BUCKHANNON – The first month of a new year – often referred to as ‘Healthy January’ – brings along many catch phrases: ‘new year, new you’; ‘jumpstart your health,’ and ‘start the year off right,’ to name just a few. January also provides the bulk of cooking periodicals featuring “health” food, while an identical concept is portrayed on television.
But how many people do you know who have initiated a diet this month? How long will be it before they all have taken a fall off the wagon?(Undoubtedly, somebody already has.)
Yet, come February, some of us turn to sweets, cakes and chocolate galore in preparation for Valentine’s Day.
In this column, I ask, ‘why only a healthy January? What about the remaining eleven months?’ The word lifestyle seems far less harsh than diet.
Diet is a simple word that produces so many mixed emotions: excitement, disappointment, sadness, guilt and even fear. The word diet does not necessarily equate to healthy, but I believe the two are often improperly associated. I want to remove diet from the proverbial table and instead focus on a healthy culinary lifestyle.
Typically, healthy cooking is perceived to be boring and bland, but my intent is to lend tips to show that healthy doesn’t have to mean meals are less flavorful. In fact, countless culinary additions and techniques not only intensify the flavor, but also enhance wellness.
Here are some of the culinary practices and principles I try to live by for enhanced well-being:
- Greens are essential, every day.
- Herbs are key, not only for flavor but for required nutrients.
- Grains equal longevity.
- A well-stocked spice cabinet (that you understand) will transform your cooking experiences while simultaneously providing additional health benefits.
- Grow what you are able to and shop wisely by understanding where your food originates.
- If in doubt, add citrus; it invariably elevates.
- Lastly, relax in the kitchen and practice knowledgeable cooking. The more you learn, the more satisfactory the result becomes.
I have a few homework assignments for your upcoming grocery shopping.
One: Each week, buy one lemon and one lime (as your confidence grows, so will the citrus quantities). Citrus is a premium in the fact you get two products for the price of one – juice and zest. These fruits instantly brighten, aid in balance to salt, and not to mention the vitamins they provide.
Two: The second assignment for the winter months is to purchase a bunch of parsley each week (add in cilantro if you like). These two herbs are readily available all year, affordable and extremely versatile. This just might be the spark for you to plant your own herb garden.
Three: Finally, stock your spice cabinet with fresh jars of turmeric, ginger and cayenne. I use at least one of these daily.
I am sharing two simple, delicious and healthier-style recipes. Neither are compromised when it comes to flavor. Asian lettuce wraps are an example of dinner that can truly be ready in 30 minutes. Use either ground chicken, turkey or pork and adapt the veggies to your family’s taste. This same mixture may serve as the base for fried rice or may be tossed with rice noodles.
Second up is sweet and spicy salsa verde tacos. These rely heavily on pantry staples, making this a fantastic January recipe, and spikes of lime and cilantro really bring them to life, although you may also use parsley. You’ll find these are sweet enough to be extremely child-friendly. I hope these dishes bring cheer and satisfaction to your winter tables.
I wish for everyone a healthy start to a new and impressive culinary year. May this be a year for challenge and change that we chose for ourselves in the kitchen. Start small and do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed. When the kitchen becomes a chore, step back and understand what is frustrating so that you may adjust accordingly. Remember, what we consume is the foundation of our health, so let’s make both pleasurable and delicious.
With a new year, comes an exciting new addition to Sara Stirs. My fellow cooks may now submit culinary/kitchen questions that I will address and share with the readers. Most likely, if you have a question. someone else is wondering the same thing. Whether it be regarding a recipe, a specific ingredient, kitchen equipment or gardening, I hope to offer the help you are seeking.
Please send questions to: email@example.com and add ‘Sara Stirs’ to the subject line.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
- 1 pound ground chicken (or turkey or pork)
- 8 ounces finely chopped mushrooms
- 1 cup grated carrot
- 4-5 green onions, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped basil (or cilantro, mint or parsley)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil (or more if you love sesame)
- 1 inch fresh grated ginger or 2-3 teaspoons dried
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- Black pepper
- Oil for skillet
- 12-16 pieces of Bibb lettuce
- Sesame seeds
- Cashews or peanuts, chopped
- Lime wedges
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Brown the chicken with ginger, chili flakes and black pepper until almost cooked through.
Add mushrooms, carrot, sesame oil and soy sauce, and cook until the veggies are just done. This will only take a few minutes. Turn off heat, stir in green onions and basil.
Spicy Mustard Dipping Sauce
- 3 tablespoons ground mustard
- 2 teaspoons sparkling water (or plain)
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon mayo
- Salt to taste
Directions: Mix all ingredients to combine.
Sweet and Salty Soy Sauce
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
- 1-2 teaspoons sriracha
- chopped green onions
Directions: Mix all ingredients to combine.
Salsa Verde Tacos
- 2-3 chicken breasts
- 1 1/4 cup salsa verde (I use Herdez)
- 1 small can chopped green chilies
- 1/2 cup chopped pineapple (canned or fresh)
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeño sliced (or pickled work fine)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 green onions, sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)
- Juice of 2 limes & 2 teaspoons lime zest
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
For the instant pot and slow cooker, combine all ingredients except lime juice and green onions. For the IP: pressure cook for 14 minutes and quick release pressure. For the slow cooker: cook on low for 6-7 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.
For both above methods, remove chicken and shred; return to sauce; and stir in lime juice, cilantro, and green onions.
For stovetop: in a Dutch oven, sear chicken in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until browned on each side.
Add remaining ingredients (minus lime juice and green onions) and 1 cup water or chicken stock.
Cover and cook over medium low for 45-60 minutes.
Remove chicken and shred, return to sauce, and stir in lime juice, cilantro and green onions.
Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.
Upshur County resident Sara Jeran writes a monthly cooking column exclusively for My Buckhannon premium members. To read more articles like this one, please subscribe today!