Chef Gavin Kaysen (who competed on Food Network's The Next Iron Chef) of Café Boulud in New York City describes a salad he loves to make: Belgian endive, walnuts, pears, black truffle vinaigrette, and queso de valdeón, a Spanish blue cheese. He toasts walnuts in a dry sauté pan for a few minutes over medium heat to bring out their nuttiness. "Try puréeing them with a little milk or vegetable stock for pasta sauce." He also likes to pulverize walnuts into fine sand and then sprinkle the "nut dust" on salads, cheese plates, or desserts like exotic flavored ice creams.
Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of Border Grill in Las Vegas like working with sweet potatoes because of their texture and sweetness. "In my college days when I had no money," recalls Milliken, "I could buy a huge sweet potato for no money—and it made a complete meal with a little butter and a squeeze of lime to balance the sweetness. Add a salad, and it was the perfect dinner."
In addition to enjoying a bit of chocolate every day, you can shave some on top of nonfat yogurt or low-fat ice cream. And don't forget about cocoa's savory qualities: Add a tablespoon or two to stews, chili, and mole-style sauces for great depth of flavor.
Enjoy a cup of green tea brewed hot, straight up, or on the rocks with a sprig of mint or a wedge of orange or lemon. You can also use green tea as a poaching liquid for chicken or fish and as a broth for cooking brown rice or other grains like faro or quinoa. The grains absorb the tea and impart a subtle but very distinct and delicious flavor.
Although steel-cut oats are ideal for breakfast (and retain the most nutritious components), rolled oats are best for baking things like cookies, muffins, and fruit cobblers. Next time you make bread, add a handful of rolled oats to the dough for great texture and crunch. Oatmeal can also substitute for meat or beans in soups.
Dried plums are a perfect fiber-packed snack eaten right out of the package. Chopped, they can add a chewy texture to cereal, muffins, and granola. Add one or two dried plums to the blender when making a fruit smoothie for extra fiber and to eliminate the need for additional sweeteners like honey or sugar.
Todd Mitgang, chef at and co-owner of New York City's Crave Ceviche Bar, recommends cooking with orange juice. He uses clementines to prepare wild Alaskan salmon. "They're sweeter than standard oranges and happen to be less acidic. You cover the fish with a juice mixture in the evening, refrigerate, go to bed, and serve it the next night for dinner." Mitgang says you can also cure halibut and shellfish like scallops and shrimp with orange juice instead of the more traditional lime or lemon.
When buying, look for golden-yellow skin and flesh that gives just slightly to thumb pressure but isn't too soft or mushy. Chef David Myers of Sona and Comme Ça in Los Angeles uses the fruit frequently in his dishes. "They're extremely versatile because they can be pickled, salted, marinated, pureed, or dried, which makes them priceless in a modern restaurant kitchen." Toss diced papaya into green salads or make a vibrant and colorful tropical fruit salad by combining it with sliced bananas, avocado, and pineapple.
Chef Ed Brown of New York City's Eighty One restaurant loves the green stalks and recommends selecting those with tight buds and bottoms that look like freshly cut flowers, not dried-out twigs. Peel asparagus from the middle down and snip off the bottoms—but don't toss out the scraps, he says. Make a soup by simmering the bits in a shallow pan of water until tender and adding them and the liquid to a blender with a sautéed shallot or garlic clove and a tablespoon of olive oil.
Fishmonger Lewis Spada of Fish Tales in Brooklyn, N.Y., says fresh herring fillets can often be ordered in advance from a good seafood purveyor—he recommends having the store fillet them. Then it's just a matter of grilling or frying them in a pan for a few minutes. Johan Svensson, executive chef of Aquavit in New York City, has been eating herring since he was a boy in his native Sweden. He recommends having pickled herring with red onion on brown bread or "adding it to potato salad or using it instead of tuna in salad niçoise."