Slice and dice your way to health

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PORTLAND, Ore. - News on Americans' trashy eating habits is everywhere
alongside the encouragement to eat more vegetables and fruits. When it
comes to Indian country, reports on obesity, diabetes and early mortality
are enough to get anyone's attention. Still, the tough decisions are made
where the butcher knife meets the chopping block; more often than not, it
comes down to whether to even get the knife out.

At the end of a long day, ripping open packaged fare or calling for pizza
delivery can seem easier. Our best intentions to treat our bodies better
disappears.

Slicing and dicing, though, can take us on a fast track to a healthy dinner
once we have a few basics down. To get started, it takes a butcher knife, a
good grater and a permanent place on the counter for a cutting board. Once
you have the tools, it's a matter of a trip to the produce section.

The options are broad: onions, fresh garlic and ginger; winter or summer
squashes depending on the season. Or yams, broccoli and cauliflower,
carrots, red and green cabbage, peppers, mushrooms, celery, eggplant, and a
bouquet of dark leafy greens like chard, kale or mustard. As far as which
to choose, going with the seasons nets the most flavor and best prices.

A bunch of beets, greens included, might look great in the spring but lousy
later in the summer: and just the opposite with store-bought tomatoes that
are akin to plastic foam except during harvest. Homegrown has always been
the best bet for a worthy tomato, even if it's only a plant or two in
five-gallon containers.

Assuming the goods are on hand, rendering them fit for the table doesn't
need to take too much, especially if the squash and yams or potatoes are
baked ahead of time, like the day before following the evening meal. Just
slice favorite winter squashes, like acorn or spaghetti, and place them
face down on a cookie sheet. Toss in a few yams and potatoes as well, and
in 30 - 45 minutes the base for many great dishes is ready.

Next comes a good-sized skillet, since vegetables have a lot of volume when
they first go into the pan. If you have the time and feel like chopping
some onion, garlic and ginger, sauteing theses aromatics in a tablespoon of
olive oil will provide flavor.

When the energy's lacking for this part, it can be skipped quite easily:
you can go without adding oil. Just run an inch or two of cold water into
the pan and turn the heat to high. Then rough-chop the vegetables that will
take longer to cook - cauliflower, grated carrot, broccoli, brussels
sprouts - and toss them in.

Leave the lid off so the veggies will keep their color.

By the time you rough-chop dark greens like beet tops and mustard greens,
the cauliflower or whatever you chose first should be just tender.

Toss in the greens; scoop out some of the baked squash, yam or potato. Turn
the heat off and dress with olive oil, your favorite cheeses and nuts (bleu
cheese and walnuts, feta and hazelnuts, or almonds and parmesan). Use
in-season fruits to good advantage by serving fresh slices on the side; or
toss a handful of dried chokecherries, huckleberries or raisins into the
pot.

Along with quality protein and starch, these warm salads can provide
satisfying fare for those willing to be a bit adventurous when it comes to
pleasures of the table. And there's no need to fuss even with the protein
and starch.

Beans can be cooked ahead of time. Pintos, limas, garbanzos and black
beans, alongside a corn tortilla or piece of corn-bread, make for a
complete protein. Then there is fish and game from the hunt - venison,
salmon, crab or clams - not to mention chicken, which can be roasted or
stewed in the pot to avoid the fat in frying.

Getting away from processed and packaged foods and over to the real deal is
an adventure.

Kale goes from something used to decorate a salad bar to serious fuel for
the body that tastes excellent when paired with dried apricots, pineapple
chucks and pecans. Or saute some purple onion and shred steamed beets and
purple cabbage into the pan. With a dab of good mustard, some olive oil and
a toss of golden raisins and walnuts, the dish can make "what's for
dessert" questions fade away.

It's all about what's in season, what looks good in the store, what fits
into the budget and what the cook feels like creating. While not exactly
hunting and gathering and traditional cuisine, it's still better than
dosing on feel-good products that do so little for the body in, the long
run.