In the spirit of food competitions, I dreamed up one for myself: Could I use only one color to prepare a different meal each day for seven days? I decided to consider rice and chicken breasts color-neutral ingredients, but that all other components on any given night had to be the same color. Why do something like this? Three reasons: one, mostly because I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen; two, because I thought it might give me the chance to come up with something new; and three, because I enjoy food and eating as active processes, not something to be done without engagement. In that spirit, my menu was:
Day One: Brown-Pulled pork chili with kidney and black beans.
Day Two: Red-Red bell pepper, red onion, and shrimp enchiladas with chipotle and tomato cream sauce, served with red Spanish rice.
Day Three: White-Open-faced grilled chicken burgers with Fontina cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and onions, accompanied by white cabbage and white corn coleslaw.
Day Four: Green-Green Thai curry stir-fry with sugar snap peas, zucchini, asparagus, broccoli, and green bell peppers served over spinach fettuccine.
Day Five: Blue/Purple-Blue corn chip-crusted chicken tenders with blueberry chutney, served with steamed purple cauliflower and braised purple cabbage.
Day Six: Orange-Roasted chicken with apricots, mangos, and oranges, served over orange-scented rice.
Day Seven: Yellow-Yellow squash, yellow bell pepper, and corn enchiladas with roasted yellow bell pepper and yellow chile sauce, served with yellow corn cakes.
Although I didn’t think this experiment would be that difficult, by the end I came to appreciate the variety of my normal meals. While I think you could fulfill your daily nutritional requirements by dining on a limited color palette (as long as you choose your one color wisely), I don’t believe dining on one particular shade to be very fulfilling, as each time I prepared a meal I always had to leave out an ingredient I would normally include.
This exercise forced me to think about each item I included in every dish. I know I strayed from my theme color a bit each day. When making my chili for Brown Day, I did end up adding a chopped tomato at the last minute because the chili needed something fresh to liven it up-before that it was basically a pot of beans and pork. On Red Day, I couldn’t find any tomato tortillas, so I ended up using white corn tortillas instead. My ability to cook with a single color did improve with time, however, as by day seven everything but the sour cream in my enchilada sauce was yellow. On Red Day, I even committed a horrible offense-I left the avocado on the counter while consuming my red enchiladas.
Toward the end of the week, my creativity was dwindling, and I repeated enchiladas. The yellow enchiladas, however, were much better than the red. In fact, that recipe will be added to my normal rotation, though I’ll likely next time use an assortment of rainbow-colored veggies. Purple/Blue Day pressed on my imagination, but turned out to be one of my favorite meals of the week. There are only a handful of foodstuffs that are blue or purple, and none seemed particularly suited to accompany one another. However, the blue corn chip crusted chicken strips were some of the best chicken strips I’ve ever made (baked not fried!), and my blueberry chutney was their perfect match. Another combination I’ll likely repeat.
I also learned more about how cooking processes change the appearance of food. I’ve cooked mushrooms a few times before, but I never realized how much caramelization changes their color from a pure white to beige to smoky brown. Similarly, the tomatoes and chipotle peppers sauce was quite red when poured over the enchiladas, but after baking in the oven it changed to a reddish brown. On the other hand, the application of heat to the yellow and green vegetables increased their vibrancy. When you first slice into a yellow squash, the majority of the center is extremely pale yellow; after sauteing, the flesh turns a bright lemon hue. Another exciting revelation was the effect apple cider vinegar has on purple cabbage: originally a deep purple tone, just a couple drops of the acid turned the cabbage fuchsia.
My conclusion: Variety is key and makes cooking easier. While I typically plan my meals beforehand, I have never invested the amount of time into strategizing over dinner as I have in these past seven days. I also spent hours walking the aisles of supermarkets and farmers markets comparing colors and seeking out new items. I should have gone out of my comfort zone more-for example, incorporated parsnips into my meal on White Day or given eggplant a try on Blue/Purple Day.
Will I ever do this again? Maybe, but not anytime soon. What are my dinner plans for this evening? An Asian-inspired mixed vegetable stir-fry with baked salmon and rice.