Nearly any time Hornets center Cody Zeller starts cooking a meal, he first calls his mother, Lorri, to ask for advice. On a late April afternoon, the 27-year-old Zeller has decided to make fettuccine alfredo. “How do you know when the pasta’s al dente?” he asks her over the phone. “How do you know when the noodles are done?”
Zeller is new to cooking. But amid the coronavirus pandemic, he’s learned how to be his own chef. In recent years, his mother sent him a short, personalized recipe book for his birthday. It includes simple dishes, like tacos—“brown the beef and add some seasoning,” he says—sloppy Joes and casseroles. But scallops are among his favorite foods so he recently tried preparing them himself. He picked up a fish package at his local Harris Teeter supermarket and watched YouTube videos to learn the preparation process. Using a simple recipe, he reasoned that all he had to do was sear both sides in olive oil. There was a problem, however, he had no olive oil at his home. “That went tragically bad,” he says. “But that’s how you learn.”
Some players around the NBA and WNBA are like Zeller, merely beginners in the culinary space. “They don’t let me in the kitchen if they have to use a lot of fire or knives,” says Nets center DeAndre Jordan, who eats vegan and recently appeared on a Bon Appetit Instagram Live dinner party. “But if I’m just using a can opener, then they kind of let me rock out.”
But others, like Enes Kanter, are using the league’s hiatus as a time to master skills they’ve been honing for years. “Cooking food is like an art,” says the Celtics' center, who is a devoted watcher of food-related TV shows such as Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped, Iron Chef and Cupcake Wars.
Kanter has fond childhood memories from Turkey watching his family cook. Every meal was like a Thanksgiving dinner, he says. His mother, Gulsum, urged him to understand how to cook, but it wasn’t until the Jazz drafted Kanter that he took her advice to heart. “My first years in the NBA, I tried to learn to cook,” he says. “But I ended up eating cereal all the time.”
His food had no taste, and the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft jokes he even used sugar instead of salt. However, he tired of frozen and microwaveable foods and started to expand his culinary repertoire. He currently enjoys picking up Turkish spices and ingredients at urban markets scattered across the United States. And his Instagram serves as documentation for the steaks, chicken wings, salads, rice dishes and lamb chops that he now crafts.
Nowadays, NBA and WNBA teams place a premium on nutrition and many players employ personal chefs. Still, many enjoy the process of preparing their own meals. Sports Illustrated solicited recipes from players around professional basketball to learn more about what they were cooking during the sport’s hiatus. Responses included dishes native to one’s culture and others that had strong familial ties. We received entrees, side dishes and desserts.
“This has kind of forced me to try and do new things,” says Zeller, who submitted a taco dip recipe that his mom passed down to him. Folding shrimp into his fettucine alfredo is his “next adventure.”
A’ja Wilson — Las Vegas Aces
Name of dish: Orange Glaze Pull-Apart Bread
- 2 sticks unsalted butter (melted then cooled)
- 2 cans 16 oz. refrigerated biscuit dough
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 oranges, zested
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
- 2–3 tbsp. orange juice
- Mix butter, dough, granulated sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and kosher salt together in a nonstick baking pan.
- Bake at 325°F degrees for 55 minutes.
- Finely grate zest of two oranges
- Sift 1/2 cup of confectioners’ sugar
- Add 2–3 tbsp. of orange juice
- Mix together
Terance Mann — Los Angeles Clippers
Name of dish: Stew Chicken
“This is a family recipe, my family is from St. Lucia - hence using the shakes and 'Figure 8s' as measurements. I had stew chicken 3-4 times a week when I was 11-13. I learned the recipe from my mom & grandmother. My roommate will tell you I basically changed his life with this dish. I have a cousin who cooks authentic Caribbean food out of her house in Brooklyn, and that by far is my favorite spot to eat."
- 4–6 pieces of chicken, serves 2–3 people
- Vinegar (to clean chicken)
- Salt (to clean chicken)
- 3 shakes Seasoning salt
- 2 capfuls browning sauce
- 4 shakes adobo
- 4 garlic salt
- 4 shakes black pepper
- 4 shakes cayenne pepper
- 4 shakes paprika
- 4 shakes pepper flakes
- 2 shakes cajun
- 2 shakes curry
- 2 "Figure 8s" of ketchup
- 1/2 onion
- 1 whole tomato
- Scallions (as little or as much as you want)
- Thyme (as little or as much as you want)
- Clean chicken using vinegar and salt.
- Add all seasonings to the chicken in a bowl.
- Cut up all the peppers, tomato, onion, scallions and add to bowl of chicken.
- Use hands to mix in the bowl.
- Let chicken marinate for 15 minutes.
- Pour vegetable oil in a pot.
- Add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar to pot.
- Add 2 cups of water.
- Pour chicken into pot.
- Let stew for 45 minutes. Meat should be falling off the bone!
Luka Doncic — Dallas Mavericks
Name of dish: Potato Moussaka
"It's been one of my favorite dishes since I was a kid. When I first left home (Slovenia) and my mom would come and visit I would always ask her to make it. I'd eat it the whole time she was visiting. This dish is one my great grandmother, grandmother and mother all can make. Even today I ask for it whenever I'm feeling homesick." – Luka Doncic
“This has been one of Luka's favorite dishes since he was little. This recipe is a tradition in our family, as it was once prepared by my mother and grandmother." - Mirjam Poterbin (Luka’s Mom)
For four people
- 500 g minced meat
- 6–7 large potatoes
- 1 medium sized onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- A pinch parsley
- A pinch basil
- A pinch salt
- A pinch pepper
- 5 spoons olive oil
- 4 eggs
- 200 ml cooking cream
- 0.5 dcl milk
- 2–3 handfuls grated mozzarella
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/430°F and oil the baking pan.
- Boil the potatoes, peel them and cool them down.
- Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the meat and whisk it. Chop onion and garlic.
- Heat the pan and add olive oil, add the onion and fry until golden brown.
- Add the meat and garlic and sauté until the water evaporates from the meat.
- Add parsley and more salt if necessary. It is important that the meat is sufficiently salted, as the potato will not be salty.
- Beat the eggs, cooking cream, milk, salt, pepper and grated mozzarella (we add more salt to the sauce, because if it is not salty enough, moussaka will not be tasty).
- Once the potato is cooked and cooled down, cut it into 0.5 cm thick slices and start preparing the moussaka.
- Layer the potato and pour half of the meat sauce over it.
- Add the second layer of potatoes and the rest of the meat.
- Finish with the third layer of potatoes, top it with egg and cooking cream sauce and sprinkle with a handful of cheese.
- You can add a spoon of the sauce to each layer.
- Bake it for 45-50 minutes.
Bismack Biyombo — Charlotte Hornets
Name of dish: Sweet Potato Tacos
Ingredients/Recipe: Sweet potato taco's with sautéed peppers, curry roasted sweet potatoes, onions, zucchini and squash topped with guacamole and it comes with a side of saffron wild rice and black Cuban style beans and fire roasted corn.
"I’ve always really liked tacos, but have a super strict diet. So I asked my chef to help me come up with a healthy taco option that fits within my diet. These tacos are delicious and super healthy."
Name of dish: Healthy Pasta
Ingredients/Recipe: Second dish is his chickpea noodles with sauté vegetables (tricolor peppers, zucchini, squash, English green peas and carrots). Flavored with curry, turmeric and a dash of salt and pepper. Let it all simmer in coconut milk until vegetables are fully tender. Top with fresh dandelion leaves.
"I visited Thailand about 3 years ago and fell in love with the culture and food. This pasta is a Thai-inspired healthy alternative to one of my favorite meals. It’s seasoned to perfection with curry and turmeric and is filled with sautéed veggies."
Name of dish: Mean Green Smoothie
Ingredients/Recipe: Kiwi, pineapple, mango, papaya, spinach, coconut milk, coconut water and honey. Blend until smooth and enjoy.
"I’ve always really liked kiwi – it’s super acidic & has amazing health benefits. This smoothie is essential for my diet. It really helps me with my digestion & I drink it every single morning before my first meal."
Cody Zeller — Charlotte Hornets
Name of dish: Taco Dip on a Plate
“It was a chip dip that my mom used to make for any big sporting event like the Super Bowl or National Championship. So that’s one of the things I’ve made for myself a few times. That’s real easy. It takes 10 minutes to make.”
- 1 can refried beans (original or low-fat)
- 16 oz. sour cream
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 1 package taco seasoning
- Shredded lettuce
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Optional: chopped tomatoes, onions, black olives
- Tortilla chips (I like the “Scoops” version)
- Use a large plate to layer the following items:
- First layer: Spread the can of refried beans on the plate
- Second layer: Mix the sour cream, cream cheese and taco seasoning. Then spread it over the first layer.
- Third layer: Sprinkle with shredded lettuce and shredded cheese.
- Refrigerate at least one hour.
- Serve with tortilla chips.
DeAndre Jordan — Brooklyn Nets
Name of dish: Vegan Caesar Pasta Salad
“It’s a nice meal. It’s filling. It’s healthy. It’s super tasty. So I’m a big fan of that. I can have it for lunch, dinner, whenever.”
Total Time: 40 minutes
For the Vegan Cheesy Herb Croutons
- 1 loaf of crusty bread (I used Trader Joe's Ciabatta)
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
For the Vegan Caesar Dressing
- 1/2 cup vegan mayo
- 2 tsp. dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp. capers
- Juice of 2 lemons, about 2 tbsp.
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- Pinch of black pepper
For the Salad
- 1 head romaine, chopped
- 16 oz. pasta
- Cook pasta, drain and cool.
- Make croutons. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Cut bread into cubes, then mix with olive oil, yeast, and seasoning. Toss to coat bread.
- Bake bread at 375°F for 15-20 minutes.
- Add dressing ingredients to the blender. Blend until smooth.
- Once croutons are finished. Add chopped romaine, pasta, croutons, then pour dressing into a bowl. Mix then serve.
Deandre Ayton — Phoenix Suns
Name of dish: Oxtail
“Oxtail is Deandre’s favorite, he loves it with potato salad, fried plantain and white rice. It’s a family recipe – everyone has their own taste to it. Every Sunday, when I have the opportunity, I cook it for him.” —Andrea Ayton (Deandre’s mom)
"There’s nothing better than my mom’s oxtail recipe—it’s magical. It tastes like home.” —Deandre
- 2 lbs. oxtail
- Oxtail Seasoning
- Black Pepper
- Browning sauce
- 1 can butter beans, drained (lima beans)
- Wash oxtail in vinegar and lime juice.
- Season with oxtail seasoning, black pepper and browning sauce.
- Fry the oxtail until brown.
- After frying, place in pressure cooker for 40–50 minutes.
- After pressure cooking put herbs into the pot (scallions, onions, lime, peppers).
- Add more seasoning to taste.
- Let all the herbs cook and then add butter bean.
- Thicken to make a gravy.
- Serve with white rice, plantains and salad.
Boban Marjoanovic — Dallas Mavericks
Name of dish: Boban’s Cherry Pie
"I love cherry pie. It is my favorite dessert!"
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup milk or yogurt
- 1 cup sunflower or canola oil
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 pound pitted cherries
- Start by placing frozen cherries in a bowl, add one spoon of sugar and one spoon of flour, mixing occasionally (just to cover cherries).
- Mix eggs, add sugar, mix, and continue to add all the other ingredients, mixing well and finally adding flour so the mixture is not too thick!
- Add half of the mixture of cherries, cover with the other half.
- Bake around 40 minutes at 380°F.
Collin Sexton — Cleveland Cavaliers
Name of dish: Mom’s meatloaf
“My favorite meal is my mom’s meatloaf! The reason it’s my favorite because it’s super moist, never dry and I can taste all the seasoning that was put in the meatloaf. It’s been passed down by my great grandma, to my grandma, to my mom.”
- 2 lbs. of ground beef
- 2 eggs
- 4 slices of bread crumbs
- Rotel mild
- 1 pack of Lipton Onion Soup
- 1 pack Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 15 oz. tomato sauce
- 1/3 barbecue sauce and spices
- Mix ingredients together.
- Baked on 350°F for a 1 hour and 15 mins.
- Add ketchup and barbecue sauce on top.
Enes Kanter - Boston Celtics
Name of dish: Maqluba
"I would say this is my favorite dish, my mom used to make it. The Turkish one, you've never seen anything like it before...I love it."
- 400 g beef cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 cups fried eggplants cut into cubes
- 2 cups fried chapped green peppers
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2 cups rice
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 5 cups water
- Place the meat in a pressure cooker and cook over medium heat (no oil) until it turns light brown and absorbs all of the water it initially releases.
- Fry all the vegetables in a separate pan.
- In a separate saucepan, add two tablespoons of vegetable oil.
- Place the meat on the bottom of the saucepan and add fried eggplants on top of the meat and add fried peppers on top of eggplants.
- Now add the rinsed rice on top of the veggies and flatten without stirring.
- Add five cups of hot water slowly from the sides and add the salt.
- Cook over very low heat (lid on) until all the water is absorbed and rice is fully cooked.
- Let it rest for 15–20 minutes, invert over a serving platter and serve with salad, yogurt and additional sides.
Joe Harris - Brooklyn Nets
Name of dish: Joe Harris’s Favorite Banana Bread
“I’ve been baking this banana bread since my rookie year. My mom used to bake all time, and banana bread was always the easiest recipe for me to use.”
- 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup (1 stick or 115 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150 g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup (80 g) plain yogurt or sour cream (I use Greek yogurt)
- 2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 large ripe bananas)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Optional: 3/4 cup (100 g) chopped pecans or walnuts
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan or coat with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together in a large bowl.
- Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the yogurt, mashed bananas, and vanilla extract on medium speed until combined. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly beat the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no flour pockets remain. Do not overmix. Fold in the nuts, if using.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 60-65 minutes. Loosely cover the bread with aluminum foil after 30 minutes to help prevent the top and sides from getting too brown. A toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf will come out clean when the bread is done. Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack.
- Cover and store banana bread at room temperature for 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Banana bread tastes best on day 2 after the flavors have settled together.
Dylan Windler - Cleveland Cavaliers
Name of dish: Sweet Potato Veggie Breakfast Casserole
“I have always loved breakfast foods and dishes. I needed a dish that was healthy, dairy-free, and used mostly whole foods but still tasted good. I started experimenting with my favorite breakfast ingredients and eventually landed on this dish and it’s been a staple in our breakfast rotation ever since. It can be prepared the night before and reheated in the morning before a workout! Enjoy!”
- 3–4 large sweet potatoes
- 1 can black beans
- 2–3 cups spinach
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 small onion
- 1 lb. zesty hot Italian sausage
- 2 tbs. avocado oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 avocado
- 1 tbs. garlic powder
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 9x13 baking
- Large baking sheet
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Use a fork to poke the sweet potatoes.
- Place in the microwave for three minutes to soften potatoes before cutting.
- On a large cutting board, cube sweet potatoes and combine with avocado oil, garlic powder, pinch of salt and pepper. Place on large baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft.
- Meanwhile, in large skillet brown the Italian sausage over medium heat. Using a spatula break sausage into small pieces. Drain and set aside.
- On a large cutting board, dice the onion and bell pepper and set aside.
- Once the sweet potatoes are softened, remove from oven and place in the 9x13 dish.
- Layer the bell pepper, onion and drained black beans evenly across the sweet potatoes. Add spinach and sausage and spread evenly.
- Place in the oven for 12 minutes.
- While the casserole is baking, fry two eggs in a skillet and slice an avocado.
- When the casserole has finished baking, scoop a serving onto place, place fried eggs over casserole and garnish with avocado slices.
It can be covered, placed in fridge and reheated for 3–4 days.
Nemanja Bjelica - Sacramento Kings:
Name of Dish: Beli’s Breakfast Smoothie
- 1 whole banana
- 1 cup frozen strawberries
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tbsp. almond butter
- 1 tbsp. local organic honey
- 1 tbsp. organic strawberry preserves
- 2 cups coconut water
- 1 serving of Klean vanilla whey protein powder
- Combine all ingredients into blender.
- Blend on high for approximately 45 seconds and voila!