“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” penned Michael Pollan, author of the groundbreaking “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” in the New York Times Magazine in 2007, still probably the most sensible diet advice ever given. By “food” he means “real food.” “If it’s a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t,” he cautions further in “Food Rules.”
“Not too much.” Ironically, there are more weight loss plans, supplements and diet books today than ever, yet as a nation we are the heaviest we’ve ever been with resulting increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Pollan’s advice is especially true for seniors, who are more likely to be suffering from chronic conditions. In addition, as we age, our metabolism slows down, so we need fewer calories (“need” being the operative word!). We also require more of certain nutrients, such as calcium and Vitamin D, which brings us to Pollan’s third point.
“Mostly plants.” In other words, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Pollan doesn’t advocate an exclusively vegetarian regimen. Fish and even meat have a place in a healthy diet, but the emphasis should be on the stuff that comes out of the ground and not what he calls “edible food-like substances.” “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” he advises.
Health is a prime concern as well for Danielle Renov, author of “Peas Love & Carrots” (ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, $39.99). “Nothing matters more than our health, our family and friends and our faith,” she writes. “This book is a manifestation of all three values that I live by.” To countless readers of her popular blog of the same name (peaslovencarrots.com) and to her 60,000 Instagram followers (@peaslovencarrots), Renov has built a reputation for delivering reliable modern kosher recipes for every day as well as Shabbat and holidays. “For me food is so much more than sustenance,” she reveals. “It is what ties our future to our past. It is what brought me to the table growing up in my parents’ home and what brings my children to the table today.”
Renov combines her mother’s French Moroccan cuisine and her father’s Eastern European traditions in this gorgeously designed cookbook with stunning color photos throughout. She grew up on Long Island and moved to Israel with her husband soon after they married. Her weekly excursions to the Machane Yehuda Shuk in Jerusalem as well as the couples’ travels infuse her culinary creations with global flavors. Woven through the 254 recipes you’ll find tips and common sense advice that will spark confidence and make you a better cook. “Recipes are not laws,” she explains. “They are meant to inspire. If you don’t like something in a recipe, leave it out. If you want more of something, add in more. Use the recipe as a suggestion to create the dish you want to eat.”
It’s undeniable that cauliflower is having a moment, and in Renov’s recipe “burnt” is a good thing, imparting this versatile vegetable with a caramelized flavor that pairs so well with the splash of lemon. Cauliflower is low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. It is a good source of antioxidants and a low-carb alternative to grains and legumes.
Salmon, which some call “brain food,” is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower blood pressure, “unhealthy” cholesterol levels in the blood and inflammation, reducing the risk of heart disease.
By way of introduction Renov lists her “86 things I want you to know about this book and cooking in general,” a wide range of useful tips for the home cook, some helpful to the novice cook as well as a few that even experienced cooks may find a revelation. Here’s one you may not have considered: “Acid is usually what’s needed when you think something is not salty enough,” she notes. “First add citrus, vinegar or wine. Taste. Then adjust seasonings.”
And another: “Any braised protein must cool down in the liquid it was cooked in or the protein will dry out. Once cooled, you can then remove it from the sauce.” Similarly, “Never put something hot in the fridge or freezer. Allow it to come to room temperature first.” But what do you do when it’s 10:00 p.m., your beef stew is boiling hot and you want to go to sleep? Here’s how I speed-cool the dish. I transfer it into a stainless steel bowl, then fill one side of the sink with ice cubes and wedge the bowl into it. I stir it now and again, and soon the dish has cooled enough to refrigerate, and it’s off to dreamland for me.
But here is Renov’s best tip of all: “Food made with love tastes better. Guaranteed.”
Burnt Cauliflower and Herb Salad
Combine herbs with cauliflower at the last minute.
Yield: 2+ quarts
2 (24-ounce) bags frozen cauliflower florets
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 1½ tablespoons)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons turmeric
1½ teaspoons sumac
½ teaspoon paprika
1 lemon, halved
½ cup chopped parsley
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup chopped green onions (from about 4 green onions)
2 tablespoons chopped mint, optional
1small purple onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 to 1½ tablespoons white vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cauliflower: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with heavy-duty foil; coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Toss frozen cauliflower with 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, salt, pepper, turmeric, sumac, and paprika. Spread out on baking sheet in a single layer. Roast undisturbed for about 45 minutes (do not open oven door during that time). After 45 minutes, cauliflower should begin to get crispy and charred. Open oven door, remove baking sheet, and squeeze both halves of lemon over cauliflower. Do not mix or stir. Just squeeze over the top, return to oven and cook for 5 to 6 minutes.
While cauliflower is roasting, combine parsley, cilantro, green onions, mint, and onion in large bowl. When cauliflower is done, add to herb mixture, tossing to combine. Add vinegar; toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve warm or cold.
12 ounces skinless salmon
1 small purple onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup parsley leaves, chopped
½ large red bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced (you can remove seed and membrane if you don’t want it to be too spicy)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup panko breadcrumbs (unseasoned is best)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Oil, for frying
Buns, for serving, optional
Chipotle lime crema (recipe follows)
Cut fish into 1 inch chunks; add to bowl of food processor fitted with “S” blade. Pulse until fish resembles texture of ground beef. Add ground salmon to large bowl along with remaining ingredients. Mix until ingredients are well distributed and combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours so that all the flavors can come together.
When ready to cook, heat pan over medium-high heat; add 2 tablespoons canola oil. Form patties with your hands, using ¼ cup of mixture for each patty. Add several patties to oil; cook 3 minutes on one side. Then flip and cook 2 minutes on second side. Transfer to cooling rack while you fry remainder of salmon. You may need to add oil to the pan to prevent sticking.
Serve on buns or alone alongside chipotle lime crema and some pickled onions or cabbage or anything you’d like to pile on that burger.
Chipotle Lime Crema
½ cup vegan sour cream (you can definitely use regular dairy sour cream or even Greek yogurt)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon adobo from can of chipotles in adobo
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
In bowl, combine all crema ingredients, stirring until incorporated.
Source: Peas Love & Carrots by Danielle Renov.
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.