PITTSBURGH – Eva Roy was destined for a career in medicine. Her father, Bhola Roy, is a fourth generation doctor, and it was only natural for her to follow in his footsteps.
She also knew that becoming a doctor is hard work. At the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, students are faced with an enormous amount of information and are expected to learn it in a short amount of time.
“It’s just all very quick,” says Roy, 25, who is in her third year of medical school.
What she didn’t expect was that there would be so little diet and nutrition instruction. While medical students learn a lot about anatomy, biochemistry, and pharmacology, there is little discussion about “food as medicine”. The knowledge gap regarding the relationship between nutrition education and patient health is so great that Harvard Law School recently conducted a study on it.
“It’s just sad,” says Roy, who grew up in the kitchen with her father and still cooks with him on weekends.
When she heard about a “mini elective” in culinary medicine being offered to sophomore and sophomore medical students, she signed up. During this session in January 2020 she learned so much and had so much fun that she and four fellow students founded a cooking club called “Potluck Pals”. This led to the creation of the school’s first cookbook. It was released last fall and features over 70 favorite recipes chosen by classmates, teachers and school staff.
The new culinary medicine enrichment course in 2019 was Associate Professor Joan Harvey’s baby.
According to Harvey, the goal was both didactic and practical: in each of the three sessions, lectures on a specific aspect of nutrition or diet were combined with practical experience in planning, preparing and sharing healthy recipes.
In choosing which recipes and kitchen skills to highlight, Kitchen Manager Tess Monks focused on the typical medical student lifestyle. Most of them are very busy, often in need of money, and do not have a lot of cooking skills. The instructors also had to consider what groceries are readily available on campus.
Students went away with a better understanding of the interplay between diet and health – and they had fun. So much so that when Roy took elective courses with Phipps cooking teachers Amy Reed and Chris Cox in January 2020, he decided to set up a culinary advocacy group. That way, students who couldn’t snap up any of the coveted points could still get some clues.
The idea of the cookbook started brewing last spring. The pandemic had left students feeling disconnected, and Roy reached out to classmates Maria Evankovich and Maxine Fenner, who were also part of the culinary interest group. Would she ask everyone she knew about their favorite recipes and put them together in a book over the summer?
They were overwhelmed with the response. Everyone from Jack Schumann, director of medical anatomy, to Joseph Lossee, assistant dean of faculty affairs, along with dozens of classmates responded.
Many of the recipes are globally inspired and reflect the diversity of the school. Lots of dishes are healthy – Roy submitted a turkey burger recipe while Fenner offered one for chicken fatijas – while others definitely don’t. But that’s okay, says Evankovich, “because sometimes you need something healthy for the soul,” as Dr. James Johnston’s family recipe for marble brownies.
Moroccan chickpea stew
This recipe comes together pretty quickly, is full of nutrients, and feeds a ton. For a stew that isn’t that thick, use about 1 pound of spinach.
Cup of olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced (approx. 7 cups)
1 inch button of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped, juice reserved
1 15-ounce can of coconut milk
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup of raisins
1 lemon, juiced and peeled
Teaspoon of ground cumin
2 teaspoons of turmeric
Teaspoon of ground coriander
1 pound of fresh spinach
Heat the oil in a large, heavy kettle over medium heat. Add onions and chopped ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until deep golden brown.
Stir in tomatoes with reserved juice, coconut milk, chickpeas, raisins, lemon juice and lemon zest, ground cumin, turmeric and coriander. Bring to a boil.
Let the stew cook for about 30 minutes or until the liquid has thickened slightly. Stir in spinach, a heaping handful at a time, and cook until wilted and tender.
Serve hot. Serves a crowd.
– Dr. Joan Harvey, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Cookbook 2020.
Spinach Feta Burger
Medical student Eva Roy from Pitt makes these low-fat burgers in a panini grill, which cuts the cooking time. The recipe can also be used for meatballs.
2 pounds of ground turkey
2 eggs, beaten
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
8 ounces of crumbled feta cheese
2 10-ounce boxes of frozen minced spinach, thawed and pressed dry
Toasted buns for serving
Heat an outdoor grill or an indoor grill like a Cuisinart Griddler to high heat (about 450 degrees).
Mix the ground turkey, beaten eggs, chopped onion, feta cheese, and chopped spinach in a large bowl.
Form the turkey mixture into 4-6 patties, depending on how big you like your burger.
Grill for about 10-15 minutes, until the center is no longer pink.
Transfer patties to buns, sprinkle with garlic salt, and serve with the toppings of your choice.
For 4 to 6 people.
– Eva Roy, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Cookbook 2020.
Grandma Flos marble squares
Dr. James Johnston, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, received this family favorite from his paternal grandmother, Florence Johnston. “I always do it for vacation and love to watch it go away,” he says.
8 ounces of cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, softened
2 1/3 cups of sugar, divided
3 eggs, divided
Cup of water
Cup of margarine or unsalted butter
1 ounce unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
Cup of light sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
a teaspoon of salt
6 ounces chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 15 by 10 inch casserole dish or pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese and 1/3 cup sugar and mix well. Fold in 1 egg and set aside.
Combine water, margarine or butter and unsweetened baking chocolate in a medium sauce pan and slowly melt over low heat.
When everything is melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 2 cups of sugar and flour. Mix well to mix.
Mix in the remaining 2 eggs, sour cream or yogurt, baking powder and salt.
Put the batter in the prepared pan. Using a spoon, pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over the chocolate batter.
Cut the dough lengthways and widthways to create a marble pattern with the cream cheese mixture. Sections should be about 2 inches apart. (I used a knife to turn the dough in a circle.)
Sprinkle the brownies with chocolate chips. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Place cool brownies on a rack, then cut into squares and enjoy.
Makes about 20 large brownies.
– Dr. James R. Johnston, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Cookbook 2020.