Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Improving my fish literacy

fish, the cookbookLast week at The Strand bookstore, the universe came to my aid.

On top of a pile of perfectly stacked new titles stood a misplaced, used copy Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking by Mark Bittman. This book by the NY Times bestselling author, was largely foreign to me, as it was published over 10 years ago.

Still the book is very relevant and is a great resource for anyone who would like to cook more seafood. And for me personally, I can’t think of a more appropriate book to supplement my kitchen know-how. Other than the wild salmon, tilalpia, and trout fillets I use from my food co-op, I am largely illiterate when it comes to what’s available in the aquatic kingdom.

This book I believe will change that. Similar to cookbooks I enjoy, Fish is arranged by ingredient – each chapter outlining everything you need to know about a fish – from Perch to Mackarel to Sable.

Photo courtesy Blue Moon FishBittman's tips on how to shop for fish, inspired me to pay a visit to my Greenmarket fishmonger in Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza. I was in search of mackarel, a fish like salmon that is high in Omega 3s. Per his advice, I made sure the fish kept its vivid, rainbow-like color to ensure its freshness. [It did]

I asked for a pound of mackarel fillets, using half for dinner that night and the rest the next day. [Unfortunately, mackarel does not keep or freeze well. So make sure to use it up when you purchase it.]

I tried two of Bittman’s recipes – the Broiled Mackarel Fillets with Mustard Butter was my favorite. It was delicious served over Lundberg’s wild rice blend and some green beans.

The whole experience was so enjoyable, that I plan to make a weekly ritual out of visiting my fish stand every Saturday and trying somethign new.

I love the idea of supporting my local fishermen, who sustainably fish our waters and do not freeze or ship their catch long distances. I also love the taste!

Broiled Mackarel Fillets with Mustard Butter
Taken from Fish by Mark Bittman

Serves 2

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
dash cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley
Two 3/4 to 1-pound mackarel, filleted, skin on

Grease the bottom of a baking pan; preheat the broiler. Cream the butter with the mustard, lemon juice, cayenne, salt, pepper, and half the parsley. Spread the fillets with about half this mixture and broil, about 4 inches from the source of heat, for about 5 minutes. Brush the cooked fillets with the remaining mustard butter and sprinkle with the remaining parsley.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Recipe: African Groundnut Stew

If you've ever wanted a hearty vegan dish, this would be it.

Adapted from the cookbook The Voluptuous Vegan, this dish packs is full of protein thanks to the addition of peanut butter. I made a number of changes to the original recipe (removed roasted cauliflower and squash) as I simply did not have in the house. I'm posting my own version.

I served the dish over a quinoa and millet pilaf, which was surprisingly good to me. Millet, is the traditional grain in Africa, and cooks rather quickly. I never developed a taste for it on its own, but it partners very will with the quinoa in this recipe. It's also a great way to stretch your dollar further, as millet is significantly cheaper than quinoa.

Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

African Groundnut Stew
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon minced peeled ginger
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 yuca/cassava, peeled and cut into chunks (substitute with 3 turnips if you cannot find yuca)
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 celery stalk, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp wheat-free tamari
2 cups water
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup peanut butter, mixed with 1/2 cup warm water
1 scallion, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped, roasted and unsalted peanuts (optional, for garnish)
arugula or other salad greens (optional, for garnish)

In a large soup pot heat olive oil over medium-low flame. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add yuca (or turnips), carrots, celery, tomato paste and tamari and cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring from time to time, for about 5 minutes.

Add water, cover the pot, and bring to a boil, over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Add sweet potato, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook for another 15 minutes, until tender. Stir in peanut butter mixture and cook for a few minutes, stirring every so often to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. If the stew is too thick, add water.

Serve with peanuts and greens on the side. Great over quinoa and millet pilaf (recipe below).

Quinoa and Millet Pilaf
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup millet
2 cups water

Toast grains in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When you smell a faint aroma, add the water and a pinch of salt.

Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until water has absorbed. Fluff with fork.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Obamas and the clean food movement

As much as I love our new president and his wife Michelle, I never thought they'd become the center of sustainable food movement. But that's exactly what they did last month when they planted a victory garden in their White House lawn.

I hadn't really reflected on the significance of this moment until Tuesday when I heard Josh Viertel, the new President of Slow Food USA give a speech at the Food Systems Network event in New York City. His organization is a strong advocate for increasing access to good, clean food in this country and expanding interest in connecting Americans with how and where their food is grown.

According to Josh, Slow Food and other sustainable agriculture advocates are now dealing with an administration in Washington that 'gets it.' An immensely different climate from just a year ago.

The current administration now understands we cannot achieve reforms in health care or the environment or in education without looking at our agriculture model. And scientists at the CDC are now fans of Michael Pollan. When he mentioned all these things, I couldn't help but smile.

So what's next? According to Josh, our role is now to back up Obama.
In other words, we need to create a movement.

We must continue to vote with our dollars - buying foods from our farmers markets. As well as get involved in the political debate - writing our congressmen and signing petitions that influence policy.

I'd also add that we need to start a dialogue withing our communities. Specifically: Why is having local, organic, sustainable food important to you?

It's important to me ever since I started noticing the connection between food and health. I was first exposed to high quality food when I started shopping at the Ferry Building Farmers Market in San Francisco. I'd come during my lunch time and pick up a few things to cook with. I was amazed by how beautiful the produce looked. How proud the growers were of their food. And how much better the food tasted.

Instead of looking at cooking as a chore, it became a passion of mine. I began to lose weight and have more energy. My health improved dramatically. I now look at my investment towards better food as being an investment in my own health care. And unlike my stock portfolio, it's actually paid off - I haven't seen a doctor in three years.

And if my heartfelt explanation isn't good enough for you. Here are some left-brained reasons why clean food makes sense.

*ENVIRONMENT - Our agriculture industry emits more carbon in the atmosphere than all our automobiles. Let's create a sustainable plan by encouraging more local produce. Create policies that support small farmers, instead of supporting large agribusiness and cash crops (like corn and soy).

*EDUCATION - Studies show that kids who eat well are more focused and perform better in the class room. Before investing money on new tests and more homework, we need better food in our schools. Get the soda and sugar out too.

*HEALTH CARE - We continue to spend more every year yet we get sicker. Our system is broken. Let's create funding for preventative treatments and approaches. We spend billions of dollars treating diet-related diseases (like diabetes). Teaching prevention costs just a fraction of this.

I'd love to hear why good clean, food is important to you. Please share!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Finding balance: Head versus body

I've always been interested in the struggle between our heads and our bodies.

As a health counselor, I tend to work for a lot of smart folks. People who know their stuff, are competent, brainy, and get the respect of their peers. It is this very strength of their that has led them to much success in their young life - a good education, and a respectable well-paying career. They tend to be hard-working, productive and more than willing to sacrifice the demands of their bodies.

One of my clients, for example, often skips meals. She works from home, starting her day with a cup of coffee and getting in front of her computer (no breakfast). When lunchtime nears, she'd often forgo it, opting for another hour of 'productive time.'

She continued this practice for months, sacrificing the needs of her body. Why? My guess is because she could get away with it. It was only until she became concerned with her weight that she requested my support.

It is important to remember that our bodies, like a car, need regular maintenance to keep running. After recognizing her problem, my client is now on the path to better health - limiting her computer usage and learning how to prepare some simple meals for herself. Practicing this self-care is what I try to teach my clients.

Our heads can help us balance our checkbook, but sometimes stand in the way of our health. Can you think of any other examples of where your head got in the way of what you truly wanted for yourself?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Recipe: Pinto bean tacos and plantains

Often, when I don't want to think about meal planning, I just make a big pot of beans.

This classic vegetarian protein source is a staple in my kitchen. And when I have freshly cooked beans in my house, it serves as an inspiration to get cooking.

So often I settle for canned beans from the store out of convenience. Yet there is something to cooking beans on the stove that really brings out their flavor and texture. And while they do take time to cook (about an hour and a half), I find I can use that time to call a friend or get something done around the house.

On Wednesday, I used my freshly cooked beans in my Mexican Rice and Beans dish. And yesterday, I used them in these simple veggie tacos. I love how both meals came together without much thought.

For the tacos, I simply heated some corn tortillas with my cast iron pan. I then topped the tortillas with pinto beans, sauteed onions and peppers, cheese, and guacamole. I also picked up a ripe yellow plantain from the store and sauteed it in some coconut oil (the darker the plantain the better). That's it. This meal was ready in no time.

I'd love to hear other suggestions of how I might use up my beans. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Be my guest @ Integrative Nutrition

photo courtesy Integrative NutritionIf you've ever considered pursuing a career or education in holistic health and nutrition, you'll be excited to learn that my school Integrative Nutrition will be hosting an open house on April 18-19 in New York City at Avery Fisher Hall.

Prospective students will be able to sit-in on a real class led by Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the school, or one of the guest speakers including Barry Sears (creator of the Zone diet), Mark Hyman (author of Ultraprevention), and David Katz (founder of Yale University's Prevention Research Center).

This event is open to friends and family of graduates. And as my reader I invite you to join me. You can register online and enter my name (Ameet Maturu) as the referring graduate.

If you've ever considered the possibility of creating a career around your passion for food and health, I suggest checking it out. This is the first I've heard of the school opening its doors in this manner.

inside Avery Fisher HallMy experience at Integrative Nutrition was life-changing and inspired me to become a health counselor. I love how it teaches all the different dietary theories, from Ayurveda to Macrobiotics, enabling us to extract the wisdom from all. There's so much more to food that just fat, calories and protein. Right? One really leaves with an understanding on how to help others be well (including ourselves).

I plan to be there on Sunday, April 19. Hope to see you there!

Integrative Nutrition