A Slice of Spain: My Night at Barcelona Wine Bar

by Shannon Evins

Longing for warm nights when the sun sets at 9:00pm? Wishing summer break would hurry up already? Tapas may be the answer you need. Step into Barcelona Wine Bar in the South End to have a taste of vibrant Spanish culture. Your time there will surely give you a slice of Spain.

As I opened the door, wafts of truffles tingled my nostrils. An eclectically clad bookcase strewn with candlelight greeted me. I admired the warmly-lit surroundings and felt like I had stepped into a movie set. The restaurant was split into three sections, with a large square bar in the center and the kitchen visible from the doorway. A hostess greeted me and asked for my reservation name as the maître d’ returned to his post. He took over, found my name, and offered to store my backpack for me (the woes of having class until 5:00pm on a Friday), then politely suggested that I wait until more of my guests arrived. I was ten minutes early and had to stand awkwardly waiting in the entryway. There was no seating for waiting guests, which was surprising for a place that was chiming out 45-minute wait times for several parties of two. As I waited for my friends, I imagined the delightful meal we would share together. I had eaten here once before, but this time was different. Tonight was for celebration.

Once two others arrived, the maître d’ seated us at a table I had spotted early on. We waited to order drinks until the remaining two of our party of five arrived and then ordered the least expensive/most student-friendly bottle of cava (Spanish sparkling wine). “Are we celebrating something?” asked the waiter. We all murmured various versions of “Yes, actually.” There was a pregnant pause as he awaited an explanation of what we were celebrating. Carly explained that we all passed our exams to become registered dietitians. The waiter uttered his congratulations, and we playfully asked him to not judge us for whatever we would end up eating. A different waiter came and poured our glasses as we chattered excitedly and thanked him.

Shortly afterwards, the manager came over to congratulate and help us with the menu since “She was just in Spain last week.” She then asked about any dietary restrictions — a common inquiry I’m thankful for, so that those with restrictions can eat out with ease. We began to order a charcuterie plate, but the manager interrupted to say that she already had a plate in production for us and would ensure that our selections were included. Two large wooden boards of three vegetable appetizers, anchovies, three meats, and four cheeses arrived. We were overwhelmed with this wonderful surprise in honor of our accomplishments. Gouda, manchego, goat, and one I’ve plumb forgotten — we were in cheese heaven. The spicy chorizo, melt-in-your-mouth jamón serrano, and peppery speck were delightful, too. I didn’t try the anchovies, but the smoked eggplant, piquillo peppers, and pickled veggies were a perfect pairing for the heavier meats and cheeses.

Our waiter was attentive and patient with us as we took incredibly long to decide what to eat. The entire menu looked amazing. We finally decided to go with one of the “get-your-hands-dirty, authentic” finger foods the manager recommended as well as the wagyu beef tartare with truffles (that initial smell was too enticing), and not-your-average (nor French) gratin potatoes because we hadn’t had enough cheese (and more truffles, please!). The food arrived in no time, and every mouthful combined a different texture with a piece of happiness. When all the plates were practically licked clean, we looked at the dessert menu. Out came another wooden board with two desserts and a chocolate “congrats!” written along the bottom. Cool-to-the-touch dulce de leche crepes and a rich, dense chocolate cake balanced each other out nicely. We left no crumbs and asked for the check.

We were astonished by the total. The whole charcuterie plate and vegetable appetizers were free as well as one of the desserts. After doing the math, I realized the charcuterie plate alone should’ve cost $40 to $50! The waiter split the check five ways with ease, and we each made sure to tip well for the wonderful service and plethora of surprises. Both the manager and the waiter bid us farewell with smiles. I’ve never been so spoiled nor felt so congratulated at a restaurant before. Despite this fact and the delicious food, the prices are quite reasonable at an average of about $7.50 per tapa. Barcelona Wine Bar in the South End – GO!*

 

*Readers’ note: The location of my wonderful experience was 525 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116. Barcelona Wine Bar is a chain restaurant with locations in Brookline as well as Connecticut, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. I don’t usually promote chain restaurants (if I’m going to pay money to eat out, it better be a delicious and unique experience), so that alone speaks to the awesomeness of Barcelona Wine Bar. I hear their weekend brunch is to die for. You know where to find me next Saturday morning.

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Shannon Evins braved the New England cold to achieve her nutrition dreams. After attaining a B.S. in Nutrition/Dietetics (along with minors in both Spanish and Human Development & Family Life Education) at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, she moved to Boston to complete her dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her thirst for knowledge didn’t stop there, and she started her Master’s degree in Nutrition Interventions, Communication & Behavior Change just a week and a half after finishing the MGH program. Now a registered and licensed dietitian, Shannon enjoys any opportunity to help people achieve their health and wellness goals (as well as any chance to try out a restaurant).

Soul of the Louisiana Kitchen

by Katie Moses

When the only remnants of Mardi Gras are plastic beads hanging from the oaks along St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana still draws people from around the world for the lively music and incredible food. Discover the secret to the depth of flavor in Cajun and Creole cuisine and recreate a classic Louisiana dish, red beans and rice, in your own kitchen.

Celery, Onion, Bell Peppers. Photo credit: Flickr

Imagine early afternoon in southern Louisiana. The sweltering heat is held at bay by the air conditioner running on full blast; your grandmother begins to quarter onions, seed bell peppers, and break celery stalks. This “southern symphony” begins to swell with the sudden whir of an old food processor finely mincing onion, celery, and green bell pepper, while a layer of oil in a large pot warms on the stovetop. The sizzle crescendos in the Cajun kitchen as she adds the onions, then celery and bell pepper to the hot oil, and their aromatics waft through the 1960s ranch-style house..

Growing up in my grandmother’s home in the heart of Cajun country, this is how homemade dinners began. No matter if it’s red beans, gumbo, or jambalaya, every Cajun dinner starts with a little oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and the Cajun holy trinity – onion, celery, and green bell pepper.

History of the Trinity

The influences of French and Spanish occupation of Cajun and Creole country adds to the “southern symphony” with echoes of Catholic church bells in every town. Naming the aromatic trio the Cajun holy trinity in this predominantly Catholic region reflects how food traditions are as fundamental to the identity of the residents of south Louisiana as their faith.

Aromatic vegetables sautéed in oil as the foundation of flavor in Cajun and Creole cuisine is mirrored in the many cultures that have influenced its traditions: the mirepoix in France; the sofrito in Spanish-speaking countries; and the sacred flavor trinities of West African cuisines. The mirepoix combines onions, celery, and carrots. The slightly sweet carrot adds a different flavor profile compared to the bitter notes of the green bell pepper. A typical sofrito in Spain mixes tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and garlic, while the Cuban sofrito is the Cajun trinity with garlic added as an official fourth ingredient in the seasoning mix. West African dishes typically begin with tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers. While West African and Spanish cuisines influenced both the Cajun and Creole cuisines, the tomatoes in Creole gumbo and not Cajun gumbo illustrates the stronger influence of West African and Spanish on the Creoles in New Orleans than the Cajuns in Acadiana.

Mirepoix: Celery, Onion, and Carrots. Photo credit: Flickr

Spanish Sofrito: Tomato, Onion, Bell Pepper, and Garlic. Photo credit: Flickr

West African Trinity: Tomato, Onion, and Chili Pepper. Photo credit: Flickr

A Kitchen Staple

Louisiana grocers make the lives of Cajun cooks easier by always stocking the produce section with celery, green bell peppers, onions, and garlic, and by making the ingredients available in many formats. For those who seek even more convenience, cooks can get Guidry’s Fresh Cuts Creole Seasoning a container of finely chopped yellow onions, green bell pepper, celery, green onions, parsley, and garlic. Every freezer section has the holy trinity pre-chopped and frozen at the peak of freshness if you’re willing to have your oil pop a little extra from the moisture of the frozen vegetables.

How to Prep the Trinity

If you prefer to prep your own vegetables, the perfect ratio of aromatics is 2 parts yellow onion:1 part celery:1 part green bell pepper. Every Cajun cookbook will tell you to pair the trinity with garlic for extra depth of flavor. The goal is to mince the onion, celery, and bell pepper so finely that they almost disintegrate while cooking. If you’re far from southern grocery stores that offer the Cajun trinity pre-chopped, you can follow the steps below to hand chop or emulate my grandmother and save time using a food processor. Note: a key to preparing the trinity is to keep the onion separate from the celery and bell pepper; you don’t want to overcrowd the onions, so you always add the celery and bell pepper later.

Hand Chopped:

Supplies needed are a large stable cutting board, two prep bowls, and a sharp non-serrated knife.

  1. Peel and cut the onion into a small dice, a ¼ inch square cut, and place in a prep bowl.
    1. If using garlic, peel and crush or finely mince and mix with the diced onions.
  2. Cut off the stemmed top of the green bell pepper to remove seeds and create a flat surface. Slice pepper into planks and then cut into a small dice. Place in a separate prep bowl.
  3. Chop off white base of celery then halve stalks. Bunch together the halved stalks with your free hand and cut into a small dice. Mix celery with the bell pepper in the prep bowl.

Food Processor:

Supplies needed are a food processor with chopping blade and two prep bowls.

  1. If using garlic, peel and add 4 cloves into the processor first, pulsing until finely chopped. Peel and quarter the onion, then add to the processor and pulse until finely chopped. Remove the onion and garlic mixture and place in a separate prep bowl.
  2. Cut off the stemmed top of the green bell pepper, remove seeds and quarter. Remove white base of celery then roughly chop stalks into 3-inch pieces. Add to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Then, place in a prep bowl separate from onion and garlic.
Louisiana Kitchen

Among those who live far from the shade of the magnolias, my home state of Louisiana is known for three things – Mardi Gras, music, and good food. When the only remnants of Mardi Gras are plastic beads hanging from the oaks along St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana still draws people from around the world for the lively music and incredible food. While those outside the kitchen may assume the rich depth of flavor in Cajun and Creole cuisine is thanks to a heavy hand with butter and cayenne pepper, the soul of the unique flavor is the holy trinity. The recipe below blends Cajun, Spanish, and African flavors with a few culinary shortcuts to showcase the holy trinity in a delicious pot of the Louisiana Cajun classic: red beans and rice.

Figure 5: Red Beans and Rice with Louisiana Hot Sauce. Photo credit: Flickr

Good Friday Red Beans and Rice

Servings: 8

This classic south-Louisiana dish saves on time without cutting back on flavor by using canned beans and chipotle peppers in adobo instead of ham hock or tasso. This recipe is perfect for a Lenten Friday or a vegetarian potluck.

Ingredients   

4 cloves garlic, peeled

2 medium yellow onions, peeled (2 cups chopped)*

3 ribs of celery (1 cup chopped)*

1 green bell pepper (1 cup chopped)*

1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

4 (15-oz) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed with hot water**

1½ tsp Better than Bouillon Vegetable (or No Chicken) Base***

3 bay leaves

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 chipotle pepper canned in adobo, chopped

2-4 cups of water (just enough to cover the beans)

Optional: 2 tsp dried thyme and 2 tsp ground oregano

1 lb long grain brown (or white) rice, prepared according to package directions

Instructions
  1. Prep then combine the finely minced onion and garlic in a bowl, and celery and green bell pepper in a separate bowl.
  2. Heat a large heavy-bottom pot over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil.
  3. Add the onion and garlic to oil and sauté until onions are translucent and garlic is golden.
  4. Add the green bell pepper and celery to the pot and sauté until soft. Be careful not to let the garlic burn.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot: the kidney beans, bouillon base, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, black pepper, adobo chipotle pepper, and enough water to cover it all by an inch.
  6. Stir until all ingredients are well combined then simmer, covered, over low to medium-low heat for at least 45 minutes. Check and stir occasionally, adding water as needed if beans begin to stick.
  7. The red beans are ready when most of them have begun to fall apart.
  8. Serve on top of an equal portion of rice.

Tip!

Balance your plate by pairing this fiber- and protein-rich dish with collard greens, stewed okra and tomatoes, or a simple cucumber and onion salad.

Substitutions:

*4 cups pre-chopped frozen trinity

**1 lb dry kidney beans, soaked overnight, drained, and brought to a boil then simmer in lightly salted water with bay leaves.

***1½ tsp favorite bouillon/stock base. Alternatively, replace water with your favorite vegetable stock or chicken broth (if not vegetarian).

Southern Serving Suggestion:

If you’re left pining to recreate the Louisiana restaurant experience, turn up a Louis Armstrong record, pour yourself an iced tea,and top those red beans with some thin-sliced, pan-fried andouille sausage. Laissez les bon temp roulez!

Katie Moses is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has worked as a culinary nutrition educator for over 5 years. Starting life with a unique culinary upbringing in the heart of Cajun country with Sicilian, Syrian, and French grandparents, she finds ways to adapt traditional dishes to fit current nutrition recommendations Katie is currently enrolled in the Master’s Degree Program in Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change at the Friedman School. Connect with her at linkedin.com/in/mkatiemoses.

Four Smoothie Bowl Recipes That Will Put a Spring in Your Step!

by Julia Sementelli

While there a handful of smoothie bowl spots in Boston, I have found that the best smoothie bowl is the one that you make at home! Fuel up for finals with these four perfect-for-spring smoothie bowls that will keep you feeling satisfied and refreshed to take on this busy yet exciting month.

While Winter Storm Stella may have set us back a little in the warm weather department, Spring has officially begun! April is when we start to shed our winter skin and crave foods that are bright and refreshing. Although I have been known to eat them in the dead of winter, smoothie bowls are the ultimate breakfast to fuel you for busy days but also to keep you feeling fresh. And they are also a great way to eat your fruits and veggies, especially when life gets hectic (Hello, upcoming finals!) All of my smoothie recipes have one thing in common: they all include pomegranate arils, the seed pod inside of a pomegranate where all of the fiber and nutrients can be found. Pomegranates are a source of antioxidants and have even been shown to potentially improve performance during exercise! For the sake of ease, I typically buy pre-packaged arils since de-seeding a pomegranate can be rather time-consuming.  Read on for four spring-ready smoothie bowl recipes:

Tropical Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Tropical Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Tropical Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl (Serves 1)

Ingredients:

For the smoothie:

1 cup frozen strawberries

½ cup frozen mango

½ cup frozen pineapple

1/3 cup almond milk (recommended: coconut-flavored almond milk)

1 teaspoon maca* (optional)

Toppings:

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

1 tablespoon melted coconut butter

2 teaspoons shredded unsweetened coconut

Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth (mixture will be thick)
  2. Top with pomegranate arils, melted coconut butter, and shredded unsweetened coconut
  3. Enjoy!

*Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca’s primary benefit is increasing energy without the less desirable effects of caffeine.

Antioxidant-Packed Green Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Antioxidant-Packed Green Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Antioxidant-Packed Green Smoothie Bowl (Serves 1)

Ingredients:

For the smoothie:

1/3 cup coconut water

1 cup baby spinach

1 cup frozen mango

½ frozen banana

1 teaspoon chlorella* (optional)

½ teaspoon turmeric

Toppings:

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

½ sliced banana

Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth (mixture will be thick)
  2. Top with pomegranate arils and sliced banana
  3. Enjoy!

*Chlorella is a single-celled algae that can provide a solid dose of antioxidants and protein (it is 50% protein per serving!).  While science has yet to support many of the claims surrounding it, there is no denying that it is a simple way to give you a boost of nutrients when you are short on time.

Chocolate-Covered Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Chocolate-Covered Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Chocolate-Covered Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl (Serves 1)

Ingredients:

For the smoothie:

1 cup frozen cherries

1 cup frozen peaches

1/3 cup pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon unsweetened cacao powder

1 scoop chocolate protein powder

Toppings:

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

1 tablespoon cacao nibs

Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth (mixture will be thick)
  2. Top with pomegranate arils and cacao nibs
  3. Enjoy!
Peanut Butter and Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Peanut Butter and Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Peanut Butter and Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl (Serves 1)

Ingredients:

For the smoothie:

1/3 cup pomegranate juice

2 cups frozen strawberries

1 tablespoon powdered peanut butter

1 scoop unflavored protein powder

4 ice cubes

Toppings:

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

1 tablespoon smooth or chunky peanut butter

Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth (mixture will be thick)
  2. Top with pomegranate arils and peanut butter
  3. Enjoy!

 

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication & Behavior Change student and Boston-based registered dietitian who divides her time between being a clinical dietitian, working with private clients to heal their relationships with food, eating, going to SoulCycle, and taking pictures of the delicious smoothie bowls (among other things) that she makes in her apartment.  You can find her on Instagram (@julia.the.rd.eats—follow her!) where she shares her love of real food, fitness, and balance.

It’s National Nutrition Month 2017!

Dear Readers,

Here at the Friedman School, we think about nutrition every day. But in March, we celebrate! This year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics wants us to “put our best forks forward,” and our writers at the Friedman Sprout are doing just that.

In this issue, Katelyn Castro kicks off the month with 8 small, but worthwhile and totally doable tips for eating healthier in 2017. Meanwhile, Hannah Meier takes a look at a popular anti-diet trend and asks whether it’s really all it’s cracked up to be. For the hungry among us, Julia Sementelli introduces us to that chicken and rice dish she loves so much. Our mouths are watering already.

On the research front, we talk food allergies. Should peanut butter still strike fear in our hearts? In an effort to eat her PBJ freely again, Erin Child advises us in on the new guidelines for reducing the risk of peanut allergies. On policy, Daniele Todorov takes a look at the American opioid epidemic – and what it has to do with WIC.

And now that, two months into a new presidential administration, we’ve finally accepted (or conceded?) this brave new political world of ours, Friedman students are trying to navigate what comes next. Kathleen Nay shares her experience as a participant of Let’s Talk, a project piloted by fellow Friedman students to facilitate more open and empathetic political dialogue. Maddy Bennett, on the other hand, is all about action: this month she’s taking the opportunity to tell us about the grassroots Coalition of Immokalee Workers and why it’s more important than ever to organize on behalf of agricultural workers.

From us to you, happy reading! Cheers,

Kathleen and Micaela

 

In this issue…

8 Small But Worthwhile Changes You Can Make to Eat Healthier

by Katelyn Castro

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month® with new (and a little cheesy) nutrition theme each year. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” While this can be interpreted in many ways, here is my spin the theme, including a step-by-step guide on how healthy eating can fit into your lifestyle.

5 Reasons the Whole30 is Not the Anti-Diet it Claims to Be

by Hannah Meier, RD, LDN

How does the Whole30 Diet hold up from a dietitian’s perspective? Hannah Meier breaks it down.

That Chicken and Rice Dish

by Julia Sementelli

It’s March and the official month of the start of Spring! But here in Boston the temperatures have been playing games with our hearts, which makes trying to decide what to make for dinner a bit tricky. This recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi’s “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice” is the perfect meal to help you transition from winter to spring. Warm and comforting from the spices and hearty chicken and rice, but refreshing and light from an abundance of fresh herbs and a tangy yogurt sauce. This dish has become a staple in my cooking repertoire and I’ll share with you my tips for making the best possible version of this delicious dish.

Putting a Pause on Peanut Butter Panic: New Guidelines Seek to Reduce Peanut Allergy Risk

by Erin Child

Do you like peanut butter? So do I. I’m kind of obsessed. Perhaps you add it to your smoothie bowl, drizzle it artfully on your Instagram worthy oatmeal, or, if you’re in grad school, it’s part of your PB&J. After all, that is the cheapest, easiest thing to make. But what if you had to take the PB out of the PB&J, and eliminate it from your diet and your life? This is a growing reality for many in the United States, with outdated, misinformed guidelines being blamed for the recent spike in peanut allergies. Read on to explore the revolutionary research that has spurred the creation of new guidelines, and why Americans need to change how we handle peanut exposure in childhood.

WIC at the Crossroads of the Opioid Epidemic

by Danièle Todorov

The complexity and pervasiveness of the opioid epidemic has forced government agencies to be innovative with their resources. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in a prime position to care for pregnant women affected by the epidemic and has stepped up to the plate.

Exiting the Echo Chamber

by Kathleen Nay

Many of us were unexpectedly blindsided by the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, but maybe we shouldn’t have been. Four Friedman students saw a need for greater diversity in our political discourse, and decided to do something about it. They piloted Let’s Talk, a four-week program designed to help fellow students engage in more respectful, tolerant, and empathetic dialogue with people of diverse political perspectives.

Agricultural Workers Should Organize

by Maddy Bennett

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a farm workers’ rights group founded by laborers on Florida’s tomato farms. The organization now operates in many states to secure fair wages and to oppose involuntary servitude in the U.S. agriculture industry. CIW succeeded in bringing large food retailers to meet the terms of the group’s Fair Food Program. The work of CIW proves that when labor organizes to reclaim its rights, society benefits. Learn more by attending Friedman Seminar on April 19. 

8 Small But Worthwhile Changes You Can Make to Eat Healthier

by Katelyn Castro

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month® with new (and a little cheesy) nutrition theme each year. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” While this can be interpreted in many ways, here is my spin the theme, including a step-by-step guide on how healthy eating can fit into your lifestyle.

National Nutrition Month 2017: Put Your Best Fork Forward! For more information about National Nutrition Month and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, visit www.eatright.org.

National Nutrition Month 2017: Put Your Best Fork Forward! For more information about National Nutrition Month and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, visit http://www.eatright.org.

When January rolls around, reflecting on the past year leaves many people vowing to lose weight or eat healthier. Yet, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February, according to U.S. News. Why? More often then not, we set our weight loss goals too high or make our diets too extreme, asking our bodies to work in overdrive and making failure is inevitable. Our high expectations can leave us feeling defeated and too frustrated with ourselves to even consider a different approach.

Creating SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely— goals on the other hand, can set us up for success. By working on a behavior, like eating more mindfully, rather than focusing on an outcome, like weight loss, lofty goals can become more reasonable. Now, three months into the New Year, is the perfect time to re-evaluate resolutions and take a more practical approach to health and wellness with SMART goals.

“Put Your Best Fork Forward,” the theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month® aligns perfectly with this sustainable approach to healthy eating. National Nutrition Month® 2017, recognized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is all about making small changes in our food choices—one forkful at a time—to develop lifelong, healthy eating habits.

Below is a list of eight small changes that you can make to shift towards healthier eating. Since our priorities, like our food choices, are personal and unique to each of us, I included eight suggestions so you can focus on a goal that fits into your lifestyle Make the goal specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely with the help of this resource, and give it a try!

1. Cook more meals from home.

When you take the time to cook your own meals, whether it’s English muffin pizzas or an elegant chicken marsala dinner, you can choose the ingredients and manage the portions. Even if you choose to add some oil, butter, or salt while cooking, most homemade meals are still lower in unhealthy fats, sodium, and calories than the restaurant or fast food version, according to research. Homemade meals also save money and time. In the time it takes to have a pizza delivered or a meal served at a restaurant, your dinner can be prepared and ready to eat—especially if you choose simple, tasty recipes like these.

SMART Goal Idea: If you eat out frequently on weekends, skip your Saturday restaurant plans and spend time with your family or friends cooking a meal from home instead.

2. Switch one of your daily grains to a whole grain.

Many of us have at least one go-to starch, whether it’s pasta, rice, or bread. Choosing the whole grain version of one of your mainstay starches is an easy way to add fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and reduce added sugars. For example, swap white bread or honey wheat bread for whole grain bread, switch white or veggie pasta to whole wheat pasta, or replace Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with Kashi Heart to Heart Warm Cinnamon cereal.

To find whole grains at the grocery store, ignore the front of the package labeling or the whole grain stamp of approval—these health claims can be deceiving! Instead, go straight to the ingredient list: the first ingredient listed should include the word “whole” followed by the name of the grain in the product. For example, if “whole wheat flour”, “whole oat flour”, or “whole rye flour” are listed as the first ingredients, then you’ve found yourself a whole grain!

SMART Goal Idea: If you add rice to your meals on a regular basis, swap out the white rice for a brown rice, or try one of these lesser-known whole grains.

3. Change the way you use fat in cooking.

Adding butter to a skillet for pancakes or pouring oil into a pan for a stir-fry can seem like second nature after a while. However, it’s easy to overdo it with these calorie-dense foods—one tablespoon of oil has about 120 calories! Using oils, like canola and olive oil, instead of butter when cooking can be a simple way to replace saturated fats with more heart-healthy unsaturated fats in meals. Also, investing in an oil mister or an oil spray like PAM can make a little oil go a long way, sparing you some calories.

SMART Goal Idea: If you like to sauté or roast foods like meats, veggies, or potatoes on a daily basis, skip the butter and layers of oil and use an oil mister. Spray the bottom of the pan before cooking, then add food and lightly spray the oil again over the top of food.

4. Aim for two to three servings of vegetables each day.

Eighty-seven percent of Americans do not meet the recommended servings of vegetables (2 1/2 cups daily), according to a national report from the Center of Disease Control. If you fall into this group, then you’re probably missing out on some essential nutrients. Vegetables are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are all important for skin, eye, heart and immune health. For some veggie inspiration, check out these flavorful vegetable-filled recipes.

If you already eat enough veggies, focus on increasing the variety of your vegetables since different colored vegetables have different vitamins and antioxidants. Aim for a combination of green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, red/orange vegetables like carrots and tomatoes, and starchy vegetables like peas and potatoes.

SMART Goal Idea: If you are a pasta lover, steam or roast some veggies while your pasta is cooking. Fill half your plate with pasta and fill the other half with a colorful array of cooked vegetables and some protein like beans, chicken, or shrimp. Broccoli and squash, tomatoes and spinach, mushrooms and cauliflower are a few tasty veggie combinations.

5. Sweeten your breakfast and snacks naturally.

Flavored yogurt, sweetened cereal, and packaged oatmeal are some of the sneakiest sources of added sugars. Even a serving of Raisin Bran cereal has 18 grams of sugar—equivalent to 4 to 5 teaspoons of white sugar! Unless you’re eating Raisin Bran for dessert, save those added sugars for times when you’re really craving sweets. Stick to the unsweetened yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal, and flavor them yourself with fruit, nuts, or seeds. Even drizzling some honey or a sprinkle of brown sugar on unsweetened oats, cereal or yogurt, will still give you less added sugar than most sweetened versions.

SMART Goal Idea: If you rely on sweetened oatmeal packets for breakfasts, replace them with plain quick oats or rolled oats. If you like your oatmeal fruity, try this recipe. For a more savory and creamy oatmeal, give this recipe a try.

6. Make water your beverage of choice.

If you’re a regular soda drinker, switching to water could be the simplest change that you can make to improve your health. Replacing soda and other sugary drinks with water doesn’t just save you calories, but it eliminates empty calories so you can make room for other calories from more nutritious food.

If you’ve already cut out soda from your diet, focus on drinking enough water. Since many metabolic pathways rely on water, dehydration can make our metabolism work less efficiently. Memory, concentration, mood, energy level, and muscle movement are also negatively impacted by dehydration, even mildly dehydration. Though eight cups of water daily is generally recommended, the best way to find out how much water your body needs is to check your urine. Yes, I’m talking about your pee—you want it to be a light, almost clear color. If it’s dark yellow, then you may not be drinking enough water throughout the day. To up your H2O intake, set a reminder on your phone to drink more water with one of these apps or try one of these drinks to give your water some more flavor.

SMART Goal Idea: Once you determine out how many cups of water your body needs, split the volume in three and aim to drink that amount every three to four hours throughout the day. For example, if you need nine cups of water, try to drink 3 cups before noon, 3 more cups in the afternoon, and 3 more cups before you go to sleep.

7. Go meatless once a week.

Since the World Health Organization identified processed meats as “carcinogenic” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic,” concern continues to grow over the potential risks of eating too much of these meats, especially processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli meats. While avoiding all processed meats and red meats may be unrealistic, try committing one day of the week to not eating meat. Making this small change has several health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease and lower risk of some cancers, according to research from the Meatless Monday campaign. Going meatless once a week may seem a little less daunting, when you consider everything you can add to your plate like whole grains, beans, lentils, and vegetables. For some delicious meatless meals, check out these recipes.

SMART Goal Idea: Instead of ordering a burrito with steak, cheese, and rice, fill your burrito with black beans, rice, corn salsa, and guacamole­—you’ll still get plenty of protein, with the addition of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

8. Check in with your hunger, fullness, and cravings.

Not ready to change anything about your eating habits? That’s okay too! Start by getting more curious about how, when, and why you eat. Before meals, ask yourself how hungry you are. After eating, consider how full you are: satisfied or uncomfortably full? When you have an intense food craving, ask yourself what may be triggering the craving. Are you overly hungry, stressed, or distracted? Is it emotional hunger or physical hunger? Keeping track of how certain foods make you feel and identifying what may be influencing your food choices can give you perspective for when you’re ready to make changes.

SMART Goal Idea: Pick one meal each day and spend 10 to 15 minutes tracking your hunger, fullness, and cravings before, during, and after the meal. Keep a journal, write a note in your phone, or get an App to track your intake and make you more mindful.

Katelyn Castro is a second-year student in the DI/MS Nutrition program at the Friedman School. She’s a foodie, runner, and part-time yogi on a mission to make healthy eating easy, sustainable, and enjoyable. You can find her thoughts on all things relating to food and nutrition at nutritionservedsimply.com.

 

5 Reasons the Whole30 is Not the Anti-Diet It Claims to Be

by Hannah Meier, RD, LDN

How does the Whole30 Diet hold up from a dietitian’s perspective? Hannah Meier breaks it down.

I’m calling it: 2017 is the year of the non-diet.

As a dietitian who ardently discourages short-term dieting, I was thrilled to read many articles posted around the new year with titles like “Things to Add, Not Take Away in 2017,” and “Why I’m Resolving Not to Change This Year.” Taking a step more powerful than simply abstaining from resolution season, influencers like these authors resolved to embrace the positive, stay present, and not encourage the cycle of self-loathing that the “losing weight” resolutions tend to result in year after year.

Right alongside these posts, though, was an overwhelming amount of press exonerating the Whole30—a 30-day food and beverage “clean eating” diet.

The founders of the Whole30, however, adamantly claim it is not a diet. Even though participants are advised to “cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days” (including legumes, dairy, all grains, sugar, MSG, and additives like carrageenan), followers are encouraged to avoid the scale and focus on learning how food makes them feel rather than how much weight they gain or lose.

But our culture is still hungry for weight loss. The possibility of losing weight ahead of her sister’s wedding was “the deciding factor” for my friend Lucy (name changed for privacy), who read the entire Whole30 book cover to cover, and fought her “sugar dragon” for 30 days in adherence to the Whole30 protocol (only to eat M&M’s on day 31, she admits).

“Whole30 focuses on foods in their whole forms which is positive for people who are learning how to incorporate more unprocessed foods in their diet,” Allison Knott, registered dietitian and Friedman alum (N12) explains. “However, the elimination of certain groups of foods like beans/legumes and grains may have negative health implications if continued over the long-term.”

Diets like these trick consumers into thinking they are forming a healthier relationship with food. Though weight loss is de-emphasized, a trio of restriction, fear, and control are in the driver’s seat and could potentially steer dieters toward a downward, disordered-eating spiral.

I still think 2017 is the year of the non-diet, but before we get there we need to unmask the Whole30 and call it what it is: an unsustainable, unhealthy, fad diet.

1: It is focused on “can” and “cannot”

The Whole30 targets perfectly nutritious foods for most people (grains, beans and legumes, and dairy) as foods to avoid entirely, relegating them to the same level of value as boxed mac and cheese, frozen pizza, and Kool-Aid. And most bodies are perfectly capable of handling these foods. They provide a convenient, affordable, and satisfying means of getting calcium, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, and nutrient-dense protein. The Whole30 eliminates almost all the plant-based protein options for vegans and vegetarians. While the point of eliminating these foods, creators Hartwig and Hartwig explain, is to reduce inflammation and improve gut health, nowhere in the book or website do they provide scientific studies that show removing grains, beans and dairy does this for most people. But we’ll get to that later.

The Whole30 also instructs that participants not eat any added sugar or sweeteners (real or artificial), MSG (monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that has been weakly linked to brain and nervous system disruption), or carrageenan (a thickener derived from seaweed and is plentiful in the world of nut milks and frozen desserts; conflicting evidence has both suggested and refuted the possibility that it is associated with cancer and inflammatory diseases), sulfites (like those in wine), or alcohol. Not even a lick, as they are very clear to explain, or you must start the entire 30-day journey from the beginning once more.

“I couldn’t go longer than 30 days without a hit of chocolate,” Lucy told me, explaining why she was dedicated to following the program exactly.

Why take issue with focusing on “good” and “bad,” “can” and “cannot” foods? As soon as a moral value is assigned, the potential for establishing a normal relationship to food and eating is disrupted. “The diet encourages following the restrictive pattern for a solid 30 days. That means if there is a single slip-up, as in you eat peanut butter (for example), then you must start over. I consider this to be a punishment which does not lend itself to developing a healthy relationship with food and may backfire, especially for individuals struggling with underlying disordered eating patterns,” Knott argues.

How will a person feel on day 31, adding brown rice alongside their salmon and spinach salad after having restricted it for a month? Likely not neutral. Restrictive dietary patterns tend to lead to overconsumption down the road, and it is not uncommon for people to fall back in to old habits, like my friend Lucy. “People often do several Whole30 repetitions to reinforce healthier eating habits,” she explained.

Knott relates the diet to other time-bound, trendy cleanses. “There’s little science to support the need for a “cleansing diet,” she says. “Unless there is a food intolerance, allergy, or other medical reason for eliminating food groups then it’s best to learn how to incorporate a balance of foods in the diet in a sustainable, individualized way.”

While no one is arguing that consuming less sugar, MSG and alcohol are unsound health goals, making the message one of hard-and-fast, black-and-white, “absolutely don’t go near or even think about touching that” is an unsustainable, unhealthy, and inflexible way to relate to food for a lifetime.

2: It requires a lot of brainpower

After eight years of existence, the Whole30 now comes with a pretty widespread social-media support system. There is plenty of research to back up social support in any major lifestyle change as a major key to success. Thanks to this, more people than ever before (like my friend Lucy, who participated alongside her engaged sister) can make it through the 30 days without “failing.”

But the Whole30 turns the concept of moderation and balance on its head. Perfection is necessary and preparation is key. Having an endless supply of chopped vegetables, stocks for soups, meat, and eggs by the pound and meals planned and prepared for the week, if not longer, is pretty much required if you don’t want to make a mistake and start over. The Whole30 discourages between-meal snacking, (why?) and cutting out sugar, grains, and dairy eliminates many grab-and-go emergency options that come in handy on busy days. So, dieters better be ready when hunger hits.

Should the average Joe looking to improve his nutrition need to scour the internet for “compliant” recipes and plan every meal of every day in advance? While the Whole30 may help those unfamiliar with cooking wholesome, unprocessed meals at home jumpstart a healthy habit, learning about cooking, especially for beginners, should be flexible. It doesn’t have to come with a rule book. In fact, I think that’s inviting entirely too much brain power that could be used in so many other unique and fulfilling ways to be spent thinking, worrying, and obsessing about food. Food is important, but it is only one facet of wellness. The Whole30 seems to brush aside the intractable and significant influence of stress in favor of a “perfect” diet, which may or may not be nutritionally adequate, anyway.

The language used by Whole30 creators to rationalize the rigidity of the diet could make anyone feel like a chastised puppy in the corner. “It’s not hard,” they say, and then proceed to compare its difficulty to losing a child or a parent. Okay, sure, compared to a major life stressor, altering one’s diet is a walk in the park. But changing habits is hard work that requires mental energy every single day. Eating, and choosing what to eat, is a constant battle for many people and it doesn’t have to be. Life is hard enough without diet rules. The last thing anyone needs is to transform a natural and fulfilling component of it (read: food) into a mental war zone with contrived rules and harsh consequences.

3: It is elitist

When was the last time you overheard a stranger complain about healthy eating being expensive? Most likely, the protester was envisioning a diet akin to the Whole30. Grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, clarified butter, organic produce…no dry staples like beans, rice or peanut butter. Healthy eating does not exist on a pedestal. It does not have to be expensive, but it certainly can be depending on where you choose to (or can) shop. Let’s set a few things straight: You don’t need grass-fed gelatin powder in your smoothies to be healthy. You don’t need organic coconut oil to be healthy. You don’t need exotic fruits and free-range eggs to be healthy. Maybe these foods mean more than just nutrition, signifying important changes to be made within our food system. But it terms of nutrition, sometimes the best a person can do for himself and his family is buy conventional produce, whole grains in bulk, and Perdue chicken breast on sale because otherwise they would be running to the drive thru or microwaving a packet of ramen noodles for dinner. A diet like the Whole30, which emphasizes foods of the “highest quality,” does nothing more than shame and isolate those who can’t sustain the standard it imposes, further cementing their belief that healthy eating is unattainable.

4: It is socially isolating

Imagine with me: I am participating in the Whole30 and doing great for the first week eating fully compliant meals. Then comes the weekend, and “oh no” it’s a football weekend and all I want to do is relax with my friends like I love to do. For me, that typically involves a beer or two, shared appetizers (even some carrots and celery!) and lots of laughs. The Whole30 creators would likely laugh in my face and tell me to suck it up for my own good and just munch on the veggies and maybe some meatballs. (“But are those grass-fed and did you use jarred sauce to make them? I bet there’s a gram of sugar hiding in there somewhere.”)

But it is just a month—certainly anyone can abstain from these type of events for a mere 30 days (remember, “it’s not hard”)—but then what? Do you just return to your normal patterns? Or do you, more likely, go back to them feeling so cheated from a month of restraint that you drink and eat so much more than you might have if you’d maintained a sense of moderation?

Of course, there are people comfortable with declining the food-centric aspect of social life, for whom turning down a glass of wine with cheese in favor of seltzer and crudités is no big deal. And perhaps our social events have become a bit too food centric, anyway. Either way, using food rules to isolate one’s self from friends and family sounds an awful lot like the pathway to an eating disorder, and the sense of deprivation most people likely feel in these situations can snowball into chronic stress that overshadows any short-term, nutrition-related “win.”

Although, maybe we should get all our friends to drink seltzer water and eat crudités at football games.

5: It is not scientifically sound

Most of The Whole30’s success has come from word of mouth, stories, and endorsements from those who successfully made it through the program and felt “better” afterwards. The website, dismayingly, does not house a single citation or study referenced in creation of the diet.

It’s important to note that the Whole30 did not exist 20 years ago. The Whole30 is not a pattern of eating that is replicated in any society on earth, and it doesn’t seem to be based off any research suggesting that it is indeed a superior choice. At the end of the day, this is a business, created by Sports Nutritionists (a credential anyone can get by taking an online test, regardless of one’s background in nutrition—which neither of them has) part of the multi-billion-dollar diet industry. Pinpointing three major food groups as causing inflammation and hormonal imbalance is quite an extreme statement to make without any research to back it up.

What does the science actually show? Knott, who counsels clients in her Tennessee-based private practice reminds us that, “consuming a plant-based diet, including grains and beans/legumes, is known to contribute to a lower risk for chronic disease like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Grains and beans/legumes are a source of fiber, protein, and B vitamins such as folate. They’re also a source of phytochemicals which may play a role in cancer prevention.”

The Whole30 proposes eliminating grains because they contain phytates, plant chemicals that reduce the absorbability of nutrients like magnesium and zinc in our bodies. While it’s true that both grains and legumes contain phytates, so do certain nuts and some vegetables allowed on the diet, like almonds. It is possible to reduce the amount of phytates in an eaten food by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains and legumes, but research from within the last 20 years suggests that phytates may actually play a key role as antioxidants. In a diverse and balanced diet, phytates in foods like grains and legumes do not present a major micronutrient threat. Further, new findings from Tufts scientists provide more evidence that whole grains in particular improve immune and inflammatory markers related to the microbiome.

Legumes in the Whole30 are eliminated because some of their carbohydrates aren’t as well-digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Some people are highly sensitive to these types of carbohydrates, and may experience severe digestive irritation like excessive gas, bloating, constipation, etc. Strategies such as the FODMAP approach are used with these folks under professional supervision to ensure they continue to get high-quality, well-tolerated fiber in their diets, and only eliminate those foods which cause distress. For others, elimination of these types of carbohydrates is unsound. Undigested fibers like those in legumes are also known as prebiotics, and help to feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. Eliminating this beneficial food group to improve gut health goes directly against the growing base of scientific evidence surrounding the microbiota.

Dairy, for those without an allergy or intolerance, has been shown to provide many benefits when incorporated into a balanced and varied diet, including weight stabilization and blood sugar control. The diet also fails to recognize the important health benefits associated with fermented dairy products like yogurt.

In terms of the diet’s long-term sustainability, Knott adds, “There’s plenty of research to support that restrictive diets fail. Many who adopt this way of eating will likely lose weight only to see it return after the diet ends.”

Let’s not forget its few redeeming qualities

For everything wrong with the Whole30, there are a few aspects of the diet that should stick. The concept of getting more in touch with food beyond a label, reducing added sugars, and alcohol is a good one and something that everyone should be encouraged to do. Focusing on cooking more from scratch, relying less on processed foods, and learning about how food influences your mood and energy levels are habits everyone should work to incorporate into a healthy life.

Knott agrees, adding, “I do like that the diet emphasizes the importance of not weighing yourself. We know that weight is a minor piece to the puzzle and other metrics are more appropriate for measuring health such as fitness, lean muscle mass, and biometric screenings.”

Improving the nutritional quality of your diet should not eliminate whole food groups like dairy, grains, and legumes. It should not have a time stamp on its end date, and rather, should be a lifelong journey focusing on flexibility, moderation, and balance. Lower your intake of processed foods, sugars, and alcohol and increase the variety of whole foods. Et voilà! A healthy diet that won’t yell at you for screwing up.

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Thanks to Allison Knott MS, RDN, LDN for contributing expertise. Knott is a private practice dietitian and owner of ANEWtrition, LLC based in Tennessee. She graduated from the Nutrition Communications program at Friedman in 2012.

 

Hannah Meier is a second-year, part-time Nutrition Interventions, Communication & Behavior Change student and registered dietitian interested in learning more about non-diet approaches to wellness. She aspires to make proper nutrition a simple, accessible and fulfilling part of life for people in all walks of life. You can find her on Instagram documenting food, fitness and fun @abalancepaceRD, as well as on her (budding) blog of the same title: http://www.abalancedpace.wordpress.com

That Chicken and Rice Dish

by Julia Sementelli

It’s March and the official month of the start of Spring! But here in Boston the temperatures have been playing games with our hearts, which makes trying to decide what to make for dinner a bit tricky. This recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi’s “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice” is the perfect meal to help you transition from winter to spring. Warm and comforting from the spices and hearty chicken and rice, but refreshing and light from an abundance of fresh herbs and a tangy yogurt sauce. This dish has become a staple in my cooking repertoire and I’ll share with you my tips for making the best possible version of this delicious dish.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

I was sitting in the grass in my backyard on a warm fall day, with the sun shining on my shoulders, perusing the Boston Globe when I stumbled upon a beautiful picture of a skillet brimming with verdant green herbs. There were so many herbs that you could just barely see the beautifully browned chicken thighs on a bed of spiced rice underneath. The accompanying article was about Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook, which had garnered a cult-like following. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born, British chef and restaurant owner. He is well known for his cookbook, Plenty, in which he transforms vegetables into the most beautiful recipes. His recipe for “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice,” and the photograph I was drooling over, was described as particularly outstanding. I knew I had to make it. I ran to the bookstore to get my hands on Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

Despite the recipe’s apparent simplicity, the result is an intensely fragrant and complex combination of sweet, from the currants and caramelized onions, and savory, from the crisp chicken thighs and tart yogurt sauce. It is a one-pot wonder to make on a cool, fall evening. It will solve your weeknight cooking woes because it makes a generous portion, easily satisfying a family of four with one or two rounds of leftovers. It could also feed one person for a whole week of dinners. It is a favorite among my family as well. I have received countless requests to make “that chicken and rice dish” for dinner.

The vessel in which you make this dish is paramount. If the skillet is too small, the chicken will simply steam rather than brown, the onions will not caramelize, and the rice will be unevenly cooked. Therefore, it is important to have a large skillet (at least 12 inches wide) with a tight-fitting lid. Once you have chosen your pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Next, add 2 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions. Allow the onions to cook for 20 minutes, only stirring occasionally to allow the onions to caramelize. You will know when to reduce the heat when the onions are a dark brown. Every time I make this dish I always question if I cooked the onions too long. We are used to golden onions as the sign that you can move on to the next step of cooking. But in this case, you want a deep brown color. In my opinion, the caramelized onions transform this dish so give them the attention (or lack thereof) that they deserve. If you move them around too much, they will not achieve that deep golden brown. Once the onions are concentrated and nearly syrupy, which is essential for the flavor and sweetness of the dish, transfer them to a dish and set aside.

Next, in a large bowl, combine 2 ¼ pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with 1 ½ teaspoons each of kosher salt and black pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 10 cardamom pods, and 2 long cinnamon sticks broken in half. Mix everything with your hands and wash your hands. Next, over medium heat, add the chicken and spice mixture to the skillet, searing the thighs for five minutes on each side. Try your best not to move the chicken as this will interfere with browning. Using tongs, remove the chicken and spices from the pan. While the pan is still hot, add 1 plus 2/3 cups uncooked basmati rice, 2 ½ tablespoons of dried currants, and 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper to the pan. Return the chicken and spices to the pan as well, nestling the thighs in the dry rice. Now, add 3 ¼ cups boiling water, cover, and immediately set the heat to low. It is imperative to add enough water to ensure that your rice is perfectly cooked since nobody likes crunchy rice. There is a discrepancy between the prescribed amount of water between the cookbook and the Boston Globe article. The book calls for 2 ¼ cups of water while the article states that one more cup of water is necessary, recommending 3 ¼ cups total. The latter is the winner, based on personal experience. The couple times that I forgot to add that extra cup of water, the rice did not cook enough. Having crunchy rice bits mixed in with the soft ones is a nightmare. Trust me, two and a half cups is not enough water. It results in some uncooked rice in the pan and warrants adding more water as you go, so do yourself a favor and just start with the three and a half cups of boiling water.

Cook the chicken and rice covered for 30 minutes over very low heat. After 30 minutes, take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean dish towel over the pan, and return the lid to the pan. The towel serves to absorb moisture to prevent the rice from becoming waterlogged. Let the dish sit for another 10 minutes, remove the dish towel, and then add 1 ½ tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, ¼ cup cilantro leaves, and ½ cup dill leaves, all chopped.

The final step is to make a quick yogurt sauce to go with the chicken and rice. I remember the first time I made this dish I omitted the yogurt, under the assumption that it wouldn’t make that big of a difference. When I finally decided to give the yogurt a try I realized that I had made a significant mistake the first time. The tangy yogurt cuts through the meaty, deep flavor of the dish. Combine 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons of high quality olive oil. Serve alongside the chicken and rice.

Sometimes the beauty of a recipe is not necessarily in the final product but in the path that led you to it. My path to this recipe seems rather serendipitous given that I merely stumbled upon on it the newspaper on that warm summer day. I, as well as my friends and family, have fallen for a dish that seems so simple upon first glance. While there are only a handful of components, it is important that the ingredients are of high quality and all the steps are executed well. The combination of flavors is so warm and comforting that this recipe certainly deserves a spot in your cool weather recipe repertoire. It has surely become an unbreakable part of mine.

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication & Behavior Change student and Boston-based registered dietitian who works in a local hospital and also counsels private clients. You can find her on Instagram (@julia.the.rd.eats- Follow her!) where she shares her love of real food, like this chicken and rice dish.