Contributing columnist Michael Ulrich is a real looker, y’all, hailing straight from the annals of sexy produce-section management. That’s right, he spends his work days coordinating with regional fruit-and-vegetable farmers to stock his San Francisco-based boutique-grocery store, Canyon Market, with one of the most enviable produce selections around. When I was living in California, it was always my distinct pleasure to make an evening grocery run and bump into Michael. What girl doesn’t love it when the super-cute, super-swell produce guy helps her pick out the season’s choicest persimmons, parsnips, and pomelos? He also has a formidable mind and knows a thing or two about healthy eating and at-home culinary art. In the following article, Michael gives us the skinny on fat—specifically, he addresses which oils are best for your bodacious body and your healthy kitchen. Happy noshing, y’all! xxo, abs
Fats, Flavor and Fulfillment
Fats, protein and carbohydrates. We need all three, and we need them every day. But the science is far from settled as to how much of each and exactly which kinds. For the last half-century, the lipid hypothesis has held sway, recommending diets low in fat for overall health and cardiovascular health. More recently, low-carb and high-protein myths stormed our dietary discourse–along with plenty of controversy.
Thankfully, some shrewd nutritionists and food writers are making the case that the qualities of our macronutrients are of at least equal importance to their respective quantities. After all, traditional populations thrived on diets of vastly different macronutrition. (Inuits obtained the majority of their calories from maritime animal fat, in stark contrast to, say, the squash-beans-corn equation of Mesoamerican societies). In this article, I’m here to help redeem fats—specifically, foolproof vegetarian fats in the form of pressed oils that will lubricate your palate.
Olive Oil: It’s been called liquid gold for millennia, but there’s no better time than the present to be enriched by olive oil. Artisanal, small-scale presses have proliferated, especially in the hospitable Mediterranean climate of Northern California. Over a dozen small presses thrive in Yolo County alone, which just so happens to be the original hotbed of Community-Supported Agriculture. Small olive oil producers can be found at your local farmer’s markets, and what’s more, they’ll let you taste their varieties, helping you zero-in on your preference: robust, buttery, delicate, fruity, nutty, and even gamey. The fullness of a fatty tasting olive oil is ideal for supporting the flavor of cooked produce, while the variously striking or subtle tones of other oils introduce their own distinct flavors. Selectively use the delicate, artisinal oils for raw applications, like dressing and dipping, as well as drizzling over a cooked meal that has already made its way to your plate. I’m sure you don’t need any more convincing that olive oil is good for your heart, so I won’t mention a single thing about oleic acid.
Coconut Oil: Undoubtedly the fruit of the decade, the coconut continues to reveal its awesome versatility to the Western food-conscious eater, best evidenced by the soaring popularity of coconut’s naturally isotonic water, not to mention coconut milk, the foundation of Thai curries. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and rich in easily-assimilated, energy-dense medium chain triglycerides. Even better, several of these fatty acids assist your immune system as antimicrobial agents, especially lauric acid and caprylic acid. For low-heat applications, find organic extra virgin, cold-pressed oil that looks lightly marbled. When working with higher heat, use refined coconut oil to prevent smoking and oxidation. This fat introduces a spirit of sweet coconut flavor, which becomes more transparent with continued use. Coconut oil tames the bitterness of brassicas like broccoli and kale, and melts sweetly into a bed of grain. That is to say, it’s incredible for stir fries. And if you’re in search of a solid, spreadable fat from a vegetarian source, ditch the margarine and consider coconut oil.
Smaller Role Players:
Sesame oil: Both toasted and un-toasted sesame oils quickly lend an Eastern taste to your salads and stir-fries, and are indispensable for those who are eschewing soy. One of my favorite breakfasts, borrowed from a Buddhist monk, is millet porridge cooked in ginger broth, with celeriac, carrots and sesame oil.
Chili oil: Actually chili-infused oil, these little bottles should be in your pantry, at the ready for your next foray into Eastern cuisine. Look for a chili oil that uses sesame oil or olive oil as a base (instead of soybean oil) and has no added sugar.
Nut oils: Almond, walnut, pistachio, hazelnut, pecan–there are as many nut oils as there are nuts. Each bears the essence of its progenitor, and all are better for flavoring applications than for basic lubrication. Dressings, marinades, desserts and the finishing touch of pasta dish–these are just some ideas. Use your flavor-combining intuition.
Truffle oil: A strange fog floats up toward the back of your throat, a profoundly tactile aroma–it could only be truffles. There’s nothing else like it, and while certainly weird, it’s undeniably enjoyable and defiantly complex. Most truffle oil is made by infusing truffle extract into a neutral-flavored oil, like sunflower oil. Usually described as “earthy” in taste, truffle oils are especially recommended for bringing depth and fullness to starchy dishes.
Below are some modest recipes with flamboyant flavor. Enjoy!
Citrus Salad with Sesame and Chili Oils: Mix pomelo (or grapefruit) wedges into a salad of crisp romaine hearts, pan-toasted cashews, mung bean sprouts, sesame and chili oils, and sea salt.
Japanese Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Oil: Cut off the ends, and bake sweet potatoes in their jackets at 400 degrees for 60-90 minutes, until the interiors are mashed easily with a fork. Let cool to room temperature, open up the sweets like a baked potato, and slather with coconut oil, and a bit of sea salt if you’re feeling it. Behold the power of some of the most nutrient-rich carbs combined with wholesome fats: a spare combination yields dessert-like delectation.
On a final note, visit Abigail’s Eating with Abs fan page, because I really, really like it and bet you will, too.