healthy meal ideas that actually taste good
“I like you being on a diet!” If your significant other said that to you, how would you feel? What would you think? Would you feel offended? Would you chuck your plate of quinoa at them in righteous indignation? When my husband said those words to me, I was delighted. Allow me to backtrack a bit and explain why.
We’ve recently befriended some lovely folks from the states. They’ve all adapted to life here beautifully, of course. But what’s been fun for us is discovering a different side to life in Ecuador. A more… laughable side. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say that from the moment our feet landed in Ecuador, it’s been GO GO GO. We were never tourists. We had never visited before, or taken time to travel around and see what we liked best. There was no money for that. So we came to a commitment and stuck with it. We wanted to stay two years without going back to our home countries for a visit. So we unpacked our bags, got our internet hooked up, and launched into a new routine. Maybe the seriousness with which we took (take) that commitment is why we’ve never sought out moments that are purely social. That’s not to say we haven’t taken some time to ourselves, as the opportunity arose. I mean, the last few travel posts have been about Ecuadorian explorations, so it does happen. But when we’re here in the city, we’ve pretty much got our heads to the ground and we don’t take many pauses.
Enter new friends.
One day we were invited to go to a restaurant for burgers and mojitos. Mat and I looked at each other, automatically making the mental list of things we planned to accomplish that afternoon. It was obvious from both our plaintive expressions that despite the demanding routine, what we really and truly needed at that moment, was to say “Yes, we’d love to!” So finally, after one year and nine months, we did just that. We went out for burgers and mojitos for no reason other than burgers and mojitos, and to share a laugh. Many, in fact. (laughs, not mojitos. ahem.)
So now we’re at the point where we have new friends and we go out to restaurants like crazy party animals. (Well we went twice, but you know, it feels good to call yourself an animal from time to time.) On the second of such occasions, two of our friends ordered salads and fresh jugo de mora. Nothing wrong with that! But we were at a place called Bbq & Co., so… salads? Turned out they were doing a cleanse. “Oh, I did that once!” I chimed in, getting comfortable with our new amigos. “I thought I would miss sugar the most, but I actually missed salt like crazy! I remember taking a bath with sea salt during that week and practically wanting to lick the bathtub just for a taste of that salt!!” …note to self: do not share scary stories that make you seem addicted to bath water. also, forego the visual image of running your tongue along the white porcelain. you may think it is funny, but they think it happened.
This led into a discussion about cleanses, diets, and fasts. Seems everyone had tried one or the other at some point, and would like to try it again. All I could think while I inhaled my burger and fries was that a diet was not for me. (Yes, thank you, I see the irony. I wrote it, actually.) But that feeling kind of surprised me. When did I become someone who could not even fathom changing my diet? Were I to go into the reasoning which led me to our post title, it would be lengthy. And not enjoyably so. Suffice it to say that I decided to start paying attention to what I am eating. I figured I’d start with quantity (how much it takes for me to feel “full”) and quality (what exactly am I feeling “full” on?)
The reaction to adjusting one’s diet is so often the same. “YOU DON’T NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT!!” is generally shouted in reply. But why should making healthy food choices equate to an obsession with being skinny? I guess I should be more concerned if the reaction was, “Ohhh, -hand on shoulder- that’s good, dear.” But still. I have never been weight obsessed, or even, that interested. I’ve never owned a scale or compared weight with my friends or been embarrassed if asked. (Not that it comes up often in conversation, but you know, medical chart situations or what-not.) Thing is, I don’t see it as the best gauge of one’s health.
Now if my clothes don’t fit, on the other hand, that’s a problem. I can’t afford new clothes. And if my energy is low, and I’m not sleeping well or generally feeling blah, well then that’s a problem, too. So I have decided to eat better.
White is out, whole-wheat is in.
It’s nice to be conscientious of what I’m putting in my body. I am not so into exclusion, but more, selection. Rather than take whatever seems easiest, I’m taking some time to think it through.
The sad place.
In an effort to stay on track while looking for a place to have lunch, I was determined to avoid fast-food chains. I don’t know why we just so happened to be in the vegetarian food district (if there is such a thing) at that moment, but yay for me!, right? Wrong. Oh so, so wrong.
I tried so hard at first. “Wow, everything is definitely healthy!” I chirped enthusiastically to Mat. “Yes… it even smells healthy…” he said as he scrunched up his nose and zipped up his jacket. It was a bit chilly in there, actually. I placed my order for an almuerzo (Mat decided he would wait to find a sandwich somewhere) and we sat down by a window. Natural light could only help. The lady who took my order eventually came out and declared that it was ready. It took us a minute to register that by this she meant that we were to go get it ourselves from a plastic tray, cafeteria-style. There was a small steel cup that was empty. I must have looked confused, because the lady pointed at a jug in the middle of the room. “Tea’s over there.” she said. After pouring a cup of the steaming liquid better known as water, I gave in. “This is where appetite comes to die!” I lamented over my tray of flavorless steamed food, if one can call it food. The only thing enjoyable was the soup, because they offered a homemade aji (hot sauce) which no one else took but I dumped into my soup so that it would taste like something. It was healthy, sure. But I thought to myself, if this is what people associate with healthy eating, no wonder they don’t want to do it! I swallowed what I could and paid for a bag of dry quinoa pasta, which turned out to be excellent, as it happens. But I was not deterred. There just had to be a way to eat well and enjoy it.
Which brings us to… the words. The delightsome words.
I bought brown rice and chicken breast and veggies from my favorite vendor and just decided to make a healthy meal. No butter, no white bread, but also no steel cup of steaming water. And my husband’s reaction was a “Yum!”, followed by, “I like you being on a diet!” “You do, huh?” I laughed. “If it means I get to eat like this!” he assured, taking a large forkful of brown rice. I quite agreed. Little does he realize, we’re both on a diet now.
~all meals serve 2~
grilled chicken breast with healthy sides aka the meal that won him over to the healthy side
For the chicken: In an effort to reduce portions, I took one chicken breast and sliced it in half. I seasoned with just a bit of salt and used a silicone pastry brush to use as little olive oil as possible to thinly coat the chicken. Then I grilled it over a cast-iron griddle pan.
For the sides: I added asparagus to the grill pan and eventually hit them with a bit of lime juice to create some steam to finish cooking and add flavor.
This was my first time cooking brown rice, and I absolutely cannot believe how easy it was! I used Pinch My Salt’s adaptation and it came out perfect. (granted I needed to add to the cooking time, but that’s almost always the case at this altitude.) To the cooked rice I added some sliced fresh basil and chopped tomato to make it a little more interesting.
For the steamed spinach I steamed some spinach. (Is there really more I could say about that?)
Finally I thinly shaved some available veg. Namely carrot, cucumber, red onion, and red pepper. To that I added a bunch of fresh cilantro and tossed it all in lime juice and cracked black pepper.
I also had some natural yogurt (not pictured) which I had strained to thicken on the side. I love natural yogurt on everything. I made sure to use only a little and I stirred in some cumin to add flavor.
quick cucumber side salad
This one is extremely self-explanatory. I took a peeler to some cucumber, sliced some tomato, red onion, and basil. I made a quick vinaigrette out of lemon juice, white wine vinegar, and a touch of sesame oil and olive oil, and added cracked black pepper.
cold shrimp and rice noodle salad
I soaked some rice vermicelli in hot water until softened and drained the water. In a large mixing bowl I combined chopped cilantro, sliced leek, chopped cucumber, and small handful of cooked peeled and deveined shrimp. Toss everything with a touch of sesame oil and lime juice, and add the noodles, tossing them.
grilled and roasted eggplant with zucchini
I thickly sliced a medium sized eggplant and zucchini and tossed everything with a dash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. I ignored the impulse to add more oil when the eggplant seemed to absorb it and still be dry. It will be fine. Do not be sucked in!! I grilled the veg on each side a cast-iron grill pan until charred, then put it into a large bowl to toss with thickly sliced tomato, a small amount of tomato sauce, and fresh basil. I grilled off some thickly sliced white onion and added that to the mixture. This I transferred to a small cast-iron pan and roasted for 20 minutes at high heat. Serve hot with tons of sliced fresh basil on top.
I steamed some chard until bright green and hit it with a few dashes of white vinegar. I served this with warm whole wheat pita (thrown on the rack and baked for 10 minutes to give it a bit of crisp) and natural yogurt mixed with sumac. A bit of pico de gallo and chopped avocado on the side.
salmon ceviche salad
I bought a filet of fresh salmon and sliced it, tossing it with some fresh lime juice and letting it marinate in a sealed bag in the fridge, turning once to make sure it ‘cooks’ evenly. You’ll see from the color and texture when it’s done to your liking.
Chop up your favorite lettuce and toss with fresh cilantro and thinly sliced red onion. I used the juice from the marinate to make a quick vinaigrette by whisking in some olive oil. I topped each salad with a 1/4 of an avocado, sliced, and salmon. I drizzled some of the vinaigrette and topped it with some capers.
I sautéed sliced red pepper, mushroom, and onion.
Made some quick and easy guacamole by smashing a small avocado with lime juice and garlic and a touch of salt.
Mixed up some pico de gallo by finely chopping white onion, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapeño and adding lime juice and a touch of salt.
Served with warm corn tortillas (which I find super filling!) and of course, natural plain yogurt.
Sure, he doesn’t reach for the steamed spinach. But I actually love steamed greens with a squirt of vinegar, so I don’t push him to take any of that. Quantity and quality. More for me.