Even in the simplest meals, garnishes can serve as a potent, interesting way to incorporate health food. Garnishes work when best providing contrast, accent or pizzazz to otherwise pedestrian dishes.
One of the simplest garnishes is slow-toasted garlic. Cook it in olive oil to create crispy, antioxidant-rich garlic "croutons." Healthwise, these are a superior alternative to toppings like carbohydrate-laden bread croutons or Parmesan cheese.
Although garlic's cholesterol-fighting reputation is largely undeserved (2007 National Institutes of Health study found garlic consumption did not impact patients with baseline high cholesterol levels), recent studies suggest aged garlic extract helps reduce high blood pressure (www.maturitas.org/article/S0378-5122(10)00227-6/abstract) and prevents Alzheimer's disease (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21728972) and various gastric cancers (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21922142).
Garlic croutons are friendly for low-carb, vegan, gluten-free and low-fat diets. Here, they top spinach. After slow-toasting the garlic slices, reserve the oil and toss in some fresh spinach. When sauteed in the garlic-infused oil and topped with crisp garlic slices and fresh-cracked black pepper, a simple dish of spinach is transformed into an unexpected palate pleaser. Garlic and spinach are a classic pairing, but rearranging the presentation and technique creates an unexpected final result.
Sauteed Spinach with Garlic Croutons
Recipe by Russ Lane
1/2 bag spinach
2-4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced width-wise
1/2 - 1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Once the oil shimmers, lay garlic slices flat on the pan, turning once with tongs when each side is golden brown. Remove garlic, reserving oil, allowing garlic to drain on paper towels. Increase heat to medium high, add spinach and toss until bright green. Add to serving dish, top with garlic and add black pepper.
Per serving (using 1 tablespoon oil): calories 59, calories from fat 32, total fat 3g (saturated fat 0g, monounsaturated fat 2g), cholesterol 0 mg, sodium 58 mg. Total carbohydrates 6g (dietary fiber 2g, sugars 0g), protein 3g.
Formerly a 350-pound music critic, food writer Russ Lane lost (and kept off) more than 200 pounds by exercising, following a healthy diet and challenging his assumptions about weight, cooking and himself. See more recipes at www.ikeepitoff.com.