‘Superfoods’ are all about useful nutrients

  • Bonnie S. Benwick The Washington Post
  • Thursday, January 30, 2014 8:46pm
  • Life

Eating something that’s good for your innards is downright empowering — more about what you can have than what you must do without.

In their unadorned state, “superfoods” deliver high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and/or phytochemicals; so says the International Food Information Council.

They have been described by health-food guru David Wolfe as a way “to get more nutrition with less eating.” Unless you don’t buy into the hype. “I don’t believe there is such a thing as a superfood,” says Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University.

“All plant foods — fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains — have useful nutrients. The whole point about diets is to vary food intake, because the nutrient contents of various foods differ and complement each other.”

The European Union even banned general use of the term “superfood” on labels in 2007, requiring scientific evidence to back up specific health claims — helps protect against heart disease! — for food and drink products made or sold within its member nations.

And yet, lists of what’s best and worst and in and out make 21st century citizens feel plugged in. So a basic lineup of superfoods has morphed from a d’oh-inspiring, sensible 10 (salmon, beans, yogurt, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kiwis, quinoa, nuts, eggs, berries) to an annual forecast of trending ingredients.

Canary seeds, salsify and the Japanese spice blend known as schichimi togarashi showed up on Prevention magazine’s superfoods list for 2014. How many of us have those on hand?

Nick Palermo, of Old Angler’s Inn in Potomac, Md., describes himself as someone who likes to cook in his own castle and likes to modernize classic American comfort food, without going “crazy or super-chemical” in the kitchen.

We found the boyish-looking, 32-year-old executive chef was already interested in incorporating a few superfoods into the inn’s specials — a somewhat undercover mission.

“You don’t really come to Old Angler’s to eat ‘healthy,’ ” he admits. “But you don’t really need a steak to feel fulfilled.”

Palermo is especially keen on quinoa, lentils and greens: “I like the flavors of all that stuff.” He’s also on a buddy plan to lose 20 pounds, along with pal Luis Santiago, the inn’s general manager.

The chef went with turkey. His turkey cassoulet fits the season; leaner and less daunting than a three-page Julia Child rendition, it still evokes the richness of the French casserole.

He’d rather we use home-cooked beans than canned.

A chef’s deft touches, joining forces with the power of superfoods. We could get used to that.

Turkey Cassoulet

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, preferably European (with a higher butterfat content)

6-8 ounces slab bacon, preferably applewood-smoked (may substitute thick-cut pieces of turkey bacon or a flavorful turkey sausage, casings removed), cut into ½-inch dice

1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless turkey thighs (fat trimmed off), cut into bite-size chunks

¼ cup diced yellow onion or white onion

2 tablespoons diced carrot (carrot first well scrubbed)

2 tablespoons diced celery

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 15-ounce can crushed no-salt-added tomatoes (optional)

1 15-ounce can (about 2 cups) low-sodium cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 cup homemade or low-sodium turkey broth (see Note)

½ cup plain panko bread crumbs

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large stove-top casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon (to taste) and stir to coat. Cook until the bacon starts to crisp and brown on the edges and its fat has rendered, then add the turkey and stir to coat, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook just until it loses its raw look, then add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic, stirring to coat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and fragrant. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, if using.

Add the beans, stirring to incorporate. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then stir in the parsley and the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter (to taste). Once the butter has been completely incorporated, stir in the broth. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. The mixture should look like a thin stew at this point.

Cover and transfer to the oven, or divide among 4 or 5 individual gratin dishes; bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the turkey is quite tender. (Baking may take less time in the small gratin dishes.) The mixture should be thickened.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the surface of the cassoulet with the panko and cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Serve hot.

Note: To make 4 cups of turkey broth, roast 3 turkey necks, 1 medium onion, 1 medium carrot and 1 rib of celery on an aluminum-foil-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Transfer to a pot over medium-high heat; make a space at the center to add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, and cook for 1 minute before stirring to coat the vegetables. Cover with 4 cups of water and bring just to a boil, skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the surface, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours. Strain out the solids.

Makes 5 or 6 servings.

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