by Amy Sung
Just because your recipe calls for cream or tinned vegetables doesn’t mean you can’t use something healthier in its place. And healthier doesn’t just mean whole foods full of good-for-you nutrients anymore – it now also includes whole foods that were grown and raised in a responsible and transparent way, free of chemicals. We talked to two spa chefs from Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Essex Resort & Spa in Essex, Vermont, in addition to Chef David Bouley, about ways to make healthy eating smarter with easy substitutions in the kitchen.
Whenever possible, use only the freshest vegetables. “If they are not available, I strongly encourage frozen,” Chef Brian Sterner of Gideon Putnam says. “Canned vegetables are laden with salty water making it difficult to satisfy a low sodium diet.” Chef Sterner also strongly encourages supporting local farmers, who are likely to provide you with the freshest vegetables.
Choose grass-fed beef and free-range poultry for a healthier, leaner way to dine, Chef Sterner says. Here at SpaFinder, we also love chemical-free and humanely raised meat – it not only tastes better, it’s more nutritious than meat raised on commercial factory farms. Not to mention, it’s a more respectful way of raising animals for food. Sterner also believes in respecting animals by trying to utilise all they have to offer.
Instead of searing or sautéing, try steaming or poaching. “[It’s] a great way to cook utilising only the food’s natural fats,” Chef Sterner says. This tip can apply to other foods as well, not just vegetables.
Choose your seafood wisely. “Over-fishing of certain species is putting our future in danger,” Chef Sterner says. We’re big fans of the Fish Online In-depth guide to Sustainable Seafood from the Marine Conservation Society which provides an easy way to make better seafood choices.
Use almond milk in place of cream or milk. Famed French Restaurateur David Bouley makes ice cream with almond milk instead of cream. In fact, he uses almond milk as a substitute for dairy in general, since it’s healthier, contains fewer calories and gives dishes a slightly nutty taste.
Use buckwheat instead of rice or pasta. “It is actually a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb and sorrel, making it a suitable substitute for grains for people who are sensitive to wheat or other grains that contain gluten,” Bouley says. He frequently uses this substitution in his restaurant. Buckwheat also aids digestion.
Use a natural soup thickener. Kuzu, one of the world’s largest root vegetables, can act as a thickener for soups, Bouley says. At Essex Resort & Spa, Executive Chef Shawn Calley says that beans are a great way to thicken soups and sauces, too. “They can create great textures and flavours and you won’t have to use butter and flour.”
Cook with tea. Chef Calley has been trying to use more teas in cooking since it has such great health benefits. “Right now, I’m doing a black tea broth with a duck tortellini,” he explains. “Once again the flavours are great, so by infusing teas into your sauces, you add tons of flavour and you are staying away from butter and cream sauces.”
Use more nutritious breading. In addition to using Kuzu as a thickening agent, Bouley also uses it in other ways, like crushing it up to make healthy crusts on proteins or simply making crisps out of it. Chef Calley loves to use finely chopped walnuts to coat salmon or trout, which adds texture—and health benefits.
Use sweet potatoes. “Sweet potatoes are a great food with very high nutritional value; I put these in a gratin instead of all potato,” Chef Calley says. “The other thing I have been doing is a coconut milk and sweet potato puree with a seared scallop and a yogurt curry sauce. The taste is great and you would not even know how great it is for you.”
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