Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Roasted radish and broccolini salad



Although I am no nutritionist or dietician I have to say that I am a strong skeptic of any fad diet with a fancy name, tricky claim or alleged scientific justification. I think in this embarrassing age of chemically processed foods, couch potato lifestyles and overwhelming obesity there is a vast excess of vulnerable and suggestible people waiting to be convinced to spend money and change their lives on the premise of technical jargon and terminology just beyond the grasp of their understanding.


One term that really aggravates me because I know it sounds like it makes a lot of sense but really it is a made-up idea is that of “detoxifying”. Obviously, if someone tells us that our bodies are filled with toxins and that we can purge these toxins from our body by starving ourselves or taking laxatives or eating honey and cayenne pepper we might be tempted to believe them. Toxins sound horrible and imagining them in our body, bouncing around and shortening our lifespans and causing disease is aggravating enough to lose sleep over. But the reality is that these so-called toxins that fad diets claim to be targeting are vague and ill defined. I could go into details, but if you simply look up the word toxin in Wikipedia you will get a sense of how there really is no scientific understanding of the type of toxins that fad diets claim to be a remedy for.

The other fad diet that causes me a small amount of distress and frustration is the Paleo Diet. I will admit up front that I do not disagree that this diet will benefit those who have the willpower to stick with it; what I do not agree with is the premise of the diet that I feel is used to make people think it has a a strong sound scientific basis. 



In case you are not familiar with the Paleo Diet, let me enlighten you. As the name suggests the Paleo Diet is restricted to the foods that our ancestors ate during the Paleolithic period, an era spanning 2.5 million to 10 000 years ago. The Paleo Diet consists of eating everyday modern foods that our pre-agricultural, hunter gatherer ancestors ate during this time period. The rationale for eating this way is centered on the notion that our current genetic makeup was shaped by our evolution during the Paleolithic era. The claim is that our current genetic makeup is ideally adapted to a diet consisting of protein primarily derived from animals and fish, and of carbohydrates and fiber coming from fruits, roots, fungi and vegetables.

I cannot deny that this explanation does sound fancy and I understand how people are easily drawn into the idea, but I also find the rationale to be very narrow-minded and the diet unreasonably restrictive. No one, least of all myself, can argue with the notion that we would all be a lot healthier if we consumed only natural foods such as fish, fruits and vegetables. The fact that processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars are linked to poor health is well-known. But research also shows that legumes, whole grains and even dairy can have positive health benefits, all of which are forbidden on the Paleo Diet. The truth is, you can probably find research supporting or arguing against the positive and negative effects of almost any food item of your choosing.

But with so much information available at our disposal, restricting ourselves to a diet that we sustained ourselves on a million years ago because we are convinced that our genetics are ideally adapted to that lifestyle seems very naive. Many life forms are extremely adaptable in ways we never thought possible and thinking we can predict the limits of an organism based on what we know about its genetics really puts life into a box with boundaries built out of subjective reasoning rather than reality.



One idea that really exemplifies this notion for me is the fact that the genetic material encoding our brains today is also almost exactly the same as that of someone born in the Paleolithic era. If someone born 50 000 years ago was raised in today's society there is no reason they would not be as advanced or as smart as any other average human being. It would be impossible to predict our limits today based solely on how we lived in the past. Our genetics are only a piece of the puzzle that determines who are and who we can be - the environment we live in also has an undeniable impact.

Although our genetics have evolved very little in the past 10 000 years, some things have actually changed. The majority of people now carry mutations in their DNA that have increased their capacity to utilize dairy as a food source compared to our pre-agrarian ancestors. In addition to the subtle alteration of our genetics, our environments have also changed - drastically. A Paleolithic diet is no longer capable of supporting the survival of the human race. Agriculture is now an integral part of our society and we would not be here without it. No doubt some of the directions we have moved in have been for the worse but we have to choose our paths taking into account the plethora of information we have accumulated along the way.

With all of the knowledge we have at our disposal it is clear that the motivations for our life choices should be more profound and routed in our own experiences and sound research rather than in the claims touted by someone trying to make money and fame off of a clever idea.

And with that, I present you with another salad. You should eat it because it is good for you, because it is made with greens, roasted veggies, nuts and a simple homemade dressing.



Roasted radish and broccolini salad
Makes 2 large or 4 small salads
Broccolini can be easily substituted with regular broccoli in this salad and cara cara oranges can be replaced with grapefruit or other sweeter oranges.

Ingredients

  • Mixed greens (arugula, spinach etc) 
  • 1 bunch radishes (~10), trimmed and cut into quarters 
  • 1 bushel brocolini, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces 
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • sea salt 
  • 1 cara cara orange, cut into 1" cubes 
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts, chopped 
  • Goat cheese
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 tbsp meyer lemon juice 
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar or (white wine vinegar) 
  • Dash of honey to taste 
  • Sea salt 


Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F. 
  2. Mix the chopped radishes and broccolini with crushed garlic and 1 tbsp of oil and season with sea salt until evenly coated. 
  3. Spread the vegetables onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 
  4. Roast the vegetables for about 15 or 20 minutes, until the broccolini leaves start to brown - this is the part that will cook the fastest and you do not want it to burn. 
  5. Toss the vegetables once after about 10 minutes. 
  6. Meanwhile, make the dressing by shaking the 3 tbsp of olive oil with meyer lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, honey and sea salt in a small jar or plastic container. 
  7. Remove roasted vegetables from oven, allowing them to cool slightly before serving salads. 
  8. Place a handful or two of lettuce leaves into the bottom of 2-4 plates or wide bowls. 
  9. Top lettuce with the sliced orange segments, slightly warmed and roasted vegetables, crumbled goat cheese and hazelnuts. 
  10. Dress the salad and serve. 

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