a primer on cooking with fats and oils + quick-sautéed greens



One of my goals for this space this year is to share a nutrition tip each month which can guide us towards preparing and enjoying better meals. I’ve been sitting on this first topic for the better part of the last year, and it’s one that has been increasingly on my mind.

Let’s talk about cooking with different types of fats and oils.

For quite some time, I’ve tended to use olive or coconut oil for a lot of recipes. Up until a few years ago, I almost exclusively used extra virgin olive oil for all purposes outside baking sweets, at all temperatures. While I was familiar with the term “smoke point,” I never thought much of it, because I never saw smoke. What I didn’t realize was that I was wrong.

While there are many different kinds of fats and oils, some are more delicate than others, meaning their beneficial compounds break down or oxidize easily, creating harmful chemicals in the process. Those chemicals damage cells, promote widespread internal (and invisible) inflammation, and lead to a vast number of health concerns now considered common such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The three factors that cause fats and oils to oxidize and create harmful chemicals include exposure to heat, light, and oxygen, and the more unsaturated a fat is, and thus a lower smoke point, the more easily one of these factors will cause it to become highly inflammatory to our system.

My longtime go-to, extra virgin olive oil, is similar to most vegetable/plant oils, and is not particularly stable at temperatures above 320 degrees F (its smoke point). This means it is not suitable for stir-frying, sautéing, baking or roasting, or other high-heat cooking methods. What’s more, unsaturated oils such as corn, soybean, sunflower, and others which we’ve heard can stand up to high heat have instead been found to break down extremely easily at high temperature. In research, these were found to be some of the worst types of oil to cook with.




So the question remains: what type of fat or oil can you use (safely) for high temperature cooking, such as roasting, baking, sautéing, and stir-frying?

Essentially, I no longer recommend cooking much above 350 degrees using any type of fat or oil unless it’s a special occasion. But when those high-heat-necessary meals are prepared, using fats that are more stable (and thus more saturated), hold up the best. This means coconut oil, butter and ghee (if you’re not sensitive to or actively avoiding dairy) are best. The other option is to choose a lesser quality (non virgin) olive, unrefined avocado or sesame oil, and possibly small amounts of non-gmo canola oil for baking. These oils are rich in monounsaturated fats, which tend to be slightly more stable at temperatures up to 350 degrees. And because they’re less refined and ideally cold-pressed, that fatty acid oxidation won’t be happening as much during the processing/pressing, since we’re aiming to avoid oxidized and rancid oils, especially before they even makes it home to cook with!

This also leaves the really-good-for-you extra virgin olive oil, as well as omega-3 rich flax and walnut, for drizzling on dishes after they’re off the heat. And if you really want to get right down to it, using less oil of all types and more fat-rich whole foods (like nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados) can never be a bad way to go.




Quick Sautéed Greens, serves 1-2
Early in the new year might be the time when some of us are actively adding more greens to our routines, but a cold kale or green salad is often not the best when it’s cold outside and we’re bundled in layers. This is my favorite way to eat greens in the winter. The cooking process takes but a minute and the result is garlic-y, lightly spiced, and delectable. They’re a great addition to almost any meal. 

1 tsp. unrefined coconut oil
1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced
1 bunch winter greens (Collards, Kale, Swiss chard, etc.), stems chopped, leaves sliced
1 tsp. grounding masala, optional
salt and pepper to taste

  • In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high. Add stems from the greens and allow to cook until beginning to soften.
  • Then add in the garlic, sliced leaves, and masala and heat just until the leaves begin to wilt. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.


Malhotra, A. (2016). The toxic truth about vegetable oil: Cooking with ‘healthy’ fats increases the risk of disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3574810/The-toxic-truth-vegetable-oil-Cooking-healthy-fats-increases-risk-heart-disease-type-2-diabetes-cancer.html?utm_sq=fjjqojxgyn.

Peng, C.Y., Lan, C.H., Lin, P.C., and Kuo, Y.C. (2017). Effects of cooking method, cooking oil, and food type on aldehyde emissions in cooking oil fumes. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 324(Pt B), 160-167. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2016.10.045.

Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Uribarri, J., Woodruff, S., Goodman, S., Cai, W., Chen, X.,…and Vlassara, H. (2010). Advanced glycation end products in food and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(6), 911-16.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018.



tempeh tikka masala

tempeh tikka masala




Do you remember when I talked about my shame/pride of buying my tofu in bulk or that I was actually in the anti-tofu and soy foods camp for a whole lot of years? Well…let me tell you about the first time I bought tempeh, the fermented soy product that I now love and enjoy often.

At some point in mid-college I purchased a package of this wonky, brown and slightly moldy-looking fermented tempeh at my co-op since it was different and not meat. I was still eating meat regularly then but was also very veg/health foods curious. I took the tempeh home, cut it up and used it in something…and I thought it was gross. I didn’t try it again for a good number of years until after Deborah Madison in The New Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone convinced me it was actually quite good for me and not a “fake meat.” And following her cooking suggestions, I tried again and found I enjoyed it a whole lot!

One of the reasons tempeh is good for us is because it is fermented and it helps to inoculate our gut with good microbes. If you haven’t heard me gushing about the microbiome in past posts, well…you probably haven’t also spent an hour or two in my presence because I’m pretty sure the topic makes its way into everyday conversation on the regular. The two big reasons I’m pretty darn fascinated with the topic is that much of our immune system is housed in the gastrointestinal tract, thanks to the plethora of microbes that make their homes there AND about 90 percent of serotonin, one of the feel-good neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood, relaxation, sleep, and even appetite, is also made and housed in the gut. I’ve struggled with immune dysfunction for a number of years, thanks largely to food sensitivities and compromised gut health, and also with anxiety in various forms for much of my life.

This month, The Recipe Redux challenged us to share a recipe that promotes gut health, and good timing too, because cold and flu season is upon us, as are the dark, damp, and cold days of late fall and winter when moods tend to take a nosedive.


Before I do, I want to share three important things you can do to enhance your internal microbial community, and thus immune health (and likely mood too!)

The first is eating more fiber. The good bacteria that promote health need fiber, which they digest into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate and propionate. SCFAs are not otherwise available in the diet, and they’re responsible for a whole host of disease preventative effects, one of which is combatting inflammation. The more fiber we consume, the more diverse our microbial life (a good thing), the more short chain fatty acids that are produced, and the more health tends to improve. Fiber in foods comes in the form of fruits and vegetables, whole, unprocessed grains, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. If you have trouble digesting fiber-rich foods, it likely means you just need a little time to increase them in your diet gradually, as the good bacteria that digest them will grow prolifically if only given their preferred foods, and this can happen in a matter of just a few days!

The second thing to promote gut health, as I hinted above, is to eat more fermented foods like tempeh, miso, sourdough bread, raw sauerkraut and kimchi, and fermented unsweetened yogurt. When we eat fermented foods, we’re introducing the beneficial bacteria instead of feeding the ones already there. Aim for a large variety of fermented foods as this further promotes diversity of bacteria populations and optimal health.

The tempeh that I’m now so fond of is made from organic soybeans that are inoculated with a spore and then fermented. The fermentation process breaks down phytates, which are anti-nutrients and bind minerals and vitamins, so we can digest them. Tempeh is also rich in protein, B vitamins, fiber, phytonutrients, and minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, and copper. What’s more, tempeh doesn’t actually have to be cooked so it makes for a quick addition to meals. What Deborah Madison taught me is that steaming it for about 10 minutes before adding into a dish does make it tastier, as it can sometimes be a little bitter without this extra step. I tend to steam when I have the time and just dice and toss into recipes when I’m ready for food on the quick!

Lastly for optimal gut health, reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates, as they promote the proliferation of bad bacteria. Like a kid on too much Halloween candy, more sugar makes the disease-promoting bacteria really happy and they grow in number and increase inflammation and a whole host of less than ideal health outcomes.




Now, for the recipe! Tikka Masala is actually a British dish that came about when a tomato sauce was combined with Indian-spiced vegetables and meat. It is super popular in Britain and Ireland as simply “Chicken Curry,” and this recipe began a number of years ago as a quick dairy-free chicken curry that William and I loved. Over the years, I dropped the chicken, added tempeh, and made several gentle tweaks, and we now have a gut and immune-friendly tempeh tikka masala that can be adapted depending on the season, and comes together quickly without all the marinating and spice rubs of a traditional tikka. Any type of canned coconut milk can be used here, but the whole fat kind will obviously make for a richer, more-rounded dish, and it’s the type I favor these days.




Tempeh Tikka Masala, serves four
16-oz. tempeh, cut into about 48 pieces
1 tsp. coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob of fresh ginger
2-3 cups chopped seasonal vegetables (yellow/orange/red bell peppers, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, peas, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 medium garden-ripe tomatoes or 14 oz. canned unsalted whole tomatoes
1 cup coconut milk
juice from one lime
cooked brown rice to serve

  • In a small saucepan with steamer basket and 1-2 inches of water in bottom, steam the diced tempeh for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the coconut oil, and then add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Once the onions have begun to caramelize and turn golden, add the remaining vegetables and cook for an additional 5-8 minutes. Then add the spices and mix in.
  • Give the mixture a minute or two and then add the tomatoes and stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so, and then add the coconut milk, tempeh, and lime juice.
  • Stir everything together, let the flavors meld for an additional 10 minutes or so, taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, and enjoy over steamed rice.



BMJ. (2015). High dietary fiber intake linked to health promoting short chain fatty acids: Beneficial effects not limited to vegetarian or vegan diets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150929070122.htm.

Cresci, G.A. and Bawden, E. (2015). The gut microbiome: What we do and don’t know. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 30(6), 734-746. doi: 10.1177/0994533615609899.

Rich, P. (2017). Gut science is radically changing what we know of the human body. University Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/gut-research/.

Asian Tofu Tacos with Miso-Lime Sliced Greens



I dropped into my co-op the other evening to pick up a few items for the week, one of which was the tofu for these tacos. But the store had experienced two power outages in the hours before, and being small and without a generator, they had to pull most of the chilled items from the shelves, one of which was the tofu.

Back in the bulk section stocking up on other items, I realized they did still have tofu in bulk, however, and as I pulled a big wedge out of its liquid and slid it into a container, I thought oh you’re a real hippy now, even buying your tofu in bulk. There was an equal mixture of horror and pride in projecting what all the folks back home in conservative cattle country would think of me now, mixed all in with my saving the planet one eco-friendly practice at a time tendencies.




And then, just as soon as all those conflicting thoughts went through my head, a line from a recent book (and I even forget which one) streamed through:

Drop your story. Drop whatever story you’re telling about or to yourself, and don’t pick another one up. 

And that’s where I stopped. And focused on re-filling my spice jars and getting more sesame oil. I think it’s all around better we all just drop our internal narratives and big talk/thinking about who we are and generally try to focus on the task at hand. Wouldn’t you say?

That’s my intention today anyway. What is yours?




Asian Tofu Tacos with Miso-Lime Sliced Greens, serves 4
Originally inspired by Sara Forte in her first cookbook, and before-then inspired by her experience at an LA taco truck, the flavors in these tacos will truly welcome in this transitioning season. Crunchy Asian pears, tofu with ALL THE FLAVOR, and a slightly sweet, miso, lime + ginger dressing infused through the sliced greens, this is definitely a special occasion taco recipe. Make it to impress your friends. Or drastically upgrade your regular taco night.
For the greens, use collards, kale, a nice crunchy cabbage, or whatever you have on hand. Collards are a great choice if you don’t often use them, however, as they are sturdy, hold up to the heat and cold of the seasons, making them available nearly year round, and they are one of the plant kingdom’s best sources of bio-available calcium, meaning you’ll both ingest and absorb it–an advantage that’s not true of all the calcium-rich greens. 


1 lb. firm tofu, use organic/gmo-free/local if you can
for the tofu marinade:
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
2 Tbs. apple cider or brown rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbs. tamari
1 tsp. hot sauce ( I used a homemade green tabasco style)

for the sliced greens dressing:
1 Tbs. yellow miso
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely minced
1 tsp. maple syrup
2 Tbs. untoasted sesame oil
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. hot sauce

4 cups thinly sliced collard greens, kale, or cabbage
1-2 watermelon or regular radishes, optional
corn tortillas
1 Asian pear, sliced thin
lime wedges, to serve

  • Slice the block of tofu in half or thirds length-wise, wrap in paper towels, and then stack between a couple cutting boards and press out the liquid for at least 15 minutes.
  • Whisk together the tofu marinade in a leak-proof container with a lid. When the tofu is pressed, cut it into cubes, and combine it with the marinade. Put the lid on and give it all a few shakes and then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to a day. More time will allow for more flavor.
  • Once the tofu has marinated, turn it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes, flipping it over halfway through.
  • While the tofu is cooking, combine the dressing ingredients and with your hands, massage about half of it through the sliced greens. Add more dressing as necessary or save the extra for another use. You can also add the thinly sliced radishes to the greens, but if they’re extra spicy, toss them onto the baking dish with the tofu in its last few minutes of cooking. It will tame the heat a bit and allow for the sweetness in the radishes to come out.
  • To finish, heat the tortillas and slice the pear and lime.
  • Top the tortillas with all the toppings in any order you prefer, and serve immediately.