Profile: Cooking Teacher Pamela Salzman
Pamela Salzman is a very good cook. Actually, she’s much more than that—a true food-world hyphenate: cook–cooking teacher–cookbook author–food blogger–recipe developer–certified holistic health counselor.
I met her at a cooking class back in 2011 and became a fan right then. Her teaching style is straightforward and inspiring; she radiates enthusiasm, authority and deep knowledge; and her thoroughly proven recipes are both accessible and delicious.
Over the years, among many other things, she taught me to always soak rice before cooking it (to reduce arsenic levels), avoid buying food in cans (most are coated with BPA, a chemical toxic to humans), and use three different kinds of apples in an apple pie (best contrast of flavor and texture). Also, do not mention commercial lemon juice in a plastic bottle to her—she will not be happy!
Pamela lives with her husband and their three kids in Manhattan Beach, California, just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. The other day, I stopped by to ask her about how she got into cooking and teaching, and about her freshly released first cookbook.
She grew up on the East Coast, in a close-knit family. “My dad came here when he was 20 years old,” says Pamela. “It’s a typical story—it was hard to make a living in Italy, so they went looking for the American dream.” He learned English and later taught Italian at a university. He grew food in his garden and insisted on home-cooked meals, which Pamela’s Italian-American mom prepared.
“She would make really good baked ziti or stuffed manicotti,” she remembers. “On Sundays, we would go to grandma’s and eat her ravioli. We never went out to eat in restaurants; there was no fast food, and no take out.” Pamela enjoyed helping her mom in the kitchen and learning along the way. “I especially loved Christmas—there was always a potluck get-together with extended family. We would have linguini, eel, octopus, baccala… Adults dressed up, kids sang, and the priest came and gave blessings. We still do it every year; now it’s just getting bigger and bigger as the family grows.”
After graduating from business school, Pamela moved to L.A., got married, had kids, and worked in beauty PR. While she was volunteering at Growing Great (a nonprofit that teaches children about food, gardening and nutrition), parents would come up to her and ask about how to make better lunches for their kids.
“I thought I needed to do something to make people healthier,” she recalls. Her first official cooking class was in the fall of 2008. “I taught Thanksgiving recipes and really loved it.” Her audience did, too, and positive word-of-mouth brought her more classes. Today, she teaches about 16 classes a month. Typically, a hostess will set Pamela up in her home kitchen and invite a group of 10–12 close friends, who watch a very informative how-and-why demo of five whole-food-based recipes. Everyone then sits down and eats lunch. One of my favorite menus is from May 2014: deconstructed guacamole salad, grilled artichokes with lemon-caper dipping sauce, slow-roasted wild salmon with cucumber-mango salsa, vegetable paella, and baked cinnamon cake doughnuts.
Pamela’s first cookbook, Kitchen Matters, came out in May. It is a cool collection of more than 100 recipes that got the best feedback over the last decade of her teaching. “My goal was to inspire and help people to set themselves up for success.”
Age This space intentionally left blank — Hometown Stony Brook, NY (Long Island) — Where do you live? Manhattan Beach, CA — Occupation Mother of three, cooking instructor, recipe developer, and certified holistic health counselor. — Signature dish I make a mean soup, especially my late summer minestrone—although my kids would argue tacos. — Who taught you how to cook? Myself, with the help of (the now defunct) Gourmet magazine. — Favorite kitchen tool Food processor. — Always in your pantry Unrefined olive oil, Maldon salt, whole grains and legumes, glass-jarred tomatoes, coconut sugar, plus every nut and seed on earth. — Go-to snack Apple with almond butter and Maldon salt. — Favorite cuisine Mediterranean. — Do you diet? Not really, but sometimes I have to rein it in. — Food addictions Guacamole and chips, chocolate. — Food allergies Thankfully none! — Food fad pet peeve Unicorn food. Please go away and never come back. — Who’s your sous chef? Any one of my kids, if they happen to walk into the kitchen at the right time — Drinking while cooking? Nope! — What’s for dinner tonight? Chicken shawarma from my new cookbook, Israeli salad, crispy rice. — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? Absolutely not. There’s almost always a way to fix something, and if there isn’t, it’s not the end of the world. — Best meal you ever had Too many to mention. But there was this time, at my father’s friend’s house in Amalfi, where the hosts put together some bread from the bakery down the road, a salad with tomatoes and basil from the garden, locally made fresh mozzarella, the best olive oil—and it was a revelation. Food does not have to be fancy or take hours to prepare to be delicious and memorable. When the ingredients are first-rate, you don’t have to do much. — Contact pamelasalzman.com
Sweet Potato Chocolate Pudding
“Don’t knock it until you try it,” says Pamela about this vegan, gluten-free recipe from her cookbook. Using sweet potatoes in a dessert sounds strange, but it works; their taste disappears and gives room to a feathery, velvety texture and intensely chocolaty flavor. One bite, and you’re instantly comforted.
It’s an easy recipe, too—one you can whip out quickly, with just a handful of ingredients. When you go to buy sweet potatoes (sometimes labeled as yams), you might see different skin colors, including brown, red, beige or purple. Their flesh, too, might be orange, pale yellow, white or purple. They’re all good and delicious; just don’t mix them up with regular potatoes. Those are a different breed and wouldn’t work in this recipe—unless, of course, you’re going for chocolate mashed potatoes.
- Serves 4
- 1 pound sweet potatoes/yams (about two large potatoes)
- ¼ cup raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder
- 6 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2/3 cup almond milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted, unsweetened almond butter
- ½ teaspoon instant coffee powder
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3/8 teaspoon fine-grain salt
- Optional toppings: toasted, shredded coconut, fresh berries, chopped nuts, cacao nibs, or flaky salt
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the potatoes on the baking sheet and roast in the oven until tender, about 30¬¬–45 minutes (test after roasting for 30 minutes by inserting a knife in the middle of the potato—if it slides in easily, the potatoes are done).
- Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with an S-blade, or in a high-speed blender. Add the cacao, almond milk, almond butter, coffee powder, vanilla extract, and salt, and blend until smooth.
- Transfer the pudding to serving dishes (small glasses or bowls), top with your desired toppings, and serve chilled or at room temperature. The pudding can be made up to 3 days in advance.
Tip: To make the pudding nut-free, use unsweetened and unsalted sunflower butter and any milk.
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