Vegging out

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Milton resident Lanna Potter publishes Asian-inspired cookbook showing salads can be scrumptious, too

book "Light Asian Salads" by Lanna Potter.

By KELLY BROOKS

kelly@northsidewoman.com

For many Americans, the phrase “Chinese food” evokes visions of neatly folded white boxes teeming with delicious-yet-greasy noodles, meat and veggies.

It means something quite different to Milton resident Lanna Potter, a native of China’s Anhui province, west of Shanghai.

That sort of Chinese takeout, she said, is not authentic.

“It’s junk. I grew up there—we don’t cook that way.”

But Potter, a self-described “former chubby girl,” is no stranger to the allure of junk food. She went through about a decade of yo-yo dieting that started when she was a teenager in the ‘80s. After college, she moved to Chicago for an accounting job and gained about 40 pounds in a year, she said. In 2004 she married her husband, Michael, and changed her eating habits around the same time.

She started cooking healthier food and became a vegetarian. Eating healthier changed her life. And it’s not just about weight—she has more energy, better skin and fewer stomach and allergy problems, she said.

In late 2012, she wrote and published “Light Asian Salads: Quick and Healthy Vegetarian Recipes” to encourage others to enjoy the veggie-heavy yet savory dishes that helped her escape the weight and well-being fluctuations of her past.

NORTHSIDE WOMAN: When did you decide to start taking control and making these healthy recipes?

LANNA POTTER: I didn’t cook until I came to the states and lived by myself. At first I was experimenting with simple American- or Western-style food. I would bake things like pasta or lasagna, but that wasn’t helping me lose weight. It wasn’t until I transitioned into a vegetarian diet that I started looking for new recipes. So that’s when I did research online, bought books and started teaching myself how to cook. I watched Food Network and learned some techniques here and there. Vegetarian diets are often very globally inspired, so my mom also sends me cookbooks from China whenever she finds something interesting. I make Chinese food, Korean food and Japanese food a lot. Those are my favorites.

When and why did you make the dive into being vegetarian, and mostly vegan?

I was never a big meat-eater, I just ate too much junk food. Quitting meat wasn’t that difficult for me but I did like seafood and chicken. In Asian cooking we tend to use a lot less meat—we dice it up into very small pieces and use a lot more veggies. That’s the traditional way of cooking Asian food, Chinese or not. Meat was more for flavor than nutrition. About 10 years ago, right around when I married my husband, I decided I didn’t know why I was always feeling sluggish…so I started taking out some of the red meat, and then I felt better. And then about eight years ago I had an episode of food poisoning in a restaurant eating a chicken dish, and I stopped eating chicken. About six years ago I quit dairy. That’s when everything changed for me. My skin got clearer and I had much more energy. Everything didn’t happen all at once. It took me about four years to understand what was not working for me. I’m sure for everyone it’s different and it’s just a matter of figuring it out for yourself.

How does your husband like your food and health expertise?

My husband is not a vegetarian, but because I’m preparing healthy, homemade food we eat almost no processed food. So he has lost about 40 pounds himself. We’re both feeling better. I’ve never been healthier; that’s the most important thing. It’s not so much about weight anymore.

Now that you’ve figured out what exactly works for you, how do you make meals that are consistently interesting?

I try to make food with a ton of flavor, but not as oil-based. In the states we use too much oil in our cooking. If you watch Food Network, celebrity chefs dump a cup of oil here, a stick of butter there. It’s too much. Even olive oil. If anyone wants to lose weight, my first piece of advice is cut out the oil. You don’t have to cut it out 100 percent but if you can, cut it in half. Flavor your dish with more seasoning instead of oil.

When people think of Chinese takeout food, that’s covered in oil.

Its’ so bad. Cut back on oil and add more green vegetables. One of the reasons people say they don’t like vegetables is because they don’t really eat a variety. They always get the same thing, like spinach or cabbage. I get tired of those too. You’ve got to try different things. Go to the grocery store. If there’s one thing you haven’t tried before, try it. And add seasoning to keep it interesting and play with your taste buds.

How do you create your recipes? Where does that inspiration come from?

I like Asian food and spicy food, and my favorite is Korean food. When I moved here and started to cook at home I wanted to learn how to make it. Unfortunately on major TV networks you don’t see a lot of Asian-style cooking, so I relied on the Internet and followed some Korean food bloggers. I didn’t want to do things that were too complicated because I was busy, so I learned the easy and healthy dishes. I also have a lot of Asian cookbooks. That’s how I get my ideas. For this particular book, I wanted it to be healthy and flavorful, with a lot of Asian twists, and super easy. For most of the recipes, you don’t even have to turn on your stove.

When did you decide to make this into your own kind of franchise, with a website, book and YouTube channel?

I’m one of those people that has way too much energy; I just want to produce something. I always wanted to publish a book. I’m not a writer, but I love to cook and I love to eat healthy. So I started putting together a bunch of recipes that I use often and then added in ones I was still learning. Most of the recipes in the book are family favorites. I self-published this first book with some help from a local publishing house. Everything in the book I did myself, from taking the pictures to creating the nutritional charts. After I published it about a year ago, I started my blog, and then a YouTube channel.

What else do you like to do for fun?

I like to stay active. I’m taking Wing Chun, a Chinese martial art. I’m also trying Filipino kali, a stick-fighting technique, and Jeet Kune Do, the style invented by Bruce Lee. I’ve always wanted to take martial arts classes but never had the time. Now, I’m working at home so I have more flexibility. I also do weight-lifting and Zumba.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to try Asian cooking?

A lot of people are intimidated by it. I say start with one or two things. Asian cooking is easy but you want to make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself with complicated recipes. The Internet is the best source. Find the easiest recipe with familiar ingredients, and a short ingredient list. Start experimenting. Asian cooking emphasizes fresh ingredients. One of the most popular dishes is stir fry, and it’s actually one of the easiest. Stir fry is a great way to incorporate more veggies in your diet. You can add a little bit of tofu, meat or seafood but it’s veggie-heavy and very healthy for you. But remember with stir fry, never use a bottle of sauce. That’s junk and it’ll ruin your recipe. Always make your sauce according to the recipe. And sauces are usually very simple—just soy sauce, maybe some sugar, some vinegar and that’s it.

More Information

lannapotter.com

youtube.com/user/lannapottertv

Recipes from “Light Asian Salads”

1. Mango Rice Salad

Video: http://youtu.be/HMvvcmF8V4k

Cooking Notes: Use leftover rice from your favorite Asian takeout restaurant to save cooking time. This is a slightly sweet salad that tastes good for any meal. Try it as breakfast.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 1 cup diced mango
  • 1 diced English cucumber
  • 1 small diced red bell pepper
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Ground pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped green onions

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk the lime juice, oil, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
  2. In a large bowl, add rice, mango, cucumber, red bell peppers and green onions. Drizzle the dressing over it and mix well.

Serving Size: Makes four 1-cup servings

Nutritional Information (per serving): Calories: 181; Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 0; Sodium: 294 mg; Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 8 g; Carbohydrates: 28 g; Protein: 3 g

2. Chinese Low Mein with Peanut Sauce

Video: http://youtu.be/h8M_7iMQ6kc

Cooking Notes: This classic noodle dish comes with insanely good peanut dressing and can be served cold or warm. Use smooth peanut butter for the creamy consistency. Also, try using tahini in place of peanut butter for another delicious noodle dish.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 cup shredded cabbage
  • ½ cup frozen vegetable mix (diced carrots, peas, corn, green beans)
  • ½ cup diced cucumbers
  • 6 ounces uncooked Low Mein noodles
  • 2 thinly sliced green onions

Instructions

  1. Cook the noodles according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Be careful not to overcook them. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drain again and set aside.
  2. Cook frozen vegetable mix in microwave. Drain and cool. Add to noodles.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter, sugar, vinegar, water and sesame oil. Add more water if the sauce is too thick. Poor sauce over the noodles and vegetables. Chili sauce is optional.

Serving size: Makes six 1-cup servings

Nutritional Information (per serving): Calories: 360; Fat: 24 g; Cholesterol: 0; Sodium: 376 mg; Potassium: 277 mg; Fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 4 g; Carbohydrates: 30 g; Protein: 10 g

3. Korean Spinach Side Salad

Cooking Notes: This is a boldly flavored side salad, traditionally served with rice and other dishes in Korea. Blanch the spinach in hot or boiling water first to wilt it without destroying the texture.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach

Instructions

  1. Blanch the spinach in boiling water for 40 seconds. Remove spinach quickly and rinse in cold water. Gently squeeze the spinach to remove excess water.
  2. Mix soy sauce, sesame oil, seeds, garlic and sugar and add to the spinach.
  3. Put the spinach salad in a small cup and pack it down tight. Turn the cup upside down on a plate and serve.

Serving Size: Makes four ¼-cup servings

Nutritional Information (per serving): Calories: 66; Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 0; Sodium: 486 mg; Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 3 g; Carbohydrates: 5 g; Protein: 2 g

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