Pros: Very flavorful, health conscious recipes
Cons: Lots of consistency issues and omitted details
A restaurant cannot live by flavor alone. As today’s diners are becoming more informed about the impact their food decisions have upon their health, modern kitchens must stay ahead of the learning curve.
In the Culinary Institutes of America’s latest nutrition textbook, Techniques of Healthy Cooking, The Culinary provides professionals with the tools necessary to satisfy the growing health consciousness of their patrons. The book’s introductory chapters teach you the basics of healthy eating, while the recipes focus on maximizing flavor. This is not a diet book, so ingredients like salt, sugar, eggs, and butter are not entirely eliminated. Unfortunately, there is one major flaw that runs through the entire book—consistency. Overall, however, the quality of the dishes still makes this book a worthy addition to your library.
Generally speaking, Healthy Cooking is divided up into two major sections: the educational portion, and the recipes portion.
The educational chapters take you through the topics of nutrition, ingredients, cooking techniques, and menu planning. The chapter on nutrition attempts to explain the currently accepted building blocks of good health. The chapters on ingredients and cooking technique shows the breadth of tools available to make very flavorful, nutritionally-packed meals while reducing calories, fat, and cholesterol. And the menu planning chapter prepares you to use your newfound knowledge to prepare healthy meals of your own choosing.
The recipes portion covers all courses of a dining experience, from appetizer through dessert, even including a number of drinks. A lot of thought went into the creation of each recipe to ensure that color, texture and flavor are all considered. Even for simple dishes like steamed farro, the writers add aromatics and seasonings to give the simple grain a noticeable and pleasing flavor. Best, the recipes rely heavily on common ingredients and seasonings, meaning that you will rarely need to visit specialty markets to make these meals. The same goes for cooking techniques—standard methods are used with no gimmicks. And to give you control over your intake, the nutritional information is included for each recipe. The writers do tend to use advanced cooking terms, but they are nothing too outlandish—e.g. court bouillon, or sachet d’Éspices. The net results are flavorful and simple dishes that can be made in either a professional or home kitchen.
Now while there are many things to praise in Healthy Cooking, there is also a major flaw that needs addressing--consistency. The book is packed with literally hundreds of examples of well thought-out discussion topics and recipes. Yet, throughout the book, the writers and editors frequently make decisions that just seem out of place with the rest of the first-rate material.
Among other issues, many of the discussion topics read like lists of miscellaneous facts. In addition, the writers often fail to tie those facts to practical kitchen applications. The discussion on fats and sugars includes an explanation of molecular bonds without any conclusion on how to use that knowledge. The discussion on whole grains describes the benefits of different components of a kernel, yet fails to clearly identify from where on a kernel these components are found. Often, this introductory portion of the book just feels like the writers flip-flop between sharing what is helpful and what is unnecessarily exhaustive. If the overall introductory section were tighter, the shortcomings would not be as noticeable. But because these initial chapters take up nearly 200 pages of the book, there is ample opportunity to see the shifting changes in quality.
Consistency issues are also seen in the recipes portion of the book. Among other issues, the writers frequently load far too many unrelated actions into a single step. The problem is only exacerbated by the recurring misuse of the recipes’ “To serve” element. For instance, the Rabbit and Oyster Étouffée properly uses the “To serve” element to describe how to plate the entrée. Compare that, however, to the Sea Bass with Ginger recipe where virtually the entire cooking method is found in the “To serve” element. There, the writers direct you to grease a pan; add all of the ingredients, including stock; wrap in paper; bake until done; transfer to a separate serving dish and restack the cooked ingredients; top with the fish; and finally, garnish. All of those unrelated cooking and plating actions are dumped into a single step—specifically, a “To serve” element. The same goes for the very next recipe, Sautéed Sole with Preserved Mango Chutney. The “To serve” portion of the instructions is actually the entire process of a breading station. While careful reading allows you to overcome this writing, it nevertheless causes certain recipes to feel sloppy, at worst, or hastily compiled, at best.
In reality, experienced cooks and most home cooks will have little problem dealing with the consistency problems in Healthy Cooking. A bit of careful reading or referencing additional resources will eliminate any questions you may face. However, the fact that such lax discussion topics and recipes appear so frequently throughout the book, right alongside items that are so very polished, makes the issue of consistency noteworthy. In fairness, while the issue is annoying, it does not overshadow the otherwise high quality of the book.
On the scale of things, you cannot do much better than Techniques of Healthy Cooking. Despite the noticeable flaws, the book still succeeds in creating amazing dishes with intense flavors and healthier profiles. You will not feel like you are eating restrictive foods in the least. And while Healthy Cooking falls short of the attention to detail found in other Culinary Institute of America books, you will be impressed by the healthy meals you can prepare using everyday ingredients and basic cooking techniques. Despite the flaws and missteps, I still find myself highly recommending this book for its lighter fare and healthier food options.
RECIPE: Farro (scaled down to 5 servings for this review)
27 fl. oz. Water
1 Small Yellow Onion, Halved
3 oz. Carrots
1 Bouquet Garni
8 oz. Farro
1 tsp. Salt
1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot over high heat with the onions, carrots, and bouquet garni.
2. Remove any black kernels. Rinse the farro in 3 or 4 changes of water. Add the farro and salt to the boiling water, lower heat, and simmer uncovered, until the kernels are sift and chewy and have slightly popped open, about 50 minutes. Drain the farro and discard the aromatic vegetables and bouquet.