New paths to healthier eating

The vegetarian diet was, just last week, recognized in US government dietary guidelines as one of the main eating patterns in the US.

Three sisters casserole with two kinds of squash, corn and two kinds of beans (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Three sisters casserole with two kinds of squash, corn and two kinds of beans
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Once every five years the US government updates its Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The 2015-2020 edition was published just last week.
This is the first time that the vegetarian diet is recognized in the guidelines as one of the main eating patterns in the US. The Healthy Vegetarian Pattern is one of the three endorsed eating plans. The other two plans are the Healthy US-Style Pattern and the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Pattern, which has less dairy and more fruits and seafood than the US Style.
Because the vegetarian plan contains no meat, poultry or seafood, it has increased amounts of legumes, whole grains, soy products such as tofu, and nuts and seeds. It also includes dairy and eggs, or plant-based alternatives for vegans.
Whichever eating plan someone chooses, the basic recommendations remain the same:
(1) keep within your appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight;
(2) choose a variety of foods, preferably nutrient-dense ones, from all food groups – vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy or soy substitutes, protein foods and oils;
(3) limit saturated fats, added sugars and sodium; and
(4) meet the guidelines for physical activity.
The guidelines’ graphic representation, MyPlate, is designed to remind people how to best plan their meals. It shows that fruits and vegetables should cover half the plate, protein foods should take about one quarter, and grains should take another quarter.
Research shows that consumption of vegetables in the US is far too low. Therefore a key recommendation of the Dietary Guidelines is to eat more vegetables of all types – green, red and orange, legumes, starchy vegetables and others such as cauliflower, onions and eggplant.
One way to make vegetables enticing is to roast them. Roasting intensifies the vegetables’ flavors. Vegetables such as onions and winter squashes become sweeter. Cauliflower, broccoli and eggplant taste almost as if they have been fried; yet roasting needs much less oil than frying. It is almost effortless – just toss the vegetable pieces with a little oil and bake them; you can line the roasting pan with foil to make cleanup easy. All you need to do is turn the vegetables over or stir them once or twice during baking.
Roasted vegetables such as Zel Allen’s garlicky roasted cauliflower (see recipe) make tasty side dishes or appetizers. You can also use roasted vegetables to add interest to salads, sandwiches and grain dishes. Try roasted eggplant as a topping for brown rice pilaf, as in our Middle Eastern-style roasted eggplant on green vegetable rice (see recipe).
If you add cooked dried beans to roasted vegetables, they can play the role of a main course, as in three sisters casserole made of roasted winter squash, beans and corn (see recipe).
These types of dishes make it easy for us to prepare meals with a higher proportion of vegetables which are not only healthy but also delicious. ■
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
Even “people who shake their heads and wrinkle their noses at the mention of cauliflower” become “cauliflower devotees” after they taste this dish, wrote Zel Allen in her book Vegan for the Holidays. Allen’s cauliflower is roasted with sweet peppers, onion, garlic, olive oil and olives.
Makes 6 servings
■ 2 heads cauliflower, cut in bite-size florets
■ 1 sweet green pepper, chopped
■ ½ sweet red pepper, diced
■ 1 onion, halved vertically, then sliced into half-moons
■ ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
■ 12 garlic cloves, cut in half lengthwise
■ 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
■ 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
■ Salt and freshly ground pepper
■ 6 Tbsp. vegan Parmesan cheese (optional)
■ ½ bunch parsley (garnish)
■ Orange or tangerine slices or red grapes (garnish)
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F). Put cauliflower florets in a large ziplock bag. Add sweet peppers, onion, olives, garlic and oil. Seal bag and shake well to coat the vegetables.
Arrange vegetables in a single layer on a 44.5- x 32-cm. (17½- x 12½-in.) rimmed baking sheet and roast them for 15 minutes. Turn the vegetables with a spatula and roast another 10 to 15 minutes, or until cauliflower is fork-tender and lightly browned.
Toss cauliflower mixture with the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan and garnished with parsley and fruit if desired.
For a potluck party we decided to make a Middle Eastern-style dish of eggplant, green vegetables and rice.
First we made brown rice pilaf and added green beans and kale to boost its flavor, color and nutrition.
We served it topped with eggplant cubes that we had roasted with a peppery tomato glaze. This topping, and the garnish of black olives, walnuts and fresh za’atar, turned the pilaf into a tempting dish.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Roasted eggplant:
■ 570 gr. (1¼ lb.) eggplant, cut in slightly larger than bite-size cubes
■ 1 large onion, quartered and sliced thin
■ 7 tsp. olive oil
■ Salt to taste
■ 3 to 4 teaspoons tomato paste
■ 1½ to 1¾ teaspoons semi-hot pepper paste, or ¼ to ½ tsp. hot pepper paste or to taste
Brown rice pilaf and garnish:
■ 2½ Tbsp. olive oil
■ ½ medium onion, chopped
■ 1½ cups long-grain brown rice, rinsed and drained
■ Salt and freshly ground pepper
■ 3 cups hot water
■ 225 gr. (½ pound) green beans, cut in 2-cm. (¾-inch) pieces
■ 1½ cups chopped kale (55 gr. or 2 oz.)
■ ½ cup walnut pieces, plus a few walnut halves for garnish
■ ¹⁄3 cup oil-cured or other flavorful black olives
■ Chopped fresh za’atar or parsley (optional garnish)
Preheat oven to 205°C (400°F). Combine eggplant cubes with onion slices in a roasting pan (lined with foil if desired for easy cleanup). Sprinkle with 5 teaspoons olive oil and with salt. Roast 30 minutes, stirring once.
In a small bowl mix tomato paste and pepper paste. Slowly stir in 2 tablespoons hot water. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil.
Add tomato paste mixture to eggplant and mix lightly but thoroughly. Bake 5 more minutes. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Brown rice pilaf: Heat 1½ tablespoons oil in a stew pan over medium- low heat. Add onion and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until light golden.
Add rice and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring, for 3 minutes or until grains change color. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ¹⁄8 teaspoon pepper. Pour hot water over rice and stir once. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, cover tightly and simmer for 35 minutes or until rice is just tender. Let stand covered for 10 minutes. With a fork, fluff rice lightly and transfer to a bowl. Let cool.
Add green beans to a pan of boiling salted water, return to a boil and cook for 5 or 6 minutes or until tender. Remove beans with a slotted spoon, rinse until cool and drain well. Transfer to a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add to cooled rice.
Add chopped kale to cooking liquid from green beans and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 3 minutes or until just tender. Rinse with cold water and drain well. Add to rice. Add walnut pieces and 2 teaspoons olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Spoon rice mixture into a serving dish and top with eggplant mixture.
Serve it warm or at room temperature, garnished with olives, walnut halves and fresh za’atar.
Combining squash, corn and beans is popular in South America and is inspired by the Native American tradition of planting squash, beans and corn together as the Three Sisters Garden. For this casserole we roast orange-fleshed squash and onions and combine them with sautéed zucchini, corn, white beans and green beans.
Makes 8 to 12 servings
■ 800 to 900 gr. (1¾ to 2 lb.) orange-fleshed squash, such as butternut or kabocha squash
■ 570 to 680 gr. (1¼ to 1½ lb.) onions, quartered and sliced
■ About 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
■ 450 to 570 gr. (1 to 1¼ lb.) green beans, trimmed and halved
■ Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
■ 570 gr. (1¼ pounds) zucchini, cut in thick strips
■ 450 gr. (1 lb. or about 3½ cups) frozen corn
■ 3 cups cooked white beans
■ ½ tsp. medium-hot pepper flakes, or cayenne pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F). Halve squash and remove seeds. Cut in 3 or 4 pieces. Rub cut surfaces with oil and put in a roasting pan, lined with foil if you like for easier cleanup. Put onions in another roasting pan with 4 teaspoons olive oil. Put both pans in oven.
Roast squash, turning once, about 50 minutes, or until tender. Roast onions, stirring 2 or 3 times, until tender and golden brown, about 45 to 55 minutes.
When squash is cool enough to handle, cut in bite-size cubes and transfer to a large bowl. Add roasted onions.
Cook half the green beans in a saucepan boiling water to cover over medium heat until just tender, about 6 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon, rinse and drain. Repeat with remaining green beans, reserving water. Rinse beans and drain well. Transfer to a bowl and add 1 or 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add zucchini, salt and pepper. Sauté about 5 or 6 minutes or until tender. Remove from pan.
Add corn to pan from cooking zucchini. Add enough of green bean cooking liquid to cover corn and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil 1 minute. Remove corn with slotted spoon.
Mix zucchini, corn, cooked white beans, 3 tablespoons cooking liquid, 3 teaspoons olive oil and the pepper flakes. Add to bowl of squash and mix gently. Add green beans and mix gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature.