It can be difficult to eat healthy this time of year. Especially here in the Northeast where we just made it through one of the coldest February’s on record. Heavier fatty foods like mac and cheese or meatloaf and mashed potatoes are often enticing while really fresh produce is harder and harder to find. We have to remind ourselves to “eat your vegetables” like our mothers always said, because the idea of a salad for lunch when it’s 5 degrees outside, just doesn’t cut it. Enter the Middle Eastern Vegetable Bake. This vegetable mélange is the solution to healthy eating and cold weather cravings – with a touch of warmth.
Warming one pot meals are a welcome site this time of year. After shoveling multiple inches of snow in the bone-chilling cold, coming home to a hot steaming bowl of chili could not be more comforting. Plus this chili is healthy (bonus!). I used turkey instead of beef for this lowfat version but the spices and an uncommon special ingredient round out the flavors of this dish to make it just as tasty as the beef version. The special ingredient is chocolate. Yes, chocolate. Not the sweet kind but unsweetened and no, you won’t taste it. It simply adds a deep rich flavor to the chili.
As the darkest and coldest part of the winter looms, the next three months or so are the most difficult to get through. There’s little to look forward to (the Super Bowl doesn’t quite do it for me) and spring seems so far away. This is when I remind myself that it’s stew and soup season. These hearty but often healthy dishes can be as comforting as a fire in a fireplace (which most of us don’t have in NYC) on a cold winter day. If this winter becomes anything like last years – and lets hope it doesn’t – stews and soups are like that forgiving friend that’s always there for you. The cook times can work around your schedule and often the longer a soup or stew sits, the better it tastes. An easy one pot meal that can be made in the slow cooker while you’re at work.
With the holidays behind us, we feel guilty about our episodes of gluttony. Though it may not last more than a week or two, we make New Years resolutions to exercise more and eat better. The gyms are packed and there’s that buzz about kale, quinoa, chia, and other healthy super foods. Since grapefruit is said to have properties that help reduce belly fat and we have all heard about the health benefits of avocado, I present you with this light Grapefruit, Avocado, and Fennel salad. A salad reminiscent of summer yet perfect for your post-holiday health kick, no matter how short it is.
You may be thinking that this healthy salad seems too modern to have any connection to my grandmother and the early American foodies. However, I actually found this recipe, in it’s most basic form (no fennel), in “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard. I’m not sure of its history before his cookbook but to me, this qualifies grapefruit and avocado salad as a classic.
Indian food is often my go to comfort food. When the warm intense spices fill the kitchen with the scents of cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds, I feel at home. I also don’t feel guilty after eating a big meal because most of what I make from this unique spicy cuisine, is healthy (unlike other comfort foods like mac and cheese and mashed potatoes that I also adore). Indian food isn’t usually considered diet friendly because Indian restaurants often use a lot of oil and cream. And the Samosa, arguably the most popular Indian dish/appetizer, is basically potatoes and vegetables fried in dough. But since the traditional spices are strong and flavorful, it’s easy to make tasty Indian dishes with very little fat – especially vegetables. This recipe for Curried Carrots and Peppers uses just a little oil, spices, lemon juice, and touch of sugar. It makes a flavorful side dish (or main dish if you are full from all of that holiday food).
Surprisingly, this recipe is from “The Art of Good Cooking.” It continues to amaze me how my grandmother managed to replicate and publish such ethnic recipes over 50 years ago, when so many side dishes still came from a can. Living in Harlem, she was surrounded by diversity and learned many of these recipes from friends or neighbors. This dish, titled “Oza’s Carrots and Peppers” in her book, is an example of that influence. An obvious question is, who’s Oza? The introduction to the recipe mentions that Oza was an Indian friend and neighbor. Not long ago, I heard from Oza’s son. He mentioned that Oza, now 92, still has fond memories of my grandmother and grandfather.
The only modifications I made to the original recipe is the amount of oil and curry powder (I believe curry powder was less potent in the 1960’s). I also prefer to make my own curry powder by using a combination of ground coriander, cumin, and turmeric (proportions below). The original recipe already had the fat, acid, and sweet components to make it the perfect party for your taste buds. As we fatten our bellies with baked goods and rich foods this holiday season, these spiced vegetables can provide a nice break for your body but still provide the comfort of the holiday season.
1/3 cup peanut oil
2 teaspoons brown or yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons curry powder (or 1 teaspoon each ground cumin and ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 carrots, thinly sliced
3 green bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Salt and Pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
In a deep saucepan, heat peanut oil until almost smoking. Add mustard seeds. Turn heat down and add cumin seeds, curry powder, and cayenne. Cook 2 minutes. Add sliced carrots and green peppers and stir into the spices. Cook until vegetables begin to change color but are still crisp. Stir in brown sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.