The Moosewood Collective has written a dozen cookbooks filled with recipes for flavorful, interesting vegetarian food from soups to desserts. We've covered quick and easy meals and cooking for celebrations. One of our books is about the world of ethnic cuisines; another teaches you how to cook from your own kitchen garden. Many of our early recipes are loaded with cheese, and one of our most popular cookbooks is all about low-fat fare. Sometimes we think we've said everything we have to say, but then we find new ingredients, new cuisines, and new information, and ultimately we find we have new perspectives. Today we want freshness and integrity of ingredients. Our food must be attractive and delicious, but we also want it to contribute to good health. Really, we want it all.
We read and hear a lot about nutrition. We are bombarded with information on food, and the media definition of healthful food changes from week to week. Bits of nutritional information can be blown out of proportion, taken out of context, or viewed in isolation without considering the complexity of interactions in the body. Sometimes studies are poorly interpreted in the media. Too much of what we learn comes from advertising. Sometimes it seems that we receive more nutritional advice (and some of it contradictory) than we can process.
However, science continues to advance. New and better findings supplant the old, and nutritional recommendations change. So we are careful to heed only the advice of reputable sources, and we deliberate and then proceed with caution before changing our eating habits or making recommendations of our own.
One thing we know is that the surest source of nutritious and delicious food is your own kitchen. And we've noticed that all the experts we trust agree on a few things: eat more plant foods -- fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds; avoid processed foods, refined sugars and carbohydrates, additives and preservatives; cut back on fats, especially trans fats and saturated fats. Many essential vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients are found abundantly -- sometimes exclusively -- in the plant world, and most people will be healthier longer if they pack their diets with plant foods. Well, that's what we're good at. Moosewood has been focused on making delicious vegetarian whole foods for years.
Judging by our customers' questions and requests, and by scanning the magazine covers while waiting in the supermarket checkout line, we think our health concerns are probably similar to yours: achieving wellness, enhancing fitness, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing chronic illness with a conscious diet.
Most people are aware of the role food plays in good health -- the five-a-day message has been heard -- yet it is believed that fewer than a third of Americans come close to this goal. Newer guidelines from the National Cancer Institute call for seven servings of fruit and vegetables a day for women and nine a day for men. Oldways recommends twelve servings of antioxidant-rich foods a day. It seems that although we acknowledge the nourishing and healing powers of plant foods, most of us still need help getting enough vegetables and fruits into our diets to enjoy these positive effects.
There are a number of things we've kept in mind while creating recipes for this book. First of all, we want to cook with real, whole, natural foods, and we want to avoid processed and refined ingredients. So we started with the basics: whole grains rather than refined grains; olive oil instead of the "bad" fats; sweetness from the fruits and vegetables themselves; and lots and lots of dark green, red, orange, yellow, purple, and blue. We've included refined carbohydrates and sugars in scant amounts only or not at all, and we've completely avoided the "white foods": white bread, white pasta, white rice, and white potatoes. Not all fruits and vegetables are created equal, it turns out; some are phytonutrient superstars. So we looked for new ways to use blueberries, sweet potatoes, kale, seaweed, cherries, nuts, and pomegranates.
Then we looked at cooking techniques. We played with all of the methods the kitchen has to offer -- steaming, sautéing, roasting, baking, braising, grilling, boiling, simmering, and stewing -- to come up with healthier ways to prepare some of our old favorites. Healthier not only in terms of our bodies, but also better for the environment. For example, we've baked tofu in the oven for years. That's fine when it's cold out and the heat from the oven helps warm the house or when the oven is on anyway for some other dish. But what about when it's hot out and the house needs to be cooled down, not heated up? In this book, we have several recipes for stove-top tofu, like Pomegranate-glazed Tofu, that cook more quickly over direct heat, using less energy.
We also explored some of the intriguing ways to prepare raw "living" food dishes, such as Winter Squash "Rice Mexicali"; and we came up with more healthful but still satisfying ways to attain certain qualities. For example, we thickened creamy Watercress and Cauliflower Soup with cauliflower rather than potatoes or a flour-and-fat roux, and we made a delicious Sweet Potato Pie lighter by whipping the egg whites and using buttermilk.
Another way to make a dish more healthful is to reverse the usual proportions of ingredients, adding more vegetables than usual and maybe less cheese or eggs. For example, we've been making our Pasta with Broccoli for a long time but it has evolved over the years; now it probably ought to be called Broccoli with Pasta. The pasta is whole wheat and there's just enough olive oil and cheese to make it flavorful with a good mouth feel.
It also occurred to us to boost the nutrition in some dishes by tucking in a couple of little extras not strictly necessary in the recipe. For instance, our Breakfast Muffins are made with whole wheat flour, oat bran, and fruits, and are further enhanced with a little wheat germ or flaxseeds. For more protein, we added edamame (fresh green soybeans) to a classic stir-fry of noodles with vegetables and tofu and called it Three-Soy Sauté with Soba.
Our primary inspiration all along at Moosewood Restaurant has been ethnic grainbased cuisines that are low in saturated fats and high in plant foods. The traditional bean and corn dishes of Latin America, vegetable stews of West Africa, and tofu and vegetable sautés of Asia are all brimming with nutritious vegetables. Sometimes we adjust these dishes to accommodate ingredients that are close at hand, and sometimes we tinker with the traditional recipes and cooking methods to make them vegetarian, quicker, easier, lower in fat, or just plain tastier. Our fascination with both traditional ethnic foods and the multicultural synthesis of eclectic dishes is represented in foods as diverse as Quinoa Tabouli, New World Pizza, Thai Red Curry, Tempeh Bourgignon, and Mushroom Barley "Risotto."
We've included information we came upon in answering our own questions: Why are whole grains so much better than refined ones? What are phytonutrients? Which fats and oils are more nutritionally beneficial? Shouldn't our interest in healthful eating go beyond what's on the plate to the relationships among food, sustainable farming practices, and the environment? Is it more important to choose organic food or locally grown food?
It's a great time to eat well. Farmers' markets filled with local and organic vegetables are sprouting up everywhere, and supermarkets are spilling over with whole grain choices, bigger and better produce sections, and a variety of more healthful convenience foods.
Cooking for both health and pleasure has made creating this, our twelfth cookbook, a wonderful experience. What always remains fresh and constant is the joy we find in cooking and delight in eating. And now, we can't imagine separating the enjoyment of food from its healthfulness. Eating well feels good. Copyright © 2009 by Moosewood, Inc.