Food & Drink Outside the box

Stella Style preaches low-carb, fresh foods over processed packaged products

It’s a new year and, like so many, I’m looking to unload the extra junk in my trunk, but I must also admit to being suspicious of, though not against, diets — especially low-carbohydrate diets. I’m all for moderation, but how can it be a good idea to give up toast?

This skepticism doesn’t make me a natural for George Stella’s new cookbook, Eating Stella Style, in which the recipes are based on the same premise as the Atkins diet: Reduce your intake of carbohydrates and your body will burn fat instead. Stella’s diet goes beyond limiting certain carbohydrates to eschewing pre-packaged food — even those labeled low carb — in favor of fresh, healthy, low-carb foods prepared at home.

Stella is the star of the Food Network’s Low Carb and Lovin’ It and a chef of 20 years, who turned to the Atkins diet after pneumonia and congestive heart failure landed him in the hospital. At 467 pounds, Stella was told by his doctors that he needed to change his diet or he was going to die.

Seven years later, Stella has lost 250 pounds and Stella Style provides a guide to his low-carb path. Stella’s humble “I’ve been there” and heartfelt enthusiasm are convincing, and his common-sense tips are helpful: For example, dieters should shop in a U around the grocery store to hit the dairy, meats, and produce and avoid the unnecessary junk foods in between, and let their jeans tell them if they’ve lost weight rather than visiting the scale every day.

Most helpful for the lay low-carb eater, however, may be the shopping lists that explain which vegetables and fruits are low carb. Berries, cantaloupe, and lemons are included in a strict low-carb diet, while high-sugar bananas, apples, and oranges should be avoided. I felt a gustatory sense of relief at the suggestion that dieters might, after enduring the strict “fat-burning” phase of the diet, reduce portion sizes and fat content to make room for higher-carb veggies, fruits, and whole grains.

Stella’s recipes cover breakfast to dinner, including condiments and drinks, with enough variety and creativity — such as using spaghetti squash in place of pasta and homemade almond flour mixed with parmesan in place of bread crumbs for coating fish — to keep a low-carb cook busy for a while. Contrary to the meat-a-thon I expected, Stella Style includes a good selection of vegetable recipes and even a vegetarian entrée section (although one of its recipes included bacon).

Eating Stella Style
By George Stella
$17.95, 256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-74328521-6

For dinner one evening, I prepared Stella’s Jicama Slaw and Chili-rubbed Baked Salmon, and Cream of Asparagus Soup.

With only a scant cup of asparagus, the soup’s flavor was overwhelmed by too much salt, added mid-way through the recipe, a half cup of heavy cream, and cumbersome inch-long asparagus strings. I remade the recipe using twice as much asparagus, chopped smaller, and salting to taste at the end. On the second try, the mild, green flavor of the asparagus penetrated the cream, as did the sweetness of the onion and garlic.

Although the slaw is the ugliest dish I’ve ever made the jicama turned into an off-white mush in the cheese grater the juicy jicama, bean sprouts, and cabbage were a wonderfully crunchy conduit for Stella’s sweet-tart apple-cider dressing, which was simply spiced with celery seeds. The texture of the dish made it a fine companion for the salmon, soft and tender under its coat of sauce; the bright-red onion, tart lemon, and spicy hot chile rounded out the fish’s natural richness deliciously.

Did Stella convert me to a low-carb diet? Avid carb watcher, perhaps. For me, there will always be the occasional piece of toast.

By Susan Pagani

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