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Back to the Cutting Board: Luscious Plant-Based Recipes to Make You Fall in Love (Again) with the Art of Cooking

Back to the Cutting Board: Luscious Plant-Based Recipes to Make You Fall in Love (Again) with the Art of Cooking

by Christina Pirello


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When did cooking become so exhausting? Thanks to information overload and the pressure to impress, we stress over every recipe and every meal. 

Back to the Cutting Board helps you set aside all that tension and pretense and rediscover a pure, joyful passion for the art of cooking. 

Professional chef and Emmy Award–winning host of PBS's Christina Cooks, Christina Pirello, takes you on a journey to re-engage with the soul of food preparation, from the slice of the knife to the aroma of steam rising from a perfectly roasted winter squash. With simple, delicious recipes and sage advice on streamlining your kitchen and your cooking, Christina empowers you to create personal wellness by nourishing your body, mind, and spirit. 

Through more than 100 enriching plant-based recipes that pair the freshest ingredients with cooking techniques meant to optimize their natural, native flavors, Christina reintroduces you to the creative potential of food and transforms the kitchen from into a nurturing sanctuary. 

Inside, discover wonderful and nourishing dishes, including:

   • Cranberry–Pecan Bread
   • Chickpea Farro Soup
   • Sweet Root Vegetable Stew
   • Pasta with Broccoli–Pine Nut Pesto
   • Stir-Fried Cauliflower & Mustard Greens in Lemon–Sesame Sauce
   • Black Bean Burgers
   • Cocoa Madeleines
   • Orange-Scented Steamed Pudding 

In this modern world, with far too much ego at play when it comes to something as simple and beneficial as cooking great food, Christina Pirello invites you to take a step back and truly enjoy every step of the process. 

Finding the joy in cooking has never been more simple!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781946885364
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 84,349
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

An Emmy Award-winning television personality, Christina Pirello, MFN, is one of America's preeminent authorities on a healthier lifestyle utilizing natural and whole foods. This bright, free-spirited, vivacious redhead with a radiant personality delivers a much needed message to the world.  She's made it her purpose in life to show the world that everyone can look their best and feel great too, by learning to correctly select the best ingredients available. 

Christina's love affair with food began at a young age when she spent many happy hours cooking with her mother, who centered the family life in her Italian kitchen. That joy prepared Christina to understand the healing power of food. An understanding Christina would put to its test at age 26 when she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. A chance meeting with her now-husband Robert Pirello would change her life forever. Robert, a whole foods advocate, helped Christina change her lifestyle and diet based on healthy eating incorporating whole and unprocessed foods. Christina overcame the odds and in the process developed an expertise in cooking with whole natural foods. 

From that time, she was utterly convinced of the close relationship between diet and health. She found her life's calling was to help others discover the importance of this relationship in their own lives. Christina studied and became an expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, acupuncture, macrobiotics and earned a Masters Degree in Nutrition and has authored seven cookbooks on the subject of healthy eating and natural living. 

Today, almost 34 years after her illness, Christina is a glowing example and inspiration illustrating that food choices have an enormous impact on health and well-being. Utilizing her internationally-respected TV show Christina Cooks and her many books, she is "changing the health of the world one meal at a time."

Read an Excerpt



The simple act of cooking has taken on meaning that we can barely fathom anymore. Is it a coliseum-type sporting event with chefs running around a kitchen cooking sea urchin and circus peanuts? Is it a Nonna-like chef taking us back with recipes nostalgic for our youth?

The art of cooking now comes complete with an anxiety driven by celebrity, information overload, and pressure to continuously channel your inner Julia Child and nutritionist at the same time. We must impress! We must stress over every bite, every swoosh of sauce, every carbohydrate or gram of protein or sugar. It's no wonder that so few of us are comfortable in the kitchen these days. I'm here to ask you to set all that tension and pretense aside and rediscover your passion for the art of cooking.

Cookbooks inspire me, especially those written for people who say they can't cook or simply don't have the time. They focus on the basics of cooking with variations to allow for success for anyone, whether a complete novice or the most seasoned cook. I repeatedly fall in love with the idea of freeing people from the stress that can be characteristic of healthy cooking. This thinking is what inspired me to write about life in the kitchen from the perspective of making the healthiest choices you can for your family and for you.


Using the freshest ingredients available to you turns cooking into the easiest (and most pleasurable) passionate pastime in the world. Fresh foods need little enhancement to be their most luscious. Great olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sea salt are the ingredients I use most frequently to bring the best out in any dish, along with a little parsley and maybe some garlic. Besides that, there are some nuggets of wisdom that I would love to share with you after a lifetime (nearly ... I've been cooking since I was a child) of cooking and creating recipes.

To Taste or Not to Taste

Many chefs and cooks like to taste and taste often. If that works for you, then taste and do it often. If you don't cook now, I'd advise you to make this a practice until you know what a dish should taste like, or how you would like a dish to taste. After that, you have options. When my mother was teaching me to cook, she would stop me, saying, "Use all your senses. There's more to cooking than tasting the food. Anyone can do that." She taught me to see the food, feel the food (not literally, but with my intuition), smell the food, and listen to the food. Taste as you learn the essentials of seasoning, then make it a goal to taste less and feel more.

Fresh Stuff

My mother used to say that the best meals came from the freshest ingredients. She was right. My advice to you as you venture into cooking is to buy fresh ingredients. You don't need to break the bank. Just about every shop, bodega, market, big box store, and warehouse club has fresh produce that you can use in your cooking. If you can't find fresh, grab some frozen veggies, as they are most often frozen at the peak of their freshness. I'm not a fan of canned vegetables because they are limp, tasteless, and not rich in nutrition. But if canned vegetables are your only option, then use them. Just use vegetables in your cooking. No excuses.

Get Yourself a Timer

Seriously, get a timer. I use mine all the time for all sorts of dishes, from beans to soups to grains and desserts. I use it so that I don't forget something on the stove if I am cooking a large meal and get lost in another task (which I do ... a lot). I time every dessert so I don't over- or under-bake. I time beans so they are cooked to their perfect tenderness and are not hard or mushy. A timer frees you to multitask and not lose track.

Use Leftovers Wisely

Simply eating leftovers out of a container might be easy, but man, it can be boring. And that's the good news. Eating the same food, day after day, reheated or simply brought to room temperature, is not only uninspiring, but it can also cause you to feel lethargic, crave sweets, and feel less in love with the food you cook. Leftovers can be crazy valuable to us in the kitchen, but they're best when they're repurposed somehow in new and yummy dishes. Try using leftover bean stews to create soups or spreads to slather on bread, or add leftover cooked greens to a fresh salad in another meal. Cooked whole grains can be added to soups, turned into salads, or stir-fried with veggies for a quick and nutritious meal. It's lovely to cook every dish fresh from scratch, but living in the real world often prevents that luxury. Planning ahead to use leftovers in combination with fresh ingredients will help you pull together simple dishes that create balance and reduce the stress of meal prep.

Use Your Knife Well

One of the biggest challenges many cooks face is using a knife well and to your best advantage. While you see impressive arrays of knives on most chefs' worktables, many of us will confess that we mostly use our aptly named chef's knife. I love knives and have a host of them, but I always turn to my favorite chef's knife when it's time to cook. While this knife is my go-to tool, I will occasionally use a paring knife to take stems out of strawberries or peel a cucumber or potato, and I always slice bread with a serrated knife to avoid dulling the blade of my chef's knife. Get one that you love. Hold a variety of them in your hand before you decide on this most important tool. You'll know the right one when you feel it. Trust me.


This one is subjective, as people like different flavors in their food. It's also a bit of an art form, finding the right nuance of flavor you like, so experiment and cook ... a lot. Food should taste like itself, but enhanced, like its best self, not like salt, pepper, hot spice, or herbs and spices. They are all simply ways to bring out the natural flavors of foods; you don't want a hostile takeover of your dish.

I usually salt near the end of cooking so that my food has time to become tender and the salt blends into the ingredients, with just a pinch at the beginning to coax the natural flavors forth. While I may use pinches of salt as I sauté, I season fully around 7 minutes before I call a dish done. This helps me avoid adding salt at the table, which can result in a dish being too salty. Spices and dried herbs are added to my dishes at the beginning of cooking, while fresh herbs are added at the end, right before serving. I rarely use dried herbs and prefer the flavor of fresh, with the exception of oregano (it has more intense flavor dried than fresh). To maintain freshness, I buy spices and dried herbs in small quantities — they can lose their flavor if kept for too long.


A stress-free kitchen ... a dream, you say? Nah, I say. All it takes is a wee bit of planning to create a pantry that includes the basics you need for day-to-day cooking.

The first step I recommend is a "spring cleaning" of your kitchen, whether it's the season of rebirth or not. Your goal is to get rid of the clutter and simplify your kitchen. Starting with the nonfood items, repurpose utensils and gadgets that you haven't used in more than a year. Chances are you'll never use them. If you aren't sure what you should keep or toss, turn to page 18 for some guidance on essentials. You may already have some or most of what you need.

Once you've purged and reorganized your tools and equipment, you're ready to tackle the ingredients. This is a good opportunity to refresh and renew! Ditch spices that are more than a year old, as well as boxes or jars of unidentified matter that could be fine bread crumbs or whole wheat flour. If you ask, "What is it?" or can't remember the last time you used it, I recommend tossing it. Wipe the shelves, cleaning them for the new ingredients about to grace your kitchen.

Next, wipe down the shelves of the refrigerator and dispose of anything that looks like a forgotten science experiment. Do the same with the freezer — any foods covered with an icy protective coating have lost any nutritional value in your own mini ice age.

It's up to you to decide which items have stood the test of time in the kitchen, pantry, and fridge, but try to base your choices on what these will contribute to the vitality you want to create in this life-giving room.

Now it's time to shop and fill your kitchen with fresh ingredients. I love this part!

The truth is that you can now do most of your shopping in any supermarket. A wide range of fresh produce, oils and other condiments, even dried grains and beans, are readily available. In an effort to compete with natural foods stores, many supermarkets have installed natural foods sections and carry a wide variety of organic produce and other products ... all reasonably priced.

Should you live in an area of the country where access to natural products is limited, you might want to explore online and mail-order companies that will ship natural ingredients to your home. There are so many options for home delivery of ingredients now. This is part of the adventure that will introduce you to a whole new world of foods. Get ready to discover new ingredients and a wide variety of tastes and textures.

I'm deeply confused by people who tell me how much they dislike shopping for food. I am as delighted by produce sections of markets, with their bins spilling over with fresh, colorful vegetables and fruits, as most people are by specialty boutiques! For me, exploring produce aisles of natural foods stores and farmers markets is a treat. I could get lost for hours.

However, I have a busy life just like everybody else, so I shop once a week for the bulk of my produce and grocery needs, then supplement the more delicate ingredients, like leafy greens and herbs, with a second trip around midweek. That way, I'm as assured as I can be in this world that the food I'll be cooking is as fresh as I can manage.

But how do we make it happen? How do we get vegetables on the table every night successfully and deliciously?

Keep your kitchen stocked with a wide variety of vegetables, so that you can vary your meals and always have options. With seasonality and availability as your guide you can get the most for your money. Of course, there are the staples you'll have on hand all the time, including garlic, onion, celery, carrots, potatoes, green cabbage, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, baby bok choy, and broccoli. It feels like these beauties have no season and have become integral to so many recipes. Round out your choices with what's in season at the moment: winter squash, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, and sweet potatoes are cool-weather staples, while salad greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, dandelion greens, endive, radicchio, fresh corn, yellow squash, peppers, and zucchini lighten up warm-weather cooking.

I confess to not having a cupboard filled with spices and dried herbs. Instead, I have a few spices like cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, and smoked paprika. On my windowsill are small pots of basil, flatleaf parsley, mint, and rosemary. My mother's lessons about simplicity didn't fall on deaf ears and have served me well in my cooking.


In the spirit of keeping things simple and luscious, this is my stuck-on-a-desert-island list of ingredients that allows me to put a meal on the table on any day, in any situation, and never, ever worry that I won't have what I need on hand.

Healthy Fats

From sautéing to dressing salads to baking, extra-virgin olive oil can serve any purpose in cooking. Invest in your health and buy the best quality oil you can afford so you are sure you're getting all the heart-healthy benefits from it and not just 120 calories per tablespoon of fat added to your food.

I love extra-virgin olive oil from the depths of my soul to my dinner plate. I know you've read about not being able to cook with this luscious oil, but it's just not the case. According to olive oil experts, it's perfectly safe to sauté with extra-virgin olive oil (you reap double benefits: great flavor in your dishes and the heart-healthy compounds). The only thing stopping you? Possibly the price. If olive oil will break the bank for you, buy a less expensive oil for everyday cooking (like non-GMO nut or seed oil) and one absolutely knee-buckling, robust extra-virgin olive oil to use on salads and special dishes. Go for an estate oil, made with olives grown on a single farm, so you know that the olives are picked and pressed within a day, making for naturally low acidity, which is key to authentic extra-virgin olive oil's health benefits. I don't care if the oil is from California, Italy, Greece, Spain, or Israel (actually, I do; I adore Italian oil), as long as it's an estate oil.

I also use avocado oil in my cooking. It's a high heat oil with mild flavor, which makes it a good choice when working with strong flavors like soy sauce or curry that might compete with a robust extra-virgin olive oil. I also like it in cakes, as it results in a buttery crumb that I love. If your budget allows, try it! But if you are limited, stick with a good olive oil.

Skip vegetable oil blends and other cheap oils (unless your budget seriously limits you, then do the best you can). They're just adding calories from fat without much nutritional value for your dollar. I do use some of the vegan butter substitutes in baking and I like the results. You can try them out or use oil. Both work just fine and yield great flavor.

Sea Salt

Sweeter in flavor and healthier for us than commercial table salt, sea salt has a smooth taste that will bring out the best in your food without that metallic aftertaste we associate with table salt. The more intense flavor allows you to use less in your cooking as well.

Beans and Grains

Beans and grains are the foundations of healthy cooking in just about any culture. Having a few varieties of whole grains and beans in your pantry will ensure proper nutrition with little effort or investment. Stock up on brown rice, quinoa, and millet, as they are high in protein and balance our intestinal pH. Lentils cook quickly and are as heart-healthy as food can get. Versatile chickpeas and black beans can be used to create a variety of dishes. And yes, you can stock canned beans for ease.

Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions are the essential building blocks of any great dish, and they are incredibly good for you, too. Stock up on these heart-healthy, immune-boosting alliums.


The fresh taste of lemon juice brings any dish to life and helps ease digestion, especially of fat and protein. It's a win-win.


An essential in my kitchen, cinnamon serves many purposes. Of course, it's a staple for baking, but adding cinnamon to savory dishes imparts a sweet taste and also helps balance blood sugar levels, thereby helping us manage sweet cravings. From oatmeal to roasted vegetables to salad dressings and even home remedies, cinnamon provides the flavor and aroma of comfort.

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Crushed red pepper (or chile) flakes bring more than heat to cooking, adding interesting layers of flavor to the simplest of recipes, as well as stimulating circulation. Be sure to err on the side of less if you're not used to cooking with hot spices. This is a definite case of less is more.

Dijon Mustard

From salad dressings to marinades, sauces, and sandwiches, Dijon mustard adds interesting flavor to simple dishes. Its sharp taste aids in digestion, too. I think no pantry is complete without a jar!

Soy Sauce

Adding a depth that exceeds salt, soy sauce creates that mystical "umami" flavor that takes dishes from okay to amazing. Used to season as you would with salt, it's a great option when you want to create a little mystery in your cooking.

Nuts to You

I think nuts and seeds are essential pantry items. They add richness, texture, fiber, and great quality fat to any recipe. Buy nuts and seeds in small quantities — they turn rancid quickly. I store raw nuts and seeds in my freezer to extend their freshness. Before use, toast nuts in the oven at 350°F for about 8 minutes to intensify their flavor. With seeds, rinse and drain them well and pan toast them in a dry skillet until fragrant before use.

Anything else that lights you up when you cook should be in your pantry.


As you cook and your passion grows, you will want to flesh out your pantry, choosing a variety of ingredients that reflect the cooking culture of your kitchen. You may even want to venture into the world of natural baking, which will create the need for other ingredients, so I have created a separate list of baking essentials. As you read these lists, don't get crazy. Stock your pantry bit by bit; your cooking style and ingredients should reflect your tastes.

You'll add ingredients like dark chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts as you develop your dessert skills and repertoire.


Excerpted from "Back To The Cutting Board"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Christina Pirello.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



You and Your Cutting Board Chapter 1 – Back to the Cutting Board

The Yin/Yang Factor

Chapter 2 – On to the Meals

The Five Transformations of Energy: The Dynamic Cycles of Nature

Chapter 3 – Oh, Those Veggies

The Nourishing Cycle

Chapter 4 – Sensational Soups

The Controlling Cycle

Chapter 5 – Whole Grains: The Staff of Life

Fear and Loathing in the Kitchen: How Soy and Gluten Became Demons and Why They Shouldn’t Be

Chapter 6 – Essential Plant Proteins

Chapter 7 – Killer Desserts That Won’t Kill You

Recommended Reading



Recipe Index

About the Author

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Back to the Cutting Board is the most fun you will ever have in a cookbook!! It is filled with great recipes—of course, it’s by Christina Pirello!—and it also has great tips and robust nutrition information on every page. As your guide, Christina shares her extraordinary knowledge, wisdom, and personality. Soon, you will know what makes good food really good, and Christina will make you fall in love with cooking again.”

—Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC, bestselling author of Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes

"Christina's magical cooking secrets are at your fingertips. Glowing health and delicious recipes aside, embark on this journey to rekindle cooking bliss a.k.a. the art of cooking! With Christina as your guide, the stress associated with tackling a meal will be alleviated and replaced with curiosity, intuition, simplicity, and play. How awesome is that?”

—Alicia Silverstone, award-winning actress, bestselling author of The Kind Diet, animal rights and environmental activist, and entrepreneur

“Back to the cutting board? Gladly! This wonderful new book from Christina is full of excellent ideas that will make you fall in love with cooking again. If you have drifted from the kitchen it will inspire you to get back to it. If you are new to cooking then you couldn't ask for a better ‘in.’ Vegan cooking is having its moment, and Christina's new book perfectly captures the spirit of what's happening in today's food world.”

—Rich Landau, chef/owner of The Vedge Restaurant Group, James Beard nominee, and bestselling author

“There is joy in Christina’s cooking. Because her food isn’t just delicious and beautiful. It’s also wholesome in ways that draw you in, making you simply want to eat and be better. And her recipes make that easy.”

—J.M. Hirsch, editorial director, Milk Street Magazine

"In Back to the Cutting Board, Christina introduces the kitchen tools, gadgets, techniques, and ingredients as if they are old friends that have been patiently waiting to re-connect with us and nourish us. She shares many good reasons why it's essential that we get back inside the kitchen. And, once you're there . . . your body and mind will be deeply nourished by Christina's delicious recipes. Don't wait one more second! Open up this book, connect with your old friends (and yourself), and start cooking!"

—Andrea Beaman, HHC, chef, herbalist, and author of Happy Healthy Thyroid

“What Christina has written here is unlike any cookbook you’ve ever read. She presents a philosophy that uses the kitchen as a tool to allow you to connect with your true self. Yes, the recipes in here are delicious and can help you reclaim or optimize your health—and in Christina’s case, they actually saved her life. But you will learn how to not just nourish your body, but your soul—by finding a deeper meaning in the so-called ‘chore’ of cooking.”

—Chef Robert Irvine

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