Are you one of the 67 percent of Americans who, according to one recent survey, greeted the new year with food-related resolutions?
Whatever your answer, its hard to ignore the push for healthier eating thats dominating food news. The message is clear: We should eat more vegetables, less meat and fewer processed foods.
Meat eaters, relax. You dont have to swear off your favorite meals, but youll want to learn how to build a dinner plate with vegetables at the center instead of on the side. Here are some strategies you can handle:
Pack your pastas or rice dishes or alternative pizzas with vegetables and/or beans. Roasted peppers and onions tossed with a few cups of cooked penne might help convince you. What about orzo combined with a medley of root vegetables and shredded Brussels sprouts? Or how about primavera, that Americanized Italian tradition of mixing spring vegetables with starches? You can blend your favorite diced vegetables into a rice pilaf.
You also can kick off your new virtuous-eating plan by using whole-wheat pizza dough as the basis for creating flatbreads (trending now in restaurants). Steam or sauté your favorite vegetables, all cut into bite-size pieces, then deepen the flavor with sautéed garlic, browned onions or roasted peppers. Top small, rolled-out pizza dough circles or ovals. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, and season with pepper and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Bake until beautiful. Youll hardly miss the meat or gobs of melted cheese on a pizza.
Transform your favorite dishes. Shepherds pie is perfect cold-weather fare, but its not something that registers in the healthful range. So top it with a mash of sweet potatoes instead. Make a filling out of curried chickpeas. If thats not your thing, what about a version with a cabbage and cannellini bean filling? You might even sneak in a little pancetta to bump up the savory-salty quotient.
Look to old favorites that happen not to have (much) meat. One example: potato salads. Cubed, cooked potatoes can become a great lunch entrée when you add cooked kasha (buckwheat) and onions, or chickpeas and lemon zest. Toss with a flavorful vinaigrette.
And dont forget the stir-fry, a classic vegetarian main course. Its a method just about every vegetarian cook learns. You can stick with the ginger-soy-sesame trio of greatness or expand into Thai peanut sauces and Vietnamese lemon-grass-infused choices; the seasoning is up to you. Be sure to include something substantial, such as thick slices of mushrooms or small cubes of tofu. If youre adding meat, a minimal amount of lean ground pork or chicken can go a long way.
Ive provided a handful of new recipes to get you started. Work them into your repertoire this month, and who knows? In time, you might find that your dinners are not only healthier but also a lot more delicious.
Spinach and Feta Bowties
The spirit of spanakopita, Greek spinach-filled pies, is captured in this quick pasta dish with spinach, garlic, dill and feta. It tastes great the next day as cold leftovers.
For vegetarians: This is a one-dish meal; to bulk up the protein, add cooked chickpeas to the dish.
For non-vegetarians: Add slices of boneless, skinless grilled lemon chicken breast.
8 ounces dried bowtie pasta (farfalle)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
12 ounces baby spinach, rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped (fresh) dill
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
3 ounces ( 3/4 cup) finely crumbled feta cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain.
Meanwhile, prepare the spinach: Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once or twice, so the garlic is soft but not browned. Add the spinach, in batches if necessary, to the pan. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, just until the spinach wilts. Uncover and increase the heat as needed to cook off/evaporate any accumulated liquid in the sauté pan.
Transfer the spinach mixture to a large bowl along with the drained bowties, dill, lemon zest and feta cheese. Toss to incorporate, then season with pepper to taste.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition per serving: 320 calories, 13 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 380 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar
Cauliflower and Roasted Red Pepper Flatbreads
To make things easy, use the prepared pizza dough sold in many stores. If you make the dough yourself, use a 50-50 blend of white and whole-wheat flours in your favorite pizza dough recipe.
For vegetarians: Serve alongside a salad with white beans and balsamic vinaigrette.
For non-vegetarians: Serve with grilled sausages, grilled balsamic-marinated chicken breast or herb-crusted pork chops.
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
Flour, for work surface
1 1/2 pounds homemade or store-bought whole-wheat pizza dough (see headnote)
4 ounces cauliflower florets, cut or broken into 1/2 -inch slices, steamed until tender
1 homemade or store-bought roasted red bell pepper, drained, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 -inch dice
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring a few times and adjusting the heat as needed so the garlic softens and becomes fragrant but does not brown.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
Lightly flour a work surface. Place the dough on that surface and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Cover with a clean dish towel.
Working with one at a time, roll each piece into a 5-to-6-inch oval or circle and transfer to one of the lined baking sheets. Repeat until youve filled the sheets; you should be able to fit four comfortably on a baking sheet. Brush the surface of each portion of dough with the garlicky oil, being sure to divide the chopped garlic evenly, then top each portion with some of the cauliflower and some of the diced bell pepper (using all of those ingredients); the toppings should not cover the flatbreads completely. Scatter 1 teaspoon of the Parmesan cheese over each portion of dough, then season with the black pepper to taste and a light sprinkling of the salt (to taste).
Bake one sheet of flatbreads at a time on the middle oven rack for 8 to 10 minutes or until the crust has browned lightly around the 12 (5-to-6-inch) flatbreads
Nutrition per flatbread: 170 calories, 5 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 320 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 0 grams sugar
Bok Choy and Oyster Mushroom Stir-Fry
Oyster mushrooms are particularly delicious and satisfying. They grow like clusters of thick, oyster-shaped leaves. Here they are paired with baby bok choy, which has a slightly bitter taste that works well with mushrooms, ginger and hoisin sauce.
Dont skip the extra step of steaming the bok choy, which will ensure that the vegetable is cooked just right.
For vegetarians: Serve over thick slices of lightly breaded and fried tofu, with steamed rice or mixed with lo mein noodles.
For non-vegetarians: Serve with hoisin glazed-grilled steak or chicken.
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 -inch piece peeled ginger root, finely grated
1 tablespoon bourbon (may substitute whiskey or brandy)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 pounds baby or small bok choy, cored, then separated into ribs and well rinsed; each rib cut crosswise into 3 or 4 pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 to 9 scallions, white and light-green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices ( 1/2 cup)
12 ounces oyster mushrooms, stemmed (see headnote)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons toasted/roasted sesame seeds, for garnish (see note)
Whisk together the hoisin, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, bourbon, sugar and 1 cup of the water in a medium bowl.
Steam the bok choy for 3 minutes in a steamer or steam basket placed over a pot of boiling water; you might need to do this in batches. As the bok choy is done, transfer it to a plate or piece of aluminum foil.
Heat the olive oil in a large wok, shallow braising pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallions; cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the mushrooms. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, tossing every minute or so, until the mushrooms have softened and slightly browned.
Add the steamed bok choy and the hoisin-soy sauce seasoning liquid, tossing to coat evenly.
Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of water with the cornstarch in a measuring cup, stirring until the cornstarch dissolves, then add to the wok, pan or skillet. Allow the liquid to come to a boil, and stir until the liquid has thickened.
Serve warm, topped with the toasted sesame seeds. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: To toast sesame seeds, spread them in a small, dry skillet; cook over low heat for 5 minutes, shaking the skillet so the seeds brown evenly.
Nutrition per serving (based on six): 110 calories, 4 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 350 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 4 grams sugar