“The test kitchen was neat and precise; gleaming,” says Beverly Utt, a former nutritionist for Martha Stewart Living. Above the pristine counters, food covered the walls—the pages and glossy photos (“marvelous things,” reflects Utt) of current stories guiding the many hands at work. And of course, the kitchen had great cookware.
Noted for its gourmet, and often decadent, recipes, Martha Stewart Living was looking to create leaner and lighter food when Utt contacted the magazine. She joined the team just as the new “Fit to Eat” column was launched. “The test kitchen would create recipes, run them by me, and then I would make suggestions based on the (nutritional) numbers,” remembers Utt, who holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Loma Linda University. “They were very open to greater use of grains, beans and fish,” she says, and embraced the “quick and healthy” concept.
From the experience, Utt gained new favorite recipes, the chance to prepare for Stewart’s appearance on the Jay Leno show, and a beginning in the food industry. Her next position was as a spokesperson for the California walnut industry, where she worked on marketing ideas. With their many health benefits, such as potentially lowering cholesterol levels, Utt says that promoting walnuts wasn’t difficult. “It was fun to explain the (nutritional) process to people,” she enthuses.
While Utt enjoyed her work and the meals that accompanied it, her most memorable Sabbath lunch was on a completely different continent.
“Years ago, my kids and I spent five weeks among the Maori people in Raratonga … we worked in a mango orchard and taught cooking classes,” says Utt. To thank the family, the community held a feast of local dishes. “The table was loaded with creamed taro root, whole fish, a seaweed and tapioca ball dish, banana coconut cream…” Utt reflects, and the exotic flavors seem to linger on her palate as she remembers the meal. “I’ll never forget the visual of that table.”
In addition to memories, Utt took home a Cook Islands cookbook from their host. “There’s a community of connectedness in Adventism, in which the ‘six degrees of separation’ is really more like two. The same holds true with food,” notes Utt. Perusing the cookbook’s pages, she discovered a recipe for sweet breadsticks that was similar to one she enjoyed while a student at LLU.
Now a self-described “food smith,” Utt combines chefs’ creative culinary skills with an equal part healthy nutrition. “I (can) share with them the food science side; how to leverage health into what they do,” she says. The principal also translates to home cooks. The end result of “infusing more flavors and health into foods” is somewhat stealthy, hiding amidst fresh salad greens in a quick homemade salad dressing. “All of a sudden, you find yourself (preparing healthful foods) enough that you understand how ingredients work together,” encourages Utt.
“Healthy food has to be craveable, because look what it’s up against. To compete, we have to make foods taste just marvelous,” quotes Utt, from a talk by Dr. Walter C. Willet, chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. Though she emphasizes fresh ingredients and homemade food, Utt is “not adverse to a starter like tomato soup”—doctored with other fresh ingredients, like vegetables.
“The more you cook and the more you try things, the easier it becomes,” Utt adds. Her credibility stems from childhood meals with canned—never fresh—mushrooms, and the associated Adventist retro food culture.
But to Utt, Sabbath lunch is still a tradition worth keeping, even if the menu might need a few updates. “In this fast-paced world, it’s a time to come together, to relax and enjoy each other,” reflects Utt. It’s singular in a lifestyle where cars, the backs of trucks, and one’s office are all dining rooms. And at Utt’s table, guests know that the healthful flavors will be craveable.
What are your experiences with Adventist food culture, Sabbath lunches and more? Do you have any favorite recipes? Please share them in the comments section below or email Midori at midori[at]spectrummagazine.org.
This week’s recipe for French Green Lentils with Ginger and Herbs comes from Beverly Utt. The enticing list of ingredients reflect her belief in fresh ingredients and “craveable” flavor—accessible for the home cook. Editor's note: This recipe was adapted from the Whole Living recipe for Lentils with Ginger, Golden Beets, and Herbs.
French Green Lentils With Ginger and Herbs
Preparation time: 40 min. Serves: 6
¾ cup dried French green lentils, rinsed and sorted for debris (Utt recommends the Trikona brand) 6 thin slices fresh ginger, plus 1 teaspoon finely grated ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste ¼ medium red onion, finely diced (½ cup) 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 2 teaspoons honey 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 1 ½ teaspoons whole coriander seeds, toasted and ground* Freshly ground black pepper, to taste ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh mint, plus leaves for garnish 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus leaves for garnish Optional: about 6 red or golden beets, cooked, for top Optional: chopped romaine lettuce, to serve.
1. Combine lentils and sliced ginger in a medium saucepan, and cover with water up to 2 inches (about 1 cup, or a little more if you prefer very tender lentils). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer gently. Cook, stirring occasionally until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.
2. While the lentils cook, prepare the vinaigrette: combine ¼ teaspoon salt and the grated ginger, onion, vinegar and honey in a small bowl, and let stand for 15 minutes. Whisk in oil and ground coriander.
3. After lentils have cooked, drain them and discard ginger. Transfer to a medium bowl, and stir in remaining ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste.
4. Pour vinaigrette over lentils, and toss to coat. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Stir in chopped mint and cilantro. Garnish with herbs and serve. If using beets, add to top.
*Toast the coriander seeds in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant but not burned, about three minutes. They will begin to pop as they brown. Coriander seeds can be found in the spice section of many grocery stores, local Asian markets or in specialty markets.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5203