How do you stay inspired? How do you add big flavour without adding fat and salt? What’s the key to the perfect salad dressing? When it comes to eating healthy, but still enjoying delicious, flavourful meals, these are the big questions. To get some answers, Weight Watchers Canada spoke with Carol Belmonte, chef and owner of Belmonte Raw.
“Healthy food has been boring for so long and now people are looking for something different,” Belmonte says. “There’s a big paradigm shift happening with nutrition, in people’s minds and in the spiritual world. People have now made a connection that how they feel both mentally and physically is very much related to what they eat.”
With two locations (and growing!), Belmonte has plenty of ideas to help you use different ingredients and techniques to take your healthy meals to the next level. Here are Carol’s tips to make your healthy food so delicious that you get excited about it.
“Can you explain taste and how I can add flavour without adding fat?”
“For any dish or drink or for anything to taste good, it must hit all five areas of the tongue to make a whole flavour profile,” explains Belmonte. “Those flavours are sweet, bitter, acidic or sour, salty and now what people call umami, which is a Japanese term for ‘yummy.’ If you can make a dish that balances all these, you’re going to leave feeling very satisfied. This is the key to making a dish taste good. When you do this, you don’t need fat.”
“Why does restaurant food taste so good but make me feel so badly?”
“Restaurants use fat and salt to make everything taste good. Fat and salt make you leave a restaurant extremely sluggish and when you wake up, you feel very 'poufy'. No one feels good when they’re bloated or when their digestion isn’t working,” says Belmonte.
“My salad is too sour and it doesn’t fill me up.”
“A lot of times when it comes to eating salad, there’s a big mental component. We need to get beyond the ‘salad is a side’ mind frame,” says Belmonte. “When I used to teach cooking classes, this was one of the most common questions. People want to eat healthy. The majority of people don’t know how to put together a good salad. People are used to lettuce, tomato and a couple slices of onion. This is the classic side salad.” But if you want to shake things up, Belmonte recommends adding a little sweetness from grated carrot or raw shaved corn kernels (“You can eat them raw!”) in the summer, or roasted sweet potato in the winter.
“Do you have any tips for making salad dressing?”
“The salad dressing often makes or breaks the salad,” says Belmonte. “If your salad is super boring, start with the dressing. The general rule of a good salad dressing is one third acid to two thirds oil – this will give you a perfect dressing every time. Try lemon juice, apple cider vinegar as an acid. Add a little salt, add a little sweetener to balance the acidity. Coconut sugar, maple syrup or honey, even just half a teaspoon can cut the acidity.”
“What are some tips and tricks that will help make my salads more interesting?”
Ensuring that you have different tastes and textures is key, according to Belmonte. And it all starts with knife skills. Practice and hone your knife skills and look at different ways of cutting vegetables. Different cutting techniques can bring out different flavours. Belmonte gives this rule of thumb: “Something cut smaller will produce more flavour.” You can julienne, chop, slice, dice… “So many different ways!” Another great way to add flavour, adds Belmonte, is to submerge red onion slices in some red wine vinegar to mellow the taste and add a silkier texture.
“My soup is too salty, how can I fix it?”
You can add a little sweetness, in the form of a natural sugar like coconut sugar, which is made from dried coconut sap. But Belmonte recommends that you don’t over salt from the beginning! “Add little bits periodically, and taste as you go."
“What is the purpose of salt?”
“Salt is an emulsifier. It brings the flavours together,” says Belmonte. “Depending on how your body reacts, you might not want that much salt. I always recommend using a different type of salt. Instead of table salt, go for Himalayan or a kosher sea salt. Himalayan is the best, because when you use it, you are not only getting the salt, but you are getting 52 essential minerals.”
“How do I boost flavour without adding salt?”
If you’re off salt completely, Belmonte recommends that you substitute with vinegar. “A little dash of vinegar will have the same effect as salt. I like apple cider vinegar because it’s so healing for your body. For people with acid reflux issues, often taking a teaspoon of ACV can alleviate the issue,” she says.
“My meals are bland. How do I dress my food up?”
Belmonte recommends that you add fresh herbs (and plenty, at that!). “I add fresh herbs to everything,” she says. “There are no points, they add a different dimension of flavour and a freshness that you can’t get from anything else. They add a pop of goodness.”
“I miss pasta – what can stand in for noodles?”
If you’re missing pasta, Belmonte wants you to rethink cutting that zucchini into triangles. “One of my favourite things to do is to spiralize, which is taking a zucchini or radish or beet and turn it into long spaghetti like strands. You are eating raw vegetables that suddenly resemble spaghetti. Instead of cutting your zucchini into triangles, spiralize. Instead of chopping your tomato, add to food processor with a little garlic and maybe a few sundried tomatoes. It will become a beautiful sauce for your ‘zoodles’,” Belmonte adds.
“What can I make instead of the traditional starchy sides?”
Belmonte uses vegetables to stand in for starchy sides. Instead of mashed potatoes, try a cauliflower mash. Instead of rice, “take raw jicama, cauliflower and parsnip or rutabaga and pulse in a food processor,” until it has a rice-like consistency, says Belmonte.
“What are some tools I need?”
If you’re preparing lots of fun and interesting salads, you’ll need the right tools. Belmonte recommends a good mandolin slicer or food processor with slicing discs. Always make sure you have a sharp knife with which to hone your knife skills.
“I’m not eating much dairy – how do I replicate some of the missing flavour?”
“My number one thing is cashews,” says Belmonte. “Take a cup of cashews and soak for at least 3 hours to activate and let the energetic principles change. You can turn a cashew into any dairy product: sour cream, yogurt, milk, etc.” Be sure to keep your portions small, as cashews are SmartPoints-dense.
“I miss dessert.”
Try banana “nice cream,” which is made from blending frozen bananas. You can add any flavours you want, like vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa powder, or even more fruit like berries. Instead of adding sweeteners, Belmonte likes to “let my bananas get ripe to give the sweetness.”
“Where should I go for inspiration?”
Belmonte recommends that you look to cookbooks for inspiration. “Look at things that you haven’t tried before.” And when you’re shopping, it helps to have fun! “Think outside of the shopping cart,” she adds. “Ask your grocer what’s in season. It will be tastier and healthier than anything shipped in from thousands of kilometres away, picked too soon. Eating local is the ripest, lowest carbon footprint.”