Saturday, October 3, 2009

Healthy Food for Adventurous Eaters

Healthy Food for Adventurous Eaters
If you crave flavors that are beyond the norm but good for your health, take your taste buds in a new direction with these healthy meal ideas from Chef Amy Chaplin.

Spin your interest in sushi, grains, or soy into an exploration of sea vegetables, ancient grains, or tempeh.

Recently, food marketers began talking about a trend towards discovery and adventure when it comes to eating. But we’re not talking about extreme eating here: It’s more about branching out and adding a new ingredient or dish to the mix of foods you’re eating right now. According to a report by marketing research company TNS Landis, tastes favored by "adventurous eaters” include sushi, whole grain dishes, spicy flavor profiles and soy/tofu-based products. We asked Amy Chaplin, executive chef at Angelica Kitchen in NYC, to give us her spin on these foods, with suggestions that are as superhealthy as they are tasty. (You can find the foods she suggests at specialty markets, but some are also available in supermarkets if you troll the ethnic- and bulk-food aisles.)

#1: If you like sushi, try sea vegetables.

Sea vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense and mineral-rich foods available. Says Chaplin, “Most people are comfortable eating common sea vegetables like nori, which is used in sushi, and don’t mind the small amount of wakame [an edible seaweed] that is commonly found in miso soup." But, she says, if you're ready to plunge into deeper waters for some healthy meal ideas, there are many different kinds of sea veggies that will add unique flavors to your everyday meals.
One example? Hijiki, a black ribbonlike seaweed that is very similar to arame. It detoxifies the body and is an excellent source of calcium, iron, and B2. It also helps normalize blood sugar levels and aids in weight loss. “At Angelica Kitchen we make 'Hijiki Caviar,' which has a salty, fishy taste; it’s hijiki chopped fine and used as a garnish. We add it to our Dragon Bowls—those are bowls of rice, beans, tofu, sea vegetables, and steamed vegetables.” Hijiki is easy to use; it can be soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes and added to salads, simmered in soups or stews or, once soaked, added to pies or quiches. Chaplin sometimes adds a pinch to grain pilafs for extra nutrition.

Agar (a.k.a. agar agar, if you're not in a hurry) is another sea veggie to try. Once dried, this seaweed is clear and can be used as a vegetarian gelatin. It’s most commonly found in desserts, as it adds texture but virtually no taste or color. According to Chaplin, agar reduces inflammation, helps promote healthy digestion, and aids in weight loss. It contains no calories, and is said to help dispel toxins from the body. Try it in kanten, a refreshing dessert made from agar and fruit juice. To make it, simmer 1 cup of fruit juice with 1 tablespoon of agar flakes until they dissolve, then chill to set. When it’s completely cooled, blend it in a food processor until smooth, and serve with chopped fresh fruit. At Angelica Kitchen, Chaplin layers kanten in a parfait with nut cream and a cookie crunch.

#2: If you like barley and bulgur, try these ancient grains.

Kamut is an heirloom Egyptian wheat and has many of the same properties as whole wheat; it’s full of B vitamins, protein, vitamin E, and essential fatty acids.
It does contain gluten, though some people who are allergic to gluten may tolerate it. Kamut flour makes a tasty pasta that is similar to whole wheat pasta. Chaplin’s prep tips: “When cooking with whole kamut, the grain needs to be soaked first then boiled for at least an hour. It holds its shape well and so is perfect as a grain salad, or added to hearty stews. We add it to fillings for crepes and turnovers and in roasted vegetable salads.”

Amaranth is a tiny seedlike grain that is high in protein (15 to 18 percent) and contains more calcium than milk. It’s also high in amino acids, fiber, magnesium, and silicon. Says Chaplin, “Cooked alone, amaranth turns out sticky and more like grits, which works well as a porridge. It is best used in combination with other grains like brown rice or quinoa." At her restaurant, Chaplin uses amaranth in a three-grain mix, which also contains teff, (another seedlike grain, also high in protein) and quinoa. Her basic recipe: "To 1 cup of Brown rice or quinoa, I usually add 3 or 4 tablespoons of amaranth," she says.

Chaplin recommends millet for its high amino acid and protein content, and as a rich source of B vitamins, silicon, and iron. Try it in this Millet, Squash, and Sweet Corn Pilaf
recipe from Chaplin’s blog, Cocount and Quinoa. The chef uses turmeric in this recipe, which has anti-inflammatory properties and is a great source of beta-carotene. A bonus is the golden hue it adds to the dish. Chaplin’s tips: “The recipe adapts well to any vegetable combination and so can be made year-round; try it as a savory breakfast with toasted seeds and chopped parsley."

Millet, Squash, and Sweet Corn Pilaf


1 cup millet
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups winter squash in ¾-inch cubes (I leave the skin on)
¾ cup sweet corn kernels, from small-cob corn
2 or more pinches dried arame seaweed (can also use hijiki, wakame, or dulse)
¼ teaspoon turmeric
Pinch sea salt
2 cups filtered water

Wash millet, cover with an inch of water, and soak overnight.

Drain off soaking liquid and place in pressure cooker or heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir and bring to a boil. If you’re using a pressure cooker, bring it up to high pressure, lower the heat, and cook for 12 minutes. Then remove from heat and let the pressure release, about 8 minutes. Remove the lid once the pressure button has dropped.

If you’re cooking this in a pot, cover, lower the heat and cook for 25 minutes. Allow millet to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Top with your favorite condiments. You can find more grain ideas and recipes in our grain guide.

#3: If you’re a soy fan, try tempeh.
Originally from Indonesia, tempeh is less common than tofu in the West, and is Chaplin’s favorite soy food. Tempeh is a highly nutritious, energy-building food that contains omega-3 fatty acids and a protein content of 19.5 percent. Unlike other soy products, tempeh is a whole food made of fermented, cooked soybeans that are bound together with a mold called Rhyzopus oligosporus. This benevolent mold produces a natural (heat-stable) antibiotic that helps support immune-system function, says Chaplin. The fermentation process also makes tempeh easier to digest. Tempeh is rich in B vitamins, and traditionally made or homemade tempeh is one of the richest sources of B12 around. Unfortunately commercially made tempeh does not contain the vitamin, so try to find the traditionally made type.

Says Chaplin, “I like tempeh best sautéed with olive oil and a sprinkling of tamari [similar to soy sauce] or shoyu [a type of soy sauce]. It’s delicious on a sandwich or with avocado in a nori roll. At Angelica we bake tempeh in many different marinades, like ginger-miso, or maple-Dijon mustard.”

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