I am preparing to teach a cooking class on Wednesday. The topic is healthy recipes for the holidays. I always struggle with the “healthy” cooking classes, because everyone has a different opinion about what is healthy and what is not. For example, I walked into a new gym for the first time the other day, and the owner asked me what I do for work.
“I’m a grad student” I responded.
“What is your major?” he asked.
“Oh, so you must be Paleo” He said, as though anyone who was into nutrition would surely know that the paleolithic diet is ideal.
“Um, no actually.”
“What, you do South Beach?” He asked.
“No, I eat a lot of grains” I said. He looked at me with skepticism, as though questioning my credibility, then walked away.
This sort of interaction happens all the time to people who study nutrition. They actually warned us about it during my first semester of grad school.
“Tell me, should humans be eating dairy?” a customer asked me at the farmers market. “um, well, do you like dairy?” I asked, not wanting to offend her either way.
“no I mean, is dairy healthy for us.. you know.. is it making us fat? I heard on the radio the other day that dairy is driving the obesity epidemic” She declared loudly. I thought about this out loud for a moment,
“Well, it nutritionally formulated to grow a baby cow..” I said, but before I could offer a counter point she interupted “See, I KNEW IT!!” She said, while proudly to her husband.
“But I don’t really believe that it is dairy that is driving the obesity epidemic. If it were only dairy, than everyone who eats dairy would be obese and everyone who doesn’t eat it would be slim, and that just isn’t the case.” She stared through me, as though suddenly extremely bored.
“..but the idea that we have to eat dairy to get calcium is so misleading. A lot of money has been invested in that campaign, but think of all the non-dairying cultured that have lived long and happy lives and maintained strong bones. Traditionally Native Americans were non-dairying, and the Japanese.”
“Oh, I told you so honey. We are going vegan right this minute!!” She said excitedly, swinging a bag of green onions from the crook of her arm. The husband looked at me, miserably, as though to say ‘why did you just decide destroy my life’. I shrugged my shoulders as though to reply ‘what can you do? she already had her mind made up’.
Ultimately, with nutrition, everyone feels that they are the expert (and the truth is, when it comes to their own bodies, they are absolutely correct!). Since I can’t interview each person to find out what their idea of optimal health is and teach the class accordingly, I chose a dish which ranks high on the health meter in many of the popular diets of today. It is relatively lean, with most of the fat coming from olive oil and walnuts (both are high in vitamin E and believed to be heart healthy). A vegetarian variation can easily be made by omitting the chicken and wrapping a little goat cheese in walnuts instead. It can be made vegan (omit the chicken and the goat cheese. It has a lot of fiber in it (weight watchers would approve). It contains no grain (although the jury is out on potatoes with the Paleo people). Sub in rice flour and it can be made gluten free.
1 Tbsp olive oil
~1/2 tsp salt (more or less)
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut into little cubes
1 cup baby dutch yellow potatoes, cubed
water (~1 cup)
3 cloves freshly minced garlic
1 tsp thyme (or more)
1/2 bunch kale, chiffonade
1 tsp mirin Japanese rice wine
dash rice vinegar
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and add onions and half of the salt. Cook on high until onions are wilted, then add rutabaga and potatoes and the remaining salt. Cook, stirring, until the potatoes begin to stick, then add 1/2 cup water, turn the heat to medium, and cover. When the water has evaporated, add the garlic and the remaining water. When the water has again evaporated, taste for done-ness. It should be almost soft, and the rutabaga will be a little bitter still. Add the kale and return the lid. When the kale is wilted add the thyme and mirin. Turn off the heat and let continue cooking on the burner. Sprinkle with rice vinegar and adjust seasoning.
Prepare 1 red pepper:
roast on the stovetop (place pepper directly on the burner, char the outsides, then remove the blackened skin)
2 split chicken breasts (four servings)
pound chicken with a hammer or meat tenderizer until flat. Stuff the inside with potato mixture and red pepper strips. Roll up tightly. Roll the chicken in
flour, then 1 beaten egg, then crushed walnuts (use a food processor or hammer to crush fine). Brown on all sides in a dry frying pan, then place in 350 degree oven for ~30 min (or until cooked through).
Carefully slice into rounds with a VERY sharp knife