Chef Tanya Kitchen’s house-cultured tempeh.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATE ABBOTT
Guadalajara! tempeh power burger.
You’ve likely heard the nutrition buzzword superfood. And while there are no official criteria for what constitutes a superfood, a term coined more than a century ago for a banana importer’s marketing campaign, it refers to the upper echelon of healthy ingredients — foods that pack a nutritional punch while providing a multitude of health benefits.
“The superfood nutrients that I tend to focus on,” says Emily Cooper, a registered dietician nutritionist and author of The Easy Superfoods Cookbook, “are fiber for heart health and digestion; antioxidants, which can be in the form of vitamins C, A, E, that support heart and immune health; and then omega-3 fatty acids that help our bodies absorb more of the fat-soluble vitamins, which are A, D, E, and K. And they also maintain our cellular structure.”
Whether you have been towing the healthy-eating line for decades or packed on a few pandemic pounds, you can benefit from an extra dose of superfoods where we can get them — including at local restaurants. Eating out (and taking out) might seem like less healthy option than cooking at home, but that’s not necessarily the case, as many local chefs incorporate superfoods into everything from burgers and bowls to smoothies and salads.
At vegan eatery and market Chef Tanya’s Kitchen in Palm Springs, chef-owner Tanya Petrovna serves plenty of nutrient-dense dishes, but she considers her house-cultured tempeh the most perfect superfood. Dating back thousands of years, tempeh combines grains and beans — typically soybeans — that, through the process of fermentation, create good-for-your-gut probiotics and makes the soybeans more digestible.
“Since it’s cultured, tempeh really helps the intestinal flora,” Petrovna explains, “and it has all the fiber that comes from beans and the grains, which is really the key to keeping the colon clean.” She uses the ancient grain millet (which is actually a seed) for textural and nutritional purposes. “I love the way it creates a lightness to the tempeh. Millet is very high in iron, and so are soybeans, so the two combine to make tempeh one of the greatest sources of iron.”
Tempeh-making is not for the impatient. One batch takes Petrovna around 36 hours from start to finish, but she’s rewarded with a final product she uses to craft her fabled Powerburgers — stacking the tempeh patties with lettuce and tomato, Anaheim chiles, guacamole, and even veggie chili.
Much of the rest of her menu is laced with superfoods, too. She spikes her macaroni salad with antioxidant-rich kale giardiniera, tops salads and sandwiches with vitamin-packed purple cabbage, and whips up pesto from pumpkin seeds, which are full of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. “I choose what’s good for you, what’s tasty and what’s colorful,” she says. “When you do that, these superfoods just pop out.”
“You’ve got to figure out what works for you.”
Luscious Lorraine’s Organic Cafe customizes superfood-rich smoothies.
Lorraine Ornelas, chef-owner of the 20-year-old Luscious Lorraine’s Organic Cafe in Palm Desert and a functional nutrition counselor, compares figuring out the nutritious foods you should be including in your regular diet to detective work. “You’ve got to figure out what works for you,” she says, “what you like and what works for your body since nutrition is so individualized.”
That’s why she offers customizable smoothies with a menu of add-is that reads like a VIP list of superfoods, offering everything from coconut oil to collagen. One of her favorites, partly because of its versatility, is maca, a powder derived from the root of the radish-like vegetable grown in the Andes. “Maca is an adaptogen, which means it adapts to what your needs are,” Ornelas says. “A lot of athletic people use it for energy and endurance, because it helps improve the function of your adrenal glands, and everyone is pretty depleted there.”
Besides obscure ingredients like wild-grown blue-green algae and powdered mesquite, which are respectively high in omega-3 and amino acids, Ornelas favors mainstream herbs and spices, often blending several to create even more beneficial superfood combinations. The cafe’s anti-inflammatory add-in, for example, includes cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and black pepper. “Cinnamon is very good for balancing your blood sugar,” according to Ornelas. “We add black pepper to help sustain the turmeric in your body longer to give it time to do what it’s supposed to do: help with inflammation.”
And while blueberries receive plenty of attention as a superfood, Ornelas prefers the açai berry, which she purees into her açai bowls. “It’s 10 times more potent in antioxidants and that’s the attraction. It’s a good superfood, and we put it with hemp seeds, which are full of omegas and a good source of fiber, which is so important for getting rid of plaque on your arteries.”
Chula Artisan Eatery’s avocado toast
When Katherine Gonzalez opened Chula Artisan Eatery in La Quinta in 2017, the chef-owner wanted to make over the reputation of Latin cuisine as unhealthy, ensuring that vegans — who have had few options at most Mexican restaurants — could find plenty of dishes alongside their omnivore counterparts.
“Most people identify Hispanic food or Mexican food as greasy and full of cheese, and that was one of the first promises I made: We would not be doing what other Mexican food restaurants in the valley were doing,” Gonzalez says. “I wanted our menu to stand alone as culturally creative, healthy, and delicious.”
Avocados, a ubiquitous superfood, are a staple of Mexican cooking, and thus, Gonzalez relies heavily on them. “Avocados are the perfect food — rich in minerals, fiber, and healthy fats,” she says of the thick-skinned fruit full of folate, potassium, and antioxidant vitamins A and C. “It’s probably in every single one of our dishes.” It’s also front and center in Chula’s housemade guacamole and avocado toast, which uses olive oil bread from a La Quinta-based baker as its base, topping it with smashed avocados, balsamic glaze, roasted tomatoes, seasoned greens, and a poached egg. “It’s the perfect meal,” she says.
She also kicks up menu items with colorful chiles, some of which she snags — along with other produce — from the locally sourced CV Harvest Box. In addition to beating oranges in the vitamin C department, chili peppers contain capsaicin, the compound that gives them their heat, which is also a proven pain reliever.
Gonzalez stuffs poblanos for her dinnertime chile rellenos, chars Anaheims she uses in both her veggie and Angus beef-based green chile burgers, and boils and blends dried red California chiles to create that deep-red velvety sauce she layers on plates of chilaquiles, tamales, and enchiladas.
“While artful plating is very important,” she says, “so is the taste and nutrition level with many customers. People are much more savvy about what they are putting into their bodies. They’re reading labels, asking questions, and making better choices.”
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