July 8, 2021

Why Food Is the Best Way to Explore New Cultures

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Shanthi Appelö, registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Together, they explore cultural foods across Michigan and beyond.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • What food tells us about culture.
  • The benefits of getting out of our comfort zones to try new foods.
  • Healthy cultural foods you should consider adding to your diet.

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast, episode 84. Coming up, we’re traveling the world without leaving our kitchen. Join us as we learn more about different cultural dishes that are not only healthy but just might end up being your new go-to meal.

Chuck Gaidica:
Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. This is a podcast dedicated to navigating how we can improve our health and well-being through small, healthy habits we can all start right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica. Every other week, we’ll sit down with a certified expert to discuss topics covering nutrition, fitness, mindfulness, a whole lot more. In this episode, again, we’re exploring different cultures and healthy cuisines that are part of them. Some you may have heard of and some maybe are completely new. With us today is registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Shanthi Appelö. Good to have you back.

Shanthi Appelö:
Hey, Chuck, it’s great to be back.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I know that this is a topic that you have talked about. We’ve talked about it off-mic a little bit, but your interesting transitions in life coming from Sweden into the United States. You get your bachelor’s, your master’s in public health nutrition, and so you still have folks, family, friends that will have discussions and have unique dishes in their lives that I’m sure you talk about one way or another, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I grew up in Sweden. I think my grandmother actually listens to this podcast, so hey, Mormor.

Chuck Gaidica:
Wait a minute. She’s in Sweden and she listens?

Shanthi Appelö:
She’s in Sweden and she listens.

Chuck Gaidica:
Ah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, wait, what’s her name again?

Shanthi Appelö:
Monika.

Chuck Gaidica:
Monika. Not Monica, Monika.

Shanthi Appelö:
Monika, yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, that is so sweet. Well, hi, Grandma, I’m glad you’re listening. That’s so cool. Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yep. Yep. Then my mom was adopted from India, so she was raised there until she was about five, and so whenever we get together, she does still love to put together some Indian dishes, a lot of curries, and things like that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that’s an interesting part of this discussion about cultural foods is that there are individual ingredients that we hear on their own, like you’ll hear about curry or turmeric or all these different things that people have been using for eons in their cooking, but they get buried in just the dish. You don’t even know why it tastes as great as it does and then you hear it’s got something in it that now someone tells us we should pop a pill to take and it’s not quite the same.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah. I mean, there are so many different ways that the culture of foods and different ingredients from all over the world are now making it onto our plate. We’ve come a long way from just being able to eat whatever was grown in our area.

Chuck Gaidica:
What we’re coming out of here with the pandemic, don’t you think people having to be forced to cook more in their own homes has led to discovery of playing Google dietitian or Google restaurant owner where you’re like, “Okay, kids, we’re going to find a new one tonight,” and then you experiment more? I know we did as a family.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah. Definitely. So fun to explore. It’s also really fun to just try new things.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Part of this, though, with the cultural aspect is that you sometimes, if not often, are sitting around a table with people from the cultures of the food you’re experimenting with or trying maybe even for the first time. Part of this is that idea that you’re breaking bread with other people. That’s part of the unique experience, I think, that is healthful.

Shanthi Appelö:
Definitely. Culture in food means so many different things because it represents religion, in certain cases. It can be art, it can mean availability, it can be linked to immigration. There are so many different ways that cultural foods play a big role in our lives now. For example, I’m from Sweden. We have a law called “allemansrätten”. It literally means everyone’s right. Basically, it guarantees any Swede to roam in the countryside to forage. You can pitch a tent for up to two nights, but you just have to be 230 feet away from a home or farm. That means you can go pick flowers, you can go forage mushrooms, you can find everything that’s in nature. That plays a really big role in the food culture in Sweden. It’s big mushroom season and you can go anywhere to pick them.

Shanthi Appelö:
Another thing growing up there, pickled foods are big. When we think back to a couple hundred years ago when there was no refrigeration, there was no way to preserve foods other than pickling, and in certain cases, you’d smoke/cure foods. That holds a big part of the cultural foods today. We eat pickled herring at Christmas, mid-summer, all those big holidays. That’s true for so many other cultures. If you think of Polish food, that’s something big in Michigan. Potatoes are still a big part of the food and that’s because it was so widely available and it has been for centuries in Poland.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, two things I’ve got to say right off the bat. First of all, I love herring and if I get sour cream herring, even better for me, but my wife thinks I’m loony. I said, “Growing up, my background was German and Czech, and we related more to the foods of the Czech, which is kind of Polish food.” Every New Year’s Eve and Christmas, we would have herring. I don’t know where that connection is to what you had learned in Sweden or what you did, but to me, herring is one of those treats that, man, I could have that all the time.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
It’s just awesome. I know it’s an acquired taste, but it’s awesome.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, I agree. You make a good point there because it’s all about tradition sometimes. When we think of immigration, that’s a huge part of bringing cultural foods to other countries because whenever you move to another country, you take your cultural foods with you and it’s something you want to introduce to other people. It’s a way that you connect with other people and you share, so yeah, I mean, there’s a reason why these things have been passed down for so long. Of course, trade plays a big role, too. As trade has improved, we’re able to try so many different foods.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, also, pre-pandemic and now coming out of it, we hope all the small restaurants that we came to know and love, whether it’s Thai or Indian or any other cultural food, my Lebanese place that I had falafel, I could live on falafel, I’m just saying I could, I think that we have to hope that all of these places come back because sometimes those are the gems. They may not be the name of the restaurant that jumps off right out of mind when you’re thinking of where to go tonight or pick up food, but those are the places where you tend to get, in many ways, a lot of that cultural experience, the flavors, the aromas, the deep use of all this stuff that we’re talking about.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah. I think Michigan, I mean, I’m new here, but it’s had a lot to offer for me. I had never had shawarma and I wish I could go back in time and personally thank the person who invented shawarma. For those who don’t know what that is, basically, it’s thin cut meat put on a large skewer of some sort in a cone shape and then cooked rotisserie-style almost, just circulating. Oh, my goodness. It is so good.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
We’re so lucky here in Michigan, too, because we have a very large Middle Eastern population in Dearborn, so with that, of course, comes all that great food. There’s so much great vegetables, the salads, the dressings, all those things are so healthy and they’re so widely available to us.

Chuck Gaidica:
Okay. Now, I’m hungry and I already had lunch, but I’m just saying I could go for shawarma and a little tabouli and hummus and falafel. Oh, I could get the whole thing going. I was just at my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s 25th-anniversary party. We were over on the west side of the state. Delightful evening. After the party clears out, there’s a table of 10, and somehow, the conversation turned to Polish food. Being Czech, I could understand some of the names and I would say, “Well, the way I grew up, it was called this. What is that in your culture?” Very close. I tell you, we spent 20 minutes talking about our favorite Polish foods and what it meant to us growing up.

Chuck Gaidica:
You mentioned your grandma. It takes you immediately back to another time in life that was simpler often. It takes you back to those people who introduced you to it, who you miss often. There is that connection, culturally, obviously, but it is something when you get people talking about it, there was joy, but there was also this sense of calm, about taking people back, including myself, to a different time in life where maybe things were simpler. You know what I mean? It was just fun.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Yeah, there’s a great quote that says “No one who cooks cooks alone. Even at their most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks passed,” so absolutely.

Chuck Gaidica:
Wow. That is so great. The awesome thing that this gives us is a chance at any time in our lives to get out of our comfort zone, right, because you’re meeting people or they’re marrying into the family where you now have to experiment with stuff that you’ve never thought about eating before.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes. Yes, definitely. We can dig into some of the food cultures where we can learn a lot of good things from. One of the ones I love is Asian food in general. Chinese food, in particular, they do such a good job balancing ingredients. There’s that concept of yin and yang. They use heat, salt, acid, and fat. Those are all the elements that are the basics of good cooking. A lot we can learn from Asian food in that way, just making everything tastes really good. Another thing that I love to do is shop at Asian supermarkets because they have so much affordable produce and the most variety of mushrooms I’ve ever seen at any store before, so diverse produce, affordable, awesome. Another thing is Vietnamese food, especially pho is becoming very popular now. It’s a little better than ramen noodles because the noodles aren’t fried before. Did you know that ramen noodles were actually fried before we boil them?

Chuck Gaidica:
No, I did not know that. I can’t say that. That came after my college days, but now, I’ve got grandkids and we’ve got one that just thinks ramen noodles are all that.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah. Pho is a really great way because it packs in a lot of different vegetables, it still has that beautiful broth, but the noodles are healthier as well. Another great dish, we actually have a recipe for this on ahealthiermichigan.org, are Vietnamese spring rolls. They use rice paper instead of basically frying the roll, and so you can pack it with veggies, you can put all kinds of things in there. You can put shrimp or a little crab stick, load it with lettuce, avocado, green onion, cilantro, all kinds of things, and then you dip it in a peanut butter sauce, so that one’s really good. But again, just a better way to consume a spring roll rather than fried.

Chuck Gaidica:
Plus, gluten-free if you’re using rice paper, right, so as long as it hasn’t touched other stuff, that’s all right.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah, so it’s a great way for people who can’t tolerate gluten to have, too.

Chuck Gaidica:
You’ve mentioned mushrooms now probably more than anybody in any of our podcasts in 84 of our episodes, but I mean, I love mushrooms. I, too, would go morel mushroom-picking here in Southeast Michigan, anyway. It’s around Mother’s Day. I had a buddy who turned me on to that. When you talked about picking mushrooms in Sweden, or even the Asian grocery stores, what kind of mushrooms are those? Because I only know of the standard kind and the morels. What else can we be looking for that we should experiment with?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Of course, there are portobello mushrooms. They taste great grilled. Some people even like to sub their hamburger bun for a portobello mushroom cap. I love to put some pesto in mine and some goat cheese and then top it with some sun-dried tomatoes.

Chuck Gaidica:
Wow.

Shanthi Appelö:
But in Asian cultures, of course, there are so many different kinds. In Sweden, we have trumpet mushrooms, which are delicious. We also have chanterelle mushrooms. French name there, but yeah. I mean, so many different kinds. What’s great about mushrooms is that they are spongy so they can absorb a lot of great flavor and because they’re exposed to sunlight, they can also absorb a lot of vitamin D, which is really healthy.

Chuck Gaidica:
Like many states, Michigan has its own history of food. Like you’ve talked about, even with that quote, “We stand on the shoulders of giants,” right, in terms of where this comes from, the influence of the French that came to Michigan back in the day. I think we’ve lost some of that, but yet we have all these pockets that you referenced, a few of in Michigan, that really help us build new traditions of food. You go up to Frankenmuth and there’s a lot of German food, right? I mean, it’s really interesting to study where we travel in the state and what kind of cultural food we can get to.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I think you make a good point there because just because a cultural food usually is associated with another country, it doesn’t have to be that way. We have a lot of great soul food that I can’t wait to try. I’ve tried some. But in Detroit, especially, we have so much great soul food. I am very much looking forward to cherry season here in Michigan and getting our apples in the fall.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, it’s awesome. Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
So many great foods that come out of that. I think with Polish foods, especially, one way is that I’ve tried to make them a little healthier is instead of using sour cream, I’ll use Greek yogurt or just a low-fat sour cream along with pierogis. I’ve also been able to put pierogis in the air fryer, which made them a little healthier to prepare.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, interesting. Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah. Made them nice and crispy and the contents on the inside is still that nice texture.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, one of my favorite dishes as a kid, I think it’s a Polish dish as well, this came up in our conversation, was a sour cream chicken with a little paprika on it, but you could substitute in that dish. I’ve never done it, but now you’ve inspired me. I mean, you could use yogurt in that dish, right? You could just substitute it out.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah. Yogurt is a great way to make creamy sauces a little healthier because it packs in sometimes vitamin D but definitely calcium and then protein to make them more filling because oftentimes whenever you get an extra dressing or extra sauce, that’s a difference of two to 500 galleries, so definitely good to substitute that. Another culture that uses Greek yogurt really well in their sauces is Greek culture. It’s called tzatziki. It uses shaved cucumber and then you get rid of some of that excess water and garlic. What could be better than that combination, right? They also do great because they use hummus in a lot of different dishes, so that’s another healthy sauce that packs in some protein, too.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, yeah. Hummus, you can have. Well, hummus is basically a derivative, I’ll say it again, of falafel, my favorite thing around. But it’s just anytime you can take chickpeas and maneuver them into something other than just chickpeas somebody thinks belong at a salad bar, it’s amazing what comes from chickpeas and how great it can taste with a little garlic and love.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes, definitely. Yeah, you got to sprinkle the love in there. That’s the secret ingredient every time.

Chuck Gaidica:
Culturally, it’s intriguing to me what we can also learn, or how food instructs us about culture, right? Do you find yourself wanting to learn more about a person’s background or from where they come, even from where we’ve come, you’ve come, I’ve come, by digging into some foods?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I think one of my favorite things is to have people over and share my food, but I also love doing the same with other people. I have a Spanish friend and what I love about going to their place is that they always make different tapas. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Spain, but it’s such a social culture that surrounds food there with tapas. They’re basically small little appetizers. But what I love about those as a dietitian, too, is that it allows you to eat foods in moderation and you’re sharing family-style with your friends and so you get to try a lot of different things, you get really diverse nutrients, but you’re not overdoing it because you’re sharing and they’re smaller dishes.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, that whole trend of what was holistic and historic grew into many of those restaurants that would have small plates, right? Oftentimes, that was where they came from. That is nice because again, we’re coming out of this time where we can gather with people and pass a plate and not worry, but it is nice to think about the conversation that comes from that, “How does it taste? What’s the flavor you’re getting that I’m not getting?” That’s great stuff.

Shanthi Appelö:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), definitely. I think as you mentioned that, all the different flavors, one of the things that I love about different foods from other cultures is learning how to prepare vegetables in a new and exciting way because especially Indian food, they do a really great job packing in those plant-based proteins so deliciously, but also packing them in with other vegetables. That’s something that I think we all can learn from is finding new ways to enjoy vegetables, because it’s no news here, but just the plant-based diet and eating fruits and vegetables, it is good for overall health, so any ways that we can think about packing that in more is good and cultural foods is the perfect way to do that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, there’s this part about vegetables that I think maybe it’s a thing in the West, but I don’t think so, probably other cultures in Europe do it, and other cultures in the world, where you tend to want to lather up your vegetables to make them palatable. Then you discover when someone really puts it together or you get a new recipe the delightful taste that come from the simplicity of not covering the veggies up with too much other stuff. Really good asparagus is just incredible. You don’t need butter. Maybe a touch of salt, I guess, but it’s just when they’re in season here in Michigan, asparagus stalks, and you can get that stuff fresh, it’s incredible.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes. Asparagus in Michigan is hand-picked, so even better. Did you know you can actually watch asparagus grow? It grows so fast you can even see it growing.

Chuck Gaidica:
All right, now, you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. What if you sat around watching asparagus grow? Are you kidding?

Shanthi Appelö:
I mean, you could put your camera out and let it do the work.

Chuck Gaidica:
Can you really?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Wow.

Shanthi Appelö:
They grow so fast in the summer.

Chuck Gaidica:
That’s wild. My brother grows it. He lives up near Cadillac and he’s got a gentleman’s garden or farm out in the back and he’s got blueberry bushes and he grows some asparagus and a lot of stuff that’s below ground and above ground. He’s got cucumbers and then he’s also got carrots and he’s got all kinds of stuff and he’s got asparagus. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard him talk about how fast it grows. I’m going to call him and give him some stuff now.

Shanthi Appelö:
Do it, do it, yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
This is great. Culturally, we can find ourselves having to get pushed out of our comfort zones. I would argue that’s a good thing, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes, it’s such a good thing. Something that I love to do to get pushed out of my comfort zone with it is always trying something new when I go to either a grocery store that’s, in my case, Asian, or if I’m going to another restaurant. I want to always try something that I’ve never tried before. Another thing that my partner and I love to do is have a date night where we pick a country and we go all out with that country. We’ll choose music that we’ll play. We don’t go all out with outfits or anything, but we’ll really try to dig into some amazing dishes from another country and try to appreciate it in that way, so it can be a really fun activity, too.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I’ll tell you what. We had some friends a few years ago. This is going back. I know you like Italy. Our friends are Italian. They had a historian, an art expert from Italy, from Rome who was coming to Detroit. They invited us to this wine tasting, pairing with little small plates of food, to discuss the history of wine in Italy. I’m not Italian, although I’m often mistaken for Italian. I said to my wife, Susan, I said, “This sounds like a wonderful evening.”

Chuck Gaidica:
It was off the charts. There was a connection, as you mentioned, to religion. There was a connection to the topography, so the hill country was different from another part of the country. Then one thing I walked away from was that the discovery of champagne was an accident. I had never known this, that whoever it was that started bottling the wine let it go too long and it fermented and when they popped the corks, it was bubbly, and they thought they were going to throw it out. Somebody went, “Aha, wait a minute.” That’s where Champagne came from, from Italy and France. Isn’t that wild?

Shanthi Appelö:
Happy accident.

Chuck Gaidica:
Right, but here I am, telling you about this. It’s got to be half a dozen years ago. We walked away from that small evening and we just thought, “This was the coolest thing ever.”

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah. Definitely. One of the cool things I learned about wine was that back in the day when people would grow wine, we didn’t have all the interesting technology we have today where we can test the soil to see what will grow well there and to see what minerals are in it because the minerals and the soil play a huge role in not only the way that wine is going to taste, but just crops in general. What monks used to do, they actually used to make a lot of wine back in the day, and they would dig up some rocks and lick it to taste what kind of minerals. Then they could tell what crop or what type of grape would grow well there. So much interesting things with people, how connected they are to the food, and then how just good they were at what they were doing. I mean, those monks could taste just the mineral content of that soil.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, that makes perfect sense because some of the more interesting tasting wines to me are those that have been grown in volcanic soil, that you can actually taste in the wine that has got some kind of mineral. That’s really interesting. I also learned years ago that some of the monks used to keep the last of the sweeter grapes for themselves and hide them in a cabinet. If you look at some German wines, if you ever see the phrase mit, M-I-T, “mit kabinet,” and they spell the word with a K, that’s where that comes from. That meant that the monks were keeping some of the best-looking late harvest grapes for themselves in a cabinet and then they would bring them out and make some wine. I thought, “Oh, that’s pretty tricky. That’s smart.”

Shanthi Appelö:
Hey, good for them. I would do the same.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, yeah. Of all the things we’re discussing, and we can continue to discuss some individual cultural foods, what do you think we learn outside of some of these fun stories, and that’s enough maybe, from different food cultures? What should we be going to your favorite restaurant for, or a dinner party, and coming away with from a food culture?

Shanthi Appelö:
Well, I think a great example of this is just ways that we can increase our nutrient intake from healthy foods. We step into a Mexican restaurant, our Southern neighbor, they’re plentiful around here and around the US. They do such a great job of incorporating those colorful vegetables. You think peppers, you think tomatoes, onions, all those kinds of things. They also do a great job incorporating beans. It’s kind of the nutritionist’s dream, if you will, those black beans. Finding ways to eat those healthy foods and incorporating them into everyday life. If you do dine at a Mexican restaurant, you want to watch out for the crispy stuff because they’re typically fried, especially salsa is a really healthy food, but if you eat them with too many chips, it defeats the purpose there, so enjoy the salsa with fajita chicken, with the vegetables, and focus more on those kind of things.

Shanthi Appelö:
If you go to an Indian restaurant, looking at the curries, the way they incorporate chickpeas in Indian food. If you make it yourself, you want to think about cutting down on the coconut milk. Use light coconut milk if you can. Another thing that Indian food does well with the curries is making, for example, in butter chicken, they’ll make a gravy out of tomato paste. Really, really delicious there and it makes it really creamy and what you’re using there is tomato paste. One of the really great tricks I learned for Indian food to make it extra creamy, if you’re using yogurt, you want to add it to the very end of a dish because if you cook yogurt, it can become a little crumbly, it doesn’t incorporate into the dish as well, so at the very end, you want to gently stir in a little at a time of yogurt because if you add too much at once, it can, again, cause that crumbliness, so just a little at a time at the very end.

Chuck Gaidica:
There are dishes, you were talking, we don’t mean to pick on Mexican food lovers, but there’s also refried beans. There are certain things within certain cultural foods that because of the way they’re made, we also, from a healthful standpoint, we may say either, “We’ve got to do it with a more limited access. We’ve got to use portion control.” It’s not like you shouldn’t have any of it, but there are a couple of things that do raise some red flags often.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes. Because foods come from other cultures, they can feel maybe a little mysterious, so some of the things that I like to tell people to watch out for is if something’s crispy, think that they could potentially be fried, so if you’re at a restaurant and you’re ordering, or you’re making it at home, ask for them baked or asked for that dish maybe to have less oil added or use oil instead of butter. If you make it at home, an air fryer is an excellent way to prepare it.

Shanthi Appelö:
Another thing is sauces. Oftentimes, sauces can be really sweet, especially in Asian cuisine, so that might be a sign that there’s a lot of added sugar to it. You can think of using a little bit less of the sauce, or if you’re making it at home, just using less of that sugary, whether that’s honey, whether it’s maple syrup, whatever it is, just putting in a little bit less.

Shanthi Appelö:
Another thing was sauces is that if they’re creamy, it usually means that there’s a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fat is something that can contribute to high cholesterol, especially the bad kind of cholesterol that we think of, so if we’re using that, of course, we mentioned substituting yogurt, but just looking at including oil instead of butter for those sauces. Tastes about the same, has the same amount of calories, but it’s not going to have that saturated fat, so always look for oils that are fluid at room temperature. Any kind of saturated fat is going to be hard at room temperature, so you think lard, coconut oil, butter.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, you’re also talking about something that’s easier for us maybe when we’re either over at somebody else’s house helping cook, or we’re doing it at home with our family or our kids around, or now I’ve got grandkids, we cook together. It’s fun to experiment and try to incorporate yogurt instead of sour cream because really what you’re trying to do is not keep it flavorful, but trick your palate, right? You’re trying to break this old notion of what you feel is creamy. It’s still creamy, it still tastes the same, and it’s good for you. That’s kind of fun to experiment that way.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, and I think it allows us to find a way to enjoy the foods that we really love and use them in everyday life because we shouldn’t really have the very unhealthy foods in every day, so it makes it to where it’s more something that you can have on a Tuesday instead of just on Saturdays.

Chuck Gaidica:
As you venture around Michigan, I know you travel quite a bit, I just saw you in a kayak some post somewhere in social, so I know you’re all over. You’re even in the waterways now, Shanthi. Major, major star of motion pictures, radio, and television. When you get out in Michigan, what are you trying to add healthfully to your diet from these different cultures that you’ve touched on? What are the things you would tell us all we should go out of our way to be adding by default when we’re venturing out, looking for various kinds of cultural foods?

Shanthi Appelö:
I would tell you to look for plant-based proteins. Tofu is a great one that I’ve started incorporating in my Thai food. Whenever you go to a Thai restaurant, oftentimes you can choose what protein that you want to use. In my case, I’ve been choosing tofu. It can taste great grilled. You can even sear it in a pan with just a little bit of cornstarch on them and then it makes them really crispy. Another thing is looking for ways that beans and chickpeas are incorporated. Again, those plant-based proteins.

Shanthi Appelö:
Another thing is when you’re looking at side items, try to make them as colorful as you can. When you think of going to a Mexican restaurant, we mentioned fajita. If you can choose fajita vegetables as a side, that’s a great way to pack in more nutrients. Usually, what I think of is the more color of food has, the more nutrients it’s going to have as well.

Shanthi Appelö:
Then finally, I would ask you to think twice about the crispy foods and about the sauces and just keep those to a minimum, but then find ways that vegetables and fruits are used to make those sauces. There are a lot of salsas and different sauces that make things delicious without adding a ton of calories.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. I think one of the things that we used more, we kind of… I shouldn’t say “we.” I’m going to tell you about my wife here now. We’ve had a Crock-Pot forever and then we got an Instapot. We’ve made some wonderful soups. They’re broth-based, obviously, tons of vegetables, just incredible stuff. She still wants to stick with the Crock-Pot. It’s okay, we don’t need to eat for eight hours, we just start it in the morning. But some of that stuff that you can do now as a lot of people are venturing back to work, either do it quickly when you get home or set it and forget it all day, some of the most healthy stuff that I think we’ve made in the past year, year-and-a-half has come out of some of those pots. It’s just been awesome-tasting food.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes, yes. One of my favorite ways that is just the most simple recipe ever is putting a chicken in a slow cooker and then pouring salsa on top and adding vegetables. Boom, done.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Five minutes and then you have dinner.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, you’re helping us navigate this space because there’s so much. You talked about pho, you’re talking about sometimes there’s fish in a dish sometimes. We didn’t touch on sushi. I’ve got a 10-year-old grandson. This is so amazing because I love the fact that he’s got this palate. This kid wants to experiment with foods like crazy and he loves sushi, so all I know is that when we go out, it’s a big bill. But this guy’s, he’s brought us along, my wife and I. We take him out and we treat him and it’s just delightful to see this happening in somebody who’s 10 years old.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, that’s amazing. Yeah, I guess some tips for sushi, because it is such a delicious food, is that you want to focus on rolls that have a lot of fish in them. If they’re listing three different types of fish, it typically means that they’re more plentiful and those are going to be better choices because sometimes what can happen, especially in sushi, is that they’re packed with a lot of crunchy stuff. You think of the panko. Yeah, fried panko is a way that things are made crispy. You also think of the ones that have shrimp, especially if it says “tempura shrimp,” that is going to be fried, so you want to think of the ones that don’t have a ton of sauce, don’t have a lot of crisp, and are more focused on the vegetables, and of course, the fish, because they have so much healthy omega-3, especially if you choose salmon. Then, of course, all the nutrients that comes along with the fish.

Chuck Gaidica:
All right. I know we’re getting close to wrapping up, but I have to admit to you, don’t send notes to anybody, don’t… Well, I guess people will know now in the podcast. We’re out, I don’t know, a month ago, and we’re having some sushi and he looks at us and he says, “You know,” my name is Papo, my wife is Nan, “Nan, Papo, I’ve never had this deep-fried ice cream thing,” and we’re like, “Oh, my gosh. That just sounds like such a bad idea.” Well, we got one, but I tasted it with my spoon and I have to, I’m admitting to you as my friend and my registered dietitian expert, I had to try it, but it was portion-controlled, just so you know.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, exactly. That’s a good point. As long as things are portion-controlled, it’s totally fine to have them.

Chuck Gaidica:
I’m not even sure if that’s an Asian thing or they just figured it out. I’m not sure, but it sure was tasty for that spoonful that I got. As we wrap things up. Any other takeaways for us? You guided us down the healthful path in so many different ways. Anything else you would suggest we keep an eye out for or we practice better as we deal with cultural foods and our wellness?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Well, because cultural foods are so important to us and play such a big role in our lives, it’s important that we don’t completely cut them out and that we find ways to honor them. One of the things that I love to do is photos while I’m cooking with my family. My sister makes beautiful cakes, so we have a little bit of it, but I have those pictures to remember it. Have your family hand-write their recipes. It’s not only just a beautiful memory to carry around with you, but it’s something you can make on those special occasions. Then finally, find just new ways to make them healthier. There are so many ways to reinvent the cultural foods you love to make them edible on a daily basis instead of just once in a while.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, really good stuff. You’ve inspired me now. That whole last-minute idea, I know you said you’re not even dressing up, but if I’m going out for German food, the next time I may show up in lederhosen, I may.

Shanthi Appelö:
Take a picture and send it to me.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, that would be called “blackmail.” I’m not sure I want to go that far. But it’s been a joy having you with us again. You’ve got to give one more shoutout goodbye to grandma in Sweden.

Shanthi Appelö:
Aw. Hey, hey, Mormor, [Swedish].

Chuck Gaidica:
What did you just say?

Shanthi Appelö:
Oh, secrets. You got to get a dictionary.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, come on.

Shanthi Appelö:
Nah, I just said, “Hello, Grandma. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll talk soon.”

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, that’s great. Well, Monika, I hope I said that correctly, thank you so much for listening. Shanthi Appelö, thank you for being with us and helping us guide this conversation on cultural eating. It’s been wonderful.

Shanthi Appelö:
Thanks, Chuck.

Chuck Gaidica:
Take good care. Thank you for listening to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It’s brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like our show, you want to know more, check us out at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast. You can leave us reviews, ratings on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, that always helps, and you can get new episodes, old episodes on your smartphone or tablet. Be sure to subscribe to us as well on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. I’m Chuck Gaidica. Be well.