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Rebecca Meeker on dandelion tea, DIY ranch and how to avoid the sad desk lunch

Addie Broyles
Steel-cut oats can be bland by themselves, but if you mix in fresh fruit or a season puree, such as pumpkin or butternut squash, you can make breakfast a little more interesting. [Contributed]

Rebecca Meeker wants you to know about dandelion tea.

It’s a powdered tea available at People’s Pharmacy that you can use to make a foamy latte without caffeine or dairy.

Meeker is the former chef of Jeffrey’s and Congress who now runs Lucky Lime, a food delivery and catering service whose health-conscious food doesn’t really come across as “health food.”

She is always finding ways to make small changes to her own diet or what goes on the Lucky Lime menu, but without sacrificing flavor. “Eating well and eating good food at the same time is the goal,” she says.

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For three years, Lucky Lime customers have ordered lunches or breakfast items for delivery once a week, but now, Lucky Lime also serves a number of Austin startups that have hired her team to cater lunch for the entire office. In the past year, she’s also expanded into wholesale, selling packaged grab-and-go lunches at places like Thom’s Market and WeWork.

Meeker is the first of an ongoing series called Home Chef, which highlights how chefs stay creative and inspired when they are feeding themselves at home.

Home is where Meeker has been enjoying that dandelion root tea instead of coffee. She mixes the powdered tea with hot water — or uses tea bags — and a little dairy or dairy alternative. “Whisk and it becomes this frothy and fulfilling latte” that you can also serve on ice, she says.

For a better breakfast, experiment with steel-cut oats. Meeker makes seasonal oats, and this fall, she soaked the oats in oatmilk mixed with butternut squash puree overnight and then topped them with pumpkin seeds.

This spring, she’ll make one with strawberries and vanilla. “It’s a blank canvas for anything, but customers have really loved the matcha,” she says, which is a mixture of oats, matcha powder, oat milk, maple syrup, chia seeds, goji berries and cacao nibs for garnish.

“With oats, you want something with a light crunch to sprinkle on top,” she says.

Her other main takeaway for fellow home cooks is: Don’t underestimate the power of a sauce.

“You can get a lot of flavor from the sauces,” she says. “We think of dressing as unhealthful, but it’s a versatile way to add nutrients and flavor to a meal, and not just salads.” Chipotle poppyseed dressing, one of her favorites, has the smoky flavor of the pepper, and the tiny seeds add much-needed texture to leafy salads, wraps or grain salads.

When making salads, she prefers hardier greens, from radicchio and romaine to spinach and kale, which hold up better than butter lettuce and spring greens. She also suggests putting the garnish of a salad at the bottom of the container and then the lettuce on top, which keeps the greens from bruising under the weight of the toppings.

Tempeh and black beans serve as the protein in Lucky Lime’s taco salad and breakfast burritos, but it’s the salsa verde and turmeric-spiced rice that add color and a punch of flavor to both items. (For the turmeric rice, they make a paste from fresh turmeric, garlic, ginger, salt and a little olive oil. Rinse the rice, saute some of the paste in a pan, add the rice and water, cover and cook.)

Another quick way to change up the flavor profile of any dish is adding a splash of yuzu juice, which adds a salty citrus flavor to just about anything where you would otherwise use salt, soy or tamari, she says.

Avocado is a reliable source of good-for-you fat and appears in many of the dishes at Lucky Lime, but in Meeker’s home and professional kitchens, so is chicken fat, which she uses to saute vegetables or heavy greens.

When she roasts a chicken at home, she almost always roasts a tray of vegetables with it. Sometimes, it’s a whole sweet potato, which she’ll top with spinach and blue cheese, scallions and Greek yogurt. After she’s used the chicken, say in a lemon pepper chicken salad, she’ll use the carcass to make stock for a dish like chicken soba noodle soup.

“When I’m feeling really healthy, I’ll drink (chicken broth) for breakfast,” she says.

Salmon is a protein that Meeker returns to again and again. It’s already a pricey protein, but Meeker says it’s worth buying a fatty, most expensive variety, such as king salmon from New Zealand that is sold at Central Market and Whole Foods. Because the high-quality fish has more flavor, means you’ll ultimately use less of it in each serving.

If you’re looking to cut back on the price or avoid fish altogether, diced beets are an excellent substitute for salmon in poke, with noodles or in a wrap with brown rice.

After cooking foods for delivery for a number of years now, Meeker suggests using a thermos to keep foods warm, and smaller containers to hold the dressing separately.

Meeker’s last tip is if you’re trying to drink less alcohol, eat a medjool date and sip on a sparkling water. The gooey, intensely sweet date is satisfying on its own, but when you add the bubbling fizzy water, it satisfies that craving for something sweet or tannic.

Chipotle Poppy Seed Ranch

This smoky sweet dressing might become your favorite ranch, Meeker says. Use on salads or wraps or to dip pizza crusts.

— Addie Broyles

2 cups Greek yogurt

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh chives

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 tablespoon chipotle puree (from canned chipotles)

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Add all ingredients into a medium-size mixing bowl and use a whisk to combine.

Use ranch as a salad dressing or dip with veggies. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

— Rebecca Meeker

Iced Dandelion Root Tea Latte

Use any kind of dairy or dairy substitute you like in this drink, which you can drink hot or cold. Some stores only sell dandelion tea in bags, but other places, such as People’s Pharmacy, sell a powdered form that you can use a spoonful at a time. One popular brand is called Dandy Blend.

— Addie Broyles

2 tea bags of roasted dandelion root tea (or 1 tablespoon powder)

4 cups water

1 cup oat milk

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Boil 4 cups of water and steep 2 bags of roasted dandelion root tea in hot water. (Or mix the powdered tea with the water.) This can be done with a kettle and a tea pot or in a pot on the stove.

After the tea has steeped for 15 minutes, refrigerate for at least 2 hours to cool. If using powder, simply mix the powder with the hot water and then let cool.

Once the tea has cooled, remove the roasted dandelion tea bags and pour into a pitcher. Add oat milk, maple and vanilla extract, stir.

Fill 4 cups with ice and pour dandelion root tea over it. Serves 4.

— Rebecca Meeker