Lise Walsh is a self-taught cook and entrepreneur who creates the delicious, wholesome meals for my workshops. I love her fresh, seasonal, local approach to food. Lise describes cooking as her happy place. “It’s a mixture of so many things. A way to express creativity. A way to nourish my body and more importantly, my soul.”
For Lise, cooking is much like my experience with making ceramics, a way to work with your hands mindfully. “For me, it’s a practical meditation – a quietening of the mind after a busy day. And a rewarding way to share my love with those I care about,” she says.
In a past life Lise was a store buyer (a real-life Rachel Green), owned a children’s wear boutique and also ran two acclaimed Perth cafés. I sat down to talk to her about the role food plays in our wellbeing, how to be a mindful cook and tips for healthy, fuss-free meals.
How did you get into cooking?
I started in the kitchen at a young age, encouraged by my parents but not restricted by their constant supervision. I was a free bird when it came to cooking and I was gently guided by my mum’s incredible cooking skills and her wealth of knowledge. Equally my dad was my biggest supporter. Still to this day they are my biggest fans.
What were some of the things your mum taught you?
In the time I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, my mum was fairly forward thinking in her health. She suffered a lot of ailments and so for her food was medicine. She learnt that what she eats is going to affect how she feels. She was cooking with buckwheat flour, quinoa and spelt long before it became it trendy.
Where do you find recipe inspiration?
Being asked my favourite cookbook is like being asked my favourite child but the ones I always find myself referring to are Bourke Street Bakery, Maggie Beers’ Recipe for Life, Mike McEnearney’s Real Food and any Ottolenghi books.
Do you have a signature style of cooking?
I love all types of foods, although with my cooking style I would say I lean more toward cooking with seasonal vegetables.
I also love all kinds of baking and I think that takes me back to the time of feel-good baking as a little girl. I also enjoy experimenting with alternative flours and ingredients as they can have an interesting depth of flavour and texture. But I’m also very happy to keep it traditional when it calls for it. I don’t beat myself up if not every meal is 100 % nutrient dense. I think that most of all, food is to be enjoyed, whatever that form is.
What are your tips for healthy, simple cooking?
Learn some recipes off by heart
When you’re time poor (and time in the kitchen is a drag), producing recipes you know well will save time and anxiety in the kitchen. We are so lucky to have access to such beautiful, quality seasonal vegetables – mixing up a staple recipe with different vegetables can make it new and interesting without putting you under pressure to create something new. Save the new recipes for the weekend when you can enjoy the time in the kitchen. If it’s a hit – add it to the mid-week rotation.
Cook up extras
Cook extra of things to eat over the coming days. Extra roast veggies can be made into a salad for the next night’s dinner or extra brown rice can be used for fried rice or arancini balls. You can even have cooked grains or rice for breakfast or as a snack with yoghurt, nuts berries and honey. Doubling your cooking is an easy way to save time.
It’s okay to feast on the same ingredient while it’s in season – that’s what Mother Nature intended. When produce is in season it’s at it’s best nutritionally and taste wise (also dollar wise). By eating seasonally we enjoy a vast array of nutrients over the year when we need them most. Water rich vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes keep us hydrated in summer and starchy, dense vegetables give us energy in winter.
Cook with less
I love the challenge of making something with very few ingredients. An overflowing pantry and fridge can lead to waste and confusion when you start to cook. It’s nice to start with one ingredient and ask, ‘what can I do with this?’. If you have a cauliflower, maybe you can make creamy cauliflower curry and in your pantry, you’ve got some brown rice and then all of a sudden you’ve got a dish made with four ingredients.
Make cooking a ritual
For me, the enjoyment of cooking comes when it’s in the space of creating, not ‘I’ve got to get something on the table’. So I make time to sit down with a magazine, get inspired, come up with a recipe or just play around with what I’ve got. I also love creating a dinner party menu. Even if I never intend to host a party, I like to look at what would go with what. I like to create a whole world around cooking and the pleasure of food.
Don’t cook everything from scratch
Don’t get hung up on doing everything from scratch. So if you want to do curry cauliflower, don’t get hung up on making your own curry paste. Just buy a jar or a good or spice mix, and be happy that you’re cooking the rest. Build up recipes, learning to cook each part one step at a time.
I’ve found that often when you run out of something is when you learn how to make it. So when you run out of curry powder and you read the ingredients, you’ll notice that you actually have all of those spices and you can start mixing your own.
Try new things
Add new cooking methods and ingredients into your repertoire. You’ll often find that once you start you’ll wonder why you thought they were so difficult. When you’ve tried something once, it’ll be so much easier to replicate.
Something like pickling, for example, might seem difficult but it’s actually very easy. You don’t really need a recipe. You just put some apple cider vinegar in a pot with sugar, add pickling spices which you can buy, throw in some onions or beetroot and let it cook. And then you have something that adds a little exuberance to salads later in the week.
In previous blog posts, Lise has generously shared two of her fave recipes with us. Her green pea, leek and mint soup and upside-down nectarine and hazelnut cake. Photos above feature our dip bowl, fika plate, kanso plate and cake stand. You can follow Lise over on Instagram @lise_walsh