PHOTOGRAPH: Natasha Breen,

Anyone can prepare exciting and tasty meals that are healthy. All you need are the right ingredients. We visited The Garden restaurant at The Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort and Spa, and spoke to junior sous chef Dennis Padua to find out how he manages to create nutritious and flavourful dishes.


Top three healthy picks
Dennis stresses the importance of choosing fresh and premium produce. When it comes to healthy ingredients, his three must-haves in the kitchen are:


1. Beetroot 
Beetroot boasts a long list of nutritional benefits. It is high in fibre, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Aside from being good for health, the bright purple root peps up any salad. 

It can also be used as a natural food colouring to make dishes appear more enticing. Dennis suggests beetroot-cured salmon for gourmet home cooks. Mix beetroot, lemon, dill, salt and sugar together. Top a salmon fillet with the mixture and leave it in the fridge for up to three days to cure.


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2. Lemon 
“Lemon is the most useful ingredient in the restaurant,” says Dennis. “We use it in marinades, salad dressings and sauces.”

 Not only does lemon bear a distinctive tangy taste and smell, it has unique chemical properties that help to enhance the other flavours in a dish. 

Lemons are rich in vitamin C – about 30 per cent of the recommended daily intake – plus many other vitamins and nutrients.


3. Miso paste
Miso paste is made from fermented soya beans. It contains essential amino acids and is high in antioxidants – it’s full of health benefits and full on umami flavour. 


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Savoury, sweet and earthy, it is well-loved by not just Japanese chefs, as it works well in non-Japanese dishes too. For example, Dennis uses it in a marinade for baked seabass.


Foods to avoid
On the other side of the coin, Dennis warns against using harmful ingredients such as palm oil, which contains high amounts of saturated fat. Minimise your use of butter and cream too, and substitute with grapeseed or olive oil where possible.

Another item on his blacklist is monosodium glutamate (MSG). This commonly used food additive may be flavourful but regular consumption can lead to a plethora of health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and even cancer, according to the Health Promotion Board.

Finally, leave out the artificial food colouring, says Dennis. It may enhance the appearance of your red velvet cake, but nutritionists like Chan Joy Seng, director of Alive Nutrition Consultancy, caution that some chemical compounds found in widely used artificial colourings might be carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. Why not use some beetroot to achieve the vibrant red colour instead?