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With more than 75,000 Instagram followers and a highly successful recipe website, Naturally Ella, Sacramento based cookbook author and photographer Erin Alderson is savoring the sweet taste of success. We chatted with her recently about why healthy eating became her passion, the state of vegetarian cooking in restaurants and the two ingredients she can’t live without.
Her journey to healthy eating
I grew up eating a lot of fast food. Then, in my late teens, my father had a heart attack. It was a giant wake-up call for our entire family. We all started caring about what we were putting in our bodies and exercising more. It completely transformed my relationship with food.
Why more people don’t cook
I think a big reason is time. We rush through our days. That’s one of the things I hear most. Because of that, a lot of my recipes take less than 30 minutes. I want people to know it doesn’t have to be an hour or two-hour process if you don’t want it to be.
The ingredients she can’t live without
If I could only pick two, it would be lentils and millet. I love lentils because it’s a dry ingredient you can pick up from the bulk bin, and every variety cooks in less than 30 minutes. They’re so easy to use and they soak up so many good flavors. My recipe for lentil bites is one of my favorites. Millet is another pseudo grain that’s similar to quinoa, but I find it more versatile than quinoa. I t can be used to make an awesome porridge or a fritter or a grain cake.
Why some vegetarian meals fall short
A lot of times when I order a vegetarian meal at a restaurant, I’ll look at my husband’s meal versus mine and it just feels like something’s missing. I t’s as though chefs don’t really know how to make a complete vegetarian meal. I want my recipes to feel as though they’re not missing anything. A vegetarian dish can have a full flavor and be a full meal. And I ’m not afraid of fat, so that helps.
Cooking for her toddler son
I think that the hardest part for me is not feeling offended when he doesn’t like something. He’s actually a really good eater so I feel really lucky. We made it a priority from very early on to feed him what we’re eating.
Why she loves pantry items
I am obsessed with the idea of having a wellstocked pantry. It is really where I find my passion. Obviously, I love fresh produce, but I really feel like the pantry is the backbone of cooking. I f you have basic knowledge and a few pantry ingredients, you can create so many different kinds of meals.
Where she finds inspiration
A lot of it is from going to the farmers market and the farm stands around Sacramento. I moved here from Illinois four years ago for my husband’s job and I could not have asked for a better place to land. I t’s just been amazing to be here. Everywhere you look, there’s inspiration—from the markets, from the chefs doing cool things. It’s hard to not be inspired.