In a sense, all chefs are great teachers, training the eye and the palate in the appreciation of good tastes. But some chefs really do teach, and when cooking becomes academic, the information can be delicious.
That's certainly the case when Chef Michael Baskette, director of faculty at the Baltimore International Culinary College teamed up with Eleanor Mainella, R.D., who teaches nutrition, to produce "The Art of Nutritional Cooking" (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992). The book is part-reference book, part-textbook, part-cookbook, and includes such chapters as "Exploring the past," a history of food preparation, "Taste with herbs and spices," with some history and a catalog of commonly used herbs and spices, "Natural flavorings," discussing oils and fats and flavored vinegars, among others, and "Liquid flavor enhancers," which explores the use of wine and other alcohol preparations in cooking. There are also chapters on menu planning, nutrition and weight control.
And that's all before you get to the recipes.
Writing the first section of the book was "the fun part," says Chef Baskette. Exploring the link between cuisine and technology goes a long way toward explaining why people prefer foods that are too fatty and too salty.
"Salts and fats were used as preservatives," Chef Baskette says. "We really don't need that anymore. Salt is necessary, but only in limited amounts. Fat is necessary, but the kind you choose is important.
"Everybody hears the word 'nutrition' and they cringe," he says. "But we're going back to the natural flavor of the food."
The recipes in the book, which he developed based on guidelines from Ms. Mainella, "are just examples," he says, "of how people can take information from the book -- both the culinary and the nutritional information -- and create a new, healthful recipe, or rework a family recipe" to be more healthful.
As an example, he cited Coriander Turkey Chili, which skips the fattier beef and relies on spices for added flavor. If you don't like coriander, he says, leave it out and use more of something else -- basil, for instance.
Coriander turkey chili
Makes 10 10-ounce portions
2 pounds turkey meat, coarse-ground
1 pound onions, small dice
1 pound green or red bell peppers, diced
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 ounces vegetable oil
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
4 ounces tomato paste
8 cups tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons basil leaves
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon black pepper, coarse-ground
2 cups red beans, cooked
In a large pot, cook the turkey, onions, bell peppers and coriander seeds in the oil until the turkey is well-browned.
Add all the other ingredients and bring to a quick boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Allow to sit overnight; adjust the seasonings before serving. (Chili will have better flavor.)