12 Best Foods Cookbook

by Dana Jacobi

Published by Rodale

336 pages, 2005




Eating The Right Stuff

Reviewed by Aaron Blanton


It's no secret that some foods are better for us than others. In 2005, we know for sure, for instance, that leafy green things are generally better for us than stuff that is processed and arrives with an invitation to add a deep-fried potato concoction at a slightly higher price. We know refined sugar is bad and other types of sweeteners -- natural types -- might be better. Mechanically de-boned chicken? Generally bad. Free range chicken breasts without bone or skin? Generally good. And fat? While it might add flavor, the other things it adds -- the not so good things -- might outweigh that flavor factor. So there are basic bads and goods and, beyond that, there is most often opinion.

One thing we keep hearing about, though, are the so-called superfoods. The foods -- quite often they're lumped together in top ten lists -- that will enhance your health, lengthen your life and reduce your chances of getting killer diseases. But, as interesting as we may find the occasional top ten good for you food lists, the question that comes up for most of us is: What do I do with them? It's fine to say: Load up on spinach, oats and legumes but imagining your next 40 years eating nothing but is a little daunting.

Award-winning food journalist thought so, but did something about it. Her 12 Best Foods Cookbook includes recipes that will delight the foody as well as the health freak, a previously almost unthinkable combination.

In her introduction, Jacobi explains her rationale:

Of course most foods give vitality -- life and energy. But a wide body of research proves that some food groups -- including cruciferous vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy, and nuts -- provide more nutritional bang for their caloric buck.

In 12 Best Foods Jacobi first describes the arc of her journey -- how she came to be writing this particular book at this time -- then tours us through her chosen dozen foods with intimate looks at how to choose and prepare each one.

The 12 foods in question are illustrated on the cover of the book: blueberries; black beans; sweet potatoes; oatmeal; salmon; spinach; broccoli; tomatoes; chocolate; walnuts; soy and onions. At first brush it seems an odd way to deliver these goods but peek inside: it works.

You don't need to pay attention to any of the good-for-you segments of 12 Best Foods to enjoy the book and get it working for you. It functions like any cookbook with lovely photos and well thought out recipes. The big difference here? Everything is ultra good for you. But, honestly, you can ignore that aspect if it pleases you because 12 Best Foods is an excellent cookbook crammed with recipes intended to delight, invite and even to share. The book never preaches, nor does it seem to lose sight of the fact that the recipes must be good, not just good for you.

And so we have 11 chapters -- the bulk of the book -- dedicated to recipes. The chapter headings are logical and informative: Soups; Salads and Dressings; Poultry and Meat, Desserts and so on.

The recipes included will appeal most to those who already have an eye on healthy eating. For instance, Black Soybean and Butternut Squash Stew or Spinach Cappuccino with Parmesan Foam sound wonderful to me, but they may or may not to you. And, after all, considering the challenge here, not much of what's included could be labeled as traditional western fare. (Or traditional anything fare, for that matter.) Though dishes like Pork Medallions with Wild Mushrooms; Pork Tenderloin in Chipotle Mole and Fettucine with Smoked Salmon and Baby Green Peas come close. And Chocolate Pancakes can take the bite out of even Cream of Oat Bran. Well... almost.

Jacobi is the author of five cookbooks and has written for Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Eating Well and others. Her weekly newspaper column, "Something Different," is syndicated to more than 750 newspapers. | June 2005


Aaron Blanton is an expatriate Kentuckian writer and musician living in Scotland. He refuses to eat haggis.