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The Power of the First Course

A great start!

November 6, 2021
A Meal in Three Acts
The three course meal dates back to ninth century Spain, when an omni-talented, highly educated individual known as Ziryab insisted that courtly manners include a very prescriptive progression to serving and eating a proper meal. Soup must be served, followed by the main dish and ending with a sweet dessert. This practice, begun in the Emirati court in Cordoba, was adopted by the Western World for more than a thousand years and still holds powerful sway in culinary tradition to this today.

It is worth noting that among his many accomplishments, Ziryab is credited for creating traditional Spanish music framework, laying out the first tablecloth by placing leather covers on wooden tables, establishing the foundation for seasonal fashion, and inventing a toothpaste of his time. This brings his contribution full circle - from teaching a court how to eat a well-balanced, civilized meal to helping same remove it from between their respective teeth!
Let’s get back to the power of the first course…
A multi-course meal need not be complicated or time consuming to prepare. Lavish dinner parties are not the only realistic venue. Tuesday at the family dinner table is not only an acceptable place, it’s the appropriate place. Good eating habits, good food education, great family time!

Explore the season – and the seasonal ingredients! Take a tour of a specific country or region. There is so much fun to be had planning the menu, shopping for the ingredients, and preparing them. To say nothing of serving them and enjoying them with loved ones!

Leafy greens may not be the meal, but they are a great start to a meal. We do not have to forego the sole a meuniere followed by the crème brulee, or the ribeye for dinner and the chocolate cake for dessert. But beginning with a soup or salad automatically assists with portion control without it feeling punitive.

And if, on any particular day, the creamy potato soup is simply a must have, make dessert a selection of fresh fruit. The pacing and the variety are the real bonuses in a multi-course meal.

Keep in mind that multi-course meals are not confined to the indoors. A casual back yard setting is perfect for relaxed, balanced eating. Start with caprese salad. Move on to burgers or kebabs. Since you’ve already fired up the grill, put some fresh, halved peaches on the well-oiled grates just until they are marked and charred. (You may or may not want to put a little rum raisin ice cream in the divot of each peach half…)

A three-course meal is quite simply good for the body, mind, and spirit. Slow down. Eat more plants. Eat less processed food, fat, sugar, and salt. And, here’s the really important part - deny yourself nothing.
Does a three-course meal still seem daunting?
Prepare it backwards and serve it forwards:

- Make a dessert that be held at room temperature or in the refrigerator (pies, cakes, cookies, brownies – ice cream and sorbet wait happily in the freezer until someone is ready to enjoy them).
- A main course that can remain on low heat in the oven or stove top will reduce cooking timing anxiety: stews, casseroles, braises. A quiche, frittata, or strata make a beautiful main course and can be served out of the oven or at room temperature.
- And now, for the first course! A salad can be assembled ahead of time but should be dressed just before serving. Most soups can be kept warm on the stove. Composed appetizers usually require preparation just before serving (bruschetta, apple & brie crostini with hot honey, cucumber “sushi” – remove ends of cucumber and cut into 4” sections, remove seeds to create a hollowed tube, stuff with avocado, thinly sliced carrots and pepper, cut into 1” rings, drizzle with soy sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds).

Less is more…more or less:

- When eating a three-course meal instead of a one course meal, the portion size of the main dish should be reduced accordingly. Additionally, spacing out the time for each course allows us to pay closer attention to our stomachs registering as full.

A Well-Appointed Pantry is your friend:

- When your pantry and refrigerator are stocked with high quality, low fuss foods and ingredients, it’s not a big production to create a quick and delicious three-course meal.
Give it a try…and experience The Power of the First Course!
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