Thursday, April 8, 2010
The weather here in New York has taken a turn for the gorgeous, prompting us to start eating a little lighter and healthier at my house. For me the secret to eating lighter doesn't lie in eating less, eating cardboard, or over-seasoning, but rather in mixing up proteins, eating lots of veggies, keeping carbs to a minimum, and throwing in legumes as often as possible for an extra helping of heart healthy protein. People often ask me how I come up with different meals every night and I find that the key to cooking healthier and more balanced meals (whether it's for one or a whole family) is variety. Starting with the protein, make sure you have a different one every night, and keep those that are higher in saturated fats (like red meats) to only once a week. Fish is not only less fatty than other proteins, but has more health benefits, so salmon and other omega-3 rich fish are a great option. When it comes to chicken, pork, veal and other proteins, look for healthier options to the greasy things you love, like crusting chicken in mustard and crushed nuts and baking it instead of dredging it in bread and frying. Try breakfast for dinner and bring eggs into the equation as a viable protein option--veggie frittatas and baked eggs are good for you and make a great vehicle for almost any vegetable. Trust me, there are alternatives to almost everything you love, so there's no need to eat salads every night.
Vegetables are of course always okay, but try to roast whatever you can, and remember that when it comes to eating healthy, the oven is your best friend. It requires significantly less oil than stove-top cooking, so you won't be tempted to fry up those brussels sprouts with bacon or douse that squash in butter. You'll get plenty of flavor from browning and heaps of wonderful crunch, to boot. But the oven isn't just good for veggies--it's great for proteins. Whether you're roasting a whole chicken, lean cut pork chops or a great piece of fish, it's a time saver that can help one easily multi-task. After all, if you're constantly eying a frying pan, you can't be dressing a salad or chopping vegetables. But, if you have 15 minutes of distraction-free time, you can make better decisions about what you're cooking and how you're cooking it.
For my first act of decidedly healthy but delicious cooking, I went for a twist on a French classic: salmon and lentils. Even though we're at the tail end of citrus season, lemons, limes and blood oranges still abound and they're a key player in making food (especially healthier food) flavorful and complex. Fish and citrus are the ultimate flavor friends and using every part of the fruit is a must--zest, juice and everything. I zested lemons, limes and oranges to create a citrus-scented salmon that was steamed in the oven in a parchment paper pouch (also known as "en cartouche" or "en papillote"). The juice of all three fruits went in as well, ultimately thickening into a wonderful bit of sauce. I topped the whole thing with a little cilantro and a few lemon slices and tossed the pouches in the oven for 10 minutes. In the meantime, I was able to start everything I needed for my warm lentil salad. I'd started them a-boiling while I zested the citrus and sliced the fish, so while it all cooked in the oven I chopped scallions and whisked together the dressing. The whole meal is really simple, flavorful and elegant. It was easy to make and used only a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil per piece of fish, and three teaspoons for the vinaigrette (I happen to prefer lentils on the tart side). So give this dish a try and then work on your own tasty, healthy treats. Of course, leave some room for indulgences, but remember that ultimately, it's all about moderation.
Citrus-Scented Salmon with Warm Lentil Salad
2 boneless salmon filets, about 6 oz each
1 lemon, zested, then halved
1 lime, zested, then halved
1 orange, zested, then halved
2 Tbsp cilantro, divided, finely chopped
1 cup French green lentils
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
5 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
freshly ground pepper
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add lentils. Cook until soft but still slightly firm in the center, about 20-25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cut two large pieces of parchment into a heart shape and place one piece of salmon on the right half of each heart.
3. Squeeze about a tablespoon each of lemon, lime, and orange juice over the salmon and season with salt, pepper and the lemon, lime and orange zest. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp cilantro over salmon (reserving the other tablespoon for the lentils) along with one teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil per fillet.
4. Fold empty parchment half over the salmon. Starting at the top of the heart, crimp edges with small, overlapping folds to seal package tightly. If you can't secure the end closed tight enough, use a paperclip. Place packets on a baking sheet and then into the oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on how you like your salmon (I like a 10-12 minute salmon, which is about medium).
5. While the salmon cooks, drain the lentils and whisk together the mustard, olive oil, vinegar and the remaining cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the lentils, tossing to combine. Add green onions and toss to combine.
6. When the salmon is done, remove it from the oven and serve still in its paper container, or remove to a plate along with any accumulated juices. Serve with warm lentil salad and enjoy!