Atlanta chef and nutritionist Agatha Achindu is an evangelist for fresh foods

Plus: A recipe for Soufico (Mediterranean Vegetable Stew)

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Atlanta chef and nutritionist Agatha Achindu is an evangelist for fresh foods
Agatha Achindu

Photograph by Wedig & Laxton

You are what you eat. It’s a simple philosophy, and one that Agatha Achindu, who recently released her newest cookbook, Bountiful Cooking: Wholesome Everyday Meals to Nourish You and Your Family, grew up with. The Atlanta nutritionist, speaker, chef, teacher, and founder of national baby food brand Yummy Spoonfuls believes that incorporating vibrant fruits and vegetables into your daily diet is the ticket to a healthy life. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Not in the U.S., according to Achindu, a native of Cameroon. Here, we are surrounded by processed foods, frozen dinners, and sugar-laden cereals. We talked with Achindu about how she taps into her West African upbringing to encourage people to think of food as a healing force. Editor’s note: This conversation has been edited slightly for space and clarity.

You grew up in Cameroon on your family farm. What did you grow there?
We grew everything. Plantains, cocoa, and fruits.

There was fresh produce all around you. It’s no wonder you developed healthy eating habits.
It was a way of life that made you get up every morning. The food that you would eat that day was made that day. Life was not as hectic as it is here. We didn’t think of it as healthy. But for sweets, we ate fresh mango, fresh guava, fresh pineapple.

You moved to the U.S. when you were 23. What were your first impressions of life in the U.S., including food?
If you’ve ever watched Coming to America [the 1988 movie starring Eddie Murphy], that fantasy was the image I had in my head before I moved here. Looking at magazines, all these glossy pictures of what America was like, I just thought America would be perfect.

When I came here [as a university student], it was such a cultural shock for me. The houses were big, but the people looked sick. In magazines, they are all smiling, so happy. We went to the grocery store, and there was a lot of packaged food. I asked my housemate, Where is the food? And my housemate was like, What do you mean? The grocery store is full of food. Then she understood what I was talking about: fresh produce. She took me to the corner of the store. There was a little box of potatoes, a little box of apples, just a few things. I was like, What is everybody going to eat?

Is it ever exhausting for you to cook every single meal from scratch?
I don’t want to say it’s exhausting. Food is not just energy. Food is life. It’s comfort, it’s love, it’s community. I mean, everything is exhausting. You go to work, you’re exhausted; you go to school, you’re exhausted. Food that we eat is not an inconvenience. It’s a blessing. And we need to really invest the time. Because the truth is, we can drink green juice and work out all day, but if we are stressed, we will not have sustainable health. If we are not sleeping well, we will not have health. If we are exposed to toxins, we will still have health issues.

Atlanta chef and nutritionist Agatha Achindu is an evangelist for fresh foods
For Achindu, cooking from scratch is life-giving.

Photograph by Wedig & Laxton

How can food help the human body?
The human body is truly magical. It can heal. I have worked with clients that came from the ground back to vibrancy. I’m 56 years old. I’ve gone through menopause. I never had one hot flash, not one. I don’t have one cavity in my mouth.

I tell people, Always read your labels. A lot of money is invested in marketing because, at the end of the day, food is a for-profit business. We have to advocate for ourselves. And it starts with reading the labels.

All the money is in sickness care. There is no money when we’re healthy. People are on medication for all types of chronic diseases, and they can really benefit from changing what they are eating and how they are living.

What did you make for breakfast this morning?
I made a dish with bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, and grilled potatoes. We’ll have that with eggs. And it has rosemary and thyme.

That sounds delicious and very colorful. You talk about “eating the rainbow” in your book. Tell me more about that.
Diversity is good for your gut microbiome. When you’re looking at your plate and you have different colors of food, they all represent different nutritional profiles. That aside, they are just different flavors. And then, it looks so pretty, for those who eat with their eyes. It’s a rainbow. For example, if you want to eat spinach, you’re going to get some iron. If you eat bell peppers, you’re going to get some vitamin C. But if I put spinach with yellow and red bell peppers, and a little bit of tomato, it looks so colorful. There’s a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of tart. You’ve been invited onto the plate to enjoy a meal.

And that’s my food philosophy. Food should do a couple of things: It should be so delicious. It should nourish the body, and it should also bring joy. That’s the rainbow.

Atlanta chef and nutritionist Agatha Achindu is an evangelist for fresh foods
Soufico

Photograph by Wedig & Laxton

Soufico (Mediterranean Vegetable Stew)

Soufico is a traditional dish from Greece and a particularly popular meal on Ikaria. This island in the Aegean, about forty miles off the eastern coast of Turkey, is reportedly one of the healthiest regions in the world, boasting a large population of centenarians who still lead active lives. I discovered this delicious and healthy dish through American National Geographic fellow and New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner. Let’s all dig into the fountain of youth, shall we? Serve over a bowl of farro, rice, fonio, or whatever you are loving at the moment. You can’t go wrong with this stew.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped juicy tomatoes
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into half-inch dice
1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into half-inch dice
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable broth
1 1⁄2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into half-inch dice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
6 ounces baby spinach
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
8 large fresh basil leaves, chopped

In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add the onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, sweet potato, salt, and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes more.

Add the broth, chickpeas, bell pepper, oregano, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until the sweet potato and carrots are tender and the liquid is thickened, 20 to 25 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and cook for two minutes more, then stir in the parsley. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves. Finish with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and the basil and serve.

Recipe excerpted from Bountiful Cooking by Agatha Achindu (Hachette Go, 2023).

This article appears in our February 2024 issue.

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