by Janet Fletcher

Napa Valley Register

My favorite television show, the PBS NewsHour, had an interview recently with Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist who has just published a new book about the heart. Called “Heart: A History,” the book is written for the lay person who wants to know more developments in the field of cardiology. At one point, a viewer asked Dr. Jauhar to name his favorite heart metaphor (“Take heart,” he replied), but I was most interested in his answer to a question about the best diet for maintaining heart health.

With no hesitation he answered: the Mediterranean Diet. As he described it, that’s a diet heavy on fruits, vegetables, beans and grains, plus extra virgin olive oil, a little fish and (praise be) a daily glass of wine. It’s not a diet in the sense of restriction; it’s a way of life.

Dr. Jauhar fleshed out his answer by quoting the author Michael Pollan and his famous diet prescription: Eat food (meaning food your grandmother would recognize—not junk food laden with preservatives). Mostly plants. Not too much.

At the Napa Farmers Market on Saturdays, you will find plenty of plants, otherwise known as fruits and vegetables, to inspire you. Beets, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, kale, turnips, citrus, broccoli—all are abundant at the market right now providing a bonanza of heart-healthy choices.

Beets need to be roasted to taste their best. Boiling them diminishes their color and flavor. Roast them in a covered baking dish with about a half-inch of water, a splash of wine vinegar, a few allspice berries and a clove or two or a bay leaf. Medium beets take 45 to 60 minutes in a moderate oven. They’re done when you can pierce them easily. Peel them, slice thinly or into wedges and add to salads or dress with a garlicky vinaigrette.

Green cabbage doesn’t get much respect because it’s so often overcooked and watery. You can do better. Cut a head of cabbage into wedges and shred them by hand. (A food processor shreds them too fine.) Toss the shredded cabbage with melted butter in a skillet, cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage just starts to caramelize a bit. Add salt and pepper, then stir in grated lemon zest, minced green onion and chopped parsley or dill.

Cauliflower makes fabulous, creamy soup with no need for cream. Saute some chopped onion in butter. Add 1 small fennel bulb, sliced, and a half of a large cauliflower in small florets. Add some thyme sprigs tied in a bundle with twine, a large pinch of ground fennel seed and chicken or vegetable broth to almost cover the vegetables. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Remove the thyme sprigs and then puree everything in a blender or food processor. Season with salt and pepper and adjust the texture with a little more broth, then reheat. A little drizzle of olive oil on top is nice when you serve it.

Carrots are a staple in most households for munching raw and dipping in hummus, but they’re even tastier when cooked. They get candy-sweet when roasted with olive oil. This warm salad (recipe below) made with quickly sautéed shredded carrots is a staple in my house, and I hope it will soon be in yours.

Kids Activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Saturday, February 23, for Story Time at 10:30 a.m.

On the KVYN Music Stage: Stewart Degner will perform at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, February 23.

Grated Carrot and Yogurt Salad with Cumin

Ayla Algar’s recipe for cooked carrots in yogurt in Classical Turkish Cooking inspired this adaptation. Algar seasons her salad with chopped dill. I like it with toasted cumin and a big squeeze of lemon. You could add some plumped golden raisins or fold in chopped pistachios.

Serve the salad with feta, olives and flatbread. Or use as a side dish with roast chicken or grilled lamb. I prefer it slightly warm. If you chill it, it will thicken; loosen it up with a little cool water (or whey from a container of yogurt) and adjust the seasoning before serving. From Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed Press).

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

1 cup plain yogurt (not Greek-style), or a little more if needed

1 large clove garlic, grated or finely minced

Scant 1/2 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seed

Fresh lemon juice

Chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish

Peel the carrots and grate them coarsely. (I use the coarse holes on a box grater.) You should have about 4 cups.

In a heavy 12-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the carrots, season with salt, and cook, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon, until the carrots soften and wilt slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. They should no longer be crunchy. Transfer the carrots to a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, garlic, cumin, and salt to taste.

Add the yogurt to the warm carrots and stir to blend. Add a little more yogurt if the mixture seems too stiff. Taste and add more salt if needed and brighten the flavor with lemon juice to taste. Scatter parsley or cilantro over the top and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.