James Beard award-winning chef and healthy lifestyle crusader Rocco DiSpirito remembers a time about ten years ago when he learned exactly how much his indulgent cooking and eating had impacted his body. “I was at a doctor’s appointment and my doctor told me I had the metabolic age of a 68-year-old man—I was 38 at the time!” says DiSpirito.
His shift to healthier cooking started that day and, a year later, he had lost more than 30 pounds. “Ever since, I’ve dedicated my life to proving that healthy and delicious are not mutually exclusive concepts,” he says. DiSpirito’s latest piece of proof is his new cookbook, Rocco’s Healthy + Delicious, which features nearly 250 “mostly plant-based” recipes.
One standout dish: a sweet potato and okra salad, developed on a dare. “My team knows how much I love okra and they dared me to make an okra dish that was quick and easy, yet slime-free,” says DiSpirito. He experimented with the usual techniques for okra before coming across this version, which uses very high heat to cook whole okra pods, so the result is blistered and delicious, not slimy. Combined with starchy sweet potato and a generous splash of red wine vinegar, it’s an unexpected success that makes it easy to incorporate all kinds of vegetables into your diet.
And as for the challenge? “When my favorite, yet impossible-to-please employee from Ghana (an okra mega-destination), said he loved it, I knew I had hit pay dirt,” says DiSpirito.
Get a taste of Rocco DiSpirito’s new cookbook with this sweet potato and okra salad recipe.
Sweet Potato and Okra Salad
1. Pierce the sweet potatoes in several places with a paring knife. Place on a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high until the sweet potatoes are just cooked through, about 7 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the okra and cook until the okra softens and the pods begin to burst, about 10 minutes.
3. Peel the sweet potatoes, cut into bite-size cubes, and place in a large bowl.
4. Cut the okra into 1-inch-thick rounds and add to the bowl as well.
5. Add the vinegar, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste and toss well to combine.