A Conversation between Andrew Weil, M.D. and Rosey Daley, as they cook from their upcoming book, The Healthy Kitchen: Recipes for a Better Body, Life, and Spirit
Q. What makes The Healthy Kitchen different from your past works?
Weil: Well, first of all, it's a cookbook. And it is unique among cookbooks in that it contains a great deal of factual information about human nutrition. We've tried to emphasize that making knowledgeable food choices is central to creating a lifestyle that will maximize health, healing, and longevity. Our recipes allow readers to make easy dishes that will contribute to this lifestyle and will taste delicious. Both Rosie and I love to eat, and love to cook, and we've worked hard in this book to drive home the message that eating for health and eating for pleasure are not incompatible.
Daley: Absolutely. The crux of our collaboration is that eating should be about fulfillment, not denial. Eating is about fulfilling your body's metabolic and nutritional needs, but it's also about enjoying the tastes, textures, colors, and smells of good food. It's great for me to have someone like Andy as a partner, and all of us who are concerned with health and nutrition are lucky to have him as a voice of reason and encouragement.
Q. How did the the book come about?
Weil: Over the years, many people have suggested that I write a cookbook, because I’ve put recipes in all my books on health. However, I am a home cook, not a professional, and teaming up with Rosie–whom I knew by reputation long before we met in person–seemed like the perfect collaboration.
Daley: When I first met Andy, I realized that his encyclopedic knowledge of human nutrition would be a fantastic complement to my experience as a chef. So we talked about collaborating on a cookbook that would fill a gap in our culture. I think the book we’ve done is particularly timely, now that Americans are rethinking their priorities and making healthy eating one of them.
Q. Why have health foods for so many years ended up having that image of being dry and brown?
Weil: I know; I know. It's always granola.
Daley: Because many people don't know how to cook health food, is why. One of the things I like about cooking is how artistic it is, the way a meal looks when you use fresh, flavorful produce. I think that eating begins with the eyes. Seeing food and smelling it stimulates your appetite and enhances the eating experience. It gets you ready to eat. There is no excuse not to make a meal visually enticing; it's really easy.
Weil: Of course, the key factor is always how much you enjoy it.
Daley: Definitely. I find it tremendously exciting to cook with, serve, and eat really ripe vegetables. I never had any problem eating vegetables, and I'm always amazed that other people don't love them-
Weil: Well, a lot of vegetables are poorly prepared–
Q. Yours is a unique collaboration. What messages are you trying to get across to people in the book?
Weil: We want to show people that you can make very good food from fresh ingredients very quickly. You don't have to eat unhealthy additives and you don't have to eat food that has been treated in ways that are dangerous. Americans are eating much too much of that kind of food.
Daley: We're really helping people enhance their palettes and get more used to tasting food, instead of additives. We're hoping that there's something for everyone in the book. A lot of people these days don't have a lot of time, so sometimes they take shortcuts. We're just trying to help them feel that they can cook for themselves by giving them practical tips. Making a salad can give people pleasure. Serving and eating food that you have prepared yourself is satisfying both emotionally and physically.
Q. How can busy people fit time to cook into their schedules?
Weil: Mostly planning. You can make soup at the beginning of the week and it'll last the rest of the week. A lot of the recipes in the book are really fast.
Daley: We also discuss the importance and convenience of making things ahead of time, and how to make use of leftovers. You can make a turkey ahead of time, and then make sandwiches and make sauces, and take something with you to work so that you're snacking on it during the day. Cook ahead of time. If I am making a dish that calls for shrimp, I will cook a little extra and use it as shrimp cocktail the next evening. It's possible to use leftovers in a way that provides real variety and is not wasteful.
Q. Talk a little bit about vegetarianism.
Weil: Where you draw the line at what you're going to kill and eat is up to you. There are some people who think that vegetables have feelings as well. Some people like to say a grace before eating, thanking all the organisms that gave their lives to make the meal. Life lives at the expense of other life, so it's really a personal matter.
Weil: However, there are compelling health reasons to try to eat lower on the food chain. Large animals tend to accumulate all the toxins that are passed up through the food chain, which means larger things eating smaller things. When you're eating large animals for food, you're more likely to get material that your body doesn't want. Another consideration is that the raising of animals for food tends to be destructive to the environment. There are people who say that if people ate grains, instead of feeding the grains to the animals, we'd be able to feed a lot more people in the world. In that sense, meat-eating is an inefficient use of resources. So there are all sorts of reasons why people might want to at least reduce the percentage of animal foods in the diet, and I think it's important to be aware of the fact that alternatives exist, like baked tofu, which I find to be a very acceptable substitute for chicken, for example, in Rosie's grilled skewers.
Daley: And you eat seafood every once in a while.
Weil: Yes, and I'm excited to try your shrimp satays. They look very good.
Daley: I was worried that they weren't going to have enough flavor, but we did put a lot of spices in them. Now I am afraid that they will be too spicy.
Weil: Hey, it can't be too spicy for me! Let's add more.
Daley (laughs): When we first started this collaboration, I thought, oh, he's a purist, I'm going to have to be really careful. But this guy, he likes salt, he likes oil-
Weil: I like flavor.
Daley: Agreed! Of course, nothing ever quite equals the taste of fresh produce. Andy and I both think it’s important to use salt and spices to enhance-rather than overpower-good food. In my kitchen, I use primarily cold pressed extra virgin olive oil for cooking. Andy prefers grapeseed oil, because of its higher burning point.
Q. What are the worst types of food that people can eat?
Weil: There's been a great deal of propaganda and pressure-from the medical profession especially-that fat is evil. A lot of people have the idea that fat is the single worst element of the diet. I don't believe that. It's pretty obvious that despite anti-fat messages and despite the rash of non-fat and low-fat foods on the market, Americans have gotten steadily fatter. People are getting fatter because they eat too much, and too much of the wrong things. Additionally, many people are looking for black and white guidelines-fat bad, carbohydrates bad. It's not that simple.
Daley: And food doesn't fit just one category. The body can break down starches and store them as fat. It's important to incorporate starches and oils into a balanced, nutritious diet. Our aim is to make healthy eating second nature, so that people enjoy and seek out the components of a healthy meal plan.
Q. What about eating out? Any suggestions for those who dine out frequently?
Weil: One simple suggestion for dining out is to ask waiters not to bring bread and butter until the main course is served (or not at all). Splitting courses is also a good idea, since restaurant portions are often much too large.
Q. You mentioned the current rash of low-fat and artificial-fat foods on the market. Is there a safe and effective way to lose weight?
Weil: Absolutely. It's essential to reduce consumption of the wrong kinds of fats and the wrong kinds of carbohydrates while increasing physical activity. The simple strategy of cutting out most foods made with white flour and sugar, fast foods, and snack foods will do it for most people. But it is also very important to maintain a high intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables, the right kinds of fats (monounsaturated oils and the omega-3 fats found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), and low-glycemic-index carbohydrates.
Daley: The easiest, safest way to lose weight is to eat smaller meals, with a salad every day, and to snack on healthy foods such as nuts and dried fruits. It’s important to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, to drink fresh, unsweetened fruit juices and lots of water, and to make whole grains and legumes the staples of your diet, incorporating fish and chicken a few times a week. I think the best tip is that healthy foods should be available in your home, so that you can eat them whenever you are hungry.
Q. What are some of the problems and solutions in the fight to educate Americans about healthy eating and cooking?
Weil: One problem is that people tend to think of meat as the center of the meal, the main course. If they don't eat that, what are they going to eat? I found that when I was first preparing vegetarian meals for people of my parents' generation, they kept waiting for the meat and thought everything else was side dishes. So it's just a matter of reeducating people.
Daley: We give people non-meat dishes with the protein and the vitamins of the meat. Andy explains why non-meat options contain the same vitamins, minerals, and protein as red meat. I think fewer and fewer people today get upset when they don't have meat. They just want to have something that is delicious and filling, and we've provided many recipes for delicious, filling meatless dishes.
Weil: I think one of the appeals of fast food in our culture is that there are no surprises. You know exactly what you're going to get. And clearly that appeals to a lot of Americans. But for me, cooking is relaxing and meditative. It's making order. It's taking all these pictures you have in your head, all these variables, and making order of them. It provides great satisfaction, and both Rosie and I hope readers will share that.
Q. What are your favorite recipes from the book?
Weil: My favorite recipes for nonexpert cooks are the Tomato, Corn and Basil Soup, the Roasted Winter Squash Soup with Cilantro-Walnut Pesto, the Tofu Fajitas, the Grilled Salmon with Mustard Sauce, the Shiitake Mushrooms and Pea Pods, and the Figs in Wine. All are easy and delicious.
Daley: I love the Baked Spicy Tofu with Bean Thread Noodles, Mango, and Corn, because it’s something a bit different. The most basic recipe in the book is for Applesauce, which is great any time of the day, any day of the year.