For health coach and blogger Lily Kunin, healthy eating is about what makes her body feel its best. This simple philosophy is the basis for her debut cookbook, Good Clean Food, in which Kunin proves that plant-based eating can be personalized to meet an individual’s needs. In it, you’ll find a bowl builder that will help you customize your perfect grain bowl, and a focus on how food can make you feel, as opposed to what meal you’re planning for. We caught up with the founder of Clean Food Dirty City to talk blogging, cooking styles and eating clean in the Big Apple.
Food Network: When and why did you adopt a plant-based diet?
Lily Kunin: I suffered from migraines and vertigo starting in high school, and for a period of about 5 years I had pretty severe symptoms. I tried everything from conventional medicine to alternative therapies and nothing really worked until one therapist said the problem could be my diet. And after some trial and error I gave up gluten, and for the first time in a few years, I felt symptom-free. That was when I connected what I was putting my body — food — to how it was making me feel. That said, I’m not completely plant-based. I eat a heavily plant-based diet, but I also incorporate some pasture-raised eggs, wild salmon and grass-fed meats, too.
FN: How long have you been Instagramming and blogging?
LK: I started my Instagram, @cleanfooddirtycity, in 2014 as a photo diary for me. I didn’t even tell my friends about it. I would make recipes off the top of my head, take a picture and post it on Instagram so I could look back in a week and see what I made. It snowballed from there when people started asking for recipes and that’s why I started my blog with gluten-free and dairy-free recipes. I’ve recently started adding new natural beauty recipes and clean travel tips.
FN: How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle in a city that’s always on-the-go?
LK: I make it fun. In the early days when I moved to New York City, I lived next door to three of my friends from college and we got together every Monday to cook dinner together. Cooking with friends and family makes it fun. I’ve also learned to find places that are convenient for me to shop at and that are reasonably priced. I have access to farmers’ markets, too, which usually have high quality inexpensive options.
FN: How often do you cook at home?
LK: I cook at home almost every day, but I also travel a decent amount. I always try to make breakfast at home so I start out the day on a solid foot. There are so many great restaurants in in the city and I feel like it’s my job to research, so I like going to new places because that’s also how I’ll find inspiration, through traveling and eating out.
FN: What’s your go-to weeknight dinner?
LK: One of my favorite ones from the book is The Daily Bowl (recipe below) and that’s an easy last-minute weekday lunch or dinner. It’s a grain, bean, veggies, whatever I have in my fridge with some kind of dressing. I’ll make a big batch of dressing earlier in the week that I can use for the few days. And another one I’ll make is the red lentil earth curry. It’s really hearty and warming, and it’ll last a few days in the fridge.
FN: What snacks do you always have on-hand?
LK: I do a lot of sliced apples and I’ll drizzle some raw almond butter and honey and cacao nibs on those. Sometimes I’ll make a bunch of power balls: I have a recipe in the book for mango macarons and I have those with a cup of hot tea.
FN: Your book is structured by feelings as opposed to meal type. What’s the reason for that?
LK: I thought about it in the way that I look for recipes. In the winter, when I come home from a long day, I’ll be in the mood for something that’s going to make me feel warm and comforted. Or if I have a cold coming on, I need something healing. It also gets people thinking about what they put in their body and how it has an effect on how they feel.
FN: What advice do you have for home cooks working in a kitchen on the smaller side?
LK: I always have a discard bin, so I have big bowl I throw all my scraps in. I definitely try to clean as I go. I’ve become a lot better at this because you realize it makes your job a lot easier at the end when you want to clean up. One of my goals is to make my recipes simple for small kitchen cooks, and I try to limit the number of pans I use and make it easier on the cleanup, since I know lots of people living in city kitchens don’t have dishwashers.
FN: What do you always have in your pantry?
LK: Pasture-raised eggs, tahini, lemons, some type of greens, some type of lentils and some type of grain. I love looking in my pantry to see what I can make from what’s there instead of running to the store. And sometimes that’s when I come up with my most creative dishes because it’s like forced creativity.
FN: Do you ever have (or need) a cheat day/meal?
LK: I don’t consider them to be cheat days or cheat meals. I have French fries in my diet. I don’t feel bad about it. I just make room for it. Knowing that I’m cooking for myself and feeling good and incorporating tons of healthy foods into my meals otherwise, there’s space for that.
The Daily Bowl (pictured above)
This bowl borrows its concept from the macroplate — a perfectly balanced serving of rice, beans, steamed vegetables, steamed greens, and sea vegetables in traditional macrobiotic cuisine. I call it the daily bowl because there is always a different grain or bean du jour in my kitchen; it’s also my go-to when I need to get back to balance. Here it’s served with black rice, mung beans, and fermented sauerkraut, but you can customize it to your liking. Sea veggies are rich in minerals and chlorophyll, which balance pH and detoxify the body. Hijiki and sea palm are two of my favorites.
1 cup (195 g) cooked black rice
1 cup (124 g) cooked mung beans (or one 15-ounce/425-g can white beans)
1 small sweet potato, cubed and steamed
2 cups (180 g) broccoli florets, steamed
1 bunch curly or Tuscan kale, stems removed, roughly chopped and steamed
1⁄2 avocado, thinly sliced
Top with: raw fermented sauerkraut, sea vegetables, microgreens, sprouts, hemp hearts, gomasio
(Miso-tahini dressing (recipe follows)
Green tahini dressing (recipe follows)
Assemble each bowl by spooning in half the rice, beans, sweet potato, broccoli, kale, and avocado. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons Miso-Tahini dressing (recipe below), reserving the rest for another use.
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) tahini
2 tablespoons miso
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the tahini, miso, and lemon juice, along with pepper to taste, in a small bowl. While whisking, gradually add up to 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) water until you reach your desired consistency.
Serves 2 (using 2T dressing per serving); Calories 564; Fat 19 g (Saturated Fat 2 g); Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 304 mg; Carbohydrate 86 g;
Fiber 26 g; Sugar: 12 g; Protein 28 g
Recipes adapted from Good Clean Food by Lily Kunin.