4 healthy recipes to reduce post-holiday blues

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

And so the holiday hangover has begun.

All that turkey. All that ham. All those cookies. All those pies.

All those hors d’oeuvres that seem like they aren’t going to add a lot to your waistline but actually do.

Now we face a new year, and our scales aren’t very happy with a lot of us — and vice versa. It’s time to do something good for ourselves. Something healthful.

And yet, still something delicious.

Something like, for instance, a salad. And not a wimpy side salad, either. I’m talking about a real salad, one you can eat for dinner.

There is only one problem with meal salads – a lot of them are kind of fattening. A Santa Fe salad (romaine lettuce, slices of chicken, shredded tortilla chips, creamy dressing) will run you 980 calories. A barbecue chicken chopped salad goes for 930.

And if you want to fry the chicken in your salad – such as a honey-crisp chicken salad — we’re talking about 1,370 calories.

So to counter the post-holiday tight-belt blues, I decided to make a salad that would fill and nourish you, yet still be good for you. So I looked to shrimp and made a shrimp salad.

Not one with mayonnaise, though. That would sort of defeat the purpose of the whole exercise. The shrimp salad I made is actually more of a marinated shrimp dish, but I put it on lettuce, which makes it officially a salad. It doesn’t take much time to prepare, especially if you buy the shrimp already peeled, which I didn’t, but it has a particularly full and pleasing taste.

You can eat it immediately after cooking it, while it’s still nice and warm, but I kept mine in the marinade overnight so the shrimp were chilled, and also to allow them to soak up even more of the flavor.

I’ll admit I chose the next dish, Colombian Shredded Chicken, because the calorie count in the book I found it in was so low. What was amazing when I made it was how much taste it could pack into so few calories.

But when you think about it, it is not surprising. This dish makes the most out of an assortment of aromatics: onion, garlic, scallions and a red bell pepper, plus fragrant paprika mixed with a small amount of oil to saute them in.

The meat is chicken, and the recipe substitutes the traditional Colombian dark meat for a less fatty, less caloric chicken breast. It benefits tremendously from just a splash of red wine vinegar, too, to provide a faint acidic counterpoint to the oil and paprika.

For a healthful vegetable, I made french fries — but only sort of. I cut thin slices of potato and then “bake-fried” them.

“Bake-frying” gives you the taste of frying, but the healthful benefits of baking. You give the slices of potato a very light coating of olive oil and then bake them until they are soft and delicious.

The potato alone is good enough, but what makes this dish really shine is the combination of flavorings that you toss the potatoes in before baking. Salt, obviously, but also garlic, black pepper, paprika and cumin.

The cumin may seem unlikely, but this is originally a Central American dish, and that means cumin. It is certainly a welcome addition to the combination of flavors. Your family and friends are sure to applaud you, and they don’t even have to know how low in calories the slices are.

The last healthful dish I made, Cardamom Beef with Caramelized Onions, has its origins in Beef Stroganoff. This version, though, substitutes nonfat yogurt for sour cream, which is fine as far as it goes.

But this dish goes much farther than that, because it isn’t just based on Beef Stroganoff, it is also based on a cognac-cream sauce. This is a classic sauce for beef, though it also works for pork tenderloin, combining cream (or in this case, the nonfat yogurt), cognac and Dijon mustard. It is a combination that is warm and soothing and very elegant.

But it only works with tender meat that can be cooked quickly. Ordinarily I would encourage experimenting with recipes, but if you can’t find tenderloin, sirloin or New York strip, don’t make this dish until you can get it.

There are a lot of other things out there you can eat that are good for you.

Marinated Shrimp Salad

Yield: 4 servings

3 scallions, white part only, trimmed, peeled and cut into thin slices

3 tablespoons capers, drained

2 plump, moist garlic cloves, peeled, halved, green germ removed, and minced

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons coarse sea salt

2 pounds raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon fine salt

4 slices multigrain bread, toasted, for serving

2 to 4 large leaves lettuce

In a large, shallow bowl, combine the scallions, capers, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.

Fill a large pot with 3 quarts of water and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the coarse salt and the shrimp, and cook just until the shrimp are pink, about 30 seconds. Drain and immediately transfer to the marinade. At this point, you can serve or refrigerate overnight.

Mix together the lemon zest and fine salt in a spice blender or use a mortar and pestle.

Cover each piece of toast with lettuce. Drain the shrimp and portion out over each of the lettuce-covered pieces of toast. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest salt — you will have some of the lemon zest salt left over.

Per serving: 476 calories; 31 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 283 mg cholesterol; 34 g protein; 16 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 2,610 mg sodium; 161 mg calcium

Adapted from “Salad as a Meal,” by Patricia Wells

Colombian Shredded Chicken

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 scallions, finely chopped

4 rocotillo chile peppers, seeded and chopped, or 1/4 red bell pepper, chopped

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all visible fat

13/4 to 21/4 cups water

Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil and paprika in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, scallions and chile or bell peppers. Cook for 5 minutes or until the onions are soft but not brown. Increase the heat to high and stir in the tomatoes and vinegar. Cook for 3 minutes, or until most of the tomato juices have evaporated.

Add the chicken and water to cover. Season with salt and black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is very tender when tested with a knife. Transfer the chicken breasts to a cutting board and let cool. Increase the heat to high and boil the cooking liquid until only 1 cup remains.

Using 2 forks, pull the chicken along the grain of the meat into fine shreds. Place the chicken in a medium saucepan and strain the cooking liquid on top. Simmer 5 minutes, or until the chicken has absorbed most of the cooking liquid. Season with more salt and black pepper, if desired.

Per serving: 182 calories; 6 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 70 mg cholesterol; 26 g protein; 3 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 103 mg sodium; 21 mg calcium

Recipe from “Healthy Latin Cooking,” by Steven Raichlen

Bake-fried Potatoes

Yield: 4 servings

2 large or 4 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place the potatoes in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak for 10 minutes. Drain well and blot dry with paper towels.

In a nonstick roasting pan, toss together the potatoes, oil, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika and cumin. Bake 25 minutes, turning occasionally, or until golden brown.

Per serving: 204 calories; 4 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4 g protein; 3 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 302 mg sodium; 26 mg calcium

Recipe from “Healthy Latin Cooking,” by Steven Raichlen

Cardamom Beef With Caramelized Onions

Yield: 4 servings

1 to 11/2 pounds lean beef, such as tenderloin or sirloin

2 cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons)

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup nonfat yogurt

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon cognac

11/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

11/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large or 2 small onions, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar


3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or scallions, for garnish

Trim any fat or sinew off the meat and cut into thin strips, about 1/4-inch wide. Place the meat in a mixing bowl with the garlic, cardamom and a generous amount of black pepper, and marinate for 15 minutes. Combine the yogurt, mustard, cognac and flour in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan. Cook the onions over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes, or until they turn a deep golden brown, stirring often. Add the sugar after 10 minutes to help the onions brown.

Just before serving, season the beef with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to high, add the beef to the onions, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, or until cooked to taste. Stir in the yogurt mixture and bring to a boil. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the beef with the chives, and serve at once.

Per serving: 319 calories; 11 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 90 mg cholesterol; 38 g protein; 11 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 163 mg sodium; 161 mg calcium

Adapted from “Bold & Healthy Flavors,” by Steven Raichlen