Considering we are only four days into the month where treadmills are king and that extra hour in the gym trumps happy hour bar none, I dare not come to you with anything that might derail your whoooole four days of willpower. No, you see that just would not be fair, for me to sit here heralding a fancy cake or juicy burger when your quads are still quivering from that step class and your arms feel heavier than the dumbbells themselves after eeking out those extra reps. I’m nicer than that. I’ll hold off.
At least till next week.
Baa! I know I’m not the only one that swore after all of the champagne and holiday indulgence (up to and including that slice of pepperoni pizza I scarfed down in the wee morning hours of New Years Day) that as soon as the year flipped from ‘eleven’ to ‘twelve’ I’d be back on track in the food consumption department. You are all torturing yourselves right now, aren’t you? Swearing up and down that your snacks will consist of sliced fruit and seventeen almonds instead of last weeks totally permissible extra nibble of (extra delicious) peppermint bark? Le sigh.
It truly is a shame that ‘eating healthy’ conjures up sad images of plates of cold undressed lettuce, washed out steamed vegetables, and shoe-leathery grilled chicken breasts. I’m the first to admit that the easiest way to make anything taste better is to add a bit of butter, some cream, or, I don’t know, duck fat – but beyond all those things that make my heart pitter-patter, for the most part I don’t use them nearly as much as this little blog might let on. Apart from having a penchant for skinny jeans and a summertime bikini, I always try to balance out all of our indulgent meals with others that are well balanced and — deep breath– meat free.
We eat vegetarian quite a bit around here, breaking up our days with some meals that are intentionally devoid of any animal protein. Though eating meat alone does not in itself constitute an unhealthy or rich meal, most of the time I find that not eating it on a daily basis gives my digestive system a break and me an opportunity to get creative with vegetables, grains, and legumes. For most of my life, I’ve taken a bit of a ‘flexitarian’ approach – that is, no meat at breakfast (save for the occasional helping of fried chicken and waffles at brunch), very limited (if any) with my lunch, and in the past few years I’ve taken to two to three dinners a week forgoing any at all.
Though the ‘V’ word might strike fear in the hearts of beefy boyfriends, hungry husbands, and finicky families alike, with a bit of creativity sneaking a few meat-free mains under the noses of a decidedly omnivorous bunch is not nearly as difficult – or miserable – as it sounds. The trick is to go beyond that tiresome stereotypical steamed veggies and salad route, and put as much time and effort into the meal as one would if it focused around meat. My favorite tool for doing so is the book ‘Plenty’ by London’s Yotam Ottolenghi - a wonderful man who is seriously becoming the marsh to my mallow when it comes to vegetarian cooking.
Apart from it’s delicious photographs (there is one for nearly every recipe in the book might I add), the recipes are well thought out, interesting, and many of the flavor combinations are ones I never would have thought of on my own. The first recipe I tried from the book, these leek fritters with herbed yogurt sauce, were a huge – no, massive – success. They took about 45 minutes to make from start to finish, including the prep, chopping, and cook time – not a drop in the bucket considering there was no meat to brown or internal temp to monitor – and they were worth every second.
Fluffy warm insides, gently spiced, crispy edges – these cakes were impossibly light in texture yet still filling and satisfying. The combination of the spices gives this a warm, faintly Middle Eastern flavor, and the cool yogurt sauce is so delicious I ate the leftovers the following morning drizzled over an omelet. Served with a side salad, over a bit of quinoa, topped with a fried fresh egg, or just straight up, they make an excellent supper and are such a fun departure from the norm. Even if you aren’t into the meatless thing or are just looking for an interesting side to a meat-centric meal, these would make an excellent cushion for a roast chicken leg, broiled piece of fish, or tender shreds of lamb. They would also make a mean addition to a brunch spread, and I suspect would compliment a spicy bloody perfectly….
…but are we drinking bloodies again at brunch yet? Or is it still a bit too early?
Damn you New Years resolutions.
Leek Fritters with Herbed Yogurt Sauce
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
If the long list of ingredients alone doesn’t deter you, maybe the food processor will. Don’t fret if you don’t have one; you can bash and mix the ingredients for the sauce in a mortar and pestle, or even combine them really well with a heavy hand and wooden spoon. If you mix them by hand, I would grate the garlic and mince the herbs as finely as possibly, to get as smooth of a sauce as possible.
The sauce calls for both greek yogurt and sour cream; though I generally use reduced fat sour cream (and find it’s taste and texture to be fine), next time I might use all yogurt, just to avoid using so many ingredients. I’d venture to guess the taste is really similar either way.
This cookbook tops my list at the moment; if you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it. It’s bound to become a classic, and one that becomes lovingly worn, stained, and spattered in my house over the years.
½ cup greek yogurt (I used 2% Fage)
½ cup sour cream (I used reduced fat)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
½ cup parsley leaves, chopped
2 cups cilantro leaves, chopped
3 large leeks trimmed of bright green leaves & end of stem (~1lb in total, after trimmed)
5 shallots, finely chopped
⅔ cup olive oil
1 fresh red chili, seeded & sliced (I used a small Thai chili)
½ cup parsley (leaves & fine stalks) finely chopped
¾ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp gorund cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 egg white
¾ cup + 1 Tbsp self-rising flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
⅔ cup milk (I used 1%)
4 ½ Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
tools – food processor or mortar & pestle (see note above)
First, make the sauce. Blitz all of the ingredients in a food processor until they are a uniform light green. Set aside to let ingredients meld in the refrigerator.
Cut the trimmed leeks into 1” thick slices; rinse and drain dry. Heat half of the oil in a pan over medium heat, and saute the leeks and shallots for about 15 minutes, or until they are soft. Transfer them to a large bowl, and add the chili, parsley, spices, sugar, and salt. Stir to combine, and allow the mixture to cool.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white to soft peaks, either by hand with a whisk, or with a hand mixer (I’m lazy and use a hand mixer). Fold the whipped whites gently into the vegetable mixture. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, whole egg, milk, and melted butter to form a batter. Gently mix the batter into the egg white and vegetable mixture.
Put 2 Tbsp of the remaining oil into a large frying pan, and place over medium heat. Using about half of the vegetable mixture, spoon 4 large fritters into the pan. Fry them for 2 – 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crisp. Remove the cooked fritters to paper towels, and keep warm (either on a low setting in the oven [200F] or by covering with foil). Spoon the remaining half of the batter into the pan to make 4 final fritters, and fry until golden on both sides. You should end up with 8 large fritters. (Alternately, you can make them smaller for a side dish or brunch buffet, as you like).
Serve the fritters warm with sauce on the side or drizzled over the top.