YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Lovely, Lovely Legumes

Many years ago, my then-vegetarian sister had a boyfriend whose mother served her “bean loaf” on her first visit to their home. Its dreadful and unappetizing name was nothing like its fabulous flavor. So we renamed it “chickpea pie,” and it ended up sticking around for much longer than the vegetarianism. And the boyfriend.

We learn a lot of important things in our kitchens and at our tables. Some of these I learned in my own home, and others in the homes of my friends, neighbors, and grandparents:

“Eat your vegetables”
“Chew your food”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”
“Eat slowly”
“Don’t eat standing up”
“Eat close to the garden”
“Don’t buy products whose ingredients you can’t pronounce”
“Don’t buy products with more than four or five ingredients”
“Choose foods that have been through as few machines as possible”
“The more colors on your plate, the better” [my favorite]

All are different ways of saying “Eat food, not manufactured calories.” There’s more to these sayings than meets the eye. We have a lot of innate knowledge about food. Did you know that the lauric acid in chicken fat probably has antiviral properties? That makes so much sense. Everyone knows about drinking chicken soup when you’re sick. It turns out it’s not just about the steam.  

Then there are beans. Beans are the only food high in both protein and fiber at the same time, and that’s what makes them so nutritious and satisfying. Every kid knows that beans are magic, and every culture has a “Jack & the Beanstalk” story. Beans reduce your risk of diabetes and obesity. Considering they’re so good for us, however, we don’t eat enough of them. People aren’t sure what to do with them. With the industrialization of the food supply over the past 100 years, a lot of our home-based food wisdom has been lost, and beans have been a major casualty. Beans can be grown, soaked, sprouted, slow-cooked, and dried. 

I’ve collected a few good bean recipes here for you. They all have the same approach, which is to say 1) collect a bunch of ingredients, 2) throw them into a covered pot, and 3) cook them over low heat for a pretty long time. If you want to keep it vegan, that’s great. On the other hand, if  you want to add a meat bone or a piece of flank steak or a few turkey meatballs, then go right ahead. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

1. Black-eyed peas with vegetables and pasta

1/2 lb. black-eyed peas, dry
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 c. tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 c. water
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. elbow macaroni, whole-wheat or black-bean pasta
1 c. chopped cooked spinach or greens
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar.

Boil the black-eyed peas in a large pot for 5 minutes, and drain. Add onion, carrots, pepper, pasta, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, hot pepper and olive oil. Add water to cover ingredients by 2 inches, cover the pot, and place in a 300F oven for 2-3 hours. Stir in the greens and vinegar. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.

2. White baked beans

1 heaping c. white navy beans, dry
1/4 c. chick peas, dry
1 large onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and sliced in small rounds
3 Tbsp. hot sauce
2 tbsp. honey
1 t. salt
4-5 c. water
4 whole eggs (raw, still in the shell) 

Start this recipe the night before you plan to eat it, or at least by 8 a.m. if it’s for dinner. Place all the ingredients in a deep casserole dish. Add enough water to cover the ingredients by two or three inches. Cover the pot and place in a 250F oven. After 2-3 hours, reduce heat to 200F.  Check the pot a few times to make sure there is enough water to just barely cover the beans. The eggs absorb the flavor across the shells to become the most amazing hard-boiled eggs you’ve ever eaten. 

3. Exotic white beans (Thank you, Jean!)

1 c. white beans, dry
1 large red onion, chopped
¼ c. sundried tomatoes
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 t. salt
1 Tbsp. thai roasted red chili paste
5 c. water  

Make this recipe just like #2 above, even though Jean said that, somehow, she cooked the beans at 350F for 3 hours, then 250F for 2 more hours, and then accidentally turned off the oven altogether. The beans stayed in the oven overnight, and they turned out soft and delicious anyway. All these recipes are very forgiving.

4. Black beans 

1 c. black beans, dry
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
3 medium-large tomatoes
2 oranges, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
3 tbsp. molasses
1 t. salt
5 c. water

Directions identical to #2.

“We know there is a deep reservoir of food wisdom out there, or else humans would not have survived to the extent we have. Much of this food wisdom is worth preserving and reviving and heeding.”  –Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Recipes to Watch the Leaves Fall By

Any day now, our kitchen counters will be covered in pumpkins and onions, and this week I have two simply extraordinary and delicious recipes for you to try. Both make a meal very special: if you’d like to test them in the next few weeks for any upcoming fall celebrations, go for it. Also, though not essential, if you have time to make the onions the day before, then I highly recommend it. As fabulous as they taste on day one, they taste even better the next day!

Glazed Braised Onions
1 1/2 lbs yellow onions, peeled
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 – 2 cups water
1 dry red chili pepper (optional)

Place onions in a single layer in a large flat frying pan. Cover the onions with the white wine, diluted with water. Mix together the olive oil, salt, sugar, dry red chili pepper, vinegar and tomato paste in a separate bowl, and then add to the onions. Cover and boil for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Continue to boil until the water is gone and the onions begin to glaze. Stir from time to time to prevent burning or sticking. Remember to discard the red chili before serving.

Stuffed Pumpkin
1 small-medium pumpkin
1 1/2 – 2 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 pound cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
1/3 cup half-n-half (organic)
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut a cap from the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle, making the cap large enough so you can put your hand inside the pumpkin to clear away the seeds and strings. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper. Place the pumpkin into either a frying pan with raised sides, or a Dutch oven just slightly larger than the pumpkin.

Toss together the rice, pumpkin seeds, cheese, garlic, and herbs. Season with pepper and pack the mix into the pumpkin until it is almost completely filled. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and a little bit more salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. The ingredients should be very moist. Replace the cap.

Bake the pumpkin 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the contents are bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Remove the cap for the final 20 minutes of baking so the top of the stuffing browns a bit. Serve in slices, like a pie. It’s really impressive. [You can also make a vegan version of this recipe with vegan cheddar and coconut cream.]


Bon appetit!

Gains and Losses

There is a clear connection to be made between stripped carbs, insulin release, and weight gain. High insulin levels cause us to gain weight and store fat. How does that happen? Little by little we are figuring it out. The fact that the obesity and diabetes epidemic continues to worsen day by day underscores that we are operating under a fundamental misconception: If things continue to get worse no matter how hard you try, it’s time to reexamine the fundamentals. The information we get from advertisements and cereal boxes is frankly inaccurate. I have a special name for the nutritional claims on food products: advertising. Continue reading


Last week, my friend Conner brought me a container of bamboo rice, a short-grain white rice infused with chlorophyll-rich bamboo shoots to turn the rice the color of pale green jade. I had never tasted bamboo rice before, and I wanted to prepare it in a way that decreases the rate of absorption, reducing the glycemic index as it were, so as to decrease the height of the sugar spike that it might cause. Though bamboo rice is not a whole-grain product, the chlorophyll provides a different type of benefit. Continue reading

Don’t Spike Your Blood Sugar!

Imagine a diabetic character on TV who suddenly begins to act a little strangely, but is not too confused to murmur, “I think my blood sugar is too low.” Everyone on screen runs for something sugary that the character will absorb quickly. Orange juice, or maybe Coke. Sweet drinks like juices and sodas, with up to 12 (!) teaspoons of sugar per can, are great for spiking your blood sugar. None for me, thanks. Continue reading

Should I Be Drinking Whole Milk?

After medical school, my friend Brian moved to Baltimore and became a pain management specialist. He wrote to ask my opinion about the newly re-constituted controversy about whole milk vs. skim milk. In Brian’s pain management practice, he has noticed that diabetic and pre-diabetic patients seem to struggle with more pain and arthritis than patients without these diagnoses.  

Continue reading

Food for Kids

Today we’re talking about food for kids. Some years ago a friend from medical school, Julie Kardos, joined forces with another pediatrician, Naline Lai, to launch an award-winning blog for parents called “Two Peds in a Pod.” All three of us have serious concerns about the food-like products that are marketed to young ones. I had mentioned to them that when my adult patients used to show up with children in tow, I would often see the little ones’ rounded bellies shrink to normal size as their families began to purchase, prepare, and eat more nourishing food. When Dr. Julie heard that, she said “The adults you treat are the ones packing the lunches of the kids that I treat.” Right. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Red Cabbage with a Buzz

When I saw this recipe I knew it was for me. Generally speaking, cabbage is one of those foods that is very underrated — especially the red kind. This recipe is a red-green party, lunch for a week with spicy, crunchy, sour power! Make some for you, or your gang, or the office potluck! Continue reading