Californian to the core, Angeleno test kitchen cook Devon Francis grew up with the “wellness” conversation all around her, especially emphasizing the power of food on your personal well-being. She’s our go-to chef when it comes to cooking and eating to feel good. Devon is a fan of easy substitutions and notes that “it’s not about subtracting so much as adding things in, like phytonutrients or adaptogens, to help your body physiologically handle stress as in this detoxifying N/A hot toddy and phytonutrient-rich mint cacao smoothie.
Though she’s not a fan of the word “wellness,” Devon is nonetheless our favorite health chef come January. As she tests recipes in our kitchen, she’ll make a point to incorporate ingredients like greens or sources of protein into almost everything she makes.
Here are a few of Devon’s favorite ingredients and recipe upgrades to give you a little sense of balance this month.
Rather than reaching for a cup of coffee when energy flags in the afternoon, try a mug of bone broth or super-charged vegetable broth instead. Devon explains, “I drink [broth] because it helps settle my stomach—something I especially need as a test chef because I’m tasting so many different foods.” Devon loves adding flavorful ingredients to her broth that also have health benefits, such as garlic (said to boost immunity), lemon juice, ginger and dandelion greens.
2. Probiotic Foods
Probiotics (live microorganisms found in fermented foods such as yogurt) can enhance both flavor and digestion and are an easy addition to nearly any recipe. “I love adding kimchi, sauerkraut, or other fermented veggies in salads, on savory porridge or over my morning eggs,” says Devon. Probiotic-laden non-dairy alternative yogurt sources (her favorite is Cocojune) are also packed with healthy bacteria. “I often go for a pure, plant-based yogurt alternative in the morning and top it with chia seeds, vanilla collagen and cacao nibs.” For savory dishes, Devon adds ground spices to plain yogurt (think: cumin, cinnamon, turmeric and black pepper) before spooning it on top.
3. Healthier Cooking Fats
When testing recipes, Devon often replaces traditional vegetable oil (like canola) with heart-healthy substitutes like olive oil and avocado oil. The latter is especially appreciated for its high smoking point. She uses high-quality olive oil for drizzling over finished dishes or for cooking at low heat since high heat can ruin the olive oil’s flavor.
4. Meat Substitutions
If you are craving a deep, dark red meat braise, consider root vegetables. “They’ll impart a lot of nutrients and have a similarly rich flavor profile.” (She might toss hemp seeds or pepitas somewhere into the mix for a bit of protein.)
5. Alcohol-Free Drinks
Devon is the brain behind this genius riff on our ever-popular coconut-lime margarita. It’s non-alcoholic, features a hit of spicy Tajín and a burst of lime and orange juices, plus wildflower honey, ginger and her beloved maca root powder, which she credits for her own glowing complexion. Her dandelion root-based chile hot toddy doesn’t need a lick of alcohol to get you feeling cozy. “It’s just so good, such an eye-opener, and a welcome reminder that you don’t need booze to elevate your mood!” she says.
6. More Veggies
True to Devon’s spirit of adding, not subtracting, she simply suggests throwing a veggie into any of your favorite dishes, as in this Spa Smoothie by celebrity health coach Kelly LeVeque. Consider frozen diced zucchini and cauliflower rice, spinach and fresh mint. Just a handful goes a long way. In smoothies, you can even replace a classic banana with an avocado. Particularly in the morning, Devon suggests emphasizing fiber and phytonutrients rather than potentially spiking your blood sugar with sweeter ingredients.
7. Nutrient-Rich Garnishes
For something crunchy when topping a soup or salad, Devon replaces the usual croutons with toasted almonds, roasted lightly ground pepitas mixed with hemp seeds, crushed cassava Cult Crackers, cacao nibs, or a Japanese seaweed blend known as seaweed gomasio. They all add either protein, phytonutrients, antioxidants, or healthy fats.
“Coined in 1947, the term adaptogen refers to substances that theoretically “adapt” to what your body needs and help protect against various stressors,” explains The New York Times. Enormously popular in today’s wellness movement, adaptogens have many fans.
“The whole entire point of wellness is realizing the power of whatever you’re doing in your day-to-day life,” enthuses Devon. “Adaptogens are one of my favorite fun, extra things I add into my day, where I feel like… this is really dorky… ‘I’m in Harry Potter!'” She’s convinced of their health value, pointing to the theory (being investigated by Western studies) that maca root helps with balancing hormones. She loves its butterscotch flavor in desserts, smoothies, yogurt bowls and pie crusts. She also loves Lion’s Mane, Ashwagandha, and Schisandra berry. (She’ll tuck a bit of that last one, which is a beautiful crimson, into mocktails.)