For Passover, we thoroughly cleaned out our cabinets and refrigerators. Now, as we finish putting back all the chametz foods, we can look at what we have and take stock of our eating habits.
Does your cupboard have boxes and boxes of processed foods? Are there many boxes of rice pilafs and mac and cheese and other kinds of ready-to-make foods that, supposedly, make our lives easier? Well, maybe they do — but at what price?
At the very best, these foods are quickly prepared and taste OK. They are the go-to for a quick side dish for that leftover chicken or a quick vacation week lunch or part of a lunch-to-go for the office. At worst, they are loaded with chemicals and preservatives and too much salt, sugar and fat.
I’m not lecturing here, I am as guilty as anyone of using these foods and, for a while, I even relied on them for my children. Oy! But that was before I actively educated myself on health and nutrition. I decided if I was going to write about food, I was not going to contribute (too much) to the health issues in America that come from the approximately 15,000 new processed foods that hit shelves every year.
Iwas raised by a mother who served a salad at every dinner. She served vegetables also, often canned, sometimes frozen, and, in season, fresh. But she also fried a lot of foods (her homemade French fries were outstanding!) and came to rely on the newest processed foods. Like many women of her time, she knew little about nutrition; she thought margarine was more nutritious than butter. She followed the latest food trends and marveled at things like Cool Whip, canned anything and more. I once placed six or seven cans of food on the table and told her I was making dinner!
I followed suit to some degree, buying canned and boxed foods and telling myself they were better because they were organic. But, I soon began to realize that they were not healthful foods. So I read nutrition books, consulted nutritionists (my closest friend has a PhD in nutrition) and read all kinds of vegetarian, Ayurvedic and vegan cookbooks. It helped. I tossed canned things and boxed things and discovered that I was giving up tons of salt, sugar, and unhealthful fats and lots of chemicals.
It took a while to adjust, but my kids were healthier and I felt better about what I was giving them. I’m not a vegetarian, though I eat and cook with a lot of vegetables. I am not vegan, though I like to use vegan-friendly foods as much as possible. I avoid adding salt to most of the foods I cook — guests can add as much as they like — because I like the taste of the vegetables that I use and the herbs that infuse these vegetables with color, health and flavor. But I think I am better off for not using these convenience foods.
Yes, I still love chocolate and mocha chip ice cream and a French fry every so often. And it’s hard to pass up a really good potato chip. But I have cleaned out my cabinets for spring and it feels good.
(If you would like to learn more about the added salt, sugar and fat in processed foods, read “Salt, Sugar and Fat” by Michael Moss.)
Salad with Leftover Chicken or Salmon or More (Pareve, Meat)
This is a delicious and highly nutritious salad that uses up leftover salmon, chicken, steak or can even be made with canned tuna.
2 (15-ounce) cans Cannelini or Navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch arugula
1 head radicchio, roughly chopped
1 hear romaine, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 to 2 carrots, shredded
6 radishes, shredded or sliced
2 to 3 stalks celery sliced diagonally and thinly
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
Leftover slices of chicken or steak or pieces of salmon
Parsley and Chive Vinaigrette or your favorite salad dressing
Place the arugula, romaine and radicchio in a large bowl and toss with the Parsley Vinaigrette dressing or your favorite dressing. Place on a serving platter.
Place the beans in the bowl and add the carrots, radishes, and celery. Add more dressing, toss and pour over the center of the greens. Garnish with cucumber and tomatoes around the beans and top with the chicken, meat or salmon. Serves 4 to 6.
Parsley and Chive Vinaigrette (Pareve)
2 cups packed, flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup minced fresh chives
1 garlic clove
4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. white wine or champagne vinegar
Pinch salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
Place garlic in a food processor and pulse. Add the parsley and chives and pulse 2-3 times. Add the lemon juice and vinegar and pulse to blend. Add the oils and pulse until emulsified. If too thick, add a bit of water. Add the sugar, salt and pepper, pulse 1-2 times and scrape into a container with a tight fitting lid. Makes about 1-1/3 cups.
Mostly Baked Cauliflower Latkes (Dairy)
1 head cauliflower
1 large onion finely minced and drained
1/2 to 2/3 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup panko or whole wheat panko
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 cup finely minced fresh parsley
1 to 2 Tbsp. finely minced dill
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil. Set aside.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and add them to the water. Cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain completely in a strainer in batches and press gently to remove excess water. Place on paper towel lined plates to drain further.
Transfer the florets to a large bowl and mash coarsely with a potato masher. Add the onion, cheese, panko, cayenne, herbs and pepper. Mix well and form into 3-inch patties. If they feel too wet, add a bit more of the panko crumbs.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add just enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom. Place the patties in the pan, leaving a generous amount of room for turning. Cook until they are deep golden brown, 3 minutes. Turn carefully and cook the second side until golden, 2 to 3 minutes.
Place on the prepared rimmed baking sheet. Repeat until all the mixture is used and then place in the oven. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with plain yogurt or sour cream. Garnish with fresh dill and parsley. Makes about 12 to 18 latkes.
Simple Chicken and Rice in One Pan (Meat)
1 chicken cut into 8 pieces, breasts cut in half or 6 to 8 chicken pieces
3 to 5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 to 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, very thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups long grain white or basmati rice
1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1-1/2 cups water
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt, if desired
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Heat a large skillet and add the olive oil. Sauté the onions and garlic until lightly golden, 6 to 10 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook another 4 to 5 minutes, until softened. Pour into a large roasting pan. Add the rice and stir to mix. Spread evenly. Place the chicken pieces on top and season with the oregano, onion and garlic powders, paprika, salt and pepper. Pour the stock and water evenly around the chicken and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and check to make sure there is still plenty of liquid. Add more if needed. Place back in the oven and roast for another 20 minutes, until the chicken is golden. Serves 4 to 6.