Contributing Author: Katherine Walla
Sam Kass believes there is no single, right way for the world to eat: rather, little changes in diets have the power to achieve environmental goals. Kass’s new book, Eat A Little Better shares the lessons he imparted while chef to the Obamas and White House food policy advisor: anyone can eat flavorful, healthy food with the environment in mind. Instead of prescribing only organic, local, or sustainable ingredients, which may not be feasible for many people, Kass insists that commitments to eat just a little better will yield big results for the environment and global health. With 90 delicious, simple recipes, the book provides a place to start healthy, sustainable diets.
Eat Better, Not “Right”
Whether you live in Des Moines or San Francisco, I bet you’re familiar with the prescriptions tossed around by certain advocates for healthy, sustainable eating. For these diehards, the only solution to our woes is nothing short of a revolution in the way we eat. “To change food, we must change everything!” many cry. Everyone must eat seasonal, local, organic, biodynamic, and GMO-free heirloom foods, and anything short is a cardinal sin. If they’re right, we’re screwed. So it’s a good thing they’re not.
I’ll admit that before I got to the White House, I had some similar utopian fantasies. But actually doing the work of policy making—where solutions must work for the many, not the few—quickly forced me out of the bubble of idealism. I came to see that my fellow advocates and I had failed by promoting an impossible standard. We set the bar so high that not even we could reach it. Not too long ago I had lunch with a crusader who had advocated far and wide for avoiding meat and dairy in all meals but dinner. He ordered a pastrami sandwich—with a schmear of chopped chicken liver. If perfection is the enemy of progress, then so is pretense.
So let’s ditch both. No one—and definitely not me—eats only healthy, sustainable meals. And that’s OK. And not all companies that produce a lot of food are bad—it takes an enormous amount of food to feed our country and the world. Yes, we have to make some changes to eat our way toward a food system that’s not degrading our health and the environment—but if there’s one thing I can say to you, it’s that it’s vital to think of this goal as a process, a road we travel step by step, meal by meal. If we only look to make dramatic change, we’ll find ourselves standing still forever. So let’s redefine what it looks like to move forward.
Check out Food Tank’s favorite recipes from Sam Kass below to bring Eat a Little Better to your kitchen.
PAN-SEARED WHOLE SARDINES with escarole, grapefruit, and green olives
Sardines don’t only come in cans (though I love the ones that do!). These silver-skinned beauties are cheap, super flavorful, and sustainable. That they hold their own in the company of assertive ingredients like briny olives, sweet-tart grapefruit, and awesomely bitter escarole is yet another plus. A good fishmonger will do the cleaning for you. Just give the sardines a last-minute rinse, running your fingers alongside the skin to loosen any lingering scales.
Serves four to six
Active time: 30 Minutes
Start to finish: 30 Minutes
- Two grapefruit
- Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
- White wine vinegar, to taste
- Kosher salt
- One small head of escarole, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 12 whole fresh sardines (about 1.3 kilograms or three pounds total), scaled and gutted
- One-half cup all-purpose flour
- One cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
1. Trim the tops and bottoms of the grapefruit with a sharp knife. Working from top to bottom and following the curve of the fruit, carve off the peel and pith to expose the flesh. Working over a big bowl, cut each grapefruit segment from the membrane and add it to the bowl. When you’re done, squeeze the juice from the membranes into the bowl, then discard the membranes. Stir in two to three tablespoons of olive oil, the vinegar, and salt to taste.
2. Scatter the escarole over a serving platter.
3. Season the sardines all over with salt. Spread the flour on a plate. One by one, set the sardines skin-side down in the flour to coat lightly on one side.
4. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook the sardines in batches to avoid crowding the skillet, adding more oil as necessary. If you’ve butterflied the sardines, cook them skin-side down until golden, about three minutes, then flip them to cook through, about 30 seconds. If the sardines are whole, cook them until golden on one side, about three minutes, then flip and cook about three minutes more.
5. Transfer the hot sardines to the platter with the escarole. Scatter the olives and grapefruit segments over the fish. Drizzle on the grapefruit juice remaining in the bowl and season with salt.
CHARRED CABBAGE with spicy aïoli
Mild-mannered and crunchy when raw, cabbage transforms in the oven, growing sweeter by the second. I roast it in thick slices, the outer layer getting deeply brown and potato-chip crispy while the meaty core turns juicy. Spicy aïoli, a garlicky mayo spiked with Sriracha, takes it to the next level. It’s impress-your-friends stuff, though there’s no shame in substituting a cup of store-bought mayo mixed with a grated clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon, and a tablespoon or so of your favorite hot sauce.
Serves four to six
Active Time: 15 Minutes
Start to Finish: 45 Minutes
For the cabbage:
- One head of green cabbage (about one kilogram or two pounds), bottom trimmed, outer leaves removed, sliced into two centimeters (about three-quarters of an inch) thick slabs
- One tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
For the spicy aïoli:
- One large egg
- Four teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- One tablespoon Sriracha, or more if you like it spicier
- One small garlic clove
- Kosher salt
Two-thirds of a cup mild olive oil or grapeseed oil
1.Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Place the cabbage slabs on a large rimmed baking sheet and rub them with oil to coat. (Lining the pan with parchment paper is a good idea here, but up to you.) Generously season both sides of the cabbage slabs with salt. Place the cabbage cut-side down in a single layer with a little space between each one. Roast without flipping until the cabbage is tender and the bottoms are deep golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Flip the slices and roast for five minutes. Transfer the cabbage to a serving platter and season with salt to taste.
3. While the cabbage roasts, make the aïoli: combine the egg, lemon juice, Sriracha, garlic, and one-half teaspoon salt in a blender. Start blending, then with the motor running, pour in the oil in a thin, steady stream until you’ve added it all. Keep blending until the aïoli is thick and creamy. Season to taste with more salt if necessary.
4. Slather some aïoli on the cabbage, reserving any extra for another use.
Reprinted from Eat A Little Better. Copyright © 2018 by Sam Kass. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Aubrie Pick. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.