Sunday, October 5, 2003

Healthy can be tasty

Long-forsaken veggies undergo flavor makeover

The Associated Press

What are our most hated "healthy" foods? Cauliflower, beets, cabbage and tofu would top the list for many people.

"We won't touch some nutritious foods because we think they taste bad," senior nutrition editor Tula Karras says in the October issue of Self magazine.

The magazine issued a challenge to Rocco DiSpirito, of NBC's summer TV series, The Restaurant: Take bad-rap health foods and make us want to eat them.

Taste testers indicate that's exactly what he did. His secret? Balancing sweet, salty, bitter and sour flavors until the combinations captivate the taste buds.

DiSpirito's recipes may win you over. His remedy for cabbage, zucchini and eggplant: cabbage stuffed with beef, zucchini and herbs.

Testers said: "Hearty and tasty," and "The beef masked the flavor of the cabbage."

A few detractors found the dish bland. The easy fix is more salt and pepper.

Cabbage Stuffed With Beef, Zucchini and Herbs

2 11/2-pound cabbages or Napa cabbages

1/4 cup fat-free chicken broth

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 small zucchini, finely diced

1 large tomato, finely diced

1 sweet onion, finely chopped

1 small eggplant, finely diced

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

6 ounces lean ground beef

1 tablespoon each chopped fresh basil, parsley and thyme

1/4 cup whole-grain bread crumbs

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut cabbages in half from top to base. Cut out core; discard. Pull out inner leaves of each half, leaving 3 outer layers (reserve). Finely slice inner leaves.

Heat broth and 2 tablespoons oil in medium saute pan on medium. Add vegetables (plus cabbage), garlic and beef. Cook until vegetables are tender and meat is browned; add herbs; place in cabbage halves. Mix butter with bread crumbs; place on top of cabbage; drizzle remaining oil on top. Bake until tender, about 35 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.

DiSpirito's remedy for eggplant and tofu: eggplant and tofu stack. The health benefits: Tofu is a source of iron, calcium and protein. Eggplant has fiber, vitamin A and potassium.

Testers said: "Tasted like stir-fried tofu," and "fabulous - better than I expected.'

Eggplant and Tofu Stack

1 small eggplant

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small Vidalia onion, diced

1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon each chopped chives and parsley

2 blocks firm tofu (3 to 4 ounces each)

1/2 cup flour

1 egg and 1 egg white

Using a fork, poke holes in eggplant and rub with 1/2 teaspoon oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven at 350 F until eggplant collapses (40 minutes to an hour). Remove and cool; scrape out insides and discard skin.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch saute pan on low. Add onion, red pepper, shallots and garlic; cover and saute until tender. Add eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook, uncovered, 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all liquid evaporates. Transfer to a bowl and cool. Add chives and parsley.

Slice tofu lengthwise so each block is 1 inch thick. Cut the blocks into six 2-inch squares. Spread a 12-inch-wide piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Place one slice of tofu on the plastic wrap. Season with salt and pepper and spread about 1/4 of the eggplant mixture across the top. Add another layer of tofu, season it and repeat until you have two layers of eggplant and three layers of tofu. Cover stack with plastic wrap.

Repeat to make second stack. Place both stacks on a plate, chill 2 hours, remove and unwrap. Place flour in a medium-sized bowl. Beat eggs in another medium-sized bowl. Dip each stack in flour, then egg, then flour again, coating all sides each time. Heat remaining oil (or more if necessary) in a pan on medium-high. Saute stacks on all sides (2 or 3 minutes per side) until golden brown. Makes 2 servings.

Source: Self magazine October issue

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