Specifically, I spent some time sprucing up my health—and my cooking skills—at the lovely TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, CA. There, the menu is plant-based, veggies abound, and everything served is free of added salt, oil, and sugar (SOS), yet is flavorful and delicious. (Seriously.)
Now, I’m a fan of food so healthy it practically goes to the gym for you, but only if it tastes great. So I did my darnedest to learn to make it, not only by attending TrueNorth’s lectures and cooking demos, but also by liberally sampling Executive Chef Ramses Bravo’s tasty culinary offerings. (Anything for the greater good!)
When I got home, I couldn’t wait to try my hand at this new way of cooking. So I got right down to it.
From new recipes to revamped versions of old favorites, my table has overflowed with color, flavor, and verve. I made Chef Bravo’s kicky Hawaiian Salad with crunchy cabbage, fresh cilantro, punchy ginger, mango, jicama, and toasted macadamia nuts. I made my first lentil loaf, replete with rubbed sage and fresh thyme, and smothered it in thick, savory mushroom gravy. I steamed artichokes with lemon wedges and bay leaves, then savored them petal by petal. I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing!
Less SOS—More Flavor
Apparently, I’d often been substituting salt for flavor (à la pretzels) and thus had been missing out on a lot of zip and zing (those are the scientific terms, I believe). Not that a pinch of salt doesn’t have its place, but it’s no substitute for the sheer delight of an unexpected taste combination, like the sweet-tart bite of a juicy orange and crunch of celery enlivening the mellowness of golden beets.
So from now on, I’ll be focusing on the complex flavors of whole, unprocessed foods while minimizing the SOS distractions. We’ll see how it goes!
An Updated Favorite
In keeping with the theme of allowing natural flavors to shine through, I’d like to share an old standby of mine that I’ve given a fresh update: sauteed Swiss chard with raisins and pine nuts.
I’ve been making it for years, having clipped the original recipe from one of those women’s magazines—I can’t remember the exact one—sold in the grocery checkout line. (You know the ones I’m talking about, though—they have headlines like “Lose 30 Pounds in 5 Days!!!” right next to “Your Richest Red Velvet Cake EVER.” ‘Nuff said.)
Anyhow, while the original recipe is excellent, I nixed the oil and salt, because Swiss chard is naturally salty and pine nuts add plenty of richness (along with goodies like manganese and vitamin K). Then I played with some cooking techniques and proportions. The result? Every bit as good as the original—if not better. Bon appetit!
Sauteed Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Served over brown rice or quinoa, this chard is a meal unto itself. Dry sauteing (pan roasting) the onions first gives them lovely color and a hint of caramel flavor.
Prep time: 30 min Serves: 4
3 Tbsp pine nuts (optional–see note)
2 small yellow onions, sliced into half rings (¼-inch thick)
2 bunches Swiss chard (~1 lb total), stems trimmed into 1-inch pieces, leaves halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch ribbons
1 tsp all-purpose seasoning (I like Mrs. Dash)
¼ tsp dried thyme½ c salt-free vegetable broth or water
½ c golden raisins
Heat a large skillet or pot over medium-low. Add pine nuts and toast, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside.
Toasting pine nuts is like minding a new puppy–don’t turn your back for a second. Whoops!
Return pan to stove and allow to reheat until water dripped in the pan dances. Add onions to dry pan. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for 7-8 minutes, until onions are lightly browned and beginning to soften.
Serve topped with toasted pine nuts.
Note: Feel free to swap sliced almonds for pricey pine nuts; simply decrease toasting time. If you’re watching your fat intake, omit pine nuts entirely.
- 3 Tbsp pine nuts (optional--see note)
- 2 small yellow onions, sliced into half rings (¼-inch thick)
- 2 bunches Swiss chard (~1 lb total), stems trimmed into 1-inch pieces, leaves halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch ribbons
- 1 tsp all-purpose seasoning (I like Mrs. Dash)
- ¼ tsp dried thyme
- ½ c salt-free vegetable broth or water
- ½ c golden raisins
- Heat a large skillet or pot over medium-low. Add pine nuts and toast, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Toasting pine nuts is like minding a new puppy--don't turn your back for a second. Whoops!
- Return pan to stove and allow to reheat until water dripped in the pan dances. Add onions to dry pan. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for 7-8 minutes, until onions are lightly browned and beginning to soften.
- Add Swiss chard, all-purpose seasoning, thyme, and broth. (You may have to smush the Swiss chard a bit to make it all fit.)
- Remove lid, stir in raisins, and cook another 2 minutes.
- Serve topped with toasted pine nuts.
(¼ of recipe): 125 calories, 33 calories from fat, 4g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 242mg sodium, 650mg potassium, 23g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 14g sugar, 4g protein
Calorie ratio: 66% calories from carbohydrates, 26% calories from fat, 8% calories from protein
(Without pine nuts: 90 calories; 88% calories from carbohydrates, 3% calories from fat, 9% calories from protein)
Are you cutting back on salt, oil, and/or sugar? I’d love to hear how it’s going for you!