If you’ve dined with me or been my Snapchat friend in the past six months, chances are you’ve heard me excitedly shout, “SALAAAD!” before most meals.
Although I’ve always appreciated the nutritional excellence of dark, leafy greens, it took until last spring for my long-awaited salad obsession to finally manifest. I invented a weekly Kale Challenge, where I tried to single-handedly consume a 35-ounce bag of kale every week. Admittedly, I’ve been known to go through phases of food obsessions, but each has helped seamlessly incorporate new healthy foods into my diet.
Last year, I wrote an article about my three favorite ingredients at the time — nutritional yeast, matcha and oat flour — and how to incorporate them into a diet that both tastes delicious and leaves you feeling great.
This article is an update with three new nutritional rock stars and easy, delicious ways to incorporate them into your diet. The winners are tempeh, turmeric and “SALAAAD!”
For savory dishes, tempeh is like tofu’s superior older sister. Made out of whole, fermented soybeans, tempeh has a firmer texture and mild, nutty taste that is a great canvas for a variety of preparation methods. Tempeh boasts significantly more protein than tofu — 15 grams versus 10 grams in a half-cup serving. Because tempeh is fermented, it’s also an excellent source of probiotics. Tempeh can be cubed and added to recipes for chili, stir-fries, veggie burgers or cut into strips and marinated to taste like bacon. My favorite way to prepare tempeh is to whip up a sauce with peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic and ginger, and then throw in cubed tempeh and cook on a skillet for six minutes or so until golden brown.
As far as plant protein sources go, tempeh is also inexpensive and will keep good in your refrigerator for weeks. You can buy tempeh in the refrigerated organic section of Wegmans, but I’ve also found it in stores like Giant and Acme, usually near the vegetables in the produce section. If you haven’t tried the convenient deliciousness that is tempeh, I’d highly recommend.
Another ingredient I’ve become obsessed with in the last year is turmeric. Turmeric is a root related to ginger, and its powdered form can be found in the spice section of any grocery store. Although turmeric is traditionally used in curries to give them their characteristic yellow color, the spice by itself has a surprisingly mild, earthy flavor that complements a wide array of cuisines. Turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb, and the health benefits it confers are simply astounding.
The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, a stellar antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is the body’s defense response to get rid of foreign invaders, and some inflammation is essential to keep us alive. When we are continually exposed to pro-inflammatory substances like refined sugar, most cooking oils, dairy products and feedlot-raised meat, the continual inflammatory response ends up attacking healthy cells instead of protecting them. Chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of almost every major disease, from Alzheimer’s to cancer. While I just discovered tempeh and turmeric in 2016, my last favorite food came more from discovering a new way to look at an old ingredient.
My final favorite obsession of 2016 is “SALAD!” by which I mean any dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale or watercress. Unlike tempeh and turmeric, the health benefits of dark, leafy greens are hardly underrated, and it is easy to see salad-eating as a chore. Salad skeptics, I feel you. I have purchased many-a-bag of spinach only for it to sit in the back of my refrigerator and wilt.
It took a mindset revolution for me to shout “SALAAAD!” and eat leafy greens nearly every day with lunch and dinner, and that revolution was this — I don’t have to choose salad over whatever I actually want to eat or force myself to eat a side salad first. Instead, I can continue to eat whatever I want and just serve it over a bed of dark, leafy greens.
I’ve found that everything from pasta to sunny-side up eggs tastes equally delicious over a bed of spinach. Although I didn’t particularly love kale to start with, it costs less, stays fresh longer and is more portable than spinach or spring mix. By massaging kale leaves with a bit of olive oil and salt, kale tastes infinitely better. For me, a meal without salad now feels lacking and small.
Even if you’re not ready to eat giant bowls of kale topped with tempeh and turmeric, these amazing ingredients can be seamlessly incorporated into any diet. Tempeh-ting, I know.
Karen Konkoly, ’17, is a columnist for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]h.edu.