Diet Detective: You're a cook, so it's easy for you to whip up a quick, healthy meal, but what about all those people who work all day and come home completely stressed to hungry, screaming children? Isn't it a lot easier for them to just give in and go to McDonald's?
Mark Bittman: I did cook for my kids after working all day. It's a question of priorities. Certainly, on an especially stressful day, it's reasonable to do takeout or fast food or whatever. But if someone is doing that every night, I would question his or her priorities. Cooking and eating well are among the most important things in life. Who would question that?
Diet Detective: Do you think there's a problem with the meat we have in America?
Mark Bittman: The people who grow it industrially don't care about the animals, the environment or the consumers -- and all three suffer as a result.
Diet Detective: Do you think meat causes disease?
Mark Bittman: Not directly. But overconsumption of meat certainly isn't healthy.
Diet Detective: Which is worse: processed carbohydrates or meat?
Mark Bittman: Can't say. I'd say that most people could stand to eat less of both.
Diet Detective: You've lost weight in the last two years. What, if anything, changed -- physically and emotionally when you lost weight?
Mark Bittman: I lost two pants sizes! And I felt a tiny bit self-righteous, I will admit. Let's remember that eating less meat reduces your carbon footprint, too.
Diet Detective: Tell us about your kitchen. I've heard that it's not so wonderful -- is that so?
Mark Bittman: It's 70 square feet, and it has a dishwasher smaller than some people's toasters.
Diet Detective: What's the one ingredient you'd suggest people always have on hand if they want to cook healthy meals?
Mark Bittman: There isn't one. But I'd suggest they stock up on whole grains, beans, vegetables, olive oil, fruits and nuts, and take it from there. The recipes in Food Matters are a good starting place, and there's a pantry list.
Diet Detective: Your favorite junk food?
Mark Bittman: Potato chips. Or large steaks. Depending on how judgmental I'm feeling.
Bittman's favorite healthy recipe:
Cassoulet with Lots of Vegetables
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 40 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage or bone-in pork chops or confit duck legs or duck breasts, or a combination
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 leeks or onions, trimmed, washed and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium zucchinis or 1 small head green cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chopped tomatoes, with their juice (canned are fine)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
4 cups cooked white beans (canned are OK), drained and liquid reserved in any case
2 cups stock, dry red wine, bean cooking liquid, or water, plus more as needed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the meat, and cook, turning as needed, until the meat is deeply browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.
Turn the heat to medium and add the garlic, leeks or onions, carrots, celery and zucchini or cabbage; sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their liquid, the reserved meat, and the herbs and bring to a boil. Add the beans; bring to a boil again, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat so the mixture bubbles gently but continuously. Cook for about 20 minutes, adding the liquid when the mixture gets thick and the vegetables are melting away.
Fish out the meat and remove the bones and skin as needed. Chop into chunks and return to the pot along with the cayenne. Cook another minute or two to warm through, then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.