5 Fall Recipes for Better Brain Health

An increasing number of studies now suggest that what we do beginning in midlife—what we eat and our daily habits—can protect many of us from getting Alzheimer’s later.
— Dr. Annie Fenn, Ob/Gyn

It’s fall, and we are in the kitchen with Dr. Annie Fenn, Ob/Gyn, founder of the Brain Health Kitchen. Dr. Fenn has selected five of her favorite fall recipes she created to improve brain health and reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. We’ve tried each of them and they are all easy and packed with amazing flavor. Plant-forward, these recipes are perfect as a vegetarian main dish or as a healthy side dish accompanying meat or fish.

Cauliflower Couscous with Turmeric, Blueberries, and Apple

For a quick brain health boost, jump on the cauliflower “couscous“ bandwagon. It’s an easy swap for couscous or rice and incorporates more plant foods into your diet. Cauliflower is rich in sulforaphane, a potent phytochemical that protects the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation. Eating sulforaphane-rich foods, such as cauliflower and broccoli, helps prevent amyloid protein from accumulating in the brain. In fact, cauliflower may have neuroprotective properties potent enough to improve the cognitive impairment of Alzheimer’s. The addition of turmeric and black pepper gives this recipe an extra healthy boost.

 
Cauliflower+Couscous.jpg
 

Cauliflower Couscous with Turmeric, Blueberries, and Apple

Source: Annie Fenn, MD, Brain Health Kitchen

Cauliflower couscous is a surprisingly fluffy grain-free ingredient with dozens of uses. Here, its quickly sautéed with turmeric, ginger, garlic, and chilies, and tossed with apple and dried blueberries. Cauliflower couscous can be prepped ahead of time for even quicker meals. Store uncooked cauliflower couscous in the fridge for up to 5 days or the freezer for up to 3 months. For best results, place in a plastic bag and squeeze out all the air before storing it. Time-saving tip: look for cauliflower “rice” in the produce section of stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

Serves 6
15-20 minutes cooking time

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large head cauliflower or 1 bag of pre-riced cauliflower

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 medium tart apple cored and diced

  • 1 shallot peeled and minced

  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger minced

  • 1 clove garlic minced

  • 1 Serrano chili seeded and finely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder or 2 teaspoons freshly grated turmeric root

  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground

  • 1/2 cup dried organic blueberries

  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems coarsely chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. If you bought bagged pre-riced cauliflower, skip to Step 3. Cut the cauliflower into quarters and trim the florets from the core. Using your hands, break apart the florets. If the core is tender, coarsely chop it and add it to the florets.

  2. Transfer the cauliflower pieces to the bowl of a food processor, filling it no more than ¾ full. (If necessary, process in two batches.) Process in 1-second pulses until the cauliflower pieces break down into rice-sized granules. Take care not to overprocess or your cauliflower will turn into a paste. Transfer to a large bowl. If some of the florets remain intact, just pull them out and re-process with the next batch of florets. (If you don’t have a food processor, crumble the florets on the large holes of a box grater.)

  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add extra virgin olive oil and warm gently. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the apple, shallot, ginger, garlic, Serrano chili and turmeric. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the cauliflower couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add a small splash of water, stir, and cover with a lid. Steam for 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. To finish, place the cauliflower couscous in a serving dish. Add the dried blueberries and toss with 2 forks. Taste, adjust for salt and pepper, and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fall Vegetable Tian

What is a tian? Tian is the French word for a simple earthenware dish that can go from oven to table. In the U.S., we usually call it a casserole dish. Any oven to table dish will work fine for this recipe. Even a Pyrex baking dish. A tian is usually filled with layered, overlapping vegetables and sometimes a sauce, baked in the oven, and served as a main or side dish. Don’t let the gorgeous picture below intimidate you. Tians are simple to make and can be a bit messy. They are supposed to look rustic and not perfect. Feel free to swap out the vegetables with others you prefer or whatever is in season.

 
Fall+Vegetable+Tian.jpg
 

Fall Vegetable Tian

Source: Annie Fenn, MD, Brain Health Kitchen

This classic French dish couldn't be simpler. Paper-thin slices of vegetables are roasted with olive oil, garlic and salt.

Serves 4
30 minutes prep and 70-90 minutes cooking time

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 3 large garlic cloves thinly sliced

  • 2-3 medium tomatoes

  • 2 medium late summer squash or 1 winter squash (butternut, spaghetti, acorn)

  • 1 large eggplant

  • 4-6 large portabello mushrooms

  • 1-2 sweet potatoes scrubbed

  • 1-2 large red onion

  • coarse sea salt about 1 tsp

  • Handful of fresh thyme

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Rub a 9-inch round baking dish (such as a pie plate) with the cut side of a clove of garlic.

  2. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice the vegetables no more than ¼-inch thick. Ideally, all the vegetable slices should be about the same size.

  3. Pour half the olive oil into the baking dish. Arrange the vegetable slices in the dish in a circular pattern, alternating evenly between the tomato, zucchini or squash, eggplant, mushrooms, sweet potato, and onion. Fill the center of the dish with a smaller circle of vegetables. Sprinkle the vegetables liberally with the salt. Tuck the garlic slices between the vegetables evenly throughout the dish.

  4. Strip most of the thyme of its leaves, leaving a few intact sprigs for garnish. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves. Add an additional sprinkle of salt.

  5. Bake for 70 to 90 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Top with thyme sprigs and cut into triangular pieces. Serve hot or warm.

Pumpkin Polenta

The brain healthy diet favors monounsaturated fats over saturated ones. In this recipe, the polenta gets a makeover with a few clever, healthier swaps. First, you’ll start by swapping in almond milk for the cream. As it turns out, polenta is even more delicious and just as creamy without the cream. Next, skip the cheese. Feel free to give your Pumpkin Polenta a nice dusting of Parmesan cheese or add small cubes of feta at the end of cooking. But honestly, the dish is great without it. By folding cooked and pureed pumpkin into the pot (canned is fine), the polenta gains not just creaminess, depth of flavor, and a hint of sweet; it gets an infusion of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. Not to mention a good dose of fiber, which means you can feel full even though you eat less.

 
Pumpkin Polenta.jpg
 

Pumpkin Polenta

Source: Annie Fenn, MD, Brain Health Kitchen

The additions of pumpkin puree, almond milk, and chickpea flour add healthy fats and nutrient density. They also transform the polenta into an even more flavorful, satisfying dish best described as a food hug. Serve with meat, chicken, or mushrooms.

Serves 4
5 minutes prep and 25 minutes cooking time

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups organic unsweetened almond milk

  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

  • 5 tablespoons organic non-GMO polenta (such as Bob's Red Mill corn grits not instant)

  • 5 tablespoons chickpea flour

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree unsweetened (not pumpkin pie filling) or butternut squash puree

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Pour the almond milk into a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer.

  2. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

  3. Slowly add the 5 tablespoons of polenta over the simmering milk, whisking continuously. Keep whisking and add the chickpea flour. Cook over very low heat so that the polenta is gently bubbling up. Keep whisking every minute or so, until the grains are soft, about 10 minutes.

  4. Add the pumpkin and whisk until the polenta is smooth and bubbling gently again.

  5. Using a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the polenta for about 1 minute.

  6. Remove the pan from the heat. Taste; adjust for salt and pepper.

Eggplant Rollatini with Creamy Chard Ricotta

Saturated fat intake has been positively correlated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, which is why the MIND diet guidelines are rather austere regarding cheese (about 1 ounce per week) and butter (about 1 tbsp per day.) Both data from animal studies and populations of people show that a diet high in saturated and trans fats increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; a diet high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is linked to a lower risk. The peel of purple eggplant is rich in anthocyanins — the same phytonutrient that famously makes blueberries good for the brain. So whenever possible, don’t peel your eggplant. Eggplant is high in fiber, low in calories, and provides a plethora of nutrients and minerals. If you are allergic to nightshades or don’t care for eggplant, feel free to substitute it with zucchini.

eggplant+rollups.jpg

Eggplant Rollatini with Creamy Chard Ricotta

These eggplant roll-ups are cleverly stuffed with a lemony non-dairy “ricotta.” Colorful rainbow chard (stems and leaves) folded into the stuffing adds flavor, fiber, and a hefty dose of greens. Top with a simple tomato sauce and some basil pesto (if you have it), this is a veggie-packed main dish perfect for fall. Time-saving tips: use marina sauce from a jar and purchase pre-made pesto.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 medium eggplants

  • kosher salt

  • extra virgin olive oil to brush eggplants

  • 1 bunch rainbow chard stems separated and diced fine, about 12 leaves

  • 2 medium garlic cloves

  • 3/4 cup raw cashews soaked water to cover for at least an hour

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 4 tbsp fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt + plus more to taste

  • freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup crumbled extra firm tofu

  • zest of 1 lemon

  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

  • 2 cups Marinara sauce (jared is fine)

  • 1 cup Arugula or basil pesto (store bought is fine)

  • Fresh basil to garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and slice into ¼-inch thin slices using a mandolin or a sharp knife. Place the slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt. After 20 minutes, blot dry. Bake for 20 minutes or until soft.

  2. Steam the rainbow chard leaves and the garlic cloves for 5 minutes. Place the leaves and garlic on a kitchen towel to dry.

  3. Put the steamed garlic cloves in a blender. Drain the cashews and discard the soaking water. Add the cashews, 1/2 cup fresh water, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the garlic in the blender. Process until creamy, adding more water if needed. Scrape the cashew cream into the bowl.

  4. Using a kitchen towel, wring the chard leaves dry. Chop fine and place in a large bowl. Add to the cashew cream.

  5. Sauté the chard stems in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add to the cashew cream. Add the tofu, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Mix well and adjust for salt, pepper and lemon.

  6. Fill the bottom of a 9 x 12-inch baking dish with marinara sauce (about 1 ½ cups.) Spoon about 1 ½ tbsp of ricotta onto the short end of each eggplant slice. Roll up and place in the pan atop the marinara. Repeat until you have about 24 rollatini.

  7. Spoon more marinara down the center of the rollatini. Drizzle with pesto and bake for 20 minutes at 375ºF.

  8. Serve warm, topped with more pesto if needed and fresh basil sprigs.

Tahini-Swirled Brownie Bites

We try to steer clear of sugar, but if you need a sweet treat for Halloween or a fall potluck try these healthy-ish brownie bites. Most of the brain draining sugar has been swapped using flavonol-rich dark chocolate and cacao powder, and swirling it with tahini instead. Applesauce adds sweetness and a good dose of fiber. Maple syrup possesses an abundance of antioxidants. And, extra virgin olive oil instead of butter delivers added flavor and healthier fats. Words of warning: these brownies are delicious, which is why we call them “bites.” Don’t overdo it!

Brownie+Bites.jpg

Tahini-Swirled Brownie Bites

Dark chocolate shards, natural cacao powder, and tahini make these brownies rich in antioxidants and minerals. Applesauce and maple syrup add fiber and just the right amount of sweetness.

Makes 16 1-inch squares
15 minutes prep and 25 minutes cooking time

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 3/4 cup almond flour

  • 1/3 cup no-sugar-added applesauce

  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup

  • 1/2 cup natural cocoa powder not Dutch processed

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1/2 cup 70% dark chocolate chopped

  • 1/3 cup tahini well-stirred and at room temperature

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

  2. Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with parchment paper and grease the sides of the pan with olive oil.

  3. Place eggs and olive oil in a large bowl and mix well using a whisk.

  4. Add almond flour, applesauce, maple syrup, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and sea salt. Stir well using a wooden spoon.

  5. Add the chopped chocolate, stirring until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

  6. Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth over the top with a spoon.

  7. Place dollops of tahini on top of the brownie batter in 9 places. Use a skewer to swirl them throughout to create a marbled effect.

  8. Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges are set and the center is only slightly wobbly. Cool completely and chill or freeze before cutting.

For more brain healthy recipes and tips, head on over to Lisa Health!

Dr. Annie Fenn is a retired Ob/Gyn who specialized in menopausal care for the last six years of practice. She was the only Certified Menopause Practitioner in the state of Wyoming. Dr. Fenn’s second act is traveling all over the world teaching women how to prevent Alzheimer’s through food. Her company, Brain Health Kitchen, is a cooking school that teaches people how to cook and eat with brain-healthy foods. She loves getting into the kitchen with her students to show them how to cook delicious, nutritious meals that reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Related Articles

Understanding and Preventing Alzheimer’s in Women

Brain Health Booster:
Warm Kale Blackberry Salad

8 Top Foods to Beat Menopause Brain Fog