People looking to eat well in Los Angeles have a few distinct advantages over the rest of us: fresh year-round produce, a forward-thinking culinary scene, and a seemingly never-ending parade of de rigueur ingredients. So we asked some of the city's top chefs to share a few of the more inventive items they're cooking with right now. We also provided nutritional notes from Marissa Lippert, R.D.—a founder of New York City's Nourish Kitchen + Table—including how said ingredients can boost the immune system, rev up metabolism, and otherwise improve health.
The chef: Jason Neroni, chef at Superba Snack Bar
The dish: Hamachi, persimmon mustard, charred-scallion oil, sorrel, and chili
The culinary approach: "We pick persimmons up at the market at least one week before needing them, so they can ripen properly in the kitchen. We then lightly pickle them in a honey-and-yuzu pickle. Following that, we puree the persimmons in a Vitamix Vita Prep, to which we add Dijon mustard, Calabrian chili oil, sugar, and olive oil."
The nutritionist's take: "Persimmons are currently in season, so their nutrient value and flavor are greater. They're stacked with disease-fighting and antiaging antioxidants and are a great source of vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, and fiber," Lippert says.
The chef: Jordan Toft, chef at Eveleigh
The culinary approach: "Espelette is a pepper from the Basque region of France, and in late summer large strands can be seen drying in the warm temperatures. It's then ground to produce a rich red powder that has a beautiful flavor and naturally balances between fruitiness, light smoke, heat, and a finish that is almost creamy. Added to crushed avocado, it's a step up from your standard chili or hot-sauce accompaniment."
The nutritionist's take: "Espelette peppers give incredible flavor, heat, and antioxidants to any dish," Lippert explains. "The chili pepper will kick up the body's metabolism via capsicum."
Featured ingredient, clockwise from top: tamarind, cipollini onion, honeycomb.
The chef: Matt Poley, co-owner of Heirloom LA
The dish: Short rib and cipollini onion lasagna cupcake
The culinary approach: "Traditionally, Italian brasatos or braises are accompanied by something sweet and sour to break down the rich, velvety braising liquids generated from the red wine and fortified stock. Hand-peeling the cipollini onions keeps the lovely vibrant-white onion milk more prevalent than it would have been by keeping them refrigerated or soaking in water prior to peeling. The sugar level in the cipollini onion is highest in that milk, and the natural sugars caramelize from within while cooking."
The nutritionist's take: "Cipollini onions are excellent in stews and hearty, warming dishes," Lippert says. "They're high in antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory, meaning that they'll help decrease disease risk and may aid in keeping cholesterol in check."
The dish: Homemade ricotta, figs, thyme, and honeycomb
The culinary approach: "To finish this dish, we place a healthy wedge of dripping honeycomb on top, which is the bit that seems to get the most 'Oohs' and 'Ahhs.' There is something primal about the look of it that gets people very excited. Aside from the visual, the honeycomb adds great texture and sweetness. We also like to think that by using this ancient food, with its numerous health benefits, it eases the guilt of eating a large, delicious bowl of cheese with bread."
The nutritionist's take: "Honeycomb may boost immune function and help ward off winter-cold season. It's a quick source of natural sugar for a small energy boost."
The chef: Kris Yenbamroong, chef at Night + Market
The dish: Gaeng hanglay (Northern Thai-style pork-belly curry with Burmese spice mixture)
The culinary approach: "Tamarind is one ingredient used to achieve the sour and tart flavor in Thai cooking. It gives dishes a round and nuanced flavor, which in Thai, we call 'hom.' This dish, which is pork belly simmered with Burmese-style spices, ginger, pickled garlic, palm sugar, and tamarind, has several layers of flavor. It's a dark and stewlike dish, but the tamarind brightens it up. By adding the tamarind last, I am able to achieve that brightness."
The nutritionist's take: "Tamarind is rich with a variety of vitamins. It's anti-inflammatory, helping lower risk of cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It may also aid in digestion and in augmenting energy levels," says Lippert.