing these products that she learned “the power of spices.”
“(The Chef Set Project) was cooking backwards,” she explains. “I usually cook starting with local ingredients; I’m usually inspired by the fresh stuff first.” In designing these recipes, Sortun had to begin with the spices and move back towards the fresh ingredients.
After two and a half years of work, all participants decided the products should be available for retail.
One pan, some fresh ingredients, a set of hands, and a Chef Set means an ample, robust dinner for two in twenty minutes. Saffron, turmeric, and cinnamon were the centerpiece flavors of my “Couscous with Moroccan Spices and Almonds” dinner. It required eight ounces of boneless chicken breasts, an onion, two large carrots, and some olive oil. The finished dinner tasted like real food, nothing re-hydrated or preserved about it.
“We use the same flavors as at Oleana,” Sortun said, “the spice blends are the very things we would do at the restaurant.”
Another variation - quinoa, crushed pistachios, and za’atar - requires fresh salmon, frozen peas, onion and olive oil. Get the idea? This isn’t about not cooking. It’s a tool, Sortun stresses. For the skilled, the kit eliminates a recipe search and time spent rummaging in the cupboard for ingredients. For those less familiar with a saute pan, the kit requires some simple cooking, but it’s an imaginative and healthy alternative to frozen pizza.
Many a weeknight I’ve looked at the clock and realized my “simple dinner” has meant I’m standing in the kitchen for an hour and a half. As Sortun says, “What the hell can you cook in twenty minutes?” Here we are.
The kits are available at Whole Foods, Sofra, Siena Farms in Boston’s South End, and the Copley Square Farmers Market. One kit costs $5.99. With the additional fresh ingredients, it means about $6.00 per person for dinner.
Sortun’s tips on using the sets:
“I use a lot more vegetables. You can substitute vegetables, too. (Edamame for the frozen peas? Koldrabi for carrot? ) Out of the ten products we developed, half use an onion; it’s such an essential ingredient; there’s no substituting what an onion does – the browning, the caramelization. Don’t touch the onion!” -spoken like a chef, but one, perhaps, still a little ambivalent about cooking from a box.
No need. Like everything Sortun does, her heart is in this; Sortun has achieved a product that can make daily life healthy and gracious without an Oleana reservation.