By Natalie Burg
Learning about a super-healthy food you’ve never tried can be exciting for home chefs. But taking a first bite and finding it less than immediately lovable can take away from the fun.
The truth is, some healthy foods can be acquired tastes.
So take some advice from the pros. These health-focused food bloggers, chefs and dietitians know how to handle wholesome foods in a way that brings out their best qualities.
Kale Or Spinach: Add Salt And Acid
Dark green vegetables like kale and spinach are the quintessential superfoods. But they can taste a touch bitter.
Registered dietitian-nutritionist and chef Jackie Newgent says there are a few ways to counter that.
“Balance bitterness in cuisine with an acid, or something sweet, or a combination of salt and fat, or all of the above,” said Newgent. “For vegetables, consider acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, as a key counterbalance.”
Here’s one way she uses lemon to temper kale (or spinach, if you’d like to sub it in) at breakfast.
Jackie Newgent’s Kale And Couscous Breakfast Bowl With Egg
1 1/3 cups water
1 cup uncooked whole-wheat couscous
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, extra-thinly sliced (1.5 ounces)
3 scallions, green and white parts, minced
Juice and zest of 1 small lemon (2 tablespoons juice)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1 (5-ounce) package fresh organic baby kale or spinach
4 large organic eggs
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the couscous, sun-dried tomatoes, scallions, lemon juice and zest, 1 tablespoon of the oil, thyme leaves and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt. Top with the kale. Cover, remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large cast-iron or other stick-resistant skillet over medium heat. Add the eggs. Increase heat to medium-high and fry the eggs to desired doneness, about 3 minutes. (Note: Make eggs in 2 skillets, if you like.) Season with pepper and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of salt.
Stir together the couscous and kale until the kale is fully wilted, about 30 seconds. Transfer to 4 bowls and top each with an egg and serve.
Tempeh: Infuse With Flavorful Sauce
High-protein tempeh has a softly nutty taste straight out of the package, but it’s even better after a flavor boost.
“Traditional tempeh is rather chameleon-like, meaning it takes on the flavors of whatever you pair it with,” Newgent said. “To punch up the deliciousness of tempeh, I suggest cooking it with a high-flavor sauce, ideally showcasing the tastes of sweet, salty, acid and heat.”
She accomplishes this with a stir-fry recipe that calls for sauteing the tempeh in avocado oil alongside flavorful diced onion before adding assorted vegetables and a Southeast Asian-style sauce.
Jackie Newgent’s Seasonal Indonesian-Inspired Tempeh And Veggie Stir-Fry
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 small hot chile pepper, minced
1/4 cup organic applesauce with no added sugar (or 2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar)
3 tablespoons fruit-sweetened ketchup
3 tablespoons naturally brewed tamari (reduced-sodium or regular)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lime juice
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1 1/2 tablespoons avocado oil or coconut oil
8 ounces tempeh, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small red onion, large dice
4 cups fresh seasonal veggies or pre-packaged veggie mixture
2 large or 3 medium red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers, seeded and julienned
3 large garlic cloves, minced
3 scallions, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces on the diagonal
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
To make the stir-fry sauce: Fully heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the hot pepper and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the applesauce, ketchup, tamari, vinegar, ginger and broth and cook until sauce mixture thickens slightly, about 12-15 minutes. Set aside. (Note: This stir-fry sauce can be made in advance and chilled.)
To make the stir-fry: Fully heat the avocado oil in a wok over high heat. Add the tempeh and onion and stir-fry until the tempeh is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add the seasonal veggies (such as broccoli), bell peppers and garlic and stir-fry until the vegetables are heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the sauce mixture, scallions and peanuts and stir-fry until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.
Transfer the stir-fry to a large bowl — or serve directly from the wok. Garnish with lots of cilantro. Enjoy as is or with cooked brown rice. Or try with sticky coconut couscous.
Turmeric: Cook It First
This deep-orange spice is a key ingredient in many wonderful dishes, but it can benefit from a little work to make its deep flavors come through.
“Ingredients like turmeric can seem unpalatable when consumed raw, but toasting turmeric in oil will drastically alter the flavor of the ingredient,” said Justin Khanna, professional chef and co-founder of the food-focused events company Voyager’s Table. “My Indian family won’t cook with raw turmeric because it’s believed that cooking it allows it to actually be digested better.”
With just a bit of cooking time, turmeric artfully enhances the flavors in Khanna’s saucy spinach dish.
Justin Khanna’s Palak-Style Spinach With Golden Turmeric Cream
2 tablespoons rice bran oil or canola oil
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon fenugreek
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup heavy cream
Heat oil in a wok or large saute pan until shimmering. Add jalapeno, shallot, garlic and ginger. Cook until golden around the edges.
Add all spices and salt. Cook until toasted and aromatic. Add the spinach and cream and cook until wilted.
Serve with steamed rice or fresh tandoori bread.
Beets: Pair With Citrus
To bring out the most appealing beet flavors, try tamping down the root’s earthiness with a little zest.
“Beets pair nicely with citrus because beets are naturally very sweet. But when pairing with a hint of salt and acidity that comes from the orange, it helps to break through the sweetness,” said nutritional chef Melissa Eboli. “This results in a nice balance of sweet and savory that’s complementary to one another when used in this application.”
Here’s how she does it in a fresh, citrusy salad.
Melissa Eboli’s Beet Salad And Orange Dressing
4 medium beets
2 large oranges
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup olive oil
1 ounce water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup walnuts
1 (10-ounce) package mixed baby spinach or arugula
Preheat oven to 450 F. Rinse and scrub the beets. Individually wrap them in aluminum foil. Bake for 45-60 minutes.
While the beets are cooking, juice the orange into a bowl. Add in zest, olive oil, water, sea salt and garlic powder. Whisk together until well blended.
When the beets are done, let cool for 20-30 minutes. Wearing gloves, remove skin. Slice or cut the beets into chunks.
Place the beets on a plate or platter. Top with walnuts and drizzle with dressing.
Recipe Shortcut: Buy precooked whole beets (you’ll usually find them in the refrigerated produce section of the grocery store).
Matcha: Roll It Up Into A Snack
There are some great ways to counter the naturally bitter flavor of this green tea powder and make its great-tasting side shine through. Cooking with it is one of them.
“I wasn’t totally sold on the flavor of it as a tea, but I’m glad I decided to keep playing with it, because I really like it in these protein balls,” said food blogger Wendy Hodge. “I already knew that the chia seeds, almond butter, coconut and vanilla protein powder work well together. The matcha powder doesn’t take away from that; it just gives these protein balls a really unique flavor.”
Wendy Hodge’s Matcha Protein Balls
1/2 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons vanilla protein powder
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1 tablespoon matcha powder
1/4 cup shredded coconut
4 tablespoons almond butter
1 tablespoon rice malt syrup
1 tablespoon coconut butter mixed with a little hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A sprinkle of sea salt
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Mix the chia seeds and water together in a small bowl and set aside for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Place all other dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix together. Add the almond butter, rice malt syrup and vanilla to the bowl and roughly combine.
Put the coconut butter in a small bowl and blend with a little hot water until runny and smooth.
Add the soaked chia and the coconut butter mixture to the medium-sized bowl.
Using your hands, combine all ingredients to form a large ball and continue squeezing and kneading until they’re well combined. Roll into small balls and place on a baking tray. Set in the fridge for a few hours.
Recipe notes: Try melted coconut oil instead of coconut butter if you prefer. You can also substitute honey or pure maple syrup for rice malt syrup. Add some goji berries or your favorite dried fruit for extra texture.
Whether you use cooking techniques or skillful ingredient combinations, you can make these popular health foods taste more delicious with a few smart tweaks.