Fried food is good for you.
I always suspected as much, and I certainly have lived my life as if it were true. Even in the dark days of the nonfat cabal, when entire lives were wasted ordering nothing but ”toast, dry” and “steam-sauteeing” skinless chicken breasts, I continued to eat falafel and fritto misto.
But, like everyone else, I got caught up in the anti-fat craze of the last two decades. When I did eat fried foods, I felt like I might as well be lighting up a Camel.
Now, a few things have happened to allow those of us who eat butter, full-fat yogurt and the occasional latke to come out of the closet.
The Sept. 2 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine reported on a now-famous study that showed obese individuals lost more weight on a low-carb, high-fat diet, than on a high-carb, no-fat diet. Levels of “good” HDL cholesterol increased among the low-carb eaters as well.
Science proves (with a few caveats) what has always struck me as obvious: It’s why French women stay thin while eating butter and cream. It’s why CrossFit gurus pound down steaks and kale and MCT oil, not low-fat SnackWell’s. The key, though, is not to replace those carbs with cheap proteins and bad fats.
“Research shows that a moderately low-carbohydrate diet can help the heart,” a Harvard School of Public Health report said, “as long as protein and fat selections come from healthy sources.”
That means olive oil. Real butter. Nut oils. Organic cream. Grass-fed beef. And not gobs of any of it. In moderation.
I found further evidence in Diane Kochilas’ new cookbook, “Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity From the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die,” which I recently wrote about on my Foodaism blog.
On Ikaria, people live into their ninth and 10th decades of life, far out of proportion to the rest of humanity (including the rest of Greece), and they do so with no instances of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
Lifestyle plays a role, of course. But Kochilas, a native Ikarian, focuses on diet: The very old Ikarians eat very little meat (mostly goat and pig), a lot of local greens and vegetables, wine (three glasses per day) and a variety of fried foods.
Fried zucchini pancakes. Pumpkin fritters. Tiny fried fish. And the occasional fried dessert. On that, Ikarians live to be 90, 100, with all their marbles.
This has got to come as good news as we celebrate Chanukah,
The common wisdom is that we eat fried foods on Chanukah to symbolize the oil that lasted for eight days in the Temple. But I have a different theory. Chanukah is a celebratory holiday — and fried foods make us happy. Simple as that. No one in the history of food ever said, “Bummer, I have to eat a doughnut.” You can’t say that about matzah.
Because Chanukah goes for eight days, it’s good to have more than latkes in your fried- food repertoire. Below is a breakfast recipe I like to make during the holiday. Actually, it’s two separate recipes — one for eggs, one for potatoes — that can easily be combined into one dish. Both are simple, both use olive oil for frying. And the truth is, I make them both all year round. Because, yes, fried food is good for you.
SPANISH EGGS WITH FRIED POTATOES
This is dramatic and delicious. It’s as simple as cracking a fresh egg into a bath of hot olive oil. Stand back in case of splatter, and have your spoons and plates at the ready.
- 3 baking potatoes
- 1 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 6 eggs
- Smoked paprika
- Salsa or shakshuka sauce (optional)-recipe follows
Peel the potatoes; rinse, towel dry. Cut into uniform 1/4-inch dice. Heat olive oil in a large skillet — cast iron is best. The oil should be about 1/4 inch deep. When very hot but not smoking, add potatoes. Stir to coat with oil. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Let them get good and brown on all sides. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon, draining well. Season with salt and pepper.
Reheat oil or use fresh oil if necessary. Crack eggs, one at a time, into the well of a large serving spoon. Lower spoon to the oil, then gently turn and slip egg into the oil. Repeat with remaining eggs. They will bubble and spurt. Be careful, but don’t be a chicken. Gently ladle some hot oil over tops of eggs, basting them until they become opaque and puffy. After they are set, with the yolks still runny — a matter of a minute — remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate.
Put a scoop of potatoes and two eggs on each plate. Dust with smoked paprika and nestle with good salsa or homemade romesco Sauce.
Makes 3 servings.
- 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 T. tomato paste
- 1/2 t. hot or mild paprika
- 1/4 t. chili flakes or I T. diced fresh jalepeno
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1 t. ground cumin
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- salt and fresh ground pepper