As spring emerges and the world continues to heal, our cooking lightens and our commitment to exercise deepens — in theory, at least. At the very least, sunshine and warm breezes can't help but brighten our attitude this time of year.
Sheet-pan dinners never get old; they continue to inspire and save time on cleanup. Many of these meals, however, have more oil than I prefer. Luckily, steam can be as moisture-enhancing as oil and fat.
In the fish and veggie sheet-pan recipe that follows, I steam seasoned zucchini and shallots in the microwave — no added fat required — before roasting with haddock and tomatoes. The fish only needs a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil for flavor and moisture. The dish yields a hearty portion of veggies and protein with plenty of nutrition and a super-modest calorie count.
Another spring trick I like to employ is using flavor-packed hot liquids to help stave off cravings and snack attacks. A nice cup of tea or a mug of broth can work wonders.
Similarly, soup is more than a winter meal, as proven by the verdant recipe below. You can create a flavorful, rich broth by gently cooking chicken in water laced with store-bought chicken base and seasonings. Poaching chicken in broth yields both a rich potage and a moist, low-fat protein to use in soups, salads and sandwiches. In the recipe that follows, I add the chicken back to the broth to enjoy as a main course with plenty of spring green vegetables and tender, garden-fresh herbs.
Of course, a mug of broth is no match for the breakfast scones and muffins at the local coffee shop but everything in moderation. On those days when I'm feeling virtuous, there's nothing more satisfying than yogurt and fruit made hearty with muesli cereal. Prepped overnight, it's a grab-and-go way to start the day.
Think of it as a warm-weather alternative to hot oatmeal or a fresh take on overnight oats. Tailor the fruit additions to the season or opt for frozen fruit to save prep work. You can even turn the bowl into dessert by adding a scoop of sorbet or spooning a little warm maple syrup or caramel sauce over the top.
Get outside. Eat thoughtfully. We can do this.
Haddock With Fresh Herbs and Paper-Thin Veggies
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 11 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
3 small zucchini (about 6 ounces each), ends trimmed, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 medium-size shallots, very thinly sliced
2 red-ripe small round or plum tomatoes, ends trimmed, very thinly sliced
2 fresh (or thawed frozen) haddock fillets, each about 4 ounces and 1 inch thick
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil
2 or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, chives, dill or a combination, for garnish
Heat oven to 400 degrees on convection or 425 degrees on conventional setting. Spray a medium-size baking sheet generously with nonstick spray, or brush lightly with olive oil.
Put sliced zucchini into a large microwave-safe glass or ceramic bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, several grinds of black pepper and a couple of pinches of crushed red pepper flakes. Toss to distribute the seasonings evenly.
Cover with a glass lid or plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100% power), stirring 2 times, until zucchini is crisp-tender, 3 minutes. Add 3 cloves thinly sliced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil and 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano. Microwave 30 seconds. Let stand covered.
Put 2 thinly sliced shallots and 1 tablespoon water into a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain well, and add to the zucchini.
Spread zucchini and shallot mixture on a baking sheet in a thin layer. Top with sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle fish on both sides with salt and pepper, and place in the center of the vegetables. Drizzle each piece of fish with 1 teaspoon of oil.
Bake until the fish almost flakes easily, about 6 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve immediately.
* Other fish options include cod, rockfish, halibut and salmon. Look for small fillets about 1 inch thick.
* Serve steamed asparagus as a side dish.
Spring Chicken and Greens Soup
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
5 cups water
1 tablespoon chicken base or broth concentrate (or follow package directions)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric or curry powder
2 small bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves, about 1 pounds OR 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 medium-size zucchini, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas (or trimmed snow peas, shelled edamame or baby lima beans)
1 medium-size red-ripe plum tomato, ends trimmed, diced
1/2 small jalapeño, seeded and sliced (optional)
3 cups (2.5 ounces) baby spinach or arugula
2 skinny green onions, thinly sliced or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
Finely shredded lemon zest
1/2 cup cooked orzo or brown rice
Diced ripe avocado
Diced queso fresco
Heat 5 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in 1 tablespoon chicken base and teaspoon turmeric until dissolved. Simmer 5 minutes.
Season broth to taste with salt (usually 1/2 teaspoon, but this depends on the base used). Add chicken breasts or thighs to simmering broth. Reduce heat to very low, cover the pan and cook 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chicken sit in the broth for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare vegetables and optional add-ins.
Remove chicken from broth with tongs to a cutting board. Discard skin. Pull chicken away from bones in long shreds. (Broth and chicken can be refrigerated separately for up to 3 days.)
Just before serving, return broth to a simmer. Add 1 sliced zucchini, 1 cup peas, 1 diced tomato and optional 1/2 sliced jalapeno; cook 2 to 4 minutes (the longer time is for the frozen peas).Stir in 3 cups spinach and the shredded chicken; simmer 2 minutes. Stir in 2 sliced green onions, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and 1 tablespoon chopped dill. Add any optional ingredients and sprinkle with lemon zest. Serve in deep, warmed bowls.
* Chicken cooked on the bone with the skin always has the best flavor and texture. You can use 1 pound of boneless skinless breasts instead; reduce cooking time by a few minutes.
* Buy the best chicken base available; brands I like include More Than Gourmet, Kitchen Accomplices Broth Concentrate and Better Than Bouillon Reduced Sodium.
Overnight Breakfast Bowl
Ready the next day
Preparation: 10 minutes + overnight chill time
Makes 2 servings
1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk or skim milk
1 tablespoon cane syrup, rice syrup, pure maple syrup, agave syrup or honey, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 to 2/3 cup muesli cereal, such as Bob's Red Mill, or old-fashioned oats
1 cup chopped fruit, such as frozen mixed fruit or mixed berries
Mix 1 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, 1 tablespoon syrup, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a bowl until smooth. Fold in 1/2 to 2/3 cup muesli cereal and 1 cup chopped fruit.
Spoon mixture into 2 individual covered containers. Refrigerate covered overnight.
* Muesli cereal delivers a great blend of textures in these overnight bowls.
* Try a combination of frozen diced mango and blueberries here. Mixed berries or cherries would also taste delicious. You can skip the frozen fruit and serve the cereal topped with sliced banana and fresh berries.