If you want inspiration for changing the way you eat, a good place to look is “Starting Fresh! Recipes for Life” by Jill Dahan.
The recipes are fairly easy and most of the ingredients are available at the grocery store. A few unfamiliar ingredients are within reach, too, with things such as almond flour and oat flour just a whiz of a blender away.
Dahan will be at Literary Bookpost on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m., demonstrating a recipe and signing her books. She began changing the way she cooks when her father developed heart problems. That made her “want to make food work harder for me.” Her father hated fish, but he needed to eat it. She came up with “Fish Haters Fish,” a recipe using a coating of toasted Ezekiel or whole wheat bread, garlic, herbs and lemon — and her favorite food find, coconut oil. More on that later.
Dahan lived in England for 17 years, and that’s where she started experimenting and eventually teaching. A friend told her she explained things well, and she started offering classes, something she still does.
One of Dahan’s three sons had severe acne, and no medication helped. She started doing some research after the doctors kept telling her the problem was hormonal. Well, food affects hormones. Another son has a rare form of kidney cancer that is difficult to treat. Dahan wanted to be able to control some part of their lives.
“The food had to taste good, be easy to find and the ingredients had to be available.”
Through research, she discovered the benefits of coconut oil, better for you than olive oil, when heated. “Make sure to get the extra virgin, unrefined coconut oil. It’s the refined kind that earned a bad reputation.” Refined coconut oil goes through a process that uses a petrochemical.
“The oil is phenomenal,” Dahan said. “You can find it in some grocery stores, like Harris Teeter, or you can order it online. … You can keep it on your counter for a couple of years. The one I have now expires in 2016.” Don’t put the oil in the refrigerator — it will be “like an iceberg.”
Dahan uses it for cooking and skin care. She had a friend with severe psoriasis and turned him on to the oil. In two weeks he was almost clear. “It’s also a great antibacterial.”
She also likes coconut sugar, which provides sweetness with fewer of the problems than regular sugar.
She started using mangos, avocados and dates. She saw the “transformative power in her family.” It cleared up her son’s acne and “really changed his personality. He lost his puppy fat, his grades went up, he walked differently.” What he ate at school had been full of additives.
“I wanted to share that with other people” — that’s it’s easy to enjoy real food.
Three-fourths of her book is vegetarian, but there’s some meat and fish. There are some sweets, things that taste good but are healthier. She feels like now is the time to get people back in the kitchen and more confident. She hopes the book can make people more comfortable in the kitchen. She enjoys teaching and often does classes as a charity fundraiser.
Proceeds from the book sales will go to Boston Children’s Hospital, where her son continues treatment. “They accept people from all over,” Dahan says.
It was easy to convince the son with acne that the change was good. For the other two, it took a little more work. “I got around it by developing recipes that their friends liked better than the unhealthy food.” They like her nachos, Mexican roll-ups and granola bars.
You have to buy smarter, which may be more expensive, she says, but “If you eat nutrient dense food, you eat less food. It fills your body,” Dahan says. She tells young people that if they put cheap gas in their cars, the cars won’t run as well — same with their bodies.
“Using wholesome ingredients in simple recipes can help you incorporate healthier habits into everyday life. Even small changes can end up big. Don’t go whole hog at first, just start” by cooking at home twice a week instead of eating out every night. Pack some lunches, go slow and build, she advises. “Change is very hard for people, but in the book, it’s not frightening.”
“You don’t have to go down the weird and wonderful aisle” to find ingredients like almond flour or oat flour, she says. You can make it yourself by simply grinding up almonds or oats in a blender or food processor. Making flour from almonds will be cheaper than buying almond flour. “And it tastes fresher than what’s on the shelf.” She keeps almond flour in the freezer because of the oil content.
“Introduce a new ingredient, gain confidence using it,” Dahan urges. It’ doesn’t have to be perfect. “If you cook a lot, you make mistakes. Mistakes can be great adaptations.” With fussy kids who might not like something, say “tonight’s just not your night. You’ll get something you like tomorrow night.”
Get your children in the kitchen. “They like things so much more.” They can grate cheese, mix ingredients.”If they help prepare it, it’s 10,000 times more likely they will eat it.”
She wants to help “more people make a difference. … I felt empowered when I was feeding my son wholesome things” and other cooks can get that same feeling with the simple and tasty recipes in her cookbook, produced on high quality paper so it can double as a coffee table book as well as an easy way to make diet changes.
Jill Dahan’s website is www.jilldahan.com. Photos in the book, published by Lorimer Press, are by Kurt Rindoks.