Thursday, July 8, 2010

How to Create Healthy Recipes You'll Love


Have you resolved to eat better, but you're having a hard time finding healthy recipes you actually like? Perhaps you are veteran healthy eater who is in a bit of a rut. Here is a simple method that may be the jump start you're seeking. It certainly helped me expand my horizons and create delicious meals tailor-made to suit my palette.

I learned about the method a few years ago from a good friend. She gave me a copy of an article from The Washington Post called The Spreadsheet Diet written by Ed Bruske, personal chef and food columnist. The article struck a chord with me. I keep it in my recipe book and read it every so often for inspiration.

The article itself is worth reading, but unfortunately the original links to all the recipes and how-to details are no longer there. However, Bruske was kind enough to write a post on his blog in response to an email I sent him. Wasn't that nice? Click HERE to read the post, which includes several full-length recipes. Thanks Ed!

In any case, I'll do my best to explain the method as I have used it. Basically, Bruske's spreadsheet contained the column categories shown below in all caps. The rows contain your favorites in each of those categories (the ingredients listed here are just a few of the many possibilities). To create a recipe, you pick one or two favorites from each column. The result is a well-balanced, healthy meal using foods you love!
  • WHOLE GRAINS: barley, bulgur, brown rice, couscous, quinoa, spelt, wheat berries, wild rice
  • ALLIUMS: onions, shallots, scallions, chives
  • NUTS: walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, cashews
  • HERBS: parsley, cilantro, mint, dill, basil, hyssop, lemon balm
  • TOMATOES: diced, cherry, grape, sun-dried, roasted
  • LEGUMES: peas, chickpeas, lentils, fava beans
  • DRIED FRUITS: raisins, apricots, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, currants, pomegranetes
  • PRESERVED GOODS: olives, marinated artichokes, roasted red peppers
  • VINEGARS: red wine, white wine, sherry, apple cider vinegar, rice wine, lemon juice
  • VEGETABLES: red peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery, fennel, broccoli
  • GREENS: arugula, spinach, radicchio, endive
The key is to pick all the things you love the most.  I know it sounds kind of obvious to say that, but it's not something I thought to try until I read the article. First I followed some of the recipes written by Bruske, then I felt confident enough to experiement. Now I always keep my favorite ingredients on hand, and when things get too busy for proper meal planning, I know I have something healthy I can whip together.

My personal favorites are:
  • mushrooms (either sauteed or made into a mushroom gravy)
  • roasted red peppers
  • roasted tomatoes
  • olives (I'm in love with the Lindsay Naturals at the moment - click HERE for coupons)
  • shallots
  • roasted garlic
  • toasted pecans
  • scallions (the organic ones are exceptionally good)
  • dried cranberries (Whole Foods carries ones that are nice and plump and contain no high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Lundberg Wild Rice is expensive, but excellent, and mixing it with quinoa adds a nice amount of protein
Click HERE to view some of the full-length recipes on Bruske's blog. Also, here are some his basic ideas to get you started. The first one is my very favorite (shown in the picture).
  • Wild Rice and Quinoa Pilaf With Toasted Pecans and Dried Cranberries: 2 from grains, 1 from nuts (pecans), 1 from dried fruits (cranberries), 1 from alliums (scallions), 1 from herbs (parsley), 1 vinegar (cider), 1 olive oil. 
  • Hulled Barley With Carrots, Raisins and Walnuts: 1 from grains, 2 vegetables (carrots, celery), 2 dried fruits (dark and golden raisins), 2 alliums (shallots, scallions), 2 herbs (parsley, hyssop), 1 from nuts (walnuts), 1 vinegar (white wine vinegar), 1 olive oil.
  • Brown Rice Pilaf With Roasted Cauliflower, Dried Fruits and Cashews: 1 from grains, 1 vegetable (cauliflower), 2 dried fruits (raisins, apricots), 2 herbs (cilantro, mint), 1 from nuts (cashews), 1 vinegar (lemon juice is considered part of this category), 1 olive oil.
  • Wheat Berry and Chickpea Salad With Olives and Feta Cheese: 1 from grains, 1 from legumes (chickpeas), 1 feta cheese (a category in itself), 3 preserved goods (marinated olives, artichokes, roasted red peppers), 1 from tomatoes, 2 greens (radicchio, arugula), 1 vinegar (lemon juice), 1 olive oil.
  • Bulgur and Lentil Pilaf With Fava Beans: 1 from grains, 2 from legumes (lentils and fava beans), 1 from tomatoes, 1 from alliums (red onion), 1 from vegetables (fennel), 3 from herbs (parsley, mint and dill), 1 vinegar (rice wine), 1 olive oil.
Here of some additional tips that might help. Have fun getting creative in the kitchen! I'd love to hear about the recipes you come up with.
  • Use vegetable broth to cook grains. This adds a lot of flavor to the finished product. Swanson has an organic vegetable broth that is very reasonably priced. I can often find sales and coupons.
  • Use a nice quality olive oil. I like to keep two types of olive oil on hand. One bottle of cheaper light olive oil for cooking and one bottle of more exspensive extra virgin olive oil to use on non-cooked dishes where the flavor of the oil can really shine. My favorite brand is Filipppo Berio Extra Virgin... delicioso! Click HERE for a coupon.
  • Don't be afraid to try new things. Sometimes unfamiliar foods can be intimidating, especially when they come from the produce isle or the bulk bins and have no instructions. The good news is that you can find instructions for anything on the internet. Just look it up. You may have found your new favorite food! 
  • Ready rice is actually pretty good in a pinch.  Yes, yes... whole grains are very important. But sometimes we just can't be bothered to wait 30 to 50 min for the rice to cook. I've found that Uncle Ben's Ready Rice (wild rice or brown rice) is actually pretty good. Sales and coupons abound (click HERE for a coupon). Minute Rice also has a good Ready to Serve rice in single serve containers (click HERE for a coupon).
  • Roasting vegetables properly makes all the difference in the world. The first time I achieved that marvelous caramelized glaze on my roasted vegetables, I never settled for anything less. Click HERE for a helpful guide to achieving flavorful roasted vegetables. 
  • Toasted nuts take the dish from good to great. Unfortunately, toasting takes away some of the nutrients found in raw nuts, but it certainly makes for an outstanding flavor. If that makes eating healthy more enjoyable, I'd say it's worth it!
By the way, one of Ed Bruske's blogs is called Better D.C. School Food. He's like the American Jamie Oliver! Nice work Ed! He also has one called The Slow Cook that contains lots of helpful information about food, nutrition, gardening, and environmental issues.

Read the follow-up post: The Slow Cook Has Got Me Thinking

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  1. I love to find new uses for spreadsheets! Thanks for the article and clear instructions on how to set up the columns, then create meals.

    The original recipes on the Washington Post site are the same as those that Ed Bruske posted on his blog, and they have nutritional info added:

    Here's the link to the categories list:

    The "How It Works" is described in this discussion, about 3/4 down the page:

  2. Thanks so much Debra! I really appreciate it. See the follow-up article I wrote containing your links. It's called "The Slow Cook Has Got Me Thinking". Here's the link:

    Oh, and by the way, I also love spreadsheets. They make me feel as if I can bring order to chaos.

  3. Nice nice post. I love it. Thank you for sharing. i had fun reading.