Chef Akhtar Nawab had long been putting his career ahead of his health. The Indian chef from Kentucky, who operates three restaurants scattered across New York City, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, was on the hunt for ways to feel better, and that journey began by simply changing his diet.
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That understanding is at the center of his debut cookbook, “Good for You,” a book filled with healthy recipes that span the globe. There’s an emphasis on gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and vegetarian options, recipes that showcase his knowledge of global ingredients and techniques (think a mix of Indian, Mexican, and American influences).
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Inside, you’ll find the aforementioned good-for-you recipes, like black bean and sweet potato burgers swiped with truffle mayo, chile rellenos stuffed with amaranth and quinoa, and a yuba noodle salad with ginger dressing. Akhtar also devotes a portion of the cookbook to teaching readers how to craft essential culinary building blocks, like marinades, sauces, salsas, chutneys, and dressings, condiments and techniques that are sure to make any home cook’s repertoire of dishes shine.
Ahead, Akhtar shares two recipes from “Good for You.” The first is his cauliflower rice biryani, a healthy riff on the North Indian baked rice dish. Instead of using basmati rice, as is expected, Akhtar replaces the grain with homemade cauliflower “rice” that’s still tossed with plenty of aromatics: cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, bay leaves, plus diced carrots and onions. You can serve simply as is if you’re cooking for vegetarians and vegans, or you can toss the rice with skirt steak, lamb shoulder, or roast chicken for an extra dose of protein.
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Either way you make it, you’ll want to prepare Akhtar’s mango chutney. Akhtar admits that one of his guilty pleasures is ketchup, but since it’s filled with sugar, he tries to stay away from the condiment. Indian meals traditionally boast the addition of a couple of chutneys, and Akhtar’s mango chutney is sweet and savory—only flaunting agave as an added sweetener.
Reprinted from Good for You by Akhtar Nawab with permission by Chronicle Books, 2020.
Cauliflower Rice Biryani Recipe
Biryani is a traditional baked rice dish from Northern India that typically layers rice and lamb. It’s a fairly elaborate meal that requires a day in the kitchen. There’s usually a lot of ghee involved, and when my mom made it was usually for a special occasion like Eid, or when company was coming over.
I haven’t told my mother about this Cauliflower Rice Biryani recipe, because she tends to get upset when I break from tradition. I remember at Elettaria I made korma, a traditional Muslim dish, with heritage pork. She could not wrap her head around it. She said, “Akhtar, we don’t eat pork, so you can’t make korma out of pork!” I get it. I suppose it’s like making gefilte fish out of shrimp: It just can’t be done. But I did it. And it was good.
You can make the cauliflower rice from scratch or just as easily get some from the store. Whatever works for you. You could serve this with Simple Marinated Skirt Steak, Roast Lamb Shoulder with Olive Veracruzana, or Mexican Roast Chicken with Crispy Skin.
Cauliflower Rice Biryani
- 1 very large cauliflower head
- 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 12 whole cloves, toasted
- 12 cardamom pods, toasted
- 4 small cinnamon sticks, toasted
- ½ Tbsp mustard seeds, toasted
- ½ Tbsp cumin seeds, toasted
- 2 dried or fresh bay leaves
- Mango chutney
- Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).
- First, make the cauliflower rice. Trim the green leaves from the cauliflower and cut into large pieces, including the stem. Put a handful at a time in the food processor with enough water to go about halfway up the cauliflower (the water will be drained, but there should be enough so it splashes up the sides when the machine is turned on). Process the cauliflower so it is finely chopped (like rice) and drain the water. Take out any large pieces and process again in the next batch. Keep doing this until the whole cauliflower is riced. Wrap cauliflower rice in a kitchen towel or cheesecloth and squeeze well to drain the extra liquid.
- Pour the cauliflower rice into a large bowl and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of the salt. Let this sit for 20 minutes to release moisture.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet or pot over medium heat, heat the coconut oil, add the carrots and onion, and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tsp of the salt. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the toasted spices and bay leaves and remove from the heat.
- By now, the cauliflower should be ready. Wrap it in cheesecloth or a kitchen towel again and squeeze out all the liquid. Make sure you get out as much as possible.
- Add the cauliflower rice to the pot of vegetables and spices and stir to combine. Season with salt. Cover with a lid or foil and bake until warmed through, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Serve on a large platter or bowl, with the chutneys and gluten-free roti. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Mango Chutney Recipe
I was recently interviewed for a story and asked what my guilty pleasures are, and one of them is, well, ketchup. Ketchup is loaded with sugar; it’s almost like drinking soda. I really don’t allow myself to use it. I tend to amp up my meals with chutneys instead. They live in this sweet, sour, and salty flavor space that is similar to ketchup, but they are much more healthful. A typical Indian meal always has a couple of chutneys on the table, and this mango one is definitely a favorite of mine.
- ½ tsp kosher salt, plus more for blanching
- ½ small fennel bulb, diced
- ½ large, green (slightly unripe) mango, peeled and diced
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ tsp ground coriander (not toasted)
- ½ tsp ground fennel seeds (not toasted)
- ¼ tsp cayenne (not toasted)
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric (not toasted)
- 1½ tsp agave
- First, bring a small pot of water to a boil and add enough salt so it is generously seasoned (1 to 2 Tbsp). Prepare a large bowl filled with water and ice. Add the fennel to the pot and blanch until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain the fennel and place it in the ice bath (you could also run it under really cold water for a minute until the fennel is cold). Spread the fennel out on a paper towel and pat it dry.
- Add the fennel and the diced mango to a medium bowl and set aside.
- Next, in a small pan, gently heat the olive oil over low heat with the coriander, fennel seeds, cayenne, and turmeric. Stir the oil and spice mixture continuously until it is aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the oil and spices to the bowl of fennel and mango. Add the agave and salt and stir well. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour, after which it’s ready to serve.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Header image by Antonis Achilleos.