Scouring the Cupboards

I am constantly asking this question, “what do I want to eat?” The absolute best strategy to avoid eating junk food and other foods I’m not supposed to eat is not to buy them in the first place. Junk food is only allowed in the house if the craving is just so bad I can’t stop wanting it (like today with some Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies…). These exceptions, however, are few and far between…they are exceptions after all! And since I try to stick to produce, whole grains and lean proteins, sometimes it is hard to find food to eat that won’t take me a half hour to prepare…and you know what, nobody wants to eat a salad for every single meal. Dinner is not a big deal. When work is not too hectic and time permits, I enjoy making an effort and treating dinner like a fun culinary experiment. Breakfast is easier because I keep it simple. Green tea and a piece of fruit, juice or a smoothie. So really, lunch is the problem child of meal preparation. Middle child syndrome, I guess. Sometimes I’ll have soup. Once in a while it’ll be homemade, more often it will be from a can, like my favorite: Amy’s Chunky Vegetable. Other times, I’ll have a hummus and veggie wrap or a salad.  But yesterday, I was out of hummus, wraps and greens, and I was too hungry for soup.

So, I assessed what I had in the fridge and pantry and tried to put together something that would taste good and last all afternoon, since I knew I was in store for a long work day. I think I’m going to call the result Super Yogurt.

Super Yogurt

Most of the things that were in my kitchen were things that I normally use as minor ingredients: yogurt, almonds, chia seeds. Nothing that really struck me as a meal. But then I thought about the bananas on the counter, and how they would go with all of those things, and lo, Super Yogurt was born.

I have been really into chia seeds lately. The Internet tells me that “superfoods” are not a real thing, but rather a marketing ploy by the food industry. I can kind of buy that. Big Agro is a huge industry, I bet they pay a lot of money for marketing. But even still, it makes sense to me that pound for pound, some foods are more impressive than others in terms of their quantity of good assets in a small quantity of food. Blueberries are a fine example. So are avocados. Greek yogurt even. Chia seeds though, are the Mighty Mouse, Rescue Rangers of the food world. There is a rumor that when you eat them, they expand in your stomach to make you feel fuller. That rumor seems to be unsubstantiated, but they are still pretty impressive. They have tons of omegas 3 and 6, plus fiber and protein. That’s like all the things, basically!

So, I’ve been trying to stick them into meals wherever I can. Their only flaw is that I can’t always think of uses for them. So yesterday when I saw the yogurt, I felt like the world’s most successful matchmaker. Unfortunately, a big bowl of plain Greek yogurt is not exactly delicious. But when you put enough things into it, it can get there.

Super Yogurt

Serves 1 – 2 (I was full about 3/4 of the way through)

Prep Time: Five minutes (including toasting the almonds.)

  • 1 Cup 0% Plain Greek Yogurt (Vanilla would be great, too)
  • 2 Sliced Bananas
  • 2 Tablespoons Toasted Sliced Almonds
  • 1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey

Not a lot of instructions to this one. Simply put the yogurt in a bowl, put all the other things on top of it, and stir!

Ingredients

This concoction was insanely filling, and even better, it kept me full for hours. I mean, HOURS…like I was still not hungry yet when it was time to eat dinner. And usually, I get the urge to snack in the middle of the afternoon. But this is a really dense dish, so I ate it slowly and the snacking urge never came. The recipe could easily be halved or shared, but I wasn’t really thinking about that when I made it. I just knew I had a little individual container of yogurt and needed stuff to put in it. Two bananas may seem excessive, but I tried it with just one and it was too…yogurt-y. I think next time I try this, which will be soon, I might use pineapple because it’s sweeter and will cut the sourness of the yogurt a little better. But, on the other hand, bananas are probably more filling. Also, the banana-almond-honey combo was great.

So that’s it. Super Yogurt. Easy. Tasty. Filling. Nutritious. All the elements to a good lunch. And I am always on the lookout for good lunch options!

-lj

My New Favorite Secret Ingredient

Spoiler: It’s non-fat plain Greek Yogurt!

The main struggle in my reformed lifestyle is a craving for the old indulgences. For a while, the excitement of drastic, quick change overwhelmed the reality that my food just doesn’t taste as good as it used to, when sugar and saturated fat were only vague, back-of-the-mind concerns. Now that those things are at the forefront of my meal planning process, I’ve been trying to find good substitutes, which I’ve talked about before. Spaghetti squash was a success I wrote about a couple of entries ago.

Similar to that one, I’ve been spending a lot of my time trying to find healthy alternatives to former favorites. But, the challenge is that when I say healthy, I actually mean it. I’ve learned that just because something is marketed as healthy doesn’t magically make it so. Fat free or sugar free a lot of times just mean more of something else you’re also not supposed to have, so that they can say it is “free” without actually making it healthier (which also means more expensive, most of the time). I don’t mean to sound jaded, but the more I learn about the food industry the more I know eating clean is the best way to stay healthy. So now the real challenge is making food that tastes as rich as something you can get prepared from a restaurant or the grocery store without all of the bad stuff in it.

My most recent endeavor in this goal was fish tacos. I love fish tacos. Generally speaking they are not unhealthy. But a lot of the time they will be covered in beer batter or mayonnaise or cheese and it sort of wipes out the healthiness. That’s where my newfound love non-fat Greek yogurt plays a part.

A lot of the time, I am weary of non-fat foods because I assume the fat that is supposed to be there is replaced with sugar or artificial sweeteners and chemicals. As a result, I am not too scared of foods with fat in them especially low-fat, but non-fat Greek yogurt is a proud, glorious exception.

I buy Stonyfield Farms’ Oikos line 0% Greek Yogurt (meaning 0% fat). Instead of trying to guess what is so great about Greek yogurt, please enjoy this quote from the Stonyfield Farms’ website: “Real Greek yogurt, like Oikos, gets its incredible creaminess not from added gums, thickeners or milk fat, but from an old-world straining method that removes the whey (liquid) from the yogurt. This straining process also gives Greek yogurt about twice the protein of regular yogurt, and less lactose.” In other words, it is perfect.

Side note: I am a huge fan of Stonyfield Farms’ these days because they are truly revolutionary in the organic movement. Some of the other “big name” so-called organic brands don’t really follow clean living, natural processes. But SF really does get its ingredients from little farms. I mean, maybe the yogurt is still blended up in a factory but at least I know the milk they’re using is healthy. But I am really getting off track!

The point is, Greek yogurt is an amazing substitute for fattier dairy cooking ingredients. It is also very low in calories. A serving size–one cup–has 80 calories, but that is a huge amount of yogurt if you’re using it for cooking. The two things I’ve been using it for the most are smoothies (when a dairy-free concoction’s consistency is just too weird) and salad dressing.

A friend sent me a recipe for a taco salad dressing that called for sour cream and mayo, which I didn’t want to use for obvious health-related reasons. Instead I tried out the Greek yogurt and I really doubt anyone could tell the difference. This particular dressing (which is below) has so many spices any tartness from the yogurt is completely masked.

  • So earlier this week when I was really craving fish tacos, but also really wanted to stay diet-friendly, I immediately thought of ways I could create them myself. I don’t mean to sound too cocky, but they were freaking awesome.

Mahi Mahi Tacos with Pineapple Slaw

Mahi Mahi Tacos with Pineapple Slaw–please excuse the poor photo quality!

Serves 8

  • 1 Pound Mahi Mahi
  • Marinade (below)
  • 8 Corn Tortillas
  • Pineapple Slaw (below)
  • 1/2 Avocado, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 Cup Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese (Optional)

Mahi Mahi Marinade

  • 3 TBLs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Lime Juice
  • 1 TBL Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp Paprika
  • 1 Tsp Chili Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Onion Powder
  • 1/4-1/2 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • Cayenne Pepper to taste
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Mix EEOV, Vinegar and Lime Juice together in a baking dish (I used 9×13). Add the spices, mix again. Add fish and let marinate at least 45 minutes, covering dish and placing in fridge.

Pineapple Slaw

  • 1/4 Cup 0% Greek Yogurt (plain)
  • 1 TBL Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp Cumin
  • 3/4 Tsp Chili Powder
Pineapple Slaw

1 Clove Garlic, Minced

  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp Black Pepper
  • Cayenne to taste
  • 1 Cup shredded green cabbage*
  • 1 Cup finely diced pineapple (and the juice)
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

* I cheated a little and bought Dole brand “Angel Hair Cole Slaw,” which is essentially a bag of shredded green cabbage.

Mix yogurt, vinegar, garlic and spices together in one bowl. Mix fruit and veggies together in another. Combine, stir until cabbage and everything else is thoroughly covered in dressing. You can add extra onion or pineapple on top, or add chopped cilantro.

After the fish is done marinating, you can prepare it however you prefer, I like grilling, so we put it on the charcoal grill. 12 minutes is plenty.  While the fish is cooking, prepare the slaw and slice the avocado. I also recommend warming the tortillas. Rub one drop (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) of EEOV on each one and bake them in the oven on 300 for 5 minutes. If you want to add cheese to the tacos, I recommend putting it on the tortilla before baking them, so it can melt a little.

When the fish is done, slice it into 2 ounce pieces, or even 16 1 ounce pieces.

Scoop 1 or 2 tablespoons of slaw onto the warm tortilla, top with 2 ounces of fish and 2 slices of avocado. Enjoy!

I was extremely pleased with how these turned out. They also kept very well so I had leftovers for lunch. Two tacos is plenty filling, even though the entire thing is very low cal and low fat (415 cals and 10g fat if you want specifics). Plus, all the ingredients were fresh and clean (well maybe the Dole bag of cabbage was only semi-clean but I am counting it!).

I am glad to find successes like this because as time passes I am finding it harder and harder to maintain that initial motivation. It’s been about three months now, which means I think soon I am going to rejuvenate my efforts with another cleanse. But for now I’ll take victories like falling in love with Greek yogurt and making a comparable, but healthy version of one of my favorite restaurant meals.