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Healthy Cooking With Ying

How-to: Cookbook author combines Eastern traditions with Western lifestyle.


Getty Images/Beth Galton

Ying Compestine received a crash course on the difference between Eastern and Western diets on her first night away from her native China. In 1987, she came to the United States to attend graduate school in Colorado, and her host family took her to a nice restaurant, ordering her a steak and baked potato.

“I kept waiting for the vegetables and grains, but they never came,” the trim, athletic Lafayette resident remembers. “And the steak was so big. It would have been enough for our entire family in China. And we each got one!”

It turned out to be a pivotal moment in Compestine’s life. The meat-heavy diet (and use of processed foods) she encountered in the U.S. motivated her to start preparing meals on her own. She quickly learned to incorporate whatever healthy ingredients were available into the basic philosophy she learned growing up in Wuhon, China, cooking with her Nai Nai (grandmother). Those were meals centered around high-fiber, whole grains, fresh vegetables, and much smaller amounts of protein.

“When I looked back [to China], I realized that I was actually eating very healthy. There was no processed food; we didn’t have canned food in our house. I think that influenced my tastes and my beliefs in food—to get as close to nature as possible.”

Compestine’s latest cookbook, Ying’s Best One-Dish Meals, stays true to that philosophy by providing well-balanced meals that have been streamlined to fit into the fast-paced Western lifestyle. A former food editor at Martha Stewart’s Body + Soul magazine, Compestine has written three cookbooks. Between her writing and her lecturing internationally on healthful eating, Compestine doesn’t have a lot of spare time to prepare elaborate meals for her family. So, she’s learned to simplify recipes into easy one-dish meals designed to keep cooking time to 30 minutes or less.

“You can buy prechopped, prewashed vegetables, carrots and broccoli, spinach,” she says. “I really think if people plan, there’s no reason they can’t make a nice healthy meal in less than half an hour.”

The book contains tips and advice, such as the idea of getting the whole family involved in the cooking process. As Compestine explains, it’s not just some idealistic notion, but rather a practical way for her to quickly prepare meals.

“I get really frustrated and unhappy if I have to cook by myself because I’m busy—I have a lot to do. So when the family does it together by helping prep vegetables and wash dishes, it goes much faster, and we can all enjoy the rest of our evening.”

At its core, Compestine’s book revolves around those simple balanced meals that she helped her grandmother prepare as a child in China and then adapted for her own family in Lafayette.

“The book isn’t traditional Chinese recipes, which mostly take a much longer time, and its not a Western cookbook. It’s really my combination of East and West. It’s my take; it’s how I live my life.”

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Healthy Balance

Compestine’s recipes are centered around these three core tenets.

We’re not talking a rib eye steak here. Because it’s so expensive, meat is used in small amounts in traditional Chinese dishes, more as flavoring than focus. Compestine’s recipes also tend to emphasize healthier proteins such as seafood and soy (tofu).

Prewashed veggies save time, but go seasonal when possible. Compestine loads up at the farmers market every week while occasionally supplementing with canned veggies in the wintertime.

It’s all about high-fiber, whole-grain carbohydrates. That means black rice, barley, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta—and not white rice, white bread, or white flour pasta.

Good Grains

Compestine digs grains—and for good reason. They fill you up while providing a healthy, simple way to boost your protein intake. One-Dish Meals has a handy guide to various grains. Here’s a sample.

A rich source of iron, calcium, and potassium, quinoa has a mild taste and chewy texture that works well in salads. Cooking time: 15–20 minutes.  

Black rice:
The so-called forbidden rice rivals blueberries in anthocyanin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. With a mild, nutty flavor, black rice adds a colorful element when mixed with brown rice in stir-fries. Cooking time: 25-30 minutes.  

Packing one of the biggest protein punches with a whopping 10 grams per cup, oats’ hearty texture makes them a great addition to soups and stews. Use rolled oats (cooking time: 10–15 minutes) for soup and steel-cut oats (cooking time: 30 minutes) for stew. 


Getty Images/Beth GaltonThe Recipe

Turkey Curry


Turkey is low in fat and a healthy alternative to red meat. Although this simple dish is ideal for leftover turkey after the holidays, you can make it year-round by using deli meat and bagged, washed spinach. Feel free to replace turkey with tofu and chicken broth with vegetable broth for a vegetarian version. Serve it with brown rice or barley.


serves 6
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 14-ounce cans chicken broth
½ cup coconut milk
1 pound cooked turkey
cut into 2-inch cubes
3 cups fresh baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons almond slices
to garnish

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and curry powder and cook, stirring often, until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil. Add turkey, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Stir in spinach, and continue to simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with almond slices.

per serving
323 calories / 39 g protein /
15 g fat / 7 g carb / 2 g fiber



For more information on Compestine and her latest book, go to yingc.com.

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