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Levana credits her mother for imbuing her with a passion for enjoying the simple goodness that lies within each and every food.

“We had very limited means growing up,” explained Levana. “My mother was very resourceful. We didn’t have convenience foods. We had just the simplest things, which my mother would whip up quickly from scratch. Everything was fast, nutritious and delicious. Today, everyone is so concerned with how food looks and not with how it tastes. It is a complete lack of thanksgiving for the food that we have. Food was created beautiful. We need to respect the food and its flavors, not drown it in processed items.”

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In keeping with that philosophy, The Whole Foods cookbook offers a plethora of easy to prepare items that can replace processed foods, with homemade counterparts that are fresher, tastier and far less costly, including fifteen salad dressings, some basic and some leaning more towards the gourmet, and several options for preparing infused oils and vinegars.

“People think that if someone took the trouble of manufacturing an item, they must be saving us something,” said Levana. “But the truth is they aren’t saving us anything at all.”

Levana’s goal is to inspire people to create basic meals using high quality – but not high priced – ingredients, requiring us to spend no more than an hour a day on food preparation. The key to great meals, according to Levana, is to use only the best ingredients, which she defines as not the most expensive items, but rather the most flavorful. And while Levana is a firm believer in allowing the natural flavor of foods to shine through, a simple glance through the soup section of her latest culinary tome offers recipes ranging from the familiar (Minestrone, Corn Chowder, Mushroom Barley Soup) to the intriguing (Quick Black Bean Chocolate Soup, Chestnut Mushroom Soup and Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup). The other sections of this beautiful cookbook (Salads, Fish, Poultry and Meat, Vegetable Dishes, Grains and Pasta, Breakfast and Brunch, Breads and Flatbreads and Desserts) follow suit, with a wide variety of culinary offerings, which allow their natural flavors to take center stage, without ever becoming dull or mundane.

“People think that using whole grains and foods is going to be boring, maybe it won’t look so nice,” said Levana. “But that is not how I think. If it is delicious, I want it. Give it to me.”

A firm believer that it is taste, not appearance that is most important in food, Levana’s goal is to teach her audience to respect and embrace home cooking and not devote endless hours to presentation.

“The most insidious advice the home cook has ever gotten is to make their food look like it came from a restaurant,” opined Levana. “If I wanted my food to look like restaurant food, I would have gone to a restaurant. We have no appreciation for food from our home and we need to shift our attention more towards valuing and enjoying home cooked food.”

Mock Crab Salad

I can’t tell you how often I make this treat, and at the drop of a hat. I always notice with pleasure it’s a huge hit with the young crowd. If I don’t have time to thaw the fish, I simply dip the sealed container in warm water for a few minutes. I trust you will welcome the serving suggestions I have included, but most often I serve it by itself: It’s that good!

Ingredients

1 pound frozen mock crab chunks, thawed and thinly crumbled
3 ribs celery, peeled and sliced very thin
1 long seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced very thin
1 bunch scallions, sliced very thin
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons bottled hot sauce

Directions

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Serve at room temperature in any of the following ways:

Alone -Tossed with 8 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked in hot water, drained and cut up (adjust the seasonings to accommodate the bulkier salad).

On top of salad greens – As hors d’oeuvres on endive leaves or cucumber rounds.

Chocolate Salami

One of my greatest sellers! These delightful confections have a funny name, because each slice is specked with the nuts and graham crackers and looks as funky as salami. No problem making them gluten-free! No need to slice all of them, leave the unused logs in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to use: They keep very well.

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Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at sandyeller1@gmail.com.