Savoring Simplicity

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June 18, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

If you were to take a tour of Brenda Langton’s kitchen, you’d find her favorite culinary staples: brown rice, polenta, canned beans, lentils, good olive oil, tofu, a variety of veggies and some curry pastes.


She likes to keep things simple. For dinner, she’ll make matzo ball soup loaded with veggies, a simple Thai curry with veggies, tofu or fish or a simple pasta.


“I don’t get too elaborate,” she said.  


That philosophy is the approach she took with her new book, “The Spoonriver Cookbook,” which she co-wrote with her friend Margaret Stuart, a horticulturist, personal chef and landscape designer. 


“It is very intentional that the book is simple,” she said.


Langton, the restaurateur behind the award-winning Spoonriver restaurant and one of the founders of the Mill City Farmers Market, has been a leader in promoting local and organic food in the Twin Cities for four decades. She opened her first restaurant, Café Karamena, in St. Paul in 1978. In 1986 she moved it to the Warehouse District and renamed it Café Brenda, which closed in 2009.


She also serves as a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. 


In her early days as a chef, Langton said a lot of her dishes were heavier — a lot of cheese sauces and brown casseroles. Now, she focuses on lighter dishes with beautiful and colorful produce.


“I am a big fan of having really simple beautiful greens as a meal — that can be a meal,” Langton said. 


The new cookbook showcases a wide variety of Spoonriver’s dishes — from appetizers like Shrimp Quesadillas with Coconut Cilantro Sauces to hearty entrees like East Indian Curry with Red Lentils. It’s split into sections featuring starters, soups, salads, grains, beans, vegetables, main dishes, breads and desserts. 


Langton hopes people are inspired to test out the recipes and have some fun. She also wants to make healthy cooking seem more approachable.


“It’s important to take time to enjoy the kitchen,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a burden. It should be a time and place where we can enjoy cooking. We have to take the intimidation away and inspire people. People feel the results of eating well.”