It's time for some healthy eating

Posted at 1:54 PM, Jan 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-22 09:50:24-05

How are those New Year's resolutions working out for you?

Many resolutions to eat better and lose weight are born from holiday binge-eating guilt and regret. Some of us actually eat more sweets and goodies and egg nog during the holidays than we ordinarily would, knowing that come the new year we will be resolving to eat less.

The time has come. The time is here. The time is now. And the resolutions that we made so recently are withering and dying away.

Have no fear. We are here to help with an assortment of recipes that taste good and are good for you.

And we're not saying "taste good and are good for you" because it is a food-writers' trite cliche. These recipes actually do, and they actually are.

Let's start with one of the great international comfort foods, pasta e fagioli. Popular throughout southern Italy — and by extension, New Jersey — it is often pronounced "pasta fazool" (especially in New Jersey). However you pronounce it, it is hearty, it is delicious and it is just 204 calories for a main-course serving.

It is also inexpensive. Pasta e fagioli is the dish that traditionally was made at the end of the pay period when the wallet was thin and the lira and dollars were few. But it has such happy associations that it now shows up on the menus of the trendiest and priciest Italian restaurants.

Pasta e fagioli is bean and noodle soup; that's all. But it's more than that. For many people, it is the heart of Italy.

My next dish was created when I was asked to bring a vegetarian soup to a potluck lunch. I couldn't decide whether to make an onion soup or a mushroom soup, so I decided to combine the two. After all, with their shared earthy flavors, mushrooms and onions go uncommonly well together such as in the classic mixture of duxelles. I decided to make, essentially, a duxelles soup.

The secret to any onion soup is to take your time. Thinly sliced onions have to caramelize in butter (or olive oil if you want to make it vegan) at a low temperature for a long time in order to bring out their wonderful natural sweetness. I took about an hour to caramelize mine, and the onions were so sweet that one person who tried the soup asked if I had put any sugar into it.

I hadn't. It was nothing but onions, at least for that initial layer of flavor. I used a mixture of white onions and red onions for a little extra complexity.

For the next flavor layer, I sauteed some mushrooms, again mixing white button mushrooms and cremini (which are also known as baby portobellos) for added interest. These I cooked with just a few sprigs of thyme and a healthy splash of a medium-dry sherry. I used an amontillado because I like the way it tastes and because I have a literary bent.

It is the kind of dish where the calories are low, but you would never know it from all of the flavor.

My eye was next turned by a recipe for Beef and Barley with Carrots and Mushrooms. First, I was intrigued by the thought of what is essentially a rice pilaf made with barley, a tragically underused grain. And second, I liked the symmetry of making a solid-dish version of a soup (beef and barley) after I had just cooked a soup version of a solid dish (duxelles).

The hearty barley was made even more nutty and delicious by the addition of the water I had used to soak dried porcini mushrooms. The carrots added a touch of sweetness to counteract the meaty, bold flavor of the rest of the dish.

Yet I still wanted more low-calorie dishes. I rarely cook with beef because of the fat and the calories, so naturally I liked the challenge of making another healthful weight-losing dish with it. But I cheated. I turned to Japanese cuisine, which is one of the most healthy, lowest-calorie cooking there is.

And then I uncheated, so to speak. The recipe I chose, which the Japanese cookbook called Gyuniku to broccoli no itame-ni, is utterly unrelated to Japanese cuisine. The writers, as it turns out, appear to have left out a vital ingredient (stock), which would have changed the cooking method (simmering the meat in a broth) and made the meal a lot more Japanese.

Instead, I made the dish as the recipe instructed. Made this way, it turned out to be very similar to the familiar Chinese-American dish Beef With Broccoli, and it is an excellent version of it, too. You can eat it on its own, as I did, or serve it with rice.

I still had plenty of energy, probably from eating all those holiday goodies, so I decided to make one last low-cal dish. It is hard to find a cut of meat with fewer calories than pork tenderloin, so that is what I used for a very simple meal.

Well, relatively simple. It requires two different stages of cooking, one on top of the stove and one in the oven. And you have to mix together a wet rub from just a handful of ingredients first, but that's easy, too.

The only problem with a dish this easy is you don't burn off a lot of calories to make it.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (less if using table salt)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pork tenderloins, about 2 { pounds total
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Mix together garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Spread evenly over pork tenderloins and set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
3. Place remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large, ovenproof skillet and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add tenderloins and sear all over, about 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Place skillet in oven and cook until pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees for medium. This will take about 10 to 15 more minutes; do not overcook. Allow pork to rest on a plate for 3 minutes before slicing.
Per serving (based on 4): 365 calories; 15 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 149 mg cholesterol; 53 g protein; no carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 357 mg sodium; 19 mg calcium.
Recipe by Daniel Neman

Yield: 4 servings
8 ounces beef sirloin
3/4 pound (12 ounces) broccoli
4 ounces button (white) mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon sake, dry sherry or dry vermouth
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1. With a sharp knife, slice the beef into thin, bite-sized strips. Wash the broccoli and divide into florettes, discarding the rest of the broccoli or reserving for another use. Wipe and trim the mushrooms and cut them in half. Peel the garlic and slice finely. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix together the sake, rice vinegar, sesame oil, water, sugar and cornstarch.
2. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok, large skillet or large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
3. Add the mushrooms and saute lightly. Stir in the broccoli and beef and saute to brown the beef. Cover and cook until broccoli is crisp-tender and beef is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the sake-cornstarch mixture and stir until sauce thickens.
Per serving: 233 calories; 15 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 38 mg cholesterol; 13 g protein; 11 g carbohydrate; 6 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 107 mg sodium; 33 mg calcium.
Recipe adapted from "Step-by-Step Japanese Cooking" by Lesley Downer and Minoru Yoneda

Yield: 6 servings
3 cups boiling water
1 package (1/2 ounce) dried porcini mushrooms
1 pound beef top round steak, 3/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon soy sauce
8 ounces button (white) mushrooms, sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into \-inch thick slices
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 cups pearl barley
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chicken broth
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
1. Into medium bowl, pour boiling water over porcini; let stand 10 minutes or more.
2. Meanwhile, cut steak lengthwise in half. With knife held in slanted position, almost parallel to cutting surface, slice each half of steak crosswise into [-inch thick slices.
3. In a deep nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Add half of steak slices and cook until they just lose their pink color, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer steak to medium bowl; repeat with remaining oil and steak. Toss steak with soy sauce; set aside.
4. To same skillet, add white mushrooms, carrots, onion, salt, pepper and thyme and cook over medium-high heat until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. While vegetables are cooking, remove porcini from soaking water with slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. Rinse porcini to remove any sand; coarsely chop. Strain soaking water through sieve lined with paper towel into medium bowl and set aside.
6. Add barley, broth, porcini and mushroom-soaking water to vegetables in skillet; heat mixture to boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until barley and vegetables are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in steak mixture and parsley; heat through.
Per serving: 354 calories; 9 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 46 mg cholesterol; 23 g protein; 46 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 9 g fiber; 728 mg sodium; 50 mg calcium.
Recipe adapted from "400 Healthy Recipes," by Good Housekeeping

Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 large rib celery, sliced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can vegetable broth (1 3/4 cups)
2 cups water
1 (15 to 19-ounce) can cannelini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup tubettini or ditalini pasta (I used small elbow macaroni)
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
1. In a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a 2-quart saucepan, heat broth and water to boiling over high heat.
3. Add beans, tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper to onion mixture; heat to boiling over high heat. Add broth mixture and pasta; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes. Add frozen spinach; cook, stirring frequently to separate spinach, 3 to 4 minutes longer.
Per serving: 204 calories; 4 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 10 g protein; 33 g carbohydrate; 8 g sugar; 8 g fiber; 1,026 mg sodium; 150 mg calcium
Recipe from "400 Healthy Recipes" by Good Housekeeping

Yield: 12 cups
4 tablespoons butter
2 large white onions, sliced thin
2 large red onions, sliced thin
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos), sliced
4 sprigs fresh thyme or \ teaspoon dried
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine
Apple cider vinegar, if needed
1. Melt butter in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-low heat. Add white and red onions, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to turn brown. This could take from 1 to 2 hours, depending on your stove's temperature.
2. Remove onions with a slotted spoon and add mushroom slices and thyme. Cook until mushrooms are tender.
3. Return onions to the pot, along with stock and sherry. Raise heat and bring to a simmer. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed. If soup is too sweet for your taste, add vinegar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until it is as sweet and sour as you like.
Per serving: 124 calories; 6 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 12 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 234 mg sodium; 22 mg calcium.
Recipe by Daniel Neman
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