A big difference between professional athletes and amateurs is that for most of us, clean eating is a choice. For athletes, it's a necessity.
When I was a fledgling amateur athlete, my European coach, Mindis Jurenas at Fitness Edge in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, told me, "Food doesn't have to be interesting." His point was reinforced when I ran into him at the grocery store: He'd filled his cart with a gargantuan stack of eggs, frozen broccoli and chicken.
His meal plan was mind-achingly dull and it was no surprise that I turned up my nose at the "clean eating" concept. For me, the entire point of learning to cook and losing 250 pounds was to feel freer, not more restricted.
Then I realized I was eating clean already. Forgoing processed foods in favor of fresh produce and meats encourages creativity.
Mendis taught me to dead lift, but he never learned one important distinction when it came to nutrition: Eating for performance (or health) determines what you eat, but your palate can determine how you prepare it. Just because a meal is clean doesn't mean it can't taste naughty.
These vegan latkes, for example, replace egg with roasted butternut squash and tame sweet root vegetables with earthy cinnamon, piquant Spanish smoked paprika and a grace note of onion. Cooking oil is the only fat. I recommend avocado oil, because it lends a subtle flavor and substantially boosts unsaturated fats and vitamin B12.
Even with standard olive oil, the nutrients in the root vegetable-squash dish were too long to list, and the cinnamon-paprika flavoring provides a picante counterpoint.
Applesauce and sour cream are a standard accompaniment, but in late fall a cranberry-orange relish or vinegary slaw can liven the taste. Also consider apple butter or black bean salsas.
Sweet Potato-Butternut Squash Latkes
1 medium butternut squash, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil or avocado oil, or more as needed
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1/2 pound turnip, peeled
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Heat oven to 350 F. Baste or lightly spray squash with olive oil. Roast squash until the flesh begins to darken. Remove from oven to cool.
Grate the potatoes and turnips. Place in a colander in the sink and add 3/4 teaspoon salt; mix salt through with your fingers and let sit until ready to use.
Remove skin from the squash. Mash squash with a fork. Mix with flour and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes.
Place the grated potatoes in cheesecloth or cotton dish towel and wring them dry, removing as much liquid as possible. Add potatoes, cooked onions, remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, onion powder, cinnamon and paprika to taste to the mashed squash. Mix well.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet. Working in batches, pat mixture into circles (think pancake as opposed to tortilla or hamburger) and place in the pan. Fry until crisp on each side.
Serves 6. Recipe originally appeared on www.wekeepitoff.com.
Per serving: calories 192.6; fat 7.1 g; cholesterol 0; sodium 226 mg; potassium 428.5 mg; carbohydrate 31.4 g (fiber 5.3 g; sugar 1.4 g); protein 2.6 g.