Canyon Ranch chef Scott Uehlein uses “Nutritional Intelligence” and healthy whole foods to create spa-quality meals.
There’s a short film I’ve seen, called Spa, in which a severely exploited woman spends a pampering weekend at a deluxe health and wellness resort a lot like Canyon Ranch, the famous retreat spot in Tucson, Ariz. It all starts well enough, but soon all the massages and good food coax something from this woman that makes her realize how toxic her home life really is, and so she rebels: She books herself into a suite, refuses her family’s calls and won’t leave. She just won’t leave.
It all works out in the end, but can you imagine? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to dwell forever in spa-quality massages, sleep, and exquisite, healthy food?
Well, Scott Uehlein, the corporate chef for Canyon Ranch, may not be able to help you with the massages and uninterrupted sleep, but if you want spa-style, spa-quality food to chase the toxic fast food out of your life, he is ready, willing and able, via the hundreds of recipes in the classic book he coauthored with Barry Correia, Canyon Ranch Cooks: More Than 200 Delicious, Innovative Recipes From America’s Leading Health Resort (Rodale, 2003).
If you think spa food means fussy constructions of trendy ingredients camouflaging tiny portions, a few minutes perusing the pages of this book will set you straight. The recipes all stem from a concept the spa calls “Nutritional Intelligence,” which essentially boils down to eating eight to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits every day, alongside two to three servings of whole grains, two or three servings of “clean” proteins (locally sourced, nonindustrial meats, seafood, nuts and beans), and a cup or two of calcium-rich foods, like yogurt. All are prepared as food usually is — with a bit of healthy fat like olive oil.
The secret to spa cooking isn’t microportions of trendy foods, Uehlein explains. It’s about real foods, with a stronger emphasis on plant-based dishes.
“One thing guests always say is, ‘I can’t believe I’m eating so much less than I usually do, but I feel more satisfied.’ What a lot of people don’t realize is that it comes down to satiation: You feel fuller when you’re incorporating whole grains, protein and vegetables all into one meal,” says Uehlein. “If you just eat simple starches — say, pasta on its own — you burn it off quickly, and you’re hungry again. Part of our philosophy is that we want you to eat a varied and balanced diet. Have proteins, have carbohydrates, have vegetables, and realize that whole grains are best — but it’s not that we preclude potatoes. All things in moderation, right? Olive oil is a wonderful, healthy fat, but if you sit down and drink a quart of it straight from the bottle, that’s not going to leave you feeling particularly healthy,” he says.
“As the fad diets have come and gone over the years, our core philosophy hasn’t changed: Eat healthier, eat locally, eat sustainably, eat clean (meaning avoiding pesticides and hormones), eat in moderation, and do more food preparation at home,” he adds. “But, we always tell people, ‘Don’t feel like you have to live in a vacuum.’ Any changes you make for the better are good. If you only make one meal a week at home now, maybe make a double recipe and eat the leftovers another night. There! Now you’re eating two meals a week at home; you’ve doubled the impact of your efforts.” (For more on healthy cooking, see “Time to Cook” in the March 2008 archives and “A Fresh Look at Vegetables” in the January/February 2008 archives.)
Speaking of doubling recipes, one of the things I like most about Canyon Ranch Cooks is the various strategies it presents for getting more vegetables into your day — and by strategies, I mean delicious recipes. For instance, make a double or triple batch of one of their vegetable salads or soups, like the Chopped Vegetable and Bean Salad or the Carrot and Ginger Soup. Then pair your leftovers with some whole-grain bread and a piece of fruit and you’ll have a weekday lunch or a light supper that will not only add a burst of nutrition to your day, but will keep you from caving in to the tempting, toxic convenience of the nearest fast-food drive-thru.
Then, with a batch of homemade salad dressing on hand, like Canyon Ranch’s Lemon Miso, that bag of spinach in your crisper drawer may have more allure than a late-night pizza order.
And, of course, when you’re eating healthier foods, it pushes the unhealthy ones out of your day-to-day life, and you feel better, which lessens the chance that you might one day feel the need to book yourself into a real spa and never leave.
Lemon Miso Dressing
Makes 16 servings
- 1 tbs. dry mustard
- 3 tbs. water, divided
- 3 tbs. white miso paste
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
- 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
- 1 tsp. grated lemon peel
- 1 tbs. chopped fresh parsley
In a small bowl, mix dry mustard with 1 tablespoon water until mixture forms a smooth paste.
In a separate bowl, mix miso paste with remaining 2 tablespoons water. Set aside.
In a blender container, combine lemon juice, apple juice and rice vinegar. Add mustard paste and ginger. Blend on low for 10 seconds. Add garlic, lemon peel, parsley and miso paste. Blend high speed for 30 seconds, or until smooth. Pour into a jar.
Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to one week.
Recipe excerpted from Canyon Ranch Cooks by Barry Correia and Scott Uehlein (Rodale, 2003).
Recipe - Chopped Vegetable and Bean Salad
Makes four servings For the dressing:
- 2 tbs. red wine vinegar
- 1⁄2 tsp. salt
- 1⁄4 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tbs. olive oil
For the salad:
- 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
- 1⁄2 cup peeled and diced cucumber
- 1⁄2 cup diced red bell pepper
- 1⁄4 cup diced yellow bell pepper
- 1⁄4 cup peeled and diced carrots
- 1⁄4 cup diced red onion
- 1⁄4 cup diced black olives
- 3⁄4 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh basil
- 3⁄4 cup diced tomato
- 3⁄4 cup cooked white beans
- 1⁄2 cup cooked garbanzo beans
- 1⁄2 cup chopped hearts of palm
In a small bowl, combine red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Add olive oil and beat well with a wire whip. In a large bowl, combine salad ingredients. Add salad dressing and toss lightly. Divide equally into large salad bowls. Recipe excerpted from Canyon Ranch Cooks by Barry Correia and Scott Uehlein (Rodale, 2003).
Recipe - Chilled Vegetable Chowder
Makes six servings
- 3 medium English cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- 2 cups plain fat-free yogurt
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped, seeded, peeled, vine-ripened red tomatoes
- 1/2 cup chopped, seeded, peeled, vine-ripened yellow tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chopped yellow squash
- 1/4 cup chopped zucchini
- 1/4 cup chopped white or yellow fresh or frozen corn kernels (cooked and drained if fresh)
- 1/4 cup chopped jícama
- 1/4 cup chopped, cooked potatoes
- 2 tbs. chopped green onions
- 1 tbs. seasoned rice vinegar
- 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbs. finely shredded basil
Place the cucumbers and yogurt in a blender and purée until smooth. Combine the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl and season with sea salt, pepper, vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil and basil. Stir half-cup of vegetable mixture into cucumber purée, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes along with seasoned diced vegetables in a separate covered bowl. To serve, divide soup into six bowls and top each bowl with ¼ cup of vegetable mixture.
Recipe - Carrot and Ginger Soup
Makes four servings
- 3 tbs. diced onions
- 1/2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 tbs. maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp. honey
- 1 tbs. peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 1 cup peeled and chopped carrots, about 6 ounces
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup peeled and diced sweet potato
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp. minced fresh garlic
In a medium saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil over low heat, until onions are translucent. Add maple syrup, honey and ginger. Cook until onions begin to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until carrots and sweet potato are soft. Cool slightly, transfer mixture to a blender container and purée until smooth. Pour soup into a saucepan and warm over medium heat before serving. Can be served hot or cold. Recipe excerpted from Canyon Ranch Cooks by Barry Correia and Scott Uehlein (Rodale, 2003).