Virtuous chefs are forever trying to convince us that a healthy diet can still be rich in voluptuous flavors.
The meat-and-potatoes crowd — those who enjoy their steaks, buttery casseroles, cream sauces and who’ve never met a macaroni and cheese they didn’t like — don’t buy it.
But with “Good for You: Bold Flavors With Benefits,” chef Akhtar Nawab makes a persuasive case that gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan diets can be as intensely flavored and satisfying as any other. Fully versed in Indian, Mexican, Italian and Southern cuisines, Nawab doesn’t just practice a healthful-eating lifestyle, he’s the living proof it works.
The first-generation son of Indian parents, Nawab grew up in 1970s Louisville, Ky., “marked by white bread and ‘The Brady Bunch,’” he writes in “Good for You.” He was a chubby kid — his Muslim Indian mother was an accomplished home cook — who gained even more weight his first year in college, eventually topping 250 pounds.
After dropping out of college, he returned home and went on a “joyless” diet working with a nutritionist. Combined with exercise, he was able to lose weight. After culinary school in California in 1994, he went to work in the Bay Area, which led to working under superchef Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern, Craft and Craftbar in New York. Today, Nawab — who says he’s not vegan but calls his diet “plant forward” and mostly gluten-free — owns Alta Calidad in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Otra Vez in New Orleans.
‘Good for You:
Bold Flavors With Benefits’
By Akhtar Nawab
224 pages, $29.95
“Good for You” synthesizes Nawab’s secrets for making healthful food taste like not-so-healthful food. He accomplishes this by building flavor using spices, roasted chiles, herbs, aromatic brines, spiced marinades, seeds and nuts.
Flavor, he emphasizes, doesn’t always have to employ fats. Instead, his recipes benefit from concentrated tomato paste, romesco sauce, cashew purée and a vegan soubise that makes dishes taste like they are full of butter and cream. He developed the recipes for these building-block sauces and marinades by making full-fat recipes and then stripping away the unnecessary.
“From there, I replaced whatever I thought was missing with something that would add a nutritional benefit and amplify flavor,” he writes.
Seeing is believing: The cookbook’s photographs for dishes such as bison burger with paleo Thousand Island dressing; gluten-free bread (made with almond flour and ground flaxseed); pumpkin pancakes dripping with maple syrup; meatballs with cremini mushroom sauce; and turkey lasagna show that clean eating can be good eating.