When “Light” is Right

by Lia Huber

Here on NOURISH Evolution, we often advocate indulging in a little bit of the real deal. But, given that an excess of those pesky little things called calories will cause us to gain weight, there are times when, with certain ingredients, I’ll opt to go light. Here’s where I draw the line:


  • If you don’t notice the difference—or if you don’t care about it—opt for the lighter version. I’d rather not ingest extra calories on something that tastes the same to me and doesn’t lose any nutritional value (or gain any fake ingredients) in a lighter form. For me, that tends to be dairy products (minus cheese). I think light sour cream and Greek yogurt taste just as good as their full-fat counterparts, and in fact I prefer their fluffier texture (I don’t, however, go for the fat-free versions; those just taste unnatural to me). I’ll also use neuftachel cheese in my cheesecakes to shave off a few calories and have yet to notice a difference. There is even a particular brand of potato chip whose reduced fat version I prefer to their full fat; I find them a touch crispier and less greasy. The net is, I’m banking calories on foods where I don’t feel like I’m making a compromise so I can cash them in on ones that I do (like cheese).
  • If the ingredient is playing a supporting role, experiment with how light you can go. Mayonnaise is a great example. If I’m just throwing together a tuna salad for weekday sandwiches or using a bit of mayo as a binder, I’ll likely opt for a light version. If I’m whipping up a dip I might combine both light and regular, especially if there’s a strong flavor like curry or garlic permeating it. But if I’m making a BLT with height-of-the-summer tomatoes, you can bet that I’ll either be using the best full-fat version I can find or making my own. In that case, the mayo is integral to the meal.
  • If it’s something you really love, go all out, in small portions, occasionally. The other night I was craving a tin roof sundae, a favorite childhood dessert of mine. I made one with fat-free ice cream, sub-par chocolate sauce and unsalted peanuts that I’d accidentally grabbed from the grocery store shelf. Guess how I’d felt when I finished the bowl? I was still craving a tin roof sundae. What I’d eaten was missing all of the elements I love about tin roofs—the creamy ice cream and rich chocolate sauce, the interplay between salty and sweet, creamy and crunchy. I’d cut corners everywhere and gotten no satisfaction whatsoever. The point is, you’ll feel satiated, crave less and ultimately end up eating less if you let yourself indulge in the real versions of the things you love, in reasonable quantities, every once in a while.

Roasted Cauliflower with Meyer Lemon Fauxaioli

This is my secret weapon dish for all who say they don’t like cauliflower. High-heat roasting encases the florets in a savory crispness while turning the insides creamy and even a touch sweet … enough to win over the most ardent naysayers. I call this a “fauxaioli” because it’s essentially a gussied-up, lightened-up store-bought mayonnaise, but it’s one I turn to again and again when time is short. This whole recipe, as a matter of fact, came about after having cauliflower in a fritto misto in Italy. I wanted to replicate the effect–crunchy, creamy, salty, sweet and pungent–without the hassle (or calories) of a full-blown fried affair with homemade aioli. And, based on the raves this dish has received (I’ll often serve it as an hors d’oeuvres with a jar of toothpicks nearby), I’d have to claim success.

roasted-cauliflower-aioli-recipe1 head cauliflower, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon)
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss cauliflower with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast for 25 minutes, turning often after the first 10 minutes.

While cauliflower is roasting, mash the garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle, and stir in mayonnaise, light mayonnaise and lemon juice. Scoop into a serving bowl and sprinkle with about a half-teaspoon of the parsley.

Transfer cauliflower to a serving platter and scatter the remaining parsley over top. Serve with fauxaioli.

Serves 4

No yard? No Problem … Container Gardens to the Rescue

By Alison Ashton

These days, home is a second-story condo with no yard. Instead, we have a sunny, south-facing balcony and a sizable deck, which means our urban farming must be done in containers. Which is all right by me. Even when I lived in houses with yards, I was still more inclined to garden in containers because I’m horticulturally challenged and lazy. Overseeing a few containers just seemed…easier. And it is; even I’ve managed to cultivate pots of vigorous herbs and sweet cherry tomatoes.

container-melangeYou can grow anything, from herbs to apple trees, in containers, says C. Darren Butler, a Los Angeles-based University of California Master Gardener, arborist, and landscape designer who teaches small-space gardening workshops and other horticultural classes. “The only thing I’d caution people that they shouldn’t try in a container is corn,” he says.

Here’s all you need to get started:

Location. “You need sun–five to six hours a day,” says Butler. “That’s the number one thing.” But that sun can be on a patio, balcony, deck, or stairway. If horizontal space is limited, a sun-drenched wall is ripe for vertical gardening.

Choose a container. “I don’t think there’s any one perfect container,” says Butler. Size and water retention are the main considerations. He recommends sustainably harvested wood, UV-treated recycled plastic, or simply reusing 5-gallon plastic nursery buckets. Glazed clay pots retain water well, Butler notes, but they can be expensive and breakable. Avoid terra cotta, he cautions, which tends to wick moisture away from plants.

Evangeline Heath Rubin, who documents her horticultural adventures in the blog Farm Apartment, got her apartment garden started with a self-watering EarthBox ($59.95), in which she grows a variety of salad greens. EarthBox kits come with a container, watering system, potting mix, and casters.

The depth of the container depends on the plant’s root system. Most plants need at least 8 to 12 inches, though baby lettuces, radishes and arugula can thrive in as little as 4 to 6 inches. Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and the like need a bit more depth–14 to 20 inches. You can even grow a lemon tree in a 5-gallon pot; you’ll just need to prune the roots every few years when the plant is dormant.

Soil. Butler recommends a mix of one-third coarse builder’s sand or washed plaster sand, one-third organic matter (compost or organic potting soil for vegetables), and one-third native soil (ask a neighbor to lend you some).

You’ll want to feed container plants to replenish nutrients that are washed away every time you water, says Heath Rubin. Compost or worm castings are ideal. Her solution for small-space composting has been vermiculture–using worms to compost kitchen scraps–in a compact Wriggly Ranch worm bin. “I give them the gourmet treatment,” boasts Heath Rubin, who purees vegetable scraps for her colony of red wigglers. “I think of them as my pets.”

Plants. “Don’t be afraid to start from seed,” says Heath Rubin. Butler recommends compact container varieties, which are available for just about any kind of fruit or vegetable. Organizations like Seed Savers Exchange and companies like Seeds of Change sell seeds for everything from bush cucumbers to cherry tomatoes to baby eggplant.

Hmm, with sun, decent soil, a hospitable container, and seeds even I can turn my concrete jungle into a verdant urban farm.

alison-thumbA longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and the Editorial Director for NOURISH Evolution. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health as well as on her blog, Eat Cheap, Eat Well, Eat Up.

Spring Soupe au Pistou

Pistou is the Provencal cousin of Italian pesto (difference: the French version doesn’t include pine nuts), and it’s used as a condiment as well as in a soup that bears its name. This spring rendition of the typically summery soup adds a touch of fresh mint to the traditional basil in the pistou (just enough basil to “borrow” from your new seedlings), and substitutes leeks for onions and sugar snap peas for haricots verts in the soup itself. As spring turns to summer, adapt the recipe to use whatever produce is available. Add zucchini or other summer squash. Trade the snap peas for green beans, use fresh shell beans instead of canned, and swap canned tomatoes for peeled, seeded summer-fresh tomatoes (you’ll need 1 1/2 cups). Serve with grilled bread.



Grow Heirlooms

I have four gorgeous new raised beds in the back yard (thanks, honey!) filled with rich organic soil, and I’m hankering to get some seedlings in the ground. If you are too, I urge you to take a look at heirlooms.

heirloomBefore industrial agriculture begat monocrops, which are hybridized or engineered to be high producing and hardy, there were literally thousands of varieties of each vegetable. Often, the seeds of a tomato or a cucumber or a pepper would be handed down through a family from year to year (hence the term “heirloom”) so that within a small village, each family might be growing slightly different cultivars of the same vegetables.

Heirloom vegetables and fruits have been enjoying a renaissance both on restaurant menus and in backyard gardens. Here are a few things you should know if you want to join in too:

  • By definition, heirloom varieties are open pollinated, which means that the plants are pollinated by bees and butterflies and the like. It also means that the seeds of a particular species will reproduce a similar plant the next year. Where it gets tricky is that open pollination also means that plants can cross-pollinate among families—broccoli with cabbage, limes with lemon, etc.—to create some funky hybrids unless you isolate the blooms of each. An easy solution, though, is just to pluck out any sprouts that clearly come from kissing cousins.
  • Heirloom vegetables taste—and look—far more distinctive than mass-produced varieties. I’m smitten with big, meaty Kellogg’s Breakfast Tomatoes; deep gold with crimson striations. Candy-striped Chioggia Beets and scarlet Plum Purple Radishes are sweet, whimsical versions of otherwise staid vegetables. Experiment with several and find ones you like.
  • When you plant heirlooms, you’re doing more than just cultivating a tasty plate. You’re helping preserve the genetic diversity of America’s—and the world’s—crops. As our society relies more and more on monoculture (growing one variety of crop), biodiversity is lost and, along with it, the ability for a species to fight off disease. Think of it this way; the more variation there is in the gene pool of a crop, the more help a plant has to pull from in evolving to fend off constantly-mutating diseases. If a crop is made up mainly of one variety, it can easily be overcome by the more nimble bacteria. And do know, this is an issue; almost 75% of our food’s genetic diversity has been lost over the past 100 years.

Check out Seed Savers Exchange for a dizzying catalog of heirloom fruits and vegetables. For more about saving heirloom varieties, see Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.

This week, if you’re planning your summer garden, be sure to seek out heirlooms.

Sauteed Radishes with Mint

You may know–and love–radishes in their raw state. But they’re lovely in this delicious side dish, too. Butter adds a bit of richness to this otherwise simple dish. Browning the butter takes it a step further to add a nutty note, enlivened on the other end by the mint.


Spring Pantry Cleaning Reinvigorates Your Cooking

By Jacqueline Church

The urge to do some serious spring cleaning has hit, and I wondered how many others shared my crazy pantry dilemma. I’d buy something on a whim—a block of belacan (Asian shrimp paste), a bottle of green peppercorns, a stash of fenugreek—then tuck it away in the pantry and forget about it. So I took a survey of NOURISH Evolution readers and Twitter followers and found that a theme emerged: The original inspiration to buy the now-buried-in-the-back-of-the-pantry-item was the desire to stretch in a new culinary direction. So I’ve put together a list of the three most common ingredients lurking in cupboards and included ideas for using them.

Lentils. These quick-cooking pulses are truly multipurpose. They can be used in soups and stews. They are terrific in cold salads for added protein and fiber. They can be cooked and mashed in veggie burgers or croquettes. They’re a lovely accompaniment to fish and poultry. If you have some on hand, try our All-Purpose French Lentils (it’s fine to substitute a different variety for the Lentilles de Puy in the recipe).

Dried black mushrooms. Dried shiitake, porcini, morel, and other varieties of mushrooms can seem daunting as they’re usually sold in large quantities. Fortunately, dried mushrooms are packed with nutrition and umami, and they last a long time. They add rich flavor and texture to soups, stews, risotto, and stir-fries. Soak them in hot water, and use the soaking liquid like any broth for a soup base or sauce. Use the stemmed and sliced mushrooms in all manner of recipes. Mushrooms are a perfect way to reduce saturated fat in dishes that call for ground or chopped meat; just replace some or all of the meat with mushrooms (try this with meatballs or substitute soaked and sauteed dried mushrooms for pork in Fumiko’s Gyoza).

Harissa. Two readers said they’d found a jar of harissa kicking around their pantries. Harissa is a pesto-like North African condiment made from chile peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices. It adds a fiery punch to fish, grains, sauces, and dips. Think of it as revved-up ketchup. In fact, you can use harissa much like you would use ketchup, Tabasco, or Sriracha: on burgers, over scrambled eggs, in deviled eggs. Thin it with yogurt and serve it over fish, or as a dip for crudite. Thin it with olive oil for a rub for roast chicken.

Use your spring pantry cleaning energy, and these ideas, to rediscover the inspiration to try something new, whether it’s a new lentil salad, mushroom dumplings, or harissa-marinated fish.

jackie-thumbJacqueline Church is an independent writer whose work has appeared in Culture: the Word on Cheese, Edible Santa Barbara, and John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. She often writes about gourmet food, sustainability issues and the intersection of the two on her blog Leather District Gourmet. Currently, she’s at work on Pig Tales: a Love Story about heritage breed pigs and the farmers and chefs bringing them from farm to table.

Pan Seared Harissa-Rubbed White Cod

By Lia Huber

A stunning, and spicy, preparation of a firm, flaky, tasty fish.


2 tablespoons harissa (either homemade or store-bought)
2 tablespoons low-fat Greek yogurt
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound white cod fillet, cut into 4 fillets (or other firm white fish, like halibut)

Mix together the harissa and yogurt with a pinch of salt and pepper. Rub onto fish, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, swirl in oil. Sear fish for 2-3 minutes per side, until nicely browned and cooked through.

Serves 4

Earth-Friendly Fare: 3 Ways to Eat Lower on the Food Chain

By Cheryl Sternman Rule

When I think of a food chain, I always picture a giant whale swimming through the ocean gobbling up smaller sea creatures in his path. But food chains are part of a broader ecosystem, and, as humans, our place at the top carries awesome responsibility.  Sure, we could go through our lives eating whatever suits our fancy, but doing so without a thought to future generations would be reckless. Here on NOURISH Evolution, there has been much written about sustainability, and at its core, that’s what eating lower on the food chain is intended to promote: sustainable food systems that take the long view rather than satisfying our immediate cravings.  With Earth Day upon us, the time is right to consider how eating lower on the food chain benefits not only us, but the planet at large.


Most people assume the most environmentally friendly diet is one that’s purely local, where food miles are capped to cut emissions created through transportation.  In fact, a 2008 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology revealed that the vast majority of emissions are caused in the production of food, rather than in its transport.  This means we want to pay as much, if not more, attention to what we eat and how it’s produced as to how far it has traveled.

In their book Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming (Gibbs Smith, 2008), authors Laura Stec and Eugene Cordero explain that “it takes significantly more energy to make food from animal products than it does to grow vegetables.”  Vegetables and grains have an “energy intensity” (a measure of how much energy it takes to produce a food) of 1.2 to 2.5, they note, compared to 16 to 68 for chicken, pork, or beef. And that’s just the production side; there’s the emissions side to consider, too.  Producing meat and other animal proteins generates greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane and nitrous oxide, which leaves a sizable carbon footprint, and leads, ultimately, to global warming.

As consumers and diners, then, we have a powerful choice. By eating more plant products and fewer animals products–in other words, eating lower on the food chain–we can collectively lessen our environmental impact and tread more lightly on the earth.

Here are three ways to eat lower on the food chain:

  1. Go vegetarian a few days a week.  Grains, seeds, nuts, and produce make up the food chain’s bottommost rung. For more tips on how to incorporated meatless meals into your diet, visit Meatless Mondays, a nonprofit initiative created in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
  2. When you do eat meat, pay attention to its source and production methods. Grass-fed and heritage meats from smaller farms tend to exert a smaller environmental toll than meats produced in factory farms.
  3. Choose sustainable seafood, particularly smaller fish, such as sardines and anchovies.

There’s one bonus benefit to eating lower on the food chain, too: Doing so is not only better for the planet, but tends to be better for our personal health as well.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.

Stir-Fried Greens with Cremini Mushrooms and Soba

By Cheryl Sternman Rule

I’ve made this dish successfully with all kinds of greens, but I like tender baby spinach and bok choy derivatives the best.  Keep in mind that you want a touch of water clinging to the greens, but not so much that they’ll swim when they’re wilting. Note: If choosing tough-stemmed greens like chard or beet greens, slice the stems into 1-inch lengths.

stir-fried-greens-recipe3 ounces soba noodles
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1-1/2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
3/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon minced peeled ginger
3 cloves garlic (1 clove minced, 2 cloves thinly sliced)
2 teaspoons peanut oil
1 pound greens (baby spinach, regular spinach, you choy, baby bok choy, etc.)
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced

Cook soba noodles according to package directions.  Drain, and rinse briefly under cool water to prevent clumping; drain. Set aside.

Whisk together sesame seeds, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, ginger, and minced garlic in a small bowl.

Heat a wok or large nonstick pan over medium-high heat.  Add peanut oil and sliced garlic.  Stir-fry until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the greens.  Depending on the size of your wok, you may need to work in batches.  Stir-fry 4 minutes or until greens are wilted, any water clinging to the leaves has evaporated, and any stalks are crisp-tender.  (If too much water collects, carefully spoon it out of the pan.)

Push the greens to one side, and add the mushrooms.  Stir-fry 2 minutes. Add soy sauce mixture and cooked noodles.  Toss to coat; cook about 1 minute to heat through. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 to 4