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Bravo! by Ramses Bravo: cookbook review

Posted Sep 25 2012 12:05am
There are so many versions of "healthy diets" it can make your head spin. Most people, no matter what they eat, will probably say they eat a healthy diet. Whether omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, or whatever combination you can come up with, there are dozens of variations on every kind of diet, each of which is considered "healthy" by a devoted group of followers. For example, in my neighborhood's online newsletter, in response to a new resident's inquiry about finding healthy eating choices in the 'hood, someone suggested a restaurant where he could find a barbecued pork sandwich served on a bed of coleslaw instead of bread. Another suggested a bakery where all the pies are vegan and raw. Both people considered their recommendations healthy, though they are worlds apart. (I was a little miffed, however, by the respondent who said that local restaurants shouldn't be providing healthy food, they should be offering food that people liked!)

I've tried out quite a few diet variations myself, and was always convinced the new one was healthier than the last. I've been vegan for a long time, and there have been many incarnations of my vegan diet, as well. I'm not vegan primarily for health reasons, but I still try to eat what I consider a healthy, well-balanced diet. I eat lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, sea vegetables. I eat a mix of raw and cooked food, the proportions of which vary by season, and I eat a diet that tends to be low in added fat, salt and sugar, but still includes those things. I've always believed that some added fat and salt can be part of a healthy diet, though sometimes I cook without adding them. Most desserts I eat tend to fall into the fresh or dried fruit variety, but that doesn't mean I won't bake a cake or cookies with fat and sugar.

When I was asked to review a copy of Bravo!, the cookbook by Ramses Bravo from the TrueNorth Health Center, I was interested but wary. The recipes contain no animal products, which fits with my dietary preferences, but none of the recipes contain added oils, refined carbohydrates, salt or sugar (known as the SOS diet). Oils are supplied by avocados, nuts and seeds, and sweetness is supplied by fruit. I know a lot of people are avoiding salt, sugar and oil, and if you are interested in the ideas put forth by T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, and others who advocate a diet free of sugar, salt and oil for optimal health, read on. Many people consider the SOS diet to be transformative for health.

Yellow corn chowder, page 53
After a forward by T. Colin Campbell and an explanation of the TrueNorth Health Center philosophy, (which you can read on Amazon) , the book starts with a chapter on how to be an organized cook, that includes tips, lists of tools and two weeks of daily menus. The next chapter contains recipes for basic preparations for foods that are used in other recipes in the book. The main recipes follow, with chapters for breakfast, soups, salads, dressings, vegetable dishes, bean and grain dishes, entrées, sauces and dips, and desserts. The recipes seem very creative and attractive, as well as healthy, and there are lots that I'd like to try, like Bravo pizza with polenta crust, red lentil loaf with bell pepper coulis, apple-pecan cobbler and mango-banana pie. I do think I'd have trouble with the daily menus because there are so many dishes that rely on other recipes being made first. For example, I'd need gargantuan quantities of home-made vegetable broth, and previously made coconut-vanilla granola to make some of the recipes. (In fact, vegetable broth plays prominently in many of the recipes, which makes sense as a flavor enhancer.) Perhaps if my diet were more consistently based on recipes such as these, I'd develop an organized way to have the necessary items on hand.

We tried two of the soups, yellow corn chowder and tortilla soup, and were pleasantly surprised each time by the satisfying results. The soups looked and tasted great, and we didn't miss the oil or salt. We cheated a little on prep time by using very-low-sodium prepared stock instead of making our own, though I'm sure the home-made version would have been even better.

I'm pleased to be able to share the recipe for tortilla soup with you, with permission from the publisher. We used sweet potatoes instead of white because that's what we had, and it worked out really well. We also added kale, which we have growing in our garden. The second night we added brown rice and butter beans for a more complete dinner soup.

Tortilla soup - 6 servings (page 52)
  • 6 corn tortillas
  • kernals sliced from 2 ears of fresh corn or two cups of thawed frozen corn or drained canned corn
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, scrubbed and diced
  • 3 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 5 roma tomatoes
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 12 cups vegetable broth, preferably homemade
  • 10 fresh epazote leaves, sliced into strips (optional)
  • 2 ripe avocados, sliced, for garnish
  • 10 sprigs cilantro, for garnish
  • 1 lime, sliced into 6 wedges, for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
  2. Slice the tortillas into small strips. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes until crispy.
  3. Put the corn, celery, carrot, shallots and garlic in a large dry pot and cook over medium heat fot 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the oregano, granulated garlic and granulated onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. 
  4. Put the tomatoes in a blender and process on high speed until smooth. Add the tomatoes and potatoes to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. 
  5. Stir in the broth and increase the heat to medium high. Simmer for 15 minutes. 
  6. Stir in the epazote and simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with the avocado, cilantro, and lime. Serve immediately.

NOTE: This recipe results in a brothlike soup. For a thick and creamy soup, put the soup and baked tortilla strips in a blender and process on high until smooth. Serve immediately garnished with avocado, cilantro and lime.

Per serving: calories: 269, protein: 6.7 g, carbohydrates: 47.2 g, fat: 8.3 g. calcium: 99.5 mg, sodium: 147.9 mg, omega-3: 0.1g

Full disclosure: The book was provided to me free of charge. All opinions are my own. The recipe is reprinted with permission.
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