Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sweet Potatoes: Nutrition Wrapped in Vivid Flavors

Published: January 24, 2011

My neighbor was going out of town last week, so he offered me a bag of sweet potatoes he’d bought. Rather than do what I usually do with sweet potatoes (bake them), I hit the books to learn what cooks in Asia, Mexico and the Mediterranean make with them.

A lot, it turns out.

By sweet potatoes, I mean the orange-fleshed tubers with brownish skin that growers and supermarkets often mislabel as “yams.” The two varieties at my local farmers’ market are jewel yams and the darker-skinned garnet yams, both sweet and moist.

In fact, actual yams have starchier, light yellow flesh and a rough, brown skin; they are native to Africa and Asia, and an important staple in the Caribbean and in parts of Africa. But they don’t have the impressive nutritional profile of real sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index (actual yams do not), and they’re an excellent source of vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene, and vitamin C. Sweet potatoes also provide vitamin B6, potassium, fiber, manganese, copper and iron. When you see the nutritional values accompanying this week’s recipes, you’ll find that sweet potatoes offer all of this at a relatively low caloric price.

Chili-Bathed Sweet Potatoes

Rick Bayless offers a wonderful recipe for sweet potatoes glazed with an ancho chili paste in “Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.” Instead of making the paste, I make a thinner glaze with canned chipotle and some of the adobo they’re packed in. The glaze makes a spicy contrast to the sweet potatoes.

2 garlic cloves, green shoots removed

Salt to taste

2 chipotle chilies in adobo, seeded

2 tablespoons adobo sauce from the chilies

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground cloves (1 clove)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup chicken broth or water

1 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon finely chopped orange zest

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 large sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds), scrubbed

Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

Note: Sweet potatoes may be labeled as yams. Look for dark orange flesh.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 2-quart baking dish. Place the garlic, salt, chipotles and adobo sauce, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, broth, orange juice and honey in a blender. Blend until smooth. Strain into a large, wide bowl, and stir in the orange zest.

2. Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4-inch lengths. If the sweet potatoes are fat, cut the pieces in half lengthwise into wedges. Add to the bowl, and toss with the adobo mixture until coated. Transfer to the baking dish, then pour on the liquid from the bowl. Drizzle on the oil, and cover tightly with foil.

3. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven until tender. Raise the heat to 425 degrees, uncover the sweet potatoes and baste with the liquid in the pan. Continue to bake, uncovered, until the sweet potatoes are thoroughly tender and glazed and any sauce remaining in the pan is thick. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Yield: Serves six.

Advance preparation: You can make this dish several hours ahead of serving and reheat in a medium oven. You can assemble the dish through Step 2 several hours before you bake it.

Nutritional information per serving: 269 calories; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 52 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams dietary fiber; 262 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 4 grams protein


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter Root Vegetables


Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Food writers tend to be exuberant about spring and summer vegetables, but a bit muted about cold-weather produce. Maybe it’s because summer’s offerings are fleeting in comparison to winter’s enduring, staid roots and tubers. That’s too bad: There are plenty of delicious, comforting dishes to be made with vegetables like kohlrabi, turnips, rutabaga, celeriac, carrots and turnips.

Recipes for Health

Martha Rose Shulman presents food that is vibrant and light, full of nutrients but by no means ascetic, fun to cook and to eat.

Root vegetables in the brassica family — like turnips, kohlrabi and rutabaga — contain many of the same antioxidants as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale. Kohlrabi and rutabaga also are excellent sources of potassium and good sources of vitamin C. Parsnips provide folate, calcium, potassium andfiber, while carrots offer beta carotene. All of these vegetables are high in fiber.

Root vegetables can seem daunting. I had not worked with kohlrabi until putting together these recipes, but I found it enjoyable raw as well as cooked. Remember that for many of this week’s dishes, especially those calling for turnips, kohlrabi or rutabagas, the vegetables are interchangeable.

Polenta With Braised Root Vegetables

Start the polenta before you begin the braised vegetables. By the time the polenta is ready, you’ll have a wonderful topping and a comforting winter meal.

1 cup polenta

1 scant teaspoon salt

4 cups water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 to 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 pound kohlrabi, peeled and cut in small dice

1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut in small dice

1 medium parsnip, peeled, cored and cut in small dice

1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice or crushed tomatoes

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or oil a 2-quart baking dish. Combine the polenta, salt and water in the baking dish. Place in the oven on a baking sheet. Bake 50 minutes. Stir in the butter, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until the polenta is soft and all of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the cheese, if using.

2. While the polenta is baking, cook the vegetables. Heat the oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots, kohlrabi and parsnip, and then season with salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and stir together for about a minute until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes with their liquid, a pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 15 minutes until the tomatoes are cooked down and fragrant. Add lots of freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust salt, and remove from the heat.

3. Serve the polenta with the vegetables spooned on top.

Yield: Serves four.

Advance preparation: You can make the vegetable topping a day or two ahead, and reheat on top of the stove. It’s best to serve the polenta when it comes out of the oven, though it can sit for five minutes. Alternatively, allow to cool and stiffen in the baking dish, or scrape into a lightly oiled or buttered bread pan and cool; then slice and layer in the pan, and reheat in a medium oven or in a microwave.

Nutritional information per serving: 277 calories; 7 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 8 milligrams cholesterol; 49 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams dietary fiber; 743 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 6 grams protein

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Demand For Quinoa A Boon For Bolivian Farmers

A man cleans quinoa grain in Pacoma, Bolivia. Quinoa's rising popularity in the U.S. has been a boon to some farmers in the semiarid highlands of Bolivia, but there are fears that the rising demand is pushing up prices for the grain, making it unaffordable for many Bolivians.
EnlargeJuan Karita/AP

A man cleans quinoa grain in Pacoma, Bolivia. Quinoa's rising popularity in the U.S. has been a boon to some farmers in the semiarid highlands of Bolivia, but there are fears that the rising demand is pushing up prices for the grain, making it unaffordable for many Bolivians.

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January 13, 2011

Quinoa, once a staple of the Incas, is now increasingly popular in the U.S. It's high in protein and iron, and much of it comes from the windswept, high-altitude plains of Bolivia, known as the altiplano.

The Bolivian altiplano doesn't look like good farmland. It doesn't even look fertile. Everything is covered in bleached-out scrub and rocks. Llamas graze on the barren landscape amid occasional whirls of dust.

But this seemingly hostile environment has ideal conditions for quinoa: It's about 2 miles above sea level, sandy and arid. The nearby Uyuni salt flat provides the right minerals, and dung from herds of grazing llamas and sheep means good fertilizer.

Lives Transformed

Farmer Ernesto Choquetopa admires the soil. He says quinoa's recent popularity is changing the lives of farmers.

"Before people didn't go to study," he says. "They were born, they grew up, and that was it. They went on to herd sheep and llamas. Nothing more.

"Now people here, we think about doing something with our lives."

Thanks to his earnings from quinoa, Choquetopa's oldest daughter is now in medical school.

The dark-green quinoa plants have cone-shaped flowers, filled with the edible seeds, and look like a cross between broccoli and lupines. Once ready for harvest, they'll turn gold, deep red, even purple.

Choquetopa is part of an association of organic farmers. His harvest will go to their processing plant where it is cleaned, rinsed, packaged and bought by exporters like Fabricio Nunez, general manager of Andean Naturals, which sources quinoa to stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

"Once we promoted it and the product was on the shelves, it started flying off," Nunez said. "People are still looking for quinoa and we're not able to supply as fast as they want it."

Rising Cost

But for all the health benefits, and the way sales support small farmers, popularity abroad is pushing up prices and gradually making it harder for Bolivians to buy.

Nunez says a few years ago, 16 ounces of Andean Naturals quinoa retailed for $2 at Trader Joe's. It's now $4. And if prices keep climbing, quinoa could stop showing up in traditional soups and porridges in Bolivia.

But on the street corners of downtown La Paz, quinoa remains a popular breakfast: The delicate, curly seeds are served with hot milk and sugar, as a thick drink. At about 30 cents for an 8-ounce cup, it's still cheap even by Bolivian standards.

The Bolivian government is backing quinoa, supporting loans to small farmers and promoting internal consumption by giving rations to pregnant women and young children.

Dr. Margarita Flores, who works for Bolivia's Ministry of Health and oversees the program, says that a drop in production would worry the government because Bolivia has obligations at home and abroad to produce quinoa, and because it's part of the country's strategy to fight malnutrition.

The challenge is striking a balance. In spite of growing prosperity, many quinoa farmers are concerned about the environment. In fact, in Choquetapo's community, people who use chemical fertilizers or uproot native grasses around quinoa fields are fined, or even punished.

"We want to keep the production sustainable," Choquetapo says. "We don't want to exploit every bit of it. This piece of earth has to support our kids and grandchildren, too."

Processed Food Pitfalls: Top 10 Toxic Food Ingredients

Most of us don’t think of the food we eat as poison, but some of the ingredients commonly found in processed foods are truly toxic. I’m talking about refined grains, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and all the other artificial crap you can’t even pronounce on the ingredient lists. Any food that has been canned, dehydrated, or had chemicals added to it is a processed food, and these foods make up about 60 percent of the average American diet. They’ve taken over, and we have to FIGHT BACK. Know which toxic food ingredients to avoid:

1. Palm Oil
When a regular fat like corn, soybean, or palm oil is blasted with hydrogen and turned into a solid, it becomes a trans fat. These evil anti-nutrients help packaged foods stay “fresh,” meaning that the food can sit on the supermarket shelf for years without ever getting stale or rotting. Eating crap food with trans fats raises your “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and lowers your “good” HDL. These fats also increase your risk of blood clots and heart attack. Avoid palm oil and other trans fats like the plague, and kiss fried foods goodbye too, since they’re usually fried in one of these freakish trans-fatty oils.

2. Shortening
Ditch any food that lists shortening or partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, since these are also evil trans fats. In addition to clogging your arteries and causing obesity, they also increase your risk of metabolic syndrome. Choose healthier monounsaturated fats, such as olive, peanut and canola oils and foods that contain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids instead.

3. White Flour, Rice, Pasta, and Bread
When a whole grain is refined, most of its nutrients are sucked out in an effort to extend its shelf life. Both the bran and germ are removed, and therefore all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Because these stripped down, refined grains are devoid of fiber and other nutrients, they’re also easy to digest — TOO EASY. They send your blood sugar and insulin skyrocketing, which can lead to all sorts of problems. Replace processed grains with whole grains, like brown or wild rice, whole-wheat breads and pastas, barley, and oatmeal.

4. High Fructose Corn Syrup
The evil king of all refined grains is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The amount of refined sugar we consume has declined over the past 40 years, but we’re consuming almost 20 times as much HFCS. According to researchers at Tufts University, Americans consume more calories from HFCS than any other source. It’s in practically EVERYTHING. It increases triglycerides, boosts fat-storing hormones, and drives people to overeat and gain weight. Adopt my zero-tolerance policy, and steer clear of this sweet “poison.”

5. Artificial Sweeteners
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), saccharin (Sweet'N Low, SugarTwin), and sucralose (Splenda) may be even harder on our metabolic systems than plain old sugar. These supposedly diet-friendly sweeteners may actually be doing more harm than good! Studies suggest that artificial sweeteners trick the brain into forgetting that sweetness means extra calories, making people more likely to keep eating sweet treats without abandon. Nip it in the bud. Scan ingredient labels and ban all artificial sweeteners from entering your mouth.

6. Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate
These preservatives are sometimes added to soda to prevent mold from growing, but benzene is a known carcinogen that is also linked with serious thyroid damage. Dangerous levels of benzene can build up when plastic bottles of soda are exposed to heat or when the preservatives are combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Don’t risk it, people

7. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
BHA is another potentially cancer-causing preservative, but it has been deemed safe by the FDA. Its job is to help prevent spoilage and food poisoning, but it’s a major endocrine disruptor and can seriously mess with your hormones. BHA is in HUNDREDS of foods. It’s also found in food packaging and cosmetics. BHA has many aliases. You can look them up. Or you can follow my advice and DITCH processed foods altogether.

8. Sodium Nitrates and Sodium Nitrites
No that’s not a typo. These two different preservatives are found in processed meats like bacon, lunch meat, and hot dogs. They’re some of the worst offenders, and they’re believed to cause colon cancer and metabolic syndrome, which can lead to diabetes. Protect your healthby always choosing fresh, organic meats.

9. Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow
The artificial colors blue 1 and 2, green 3, red 3, and yellow 6 have been linked to thyroid, adrenal, bladder, kidney, and brain cancers. Always seek out foods with the fewest artificial chemicals, especially when shopping for your kids. Look for color-free medications and natural food products that don’t contain artificial colors like these.

10. MSG
Monosodium glutamate is a processed “flavor enhancer.” While glutamates are present in some natural foods, such as meat and cheese, the ones exploited by the processed-foods industry are separated from their host proteins through hydrolysis. The jury is still out on how harmful MSG may be, but high levels of free glutamates have been shown to seriously screw with brain chemistry. Don’t fall prey to chemical flavor enhancing. Just play it safe and flavor your food naturally.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Too Much to Drink? Try Yoga

January 1, 2011, 12:01 AM


James Estrin/The New York Times
Now, inhale and lift your torso, swinging the arms around and up back into the Upward Salute pose. End by exhaling as you lower your arms and return to a standing position, the Mountain pose.

If the holiday festivities have left you feeling like your body needs a good wringing out, a trip to the yoga studio — or your own yoga mat at home — may be just what the doctor ordered. Whether you choose a gentle, restorative approach or a more vigorous one like Power Yoga, designed for the exceptionally fit, yoga can help to revive a fuzzy mind or aching body and bring relief from that bane of New Year’s Day: the hangover.

Though there is no evidence to support claims that yoga will eliminate alcohol’s toxic effects, “we do feel that yoga reduces stress and has health benefits,” said Dr. Debbie L. Cohen, a kidney specialist at the University of Pennsylvania who is studying yoga as an alternative to medication to lower high blood pressure. She cites studies showing that yoga can reduce chronic stress, ease arthritic conditions and improve the quality of life in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

“Yoga can make you feel better,” she said. For those who have overindulged in drink, she cautions against choosing a “hot yoga” or “Bikram yoga” class, since the room temperatures — typically 90 degrees or higher — can cause further dehydration. Instead, she recommends trying a “light” yoga routine, with particular emphasis on meditation and breathing exercises.

Susan Orem, a yoga teacher in New York City and the owner of the Heathen Hill yoga retreat in the Catskills, says that a brief 20- to 30-minute yoga sequence that includes sun salutations, along with a few good twists and restorative poses, may well bring relief. It’s important to remain “mindful” on the yoga mat, says Ms. Orem — or Lip, as she is known to all — focusing on your breathing and the poses “without projecting what’s going to happen after or regretting what you did to arrive here in this condition.”

She recommends starting with sun salutations, an energetic series of poses that “increase the heart rate, build heat in the body and get the breath flowing in a way that can improve oxygen uptake.” There are several types of sun salutations, including the variation shown in our slide show, above. Individual poses within the salutation sequence include the Upward Salute, Standing Forward Bend, Lunge and Downward-Facing Dog Pose.

The use of props like eye pillows, bolsters and blocks can be particularly helpful to anyone with a hangover, along with drinking plenty of water before and after the session. If the head is pounding, Ms. Orem recommends modifying the basic sun salutation by keeping the head raised above the heart during the poses. Raising the head “also prevents it from falling off,” she joked as she demonstrated the sequence recently at Reflections yoga studio in New York City.

Bharadvaja’s TwistJames Estrin/The New York TimesBharadvaja’s Twist
Marichi’s PoseJames Estrin/The New York TimesMarichi’s Pose

If moving through a sun salutation proves too much to ask of the intrepid partygoer, these energetic moves can be skipped entirely. Instead, begin with some twists, which are gentler and done sitting on a solid floor. Two twists that Ms. Orem recommends are Bharadvaja’s Twist or a variation of Marichi’s Pose.

Twisting poses are beneficial, yoga tradition holds, for what the Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar calls their “squeeze and soak” action — in effect, squeezing the organs like a wet sponge, so that they expel old blood and allow fresh, richly oxygenated blood to take its place. Twists are also said to improve digestion and increase flexibility of the spine, shoulders and hips.

Dr. Timothy McCall, a physician and the author of “Yoga as Medicine,” said that the idea that twisting poses cleanse the organs is “pure speculation” from a Western medical standpoint. Still, Dr. McCall, the medical editor of Yoga Journal magazine and a practicing yogi, says that a mindful and varied yoga practice that includes twists could be helpful in easing the symptoms of a hangover.

Bound Angle PoseJames Estrin/The New York TimesBound Angle Pose
Child’s PoseJames Estrin/The New York TimesChild’s Pose
Legs Up the Wall PoseJames Estrin/The New York TimesLegs Up the Wall Pose

A few restorative poses, restful postures in which the body is typically supported by bolsters or blocks to encourage relaxation, are a great way to complete the sequence. Whereas a classic restorative sequence might involve a 10-minute headstand and 10-minute shoulder stand, “the price you are going to pay for having your head in that position may be too high” for someone with a hangover, Ms. Orem said.

As an alternative, she recommends a seated forward bend, such as Bound Angle pose, with the head supported on a block, as well as Child’s Pose, Legs Up the Wall Pose or Corpse Pose.

Corpse PoseJames Estrin/The New York TimesCorpse Pose

Jessica Handelman, who works and practices yoga at Reflections, agreed that restorative poses, including seated forward bends, helped her ease a hangover. “At least you’re on the ground,” she said.

Her colleague Sam Prestidge adds his own advice for getting past the misery: avoid inversions, or poses in which the heart is higher than the head. That rules out poses like shoulder stands, hand stands and head stands. While he says he always feels better after yoga on days when he feels hung over, he adds that getting to class is always the hardest part.

All agree that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to yoga, because everyone is different, and what soothes an aching body for one person might not work for another.

What’s important, says Dr. McCall, is the cultivation of a personalized yoga practice “that wakes up the ability to feel what is happening” in the body. “With that greater awareness,” he said, “people have the capacity to make different choices — including not drinking so much next New Year’s Eve.”

Across the table.

"The food was delicious, the space was perfect and conducive to easy flow of conversation...It felt very comfortable and I feel like I'm walking away with things to process and think about. Can't say enough good things. Great concept, great execution!" Regina, Old Town

Across the Table bridges gaps between our diverse communities by uniting Chicagoans for thought‐provoking conversations and delicious meals. Across the Table’s topic‐focused and facilitator‐led dinners, lunches and brunches take place in community organizations, art galleries, cooking schools, event space and restaurants throughout Chicago about three times a month and consistently attract individuals from diverse ages, ethnicities, communities, religions, and socio‐economic groups.

The location of the dinners constantly varies. Our goal is to make sure that we venture into neighborhoods throughout Chicago so check the Sign Up to Join Us for Dinner page for the details.

Food and Drinks
Almost all of the meals are vegetarian, those that aren't will be indicated, and all are served family style. Some of the places we go are BYOB so if you’d like to bring your own beer and wine, that’s great! But of course to do so you need to be 21 years of age or older. When a dinner takes place on a non-restaurant location the dinner is catered by the wonderful Fig Catering whose meals are delicious and whose owners have supported Across the Table's work.

Group Size
Dinners are limited to ten people in total, including the facilitator. We've concluded that having ten people table allows for a high energy conversation in which all of the groups are cohesive, and all the voices are heard.

Conversation Topics
Conversation topics range from, "What does it mean to be an insider and an outsider?" to "What does it mean to be free?" or "What is the good life and are we living it?"

The goal for all of the topics is to make sure that they are interesting, fun and allow for anyone to participate, regardless of their education level, knowledge of current events or the arts. When a dinner is done in partnership with other organizations or businesses, the topics relate to the mission of the partner organization.


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