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‘I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my clothes…’

Up with this sort of thing. Careful now.

‘…food was all around me, and now my belly shows.’  This Christmas was a particularly epic one on the food front for Peter and me, and now it’s time to look into smartening up our act and shrinkening down our Christmas bellies.

I’m not going to follow any particular diet as counting calories makes me feel miserable, obsessive and deprived, and turns my reasonably healthy relationship with food into something neurotic and unpleasant.  I think a lot of people feel the same way while dieting, which explains the staggeringly huge failure rate of diets.  It’s one of the boring but unavoidable realities of life that if we’re overweight or unhealthy, we really need to face up to long-term lifestyle change. Crash diets and ‘cleanses and detoxes‘  (medically meaningless and worthless procedures) will not do us any good.  There is no better advice out there than Michael Pollan’s from this seminal New York Times essay: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  The only thing you need to add to that is: do some exercise.

So with that in mind, I’m going to try to cut right down on sweet things, crisps, anything creamy or greasy, and pints. Good grief, that sounds so boring.  The thing that should save me from complete misery is doing a good bit of home cooking and making sure that whatever I cook is very spicy and flavoursome.  Chilli, ginger, lime, garlic and lemon are all magical ingredients that are delicious AND good for you, and they will feature heavily over the next month or two.

What are your favourite healthy home cooked meals?  I have a few nutritious staples that I regularly cook, such as fajitas (which can be healthy if you replace the sour cream with yogurt and leave off the cheese) and chickpea and spinach curry (below).  It’s also time to add some new dishes to the repertoire, so I’ll be scouring cookbooks, food blogs and the dozens of old copies of the Observer Food Monthly that I’ve hoarded.

Tell us your favourite healthy recipes in the comments below, and we’ll share them here on the blog.

Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Chickpea and spinach go really well together, and this curry can be accompanied by an Indian side dish such as roasted spiced broccoli and cauliflower.  Don’t worry if you don’t have all the spices, even just the curry powder and the cumin will do in a pinch.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • 400g tinned chickpeas
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 4 blocks frozen spinach
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 piece ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 chilli (red or green), finely chopped
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli.  Cook gently for 3-5 mins.
  2. Add the other spices and the tomatoes.  Throw in a squirt of tomato puree if you have it.  Cook at a high heat for about 5 mins, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 mins to thicken the sauce.
  3. Add in the frozen spinach and cook for about 10 mins, stirring frequently to break the spinach up.
  4. Finally, add the tinned chickpeas and cook for about 4 more minutes until they are warmed through.

You can use dried chickpeas instead of tinned – you’ll just need to soak them overnight and add them to the sauce at stage 2, add some vegetable stock or hot water and let the sauce simmer for a good bit longer.

21 Comments

  1. Thanks for the recipe, sounds great. If using fresh spinach instead of frozen, do you know how much you’d use?

  2. Hi Jon – not quite sure, I suppose two of those 150g spinach salad bags, to taste? Frozen spinach is indistinguishable from fresh in a dish like this, so I’d save the fresh for a salad or something, meself 🙂

  3. As a rule, use twice as much fresh produce as the frozen equivalent. So if 4 blocks of frozen spinach = 200g, use 400g fresh.
    But a bag of frozen spinach is about 1.50 the kilo, a bag (200g) of fresh spinach is around 2 euros.
    Thanks for the recipe. I love the combination of spinach and chickpeas.
    We have a balanced diet all year round, so no need to detox or diet comes january, but we could all do with more vegs as the kids seem to live on starch only. I sneak in veggies in the old reliables, like carrots in the lasagne or mushrooms very tinly chopped. Here comes the hollier than thou lasagne recipe:

    courgette and mushroom lasagne (you can add some minced turkey if you must have meat, You’ll end up with a bit more sauce that will be lovely with spaghetti for another meal):

    8 sheets of “no precook” lasgane
    1 onion, chopped
    3 courgettes, gratted
    250 gr mushrooms, finely chopped
    1 garlic clove, crushed
    one tin chopped tomato
    1 stock cube disolved in 200ml boiling water
    60 gr gratted parmesan
    dried herbs de Provence (oregano, thyme, marjoram)
    250ml low fat milk
    2 tbsp corn flour

    Cook the onion in a pan with some olive oil until soft but not brown. Add the courgette and mushrooms, some salt and pepper + herbs and garlic. Cook on medium heat until the water is gone. Add some chopped parsley if you have some. Add the tomatoes and let simmer for a few minutes

    Preheat the oven to 200C

    Mix the corn flour with 2 tablespoons of cold mik. Heat the rest of the milk, then add the corn flour mix. Cook on low heat (keep stirring) until it thickens. add salt, pepper and nutmeg, and mix with the stock.

    In an ovenproof dish (about 20x30cm), pour a third of the vegetable sauce. Add a layer of lasagne. Pour half the white sauce, a third of the vegetable, some lasagne. A final layer of vegetable sauce and the remaining white sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan
    Bake, covered, for 15mn. Uncover and bake for another 15mn

    Lovely with a side salad. Forget the garlic bread 😉

  4. Cool thanks guys. Always thought fresh spinach was easier to find than frozen in supermarkets. Am I wrong about that?

  5. You’re right actually Jon, I went looking for frozen spinach recently and there wasn’t any in my local Centra, local (large) Lidl or local (small, dreadful) Tesco. I had to go to a large Tesco to find some – but got a huge bag for about 1.69 which should last for ages.

  6. Aldi do it and Dunnes Stores have their own as well

  7. Lovely recipe. Definitely need to eat a healthier diet after the December gorge-fest. Belts have become utterly superfluous at this point. I like the Pollan quote, my Mum has a similar one; “Eat less, move more.”

  8. I made the below this weekend and froze a batch of it. It was really great. Stole it of Jamie O.

    Ingredients:
    – dash of oil
    – 1 large onion (or to taste) peeled and roughly chopped
    -2/4 cloves of garlic peeled and roughtly chopped
    – a nice piece of ginger (at least the size of your thumb) peeled and roughly chopped
    – 1 table spoon garam masala
    – 6 parsnips peeled and roughly chopped
    – 500 ml of mill
    – 1 litre of veggie stock
    – 1 chili chopped and seeded

    Put the onions to fry until soft with the ginger, garlic and spices (10mn on medium heat). Add the parsnips and stir together so that everything is coated. Add the milk and stock. Bring to the boil and then cover and let simmer for about 30 min. Whizz together

    Optionals: I don’t like it but you could add fresh chopped coriander in the end.
    I added some black pepper and a few drops of sesame seed oil in my bowl.

    It was a real treat!

  9. I have lots of healthy recipes, BBC goodfood website is very good for these…
    Like Jean, I go for recipes naturally light, such as tomato based instead of cream and pulses instead of rice/potatoes/pasta. If using rice or pasta try to switch to brown.
    For example, chicken cacciatore, aubergine lasagne (go easy on the cheese), brown rice pilafs, even chilli con carne if you choose a lean mince or use chicken/turkey mince, one-pot roast vegs, chick peas and chicken, …….

  10. @katia, i was very excited about that recipe till i spotted the six parnips! /me makes faces.
    My plan is to start cycliing more and try to reduce portion size, though i say that every year :-/

  11. Hey Triona!
    Why don’t you make it with sweet potatoes/ carrot/ or even turnip?
    Still cheap, tasty and cheerful ;D

  12. Ah, go on, go on, try parsnips! Cut into fat chips, toss with a little oil and a pinch of curry powder or a wee bit of honey, and roast. Delicious!

  13. Great recipes Katia and Nanazolie, thanks! We’ll publish them as posts here over the next week or two if that’s ok with you?

  14. i make a really simple bruschetta mix that i have for lunch with ryvita/crispbreads and also a baked cous cous which makes a filling dinner with enough left over for lunch the next day too!

    Bruschetta:

    Ingredients
    6 vine tomatos chopped
    Dressing:
    1 clove garlic crushed
    4 or 5 basil leaves roughly torn
    1 tsp olive oil
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    black pepper

    method:
    mix dressing ingredients together and toss through chopped tomatoes
    will keep for 2 days in the fridge

    Baked cous cous

    Ingredients:
    8 tomatoes quartered
    2 onions sliced
    2 cloves garlic chopped
    any other veg suitable for roasting peppers, butternut squash,sweet potato chopped into roughly the same size pieces
    1 stock cube made up with 1 pint of boiling water
    200g cous cous

    Method:
    Roast veg and garlic in a shallow dish for 20 to 30 minutes depending on the veg you are using, add cous cous and stock and bake until all the stock is absorbed.You may need to add more boiling water to ensure all the cous cous is covered.
    You can also add some crumbled goats cheese or feta 5 minutes from the end for added protein.
    Apologies for the “roughness” of the recipe but its a made up one 🙂

  15. Great tips here and nice recipes, I wanted to share my falafel recipe. As a long time fan of the deep fried version, I wanted to make one that was a little lighter on the fat.

    Ingredients:
    1 400g tin of chickpeas- rinsed
    1 small onion roughly chopped
    1 clove garlic
    half lemon juiced – lime also works
    1tsp each of cumin and coriander powder
    1 chilli chopped, or 1 tsp of chilli flakes (adjust to your own heat preferences)
    1 tsp harrissa paste – can be left out but so lovely if you can find it I usually get it in Tesco
    Small bunch of chopped fresh coriander
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Optional – handful of toasted sunflower seeds

    Method
    Put all ingredients in a bowl and blitz with a hand blender or food processor until fairly smooth, if using sunflower seeds leave half un blitzed and stir in at the end for texture.

    Shape into patty’s (mixture should make 6-8) lightly oil and cook on griddle pan or frying pan for a few minutes each side – they also cook nice in the oven but are a little drier.

    Serve in a pitta or wrap with salad and yoghurt dressing and a little harrissa paste if you have it. YUM

  16. @ Jean: No problem at all!

  17. Thanks katia, and thanks also to nicola and becky for sharing those recipes, they both sound delicious! Baked couscous is a great idea, and I also love falafel. I will post all these recipes so that more people see them and will credit each commenter. If you’d prefer not, just say the word.

  18. @katia, might try carrot and sweet spud. himself refuses to eat turnip (he’s a mentalist)
    @j I am adding you to the list of perverts too. No matter how you cook them they’re manky.

  19. I have a tin of spinach – could I use a whole tin of it? or would it be gick? I find when buying spinach that baby spinach is the only way to go, I bought older spinach and it was tough – like the outer leaves of a cabbage.

    I love the BBC Good food website, the food is great there.

    My favourite healthy meal is very easy and delicious..
    An American cup is 240ml.

    Spicy Lentil Dal

    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 c onion, diced
    1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    1 tsp turmeric
    1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
    4 cloves garlic, minced
    2 c cauliflower florets
    1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
    2 1/4 c water
    1 c dried lentils
    2 tbsp lime juice
    1 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
    3/4 tsp salt

    Heat olive oil in large pan. Add onion, ginger, cumin seeds, turmeric, crushed red pepper, and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes. Add cauliflower and can of tomatoes (drained, reserving liquid) to pan, and stir. Saute for 1 minute. Add tomato juice, water, and lentils. Bring to a boil, stirring well. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 35 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Remove from heat, stir in lime juice, cilantro, and salt.
    Serve over basmati rice.

  20. btw I use green/yellow lentils in the above otherwise the red lentils are quite mush.

  21. another really simple recipe that i found in a book yesterday morning and made for lunch….
    spiced chickpeas:
    1 onion sliced
    2 garlic cloves chopped
    1 tin chickpeas drained and rinsed
    3 tomatoes chopped
    1 tbsp curry paste (i used pataks tikka masala)
    1 tsp olive oil
    1 tsp coriander
    100g frozen peas

    method:
    heat oil and cook garlic and onion for 5 minutes until soft.
    add curry paste and cook for another minute
    add chickpeas and tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes
    add peas and coriander and cook for another 2 minutes
    I had it in a brown pitta bread with some salad and a small bit of natural yogurt…simple and delicious!