Smoky Halbit Paella
Photo: Shimon and Tammar
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Margarita and Erasmo Sturla:
Potter and housewife, Endocrinologist

The Challenge: The Sturlas are aware of the growing health threats they face as they age. Indeed, Erasmo, 63, sees the long-term effects of a poor diet every day in his work. Yet like most of us, Margarita and Erasmo, both Dominican by birth, are creatures of culinary habit. Margarita, 58, often cooks beans, rice, and occasionally potatoes for their evening meal. "My husband likes to return to his roots," she says. "But he has come a long way since the '70s; back then he was a very picky eater." Although Margarita is an accomplished cook, she needs help creating lighter versions of traditional dishes, and is intimidated by all the unfamiliar products in the supermarket—things like quinoa, bok choy, and lemongrass. She also confesses that, although she and her husband love fish, she seldom cooks it, since frying (the method she's most comfortable with) creates a smell that lingers in their apartment.

The Strategy: A simmered, one-pot meal, like this updated version of traditional Spanish paella, is a great choice for the couple. Its rich, savory flavor comes from a multitude of ingredients that are simmered together, and not from an excess of fat or salt. Moreover, it's truly versatile, so Margarita can tap into her culinary experience to create endless variations—with poultry, rabbit, sausage, shellfish, chicken livers, and any number of vegetables, from sweet potato to fennel. On busy days, she can prepare it in steps, washing and cutting the vegetables ahead of time, for example. And the Sturlas can eat fish without having to smell it in their apartment for days afterward. 

Open to Change: Variety is one of the keys to a healthful diet; this new take on the Spanish classic gives the Sturlas plenty of room to improvise. Traditional paella recipes call for short-grain white rice, similar to Arborio, to be simmered with all the other ingredients. Brown basmati rice contains more nutrients and fiber; preparing it in a separate pot allows it to cook thoroughly without overcooking the fish, since it needs more time than white rice. And as a variation on the traditional saffron, which is expensive, we've suggested smoked paprika instead. 

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