Cooking for Particular Diets

I have gone through my life as a very thin fellow. I have what the medical profession calls a “nervous stomach,” which without going into a great detail means that I don’t gain a lot of weight despite what I eat. At least that was the case until I turned 35 or so.

When I reached that age my metabolism downshifted and I put on 25 pounds pretty rapidly, all of it in my neck and my midsection. I still had skinny arms and legs; where before I looked like a stick figure, I began to look like a pin cushion crossed with a turkey. “Gobble gobble,” I’d say, and people couldn’t tell the difference.

Then I started to eat better and came out of a deep depression and I’m back at my fighting weight with nary a wattle in sight. I wouldn’t hold myself up as a paragon of health, but for my age and mileage I’m not too bad off and I feel much safer around the end of November.

I don’t know that it’s because of my diet, though I do tend to eat more vegetables and grains than most people. I still love a good steak and I believe that butter is at least circumstantial evidence there is a God.

So when my wife decided she wanted to eat a healthier diet I was on board. It meant cutting out pasta and rice for most meals, but that wasn’t too hard a burden. At least until I cooked amaranth.

I like quinoa and I don’t care who knows it. I can cook a damn good millet pancake, but I will no longer try to cook amaranth grains. I suspect that you, dear readers, are either with me on this one or asking yourselves, “what the hell is amaranth?” If you are in the latter category, count yourself lucky, because amaranth grain is a tiny, viscous hell as far as I’m concerned.

I understand it is a “super food” and that it was a staple crop of the Aztecs. They say the Spanish forbade its cultivation after the conquest, as it was seen as sacred to the Aztecs and the Spanish wanted to convert the Azetcs to Christianity. I know the Spanish did a lot of horrible things, but they were on the right side of things where stamping out amaranth is concerned.

I don’t like the stuff, is what I’m saying.

But there are a host of alternatives to grains that are good for us and also palatable. Wild rice, for example, may not be “rice,” but it’s delicious if you know how to cook it. The same is true for quinoa; once you learn to toast the grains before you add liquid it comes out fluffy and delicious every time.

Then there are several varieties of rice, like red or black, “forbidden” rice that I’ve eaten for years for the taste and texture and only later realized there were certain health benefits as well. These are not the “brown” rice you may remember from “health food” restaurants in the 70s and 80s. These are worth eating regardless of your dietary restrictions.

My mother-in-law had a birthday recently and we had a small celebration at our house. The celebration involved ratatouille and little packets of beef stuffed with parsley, hatch chiles and bacon, braised in tomato sauce. And very dark, high-fiber bread from Bellegarde Bakery. Also butter and a very high energy dog, but we only ate one of those.

There are a number of restaurants in town that specialize in healthy food. A very good friend of mine became a vegan late in life, and when he came to town we dined happily at Seed and Carmo, and possibly Green Goddess, though I am not sure whether he was eating meat again by that point or not.

Eating healthier food doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. I’m not even sure that my current diet is healthier, given that the last research I read failed to link dietary fat consumption to blood serum cholesterol levels. But I feel better eating more vegetables, and I like eating more vegetables, so I’m going to keep doing that regardless of what the latest data shows.

Because life is very short, and we should enjoy good food while we can. If it turns out to be better for us, that’s lagniappe, baby.


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