Okay three cheers for butter! But now what are we suppose to do?

My mother and I disagreed about a lot of things, but butter was right up there near the top of the list. She thought margarine was healthier and I thought butter tasted better. Kids never win these debates, but you know exactly what I did as soon as I grew up. That’s right, I used butter. OMG did I use butter!

Nothing like living and cooking in France to encourage a lavish use of butter and we were going through a pound a week easy. As all good things come to an end, so did my butter indulgence. My cooking horizons expanded. Olive oil moved into my pantry replacing butter as my fat of choice. And along the way, before I actually went back to study nutrition, I picked up one of those pivotal books in my culinary nutrition education.

The original Laurel’s Kitchen came out of the Berkeley counter culture vegetarian movement and was published 1976. My version, The New Lauren’s Kitchen was published about 10 years later and is still in print today, a testament to the book’s enduring value and our collective hunger for healthy eating.  Reduced fat was the nutritional byword at that time, but even back then we loved out butter and Laurel offered an ingenious solution.

As she put it in the preface for the Better-Butter recipe: “This is surely one of the most popular of all our recipes. It offers an easy spreading alternative to margarine, which can otherwise be the most highly processed — and salted — food in a natural foods kitchen. Better-Butter combines butter (for flavor) with the unsaturated fats of good-quality oil. The result is a spread that’s as low in saturated fat as margarine, but without hydrogenation, processing, and additives.”

Note that the comparison with margarine was made prior to the arrival of soft spreads.

The battle between butter versus margarine rages to this day.  Industrial production versus the real thing. Fresh, natural, organic butter churned from grass fed, pastured raised cows versus phytosterol enhanced, expeller expressed soft spread from nonGMO grown, mono-unsaturated canola oil.

Being older now and hopefully wiser, this dietitian still finds herself sitting right in the middle in the line of fire from both sides. There is evidence to support the argument that saturated fats should be minimized and replaced with polyunsaturated fats. And there is evidence to support the argument that saturated fats are actually not the most toxic natural substance known to mankind and their potential for harm has been overstated.

If butter is your thing, this dietitian says enjoy it but exercise moderation just in case. If soft spread is your thing, this dietitian says enjoy it and feel confident that the product has been engineered to eliminate those truly unhealthy hydrogenated fatty acids.

And for those of you looking for a third option, give better-butter a try. Half butter and half olive oil is a credible, good tasting alternative. The original recipe used volume measure, but being the nutrition nerd I am, my preference is to use the scale and do weight measurement. Both ways work.

Better-butter is a great tasting homemade do it yourself alternative.

And Laurel was right about one more thing. Even just out of the refrigerator, better-butter really is easy spreading. And that is the really cool part.

It’s illegal to label my green salad healthy!

mesclum mix | gourmet-metrics
mesclum mix | gourmet-metrics


Like pornography, healthy food might be tough to define but you know it when you see it. Now a simple green salad should be the picture of healthy. Right? But since healthy means different things in different contexts, defining healthy gets confusing at times.

Take the green salad I am serving tonight. The choice of greens always depends on availability so some mesclun from my local greenmarket will serve as the base. A handful on each plate, a few tomato pieces (still not seasonal I admit), some thinly sliced scallion, and for the final touch, a tablespoon or two home crafted vinaigrette made with a fine California Arbequina, some sherry vinegar, and salt. Delicious? Yes. Healthy? Of course. Who would say no?

Those rich dark greens and shades of almost purple are the colors of healthy.

Not boring or austere thanks to good oil, salt, and pristine greens. Not too much sodium. Nutrition points for dark green vegetables. Expensive, local, fresh, and natural. Organic? Now that one I am not completely sure about. The mesclun is probably organic. But tomatoes and scallions? Just not sure.

And the vinaigrette is not unprocessed. Grinding olives to olive oil is complex, but the oil is unfiltered with shades of green in the sunlight and was pressed within the last 6 months so I am am going to say “good” processed. As far as the salt and the vinegar, those two products are complex too.

Looking at the nutrition numbers, the fatty acid ratio is excellent. Well above the ratio recommended by the Healthy Eating Index. This ration is a calculation used by nutritionist nerds like me to evaluate the quality of the fat for clients who want to reduce dietary saturated fat.

My plate of salad counts for about 180 calories out of my usual dinner of 700 to 800 calories.

So far so good. Eating salads before the meal makes good nutrition sense for two reasons. First it is nutrient dense. And second, salads fill you up so you are less likely to devour the main course.

But think about this scenario. And until the FDA finalizes nutrition guidelines for restaurant menu labeling, we won’t know for sure. As an off the shelf product, my salad could not be labeled healthy. Sodium is okay, but there is too much fat and too much saturated fat. What that means is that if the restrictive labeling criteria remain intact when the restaurant regulations are finalized, it would be technically illegal for a restaurant or deli take out to label my salad healthy. That’s what I mean about healthy meaning different things in different contexts.

I am still going to give it a healthy thumbs up.

How about you?

Celery Root Salad

celeriac, fennel, and avocado salad

Celery root makes no claim to beauty.  It is a knurled, knobby, usually dirty, dull, brown root also called celeriac.  Peeled, grated, and dressed, however, celeriac presents well.  The inspiration for the salad was a picture in La Cucina Italiana.  Don’t think I even bothered to follow the recipe, just started with the root and worked out the proportions from there.  Using the fennel was an afterthought, but a good one since it adds a hint of licorice and a characteristic crunch.  I make this salad a lot during the fall and early winter when celery root is available at the GreenMarket here in New York.  Making a salad does not require the same precise measurement as baking a cake, but knowing the weights is useful for shopping, developing a ratio, or expanding the recipe to serve a crowd.  Look for a medium celery root about 1 pound or 450 grams and a fennel bulb about ⅔ pound or 300 grams.  Proportions listed below make about 1 ¼ liter or about 5 cups.





1 celery root, about 5 cups grated or 300 grams

½ fennel bulb, finely sliced, about ¾ cup or 100 grams

haas avocado, 1 whole or about 240 grams as purchased

extra virgin olive oil, 4 tablespoons or 60ml

lemons , 1 to 2 depending on taste

3 scallions, trimmed & chopped, about ½ cup or 50 grams

fresh parsley, chopped, ¼ cup  or 15 grams

Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon  or 15 grams

flake style salt , ¼ teaspoon  or 700 mg


Assemble all ingredients except avocado.  Wash celeriac, fennel, scallions, and parsley.  Trim and thinly slice fennel.  Trim and chop scallions and parsley.  Juice one lemon.  And finally peel and grate the celeriac.  Celery root oxidizes quickly; the acid of the lemon juice protects against oxidation retaining the root’s creamy white color.    Put the grated root in a large bowl and stir in a couple tablespoons lemon juice.  Add fennel, olive oil, scallions, parsley, mustard, salt, and stir well.  Add the rest of the lemon juice to taste and adjust seasoning.  Not everyone likes the same level of acidity and not all lemons are created acid equal, so it is important to taste at this step and to know the preferences of the eaters at your table.    Use the second lemon if needed.  Transfer to storage container and hold in refrigerator.  About half an hour before serving, remove salad and transfer to serving dish.  Cut avocado in half, remove seed, peel, and cut in wedges.  Make a border around the parameter of the serving dish using the avocado.  Serve the salad at room temperature or slightly chilled.


Calories are the best food metric to manage portion size.  Most people use common sense.  Divide the salad into 4 parts and one serving provides 240 calories.  Divide it into 6 parts and one serving provides 160 calories.  Others prefer common measure.  Analysts like me prefer calories per gram.  That number lets you calculate any serving weight required as well as the calorie density of the item in question.  This salad worked out to be 126 calories per 100 grams.  Less than a baked potato at 193 calories per 100 grams but more that steamed broccoli at 28 calories per 100 grams.  Why?  Because this salad is not low fat.  Olive oil and avocado, however, are over 80% unsaturated and considered to be the healthy kind of fat.  The analysis below is for 6 servings:

Per Serving (126 g each): Calories 160, Fat 14g, Saturated Fat 2.0g, Sodium 140mg, Carbohydrate 10g, Fiber 4g, Protein 2g.  Vitamin A 8%, Vitamin C 25%, Calcium 4%, Iron 6%.




ratatouille — my tribute to Julia Child

Julia Child was our first celebrity chef.  She changed the way Americans think about food, encouraged us to eat better, and inspired us to cook more often.

She was not afraid of fat and in retrospect we can say she was slightly ahead of her time.  Ongoing research is chipping away at our fat fobic fears, the latest piece being a study published recently finding no connection between dairy fat or butter and subsequent cardiac death.  She would have liked that a lot.  And so do I.

She is reputed to have used unpleasant words like “nutrition terrorist” or “food nazi” when referring my fellow dieticians.  And in many ways, I am with her on that one too.

But I have to confess, her recipes never did it for me.  Loved her presence, loved her attitude, loved her influence on the American palate, but I did not like the way she wrote her recipes and, through I was given her two volume set as a wedding present, I have only used the books once.  By the time I got married, I had already lived in France and was committed to la cuisine française.  But we were hosting a Sunday brunch and among the dishes I prepared was her version of ratatouille, an eggplant casserole.  Julia warned that a really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make because each vegetable was to be cooked separately.  She was right.  Her method probably does make a more elegant and refined dish.  But I confess, I do not have the patience, so the recipe that follows is my simplified adaptation.   I have also take the liberty to add back in metric measures she so meticulously replaced with cups as she was putting her book together.

INGREDIENTS for 4 to 6 people

eggplant, 1 small, generous ½ pound or 250 grams

zucchini, 1 to 2, generous ½ pound or 250 grams

flake salt, about 1 ¾ teaspoons or 5 grams

extra virgin olive oil, 4 tablespoon / 60 ml

garlic clove, 2 each or 6 grams

yellow onion, medium, generous ½ pound or 250 grams

red or yellow peppers, 2 to 3, generous ½ pound or 250 grams

tomatoes, 1 pound or 450 grams


Wash all vegetables.   Remove stem from eggplant and cut in pieces.     Julia’ version says to peel the eggplant, but I would rather leave the skin on because it adds good color.  Slice off the ends of the zucchini and cut in rounds.  Julia wants us to salt the vegetables and let them stand for about 30 minutes to render their water.  I tend to skip this step.  Peel and slice onion.  Peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes. Remove stem and core from peppers and chop in pieces.  Peel and crush garlic.

Julia lays out an elaborate sequence for cooking each vegetable separately.  This method, however, will work and to my taste is somewhere between almost and just as good.  Soften onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil and gently cook them until they turn translucent, begin to caramelize, and turn light brown.  Add the tomatoes and gently simmer for several minutes.  Then add eggplant, zucchini rounds, peppers, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and remaining olive oil.  Cook covered to encourage the vegetables to sweat out the water, then remove the cover so that excess liquid can evaporate.  Keep heat medium to low to avoid scorching.  Simmer until vegetables have softened and excess water has been reduced, but the vegetables retain their shape and texture.  In a pinch, pour off excess liquid, reduce in another pan, and add back to vegetables.  Serve hot as a vegetable accompaniment; serve cold as an appetizer.


Proportions noted above will make about 4 cups cooked vegetables.  Served as a hot vegetable to accompany the protein of your choice or as a cold appetizer garnished with chopped parsley, recipe makes 6 servings 130 calories each.  Served as a main course with a slice or two of ham and some crusty bread, recipe makes 4 servings 200 calories each

Recipe inspired from Julia’s Eggplant Casserole — with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and zucchini.  Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, published by Alfred A Knopf, New York, 1967

Per Serving for 6 people: Calories 130, Fat 10g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Sodium 330mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber4g, Protein 2g.
Per Serving for 4 people: Calories 200, Fat 15g, Saturated Fat 2.0g, Sodium 500mg, Carbohydrate 18g, Fiber5g, Protein 3g.

Turkey Salad

turkey summer salad

turkey salad with greens and chickpeas

Protein, greens, legumes, vinaigrette, ready to go in 40 minutes — my kind of summer workday supper.  The turkey I use comes from an old school Italian grocery store in my neighborhood.  It is made on site so I guess that would make it an artisanal product.  However you call it, to my taste this turkey has better flavor and less salt intensity.  Other customers buy it sliced as a cold cut.  I get a chunk and make salad.

For the vinaigrette:

1 ⅔ tablespoons vinegar with acidity at least 6% (25ml)

½ teaspoon kosher style flake salt (1.7g)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (75ml)

dried herbs, basil, oregano

For the salad:

½ cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained (100 g)

¾ cup red cabbage, washed and coarsely shredded (50 g)

3 ½ cups washed assorted greens or mesclum mix (100 g)

½ cup washed, cored and coarsely chopped cherry tomatoes or 1 small local tomato in season (130 g)

1 fresh carrot peeled and grated  (90g)

2 scallions washed, trimmed, and chopped (50g)

1/3 pound piece roasted turkey breast cut into small pieces (150g)


Make the dressing in the bottom on a bowl with a 2 quart (2 liter) capacity.  Add the vinegar and salt.  Let salt dissolve.  Then add the olive oil and herbs.  Whisk until thoroughly emulsified.

Put chickpeas and cabbage in first, then greens, then carrot, scallion, and tomato. Arrange turkey pieces on top.  Mix salad just before serving.


Protein, greens, legumes, extra virgin olive oil – my kind of healthy!  Hard to go wrong with locally sourced vegetables.  Nutrition return is excellent – fiber, carotenoids, vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium.  The olive oil even enhances carotenoid absorption.  But calories still count.  So here is the scoop.  Proportions listed provide 500 to 600 calories per serving and work well for those of us have a vested interest in not eating too much on workdays.  For larger portions, count about 170 calories per cup (120g); for eaters at your table with robust appetites, add crusty bread and dessert.


Summer salad with turkey, greens, and chickpeas (1/2 recipe, 400g):  Calories 550, Fat 38g, Saturated Fat 5g, Sodium 420mg, Carbohydrate 27g, Fiber 8g, Protein 30g.  Vitamin A 280%, Vitamin C 60%, Calcium 10%, Iron 20%.

Carrot Salad

Grated Spring Carrot Salad 

Carrots.  One of my favorite kitchen stables and a vegetable for all seasons.  I always watch for tender new carrots when they start to appear in the GreenMarket in spring, so sweet and tender you can grate them without peeling most of the time, but I continue to make the salad through the summer.  Grated carrot salad stands by itself as an appetizer or accompanies other raw vegetables for a plate of spring crudités.

  • makes generous 4 cups

  • 170 calories per cup


spring carrots, 1 generous pound (500g)

scallions, 3 each (80 grams)

parsley, handful (10 grams)

classic vinaigrette, 6 tablespoons (90ml)

lemon, one whole


Wash and trim carrots.  Grate if necessary.  Wash, trim, and chop scallions and parsley.   Make the vinaigrette in the bottom of a salad bowl as follows.  First add 1 ½ tablespoons vinegar and stir in a generous pinch of salt.  Then add a generous 4 tablespoons good olive oil and whisk.  Add grated carrot, scallions, and parsley.  Mix well.  Adjust salt and add pepper to taste.  Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.


Do not expect salads to be low fat.  Vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and even the finest, freshest olive oil is 100% fat.  There is plenty of good nutrition in a plate of this carrot salad — carotenoids, fiber, vitamin C, monounsaturated i.e. healthy fats, polyphenols.  Moreover, the carotenoids are better absorbed in the presence of fat.  But despite all this good stuff, current regulatory language does not permit me to label this a “healthy” salad.  Too much fat!

Grated Spring Carrots With Scallion & Parsley,  1  cup (150g):  Calories 170, Fat 15g, Saturated Fat 2g, Sodium 210mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber 3g, Protein 1g.

Clams & Linguine

Fresh, local, and in season depends on where you live and what is accessible.  During the summer, I have easy access to clams because my local greenmarket is on the south shore of Long Island and offers a constant supply of fresh, local fish and shellfish.  All last summer I cooked flounder, bluefish, porgies, tuna, even a swordfish caught off Montauk Point.  And all last year I kept looking at those delicate Long Island little neck clams.  I never bought them because I’m just not used to clams.  Love to eat them and never cooked them.  So this year I decided to do it.  How else can you keep on learning if you don’t try new things?  I pulled out my best reference sources, put together a starting structure, and am ready to share the results.  Steaming little neck clams open is easy once you get the hang of it.  I used a 3 liter pot (actually the bottom of my steamer) as you can see in the picture below.  White wine or dry vermouth can be substituted for all or part of the water needed to steam the clams.  100 grams linguine gripped firmly in the hand measures about ¾ inches or 2 cm in diameter.  You will also need a medium sized sauté pan and a 2 liter saucepan to cook the pasta.  Proportions listed below are for 2 modest servings.

Linguine and Clam Sauce

makes 2 cups

cost $11

serves 2

440 calories per serving


2 dozen little neck clams (about 900g measured raw in shell), scrubbed and de-sanded as required

1 cup water (¼ liter) for steaming

4 robust cloves fresh garlic (25g), peeled and smashed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (30ml)

⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon oregano

3 ½ ounces dry linguine (100g), made with 100% hard durum wheat or semolina flour

½ cup chopped parsley (15g)

Assemble all ingredients before starting.

Bring water to boil in the bottom of a large pot.  When the water is boiling, add the clams.  As the clams open, remove each one carefully to a bowl retaining every drop of the flavorful liquid.   Steaming the clams open takes about 5 minutes.  As soon as the shells are cool, remove clams from shells.  Keep clams in a small bowl and strain the remaining liquid to remove any remaining sand or grit.  Put aside keeping clams and juice separate.  As the clams are steaming, add olive oil to the sauté pan and slowly soften garlic over low heat.  Add crushed red pepper and oregano to garlic oil, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes.  Add reserved clam juice, increase heat, and reduce volume to about half.  Keep sauce warm.

Cook linguine al dente in salted water.  Remove with a pasta fork and transfer to the sauté pan.  Retain cooking water.  Stir in clams and parsley.  If more liquid is required, add some from the pasta cooking water.  Serve immediately.


Clams are a significant source of protein as well as many essential vitamins and minerals.  Olive oil is a natural source of oleic acid.

Total fat exceeds “healthy” limits, but please remember to put this disclaimer in the context of the great fat debate.  Saturated fats are within “healthy” range.  Your may be asking where does the saturated fat come from?  It is the olive oil.  Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, olive also contains a fraction (14%) saturated fatty acid so a couple tablespoons adds up.  Sodium is within the current standard of less than 480mg per serving and 140mg per 100 grams.   Now let’s step back a moment and consider carbohydrate metrics.    My favorite Italian recipe source, Le Reccette Regionali Italiane, lists 100 grams dry pasta per person.    My version reduces that amount by half to 50 grams per person.    My preference is less pasta and more clams.  But that’s the joy of cooking!  It is completely up to you.

References:  Le Riccette Regionali Italiane (La Cucina Italiana, Quart edizione: settembre 1976), Fish without a doubt, Rick Moonen (Houghton Mifflin Company 2008)


Pper Serving (255g):  440 Calories, Fat 17g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  240mg, Carbohydrate  45g, Fiber 3g, Protein  25g.
Excellent  Source:  Protein, Vitamin A,  Vitamins B1,  B2, B3, B12, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron. 
Good Source: Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc.  

Salad Dressing

Salads are quicker to make when the dressing is handy, so I have always had a bottle of one of the respectable brand names waiting and ready to go. Then one day about a year ago, I read the label. No extra virgin olive oil! I checked other labels and discovered that most of the bottled dressings had no olive oil. Even the most expensive, most prestigious brands! The best I could find was a mention of extra virgin in the list of ingredients along with other oils. So I started experimenting and ended up with this superb dressing. It is significantly more expensive to make and somewhat more cumbersome to use, but the exceptionally fine flavors and clean taste of the vinaigrette for me at least are worth any extra effort and cost.

makes 14 fluid ounces (400g)

cost $12 per carafe

yield 28 tablespoons

90 calories per tablespoon


300 ml (1 ¼ cup) moderately priced extra virgin olive oil

100 ml (6 tablespoons, 2 teaspoons) sherry vinegar, at least 6% acidity

2 teaspoons flake style salt (5.6g )

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Make the vinaigrette in a standard glass 2 cup (500ml) measuring cup.  Measure out ingredients in the order listed.  Using the metric side of the cup simplifies the process, but standard cup, tablespoon, teaspoon equivalents are also listed.  Beat the mixture into a state of emulsification using a wire whisk and pour vinaigrette into a 14 fluid ounce (420ml) storage carafe with a pouring spout.

Like some cooks and some dietitians I know, olive oil and vinegar need encouragement to share the same plate.  There are two options:  an emulsifier or brute force.  This vinaigrette has no emulsifier and therefore requires a lot of agitation.  It is easy to make, but can be cumbersome to use.  Once made, the carafe of vinaigrette should be stored in the refrigerator.  Olive oil gets cloudy and starts to congeal at that temperature.  Bring the vinaigrette to room temperature and shake vigorously before pouring.


How much dressing you use depends on the size and composition of the salad and of course on your personal preference.   For a small salad appetizer, 1 tablespoon or ½ serving is usually enough for me.  Extra virgin olive oil gets very expensive really fast.  This carafe was made with a moderately priced oil $16.99 per 500ml.  Sometimes I use an even more moderately priced oil $11.99 per 500ml and the carafe only costs me about $9.  Going even cheaper, say $15.99 per liter (34 oz), the cost drops to under $7.  Expensive extra virgin olive oils start about $21.99 per 500ml and goes exponentially up from there.

Salad greens and intensely colored raw vegetables are loaded with carotenoids and other fat soluble phytonutrients.  Full fat salad dressings increase absorption rate so any oil based dressing is preferably to fat free dressings.  Extra virgin olive oil is a natural source of both monounsaturated fat and polyphenols.  Research on the antioxidant effects of dietary polyphenols has been promising and the FDA actually permits a qualified health claim for monounsaturated fat from olive oil and reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

My vinaigrette has a good sodium profile.  The 2014 National Salt Reduction Initiative sodium target for salad dressing is 570mg per 100g and my homemade version has 560 mg per 100g.  For comparison sake, a commercial off the shelf brand can be as high as 1500mg per 100g or more ….

While the health arguments are comforting and provide rational justification, the real reason I continue to make my own comes down to it just tastes better!


Per Tablespoon (14g): Calories 90, Fat 10g, Saturated Fat  1.5g, Sodium  80mg, Carbohydrate  0g, Fiber  0g, Protein  0g.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Sardine Sandwich with Horseradish Mayonnaise

I love sardine sandwiches.  Always have.  I learned how to make them from my mom.  She used red onion, some mustard, some lettuce, and always a robust whole grain wheat bread.  So I was pleased to see two version of the sandwich honored recently in The Sandwich Issue of SAVEUR Magazine and delighted to fine both versions were provided by Michael Colameco, an engaging and knowledgeable New York City food writer and broadcaster.

The moment was right and the version with the horseradish mayonnaise caught my eye.  A can of slightly smoked Portuguese sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil was sitting in my cupboard ready to go.  Next to the sardines was a jar of imported roasted red peppers from Italy.  With some improvisation in the making of the horseradish cream and a quick switch from lettuce to arugula, I put together my amateur’s version.  But I stayed with the whole wheat bread.  We never used rye bread when I was growing up in California.  And it is heresy to admit this, but I have never really developed a taste for rye despite the great selection that is now available to me living in New York.

My amateur version is detailed below.  For Chef Mike’s version, check out SAVEUR #137 The Sandwich Issue for his Sardine Sandwich with Horseradish Cream.


makes 2 open faced sandwiches

cost $7.00

calories 660

serves 2

330 calories per serving


2 to 4 pieces thinly sliced red onion (30g)

2 tablespoons (30g) mayonnaise

1 teaspoon (1.6g) horseradish powder dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

2 large pieces (100g) multi grain or whole grain wheat bread

10  arugula leaves (20g), trimmed and washed

4 ¼ ounce tin sardines (120g), packed in oil and drained

1 piece roasted red pepper (85g) cut into slices

Incorporate the horseradish powder into the mayonnaise about 20 minutes before assembling the sandwich and keep refrigerated.  Assemble the rest of the ingredients.  Toast the bread.  Start by spreading the horseradish sauce on the toasted bread.  Place the arugula leaves and sliced onion on next.  Remove the sardines from the tin, divide in half, and arrange on top of the onion slices.  Now garnish with the slices of roasted red pepper.  Finish with some black pepper and an optional dash of salt.


There are many good nutrition based reasons to enjoy this sardine sandwich.  In return for slightly “unhealthy” levels of fat and sodium, you get exceptionally “healthy” levels protein and fiber, an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, and a respectable amount of omega-3 fatty acids.  This one really needs to be put in a manageable context.  When going out to a diner or a deli, comparatively speaking the sardine sandwich is one of the healthiest items on the menu.   When deciding between a tuna sandwich or a sardine sandwich, the sardine sandwich definitely has the edge.

How to determine when the risks out way the benefits continues to be a raging debate.  There is a saying I heard first in the business world but which, I have just discovered, can actually be attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:  The perfect is the enemy of the good.   I am beginning to wish the nutrition experts were better read in Enlightenment philosophy.


Per Serving (162g):  Calories 320, Fat 19g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  630mg, Carbohydrate  18g, Fiber  5g, Protein  17g.  
Excellent Source:  protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12.
Good Source:  iron, niacin.

Spinach with Currants & Walnuts

makes 2 cups

cost $6.00

serves 4

150 calories per serving

This complex richly flavored dish is best balanced against a simple braised protein like fish or served on its own as an appetizer.  A robust, loose leaf spinach works best, but sometimes this spinach can be hard to find.  I am lucky enough to have a local grocer who carries the real thing all year round.  And since I live in New York City, that means shipping spinach in from California or Texas when local product is not available.  Alternatives are bagged, pre-washed, or hydroponically grown spinach.  For me the taste and texture of the real thing are worth it, but it is a personal decision.  Waiting for local product would have reduced the cost, but what can I say.  I was impatient!

Spinach grows best in sandy soil and each leaf requires washing several times to remove any little pieces of grit that may have lodged in the crevices.  So spinach whether transported or grown locally can be time consuming.  My first encounter with the combination of spinach, nuts, and fruit was in Claudia Rodin’s wonderful book The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  Her version calls for pine nuts but I use walnuts.  I always have a few walnuts on hand and I prefer the taste.


1 ⅓ pound spinach as purchased fresh and untrimmed (600g)

1 whole shallot (65g) peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (15ml)

¼ teaspoon flake salt

4 tablespoons chopped walnuts (30g), about 6 walnuts as purchased in shell

2  tablespoons currants (30g)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (15ml)

2 teaspoon first cold pressed olive oil (10ml)

Trim stems and roots from the spinach, wash thoroughly, chop into large pieces, and spin dry in a salad spinner.  Remove walnuts from shell and chop.  Refresh currants by covering with hot water and letting them soften for about 10 minutes.  Assemble other ingredients.

Sauté scallions in olive oil using a sauté pan that comes with a cover and is large enough to hold all the spinach.  When the shallots have softened and turned translucent, add balsamic vinegar and let most of it evaporate.  Then add the chopped walnuts, softened currants, and finally the spinach, pressing the spinach down into the pan.  Do not add any additional water.  Cover and leave over low heat until the spinach softens into a mass.  Incorporate the walnuts and currant evenly into the spinach and finish with remaining cold pressed olive oil.  Tastes as good at room temperature as it does served hot.


The experts agree that spinach is a healthy food.  A dark green vegetable as per MyPyramid.   A source of essential micro-nutrients as per Nutrition Facts Label.  The experts however do not agree about fat.  Using olive oil in classic proportions will always exceed the austere requirement of 3 grams per serving* required by the FDA to label a preparation “healthy.”  The role of fat in the diet, especially unsaturated fats and oils, is becoming controversial and consensus has not been reached yet.

My friends and family take a liberalized approach to fats and olive oil and devour my spinach faster as I can wash the leaves with comments like “I can eat this all day!”  If good cooking is the art of creating food people love to eat, than smart cooking is using those skills to encourage people to eat healthy food.  So wouldn’t that mean that olive oil is serving a noble purpose?  But there I go again – me and my simplistic mind!


Per Serving  (114g):  Calories 150, Fat 11g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Sodium 125mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber 3g, Protein 4g.
Excellent source  vitamin A as beta-carotene, folate, magnesium.
Good source fiber, vitamin C, calcium, iron, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, potassium.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.