The Dish: Chef and food editor Candice Kumai

Chef Candice Kumai may be called "the clean queen," a reference to the fresh, healthful food she eats and serves, but that wasn't always the case.

She was born and raised in California, the daughter of a Japanese mother and Polish-American father. Kumai was surrounded by the food and culture of both her parents, but she was just as fond of junk food. It wasn't until she attended culinary school that she turned her life around and started "eating clean."

Kumai was the youngest chef to compete on the first season of Bravo's "Top Chef." She is widely recognized as one of the leading health and wellness experts in the country and is the author of four best-selling cookbooks. Her fifth book, "Clean Green Eats," was the most recent.

Here's how to make some of her signature dishes: Mom's tori no karaage Japanese fried chicken, creamy butternut squash and shells, kale-mushroom gyoza, roasted kabocha squash salad, apple cider vinaigrette and vegan dark chocolate-avocado cake.

Mom's tori no karaage Japanese fried chicken

Gosh, writing this recipe may have been the most nostalgic moment I've experienced in my entire career. Just the smell and taste alone is like a piece of my childhood. And I hear my mom's voice in my head as I read over her recipe and it makes me smile, every time. My mom and dad sent me an e- mail with her Japanese fried chicken recipe, and I draft it here with just about no modifications. This is exactly how she developed it -- and it's perfect. Domo arigato, mom!

Serves 4

(DF LS)

Ingredients

2 pounds fresh boneless, skinless chicken thighs (trim off excess fat)

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 to 5 cups coconut oil

Mom's shoyu mix

½ cup shoyu (reduced- sodium tamari soy sauce)

2 fresh garlic cloves, grated

2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Directions

1. Make mom's shoyu mix: In a medium bowl, whisk together the shoyu, garlic, ginger and sesame seeds until well combined. Place the chicken in a small airtight container and pour mom's shoyu mix over the chicken. Seal the container and marinate the chicken for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator, turning chicken as needed about 15 minutes in.

2. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any excess liquid, and transfer to a plate.

3. Place the all-purpose flour on a small, clean baking sheet and coat each piece of chicken with flour, shaking off any excess.

4. In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to simmer. Reduce the heat to medium; do not let the oil smoke. Cover a second small sheet pan with three layers of paper towels. Place next to the stove.

5. Carefully place the flour-coated chicken into the hot oil. (Mom's tip: don't put too much chicken in at once as it will cause the temperature of the oil to drop sharply.) Cook both sides of the chicken in the oil until a beautiful brown color develops, and the chicken is cooked through.

6. Carefully remove the chicken with tongs or a large slotted spoon, and transfer to the paper towel-lined sheet to drain excess oil.

7. Let cool down slightly, and get ready to enjoy the best chicken ever.

Fun facts: shoyu = soy sauce; tori = chicken; karaage = Japanese fried chicken

Creamy butternut squash and shells

Once you make this there's no turning back: your new go-to mac and cheese recipe. With creamy, velvety butternut squash and decadent, rich coconut milk, there's a new way to indulge in mac and cheese! I love using shells or penne in my mac and cheese, but feel free to use elbow macaroni or whatever pasta you'd like-you could also swap in whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta.

Serves 8

(V LS DF)

Ingredients

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, and chopped into 1-inch cubes

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 sprigs fresh thyme

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¾ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

1½ cups canned light coconut milk

4 cups pasta shells or penne, cooked and drained (your choice, gluten-free or regular pasta!)

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons gruyère, parmesan, or nutritional yeast

Coconut oil or olive oil cooking spray, for the pan

Herbed bread-crumb topping

½ cup panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder

¼ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup finely chopped kale leaves

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Lightly coat a 9 x 13-inch pan with coconut oil or olive oil cooking spray.

3. In a large saucepan, combine the butternut squash, garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, nutmeg, salt, broth and coconut milk. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally and making sure that all the squash is submerged. Simmer until the butternut squash is fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.

4. Carefully place the squash mixture in a food processor or blender and purée until velvety smooth.

5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water, remove all excess liquid.

6. Spread out the pasta in the prepared pan, and pour the squash-coconut milk purée over the pasta. Gently fold in the ¼ cup cheese and mix well to combine, ensuring that all noodles are coated. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in preheated oven.

7. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until bubbly and cooked through.

8. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the topping.

9. Remove the mac and cheese from the oven, uncover, and sprinkle the top with the herbed bread-crumb topping, followed by a sprinkle of the remaining 2 tablespoons grated cheese or nutritional yeast.

10. Transfer to the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes until brown and bubbly. Remove, cool slightly, and serve!

Kale-mushroom gyoza

Once again, mom inspires us all. Her gyoza in my first cookbook, pretty delicious, was clearly the fan-favorite. Well, mom, I gave our prized family recipe a little bit of a change-up. With more shiitake mushrooms and chili flakes, and 80 percent lean ground pork, this recipe is sure to win over the whole table.

Serves 6 to 8 people as an appetizer or dinner, yields about 50 gyoza

(DF LS)

Ingredients

Gyoza

1 pound lean ground pork (80/20)

1 cup shiitake mushrooms, soaked overnight, stems removed, caps finely chopped; or 6 dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in boiling water 5 minutes, drained, and finely chopped

5 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

1 small yellow onion, very finely chopped

1 cup finely shredded lacinato kale leaves

4 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup reduced-sodium tamari soy sauce

1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

1 teaspoon organic white sugar or coconut sugar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

All-purpose flour

50 round gyoza skins (about half of a package)

2 tablespoons coconut oil, for pan frying

Dipping sauce

¼ cup reduced-sodium tamari soy sauce

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

½ scallion, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Directions

1. In a large bowl, using clean hands, combine the pork, mushrooms, scallions, onions, kale and garlic. Wash your hands.

2. In the large bowl of pork, add the soy sauce, chili flakes, sugar, and toasted sesame oil. Mix well to combine all flavors throughout the pork.

3. Sprinkle a clean work surface with a handful of flour. Place a small bowl of warm water next to your work area. Set out 10 wonton wrappers on the floured area and place 2 teaspoons of the gyoza filling in the center of each. Use your fingers to moisten the edges of the wrapper with water and then fold the wrapper over the filling (as if you were making a turnover) and press the edges together to seal. Set aside and repeat with the rest of the filling and wrappers.

4. Heat 1½ teaspoons of the coconut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add about 10 gyoza to the skillet, seam side up. (They should have some elbow room so you can flip them easily.) Cook until the bottoms are golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. When peeking under the gyoza to check the color, be gentle-they are fragile!

5. Add ¼ cup of water to the skillet to release the gyoza from the pan, lower the heat to medium, and cover. Cook until the wrappers are translucent, about 2 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and cook until the water has evaporated and the filling is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more, as needed.

7. When the gyoza are done, turn off the heat, remove the lid, and pour off the oil from the pan into a bowl. Set aside for the next batch. Place a large plate over the skillet (the plate should be larger than the skillet) and flip the pan over-the gyoza should effortlessly fall from the skillet onto the plate revealing their gorgeous golden-brown skins. Gyoza taste best when hot, so serve immediately with the dipping sauce as you cook up the next batch.

8. Cook 5 more batches, adding a tiny bit more oil as needed and ¼ cup water for each batch. Wipe out the skillet between batches if necessary.

To make your dipping sauce: In a small dish, whisk the soy sauce and vinegar together. Add the chili flakes and scallions. Serve up and dip! Itedakimasu!

Clean green tip: Gyoza, a traditional Japanese dumpling, is an absolute favorite in Japan. You'll find this delicious, juicy, and crisp staple appetizer/meal at every quality Japanese restaurant and household. Traditionally they are made with pork, but you can swap in beef, chicken, or shrimp, or even a soft cashew mix, if you prefer.

Roasted kabocha squash salad

This hearty, heartwarming salad is delish as a side dish or even as a full meal. It's also a great base recipe to experiment with-feel free to swap out the quinoa with another healthy grain, like farro, freekeh or barley. You can also swap out the kale for arugula, the apple for pear, or the pepitas for walnut or pecan pieces. Make it your own and get creative with your cooking!

Serves 6

(GF DF LS V)

Ingredients

1 kabocha squash, halved, quartered and thinly sliced into ½-inch moons

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 ½ cups cooked quinoa

2 cups curly kale leaves, tough stems removed, finely chopped

1 honeycrisp or fuji apple, cored and sliced into 3/4 -inch pieces

¼ cup raw pepitas

Apple cider vinaigrette

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinaigrette (see below)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

2. In a large bowl, toss the squash slices with the olive oil until well coated. Spread the squash out in an even layer across the baking sheet, making sure each piece is touching the surface of the pan to ensure even browning. Sprinkle with the sea salt.

3. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, then flip the squash and roast for another 20 minutes on the opposite sides. When the squash is fork-tender, remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

4. While the squash is roasting, make the salad: to a large bowl, add the apple cider vinaigrette, quinoa and kale and toss gently to coat. Add the slightly cooled squash, apple slices, and pepitas to finish. Toss well to coat and serve immediately at room temperature.

Apple cider vinaigrette

Unfiltered apple cider vinegar is so good for you in so many ways-from stimulating your circulation to clearing up breakouts. It is also adds a slightly sweet tang to any dressing. I love it paired with a bit of mustard and honey-delish.

Yields 3 ounces

(GF DF LS V)

Ingredients

¼ cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1 teaspoon manuka honey or maple syrup

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until well combined. Store the dressing in a resealable glass jar, in the fridge, for up to 2 weeks.

Vegan dark chocolate-avocado cake

This decadent, fudgy and dense cake quickly became "the favorite" out of all my vegan baking recipes. Perhaps it's the use of cocoa powder or delicious, creamy, and good-for-you avocados and coconut oil. Whatever the reasons (probably the chemical endorphins that are released after eating chocolate!), we all went mad for it. If you're making this cake for a special occasion, you can double the recipe and make a two- layer cake.

Serves 12; makes one 8- or 9-inch round cake

(GF DF V)

Ingredients

Coconut oil or olive oil cooking spray, for the cake pan

1¾ cups gluten-free flour (look for Bob's Red Mill brand)

1 cup almond meal

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and mashed until smooth

½ cup organic granulated sugar

1½ cups water

1/3 cup unrefined coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract

1 tablespoon raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Icing (if making a low-sugar cake, omit icing and lightly dust with cocoa powder)

5 cups confectioners' sugar

2 to 4 teaspoons almond or coconut milk

½ cup chocolate-hazelnut butter

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350°f. Cut a round parchment paper base for the bottom of the cake pan(s). Grease an 8- inch cake pan with coconut oil or olive oil spray, place the parchment paper round inside, and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a separate large bowl, combine the fully mashed avocado and granulated sugar. Slowly stir in the water, coconut oil, and vanilla extract.

4. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, stirring until the avocado is completely smooth. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the baking soda and apple cider vinegar and let them fizz. Add to the final cake batter. Batter will be thick.

5. Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan, then transfer to a plate or cake stand.

6. While the cake is baking, make the icing. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat together the confectioners' sugar, chocolate-hazelnut butter, and cocoa powder until smooth. Slowly add the almond milk and continue beating until combined.

7. When the cake is completely cool, spread the icing evenly across the top and sides using an offset spatula.

When baking with cocoa, remember this smart tip: Baking powder helps to retain flavanols otherwise lost in baking.

Matcha-pistachio chocolate truffles

With decadent dark chocolate, rich and earthy matcha powder, and heart-healthy pistachios, this is the perfect dessert for anyone looking for a feel-good-antioxidant boost. Pack these truffles for a little midday pick-me-up when you're craving something sweet!

Makes about 3 dozen truffles

(GF VEG)

Ingredients

3 cups premium dark chocolate chips (look for dairy-free, minimum 60 percent cacao)

½ cup heavy cream, at room temperature

1?3 cup pistachios, shelled and pulsed in a food processor to a fine meal

1 tablespoon matcha powder, plus 1 teaspoon for dusting

Directions

1. Line a pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large saucepan, bring 2 to 3 cups of water to a simmer. Create a warm water bath by placing a heatproof glass or stainless-steel bowl over the saucepan of simmering water. Add the chocolate chips and heavy cream to the bowl. Mix well with a spatula to combine as the chocolate melts.

3. Remove the bowl from the heat and transfer the chocolate mixture to a parchment paper-lined loaf pan or shallow bowl and cool completely to room temperature. Place into the fridge for 90 minutes to solidify.

4. Using a small melon baller, scoop out the truffle mixture and mold into 1-inch balls. If you don't have a melon baller, use your hands.

5. Fill a small bowl with the crushed pistachios, roll the truffles in the pistachios, pressing the nuts gently into the surface. Using a fine-mesh strainer or sifter, dust the truffles with the matcha powder.

6. Transfer the truffles to paper cupcake liners or a parchment paper-lined tin and refrigerate until ready to serve. I like to keep mine in my favorite tin -- thanks, Dean!

Clean green tip: cocoa is one of the richest sources of flavanols, which are plant compounds that help protect the heart. The more flavanols, the higher the percentage of cocoa and the more bitter the chocolate. Look for at least 60 percent cocoa content when purchasing cocoa or chocolate.

Hawaiian clean green smoothie

I go to my beloved Hawaii once a year. It is one of my favorite places on earth. This smoothie, made with coconut, mango, and banana, reminds me of some of my favorite fresh island flavors. Whenever possible, look for spirulina powder that is harvested in Hawaii! Aloha!

Serves 1; yields 10 ounces

(V GF)

Ingredients

¼ cup frozen mango chunks

¼ frozen banana

2 tablespoons fresh coconut pieces (can sub with unsweetened shredded coconut)

1 cup baby spinach

¾ cup coconut water

1 teaspoon spirulina powder

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Champagne sparklers

Ingredients & directions

1-2 bottles of champagne or your favorite sparkling wine

Gin fizz: Add a pinch of fresh grated ginger to each glass and pour sparkling wine or champagne over and serve

Pom sparkler: Add pomegranate seeds and a splash of pom juice to each glass of champagne and serve

Raspberry royale: Add a touch of crème de cassis and 1 cup fresh raspberries to your blender, blend until a smooth puree forms, neatly pour about 1-2 teaspoons of the puree into your guests champagne glasses, top off with bubbly, and fresh raspberries and toast!