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4 meals that are better than medicine

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Five chefs and a doctor walk into a kitchen...sounds like the beginning of a corny joke, but in fact it was the genesis of a deliriously successful (if slightly contentious) partnership. 

We challenged a handful of the country's best chefs—Anita Lo from New York City's Annisa, Jenn Louis of Portland's Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern, Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia in Chicago, and Nick Balla and Cortney Burns of San Francisco's Bar Tartine—to create filling, flavorful dishes using ingredients that promote health. Then we paired them with Dr. Mladen Golubic, medical director of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Lifestyle Medicine, to assess—and fine-tune—their recipes. There were some differences of opinion along the way, but everyone agreed on the results. After all, it's hard to argue with health that tastes this good. (Here’s the newest science-backed list of the most useful tactics for navigating the produce aisle.)

Grilled Spanish Mackerel With Chickpea And Celery Salad
"Spanish mackerel is a versatile, sustainable, less expensive fish. It has a bold, rich flavor that is still mild enough to appeal to people who don't like other mackerel," says Chef Anita Lo of Annisa in New York City. And Golubic adds mackerel is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help balance omega-6s to fend off inflammation.

Celery and parsley, which contains apigenin, a strong inflammation-fighting phytonutrient, are easy ways to brighten and balance the dish. (Not all fish are healthy. Here are 12 Fish You Should Never, Ever Eat.)

PREP TIME: 15 min
TOTAL TIME: 40 min
SERVINGS: 4

4 Spanish mackerel or Arctic char fillets (5½ oz each), skin on
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp minced red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp anchovy paste
⅛ tsp red-pepper flakes
¾ c fresh orange juice
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp chopped parsley

1. SCORE skin of fillets diagonally with knife. Sprinkle fish with turmeric and cumin. Season with salt and black pepper. Coat with 2 tsp oil.
2. HEAT remaining 2 Tbsp oil in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and next 3 ingredients and cook until onion is soft. Add juices and simmer until syrupy, 10 minutes. Season. Stir in chickpeas and heat through. Keep warm.
3. COAT grill pan or grill with cooking spray and heat to medium-high. Grill fish, skin side down, until well marked, 5 minutes. Flip and cook until fish flakes easily, 5 minutes.
4. DIVIDE celery among 4 plates and spoon on chickpea mixture. Top with fish and parsley.

NUTRITION (per serving) 400 cal, 34 g pro, 19 g carb, 5 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 21 g fat, 4 g sat fat, 540 mg sodium

Open-Faced Cod Sandwich
Instead of the usual salmon or tuna, chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns of Bar Tartine in San Francisco go for tender, buttery smoked black cod. "It feels luxurious while still being very healthy," says Balla.

"One way to make this—or any dish—even more immuno-boosting is to add mushrooms," Golubic says. "There are more and more studies showing that they work in unique ways to keep immunity in good shape." (Cutting-edge science reveals the 9 Power Foods That Boost Immunity.)

PREP TIME: 15 min
TOTAL TIME: 45 min
SERVINGS: 6 (2 slices each)

½ med head cauliflower (1 lb), cut into florets
1 sm onion, thickly sliced
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
1 Tbsp chopped roasted red bell pepper
1 Tbsp white miso paste
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ tsp hot paprika
3 Tbsp toasted sunflower seed kernels
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 sm loaf (8 oz) dense sprouted rye bread, cut into 13 slices
½ lb green cabbage, thinly sliced
12 oz smoked black cod (sable), flaked or sliced
Dill sprigs and grated lemon zest (optional)

1. HEAT oven to 400°F.
2. TOSS cauliflower and onion with 1 Tbsp of the oil on large baking sheet. Season with salt and black pepper. Roast until tender, 25 minutes. Transfer to blender with roasted pepper, miso, garlic, paprika, 2 Tbsp of the sunflower seeds, 1 tsp of the lemon juice, and remaining 1 Tbsp oil. Add 1 slice of the bread. Blend until smooth, adding 1 Tbsp warm water, if necessary. Season to taste.
3. TOSS cabbage with remaining 1 tsp lemon juice. Spread cauliflower mixture on each bread slice. Top evenly with cabbage and cod. Garnish as desired with dill, lemon zest, more paprika, and remaining 1 Tbsp sunflower seeds.

NUTRITION (per serving) 350 cal, 17 g pro, 29 g carb, 5 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 19 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 880 mg sodium

Pasta with Kale Pesto
Leafy greens, like the kale in this pesto, contain tons of folate, which has been shown to be an important nutrient for mood. "My recipe called for homemade pasta with mood-boosting cocoa," says Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia in Chicago, "but it had white flour. Golubic suggested dried whole wheat pasta instead."

To make up for the lack of cocoa-flavored pasta, Mantuano recommends shaving unsweetened chocolate over the dish. Golubic also recommends dark chocolate for its mood-enhancing properties. (Feel better the healthy, natural way with these 15 Mood-Boosting Foods.)

PREP TIME: 10 min
TOTAL TIME: 45 min
SERVINGS: 6

1 med sweet onion, cut into 8 wedges
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch (8 oz) kale, large ribs and stems removed
¼ c chopped toasted walnuts
1 clove garlic, smashed
⅓ c grated Pecorino Romano (1⅓ oz), optional
1 lb whole wheat fettuccine
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed
1 c black grapes
Unsweetened chocolate (optional)

1. HEAT broiler.
2. TOSS onion with 1 Tbsp of the oil on baking sheet. Season. Broil 4" from heat, turning once, until charred and tender, 5 minutes.
3. COOK kale in large pot of boiling salted water, 1 minute. Drain, rinse, and press with paper towels to remove all excess moisture. Finely chop in food processor with walnuts and garlic. With motor running, slowly add remaining 3 Tbsp oil until pesto is smooth. Transfer to bowl, stir in cheese, and season to taste. Set aside.
4. PREPARE pasta per package directions, reserving ¾ cup cooking water. In serving bowl, toss drained pasta with capers, reserved onion, reserved pesto, and cup of the water (adding a little more as needed). Toss in grapes. Shave or grate chocolate (if using) over top and serve immediately.

NUTRITION (per serving) 450 cal, 17 g pro, 59 g carb, 9 g fiber, 7 g sugars, 16 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 270 mg sodium

Almond-Crunch Biscotti
"These biscotti were originally made with all white flour, but Golubic recommends only whole grains," says chef Jenn Louis of Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, Ore. "The recipe actually works well when you use 100% whole wheat flour, creating a pleasantly hearty cookie."

Why the swap? "Fiber in the whole wheat flour and nuts slows the absorption of sugar, which means you won't have as drastic a glucose spike and crash from this dessert," Golubic says. (Which packaged goods aren’t packed with preservatives? Find out the 100 Cleanest Packaged Foods.)

PREP TIME: 35 min
TOTAL TIME: 1 hr 35 min + cooling time
SERVINGS: 4 dozen

2 c whole almonds, toasted
1⅓ c all-purpose flour
⅔ c whole wheat flour
⅔ c brown sugar
½ c granulated sugar
½ c candied ginger, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
2½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cinnamon (optional)
¼ tsp cayenne
3 lg eggs
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. HEAT oven to 325°F.
2. GRIND almonds in food processor to a coarse meal, 30 to 40 seconds. Put in bowl with next 9 ingredients and ½ tsp salt.
3. BEAT eggs, oil, and vanilla in another bowl until smooth. Stir just enough into dry ingredients to form a dry, shaggy dough. Reserve remaining egg mixture (about 2 Tbsp).
4. KNEAD dough briefly. Divide into 2 pieces. With wet hands, roll each piece into 12"-long log, flattening top until 1½" high. Put on large parchment-lined baking sheet, 5" apart. Brush tops with reserved egg mixture.
5. BAKE until edges are browned and firm and centers have puffed and developed skin but are still slightly soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool about 1 hour, then gently cut crosswise into ½ -thick slices using large serrated knife. Lower oven temperature to 300°F, return sliced biscotti to baking sheet, bottom side down, and bake, turning halfway through, until golden and crisp, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool. Store in airtight container up to 2 weeks.

NUTRITION (per cookie) 90 cal, 2 g pro, 12 g carb, 1 g fiber, 6 g sugars, 4 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 50 mg sodium