Vegetables go from “okay” to “awesome” with this recipe for Cacik, a Turkish yogurt dip made with plain Greek yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, spinach, cucumber, dill, and mint and then creatively adorned with a bulgur and romaine lettuce salad and whole wheat pita triangles for dipping.
Source: Ana Sortun, as presented at the 2018 Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives® conference. Published with permission from the author. All rights reserved
Teaching people how to cook nutritious, delicious, and affordable meals for themselves and their families takes a village. But what if that “village” isn’t comfortable in the kitchen or up to speed on the latest scientific advice on “healthy” versus less healthy or unhealthy diets? To the rescue is Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives, an innovative partnership between the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and chefs from The Culinary Institute of America.
Held at the CIA’s Greystone campus, HKHL is a three-day conference where doctors, nurses, dietitians and other health professionals learn about current research on the link between diet and health, observe culinary demonstrations from top chefs, and attend hands-on cooking classes in the CIA kitchens. The goal is to send attendees back to their communities to establish teaching kitchens where they can role model, coach, and teach their patients how to purchase, prepare, and enjoy an array of nourishing foods. The goal of a teaching kitchen is to improve lifestyles and reduce the risk of diet-related illnesses. Since the program began in 2007, teaching kitchens have sprung up in hospitals, K-12 schools, and corporate work places.
I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Dr. David Eisenberg, founding Co-Director of the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference, speak about ways to motivate people to eat, cook, and move more wisely and how our genes are not our destiny. Other insights and research shared:
– Since 1980, adult diabetes has quadrupled.
– If we continue on the current course, 60% of 2-year olds today will likely be obese as adults.
– People who eat more meals prepared at home have a lower risk of developing diabetes.
– Time spent cooking at home reduces obesity risk. People in France, Norway, and Japan spend the most time cooking and have the lowest obesity rates.
– And he demonstrated how to make a whole grain couscous dish brimming with nuts, fresh herbs, dried fruit, and a lemon and EVOO dressing.
I attended HKHL as “media,” but I too had an opportunity to sit in on lectures, watch savvy chefs like Julia Nordgren, MD from Dr. Julia Cooks and Boston-based chef and cookbook author, Ana Sortun (photographed above) prepare vegetables in a way that no kid could resist, and attend a few workshops.
Read on for highlights from my experience at the conference and a minty, lemony, veggie-filled recipe for Cacik.
For my hands-on cooking class, I chose a whole grains cooking experience led by Chef Tod Kawachi from the CIA. Our group was assigned several grain-based recipes to prepare including Quinoa Salad with Mangoes and Curry Dressing, Mediterranean Grain Medley, and Cacik topped with barley salad, which I prepared with a doctor from Boston.
“In the pursuit of deliciousness, whole grains can really shine.” – Kristen Rasmussen de Vasquez, MS, RD (CIA)
- 12 ounces spinach, stemmed
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 cups plain, whole milk Greek yogurt
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup finely chopped green onions
- 1 Persian cucumber, split in half, seeded, and cut into small dice or ⅓ of an English cucumber
- 1½ teaspoons dried mint or spearmint
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or spearmint
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- ¼ extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 romaine lettuce leaves, cut into thin ribbons
- ⅓ cup pearled barley or bulgur, cooked
- 1 teaspoon red chili flakes or Maras peppers, to taste
- Whole wheat pita bread, cut into triangles for serving
- Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the spinach and cook until the spinach is softened, about 2 minutes. Drain immediately and run cold water over it until cool enough to handle.
- Squeeze the water out by picking up small handfuls and squeezing as hard as you can between the palms of your hands. You should end up with ⅓ to ½ cup. Finely chop the spinach.
- In a small mixing bowl stir the garlic and the lemon juice until combined. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and let stand for about 5 minutes to lightly pickle the garlic.
- Stir in the yogurt and season with 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste.
- Add the spinach, green onions, cucumbers, parsley, fresh mint, dill, dried mint and 2 tablespoons olive oil and stir until everything is coated with the thick yogurt.
- Toss the thinly sliced romaine with the cooked barley, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt to taste.
- Serve the cacik in a bowl and make a well in the center of it using the back of a spoon. Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil into the well and sprinkle with the red chili flakes. Top with the romaine salad and serve at room temperature or cold with pita bread for dipping. Store covered in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
Peppered throughout the conference was a big emphasis on plant-based diets from regions like the Mediterranean and a discussion about issues of affordability, access, and sustainability.
So much great advice was dispensed at the conference. I loved this quote from Julia Nordgren, MD who said, “When you’re grocery shopping, don’t give your kids your cell phone as a distraction. Hand them an artichoke instead.”
Imagine a future where doctors prescribe cooking lessons before pills and where everyone has an opportunity to learn how to cook up healthy and delicious meals easily for their families. That day may be sooner than you think!