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7 simple substitutions for more exciting healthy food

Celeriac is a great substitute for potatoes Author: Credits: Celeriac is a great substitute for potatoes

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7 simple substitutions for more exciting healthy food

Bored of broccoli? Put-off pasta? Sick of salmon? Re-energize your passion for cooking - and your taste for eating - by introducing new foods into your menus. To spruce up your lunch and dinner dishes, here are healthy, exciting alternatives to 7 tried-and-true foods, with links to recipes from the Canadian Living Test Kitchen featuring each ingredient, all of which should be readily available at your local supermarket, butcher or seafood shop.


1. Bye-bye broccoli, reel in rapini
Slightly bitter and pungent tasting, rapini, also called broccoli rabe (it resembles broccoli with much larger leaves and a skinnier stem), is low in calories and high in fibre. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, and a good source of calcium, potassium and iron. The entire plant is edible, but trim off the tough or woody ends and cook the same way you cook broccoli. It’s delicious in pastas and salads or served as a stand-alone side, sautéed with chili flakes, garlic, olive oil and lemon.

Serving tip:
Separate the leaves and florets from the stalks, cooking the stalks first, as they take longer. Cook rapini just until al dente (tender but firm), about 4 minutes for the stalks and 2 minutes for the leaves and florets .

Try it! Pasta with White Beans and Rapini


2. Sayonara spinach, catch up with kale
Kale is bursting with vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and beta-carotene. Much coarser than spinach, it has a sweet, cabbage-like, grassy flavour, and stays fairly crunchy even after being cooked. Serve kale as a high-fibre side with chickpeas and lemon, braise it in chicken or vegetable stock to accompany meat or fish, or add it chopped to soups and stews.

Serving tip:
For easier eating, tear the leaves off of the tough, centre stems, which you can either cut and cook separately or discard. Wash kale well as dirt gets embedded in the leaves.   

Try it! Lemon Kale with Chickpeas

3. Cart away carrots, dig up the rubies and the golds
Brighten up your plates with beets, one of the most vibrant root veggies. Ranging in colour from deep purple-red to yellow gold to pink-and-white candy striped, beets are an excellent source of folate, and a good source of Vitamin C, potassium, manganese and fibre. Earthy and sweet-tasting, choose beets that are less than three inches in diameter because, similarly to carrots, the bigger they grow, the woodier and less sweet they become. Serve beets raw, cooked, or pickled, as a side dish or in salads. They pair well with flavours like maple syrup, goat’s cheese, toasted nuts, grapefruit, and apple, just to name a few.

Serving tip:
To retain their colour and moisture and to develop their sweetness, roast beets in a 400-degree oven. Wrap each beet individually in foil (root and stem removed), and place on a pan. Beets are done when a paring knife slides in with only the tiniest bit of resistance.

Try it!
Golden Beet and Granny Smith Apple Salad with Panache


More super healthy food substitutions on page 2!4. Pass on da pasta, carry on with quinoa
A tiny, round grain, quinoa is not only high in protein, it’s a complete protein. In other words, it supplies all eight of the essential amino acids that the human body can’t produce. It’s also high in calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, B vitamins, and vitamins A and E. Quinoa has a nutty flavor and it’s extremely versatile. It goes well with cheese, meats, legumes, veggies and fresh herbs. After cooking, serve quinoa warm or cold, as a side or as a one-dish meal, like this quinoa salad with chicken and black beans.

Serving tip:
To achieve a firmer texture, bring desired amount of quinoa to a boil in a large pot of water, simmer just until the quinoa is al dente (about 15 minutes) and then strain.  

Try it! Quinoa Salad with Chicken and Black Beans

5. Chicken is out, flake out with flank

It may not be as lean as chicken, but flank steak is still a fairly lean cut of beef with far fewer calories and far less fat than say, beef tenderloin. It’s also super high in iron, protein, zinc and Vitamin B12. And it’s easy on your wallet. Leftover flank steak that was served with soba noodles and steamed Asian greens for dinner is fantastic the following day for lunch, piled high on a baguette or bun, or rolled up in a wrap. Use simple spice rubs of garlic and herbs or marinades to beef up the flank’s flavour; pick a rub or marinade that complements the other ingredients you’re serving with it.

Serving tip:
For maximum tenderness, cook flank only to medium rare and slice it paper thin, against the grain.

Try it! Grilled Steak Wraps
Pesto Onion Steak Sandwiches

6. Push aside potatoes, say yes to celeriac
Also known as celery root, this roundish, knobby vegetable is like the story of the ugly duckling. But in this case, all you have to do is cut into it to see its beauty — you’ll release a crisp scent reminiscent of celery and parsley, and expose a pale, smooth flesh. It’s a great source of dietary fiber, Vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium and manganese, and a good source of Vitamin C and phosphorus. A great substitute for potatoes, celeriac is far less starchy and filling with a fresh taste. Serve it roasted, boiled, in stews or soups, as a purée, raw in salads, or even combine it with potatoes to make a lighter mash.

Serving tip:
Slice off the celeriac’s two opposing ends so you can stand it on one of the flat surfaces. Then, working around the whole root, carefully slice off its rough outer skin with a knife. Wash off any remaining dirt before cutting into pieces.

Try it! Celery Root Soup with Parsnip Chips

7. So long salmon, hello Arctic char
Arctic char has the benefit of coming from some of the coldest and cleanest northern waters. This means it has an increased concentration of all the important nutrients most other fish have in smaller quantities. A 3- to 5-ounce serving has 154 calories, 21 grams of protein and supplies 75 per cent of the recommended daily intake of omega-3. Arctic char has a milder taste than salmon, and is more similar in taste and texture to trout, making it a great option for those who don’t enjoy ‘fishy’ fish. Most of Canada’s supply is either farmed or fished around Labrador, Nova Scotia or Nunavut. Pan-sear it, grill it, poach it, broil it, or bake it in parchment paper with herbs and lemon or crusted in salt.

Serving tip:
For a successful pan-seared fish, buy fillets with the skin on. Pat the flesh dry and lightly season with salt and pepper just before cooking. Heat up a heavy cast iron or non-stick pan over medium-high. When the pan is very hot, add just enough oil to coat the bottom. Carefully lay the fish into the pan, flesh side down (always do this so the oil splashes away from you). Do not try to move or adjust the fish until a lovely crust has formed (at least 2 minutes – you will see the fish come away from the pan a little). Finally, flip it on to the skin side and either finish in a 400-degree oven or in the pan, turning the heat down to medium-low.

Try it!
Salt Crusted Arctic Char with Oven Roasted Ratatouille
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7 simple substitutions for more exciting healthy food

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