Iwas really missing Key West the past two weeks, but not for the reasons you might expect. There were some introductory classes at NGI (Natural Gourmet Institute) on vegan and vegetarian cooking, and in the spirit of the moment I decided to give it a try.
The week started with the creation of some delicious dishes, including an Asian-spiced chick pea salad, some watercress, avocado and pickled ginger spring rolls, potato pancakes with apple fig sauce, and baked seitan scallion balls with a soy ginger glaze.
It sure sounds healthy, doesn't it? And it was so exciting. I even went so far as to take a mineral salt and rose oil bath, and started thinking of myself as the poster guy for good health -- until a recurring dream took me back to Key West, and to my carnivorous ways.
I would awaken every night at the same point in the dream story: I was on my scooter at the corner of Truman and White glaring at the free-range chickens at the Harvey Government Center and trying desperately to pair each bird with a side dish before the light turned green. But I always awoke just before the light changed. And that's all it took. After the third night I was off to the market -- for a rotisserie chicken.
We all have our needs and some people require a larger variety of proteins than others, but the one thing all foods have in common, including the healthiest of chickens, is that they all contain fat. It's nature's way of storing energy for most of our bodily functions. So what's good and what's bad about it?
There's only one fat I would consider purely bad and would advise avoiding at all costs; trans fat. Trans fats are a result of hydrogenation of cooking oils, which is a process used by manufacturers to increase a product's shelf life to prevent rancidity. Trans fats do not occur naturally in any food. When reading the ingredients on a package, if you see the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils you will be eating trans fat even if the label also claims "Trans fat: 0 grams." As of Jan. 1, 2006, the FDA required all packaged foods to list the amount of trans fats on the label. But here's the catch: If the total trans fat content is less than 0.5 g per serving (and who eats just one serving?), the manufacturer has two options. They can list the trans fat as 0 or add a footnote stating "Not a significant source of trans fat." Any trans fat is too much because it's what sticks to our arteries and eventually could kill us.
Saturated fats on the other hand have gotten a bad rap. We need saturated fat in our diet to live healthy and balanced lives. Eating saturated fat from vegetable and grass-fed meat sources is beneficial. The American Heart Association recommends eating 10 percent of your daily calories as saturated fat, while people with health conditions that call for a diet that's low in saturated fat should limit themselves to 7 percent.
Unsaturated fats help with many functions in our bodies, including lowering cholesterol. The omega 3 and 6 oils are unsaturated fats that are essential, which means our bodies cannot produce them so we have to ingest them. They are found naturally in olive oil, avocados, nuts, fatty fish like salmon, lake trout, mackerel and sardines. The experts recommend that 10 to 25 percent of your daily calories come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in the omega oils.
One way to balance fats in your diet is to prepare your own salad dressing. Bottled dressings often contain soybean oil that has been hydrogenated and refined and does not provide the elements needed to balance fats. Fresh, non-processed organic oils such as olive, flax, and avocado provide nourishment for every cell in your body. The oils we choose in a salad dressing deliver the tastes of sweet, bitter, sour, salty and pungent to our tongues.
The combination of taste and smell ignites flavor. To these oils you can add seeds and nuts or other oils such as sesame seed, walnut, macadamia and hazelnut for an added boost in omega fats and taste. Using a variety of vinegars and citrus such as balsamic, red wine, apple cider, umeboshi, lemon, and lime, further enhance the flavor. Herbs and spices such as basil, oregano, mint, chives, garlic, ginger and cumin add yet another layer of healthful elegance. Taking responsibility for our health through food begins with the ingredients we select.
Last week I promised you a delicious salad dressing recipe. This week a new old friend, Audrey Samz, commonly known as Super Girl in Key West, was in New York. I know the girl loves to eat, and is vegan, so I decided to prepare a snack that would also serve as a test for which recipe to share with you. I had an assortment of lettuces and three salad dressings and gave Audrey the honor of picking her favorite, which would then be published in my column.
And the winner is:
Garlicky Green Goodness:
1/2 fresh avocado
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 jalapeno pepper (seeds removed)
1/4 small onion
1 large clove garlic
1 large pinch fresh cilantro
1/3 cup organic olive oil
1/4 cup water (only if needed for thinning)
salt and pepper to taste
Combine everything but the oil in a food processor or blender, and slowly add oil until creamy. Toss with your favorite lettuces, thinly sliced onion and other vegetables. Enjoy!
To your good health!