With the calendar page flipping to January comes the usual discussion of healthy eating and changes to make to one’s lifestyle for the new year. But there is often little talk of what healthy eating actually means.
For me, what I want to eat in January, a movement back to lighter and less rich food, stems directly from the overabundance of the holiday season. That return is not a penance for eating the cookies and chocolates of holiday parties, it is a welcome respite. Like the decadent feeling of staying in by yourself after an entire month of visiting with loved ones. I love them no less, and seeing them was the stuff of life, but I also like being alone eating a bowl of soup.
All that said, being a hermit, like eating a diet stripped entirely of its fat and good flavor, is a swing too far to the austere. And so to me, diets (and lifestyles) should be about balance. Striving to achieve equilibrium between what tastes good and what makes you feel good and that those things are not mutually exclusive.
Last summer a woman told me that she doesn’t really like vegetables and tacked on a polite, “but I bet I’d like them if you cooked them.” To which I responded, “just add some fat and salt, that’s all I do,” which she then claimed defeated the purpose of choking down the vegetables in the first place.
I disagree whole-heartedly. We need fat and salt in our diet, and vegetables need them to unlock many of the micronutrients held in their cells. And, no matter what: eating a plate of carrots roasted in a good amount of olive oil and salt is healthier than eating a cheeseburger. (And eating a plate of raw, undressed carrots will not satisfy me enough to not then simply eat the cheeseburger as well.)
The following two recipes illustrate my style of healthy eating—lots of vegetables with some fat to bind it all together.
Poaching salmon is one of my favorite winter treats. It feels decadent but light and pairs well with the vegetables still available locally this time of year. Poaching, simmering meat or vegetables in liquid, is also a way to cook with very little fat. The fundamentals of poaching are to use as little liquid as possible by just covering the fish. Add flavor into the cooking broth by adding aromatics and wine and a bit of fat either butter or olive oil. Lay the aromatics on the bottom of the pan to provide a barrier between the heat source and the delicate fish. And cook slightly less than you think by turning off the heat as soon as the first bubbles form.
Similarly, the dinners that make me feel the healthiest are those filled with raw vegetables dipped into a rich, fatty, flavorful sauce. In the summer that is usually a tuna or smoked trout mayonnaise drizzled over zucchini and tomatoes. In the winter it is bagna cauda, the Italian anchovy and butter sauce, ladled over storage carrots and roasted potatoes and lovely white endive that is at its finest this time of year. And if there are leftovers, bagna cauda makes a lovely warm dressing for lentils or wild rice.
But more than any set of recipes, deciding what healthy and happy means to you is the foundation for feeling good about your lifestyle and the choices that go into every New Year.
Poached Salmon with Celery Root, Pickled Beet Salad
Meyer lemons are a lovely thin-skinned lemon that is sweet enough to eat rind and all. Just remember to slice them thinly with a sharp knife and balance the acidity and the rawness of the rest of the veg with enough olive oil to make it feel satisfying.
If fish does not appeal to you, chicken breasts are a good substitution.
1 medium celery root
5 pickled beets
2 meyer lemons
1 orange, zested
1 bu parsley, roughly chopped
olive oil, salt and pepper
- Tip and tail the celery root and cut the rough skin from the sides either with a knife or vegetable peeler
- Cut the celery root into matchsticks or grate on the largest tooth of a box grater
- Cut the meyer lemons into thin quarter moons
- Cut the beets into a medium dice
- Just before serving combine the celery root, lemon, beets, orange zest and parsley
- Dress with olive oil, salt and pepper
- Taste and serve atop the salmon
1 side of salmon
1 onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 lemon, cut into wedges
5 sprigs thyme
2 C white wine (nothing fancy)
½ C butter or olive oil
water to just cover the fish
- Place the onion, celery, lemon and thyme in the bottom of the pot
- Lay the salmon, skin side down, on top of the aromatics
- Season the fish with several good pinches of salt
- Just before serving, add the wine, butter (or olive oil) and the water
- Heat the liquid until simmering
- After the first bubbles, turn off the heat and let the fish carry over in the warm poaching liquid, it is very difficult to over cook the fish if it is just resting in the warm liquid
- When ready to serve, lift the fish from the liquid, transfer to a serving platter (removing the skin if you like)
- Top the fish with the celery root salad and serve
Winter Vegetables with Bagna Cauda
Anchovies are full of omega 3 fatty acids, exactly the type of food that makes your body feel and perform better. Combined with the butter, olive oil and garlic, anchovies also dress up a plate of raw vegetables making them feel decadent and healthy. To make this vegetarian either remove the anchovies entirely or substitute 1 tablespoon of miso paste to add the rich bottom flavors.
6 anchovy filets
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 T butter
½ C olive oil
salt and pepper
Vegetables for Dipping
Carrots, cut into sticks
Endive or radicchio
Celery Root, cut into sticks
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Delicata Squash Chips
Anything else you want!
- In a medium saucepan, warm the butter
- Add the garlic and anchovies
- Turn the heat to low and let the garlic sweat in the fat
- With a spoon, smash and break up the anchovy
- Add the olive oil and let sit 5 minutes to combine
- Taste and add salt and pepper, it should be salty and peppery to balance the rawness of the vegetables
- Serve warm and reheat as needed