Photos by Dasha Wright

Afraid of fat? In our obsession to stay thin and healthy-looking, we've blamed the wrong food. It's not fat that makes us fat; it's unburned fuel, and refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, and their ilk) are the main culprits. Clearly, we should avoid refined, hydrogenated, and trans fats, and minimize saturated fat intake. But some fats—omega-3s and omega-6s—are indispensable to good health. These essential fatty acids (EFAs) are the best fats—the only ones we absolutely must eat to live and thrive.

Fats make food taste good, and they make excellent metabolic fuel, but good fats do a lot more for us than that. EFAs, used by every cell in the body, help form and maintain cell membrane structure, assist oxygen flow throughout the bloodstream, and aid oil-soluble nutrient absorption. They increase stamina and vitality, speed healing, shorten recovery time after fatigue, improve focus and performance, reduce inflammation—they even help burn body fat. So learn to love the right fats and make these essentials part of every meal.

Chocolate Mousse with Ginger
Serves 8 / This dessert needs a few hours to set, but the working time is minimal. Prep tips: If you prefer your ginger less intense, use a smaller amount. Health laws require egg producers (the people, not the hens) to pass eggs through a washing process to eliminate salmonella, but it's still good practice to wash the shell before cracking if you're going to use raw egg (yolk or white). Serving tip: If you wish, top with shaved chocolate, fresh berries, or a dollop of whipped cream sweetened with a splash of dark rum.

8 ounces chopped dark chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup peeled, chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/4 cup flax oil
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Place chopped chocolate and vanilla extract in a blender.

2. In a small pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat water and ginger until just simmering. Turn off heat, cover, and let steep at least 10 minutes. Reheat water and ginger to simmering. Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder until dissolved. Immediately pour over chocolate in the blender, cover, and purée on high until smooth, about 20 seconds. With the motor running, add flax oil. Strain into a large bowl, discarding any ginger bits.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue whisking until stiff but not dry. Fold into chocolate mixture. Pour into eight dessert bowls or goblets. Cover tightly and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 210 calories
% fat calories: 64
Fat: 17g
Saturated Fat: 7g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 4g
Carbohydrate: 17g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 30mg

Steamed Salmon with Fennel Purée
Serves 4 / Steaming helps protect salmon's fragile omega-3 fats from heat damage. The rich and simple fennel purée makes this meal something special. Serving tip: Accompany with steamed asparagus drizzled with garlic-infused flax oil.

Fennel Purée
Juice from 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 bulbs fennel, quartered and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup packed fennel fronds
2 tablespoons flax oil

4 4-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
Zest from 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
2 tablespoons dry white wine
4 sprigs fennel fronds, for garnish

1. To make fennel purée: Combine lemon juice with wine and salt in a deep saucepan with a tight lid. Add fennel slices. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until fennel is very tender and nearly all liquid is absorbed, about 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor, along with fennel fronds. Purée until smooth. Reserve (you'll add the flax oil later).

2. Place salmon, skin side down, on a plate, tucking any thin flaps under to form uniform thickness. Grate lemon zest over fillets and season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

3. Select a pan with a tight-fitting lid wide enough to amply accommodate fish. Spread olive oil evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle with chopped shallots. Place fillets on top, spacing evenly; season lightly with salt. Pour wine around fish. Place over high heat until wine begins to bubble, then immediately cover and reduce heat to lowest setting. After 2-3 minutes, check salmon; it should be just opaque but still very tender. Turn off heat and replace cover.

4. Reheat fennel purée over medium heat, stirring; remove from heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons flax oil. (Note: Do not reheat after adding oil.) Garnish with fennel fronds and serve with fennel purée on the side. Pass remaining purée separately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (with 1/4 cup fennel purée):
Calories: 254calories
% fat calories: 51
Fat: 14g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 62mg
Protein: 24g
Carbohydrate: 7g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 326mg

Edamame and Avocado Salad
Serves 8 / Although low in EFAs, virgin (not refined) olive oil helps protect the heart with phytosterols, which prevent cholesterol absorption. Ingredient tip: Look for shelled edamame, or green soybeans, in the frozen section of supermarkets. Prep tip: This dressing is at its peak right after it's made. Serving tip: A delicious meal on its own, you could also serve this with fish or shrimp.

1 1/2 cups shelled edamame
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 cloves garlic
3/4 cup virgin olive oil
2 ripe but firm avocados
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup roasted, peeled, and diced red bell pepper (bottled is fine)
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
6 cups mixed salad greens

1. Blanch edamame in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, until tender-crunchy. Drain, refresh under cold running water, and drain thoroughly.

2. Combine mustard, basil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic in a blender; purée thoroughly. With the motor running, slowly add olive oil.

3. Peel and cut avocados into roughly half-inch dice. Toss gently with lime juice in a large bowl. Add drained and cooled edamame, bell pepper, celery, onion, parsley, and cilantro. Pour about two-thirds of the dressing into bowl and toss gently.

4. Divide salad greens among plates. Top with a mound of edamame mixture and serve.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 253 calories
% fat calories: 76
Fat: 23g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 5g
Carbohydrate: 11g
Fiber: 6g
Sodium: 129mg

Smoked Trout and Grapefruit Salad
Serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as a side / Smoked trout, a fatty fish loaded with DHA (part of the omega-3 family), has an exceptionally rich taste that's a natural partner for citrus. Making the creamy, vanilla-scented dressing with flax oil adds a healthy dose of omega-3s to each serving. Don't be afraid of the raw egg; the grapefruit-juice acids will kill anything nasty that might be lurking, while leaving valuable nutrients intact. Prep tip: If you can find it, substitute piment d'Espelette—a fruity, Basque-country pepper—for the paprika.

1 head butter lettuce (about 10 ounces)
8 ounces smoked trout
1/2 small red onion, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 ruby red grapefruits
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 vanilla bean (preferably Tahitian), split lengthwise and chopped into small pieces
1/3 cup flax oil
1/2 bunch fresh chives, cut into 1/4-inch lengths

1. Tear lettuce into large bite-size pieces. Wash and spin dry. Place in a large bowl. Remove skin from trout and discard. Break trout into large bite-size pieces and add to lettuce, along with red onion.

2. Slice off grapefruit peels and white pith, exposing flesh. Carefully cut grapefruit segments from membranes; set aside. Squeeze 3 tablespoons juice from membranes; strain and transfer to a blender. Add egg yolk, vinegar, salt, pepper, paprika, and chopped vanilla bean. Purée on high until vanilla bean is thoroughly blended. With the motor running, slowly add flax oil. When emulsified, strain into a small bowl, discarding any tough vanilla bean debris.

3. Add about three-fourths of the dressing to lettuce mixture and toss thoroughly. Add reserved grapefruit sections and half the chives. Toss very gently. Divide among salad plates. Garnish with remaining chives and serve at once.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (4):
Calories: 275 calories
% fat calories: 56
Fat: 18g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 78mg
Protein: 15g
Carbohydrate: 16g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 148mg

Flax oil facts
Many foods contain essential fatty acids, including green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Most people get enough omega-6s, but a staggering 99 percent of us get insufficient omega-3s. I use flax oil liberally because it's 50 percent omega-3s, the richest source. This superunsaturated fat is so fragile, it must be extracted without exposure to light, heat, and oxygen.

I recommend Udo's Choice 3-6-9 and DHA Oil Blends, which are made with the highest standards; they can be used in any of my recipes that call for flax oil. But no matter the brand, make sure you buy flax oil in a dark glass bottle that's kept in the refrigerated section of the store.


Mexican Tomato-Rice Soup with Cod
Serves 8 / This is a variation of sopa de fideo, a soup served in homes throughout Mexico. The decidedly un-Mexican red pepper sauce is gratuitous, but the extra flavor accent is terrific­—and gives you more omega-3s. Prep tip: For the sauce, you can use bottled roasted peppers with minimal difference in flavor.

1 1/4 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes
2 medium white onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic
11/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons virgin olive oil
1/4 cup basmati rice, well washed and dried on a towel
2 cups medium-strength fish stock
4 cups water
2 unsalted or low-sodium vegetable bouillon cubes
12 ounces skinless cod fillet, cut into 3/4-inch-square pieces
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Red Pepper Sauce (optional)
1 red bell pepper, quartered, roasted, and peeled
3-4 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons flax oil

1. Cut tomatoes into chunks and place in a blender. Add half the onions, all of the garlic, and salt. Purée until smooth.

2. In a medium-large pot, heat olive oil, remaining onion, and rice until just beginning to sizzle, stirring constantly. Stir in tomato mixture. Bring to a simmer and cook until thoroughly reduced and almost dry, about 30 minutes. Add fish stock, water, and bouillon cubes. Return to a simmer and cook until rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

3. To prepare sauce, purée roasted pepper, garlic, salt, and cayenne. Cook over moderate heat until reduced slightly. Remove from heat and whisk in flax oil. (Note: If preparing ahead, omit oil; heat just prior to serving, remove from heat, and add oil. Do not reheat.)

4. When rice is tender, add cod and cilantro, stirring gently, until fish begins to turn opaque. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Serve at once, passing the sauce.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 112 calories
% fat calories: 19
Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 10mg
Protein: 10g
Carbohydrate: 13g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 561mg

Alan Roettinger's book, Omega-3 Cuisine, will appear in early spring 2008.