The excesses of the holidays are mercifully behind us and for at least the first two months of the New Year our thoughts turn to adopting a healthier lifestyle. While daily exercise is imperative as we grow older and larger, it is not always a practical option for many busy people. A healthier diet, however, is something we have immense control over.
Experts recommend we eat up to five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. That is virtually impossible for most people, except infants who are spoon-fed.
Problems with vegetables emerge at an early age when we are almost force-fed them.
Those of us from certain generations and locales only experienced the canned or frozen variety, which quickly turned to pale mush. What’s to like?
Example: order a Romaine salad in any restaurant, and it will likely come to you in large chunks with the coarse, flavorless spines attached. With deference to the professional food industry, this is nearly unavoidable. They are working with volume against time and there is often no other way than for a prep cook to quickly chop the leaves in eighths with a large chef’s knife.
Broccoli, bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, celery and onions are often served commercially in large, unappealing chunks that are difficult to eat. Who wants an entire mouthful of broccoli, even if it is dipped in ranch dressing?
Take celery, for example. A wonderful, underused vegetable and seasoning agent, it is usually tossed hastily into inch-wide wedges in Chinese food and other dishes. Minced finely with care, and undercooked or raw, it provides a crunch, vitality and lovely flavor to everything from chicken salad to clam chowder.
Sweeping changes to a healthier diet are often accomplished with baby steps…
and perhaps we should take that tack when preparing and serving fruits and vegetables. By finely chopping, mincing, dicing, shaving and grating those detestable vegetables, the process accomplishes three things:
- Introduces much-needed nutrients in to a dish
- Adds color, texture and flavor to the meal
- Makes us feel that we are initiating a change toward the good
Think small when increasing fruits and vegetables into a healthier diet.
Here are some ideas for preparation. By chopping, dicing or mincing the following and adding it to your dish, you will be astounded at the quality, flavor and texture that can enhance your meal:
- Persian cucumbers (salads, falafel, chicken or tuna salad)
- Carrots (sprinkle over salads, split-pea soup or clam chowder for color)
- Bell peppers (homemade pizza, salads, omelets, stir-fry)
- Tomatoes (think salsa; that’s the way to mince tomatoes)
- Spinach (not only for salads; sprinkle in omelets, over tacos, in sandwiches in place of watery lettuce)
- Pimentos (adds brilliant color, and a tiny bit of piquant flavor)
- Olives (in deviled eggs, salads, sprinkled over roasted pork)
You get the idea. Don’t forget tiny red lentils which, when simmered in a packaged vegetable broth for a scant five minutes, add amazing protein, texture and color over virtually any dish.
Chopping, dicing, and mincing… Too much work you say? Not these days. There are a number of fabulous mini-choppers on the market that don’t take up counter space yet whirl your veggies into diced submission with a pulse or two. Cleanup is minimal, since the bowl only needs a quick hot water/white vinegar rinse for water-based vegetables.
So, these are ideas for early 2014. But did you know that the idea of finely chopped fresh ingredients has been around since 1926? The Cobb Salad, invented by Robert H. (Bob) Cobb, was the signature dish of the world-famous Brown Derby restaurant, which served and catered to Hollywood royalty for decades. The Cobb Salad, featured in many eateries today, including 700 South Gourmet Deli and Cafe, has endured many permutations, but the preparation remains the same: a variety of fresh, finely chopped ingredients that provide a burst of flavors and textures with each forkful.
Think small, take baby steps, and make significant change.