A Healthy Cooking Crash Course

I freely admit: I have no business posting on a food blog. My most impressive culinary feat involves sauteeing veggies to add to Paul Newman pasta sauce; my preferred appliance is the microwave. I’ve never conquered that novice-cook skittishness about handling raw chicken.

But though I own precisely zero cookbooks, I do spend an inordinate amount of time reading about clean eating, veganism, and the sundry ways in which nutrition may or may not guard against disease. And I recently confronted the cold, hard truth: Even if I continue to spend 64 percent of my take-home pay at the Symphony Whole Foods’ prepared foods section, I will never be fully aware and in control of what I consume unless I learn to cook.

Luckily, I got to attend a one-night healthy cooking class at the Boston Adult Education Center led by Phyllis Kaplowitz, executive chef of Baker’s Best Catering in Newton.

Kaplowitz’s problem was the inverse of mine (she cooked all the time and was constantly surrounded by food), but the result was identical: she wasn’t in control of what she ate. After reaching 277 pounds, she overhauled her life and her recipes, losing more than a third of her body weight. “Preparing healthy, satisfying meals is less about willpower than about knowledge and careful planning,” she explains.

And to prove her point, she spent three hours on a recent Monday night teaching a dozen of us to make recipes like quinoa risotto with spinch and mushrooms, wheat berry waldorf salad, and smoked red snapper with yellow pepper sauce and tomato fresca.

None of the recipes were intimidating, but they all taught me something new. Take almond flour, for example: I knew it was a great vegan, gluten-free alternative to regular flour, but I always imagined it existed in a package next to its unhealthy brethren on a supermarket shelf. Imagine my surprise upon learning that it’s just the nuts, Cuisinart-ed. (Further surprise: An almond and orange cake made with the flour, pureed carrots, and egg whites was fluffy and delicious.)

The hits of the evening were the red snapper, a surprisingly rich celery root soup with granny smith apples (the secret to the healthy creaminess was pureed cashews…smithereened nuts appear to be a cornerstone of Kaplowitz’s cooking philosophy) and black bean brownies.

While Kaplowitz says most of her large-scale catering events still rely on traditional recipes, she’s introduced her healthy substitutions to smaller clients upon request. “People start to realize that they don’t have to sacrifice taste—they just have to be smart,” she says.

In case you’re not convinced, try the black bean brownies:

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate

1 c. unsalted butter

2 c. black beans, drained (canned is fine)

1 c. walnuts, chopped

1 tbs. vanilla extract

1/4 c. instant coffee

1/4 tsp. sea salt

4 large eggs

1 1/2 c. light agave nectar.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes at 325 degrees; refrigerate for several hours.