Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Restoration Hardware

I don't know about you, but my naughty food consumption goes through the roof during the holidays. Going as far back as Halloween (yup, that's where it all really begins) there's trick-or-treating loot in the office, then Thanksgiving feasting at home (and a plethora of leftovers), only to be overwhelmed by the goodies of Christmas dinner, not to mention the inevitable holiday cookies lurking around every corner. By the time the new year rolls around I've had just about enough of roasts, toasts and all manner of sweets. I'm not big on resolutions, but somewhere along the way my brain seems to naturally crave some sort of post-holiday detox. It's not always easy to make something healthful also feel satisfying and delicious, but I find that there are a few ingredients that can help fool the inner health critic in many of us, and those are usually a good place to start.

For me, avocado is a pretty standard food booby-trap—if it's got avocado on it, I want to eat it. The same goes for rice and shrimp and anything spicy or crunchy. Taking a step back and looking at how I could use some of these favorites to my advantage in making a healthier meal, I remembered ajiaco, a Colombian chicken soup made with a rich broth, three varieties of potatoes, cilantro and fresh corn. It's topped with avocado and sour cream, and one of my all-time favorite summer recipes. By replacing the out-of-season corn with brown rice and adding in some protein in the form of shrimp and turkey, it easily became a light winter soup. Topping the soup off with reduced-fat sour cream and luscious avocado, not to mention a generous sprinkle of cilantro gave what was essentially a light dish a decadent and delicious finish.

I admit that I made a few calculated choices in forming this dish so that even though the main components were relatively healthy, they definitely wouldn't taste that way. I started with low-sodium chicken broth but infused it with flavor by poaching the proteins in it. This meant I could avoid using oil (and sauteing altogether), impart flavor into the broth from both the shrimp and the turkey as they slowly poached, and make it nearly a one-pot dish. I also chose to use turkey because it has a stronger, deeper flavor than chicken, making my broth tastier and my stew heartier. I cooked the potatoes right in the broth so that any starch they released during cooking would slightly thicken the soup, giving it added body and infusing the potatoes with a richer flavor than they would get from just being boiled in salted water.

Those are just the tweaks that worked for me, but there are plenty of other directions to take this soup that are just as satisfying and still healthy. If you're a chili head, add some jalapeƱos or serranos for heat. Want a richer broth? Go Asian style and toss a little ginger, scallion and soy sauce into the broth and take out the potatoes completely. Maybe add some tofu instead (marinate it beforehand for even more flavor). Or, go Italian with a small can of diced tomatoes, cannellini beans and a pinch of dried oregano. The possibilities are endless, but I know that in my case, I'll be making versions of this soup over and over again, especially as cold and flu season approaches. I've already got a mean case of the sniffles, which means another version of this recipe is just around the corner.

Turkey and Shrimp Ajiaco 

7 cups low-sodium chicken stock
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound boneless, skinless turkey breast, chopped into 1 inch pieces
10-12 large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 avocado, peeled and diced
sour cream
cilantro, finely chopped
lime wedges
cracked black pepper

1. Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large soup pot. Add potatoes and cook 10-15 minutes or until completely cooked through but not falling apart. Remove potatoes from broth and set aside.

2. Reduce heat to a light simmer and add turkey to broth. Poach turkey in broth until just barely cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp to the broth and poach until pink and opaque (keep an eye on them—overcooked shrimp are the worst).

3. Add potatoes back to the pot to reheat. Taste broth for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Divide rice evenly among soup bowls and ladle the soup over it. Top with avocado, sour cream, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Enjoy!


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