February — Heart Month — is a good time to splash some red around. From beets and chard to red onions, there are many ways to incorporate red colors and flavors in your meals.
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans just released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture highlight a "red and orange" vegetable subgroup that includes fresh, frozen and canned red and orange vegetables such as tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkin.
The new guidelines also recommend enjoying your food while eating less and avoiding oversize portions.
To help demonstrate how these new dietary goals can be met, I enlisted top Hawaii chef George Mavrothalassitis, owner of Chef Mavro at 1969 S. King St., to prepare some red-themed dishes in honor of Heart Month.
One of Chef Mavro’s signature dishes is Meli-Melo, a collection of spring vegetables that includes fresh beets and chickpeas with an eggplant tahini for an amazing flavor. Beets add a great color pop to any dish. Their rich color comes from the antioxidant betalain. Serve them shredded raw or use sliced canned beets in a lettuce salad.
Another heart-healthy "red" dish is Red Velvet Tomato Soup, with or without red lentils. Red lentils add texture and kick up the folate and fiber content. For a quick dinner off the shelf, lower-sodium canned tomatoes can be used. Lycopene, the red carotenoid pigment found in tomatoes, is higher in processed tomatoes than fresh.
To pack a flavor punch to the soup dish, add roasted fresh tomatoes or a small amount of sugar. Then swirl in some milk and serve with a grilled cheese sandwich of sharp aged cheddar on whole wheat. (It’s also important for heart health to have calcium-rich foods in your diet.)
Another dish that gets rave reviews is Red Cabbage Salad with red kidney beans. This recipe is quick to prepare and short on ingredients but big on flavor, color and texture. Canned kidney beans work well as an ingredient; just place them in a strainer to rinse off the gas-producing, nondigestible carbohydrates and to reduce salt.
Consumption of cabbage, with the exception of highly salted cabbage, is associated with a decreased risk for developing cancer, in part due to the glucosinolate content. Plant scientists such as Ted Radovich at the University of Hawaii are studying ways to increase glucosinolates in vegetables.
The bottom line is, savor the salad’s flavor and crunch on its own or with a piece of steamed or grilled fish.
Eating fish — except for salted and deep-fried versions — at least twice per week is one of the best ways to protect yourself from heart disease. Chef Mavro offers a number of seafood dishes, always slow-cooked using techniques such as baked en papiotte (in a folded pouch), poached, marinated and grilled. His Lomilomi Confit Hamachi uses one of his favorite methods: confit in extra-virgin olive oil at 140 degrees.
RED VELVET TOMATO SOUP
1 pound tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, whole
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup red lentils
2 teaspoons paprika
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/2 cup milk (optional)
Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, in one layer in a large shallow baking pan and add garlic to pan. Drizzle tomatoes with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes and garlic 45 minutes at 350 degrees using a convection oven. Remove tomato skins with a fork. Cook onion, red lentils, oregano, paprika, saffron and sugar in butter in a saucepan over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add stock and simmer, covered, 45 minutes. Add roasted tomatoes and garlic. Puree soup in batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids). Stir in milk and serve.
RED CABBAGE SALAD
4 cups red cabbage
1 cup red kidney beans
1 cup whole corn kernels
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Thinly slice or shred cabbage. Place red kidney beans in a strainer and place under running water for 1 minute to remove liquid. Mince garlic and shake with mixture of balsamic vinegar and sesame oil. Toss cabbage, beans and corn with mixture. Garnish with cilantro.
(Nutritional information unavailable) ——
Corilee Watters is an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and a volunteer spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.