Articles in Healthy Cooking

Grapefruit and avocado salad. Credit: Elaine Corn

As winter salads go, it’s a combination of two fruits you’d never think belong together — avocado and red-fleshed grapefruit. Not pink grapefruit — but red, redder, reddest. The cravings start now, as red grapefruit and avocado appear in stores at the same time, November through April.

The story of this odd combo starts in South Texas, a region with a year-round temperate growing zone and fertile soil enriched by the Rio Grande. The grapefruit and avocado pairing’s origin might be as simple as rhubarb and strawberries sharing a season and ending up in pie together. Or the now-cordial association of summer tomatoes with watermelon. Could it be that South Texas locals, faced with two major simultaneous crops, may have had an inevitable epiphany based more on the avocado than the grapefruit?

The evolution of grapefruit’s redness

Grapefruit isn’t all that versatile. But avocado lovers will stick an avocado into a chicken dish, on top of steak, inside an enchilada, a burrito or a quesadilla. They’ll add chunks of it to a zucchini salad, sneak it into tuna fish, and mash it and use it as frosting on a Jell-O mold. Why not section a grapefruit and toss it with avocado slices? At the very least, the acid from the grapefruit will prevent the avocado from turning brown.

There was plenty of time for the grapefruit and avocado dish to evolve. The first grapefruits in South Texas were white. They got there by Spanish missionaries. In 1929, an accidental sighting of a red grapefruit hanging on a pink grapefruit tree amazed growers. Its flesh was so gorgeous that growers raced to breed redder bud mutations. So many South Texans were naming red grapefruit varieties after themselves that to end the confusion the term “ruby” was adopted for all.

The Ruby Red Grapefruit was the first grapefruit to hold a U.S. patent. Its offspring are trademarked. The Rio Star, which I buy in California, combines the two reddest varieties, Rio Red and Star Ruby. It’s seven to 10 times redder than the original Ruby Red. The Ruby-Sweet is three to five times redder than a Ruby Red. (Sunkist also grows red grapefruit in California and Arizona under the names Star Ruby and Rio Red, among others.)

High time for avocado

As to the avocado, also coming into production in South Texas, the variety there is Lula. It’s much bigger than California’s or Mexico’s Hass, weighing nearly a pound. But the flesh is comparable — buttery with 15% to 26% oil.

Depending on where you live, you’ll use the avocado available. In these pre-Super Bowl times, avocados presumed destined to vats of guacamole are piled high in stores and priced low.

To offset grapefruit’s acid, the typical dressing for grapefruit avocado salad trends sweet. The dressing turns pink from red onion and red wine vinegar, a suitable color for a really red grapefruit.

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad With Pink Poppy Seed Dressing

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

½ medium red onion, in chunks

½ cup red wine vinegar (not too darkly colored)

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon dry mustard or prepared Dijon

⅓ cup vegetable oil

⅓ cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves

⅓ cup fresh chopped mint leaves

2 tablespoons finely minced jalapeño, divided

1½ tablespoons poppy seeds

3 red grapefruits

3 just-ripe avocados (not too soft)

Butter lettuce

Lime wedges

Directions

1. To make the dressing, in a blender or food processor, combine onion, vinegar, sugar and mustard. With machine running, slowly add all the oil. With one or two bursts, pulse in the prepped cilantro, mint, half the jalapeño, and poppy seeds. You should have about 2 cups.

2. Using a long sharp knife, slice off skin and all of the bitter white pith from each entire grapefruit. Holding the grapefruit in one hand and working over a bowl, cut in between the membranes to release the sections.

3. Squeeze the juice from the membranes into the dressing; discard the membranes.

4. Slice avocados ¼-inch thick. Arrange grapefruit sections and avocado slices on butter lettuce. Spoon dressing over the fruit. Squeeze lime juice over each salad. Sprinkle with remaining minced jalapeño and serve.

The dressing and the grapefruit may be prepared several hours ahead of serving, covered and refrigerated. The avocados and lettuce should be prepared just before serving.

Top photo: Grapefruit and avocado salad. Credit: Elaine Corn

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Coho salmon filet with crispy skin on a bed of parsnip puree with chanterelle mushrooms with a beurre blanc sauce in chef Taylor Boudreaux's kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille. Credit: David Latt

One of the delights of eating in a restaurant is enjoying a dish that seems difficult to create at home. Getting crispy skin on a salmon filet is right up there with making flaky pie crust or mastering an airy dessert soufflé that can survive the transfer from oven to table.

Helping bring one of those dishes to the home kitchen, executive chef Taylor Boudreaux reveals a restaurant chef’s easy-to-follow technique to create crispy skin on a salmon filet in his kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille in West Los Angeles.

Boudreaux prefers quality ingredients sourced from sustainable purveyors. He also adheres to the “less is more” approach, which he demonstrates with his preparation of Coho salmon. Easy to prepare, the dish is elegant enough to be the centerpiece of a romantic dinner for two, a dinner for friends for  New Year’s Eve or any celebration.

Children of military parents often lament having to move frequently, leaving behind friends and schools. Yet, there are those rare individuals for whom the glass-half-full becomes a golden opportunity. Because his dad was assigned to military bases around the country, Boudreaux was able to explore different parts of the United States. Regional food became his passion.

Preferring a country style of cooking instead of the rarefied gastronomic alchemy favored by many fine-dining chefs, Boudreaux likes to feature a few elements, presented as close to their original state as possible.

Leaving the chanterelles whole lends a rustic flair to the plate. Parsnips give up their native texture to become a creamy foundation for the filet of moist salmon with its contrasting crisp skin.

Some chefs use deep-frying to turn fish skin into crispy deliciousness. Boudreaux says a healthier way is to employ a sauté pan.

Chef Taylor Boudreaux in the Napa Valley Grille kitchen. Credit: David Latt

Chef Taylor Boudreaux in the Napa Valley Grille kitchen. Credit: David Latt

Pan-Seared Coho Salmon With Field Foraged Mushrooms and Parsnip Purée

The recipe is portioned for one. Multiply the ingredients by the number of servings. Depending on the size of the sauté pan, two to four filets can be cooked at the same time.

In addition to quality ingredients, Boudreaux stresses the importance of using a pan that can accept high heat. Because high heat is essential to creating crisp skin, chef uses a 20/80 mix of olive and canola oil. Canola oil can tolerate the high heat. Olive oil adds flavor to the sauté. Do not allow the hot oils to catch fire. The flames may be entertaining but they add an unpleasant flavor.

Instead of parsnips, Boudreaux sometimes uses potatoes or turnips, using the same ingredient portions and technique.

Serves 1

Parsnip Purée

Ingredients

1 cup parsnips, washed, peeled, roughly chopped

1 cup heavy cream

Directions

1. Place the chopped parsnips in a saucepan and cover with heavy cream.

2. Simmer till fork tender.

3. Place parsnip in blender and purée till smooth.

4. Add more cream, if necessary, to adjust consistency.

5. Pass through fine mesh and season with salt.

6. Return to a small saucepan. Reheat when the filet has come out of the oven and is ready for plating.

Chanterelle Mushrooms

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

2 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, washed, pat dried

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

1 sprig thyme

1 clove garlic, washed, peeled, crushed by hand

Directions

1. In a hot sauté pan add 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil and sauté mushrooms on high heat.

2. When just caramelized, season with salt and pepper and add 1 tablespoon butter, sprig thyme and 1 fresh garlic clove.

3. Remove from heat and let butter brown, being careful not to burn the butter.

4. Discard thyme and garlic.

5. Set the mushroom dish aside. Reheat just before plating the fish.

Beurre Blanc

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 ounces white wine

1 shallot, washed, peeled, fine chopped

1 thyme sprig, washed, pat dried

4 to 6 black peppercorns, whole

1 garlic clove, washed, peeled, fine chopped

4 tablespoons sweet butter

1 half lemon, seeds removed

Sea salt to taste

Directions

1. In a saucepan, reduce by two-thirds 2 ounces of white wine. Add chopped shallots, garlic, thyme sprig, and peppercorns and simmer.

2. Whisk in 4 tablespoons butter to emulsify.

3. Season with sea salt and pepper.

4. Taste and add acid with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

5. Remove peppercorns

Pan-Seared Salmon

Ingredients

1 skin-on filet of salmon (6 ounce), washed, pat dry

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

4 teaspoons canola oil

2 tablespoons sweet butter

Sea salt and pepper to taste

1 garlic clove, washed, peeled, crushed by hand

1 sprig thyme, washed, pat dried

1 tablespoon microgreens, washed and patted dried or Italian parsley, washed and finely chopped

Directions

1. Place the filet flesh side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp paring knife, in the middle of the filet, make a 4-inch incision in the skin (not the flesh).

2. Heat sauté pan until smoking.

3. Add blended olive oil and canola oil to coat pan.

4. Lightly sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper on both sides of the filet.

5. When oil smokes, lay seasoned fish skin side down. Because the heat will cause the salmon to curl up on the ends, use the fish spatula to lightly press down on the filet.

6. Cook till skin is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. When the skin has crisped,  it will be easy to lift from the pan.

7. Using a fish spatula, turn filet over so flesh side is down. Place in a preheated 350 F oven 6 to 8 minutes or until a temperature thermometer reads 125 F for medium rare.

8. Remove from oven and place pan on burner.

9. On medium heat add 1 tablespoon butter, a crushed garlic clove and thyme sprig.

Using a soup spoon, baste filet with butter as butter browns. Do not over brown butter.

10. Remove from pan to plate.

Directions for plating

1. Using the back of a soup spoon, spread the parsnip purée on the bottom of the plate.

2. Place the salmon filet on the purée in the middle of the plate, crispy skin side up.

3. Scatter the chanterelles along the sides of the filet.

4. Drizzle the beurre blanc on the plate and over the filet.

5. Decorate the top of the filet with microgreens or Italian parsley.

6. Serve hot with a dry white or sparking wine.

Watch Chef Boudreaux demonstrate the dish here:

Coho salmon filet with crispy skin on a bed of parsnip purée with chanterelle mushrooms with a beurre blanc sauce in chef Taylor Boudreaux’s kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille. Credit: David Latt

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Roasted ginkgo nuts. Credit: Katherine Leiner

Why let gingkos jar this glorious New York City scene? It’s late November. Central Park is at its peak in fall color. The Conservatory Garden up on Fifth Avenue and 105th Street is all decked out with its fall array of chrysanthemums.

Yet it happened on my afternoon doggie walk, as I passed under a ginkgo tree, and the pungent smell about bowled me over. I am familiar with what is often called “nature’s stink bomb” and have developed a kind of acceptance and regard for the ginkgo, knowing its benefits, but simply, it smells like vomit. The stench is supposed to keep animals from eating the fallen fruit from this ancient Asian tree.

Ginkgo’s famous healthful qualities

But as a baby boomer who is keen to stave off memory loss, I know ginkgo biloba made from this tree species is one of the best-selling herbal medications. It is used in traditional medicine to treat blood disorders and improve memory. It also is an antioxidant, so I welcome the stench.

This time of year in Central Park, one will find many older Asian people on their knees, some wearing rubber gloves, picking through the fruit that has fallen on the ground. And each year, I ask myself, why don’t I collect a bag and try them out? So this year I did just that.

Ginkgo leaves are fan-shaped and green until the fall, when they turn a bright yellow. The leaves contain two types of chemicals, flavonoids and terpenoids, which are antioxidants. Studies show that ginkgo is good for promoting blood flow and treating anxiety, glaucoma, premenstrual syndrome and Reynaud’s disease.

It is important not to use ginkgo for at least 36 hours before surgery or dental procedures because of the risk of bleeding. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also not take ginkgo. Ginkgo may also interact with some medications and antidepressants. As with any supplement, it’s good for users to read up on ginkgo before ingesting it. Also keep in mind, the nut can be toxic to eat raw, and even picking it up can cause a rash like poison ivy.

Recipes from around the world

Asian women to whom I’ve spoken say it is no mistake that the nuts fall at this time of year because when they are cooked, they helps fight flu and colds.

Picture 1 of 3

Ginkgo leaf. Credit: Katherine Leiner

The best way to use them is to remove the fleshy insides and skin from the nut. The flesh is discarded, and then the nut is boiled in salt water, fried, roasted or broiled. The nuts are used in Asian rice porridge and other desserts. Another chef used the nuts to make dried scallop and ginkgo nut congee, but instead of hassling with  fresh ginkgo he uses tinned nuts because they are easier.

In a piece called “Gathering Ginkgo Nuts in New York,” a couple wrote about collecting the ginkgo nuts and trying various ways of cooking them. They finally hit on something when they separated the smelly pulp from the nut, washed the nuts, coated them in egg, salt, pepper and flour and dropped them in hot oil. Delicious was their assessment of this cooking method for a local, sustainable nut.

I have now collected about two pints of ginkgos, and today is the day I intend to try them. A friend gave me this recipe, which seems easy enough.

Roasted Ginkgo Nuts

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 pints of ginkgo nuts

Oil for frying, such as coconut or olive oil

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Using rubber gloves, collect the yellow squishy nuts from the ground. You know they’re ripe because they have fallen from the tree and they stink to high heaven. Still using rubber gloves, separate the pulp from the nut. (I did this outside on Park Avenue.)

2. Wash the nuts thoroughly and let them dry.

3. Pour a half-inch of your favorite oil into a pan. Salt the nuts. When the oil is hot enough to sputter, place the nuts in the pan. The nuts should pop like popcorn, except much louder. When they have split open and you can see the green of the nut.

4. Drain, and let cool. Eat like popcorn.

Top photo: Roasted ginkgo nuts. Credit: Katherine Leiner

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Roasted kabocha squash soup with kale. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, has quickly become my favorite winter squash. The texture is somewhat like a chestnut or potato, unlike most squash and pumpkins, which, when cooked are very soft.

Kabocha can be cooked in a multitude of ways, including roasting, mashing, baking and even in soup. They can be used to make pies and other desserts. When eating in a Japanese restaurant, if there is kabocha in the vegetable tempura, I will always get an order.

I often substitute kabocha squash in recipes that call for other winter squash, such as butternut or acorn squash. The difference in flavor profiles can completely change an old standard into a brand-new classic.

One Thanksgiving, about five or six years ago, I decided to add a kabocha squash recipe to my dinner. Every year I used to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family and extended family. This is usually very traditional fare, featuring turkey, dressing, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, green salad, maybe a Jell-O mold fixed by my mother, and rolls. My sister would always make the candied yams and sweet potato pie, and bring them over.

Interested in bringing slightly healthier fare to my Thanksgiving table, I wanted another option to balance the buttery sugary overload of the candied yams. I brushed the kabocha squash with a very small amount of melted butter and spiced it with warm spices, including cinnamon. When the squash was done, I drizzled pomegranate molasses over the top. The tart and sweet molasses blended beautifully with the spiced sweetness of the squash.

Of course, once the family saw the kabocha squash, everyone asked what in the world it was.

One cousin even remarked, “Black folks don’t eat that!” I replied, “You do today” and explained what the dish was.

Gamely, everyone took a small piece to try. And wouldn’t you know, they loved it. They all came back for more. So I guess black folks do eat kabocha squash.

This soup has an additional layer of flavor added by roasting the squash before use in the soup. You can roast the squash a day before, or if you have leftover roasted kabocha squash it can be repurposed in this recipe.

Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup With Kale

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 pounds kabocha squash, seeds removed, cut into 4 pieces

3 (15 ounce) cans low sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground ginger powder

½ teaspoon ground smoked paprika

2 cups torn kale

Directions

1. Heat oven to 400 F.

2. Place squash onto a baking sheet skin side down. Roast squash for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender.

3. Remove the squash from the oven, set aside to cool slightly. (This step can be done a day ahead.)

4. Scoop the flesh from the squash.

5. In a large saucepan, combine the cooked squash, chicken broth, salt, allspice, ginger and smoked paprika.

6. Using the back of a spoon or a potato masher, break the squash up.

7. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 30 minutes, until the flavors have melded.

8. Carefully purée the soup using a blender or food processor.

9. Return the puréed soup to the pot, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

10. Add the kale, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the kale is tender.

11. If needed, add a small amount of water to thin the soup if it becomes too thick.

Top photo: Roasted kabocha squash soup with kale. Credit: Cheryl Lee

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Legumes, clockwise from top: chickpeas, brown lentils, red lentils (masoor dal), green gram (moong dal), black gram (urd dal), pigeon pea (red gram or toor dal). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

The variety of dried legumes used in Indian cooking can become quite mind-boggling. When you are in an Indian market, you may find yourself walking back and forth in the aisle trying to figure out what’s what.

When I was writing my book “Some Like It Hot: Spicy Favorites from the World’s Hot Zones,” I came up with some explanations I hope are helpful.

The best known Indian dish using dried legumes is called dal and although that word simply means legume, the prepared form is a kind of mushy side dish made with the legumes, spices and chilies. Many Indian dishes also use dried legumes as a kind of seasoning, sometimes calling for as little as half a teaspoon in other, more complex, concoctions.

Some dal favorites include red gram, black gram and green gram. Sometimes the word dal specifically refers to split dried legumes. Adding to the confusion, Indian authors writing in English sometimes use the same word for two different legumes. Here’s a little guide to help (or confuse) you more. Arhal dal or tur dal (toor dal) are either split red gram or pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan L.). But tur dal, and also thuvar dal, is used by some authors to mean yellow split peas (Pisum sativum L. var. hortense). The English word gram derives from the Portuguese word for grain, which is what the early Portuguese voyagers to India called these little dried legumes in India.

More on sorting out Indian dal

Gram generally means chickpea (Cicer arietinum L .), specifically Bengal gram (also channa dal), but can also mean any dried legume.

Channa dal is the whole or split chickpea although some writers use it to refer to yellow split pea.

Black gram (Vigna mungo L. syn. Phaseolus mungo) is urad dal known also as urd, and sometimes called horse bean, horse gram, Madras gram, sword bean and jackbean (bada-sem). This is complicated by the fact that those last five identified as urad dal are a different species, Canavalia ensiformis L. and also called kulthi dal. Urad dhuli dal is the white version or split white gram.

Sometimes chowli or chowla dal or lobia is the cowpea, also known as black-eyed pea (Vigna unguiculata L. subsp. unguiculata syn. V. sinensis), although chowla dal also refers to the related Vigna catjang.

Beginner’s dal sauté. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Beginner’s dal sauté. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Green gram (Vigna radiata L. syn. Phaseolus aureus and P. radiatus) is more familiarly known as mung bean and in India is known as moong dal. Kesari dal (Lathyrus sativus L.), or grass pea. If you eat too much of it, grass pea causes a crippling disease called lathyrism.

Masoor dal is split red or yellow lentils (Lens culinaris Medikus syn. L. esculenta; Ervum lens; or Vicia lens).

To round out the dals, matki is moth or mat bean (Vigna acontifolia), sem (also valpapdi, avarai) is hyacinth bean (Lablab purpurus [purpureus] (L.) Sweet. syn. L. niger Medik. and Dolichos lablab L.) and sutari is rice bean (Vigna umbellate).

OK, got that? Personally, no matter what a recipe you’re following says, I find that the cooking of all this is quite easy. It’s only if you were to write a recipe for someone else that it gets confusing.

Beginner’s Dal Sauté

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 tablespoons black gram (urad dal)

3 tablespoons green gram (moong dal)

3 tablespoons dried chickpeas

3 tablespoons red lentils (masoor dal)

3 tablespoons pigeon pea (red gram or toor dal)

2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

Salt

Directions

1. Place all the legumes in a saucepan and cover with cold water by several inches. Turn the heat to high and once it comes to a boil, cook, salting lightly, until tender, 45 to 60 minutes.

2. Drain and place in a sauté pan with the olive oil and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Salt to taste.  Serve hot.

Top photo: Legumes, clockwise from top: chickpeas, brown lentils, red lentils (masoor dal), green gram (moong dal), black gram (urd dal), pigeon pea (red gram or toor dal). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Green beans with Brazil nut-garlic paste. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller

Although some Buddhists may swear off onions and garlic because they allegedly arouse both anger and libido, these aromatics have powerful nourishing properties. Experts say you can enhance the many health-promoting and cancer-fighting effects of onions and garlic by adopting certain culinary habits. Are you ready to embrace the almighty bulbs?

I’ve been involved in a steamy love affair with onions ever since a Thai waitress admired my father’s long, droopy earlobes, a sure sign of longevity in her culture. Other than the hunks of salami he used to beg for at bedtime, what food do I most often associate with my dad? Why, onions, of course!

But what does real science have to say about onions and their garlic cousins? Like leeks, chives and scallions, the other “forbidden spices” of certain Buddhists and Hindus, onions and garlic are members of the allium family of vegetables, so named because they contain the enzyme allinase, which converts the sulfur-containing compound alliin to allicin, its active form.

Alliums have long been prized for their ability to lower cholesterol, blood sugar and pressure, to thin the blood and to attack microbes. Recent research shows they fight cancer, too.

Studies in human populations “suggest that allium vegetable intake reduces the risk of cancer,” writes Italian researcher Carlotta Galeone, “and laboratory investigations have provided convincing evidence that selected substances contained in garlic and other allium vegetables inhibit a variety of chemically induced tumours in animals,” including cancers of the breast, endometrium, colon and digestive tract.

Garlic and onions. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller

Garlic and onions. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller

The “selected substances” include those stinky, pungent, tear-inducing molecules of sulfur.

Imagine an insect biting into an allium’s leaf and getting sprayed. “Plant scientists believe that a plant’s chemical system develops as an evolutionary defense against pests,” said  Irwin Goldman, an onion expert and professor at the University of Wisconsin. Alliums originated in central Asia,  just north of Afghanistan — a rough neck of the woods, by any measure.

In addition to more than 50 variations on sulfur, onions have another trait going for them: They contain flavonoids, compounds that give plants color and contribute to a host of healthy benefits. Quercetin, which acts as an anti-inflammatory, antihistamine and antioxidant, is the most exalted. It’s also has been shown to inhibit estrogen.

Garlic breath and onion sense: Top 5 practices for using them

To maximize the health benefits of onions and garlic, Goldman said, you must adopt some simple culinary habits:

Tip 1: Attack alliums first, as soon as you get to the kitchen. 

By cutting onions and garlic, you break their cell walls, thus releasing those allinase enzymes.  To develop the full complement of sulfur compounds, you have to let the cut vegetables sit for a while so that the enzymes have time to go to work, Goldman said.

How long is that? Goldman suggested 30 minutes for onions while garlic researcher Suhasini Modem suggested about half that time for cloves of garlic. And sulfur expert Eric Block said shorter times may suffice. In other words, nobody knows for sure, so hedge your bets by choosing the least risky course of action.

You could even cut your onions and garlic far in advance,  Modem said, as long as you let them sit on the counter long enough, then refrigerate them to keep the sulfurs stable. Chopped garlic should last six to eight hours on the counter, she said, and two to three days in a cold fridge.

Tip 2: Don’t cut alliums too finely. 

If you do, the enzymes will undergo a short-lived reaction and quickly evaporate, Block said. (Crucifers cut too finely react the same way.)  But what if you desire a subtle mince? My solution is to keep the cut chunky at first, then cut the vegetables even more  just before you’re planning to consume them.

Tip 3: Choose small red and yellow onions grown in colder climates and peel them gently.

Pity the poor Vidalia. She may be southern and mellow, which could be attractive qualities in a mate, but the harsh northern varieties of onions grown in latitudes above 40 degrees are higher in healthy sulfurs, Goldman said. Red and yellow onions, including the small yellow-skinned shallots, also contain more flavonoids than other varieties while white onions appear to have the least.

Quercetin and other flavonoids concentrate in the outer layers of onions, so peel them slightly and throw the skins into soup stock or compost. Smaller onions are simply better value. Why pay for those hunks of flavonoid-free interiors?

Tip 4: Eat alliums raw or slightly cooked.

In the case of garlic, Modem found that cooking it — even a quick saute for two minutes — destroyed its ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Other researchers, however, have found that cooking in the microwave for 60 seconds or even 45 minutes in the oven only partially destroyed garlic’s anti-cancer properties as long as it had time to percolate beforehand. Again, hedge your bets.

Sulfur compounds in all alliums do get destroyed by cooking, Goldman said, but the flavonoids in onions may get enhanced with slight exposure to heat. For that reason, he recommends raw or quickly sautéed onions, cooked for four to five minutes, max. 

Tip 5: Combine alliums with alliums and other healthy plant foods.

Even if you insist on cooking your alliums, you can increase their cancer-fighting qualities by throwing in some raw garlic, onions or their juices at the end. Combining garlic with olive oil, said Modem, may also add some anti-cancer synergy.  Some studies also suggest you can get a similar boost  by combining garlic  with tomatoes or with selenium. And if you’re really angling to hedge your bets, you could always snort those piercing fumes. Funny you should bring that up, Goldman said. High on his bucket list is a study of people who work in onion factories–and cry “sulfur” every day.

Green Beans With Brazil Nut-Garlic Paste

This recipe combines raw garlic with Brazil nuts, one of the few food sources of cancer-fighting selenium. Eaten together, the two may pack an even powerful anti-cancer punch.

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, smashed and allowed to sit 15 minutes before using

5 Brazil nuts

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 large handfuls raw green beans

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Grind garlic and nuts to make a paste.

2. Whisk in lemon juice.

3. Using a steamer and very little water, steam the green beans for a couple of minutes until bright green, then combine with paste.

Top photo: Green beans with Brazil nut-garlic paste. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller

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Baked Kale Chips

I pause, unsure how my question will be received. “Have you had kale chips?”

That was the first time I posed the question to a patient in a medical exam room. With more than a decade of practicing internal medicine under my belt, I had never felt particularly inspired or successful in counseling my patients about their weight. Then I attended Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives (HKHL), an annual medical conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif., a gathering aimed at training doctors in nutrition and cooking. Within weeks upon my return, I was “prescribing” my first recipe.

Like many of my patients in the San Francisco Bay Area, John, who is in his late 40s, is overweight. He has never been successfully motivated to slim down because no “diet” has ever worked for him. When I bring up his chart and show him his body mass index (BMI), he says,  ”I’m fat, but nothing I try ever works.”

Chipping away at the weight issue

“What do you eat on an average day?” I ask. “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” John says he loves vegetables and loves to cook. He even volunteers at a local farmers market. But he has a weakness: “Chips,” he says. “I can’t stop eating chips.” John’s idea of chips is the potato variety, soaked in fat, fried and overly salted. I suggest he try kale chips and give him a simple recipe (see below). I tell him he can eat as many as he likes.

Linda Shiue, MD. Credit: Courtesy of Linda Shiue, MD.

Linda Shiue, MD. Credit: Courtesy of Linda Shiue

A month later, John has lost 5 pounds and is perceptibly happier and more confident. “Doc,” he says, “No doctor has ever given me a recipe before. Those kale chips are so good! Thank you.”

Granted, obese patients need more than a recipe for kale chips to find their way to a healthy weight, but a simple nutritious and non-fattening recipe is a first step and a great incentivizer. By giving John a fantastic-tasting substitute for his beloved chips rather than forbidding him to eat one of his favorite treats, I was able to convey that a different way of eating would allow him to enjoy snacks while feeling healthier and losing weight along the way.

Healthy recipe Rx

When doctors discuss food, it’s usually in the context of nutrition rather than flavor, as in: “You’ve really got to cut back on the junk food.” Well, patients know that, they just may not know what to replace their junk food with. What if doctors began giving out simple recipes for healthful, whole-food alternatives before they handed out prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering medication? Or gave a prescription for exercise and a decadent tasting fruit-based dessert to help control blood pressure?

Traditionally, medical schools do not include coursework in nutrition or, certainly, in cooking, and insurance companies are unlikely to reimburse for nutritional counseling. It’s much faster and easier to write a prescription for a drug, and because it may require no change in lifestyle or self-discipline on the part of patients, they may prefer a pill as well. And if the doctors themselves aren’t the best role models, due to long work hours and the same poor dietary and exercise habits she is asking her patients to rectify, they may not have credibility behind their message.

How do we change this? First, doctors must learn about nutrition and healthy cooking. Showing patients how to shop and cook, and giving them actual recipes should be the next step doctors take. This would instigate a cultural shift and require advocating for insurance coverage, but the change would improve the nation’s health and save health-care dollars in the long run.

Cooking for the cure

Dr. David Eisenberg, a professor at Harvard Medical School, is devoted to this idea. He founded Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives with the goal of turning physicians into foot soldiers in the war against obesity and other nutrition-related diseases. Over a four-day course each March, doctors swap scalpels for chef’s knives, and white coats for aprons, as they attend cooking demonstrations and get hands-on in the kitchen. They leave the conference with a changed perspective and a renewed zeal to talk prevention.

“I’d like to see the medical profession and the culinary community join forces,” says Eisenberg, “and make a united front to improve the nation’s health.”

An HKHL alumnus, Dr. John Principe, completely restructured his Chicago-area practice and now has a teaching kitchen. Principe, who says that he had been “burnt to a crisp by the methods of conventional medicine,” credits Eisenberg and HKHL for saving his career. “The ability to empower people to take control of their health through the simple tools of a knife, fire and water is amazing,” he says. “It’s primitive but essential!”

A sprinkling of other programs around the country are also taking the initiative in teaching doctors how to cook. Dr. Robert Graham, associate program director for the Internal Medicine Residency at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, runs a six-week program to instruct medical residents in nutrition, weight management and exercise. Students take cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. The University of Massachusetts Medical School offers cooking classes tailored to physicians’ medical specialties, and Tulane University’s Medical School and Johnson and Wales University recently established the first Culinary Medicine collaboration, with the goal of pairing physicians and chefs.

So picture this: At your next checkup, you’ll be weighed in, get your blood pressure checked, and your latest cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. Then your doctor will hand you her favorite kale chip recipe or one that turns frozen bananas into ice cream. It seems far-fetched now, but it would make medical and fiscal sense to make such a scenario a reality in the immediate future.

Dr. Shiue’s Kale Chips

Ingredients

1 head kale, washed and completely dried

a few pinches of salt, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Wash whole kale leaves, shake out or dry in a salad spinner, then place on a rack to dry thoroughly. Depending on your temperature and humidity conditions, this can take an hour or several hours. Alternatively, dry thoroughly with towels.

2. Preheat oven to 275 F.

3. Once kale leaves are completely dried, tear leaves off the fibrous central stem into bite-size (potato chip sized) pieces and place onto two baking sheets in a single layer with some space around each leaf.

4. Sprinkle on salt and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, about 1 tablespoon per baking sheet. Toss with tongs to evenly distribute salt and oil.

5. Place prepared kale leaves into the preheated oven, and bake for 20 minutes, turning over leaves halfway through baking.

Serve immediately.

Variations: Experiment with tasty seasonings, including cayenne pepper with a squeeze of lime juice, Bragg Nutritional Yeast and nori furikake.

Top photo: Baked kale chips. Credit: iStockphoto

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Broccoli rabe with garlic and olive oil. Credit: LittleNY Photograhy and Design/iStock

Broccoli rabe is the new spinach, as one twentysomething, let-me-reinvent-the-wheel food blogger called it. Yeah, broccoli rabe is healthy, but if it doesn’t taste great no one will eat it.

Let’s get rid of some confusion: broccoli rabe, broccoli rape, broccoli raab, rapini, Chinese flowering cabbage are all the same thing. It’s unrelated to spinach. But we can’t get rid of all confusion because broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, rapini and turnip tops are all botanically related.

Furthermore cime di rape, friarelli and broccoli rabe are often confused by the very people who are famous for cooking them, the Neapolitans. You’ve got to admire a people who have a website devoted to friarelli, though. Friarelli refers specifically to young broccoli rabe, and the dish is made by boiling the vegetables in water, draining them, and then frying them in olive oil with garlic and salt.

Broccoli rabe is very popular in southern Italy, where this bitter tasting green is cooked in a variety of ways to make it more palatable. It has been popular for a long time. Plutarch, the second-century Greek essayist, wrote about broccoli rabe in a story about the Roman general Manius Curius, who, after a long and successful career, retired to his modest home in the country. One day some Samnite ambassadors came and found him boiling greens like broccoli rabe or turnip tops. They offered him some gold and he responded by asking why a person satisfied with such a supper would need gold.

Raw broccoli rabe. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Raw broccoli rabe. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

I was in Naples when I first had friarelli at the restaurant Donna Margherita at Vico Alabardieri. The dish called salsicce e friarelli was made of sausage taken out of its skin and flattened into two patties and fried in olive oil along with the friarelli that was cooked in olive oil, garlic and red chile flakes. This was served with French fries and lemon. It was great.

On another occasion I had pizza con salsiccia e friarelli, and I thought this one of the finest pizzas I’ve ever had. It’s sometimes called pizza pulcinello, named after Pulcinella, the comic character of the 17th-century Neapolitan commedia dell’arte. The pizza is made with mozzarella and small slices of sausages and drizzled olive oil. When I had it the crust was thick with risen sides and it was cooked in a wood-fired oven, which left appetizing black marks on the bottom of the pizza.

A simple broccoli rabe preparation is easy and brings out the richness of the hearty vegetable. You can use it to top a pizza or pair it with sausage like the dishes I enjoyed in Naples, or use it in myriad other ways because it’s versatile in its simplicity.

Boil the broccoli rabe until soft in about 12 minutes then drain and transfer to a sauté pan with some olive oil and chopped garlic. Sizzle for a few minutes then serve with salt and lemon juice if desired.

Broccoli rabe with garlic and olive oil. Credit: LittleNY Photography and Design/iStock

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