“I’m always going to err on the side of whole foods, that’s my philosophy.” Rebecca Katz
Rebecca Katz, author of One Bite at a Time and The Cancer Fighting Kitchen has come out with a new book and this time it is for the rest of us. In The Longevity Kitchen, Katz and her co-author Mat Edelson combine decades of practical cooking experience with up-to-date science on nutrition and disease prevention. The book is a feast for the senses, full of beautiful photos and recipes that burst with flavor.
(Get recipes for Golden Roasted Cauliflower and Bella’s Moroccan Spiced Sweet Potato Salad below)
Included in the book is a list of the Super 16 Power Foods, foods that “nibble for nibble offer the highest levels of antioxidants.” I liked the list, but it was missing some of my favorite medicinal foods. Where was the broccoli with its anti-cancer and hormone balancing effects; or turmeric, the potent anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer Asian spice? So, I was pleased to find that the second chapter of the book contained a culinary pharmacy -- a list of over 80 foods that are used as ingredients throughout the book along with their various health benefits. Here I found turmeric, medicinal mushrooms, broccoli and many more. There are also notes included with many of the recipes that talk about the health benefits of specific ingredients. These notes go into greater detail and explain the benefits of important foods that aren’t included in the Super 16 or the Culinary Pharmacy like flax seeds.
Here are the three major reasons why I found "The Longevity Kitchen" to be a valuable resource.
The first is quality. The ingredients in the recipes are truly health promoting. Katz emphasizes fresh, organic, unrefined foods in each recipe.
The second reason is that the book is almost entirely gluten-free. There are a few recipes that contain gluten but most include easy substitutions for people with sensitivities. In fact, many of the recipes are also free of eggs, dairy, soy and sugar making "The Longevity Kitchen" a valuable resource for people with allergies and special diets.
The third and most important reason is that the food actually tastes good. I have tested recipes from every section of the book, from Latin Kale to Mango Lassi and they have all been delicious. I have served these dishes to friends and even to my four-year-old twins. People love them. I got so many compliments on the Parsley Mint Drizzle that it felt like cheating; its only six ingredients in the blender after all.
As a naturopathic doctor I focus on optimal nutrition for each patient, and this often involves diet change. It is relatively easy for me to tell people what they should and shouldn’t eat. It is much harder to tell them how to prepare those foods. This book does an excellent job of bridging the gap and making healthy food accessible and flavorful. One caveat is that most of these recipes require some basic cooking skills to prepare. People who don’t already know how to chop, dice, mince or zest may need to brush up before attempting them.
This month I had the opportunity to interview Rebecca Katz about her new book and her philosophy on food. Excerpts from our interview are transcribed below. The content has been edited for length and clarity.
Your previous two books, "One Bite at a Time" and "The Cancer Fighting Kitchen" were specifically targeted to cancer patients and their families and this book is targeted to the general public. I’m wondering why you made that shift?
Katz: If I had one more person come up to me and say, “these books are great, but when are you going to write a book for the rest of us.” ...A lot of people are afraid of the word “cancer.” So even though the recipes in both of those books are yummy for everybody, number one -- people who have been through cancer and are on the other side don’t want to look at the word anymore. Number two -- there was a larger audience to reach. Many of the same rules apply when we are talking about eating for a cancer-fighting diet and eating for longevity. We are still dealing with the major chronic issues that we all face which are free radical damage, inflammation, and getting a lot of antioxidants. Nothing really changes. What changes is the way the story is told, but not the principles of eating. One of the challenges with this book, in dealing with the topic of longevity was how to grab people’s attention and make it relevant to their lives.
Absolutely, one of the things I experience in working with people with cancer is that I’ve become really passionate about prevention. You see all of the steps that led to the development of the disease and you want to help other people make changes earlier.
Katz: There are very few things in our lives that we have control over. But one of the things we do have control over is what we put in our bodies and it can be a joyful experience. We are talking about longevity and our connection with food being one of joy. This is a book about all of the things that you can have, not simply a list about all of the things that you can’t have.
I was really interested in your list of 16 foods. I was a little surprised to see coffee, chocolate and green tea on the list. We know that all of those foods have a very strong profile of phytochemicals. But I wonder if you believe that people need some level of stimulation to be optimally healthy and happy?
Katz: Honestly it was really hard to get it down to 16. Here was my criteria, number one was the antioxidant properties, number two was some of the latest research coming out on brain health which shows that a little stimulation can go a long way. But really every recipe and every ingredient in that book could be considered on that top sixteen. So I was really looking for a blend of nutrient dense, antioxidants, phytochemicals, the right amount of stimulation and I wanted people to look at that list and be able to recognize those foods. I also think there is a psychological component -- giving people permission to indulge in some of the foods that they resonate with. Food is such an emotional issue and if you take away everything, people really get upset. When I take something away, I always have to give something back. Just because you want to eat well and be healthy doesn’t mean you should be relegated to the sidelines.
How did you become a cookbook author, specifically one focusing on cancer prevention and longevity?
Katz: I had a motivation at the very beginning. My father was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2000. I took a leave of absence and went to take care of him and I didn’t know anything about cooking for people with cancer even though I was trained chef. There was nothing out there! There was nothing. So my father was my guinea pig. Food was the platform of his life, so it was not an option not to feed him well. Then I got a wonderful opportunity (to work) at Commonweal Cancer Health Program. I really believe, truly, in that connection to food and to being a nourisher -- I felt like I had found my calling. One Bite at a Time came out of my experience working with people individually and The Cancer Fighting Kitchen came out because there was so much new science appearing. I was now at a different level, I had gotten my masters of science in nutrition, I was witness to this evolution. I look back and think, wow what a wonderful gift.
I think that is the gift that everyone is looking for in a career, being able to find the thing that you are meant to do in the world and be paid for it.
Roasting cauliflower completely transforms it into a candy-like delight that yields to a gentle fork. The spices—cumin, coriander, and turmeric—really make this dish sing. Turmeric has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, and holds great promise for maintaining (and possibly improving) brain health.
1 medium head of cauliflower (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds) cut into 1 1/2 inch florets (about 8 cups)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley or cilantro
Place the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, turmeric and garlic. Spread the cauliflower mixture in an even layer on the prepared pan. Bake until the cauliflower is golden and tender, about 25 to 35 minutes. Toss with spritz with fresh lemon juice and parsley or cilantro.
Variations: If you’re not in a spicy mood, omit the spices and toss the cauliflower with olive, salt and pepper. You’ll love how sweet this vegetable tastes after its oven “sauna.”
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes
Storage: Store refrigerated in airtight container for 2 days
Notes: Chopping cauliflower releases enzymes that increase the bioavailability of its nutrients. Delaying cooking for 5-10 minutes after cutting helps insure that heat won’t destroy these enzymes’ effectiveness. Also, the enzymes need Vitamin C to activate, which can be accomplished with a hit of lemon or lime juice.
Bella’s Moroccan Spiced Sweet Potato Salad
This is proof that exposure to vegetables expands one’s horizons, whether they have two legs or four. My 8 year old Portuguese Water dog Bella had become known around our house for her love of carrots. She literally comes running every time she hears the carrot peeler come out of the drawer. We figured ‘hmmm, that’s different for a dog,’ and played the approving parents. Well, she’s expanded her palate (or maybe she just likes orange-colored veggies). Now she’s on to sweet potatoes. No sooner do they hit the counter, than she’s dancing and singing around my feet. I quarter and square off the potatoes so she gets the ends, and she’s been known to get some serious hang time under her paws as she leaps for a toss. Seriously, Air Bud has nothing on Bella. Maybe she heard about how good sweet potatoes are for health. Their natural sweetness is perfectly balanced with high fiber content, slowing the rush of sugar into your system. That’s great for vasculature and mood. All I can say is, whenever I make this salad, Bella’s awfully happy.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, diced small
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pound orange-fleshed sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (2 medium sweet potatoes)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt,
1/2 cup filtered water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (preferably blood orange)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoon lemon juice
12 pitted kalamata olives cut in half
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup toasted almonds or pistachios roughly chopped
Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat, then add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until onions are translucent and slightly golden. Add the ginger, cumin, paprika to the onions and sauté for 1 minute. Add the sweet potatoes, sea salt, the water, orange juice, and zests. Cook covered for 20 minutes, remove lid and continue cooking until potatoes are tender and the liquid is reduced to almost a glaze. Add the maple syrup and the lemon juice, and olives. Gently combine. Taste and add another pinch of salt or squeeze of lemon juice if desired. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and garnish with the parsley and nuts. Serve at room temperature.
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Storage: Store refrigerated in airtight container for 5 days.
Recipes courtesy of Rebecca Katz, The Longevity Kitchen