This week's Top Chef centered around healthy eating and so I thought it may be useful to talk about some recipes. We all lead busy lives and often it becomes hard to eat something quick and tasty, while making sure it's good for us and filling too. Having good, wholesome food to reach for instead of the shrink-wrapped junk is key. Also, giving yourself a few guidelines to follow takes the guess work out of eating well. I've always been unable to stick to strange diets where I have to eat very specific things in a certain order. But I do try and follow a check list of healthy foods, and try to make sure to reach for those items as often as I can. That paired with regular exercise is a sound regimen that can be incorporated into one's life long term.
1. Lots of lean protein, like chicken, fish, lentils, egg whites and beans.
2. Starch in moderation, brown rice when possible, and no white bread. No starch after 6pm. The occasional potato is okay but not drowned in butter or sour cream, rather sauteed in olive oil.
3. Low fat dairy like yoghurt, milk, and cheese.
4. As many vegetables as I can squeeze in a day, in as many colors as I can get to; spinach, broccoli, squash, peppers, lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic and ginger and many tender herbs like mint, coriander, basil, or dill, especially thrown in to my salads; are all great.
5. Fruits, like pomegranate, green apples, red grapes, mixed berries and all kinds of melons, again in as many colors as possible. A banana once in a while and whole citrus fruits rather than just their juice are also key. Cranberry juice 1-2 a week.
6. Whole grains like really good cereal with flax seed, and dried fruits and nuts, here I like soy milk with it.
7. If not soy milk, then tofu and lots of unsweeetened coconut milk used in soups or curries, I have a need for coconut milk atleast 3-4 times a week. It has a rich taste and you can use the low fat kind with equally delicious results.
8. Green tea with honey and supplements only as and when needed.
9. The most important: 2-3 liters of water a day.
10. Also just as important: 8 hours of sleep or as much as I can get.
Things to avoid:
1. Sugar, especially refined sugar.
2. Fried foods, especially things fried in butter, or lard. Substitute baked chips for something crunchy instead of regular chips or fries.
3. Avoid excessive amounts of red meat, a steak once a week is okay but not with a heavy side dish of starches. A portion of 4 ounces of sliced steak over salad greens would be better.
4. Things that are rich with cream, like sour cream, ice creams and puddings, or butter -- like cookies and other desserts. Opt for sorbets instead.
5. Avoid overly sauced dishes with thick gravies, especially if you don't know what's in them.
6. Stay away from creamy salad dressings too, keep it simple with a bit of olive oil and lemon or balsamic vinegar.
7. Don't eat three huge meals but smaller meals, with two snacks in between. Try to eat something every four hours even if it's just a handful of almonds or raisins.
8. Always pick the lighter option on the menu when you can't decide between options of what to eat.
9. Don't keep what isn't good for you in the house.
10. Most importantly, let yourself have a few treats and sinful pleasures once a week, preferrably as a reward for eating healthy and well the rest of the week. It'll be easier to resist the bad stuff if you don't feel deprived all the time. The more you eat, the more exercise you must do, so every time you splurge, pay for the extra calories by running, walking, biking, boxing, jumping rope or even just dancing in your pajamas at home for an hour.
I'm including three low fat recipes from my book Easy Exotic. It's designed for people with little time to cook so the recipes are very basic and simple. I recently made the Tandoori Chicken Salad on the Martha Stewart show, and I think it's a great one to make when guests are coming to lunch or dinner. The carrot soup is great to go with it as a complete meal. And the chick peas are great as an appetizer or in whole wheat pitas for taking to work for lunch.
Chick-Peas and Spinach Tapas
This can be served as a snack, or stuffed into pita pockets. I think it's great not only because of its savory, lemony taste but because it's a high protein/low fat option and it's vegetarian to boot. It'll keep in the fridge for a couple of days as well so you can make up a large batch to have on stand by. You can also substitute white cannellini beans for an equally successful variation.
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 8 to 10 minutes (for spinach) - 10 ounces fresh spinach leaves, rinsed, or one 10-ounce package frozen leaf spinach - 19-ounce can (2 cups) chick-peas, drained and rinsed - 1 red bell pepper, finely diced - 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives - Juice of 1 to 2 lemons, or to taste - 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil - salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 1. If using fresh spinach: Cook the spinach in a saucepan with the water clinging to its leaves, stirring, until wilted. Drain, squeeze dry, and finely chop. If using frozen spinach, follow package directions, drain, squeeze dry, and finely chop. 2. In a bowl combine the spinach with the chick peas, pepper, chives, lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper. Serve as is or chilled with toasted bread or as a filling for pita pockets. Serves 4.
Creme de Carotte (Carrot Soup)
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes - 5 large (about 1 1/2 pounds) carrots, sliced - 1 potato, sliced - 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger - 4 cups water - 4 cups chicken chicken stock - salt to taste - 2 to 3 tablespoons snipped fresh dill - nonfat plain yogurt as a garnish, if desired 1. In a large saucepan or casserole set over moderately high heat combine the carrots, potato, ginger, water, chicken stock, and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or just until carrots are tender. Do not overcook the carrots. 2. In a food processor or blender puree the soup in batches and return to pan. Reheat until hot, stir in the dill, and garnish with a dollop of yogurt. Makes 8 cups, serving 4 to 6.
Bali Baked Fish
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes - 2 pounds red snapper fillets - salt and freshly ground pepper to taste - 1 onion, quartered - 3 garlic cloves, chopped - 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger - 1 tablespoon tamarind paste* - 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil - 1 teaspoon ground cumin - 2 tablespoons water - Fresh lemon juice to taste - 3 tablespoons minced fresh mint 1. Preheat the oven to 350Ã‹Å¡F. 2. Pat dry the fish fillets, season with salt and pepper, and arrange in a shallow baking dish. 3. In a blender or food processor combine the onion, garlic, gingerroot, tamarind paste, sesame oil, cumin, salt to taste, and 2 tablespoons water, another pinch of salt and blend until smooth. Pour mixture over fish, coating both sides. 4. Bake fish, covered with foil, in the oven for 20 minutes, or until it flakes easily with a fork. 5. Transfer fillets to serving dish, drizzle with lemon juice. Garnish with mint. Can be served with vegetables or over a bed steamed jasmine rice. Serves 4 to 6. *Tamarind paste is available at specialty or Asian food shops.