theGrio’s healthy cooking series: Chef Marcus Samuelsson

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Marcus Samuelsson

Samuelsson at the bar at Red Rooster Harlem. (Photo courtesy of Paul Brissman)

Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, where he also attended culinary school, Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s skills were refined with apprenticeships in France and the United States. One of his accolades includes cooking for the first State Dinner for President Barack Obama for the Prime Minister of India.

A year later, he opened Red Rooster Harlem on 125th and Lenox Avenue in New York City, which fulfilled his dream to showcase American comfort food with hints of his Swedish and African roots. And earlier this year, he opened another restaurant: American Table Cafe and Bar at Lincoln Center.

In the midst of his busy work and travel schedule, Samuelsson took a minute to share his thoughts on healthy cooking with theGrio.

How do you incorporate healthy eating into your cooking routine?

I don’t think of it as healthy eating but think of it as just eating with a spiritual compass. If I have a steak one night, then the next day I try to eat only vegetables. A small plate of something delicious is better than a large plate of food that is intended to fill me up but without much thought in it.

What are some tips when cooking for Thanksgiving, which is historically a splurge holiday?

Just don’t overdo it, on Thanksgiving or any other day of the year. Just because Thanksgiving comes one day a year, it doesn’t mean you have to add an extra stick of butter to your sweet potatoes when you would ordinarily just use a pat. Just think about using lots of spices and intense flavors to differentiate your meal and make it special.

Can you share easy substitutions? How can someone make classic African-American meals low-carb or low-fat?

Think outside of the box. Instead of white potatoes, make mashed yams or parsnips or make a wonderful celery root puree. It’s a different flavor that is unexpected and will have your guests happy to try something different.

Instead of making a whole turkey, why not just roast the turkey breast? Rubbing it with harissa or berbere will create heat and you can brine it first so the meat stays moist.

As for dessert, instead of heavy nut pies and cakes, how about some fresh fruit with whipped cream that has been flavored with pumpkin spices? There are so many ways to make a healthy and even more delicious meal without compromising on taste and tradition.

What’s your philosophy on health eating?

I don’t want to call it healthy eating versus unhealthy eating. We should always think about what we’re putting in our bodies. You wouldn’t put diesel in your car when it needs unleaded, right?

While I don’t pretend that I only eat the most nutritious foods, I also know that I think about what I eat and try and balance it out. If I’m heavy on one item, like if I’ve had bacon and eggs for breakfast, I’ll have a salad for lunch. Plus I have to always be moving around. I run and play soccer every chance I can.

Check out this recipe for chunky mashed potatoes from Samuelsson’s book, Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa below.

Chunky Mashed Vegetables

Ingredients:

6 garlic cloves, peeled

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup peanut oil

1 pound grebe beans, ends trimmed and cut into quarters or frozen green beans

1/2 cup spiced butter or 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

One 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

1 medium red onion coarsely chopped

2 jalapeno chilies seeds and ribs removed finely chopped

1  1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon Berbere or chili powder

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the garlic and sweet potatoes with the peanut oil in a roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes or until the garlic is tender. Remove and reserve the garlic. Continue roasting the sweet potatoes until tender, about 35 minutes.

2. While thepotatoes are roasting, if using fresh green beans, bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Add the beans to the bowling water and let blanch for 2 minutes. Drain the beans and plunge into the ice bah to stop cooking, and set the color. Drain and set aside.

3. When the sweet potatoes are done, transfer them to a large bowl, add the roasted garlic, and mash with fork to chunky consistency.

4. Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the ginger, carrots, onions, and jalapenos and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the water and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and simmer gently until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes (If using frozen green beans add them with carrots.)

5. Stir in the berbere and mashed sweet potatoes, then add blanched green beans and book, stirring until heated through. Stir in the chives and salt and transfer to a serving bowl.

6. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and serve.

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty or on Facebook.

Read more healthy cooking tips from other chefs here.