Being a foodie is like being a Supreme Court justice: The precise credentials are ambiguous, but you should have some decent life experience to assume the title. Love of the edible notwithstanding, I would never appoint myself a “foodie.” Oh, you like food? Groundbreaking. Insert Miranda Priestly GIF and/or Condescending Wonka meme here.
Instead, I call myself a “food brat,” the foodie’s finicky younger sister. Every morsel that passes my lips must taste fantastic. Healthy food is not exempt from these standards; it’s the crux of the whole operation. Living well means seeking pleasure within the health food realm, not gazing longingly outside of it.
There are plenty of nutritious foods that, when thoughtfully prepared, don’t evoke feelings of death and sadness. Can’t get on board with raw kale? Roast veggies to coax out their caramelized depth of flavor. Grossed out by the texture of oatmeal? Bake it into bars, and smother them in almond butter and maple syrup. I love a warm chocolate-chip cookie, but I would happily choose a peak season apple over stale Chips Ahoy. Learn to separate what society fetishizes from what is objectively delicious. Not all junk food is.
In the same vein, don’t be afraid to rough up your food in the name of taste. Your waistline could care less about the yolks in your eggs or the sprinkle of full-fat cheese on your salad; not so for the late-night pizza that follows a sad pile of iceberg lettuce for dinner. Balanced meals are the key to satiety, and flavor is the key to satisfaction. Between the two, what more could anyone want? (For the love of God, please eat the yolk. It’s got half of the protein and all of the nutrients. If you want to cut calories, cut empty ones.)
As a student and fledgling cook, I leaned heavily on what would most accurately be described as “bowls of healthful slop.” Not all of my creations were winners, but in time, I hit on a nearly foolproof template: a fruit, a veggie, a handful of nuts or seeds, a blanket of cheese and a dash of seasoning, all backed by grains and served over greens. If I was feeling frisky, I’d top the whole thing off with a runny egg. Whoa. Whoa. Calm down, everyone, calm down.
Now that I live in the ultimate foodie town, my tastes and options have broadened considerably, and making smart choices is harder than ever. When all I want is crusty bread spread thick with bone marrow and oxtail marmalade (hi, my dinner last night), I have to remind myself that there is so much healthy food that tastes good. Cumin-spiced sweet potato enchiladas brimming with slow-simmered black beans and garlicky chard. Roasted beets perched on a peppery fan of arugula, kissed by goat cheese for brightness and hazelnuts for crunch. Dijon-glazed brussels sprouts studded with tart cranberries and sharp gorgonzola. These are the things that make my taste buds swoon.
Because that’s what being a food brat is all about: Finding the foods that make you swoon. Not all will be healthy, but many probably are. So choose those. Not forever, but today. Choose them more often than not. Start with this salad. You may love the way a cookie melts in your mouth, but how can you hate on the way a pomegranate aril bursts on your tongue?
Red and Green-oa
Sweet and salty, fresh and flavorful—this festive salad has got it going on. Add it to your holiday table, or leave a bowl by the fireside for Santa. It can’t be easy flying all night on just cookies. I’d list a source, but this one’s all me.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
4 Persian cucumbers, diced (or one large seedless cucumber)
2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
4 oz. feta cheese (if you use the fat-free kind, don’t tell me about it. You might as well use packing peanuts)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Bring quinoa and about 1 1/2 cups of water to boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until no liquid remains. Fluff with a fork and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, do your mincing and dicing. Efficiency: We’re all about it. Wrap some presents. Eat some cookies. Time is of the essence.
3. Once quinoa is cool, toss with salt and pepper (start with 1/2 teaspoon of each) and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add herbs. Toss. Add cucumber and pomegranate seeds. Toss. Crumble cheese over top. Toss. Taste. Tweak. Tuck in, y’all. Serves 4.
This one doesn’t even need the runny egg. And that’s some high praise from this food brat.
What are your favorite healthy foods? Are you cooking anything special for the holidays?