After many days, if not weeks, of indulging, resolutions abound as people attempt to resume their routines as normal. Healthy eating seems so effortless in warmer months when our bodies naturally crave lighter foods. But what to eat when the darkest days of winter still have us yearning for “stick to your bones” fare? We’ve rounded up some of the best healthy French recipes for winter.
How do the French diet after the holidays?
How do the French find equilibrium after the excesses of celebrations like the holidays? Joie de vivre and pleasure still rule. In the US, you can witness so many extremes in dining culture. Huge portions, or no carbs, no sugar, no fat, etc. While the French are extremely image conscious, and contrary to popular wisdom, try very hard to stay thin, deprivation is an anathema. Everything in moderation. Small yet filling portions. The focus is very much on what you CAN eat. Whole, local, seasonal foods. Vegetables and fruits… and more vegetables and fruits!
France is a ritualistic culture. The ritual of going to the marché or eating a beautifully presented meal are pleasures unto themselves. The intentionality surrounding meals (the French do not eat on the go) also lends itself to slower eating. Even exercise is not the punishing pavement pounding found in some cultures. Rather, it is incorporated into everyday life. Sport and physical activity are partaken in as a pleasurable activity rather than an end unto itself.
Healthy Winter Recipes
So, back to the main question: what to eat? We’ve rounded up 6 hearty but healthy French recipes for winter from around the web. Take the austerity out of your January diet and inject pleasure back into eating, the French way.
This salad is simplicity at its best: lentils, veggies, aromatics and a homemade vinaigrette. And not just any lentils, but Puy Lentils, grown in Le Puy, in Auvergne and protected under the AOC designation (Appéllation d’origine contrôlée). Delicious served warm or at room temperature. This salad can also be kept for a few days in the fridge and eaten cold. Keep it vegetarian and serve it as is, or with the protein of your choice. Toss in bacon, or goat’s cheese for something more indulgent. A hearty French classic that is a canvas for endless variations.
One staple of French home cooking is soup. And not the indulgent soups we so often equate with restaurant cooking, like soupe à l’oignon or a buttery, cream-laden velouté. But rather robust, rustic soups full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, thanks to the rainbow of vegetables thrown in.
Clotilde Dusoulier’s Clean-Out-the-Fridge-Soup is a brilliant way to use your soft carrots, wilted greens, leftover holiday veggies — you name it. As Dusoulier claims, “Soup is an extraordinary catch-all for vegetable odds and ends, and it is the easiest and most rewarding way to transform scraps no one really wants to deal with into something warm and inviting.” Add starches if you wish to smooth the texture out, or keep your soup low carb. You can also add pulses, frozen veg, nut butters, or plant-based milks, and of course, stock and aromatics. Almost anything goes. Blend and voilà!
Translating into “pot on the fire”, this budget friendly beef stew with vegetables such as potatoes, leeks, carrots, celery, turnips, and onion is what the great French chef Raymond Blanc describes as “the quintessence of French family cuisine, it is the most celebrated dish in France. It honours the tables of the rich and poor alike.” Chef Ludo Lefebvre, makes the point more succinctly: “In France, pot-au-feu is our chicken soup”. Lefebvre recreates the beloved dish in this classic pot-au-feu recipe. If you want to see his subtle multi-cultural twist, check out this video.
What is a daube? It’s a stew from Provence made with affordable cuts of beef braised in wine. In that way it has much in common with Beef Bourguignon but is flavored with Mediterranean ingredients. It is cooked for longer, often using cheaper cuts of meat. This dish was traditionally cooked in a daubière, a terracotta pot in the shape of a pitcher. A heavy cast iron pot like Le Creuset will work perfectly. This recipe from Saveur magazine includes quintessential Provençal ingredients like extra-virgin olive oil, onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, celery, and red wine.
What to serve with a hearty stew like a daube? Potatoes or rice are common, but a lighter alternative is celeriac mash. Celeriac (or celery root) is used more frequently in French cooking than in many other places, most famously in celeriac remoulade. It has fewer carbs and less calories than potatoes, perfect for those watching their waistlines. Raymond Blanc’s celeriac purée is home cooking at its best. The recipe calls for just celeriac, a small amount of butter, milk, salt, cayenne and lemon juice.
At home French people often eat a little something sweet after dinner, albeit it’s more likely to be yoghurt or fromage blanc and/or fruit than an indulgent pastry. For a light dessert that still feels like a special treat, these poached pears from the blog La Cuisine d’Annie do the trick. They are perfect to cheer up a dreary January weeknight or a sophisticated dinner party. End your meal on the perfect note!
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