Meet the da Vinci of the smoothie world, recipe developer and food stylist Lee Tilghman. If a Masters of Fine Arts in liquified fruit existed, Tilghman would be a professor emeritus. Her Instagram account, @LeefromAmerica is an endless, enviable scroll of beautifully presented smoothies. Tilghman’s even harnessed her Instagram popularity to start doing smoothie-bowl pop-ups — the first of which, last year, sold out in an hour. The Cut talked to Tilghman about her artistic approach making wellness’s favorite beverage taste and look good. She wouldn’t reveal every trade secret, but did share ten ways to create a better tasting smoothie that will get all of the “likes,” too.
Think frozen. Begin with a “frozen starchy base,” Tilghman explains. “You need something thick.” She likes frozen bananas, but frozen avocados, or a frozen coconut-milk base will work, too. A good base is essential to make the smoothie tasty, but it also acts as the canvas for the rest of your smoothie artwork. Dragonfruit, blueberries, or pumpkin are also good options since they contain bright colors.
Use the magic ratio. Once you’ve procured your frozen fruit and put it into a high-performance blender that’s more technologically advanced than your Apple Watch, add a little water into the frozen fruit to turn it into a purée. “Aim for a one-to-three ratio of water to solids. If your solids or frozen fruit are up to the three-cup line, you just want a cup of water.”
Don’t add ice. No ice ice, baby. Do not add ice to your base. Ice will melt in your drink and make your toppings more likely to sink. Buoyant toppings are the key to a successful smoothie Instagram picture.
Don’t let it brown. Some people want to jazz up their smoothie base and expand beyond one ingredient family. That’s fine, as long as you combine similar colors (otherwise the whole thing will turn brown). If you want your smoothie to look green, stick with greens. If you want berries, stick with berries. Anything goes, really, as long as you steer clear of bananas and citrus: “Worst flavor profile ever,” says Tilghman.
Learn the three C’s. There are four C’s to consider when selecting a diamond, and three to think about when it comes to smoothie toppings: composition, crunch, and color. Go to the farmers’ market, see what’s in season, and get inspired. “Smoothies are bold!” Tilghman encourages. “Play around!” Try out different fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Don’t tank your smoothie. When adding fruit to your smoothie, cut it into bite-size pieces rather than chunks. It’ll be easier to eat and will photograph better. Also be careful not to add too much room-temperature fruit — it’ll sink like the Titanic.
Garnish. “Over-garnish everything,” says Tilghman, who learned of the photographic power of flowers and herbs from a prop stylist.
Drizzle. The “cherry on top” of Tilghman’s smoothies is a drizzle of nut butter. “I can’t share my drizzling method, though,” she says. “It’s a secret!” The one thing she’ll reveal is that consistency is key. Some nut butters are too oily, while some are too solid. Find one that’s in-between for the perfect drizzle effect.
Let it (over)flow. The trick to an abundant-looking smoothie is to let the contents spill over like the Thanksgiving horn of plenty. “Fill up the smoothie to an inch from the top, and you’ll be good to go,” Tilghman explains.