COOKBOOK REVIEW: Coming clean in the kitchen

"Good for You: Bold Flavors With Benefits" by Akhtar Nawab with Andrea Strong (Chronicle, $29.95)

‘Good for You: Bold Flavors With Benefits’ by Akhtar Nawab with Andrea Strong (Chronicle, $29.95)

Akhtar Nawab didn’t follow in the footsteps of the medical doctors in his family, as his parents had hoped. Even so, health became the focal point of his career — as a chef, a restaurant consultant, and now cookbook author.

Nawab shares his early struggles with weight in the introduction to “Good for You: Bold Flavors With Benefits” (Chronicle, $29.95), and how he gained control with rigorous exercise and a nutritionist-prescribed diet he describes as “joyless,” but effective.

Cooking under superstar chef Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, he learned how to coax flavor out of simple, seasonal ingredients without straying from his healthy regimen. He traveled to Italy and Mexico to expand on that knowledge, and leaned on his upbringing as the son of Northern Indian immigrants in Louisville, Kentucky, to start various restaurant concepts around the country.

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In 2014, he applied those lessons to recipes he was developing for Indie Fresh, a fast-casual health-conscious restaurant collaboration. Relying on things like roasted chiles, toasted spices, and nut purees, he became amazed at the wholly satisfying dishes he could create minus the unhealthy fats and sugars, and often gluten and dairy.

He incorporates those techniques in the daily meals he prepares for himself and his young daughter, and channels that home cook’s sensibility into recipes such as Cauliflower with Farro and Coconut Yogurt, an Indian-inspired vegetarian entree where the florets are roasted on a sheet pan for a layer of caramelized flavor before simmering in a heady tomato sauce. It’s definitely a keeper.

I’ve bookmarked Salmon Salad with Beets and Radishes in a Chia Apple Dressing for a future meal, and can see stocking my freezer with multipurpose “building blocks” such as his guajillo chile-infused Mexican Marinade and date-sweetened Tomato Paste for others.

I had a hard time imagining how Chicken and Black Bean Chili — a mélange involving chipotles, carrot juice, cashew puree, and an inordinate amount of red bell peppers — would taste.

But I tried it anyway. Now I’m now having a harder time imagining that it was actually good for me.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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