Anyone who has even flirted with the idea of starting a low-carbohydrate diet knows that most dieters eventually abandon such lifestyles due to the boredom that results from the elimination of certain core foods. (Under the South Beach plan, bread, pasta and rice are prohibited in the initial stage and then reintroduced in limited portions in stages two and three). In The South Beach Diet Cookbook, Dr. Agatston tackles the problem by presenting a wide range of recipes that are not only within the Plan’s guidelines but are delicious, satisfying, and simple to prepare.
What makes this recipe book (and probably the South Beach diet itself) so appealing is that it uses ingredients that are readily available and can be easily incorporated in a dieter’s daily routine. In addition, while some diet cookbooks provide extensive information relating to which foods should be avoided and why, this cookbook centers around permissible food choices. This directs the focus of South Beach dieters away from what is not allowed and towards the wide range of satisfying ingredients that are consistent with the plan. This tactic minimizes the feelings of boredom and deprivation often associated with Dr. Agatston’s diet.
The book begins with a clear and concise overview of the diet, which, in short, is divided into three phases. Phase 1, the most restrictive time period, lasts for just two weeks and eliminates all starches, sugar, fruit and alcohol. In Phase 2, where you remain as you work towards your target weight, introduces whole grains, sugar and even limited alcohol. From there you progress to the third phase for maintenance which is designed to be a permanent lifestyle. This overview is followed by commonly asked questions and answers as well as instructions on how to prepare your kitchen for each phase. Anyone who thinks that a low-carbohydrate diet is limited to meat, eggs and cheese will be pleasantly surprised by the wide range of food choices and flavors included in the shopping list provided for each phase.
After this brief introductory material, the book delves into traditional categories of recipes such as breakfast, appetizers, soups, salads, side dishes, fish and poultry, meats, vegetarian entrees and desserts. Each recipe is labeled as being appropriate for Phase One, Two or Three of the South Beach plan. The recipes offer a host of flavors and food choices, and the instructions are clear and concise even as they span difficulty levels. Recipes top chefs prepare in some of the finest restaurants are also scattered throughout the book, reinforcing the non-restrictive nature of the diet.
Breakfast selections include some basics such as grilled Canadian bacon with a twist of sugar-free apricot preserves and goat cheese crepes topped off with cherries. An asparagus omelet with goat cheese or vegetable frittatas with parmesan cheese is permitted in phase one and can be followed by breakfast popovers with parmesan in phase two, and apple walnut muffins in phase three.
Soups range from a classic chilled tomato bisque and hearty minestrone, to peanut butter stew, to gazpacho with avocado crab farci from the menu of Picasso, a restaurant located in Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel. Dr. Agatston is quick to admit that the restaurant is not located in Miami, but that Executive Chef Julian Serrano’s participation in the annual South Beach Wine and Food Festival makes its mention appropriate for this publication.
Entrees are just as appealing ranging from steak au poivre, to sage and rosemary pork, to tofu cacciatore, to spicy Chinese chicken kebabs. There is even a recipe for Spanish spiced rubbed chicken with mustard-green onion sauce from the menu of renowned Chef Bobby Flay’s New York City Bolo Restaurant and Bar which is permissible on phase 1, the most restrictive part of the diet. For any vegetarians who thought this low-carbohydrate diet would be unsuitable for their needs, there is an extensive selection of meat-free entrees including whole wheat vegetable lasagna and baked portobello caps with melted goat cheese.
The one criticism I have of this recipe collection is its lack of organization. Specifically, the recipes for each respective diet phase are not grouped together, but instead are scattered through each section. Based on this, a phase one dieter has to flip through the entire section on entrees to find which ones are appropriate, rather than just focusing on a smaller subsection of the collection of entrée recipes. Along these same lines, the notation indicating which phase a recipe is appropriate for is rather small and could be more prominently displayed on each recipe page.
Overall, however, this book is a visually appealing collection of recipes that will likely have a wide appeal to anyone wanting to cook a solid, delicious and interesting meal. Even though the book is clearly intended for dieters seeking to incorporate the South Beach plan into their lives, there is little distinguish this “diet’ cookbook from the many other recipe books on the market. Dr. Agatston probably intended this result since his cookbook offers sturdy support for his claim that the South Beach Plan is not a diet but a way of life.