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Four-time undefeated world boxing champ Laila Ali retired from the ring in 2007, but she still packs a one-two punch in the kitchen. The health-minded mom and host of OWN’s Home Made Simple channels her culinary mantra—“Nutrition is king, but flavor is queen”—in the new cookbook Food for Life: Delicious & Healthy Comfort Food from My Table to Yours! (St. Martin’s Press, 2018). Her knockout recipes range from the hearty and all-American (Very Veggie Soup) to the wholesomely spicy (the bone broth-based South Indian Coconut Chicken Curry) to the full-on fortifying (homemade kefir-and kale-infused West Coast Southern Greens).
Food for Life focuses on fruit, veggies, and other tried-and-true whole foods. But Ali—who has a line of supplements coming in mid-2018—doesn’t shy from tossing extra nutrients into her clean cuisine. “If your body can process it, you’re going to get energy from it,” she says.
The host of the Laili Ali Lifestyle podcast even pays tribute to her late, great father, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, with a Greatest of All Time Burger. “My dad loved my cooking. He loved soul food and loved coming over for the holidays. And he understood the importance of a good home-cooked meal,” she says fondly.
What’s one of your favorite comfort-food dishes with a Food for Life twist?
My kids and I love spaghetti, so I said, “We’re going have our spaghetti, but we’re going upgrade it.” So instead of using regular white pasta, we use brown rice noodles or quinoa noodles or zucchini noodles. And not only do we use a good-quality meat—beef, lamb, or turkey—I have a secret red sauce that has tons of veggies that I mix in the blender. The flavor masks the veggies so the kids don’t even know that they’re in there.
So the secret to kids eating their vegetables can be as easy as blending them into your secret sauce?
Sometimes! I also have a secret white sauce that includes zucchini and cauliflower. It’s really about balance. If kids have a super-sensitive palate, you’ve got to ease them into it. And you can keep adding more and more veggies as their taste buds change. I use my secret white sauce for recipes that call for something that you’re not going to see—like mac and cheese. You can make it in advance and have it ready to go. Mix up a batch and freeze it.
Why do you include chlorella in your Green Power Shake?
Chlorella is really good for so many things, but I use it for cleaning heavy metals and toxins out of your body. With all the radiation we get from our cell phones and electromagnetic fields, I like to get chlorella into my system on a regular basis.
You can add some things into your everyday rotation. It’s just like medication your doctor gives you—it doesn’t work if you don’t take it regularly. You have to make it a habit. I wake up in the morning and have a shake, and then I’m done and don’t have to worry about it the rest of the day.
How are fermented foods life-enhancing? And what’s an easy beginner recipe?
Diseases start in our gut. If your gut’s not healthy, you’re not healthy. We all have bacteria in the stomach. When we’re eating bad foods they’re feeding the bad bacteria, and it grows and gets worse and you get a candida overgrowth, which causes headaches, brain fog, sluggishness, and cravings. [Fermented foods] grow good bacteria for your stomach. One of our simple recipes is Basic Sauerkraut. Simply chop up cabbage and put sea salt in it and leave it out for a certain amount of time. It’s really easy to do.
And finally—dessert! What sets your Not Your Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie apart?
I love potatoes, and I love sweet potato pie. But you can’t eat that all the time. Mine is a cleaner version. I use coconut oil and pure maple syrup. And the crust is made with walnuts and dates. I put the turmeric—which is an anti-inflammatory—in there because it adds a nice golden-orange color and, above all, nutrients. You can’t taste it, and why not get the nutrition in there?