Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean bland food. It doesn’t have to be an endless march of beige whole grains, grassy juices and skimpy salads.
We sought advice from three chefs well-versed in creating flavorful food for those trying to eat healthier. Unlike most chefs, these cooks don’t rely heavily on the calorie bombs of butter and cream or the blood pressure nemesis that is salt.
These chefs add creaminess with coconut milk and pureed vegetables. They season with smoky spices, fresh herbs and a hint of acid. They use their grills instead of their deep fryers. Their dishes have less fat, less salt and fewer calories, which means they are better for your health.
Our experts are chef Alyssa Gorelick, who teaches a series of healthy and sustainable cooking classes at the Atherton Mill and Market in Charlotte; chef James Castellow, who started practicing what he’s been preaching at North Raleigh’s Zest Cafe and Home Art and lost 130 pounds over the last two years; and Breana Lai, a Chapel Hill native and now associate food editor at Eating Well magazine.
Alyssa Gorelick’s advice
• Reach for less processed fats, such as coconut oil or ghee, a clarified butter commonly used in Indian cooking, instead of canola or vegetable oil. Tip: Coconut oil can be a direct replacement for butter.
• Lend a smoky flavor to a sauce or stew by adding smoked paprika, an ancho chile (a dried poblano) or a dried Anaheim chile pepper.
• Instead of using cream, place a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator. The contents will separate and a thick cream will form on top, which can be used instead of dairy cream in recipes to save calories. Even better, coconut cream is more stable and will not separate like dairy cream at high temperatures.
• When eating meat, buy bone-in cuts of meat and poultry, which have more flavor. While it is true that chicken thighs have more fat than a lean chicken breast, the thigh will have more flavor and less can be used.
• Use a ripe avocado, which has plenty of healthy monounsaturated fats, to add a creamy texture to dishes. Tip: replace mayo with mashed avocados in tuna salad.
James Castellow’s advice
• Unless you’re making a spice rub, season with fresh herbs instead of reaching for the salt shaker. Castellow often relies on minced parsley, basil and oregano, which quickly flavor food.
• Use the grill to add flavor to such foods as asparagus, sweet potatoes and even kale.
• Create more satisfying dishes by incorporating contrasting flavors and textures, such as soft and crunchy, salty and sweet, spicy and creamy. Tip: a salad is always better with the crunch of a toasted nut or a few croutons.
• Instead of thickening soup with cream or a roux, use pureed tomatoes or pureed root vegetables to save calories.
Breana Lai’s advice
• Try adding more vegetables, especially those that are dark green or orange, to any meal. Think spinach, kale and sweet potatoes, which are packed with vitamins A and C and folate.
• Use acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, to add flavor to your dishes instead of salt.
• Vary your protein sources. Instead of always eating meat, try fish, beans, chickpeas and nuts.
• Explore different whole grains. Ancient and alternative grains, such as freekah, quinoa, millet, amaranth and spelt, can provide higher levels of protein, fiber, B vitamins and selenium than wheat.
Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl
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