Why do we eat so much over the Christmas and New Year period? It's as if we've all been on some collective rationing for months and suddenly let loose to gorge on anything in our path. I'm not going to preach about a detox regime for this month, but the odd healthy meal wouldn't go amiss. I think that the perception of healthy eating is somewhat misunderstood; it's really all about the balance of our diets as opposed to the ingredients or dishes we eat. Some of us can eat pies and drink beer all day and not be affected by that kind of body abuse and other people will just not tolerate it; well not all the time, anyway. Here are some deliciously healthy combinations that will perk you up in the New Year.
Salt beef with winter slaw
I know you don't often catch me using a classic dish out of its normal context, but I just didn't know what else to call this mixture of shredded winter roots and cabbage - so winter slaw it is. I like to use salted ox cheeks when they're available as they have a much softer texture and better flavour than brisket, but unfortunately they're not that easy to get your hands on.
You will find a mandolin useful for shredding the vegetables. With its various cutting blades, it's a useful time-saving gadget to have in your cupboard. 500g salted beef brisket or silverside
For the winter slaw
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded
100-150g celeriac, peeled and finely shredded
200-250g red cabbage, finely shredded
4-5tbsp good quality mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the salt beef in a sauce pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 1 1/2-2 hours or until tender. Leave to cool in the cooking liquid.
Mix all of the ingredients for the winter slaw and season; you can add more or less mayonnaise to taste.
The salt beef can either be sliced and served with the winter slaw or shredded and mixed in as I have done.
Confit duck salad with beetroot and pomegranate
You may think that a piece of duck cooked slowly in its own fat is heart attack material, but think about it. It has lost all its fat during cooking and the final crisping up process sheds any fat that is left, so you end up with a pretty fatless piece of meat, in theory anyway. Pomegranates must be the most talked-about super foods of the year, and over the festive season they were scattered around our house in bowls as a kind of edible Christmas f decorations. I order 20 or 30 before Christmas and squeeze them in the mornings for delicious juice. Pomegranate is a great match with duck in a salad like this, adding a fruity crunch.
If you're not up for making your own duck confit, you can buy it in good delis, canned or vacuum packed. My favourites are the confit duck legs from Loue from Donald Russell (www.donaldrussell.com). Although you are using extra goose or duck fat for cooking the legs, you're going to end up with a lot more than you started with and it keeps for ages in the fridge. There's always debate about whether goose fat is healthy or not, and Nigella brought the subject into focus again over the Christmas season when she exhorted the nation to roast potatoes in goose fat; I think more or less everything is OK as long as you don't do it all the time.
For the duck confit
4 duck legs weighing about 200-250g
200-250g goose or duck fat
A small piece of cinnamon stick
6 juniper berries, chopped
1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp white peppercorns
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
4 x 1cm thick slices from a large potato
For the salad
Half a small head of curly endive or about 100-120g
2 medium sized beetroots, cooked and peeled
The seeds from half a pomegranate
For the dressing
1tbsp good quality tarragon vinegar
2tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2tbsp olive oil
3tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First, make the vinaigrette. Put all the ingredients into a clean bottle or jar. Give them a good shake and leave to infuse overnight at room temperature.
Pre-heat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Arrange the duck legs snugly in a thick-bottomed pan or oven-proof casserole with a lid. Cut a piece of muslin about 25cm square, put all the herbs and spices into it, tie it with the string to make a bag and put it in with the duck legs. Melt the duck or goose fat and pour over to cover the legs. Season with salt. Slowly bring the fat to the boil. Transfer to the oven and simmer the legs gently in the casserole with the lid on for about one and a half hours.
Test the legs by removing one: the meat should be very soft and tender and the leg still intact. Cool the legs a little and carefully transfer them to a roasting tray with a slice of potato under each leg to prevent the bottom burning. Turn the oven up to 200C/gas mark 6. Cook the legs for 30 minutes or until crisp.
Meanwhile cut the beetroot into about 8 wedges or pieces, toss the curly endive with the vinaigrette and season and arrange in bowls or plates. Place the pieces of beetroot in among the curly endive and scatter the pomegranate seeds on top and place the duck leg in the centre.
I always relate the word garbure to garbage, but it specifically means a soup of the south-west of France containing cabbage, meat such as pork or duck, and seasonal beans or dried beans. In early-19th-century cookbooks, the garbures that were common in Europe were thick soups containing cabbage, and they were baked with alternate layers of bread. They must have been pretty stodgy, as the benchmark to which they aspired was that a spoon stuck in the soup should stand up straight. Today, garbures only exist in the south-west of France.
I like to make a hearty and healthy potage garbure with exactly what's in season and what's in my fridge. You may even be using a stock made from your Christmas carcass.
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 thick rashers of streaky bacon, cut into rough 1cm chunks
1tsp thyme leaves
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A good knob of butter or a tablespoon of olive oil
1.5ltrs chicken stock (or a couple good quality stock cubes dissolved in that amount of boiling water)
1 carrot, peeled and cut into rough 1/2-1 cm chunks
2 sticks of celery, peeled if necessary and cut into rough 1/2-1 cm chunks
1 large turnip, or a small swede, peeled and cut into rough 1/2-1 cm chunks
1 x small 400g can of flageolet beans, washed and drained
6-8 leaves of Savoy cabbage
Other optional ingredients include seasonal beans in spring and summer, parsnips, lentils or other small beans, pieces of duck or goose confit
Gently cook the onion, bacon, thyme and garlic in the butter for 3-4 minutes until soft, add the stock, bring to the boil and gently simmer for 30 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and turnip and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes or so. Add the cabbage and beans and simmer for about 15 minutes until the cabbage is tender. Season the soup if necessary and serve.
Sharon fruit with mozzarella
This idea came from my partner Clare, who was inspired when she went to Skye Gyngell's cooking demos for her new book, A Year in My Kitchen. It's a really simple dessert replacement if you're not much into puddings. There are plenty of Sharon or Kaki fruit in the shops now, but the problem is they need to be perfectly ripe.
A hard Sharon fruit is not a pleasant experience; one tip is to put them in the freezer over night and when defrosted they miraculously become soft, juicy and ripe.
4 ripe Sharon fruit
2 buffalo mozzarellas, weighing about 150g each, at room temperature
Cut the Sharon fruit into 6 wedges and arrange on serving plates. Tear the mozzarella into pieces and arrange on the plate with the Sharon fruit.
What else to eat in January
There is some great sprouting broccoli around. Try it steamed with an anchovy and caper dressing.
Cardoons, a member of the thistle and artichoke family, are delicious prepared and cooked in a sweet and sour style with cold or cooked meats.
Other interesting veggies around include Jerusalem artichokes, celery and Italian cime de rape (turnip tops). Treat them like sprouting broccoli.
Feeling extravagant? Black truffles cost a fraction of the price of the Italian white ones.
English forced rhubarb from the rhubarb triangle up in Yorkshire is here, as are clementines, blood oranges and Seville oranges; all are good for marmalade.
Give mutton a go - it's far superior to lamb in a braised dish or hotpotReuse content