With new year resolutions still well on track, around this time of year I like to look to food that is - as the Americans have coined it - "healthy-ish".
Essentially dishes that for the most part are good for you, paired with something a little extra and indulgent, that allows you to enjoy it that bit more. Think pan-fried Brussels sprouts with bacon, soy sauce and butter or crispy salmon with jammy butter confit tomatoes. The bones of it are good but there's still room for creativity and enjoyment. It's basically my go-to formula when I've had one too many salads in a bid to beat the festive bulge.
So if the salads are getting you down, this week I have an offering that should satisfy your taste buds while also allowing you to maintain that somewhat virtuous new year vibe.
First up, a totally devourable duck dinner which takes its inspiration from that take-away classic; crispy duck with pancakes. Here, though, hot duck is slathered in umami sauce and wrapped up with lettuce leaves, chillies, spring onions and carrot shavings.
Next, sweet potato wedges are given a Thai-stye makeover with a punchy fish-sauce dressing, crushed peanuts and plenty of coriander for a filling and altogether different meal that will take your salad options up a few notches.
Lastly, a crispy chicken-thigh stew rich with red pesto (a great store-bought cheat ingredient), chickpeas and spinach that is more-ish while still light and speedy enough for a mid-week supper.
Three crave-worthy dinner ideas that should keep even the most dedicated dieters somewhat on track and most definitely healthy-ish!
Hoisin Duck Lettuce Wraps
The skin of the duck once crisped is really tasty and adds a crunch and so much flavour to these lettuce cups. Simply hold it back when you are shredding the duck and chop it up and sprinkle over. If you lightly bash the toasted sesame seeds before scattering over it'll bring out the flavour in them and give a nice flavour to the cups.
4 confit duck legs
5cm piece ginger, finely grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1.5 tsp Chinese five spice
½ cucumber, peeled seeds removed and sliced
2 heads baby gem lettuce
1 small carrot, sliced into strips
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 chilli, thinly sliced
Small handful coriander leaves
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 lime, cut into wedges
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6).
2. Place the duck legs on a roasting tray and into the oven for 25 minutes. Shred the duck from the bones, discarding any bones. 3. When the duck is almost finished, heat a large pan over a medium heat.
4. Add two tablespoons of oil from the tray to the frying pan along with the ginger and garlic.
5. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until softened.
6. Add the honey, soy sauces, hoisin and Chinese five spice to the pan and stir to combine. 7. Toss the meat into the sauces in the pan to coat. 8. Separate the baby gem leaves, lay on a platter, top with the duck, carrot, spring onions, cucumber, chilli, coriander and sesame seeds.
9. Then serve alongside wedges of lime to squeeze over the top.
A punchy sweet potato side dish with all the sweet, spicy, salty & sour notes Thai cuisine has to offer.
4 large organic sweet potatoes, cut into rough wedges
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 small bunch coriander
100g roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped
For the dressing:
1 tsp caster sugar
1 lime, zest and juice
3 tbsp fish sauce
½ red chilli, finely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6). Add the sweet potato to a roasting tray and drizzle over the oil, season generously with sea salt and ground black pepper and place in the oven for 40 minutes to roast.
2. Meanwhile, for the dressing, whisk the caster sugar, lime zest and juice and fish sauce until the caster sugar has dissolved. Whisk in the red chilli. 3. For the salad, toast the peanuts in a dry frying pan until golden-brown, remove from the pan and bash roughly in a pestle and mortar. 4. Place the peanuts, warm sweet potato, dressing and a small handful of coriander in a mixing bowl and toss to coat. 5. Tumble out on to a serving platter and garnish with more coriander.
Take the time to crisp these chicken thighs, I can assure you the extra effort will be worth it. The flavours of the chickpea stew work so well with the crispiness of the chicken skin. Heaven. Red pesto is a flavour powerhouse which brings this dish together, but you can also switch this for green pesto if preferred.
1 tbsp olive oil
8 chicken thighs
250ml chicken stock
1 x 400g tin chickpeas drained and rinsed
2 tbsp sun dried tomato pesto
100g baby spinach
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. 2. Sprinkle the skin of the chicken evenly with salt and pepper.
3. Add chicken to pan, skin side down. Cook 8-10 minutes or until skin is crispy, remove any excess fat.
4. Turn the chicken thighs and add the stock, chickpeas, pesto and stir together. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the chicken has cooked. 5. Once the sauce has slightly reduced, season to taste and stir through the spinach and serve.