Gone are the hams and turkeys and prime ribs. Forgotten are the mashed potatoes. Cast aside are the cakes, pies, and candy canes.
It's time to get serious about losing some weight. Or at least the weight we have put on over the last several weeks.
Food was everywhere over the holidays, and it was hard not to indulge at least a little bit. If you didn't have those cookies, everyone would have thought you were a Scrooge. Or a Grinch. Or a humbug.
So today, for many of us (though not all), is the day to say hello to the new year and farewell to a few extra pounds from last year.
Exercise helps, of course. But so does sensible eating.
Fortunately, sensible eating does not have to mean unpleasant eating. So turn away from those fad diets (all cabbage, all grapefruit, all protein) and embrace foods that are as low in calories as they are high in flavor. That means fish, seafood, turkey, and chicken, especially the breast. Pork tenderloin is also a healthy choice.
Stay away, also, from excessive fat — but remember that a little bit of fat is necessary to be healthy. Fried foods are likely to make you heavier, and so (alas) is cheese. And desserts? Other than an occasional splurge, maybe you should think about a nice piece of fruit.
Splurges taste best when they are infrequent, anyway.
To try to work through the holiday bulge, we set out to make dishes that delicious anytime but also just happen to help you become slimmer.
Shrimp is one of the best sources of low-cal protein (though its level of cholesterol is quite high), and it is among the tastiest. If you don't fry it or drown it in oil, almost any way you make it is going to be good for you.
One exception is shrimp creole, which begins with a high-cal roux. But shrimp creole is so good, we decided to make a healthy version, without the roux. Naturally, we turned to New Orleans chef John Besh who, as it turns out, has his own roux-less recipe.
His version is sweet and spicy, with Vietnamese flavors and sugar added at the end if the taste is too tart. But fresh lemongrass can be hard to find in Toledo (and fresh mint too, out of season), and we're trying to avoid the calories of sugar, so we took his recipe and nudged it into a different direction. Because ginger is a natural pairing with shrimp and it goes so well with tomatoes and garlic, two of the primary flavors of his sauce, we made a ginger shrimp creole.
Perfection the first time out. It instantly joined our rotation of things to to make for dinner when we can't think of anything else — in other words, dishes we love to make and eat.
Next, we tried some salmon, because it looked so great at the store. Though it had previously been frozen, it was caught in the wild, which means it had none of the excessive fat (and calories) of farm-raised salmon. Farm-raised salmon has as many calories per ounce as beef tenderloin.
Wanting to add as little extra fat to the salmon as possible, yet retain its delicate flaky texture, we decided to poach it. Salmon takes particularly well to Asian ingredients, so we loaded up the poaching liquid — French chefs would call it the court bouillon — with a tasting tour of Asia: soy sauce, green onion, cooking onion, ginger, garlic, and a hint of sesame oil. If we'd had any lemongrass, that would have gone in, too.
We simmered the fillet for just a few minutes, served it with rice, and gave it a try. It was almost there, but it needed one last boost of flavor from a sauce.
Not a problem. Keeping the low-cal goal in mind, we just splashed it with more soy sauce and added a sprinkling of sliced green onions. The result? Simple, full-bodied goodness.
After cooking the seafood, we decided to try poultry. We bought some ground turkey and ground chicken, avoiding the calorie-laden skins of each and the dark meat of the chicken.
By itself, ground poultry is bland and simply cooking it like a hamburger yields little more than a mouth full of texture. The trick is to load it up with plenty of ingredients that bring out the hidden flavor of the chicken or turkey.
Another favorite trick is to cook it in flavored tomatoes and serve it over rice — essentially, it's chicken creole. Since we had already made a creole dish, we decided to make the burgers.
We have long loved Sriracha, that bright-red hot sauce based on a traditional sauce from Thailand, and we have been known to put it on pretty much anything we eat. It is among our favorite condiments for both chicken and burgers, so we thought: Why not mix it into ground chicken to make a spicy chicken burger?
A little bit of green onion for flavor, soy sauce for seasoning, and panko bread crumbs and egg for binding, and the result, we thought, was awfully good (we adapted a recipe from a blogger who adapted a recipe from a Martha Stewart magazine).
For the turkey burgers, we decided to play up the affinity poultry has for curry powder. The only problem is that curry powder has a raw taste unless it is cooked for longer than it takes to cook a turkey burger. So we (cleverly, we thought) first simmered it in chicken stock, adding ginger, garlic, and green onions. We then blended this spicy, reduced liquid — the house smelled wonderful, but we like the smell of curry — into the ground turkey. We formed them into patties, pan-fried them (technically) in a nonstick pan coated with nonstick spray, and dug in.
They're low-calorie, sure. But high-flavor all the way.
Contact Daniel Neman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.
Ginger Shrimp Creole
1 cup rice
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small stalk celery, diced
1/2 bell pepper, cut into small dice
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon allspice (2 pinches)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
Cook the rice according to instructions. While it cooks, make the rest of the dish:
Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a deep skillet over moderate heat. Add the shrimp, stirring and tossing, just until they curl and turn pink (about 2 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp). Remove shrimp from pan with slotted spoon, and set aside while you make the sauce.
In the same skillet with the oil and shrimp juices, add the ginger, onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper, and more olive oil, if necessary. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium low, and when the sauce comes to a simmer add the bay leaf, allspice, and red pepper flakes. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the shrimp back to the skillet along with the basil. Cook for a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaf, and serve over rice.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Source: Adapted from My New Orleans; The Cookbook, by John Besh
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 green onion cut in 1-inch slices, plus 1 green onion sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
5 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger
1 pound salmon fillet, preferably wild-caught
Pour enough water to cover the salmon in a skillet, and add onion, green onion, garlic, sesame oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and ginger slices. Heat to simmering. Add salmon and adjust heat until it continues a light simmer. Cook until salmon is opaque and flaky, about 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
Yield: 2-4 servings
Curry-Spiced Turkey Burgers
1/2 cup chicken stock
2-3 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green onion, sliced thin
1 pound ground turkey
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small saucepan, combine chicken stock, curry, ginger, garlic, and green onion, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Allow to cool enough so you can touch it.
Put turkey in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper (remember that the chicken stock may have salt in it). Add the fragrant, reduced stock and completely incorporate it into the turkey with your hands. Form into 4 patties.
Wash your hands. You have been handling raw poultry.
Liberally coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium-high. Add patties and cook until done, about 5 minutes on each side.
Yield: 4 servings
Sriracha Chicken Burgers
1 pound ground chicken
2 green onions, sliced thin
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce, or to taste (see cook's note)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
Cook's note: This makes a highly spiced burger. If you want less spice, use 1-2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Liberally coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium-high. Add patties and cook until done, about 5 minutes on each side.
Yield: 4 servings
Source: Adapted from youmissarenolady.com, which adapted it from Everyday Living