Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers

PART III

SAY GOOD-BYE TO GRAIN BRAIN

CHAPTER 11

Eating Your Way to a Healthy Brain

Meal Plans and Recipes

THE NUMBER OF MEAL IDEAS and recipes here goes to show how plentiful your choices are on this diet. You’ll see an abundance of vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, nuts, eggs, and salads. But you could just as easily craft simpler dishes based on the themes presented here (e.g., pick a fish or meat to cook up with some side vegetables and a green salad for lunch or dinner and pack hard-boiled eggs for breakfast with a handful of nuts as a snack). You’ll find a few ideas for dessert (yes, it’s allowable!), as well as various salad dressings and dipping sauces.

Notice that you won’t find nutritional content information in these recipes. As I mentioned earlier, one of my goals in this book has been to liberate you from ever having to count calories or grams of protein and fat (especially saturated fat) again. I want to teach you what to eat, not how to eat (i.e., how much of this or that). If you follow the guidelines and protocol, the fat, carbs, and protein intake will take care itself. You won’t overeat, you won’t feel underfed, and you’ll be maximally nourishing your body and brain.

At DrPerlmutter.com, you’ll find my recommendations for specific brands of foods that follow the Grain Brain guidelines. Even though you’re evicting gluten, wheat, and most sugar from your diet, you’d be surprised by the abundance of food options available to you. You’ll also be astonished by the control you’ll gain over your hunger levels, cravings, portion sizes, and caloric intake. Your taste buds will be rejoicing, too, as they experience a rebirth of sorts and bestow upon you a new appreciation for food.

In the past decade, there’s been a huge shift in the variety of food available at our markets. If you live in an urban area, for instance, you’re likely to be able to purchase any kind of ingredient within a matter of miles, whether that means visiting your usual grocery store that’s now filled with organic foods or venturing to a local farmers’ market. Get to know your grocers; they can tell you what just came in and where your foods are coming from. Aim for choosing produce that’s in season, and be willing to try new foods you’ve never had before. Ten years ago, it was hard to buy bison or black cod, for instance, but today delicious and exotic meats and fish are widely available. Remember, go organic or wild whenever possible. When in doubt, ask your grocer.

What to Drink: Ideally, stick with purified water. Drink half of your body weight in ounces of purified water daily. If you weigh 150 pounds, that means drinking at least 75 ounces, or about nine glasses, of water per day. You can also opt for tea or coffee (assuming you don’t have any issues with coffee), but be careful about caffeine late in the day. For every caffeinated beverage you consume, include an extra 12 to 16 ounces of water. Almond milk is also a healthy choice. At dinner, you have the option of having a glass of wine, preferably red.

Fruit: Choose whole fruit, and during the first four weeks, aim to save fruit for a snack or as a dessert. Try it with fresh, unsweetened cream or blended with coconut milk and a pinch of stevia or unsweetened cocoa powder.

Olive Oil Rule: You are free to liberally use olive oil (extra-virgin and organic). Note that in many cases, you can substitute coconut oil for olive oil during the cooking process. For instance, pan-fry fish and sauté vegetables in coconut oil rather than olive oil or scramble eggs in coconut oil for breakfast. This will help you get your daily teaspoon of coconut oil as recommended in the supplement section.

On the Go: When you’re strapped for time and don’t have access to a kitchen, which is often the case during lunch at work, pack food. Having pre-cooked foods—such as roasted or broiled chicken, poached salmon, or strips of grilled sirloin steak or roast beef—in your refrigerator ready to go is helpful. Fill a container with salad greens and chopped raw veggies and add your protein and dressing of choice on top before eating. Many supermarkets now offer ready-to-go foods that list their ingredients so you know what you’re getting. Some Whole Foods stores, for example, have a “Meal Deal”: You can pick grilled chicken or salmon and two sides, such as spicy green beans and raw kale salad.

And don’t forget about leftovers. Many of the recipes in this chapter can be made over the weekend (and doubled for more) to cover multiple meals during the week while you’re on the go. Just carry your food in an airtight container and eat cold or reheat in a microwave.

I travel with avocados and cans of sockeye salmon. Canned foods can be excellent sources of good, portable nutrition, as long as you’re careful about which canned products you’re buying. Canned tomatoes, for instance, can be great alternatives to fresh produce. Just be watchful of added ingredients like sodium and sugar. When choosing canned fish, opt for sustainably caught, pole- or troll-caught fish. Also steer clear of any fish that is likely to be high in mercury. A great site to bookmark on your computer is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program at http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx. The site offers up-to-date information about where your fish is coming from and which fish to avoid due to its contaminants and toxins.

What to Snack On: Due to the high satiety factor of the meals I suggest (not to mention the exquisite blood sugar control), you’re not likely to find yourself hunting ravenously for food in between meals. But it’s nice to know you can snack whenever you want to on this diet. Below are some ideas:

• A handful of raw nuts (with the exception of peanuts, which are a legume and not a nut). Or go for a mix of nuts and olives.

• A few squares of dark chocolate (anything above 70 percent cacao).

• Chopped raw vegetables (e.g., bell peppers, broccoli, cucumber, green beans, radishes) dipped in hummus, guacamole, goat cheese, tapenade, or nut butter.

• Cheese and wheat-free, low-carb crackers.

• Slices of cold roasted turkey or chicken dipped in mustard.

• Half an avocado drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

• Two hard-boiled eggs.

• Caprese salad: 1 sliced tomato topped with fresh sliced mozzarella cheese, drizzled olive oil, basil, salt, and pepper.

• Cold peeled shrimp with lemon and dill.

• One piece or serving of whole, low-sugar fruit (e.g., grapefruit, orange, apple, berries, melon, pear, cherries, grapes, kiwi, plum, peach, nectarine).

SAMPLE MENU FOR A WEEK

Here is what a weeklong, grain-brain-free diet approach could look like. All dishes accompanied by recipes are in boldface. The recipes begin here. Note: You can use butter, organic extra-virgin olive oil, or coconut oil when you pan-fry foods. Avoid processed oils and cooking sprays unless the spray is made from organic olive oil.

Monday:

·   Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with 1 ounce cheddar cheese and unlimited stir-fried veggies (e.g., onions, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli).

·   Lunch: Chicken with Mustard Vinaigrette (here) with a side of leafy greens dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

·   Dinner: 3 ounces grass-fed sirloin steak, organic roasted chicken, or wild fish with a side of greens and vegetables sautéed in butter and garlic.

·   Dessert: half a cup of berries topped with a drizzle of fresh, unsweetened cream.

Tuesday:

·   Breakfast: half an avocado drizzled with olive oil and two poached eggs topped with salsa.

·   Lunch: Lemon Chicken (here) with Herb Garden Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette (here).

·   Dinner: Quick Salmon with Mushrooms (here) and unlimited roasted vegetables.

·   Dessert: 2 Chocolate Truffles (here).

Wednesday:

·   Breakfast: Gruyère and Goat Cheese Frittata (here).

·   Lunch: Lemon Arugula with Parmigiano-Reggiano (here) and 3 ounces diced grilled chicken.

·   Dinner: Chardonnay Baked Fish (here) with ½ cup wild rice and unlimited steamed vegetables.

·   Dessert: 1 whole apple, sliced and topped with a sprinkle of stevia and cinnamon.

Thursday:

·   Breakfast: 3–4 slices of lox or smoked salmon with 1 ounce goat cheese and 1 serving of Quick Crunchy “Cereal” (here).

·   Lunch: 1½ cups Sea Salt’s Zucchini Yogurt Gazpacho with Saffron-Marinated Chicken Breast (here).

·   Dinner: Balsamic-Glazed Steaks (here) and Green Beans with Garlic Dressing (here).

·   Dessert: 2 to 3 squares of dark chocolate.

Friday:

·   Breakfast: Coconut Oil Omelet (here).

·   Lunch: Roasted Walnut-Oil Mesclun Salad (here) and 3 ounces grilled salmon.

·   Dinner: Greek Lemon Lamb (here) and unlimited green beans and broccoli.

·   Dessert: Chocolate Coconut Mousse (here).

Saturday:

·   Breakfast: Oatless “Oatmeal” (here).

·   Lunch: Sea Salt’s Ahi Tuna Carpaccio with Red Onion, Parsley, and Pink Peppercorns (here).

·   Dinner: Sea Salt’s Akaushi Beef Tenderloin with Brussels Sprouts (here).

·   Dessert: ¾ cup whole strawberries dipped in 3 squares of melted dark chocolate.

Sunday:

·   Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros (here).

·   Lunch: Nicoise Salad (here).

·   Dinner: Sea Salt’s Grilled Sardines with Tomato, Arugula, and Pecorino Cheese (here).

·   Dessert: 2 squares of dark chocolate dipped in 1 tablespoon almond butter.

RECIPES

Abiding by the Grain Brain dietary principles is easier than you think. Even though this new way of eating significantly limits your intake of carbohydrates, especially wheat and sugar, there’s really no shortage of foods and ingredients to play with in the kitchen. You’ll have to get a little creative to follow some of your beloved dishes, but once you learn how to effortlessly make certain substitutions, you’ll be able to do the same with your own recipes and return to your classic cookbooks. These recipes will give you a general sense of how to apply the guidelines to virtually any meal, and help you master the art of grain-brain-free cuisine.

Knowing that most people maintain busy schedules and have limited time to cook, I’ve chosen simple dishes that are relatively easy to prepare and, above all, are filled with flavor and nutrition. Although I encourage you to follow my seven-day meal plan outlined here so you don’t even have to think about what to eat during the first week on the program, you could design your own protocol by choosing the recipes that appeal to you. Most of the ingredients used are widely available. Remember to go grass-fed, organic, and wild whenever possible. When choosing olive or coconut oil, reach for extra-virgin varieties. Although all of the ingredients listed in the recipes were chosen to be readily accessible as gluten-free, always check labels to be sure, particularly if you’re buying a food processed by a manufacturer (e.g., mustard). You can never control what goes into products, but you can control what goes into your dishes.

BREAKFAST

Gruyère and Goat Cheese Frittata

Eggs are one of the most versatile ingredients. They can serve as a meal on their own or be added to other dishes. Buy organic, free-range eggs whenever possible. Frittatas are quick and easy to make, and are great for serving large groups. You can make many different kinds of frittatas by changing the type of cheese, leafy greens, and vegetables you use. Below is one of my favorites.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 pound spinach leaves, washed and chopped

1 tablespoon water

9 large eggs, beaten

3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

¼ cup grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and heat until hot. Add the onions, salt, and pepper. Cook 3 to 4 minutes while stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the spinach and water and cook, while mixing, until the spinach is wilted (about 1 to 2 minutes). Pour in the eggs and sprinkle on the goat cheese and Gruyère. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, until the mixture begins to set around the edges. Then transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove from the oven and serve.

Coconut Oil Omelet

Omelets are also a favorite in my house. Experiment with different vegetables and cook your omelet in olive oil one day and coconut oil the next.

Serves 1

1 onion, chopped

1 ripe tomato, chopped

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon coconut oil

¼ avocado, sliced

2 tablespoons salsa

Add the onion, tomato, salt, and pepper to the beaten eggs in a bowl and mix. Add the coconut oil to a skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the egg mixture and cook until the eggs begin to set (about 2 minutes). Flip the omelet with a spatula and cook until the eggs are no longer runny (about 1 more minute). Fold the omelet in half and continue to cook if the omelet is not yet slightly brown. Transfer to a plate, and serve hot with sliced avocado and salsa on top.

Huevos Rancheros

This classic Mexican dish has been modified so that instead of eggs served on tortillas, they are prepared over a fresh bed of greens.

Serves 2

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

4 eggs

4 cups coarsely torn frisée

2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

4 tablespoons salsa

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Add the butter or olive oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, crack the eggs into the skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes for runny yolks, more for firmer yolks. Serve the eggs over a bed of frisée and top with cheese, salsa, and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.

Oatless “Oatmeal”

The following recipe, sometimes called “No Oat Oatmeal,” was adapted from The Paleo Diet Cookbook by Loren Cordain and Nell Stephenson. If you enjoy a rich, thick, warm breakfast, try this instead of classic oatmeal.

Serves 2

¼ cup raw, unsalted walnuts

¼ cup raw, unsalted almonds

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

1 teaspoon ground allspice

3 eggs

¼ cup unsweetened almond milk

½ banana, mashed

1 tablespoon almond butter

2 teaspoons pumpkin seeds (optional)

1 handful of fresh berries (optional)

Combine the walnuts, almonds, flaxseed, and allspice in a food processor and blend to a coarse grain but not a powder. Set aside.

Whisk together eggs and almond milk until thick like a custard. Blend the mashed banana and almond butter together and add it to the custard, mixing well. Stir in the coarse nut mixture.

Warm the mixture in a saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently, until the batter reaches the desired consistency. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds and berries on top, add more almond milk, if desired, and serve.

Quick Crunchy “Cereal”

Looking for a cereal that meets the Grain Brain guidelines? Try this one, and if walnuts are not your thing, you can substitute your favorite raw nut.

Serves 1

¼ cup crushed raw, unsalted walnuts (or other nuts)

¼ cup coconut flakes

1 handful of fresh berries

⅔ cup whole milk or almond milk

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and enjoy.

LUNCH OR DINNER

Lemon Chicken

Chicken can be used in a variety of dishes. Here’s an easy chicken recipe that you can prepare for dinner. Leftovers can be packed up for lunch the next day.

Serves 6

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

½ cup olive oil

Set aside the chicken in a shallow baking dish that can accommodate all 6 breasts for marinating. In a bowl, combine the rosemary, garlic, shallots, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the marinade over the chicken, cover, and leave in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the chicken from the marinade and bake in a roasting pan for 25 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with a side salad and steamed veggies.

Chicken with Mustard Vinaigrette

When you’re strapped for time, this recipe takes minutes to prepare as long as you have a roasted chicken on hand. You can double the dressing recipe and use it throughout the week on salads.

Serves 4

1 whole organic roasted chicken

12 ounces (about 3 bags) prewashed salad greens of your choice

For the mustard vinaigrette:

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Carve the chicken and serve with a drizzle of vinaigrette over salad greens.

Chardonnay Baked Fish

Nothing could be simpler than baking your favorite fish and adding a rich, flavorful sauce. Although this sauce was originally prepared with salmon in mind, it goes well with any fish. Choose wild-caught fish and aim to buy the freshest fish available at your market by asking what just came in.

Serves 4

½ cup butter

1 cup Chardonnay

2–3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed

Juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill

4 salmon fillets or white fish of your choice (skin on)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Melt the butter gently in a saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the Chardonnay, mustard, capers, and lemon juice. Heat about 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Add the dill. Place the fish in a baking pan, skin-side down. Pour the sauce over the fish and bake for 20 minutes or until the fish is flaky. Serve immediately with Green Beans with Garlic Dressing (here).

Balsamic-Glazed Steaks

Steak is another hassle-free meal to cook that takes minutes to prepare. All you need is an excellent cut of grass-fed meat and a juicy marinade.

Serves 2

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 fillet steaks (1 inch thick)

8 ounces (about 2 bags) salad greens

Combine the olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Pour the marinade into a sealable plastic bag and add the steaks. Marinate for 30 minutes. Prepare the grill and cook the steaks for 1 minute on each side, or to your liking. Brush the steaks with marinade as they cook. Alternatively, you can broil your steaks in the oven by searing them first in a hot, oiled skillet over high heat (about 30 seconds on each side) and then completing the cooking under the broiler for about 2 minutes on each side (cook longer if you like your steak well-done). Serve the steaks on a bed of greens with a side of veggies.

Succulent Short Ribs

The following was adapted from Steve Clifton’s delicious beef short ribs recipe. Part winemaker, part chef, Steve loves to create dishes that go with his Palmina Italian wines.

Serves 6

4 medium yellow onions

3 carrots, peeled

6 stalks celery

3 garlic cloves

1 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 pounds beef short ribs

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bottle Italian red wine

Zest and juice of 1 navel orange

4 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Coarsely chop the onion, carrots, and celery and set aside. Mince the garlic and set aside. In a large bowl, season the almond flour with salt and pepper, then dredge the ribs in it. Heat the olive oil in a large, 6-quart pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the ribs and set aside. Add the onions and garlic to the pot and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery. Cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Return the ribs to the pot. Stir in the tomato paste to coat the ribs. Add the wine, orange zest, and orange juice. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for 2¼ hours. Uncover, add the thyme leaves, and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with parsley sprinkled on top and a side of Cauliflower “Couscous” (here).

Sea Salt’s Ahi Tuna Carpaccio with Red Onion, Parsley, and Pink Peppercorns

The following seven recipes were created by my good friend and chef Fabrizio Aielli at Sea Salt, one of my favorite local restaurants in Naples, Florida, which I frequently visit (www.seasaltnaples.com). Fabrizio was generous enough to give me a few of his recipes to share, and I recommend trying these when you have guests over for dinner and want to impress.

Serves 6

1/2 pounds ahi tuna steaks

1/2 red onion, sliced

1 bunch parsley leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon ground pink peppercorns

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt to taste

3 lemons, cut in half

Thinly slice the tuna into quarter-inch slices; each plate should have three to five slices. On top of the tuna add the red onion, parsley, peppercorns, and olive oil, and finish with a sprinkle of salt and a lemon half on the side.

Sea Salt’s Akaushi Beef Tenderloin with Brussels Sprouts

This dish is a crowd-pleaser for meat lovers. If you have difficulty buying Akaushi beef, a type produced by Akaushi cattle (Akaushi means “red cow”), then any richly marbled beef tenderloin will do. Akaushi beef is famous for its healthy fats and mouthwatering flavor.

Serves 6

6 cups water

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons salt, plus salt and pepper to taste

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cleaned

1 cup chicken stock

6 cuts (about 6 ounces each) Akaushi beef tenderloin

1 garlic clove, minced

Leaves from 2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

For the Brussels sprouts:

Bring the water, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook on medium-high heat for 9 minutes, or until tender. Strain.

In a sauté pan add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the Brussels sprouts cut in half, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook on high heat until the sprouts are lightly browned. Add the chicken stock and cook until it evaporates.

For the steaks:

Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Add the remaining olive oil to a sauté pan, heat over medium-high heat, and sear the steaks until golden brown on the first side (about 2 minutes). Turn them and add the minced garlic and rosemary. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking and turning for a few more minutes until they are done to your liking (about 3 to 6 minutes depending on the steaks’ thickness).

Pour the juice from the meat over the Brussels sprouts and serve on the side of the tenderloin.

Sea Salt’s Grilled Sardines with Tomato, Arugula, and Pecorino Cheese

Sardines are a fantastic way to boost your intake of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and other nutrients. Although some like to eat these small, oily saltwater fish right out of the can, here’s an easy, quick way to serve them up nicely on a plate with added flavor.

Serves 6

18 fresh Mediterranean sardines, cleaned

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

6 bunches baby arugula

4 ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped

Juice from 3 lemons

1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

5 ounces Pecorino cheese, shaved

Heat the grill to medium-high (if your grill has a temperature gauge, heat to 350 degrees). Brush the sardines with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 4 minutes on each side. (Alternatively, you can pan-fry the sardines on medium-high heat.)

In a mixing bowl, toss the arugula, tomato, remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Divide into 6 portions and top each portion with sardines, chopped parsley, and shaved Pecorino cheese.

Sea Salt’s Red Snapper with Celery, Black Olives, Cucumber, Avocado, and Yellow Grape Tomatoes

When red snapper arrives fresh at your market, pick some up and try this recipe. It takes less than twenty minutes to put together.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

6 American red snapper fillets, skin on

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 cup black olives, pitted

1 cucumber, chopped

2 avocados, chopped

1 pint yellow grape tomatoes, halved

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Juice from 2 lemons

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the snapper fillets and sear for 6 minutes on each side. In a mixing bowl, combine the celery, olives, cucumber, avocados, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and remaining olive oil. Divide the salad among six plates and serve the seared snapper, skin up, on top.

Sea Salt’s Zucchini Yogurt Gazpacho with Saffron-Marinated Chicken Breast

It doesn’t take much saffron, a spice derived from the flower of the crocus, to create an intensely delicious, flavorful dish. This one uses not just saffron but zucchini and cilantro to elevate the dish to a whole new level.

Serves 6

1 cup white wine

2 lemons

1 pinch saffron

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

6 zucchini

1 quart vegetable stock

½ cup olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, stems included

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cucumber

½ Vidalia onion, finely chopped

1 heirloom tomato, finely chopped

6 teaspoons plain Greek yogurt

Combine the wine, juice of 1 lemon, and saffron in a large bowl. Add the chicken breasts and marinate overnight.

Heat the grill to medium-high (if your grill has a temperature gauge, heat to 350 degrees). Grill the chicken breasts for 6 minutes on each side or until cooked through, then slice into ¼-inch slices. (Alternatively, broil the chicken in the oven for the same time on each side.) Chill the chicken in the refrigerator.

Put the zucchini, vegetable stock, olive oil, juice of the remaining lemon, lime juice, and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro in a blender, and blend until pureed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the soup into a large bowl and stir in the cucumber, Vidalia onion, and tomato. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve, divide the soup into six portions and top each portion with 1 teaspoon yogurt. Add slices of chicken breast to each dish. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with the remaining cilantro.

Sea Salt’s Liquid “Minestrone”

When people think minestrone, they think vegetable soup. This version swaps out the pasta or rice for more vegetables… and more flavor.

Serves 4–6

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 cups chopped broccoli

2 cups chopped cauliflower

1 cup chopped asparagus

3 medium-size zucchini, chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 pound celery root, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes

3 cups kale, stems removed

3 cups Swiss chard, stems removed

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon dried sage

1½ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 quarts homemade chicken stock

5 cups spinach, stems removed

6 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, and thyme. Sweat the vegetables until the onions are translucent. Add the celery root, kale, Swiss chard, bay leaves, dried sage, salt, and black pepper and cook for about 4 minutes. Add the chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat to medium. Cook at a low boil for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Let the soup stand for 10 minutes. Add the spinach and stir. While stirring, locate the bay leaves and remove them. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth.

Garnish each serving with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Sea Salt’s Tomato and Red Cabbage Soup

Whether it’s the dead of winter or middle of summer, this refreshing, simple soup calls for ingredients that most people have on hand. This goes well with any main entrée in lieu of a side salad.

Serves 6

½ cup olive oil

1 Vidalia onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes

1 red cabbage, chopped

10 basil leaves

1½ quarts chicken stock

1½ quarts vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, add half of the olive oil and sweat the onions, celery, and garlic until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the crushed tomatoes, red cabbage, half of the basil leaves, chicken stock, and vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook at a low boil for 25 to 30 minutes. Add the remaining olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and let the soup stand for 10 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender and serve.

Quick Salmon with Mushrooms

It doesn’t get any easier than pan-frying fresh fish fillets and adding flavor from mushrooms, herbs, spices, and a combination of olive and sesame oil. This recipe takes minutes to prepare.

Serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

3 shallots, finely sliced

1 teaspoon ginger, dried or fresh

4 skinless salmon fillets

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

½ cup cilantro, chopped

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the garlic, shallots, and ginger. Cook until it sizzles (about 1 minute), then add the salmon fillets and cook through (about 3 minutes on each side). Remove the fillets and set aside. Wipe the bottom of the pan carefully with a paper towel. Heat the remaining olive oil and sesame oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Drizzle the mushrooms over the salmon and garnish with the cilantro. Serve with a side of Roasted Seasonal Vegetables (here).

Greek Lemon Lamb

Whenever grass-fed lamb chops go on sale, pick some up. They make for delicious, elegant entrées that take little time to prepare and cook. All you need is a good marinade, like this one.

Serves 4

For the marinade:

2 garlic cloves, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

For the lamb:

12 lamb chops

1 lemon, cut into quarters

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl.

Combine the lamb chops with the marinade and place in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 hour. Prepare the grill, and grill the chops for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. (Alternatively, you can roast the lamb in a 400-degree oven for about 10 minutes, or to desired doneness.) Serve the lamb with lemon wedges for squeezing, veggies, and Cauliflower “Couscous” (here).

Quick Flat-Roasted Chicken

I like to keep small, whole chickens in the freezer and cook this recipe whenever I have friends coming over for dinner or want to have plenty of leftovers for the next day’s lunch. If you start with a frozen chicken, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight or in the kitchen sink for several hours.

Serves 6

1 3-to 4-pound organic chicken

1 lemon, sliced

5 garlic cloves, peeled

7 sprigs fresh thyme

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using kitchen scissors or a knife, cut along the backbone of the chicken. Open the chicken up and press down firmly on the breastbone to flatten it. Lay the chicken skin-side up in a large roasting pan. Toss the lemon slices, garlic cloves, thyme, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a bowl. Brush the chicken with the remaining olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Scatter the lemon slices, thyme, and garlic over the chicken and bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is cooked through. Serve with a side of salad greens and Roasted Seasonal Vegetables (here).

Note: You can substitute tarragon or oregano for thyme.

Fish in Dill and Lemon

A little bit of dill, lemon, and Dijon will go a long way to bring out the best of any fresh fish. You can use this recipe with any white fish.

Serves 4

Leaves from 1 bunch fresh dill, chopped

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Juice from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

4 firm white fish fillets, such as halibut or black cod (about 1 pound total), skin on

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Process all the ingredients except the fish in a food processor until smooth.

Place the fish fillets in a shallow baking dish, skin-side down, and coat with the dill sauce. Bake in the oven until cooked through, approximately 15 minutes.

Serve with Cauliflower “Couscous” (here) and Sautéed Spinach and Garlic (here).

Note: Parsley can be substituted for dill. As an alternative, try Dill Spread (here) or Pecorino Pesto (here).

Broccoli Soup with Cashew Cream

When the day calls for a hot soup at lunch or dinner to go with your main entrée, here’s one that you can prepare in advance and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to reheat. You can also use this as a snack to tide you over when your afternoon gets busy and dinner will be late.

Serves 4–6

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 shallots, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 quart organic chicken broth

6 cups broccoli florets, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1 cup coconut milk

Handful of pumpkin seeds for garnish

For the cashew cream:

¾ cup raw, unsalted cashews

¾ cup water

Salt to taste

In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, shallots, and garlic and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the broth, broccoli, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes, until the broccoli is soft.

Remove from the heat and pour the soup into a blender with the thyme. Process until smooth. Return to the soup pot and stir in the coconut milk. Warm gently over medium heat.

Puree the cashew cream ingredients in the blender. Serve the soup with a drizzle of cashew cream on top and, if desired, a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds.

SALADS

Herb Garden Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

This salad has become a staple for me. It can be used as a side to a main dish or stand alone as an entrée for lunch or dinner if you add more protein (for example, slices of cooked chicken, fish, or steak). Because I resort to this salad throughout the week, I like to have dressing stockpiled, so I often double up on the dressing recipe and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Serves 6

For the salad:

4 cups mixed baby greens

1 cup fresh Italian parsley

½ cup chopped chives

½ cup mixed fresh herbs (e.g., mustard cress, cilantro, tarragon, sage, mint), chopped

½ cup chopped raw walnuts

For the balsamic vinaigrette:

Makes about 1 cup

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2–3 garlic cloves, chopped

½ shallot, chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon rosemary (fresh or dried)

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

½ cup olive oil

Combine the salad ingredients in a salad bowl. Whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients together except for the oil, then drizzle in the oil slowly so it emulsifies. Add ½ cup balsamic vinaigrette to the salad, toss, and serve.

Nicoise Salad

This recipe is based on the classic Nicoise salad that hails from Nice, France, but without the potatoes, and you can use any type of cooked fish. Although it takes a little extra time to prepare, given all the chopping and pre-cooking for the eggs and fish, it comes together quickly and smoothly once you’ve gotten everything ready.

Serves 6

For the salad:

4 firm ripe tomatoes, diced

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

3 scallions, thinly sliced

3 cups arugula or mixed greens

3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

6 ounces cooked fish (e.g., mahimahi, salmon, black cod)

12 anchovy fillets, drained

½ cup black or Kalamata olives

¾ cup blanched green beans, trimmed

10 basil leaves, chopped

1 small cucumber, peeled and cubed

For the vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

6 teaspoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the salad ingredients in a salad bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and serve.

Roasted Walnut-Oil Salad

You can turn any salad into Roasted Walnut-Oil Salad just by using this dressing, which celebrates the robust flavor of walnuts. Although I’ve suggested goat cheese in this particular salad, feel free to try another crumbly cheese such as feta or Parmesan.

Serves 2

For the salad:

1½ to 2 bags pre-washed salad greens (e.g., mesclun, mixed greens, baby spinach)

4 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese

½ cup roasted, unsalted walnuts, chopped

3 tablespoons dried blueberries or cranberries

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons walnut oil

1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon prepared mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the salad greens in a salad bowl and top with goat cheese, walnuts, and dried berries. In a bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until thoroughly combined. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and serve.

Lemon Arugula with Parmigiano-Reggiano

This salad is minimal in its ingredients but full of zesty flavor, thanks to peppery arugula mixed with tangy cheese and rich olive oil. I enjoy this as a complement to any Italian-inspired dish.

Serves 2

4 cups baby arugula

⅓ cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds

8–10 shavings Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Juice from 1 lemon

6 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine arugula, sunflower seeds, cheese, and lemon juice in a salad bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, toss, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Sea Salt’s Kale Salad with Feta Cheese, Roasted Peppers, Black Olives, Artichokes, and Buttermilk Dressing

I’m known for ordering this salad when I go to Sea Salt for lunch. It accompanies any main entrée beautifully.

Serves 6

2 bunches kale, stems removed and leaves roughly torn

10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

3 roasted bell peppers, sliced

1 cup black olives, pitted and halved

12 marinated baby artichokes, halved

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

In a salad bowl, mix the kale, feta cheese, peppers, olives, and artichokes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and season with salt and pepper.

SIDES

Roasted Seasonal Vegetables

This recipe is good any time of the year. Just go with what’s in season and be sure to use the best olive oil you can find alongside the freshest herbs and freshly ground black pepper. A drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar at the very end of this cooking process adds an extra treat.

Serves 4-6

2 pounds seasonal vegetables (e.g., asparagus, Brussels sprouts, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, onion)

⅓ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

⅓ cup fresh herbs, minced (e.g., rosemary, oregano, parsley, thyme; optional)

Aged balsamic vinegar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Cut up any large vegetables into pieces. Spread the vegetables in a roasting pan with tinfoil on the bottom. Drizzle the olive oil liberally over the vegetables, then use clean hands to mix them so they are well coated with oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs, if desired. Stirring every 10 minutes, roast the vegetables for 35 to 40 minutes, or until they are cooked through and browned. Just prior to serving, drizzle lightly with aged balsamic vinegar, if desired.

Green Beans with Garlic Dressing

Just about any green vegetable can be dressed up this way, with garlic and herbs.

Serves 4-6

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon lemon zest

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pounds green beans, trimmed

½ cup chopped raw, unsalted almonds

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together in a bowl and set aside.

In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch the beans for 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Drain.

In a large bowl, toss the beans, almonds, and thyme with the dressing, and serve.

Cauliflower “Couscous”

For a tasty substitute for starchy vegetables like mashed potatoes, rice, or traditional couscous, try this dish made simply from cauliflower.

Serves 2

1 head cauliflower

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

In a food processor, process the florets from the cauliflower until they resemble small grains, or grate the cauliflower with a cheese grater (using the large-hole shredder) until the entire head of florets is grated down and you’re left with the stalk to discard.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cauliflower, garlic, pine nuts, and parsley, and sauté, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower begins to brown.

Note: For extra flavor, you could add pitted, chopped olives or ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese to the cauliflower while it’s cooking.

Sautéed Spinach and Garlic

Just about any leafy green vegetable sautéed in garlic and olive oil is delightful. Here’s the standard fare made with spinach, but feel free to experiment with other greens.

Serves 2

4 tablepoons olive oil

2 bags prewashed baby spinach

6 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

1 lemon

1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

In large sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat until hot, almost smoking. Add the spinach and cook, stirring continuously, for about 1 to 2 minutes. Spinach will begin to wilt slightly. Add the garlic and continue to cook while stirring rapidly for about 1 more minute, then remove from heat.

Squeeze the juice from the lemon over the top, and add the red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Toss well and serve.

DIPS

Guacamole Dip

You’ll find many versions of guacamole that work with Grain Brain’s guidelines, so feel free to experiment. The following was adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe on Foodnetwork.com. I love his use of spices for an added kick. As with all the dips in this section, you can store this in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week. Use it for snacking with pre-cut raw veggies like bell peppers, celery sticks, and radishes, or add a dollop to dishes for a boost of flavor where you feel it works.

Serves 4

2 large ripe Hass avocados, pitted

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne

½ small red onion, diced

½ jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

2 medium ripe tomatoes, diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 garlic clove, minced

In a large bowl mash the avocado flesh with the lime juice. Add the salt, cumin, and cayenne. Fold in the onions, jalapeño, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and serve.

Avocado-Tahini Dip

Here’s a dip that’s in between guacamole and hummus. Try it with pre-cut raw veggies or pre-cooked cubed chicken.

Makes about 1½ cups

1 4-ounce bag pre-washed arugula

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large ripe Hass avocado, pitted

⅓ cup tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

½ teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or cilantro

Cook the arugula in the olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat until wilted. Add the arugula to a food processor with the other ingredients and process until smooth. Add ¼ cup water or more and process until the mixture is a medium-thick consistency. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Creamy Cashew Dip

Cashew nuts are rich in flavor. In addition to serving as a dip for raw vegetables, this goes well as a topping on many soups and chicken dishes.

Makes 1 cup

½ cup raw, unsalted cashews

2 teaspoons light miso

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup water

Salt to taste

In a blender, puree the cashews, miso, lemon juice, nutmeg, and ½ cup of water until smooth. With the machine running, slowly add the remaining water until the mixture is the consistency of whipped cream. If you prefer a thinner consistency, add additional water. Season with salt to taste. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Hummus Dip

Hummus is one of the most versatile dips and can be used in a variety of ways. It’s delicious with veggies as a snack and can be used to add depth to meat dishes.

Serves 4

1 16-ounce can chickpeas

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1½ tablespoons tahini

2 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Drain the chickpeas but reserve ¼ cup of the liquid from the can. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and salt. Pour in the reserved liquid from the chickpeas and process for 3 minutes on low speed until smooth. Scoop the hummus into a serving bowl and drizzle olive oil on top. Garnish with the parsley and serve.

TOPPINGS

Here are three more toppings to play with in your kitchen. If you prepare these ahead of time, store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Dill Spread

When you’ve run out of ideas for cooking fish, try this spread on any fresh fish you want to bake or grill.

Makes about ½ cup

1½ cups packed fresh dill leaves (about 3 bunches)

½ cup packed fresh Italian parsley leaves (about 1 bunch)

2 garlic cloves

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Process all the ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. This can be spread on fish before baking or grilling.

Pecorino Pesto

Here’s yet another tasty spread to use with fish.

Makes about ½ cup

⅓ cup raw almonds, walnuts, or pine nuts

2 garlic cloves

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves

⅓ cup grated Pecorino

Salt and pepper to taste

⅓ cup olive oil

Process all of the ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor while slowly pouring in the oil through the feed tube; the pesto should be rich, creamy, and spreadable.

Sofrito

Sofrito is a seasoned tomato-based sauce used frequently in Latin cooking. Incredibly versatile, it can be added to roasted chicken, stews, and scrambled eggs, as well as grilled or baked fish.

Makes 3–4 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 28-to 29-ounce can crushed tomatoes

Leaves from 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1 teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large frying pan with a heavy bottom, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions. Add the green pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the crushed tomatoes, cilantro, and paprika and stir well. Continue to cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

DESSERT

Chocolate Truffles

These are a fantastic treat for dessert or to serve at your next dinner party. The higher the quality of the chocolate, the better. Experiment with different flavorings depending on your mood.

Makes 30–40 truffles

½ cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon almond, orange, vanilla, or hazelnut flavoring

8 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao), chopped into small pieces

Cocoa powder or chopped nuts for coating

In a small saucepan bring the whipping cream to a simmer. Stir the flavoring in, then pour the mixture over the chocolate in a separate bowl. Let stand a few minutes before stirring until smooth. Allow to cool, then refrigerate for two hours.

Form 1-inch balls using a teaspoon, and rolling them quickly between your palms. Place balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate overnight.

Roll in cocoa powder or chopped nuts. Store the truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Chocolate Coconut Mousse

Looking for dessert in minutes? Keep a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator so it’s ready to go when you feel like indulging in a decadent treat.

Serves 2

1 can full-fat coconut milk

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1–2 teaspoons stevia (depending on how sweet you want it)

Optional: shredded coconut, almond butter, cinnamon

Chill the unopened can of coconut milk in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Scoop out the solidified cream into a mixing bowl and beat vigorously with a whisk or electric mixer until softened (it shouldn’t liquefy). Add the cocoa powder and stevia and continue to beat until the mousse is light and fluffy. Top with shredded coconut, a dollop of almond butter, or cinnamon, and serve.