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A fresh start

A handful of lighter dishes to kick-start your New Year's diet

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com
If you're cutting down on meat this year, look for alternatives, such as these lentil meatballs topped with a green peppercorn gravy. [Contributed by Nina Olsson]

Time to renew those food resolutions. Maybe it's to cut back on soda or sugary snacks. Or cook more at home or invite friends over for dinner. In previous years, I've made a concerted effort to cut down on food waste or learn how to meal plan.

Whatever your aim this year, it helps to start the year with some healthier fare, which is why we've collected these lighter meals that will still bring comfort during long winter nights.

This time of year is also when we might try our hand at homemade food projects, from making salad dressings, jams and pickles to baking breads or roasting bones for stock. I'm doing another #30atHome cooking challenge, so I'll be writing about my efforts to cook every meal at home or with friends this month, but my overall goal this year is to expand my kids' palates and my own cooking repertoire.

Learning from other cooks is my favorite way to do that, so I'm always on the lookout for new ideas, from people I meet in real life to the readers I interact with online, especially through our #Austin360Cooks project. That's where home cooks in Central Texas share what they are cooking, from elaborate Christmas dinners to Saturday canning sessions. If you don't do Instagram or Twitter but still want to share your photos, stories or recipes, you can reach out to me directly at abroyles@statesman.com.

Roasted Roots Farro Bowl

While farro is a great source of protein and naturally high in fiber, its main health benefit is that it’s said to counteract free-radical growth, which is responsible for aging and cellular degeneration. Translation? You’re basically telling wrinkles to shove off by eating this. Magic. 

— Alessandro Biggi

For the roasted vegetables:

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (1 cup)

1 small or 1/2 large winter squash, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (1 cup)

2 medium carrots, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (2/3 cup)

1/2 medium celery root (celeriac), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (1/3 cup)

2 sprigs fresh sage

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

For the farro bowl:

2 cups dried farro

1/4 cup Vegan Chipotle and Turmeric Mayo (see recipe)

2 cups spicy greens, such as arugula, watercress and/or mustard greens

2 avocados, pitted, peeled and cubed

1/4 cup Agave Mustard Dressing (see recipe)

1 tablespoon hulled pumpkin seeds, toasted, for topping

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, toss together the sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, celery root, sage, thyme, rosemary, olive oil and salt. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and cover with foil. Roast for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and roast until golden, about 20 minutes more.

Meanwhile, place the farro in a saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook until just tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl.

In a serving bowl, mix together the farro and mayo. Add the greens, roasted vegetables and avocados. Drizzle with the dressing and top with the pumpkin seeds. Serves 4.

Vegan Chipotle and Turmeric Mayo

We call this our yin-and-yang dressing: Turmeric is cooling and anti-inflammatory, while chipotle peppers deliver their signature smoky, sweet heat. That said, we prefer to use canned chipotles in adobo sauce because they’re milder and softer than fresh chiles. Want to turn up the heat? Use dried whole chiles. If you want a thinner mayo to use as a dressing, just whisk in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency.

1 cup Vegan Soy Mayo (see recipe)

1 3/4 teaspoons ground turmeric or 1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated, peeled fresh turmeric

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Place 1/2 cup of the mayo, the turmeric and the chipotle peppers in a small bowl. Using an immersion blender (or a mini food processor), blend until combined, about 10 seconds; fold in the remaining 1/2 cup mayo. Transfer to a squeeze bottle or resealable plastic bag with a tiny corner off before using. Store the mayo in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes about 1 cup.

Agave Mustard Dressing

A vegan alternative to honey mustard dressing.

1/4 cup agave syrup

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

1 cup olive oil

In a blender, combine the agave, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, xanthan gum (if using) and 2 tablespoons water and blend on high speed until combined, about 20 seconds. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil until combined, about 20 seconds. Store the dressing in resealable containers in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 1 1/2 cups dressing.

Vegan Soy Mayo

This mayo, which is lighter in texture and flavor than classic mayonnaise, can be used as a base for many different dressings. Make it your own by stirring in your favorite spices or herbs.

1/3 cup unsweetened soy milk

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil

Place the soy milk, lemon juice and salt in a medium bowl. Using an immersion blender, blend until combined, about 10 seconds. With the motor running on low speed, slowly stream in the canola oil until the mayo is creamy and emulsified, about 20 seconds. Store the mayo in a resealable container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 1 cup.

From "Avocaderia: Avocado Recipes for a Healthier, Happier Life" by Alessandro Biggi, Francesco Brachetti and Alberto Gramigni (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $19.99)

Sheet-Pan Teriyaki Salmon With Broccoli and Asparagus

A sheet-pan meal made with salmon is one of my fallback recipes when I don’t have anything planned for dinner. I always keep a few fillets of wild-caught salmon in the freezer so I can defrost them quickly and throw them on a pan with some vegetables for an easy meal. My kids don’t particularly love fish, but they will eat salmon, so I’m always on the lookout for new ways to prepare it. This teriyaki version with broccoli and asparagus is one of our favorites.

4 tablespoons coconut aminos

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (2-pound) salmon fillet, pinbones removed

8 ounces broccoli florets

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons avocado oil

1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

2 green onions, tender green and white parts only, chopped, for garnish

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of the coconut aminos, fish sauce, 1/4 teaspoon of the ginger, 1/4 teaspoon of the garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the black pepper. Place the salmon fillet in a baking dish and pour the marinade over the fish. Marinate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, toss together the broccoli, asparagus, avocado oil, the remaining 1 tablespoon coconut aminos, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon ginger, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, vinegar and red pepper flakes. Scatter vegetables around the outer edges of a large rimmed baking sheet.

Remove the salmon from the marinade, allowing any excess to drip back into the baking dish. Reserve the marinade. Place the salmon in the center of the baking sheet.

Roast for 16 to 18 minutes, brushing the fish with the reserved marinade every 5 minutes, until the fish flakes in the center and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Drizzle the vegetables and salmon with the sesame oil, top with the green onions and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

— From "Danielle Walker's Eat What You Love: Everyday Comfort Food You Crave; Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Paleo Recipes" by Danielle Walker (Ten Speed Press, $35)

Herbed Lentil 'Meatballs' With Green Peppercorn Gravy

This recipe re-creates the classic Swedish meatball, but in lentil form. Served with a green peppercorn gravy, this vegan dish is delicious with an onion confit or any kind of potato.

For the lentil balls:

5 cups cooked Puy or green lentils

1/4 cup finely chopped thyme leaves

5 ounces onion, finely chopped and sauteed

2 cups panko breadcrumbs or cooked brown rice

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 cup nutritional yeast or grated Parmesan

2 teaspoons salt, plus extra to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra to taste

1 tablespoon mustard

2 generous handfuls of delicate herbs, such as basil and flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon honey or agave syrup

Olive oil or ghee or butter, for frying

Green peppercorn gravy:

2 tablespoons ghee or butter or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons drained green peppercorns in brine

2 tablespoons apple puree

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable stock

3 tablespoons soy or tamari sauce

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon kuzu or rice flour or all-purpose flour, for thickening (optional)

To prepare the meatballs, mix together all the ingredients in a bowl, then transfer to a food processor and pulse for a few seconds until coarsely ground — be careful not to overprocess or the mixture will become too smooth. Return the mixture to the bowl, cover and let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wet your hands, or oil them, and form the mixture into small balls about 1 inch in diameter. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil or a little ghee or butter and fry the balls, in batches, for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the fried balls to the lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you finish frying all the balls or until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, to make the green peppercorn gravy, heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the ghee, butter, or vegetable oil; once hot, add all the remaining ingredients except the thickener and whisk the gravy until it’s smooth and hot. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. If you want to thicken the gravy, crush the kuzu using a mortar and pestle, then dissolve it in 2 tablespoons of cold water, add to the sauce and whisk until combined and smooth. If you are using rice flour or all-purpose flour, mix with 1 tablespoon cold water to a smooth paste, then whisk into the gravy. Simmer for a couple of minutes until thickened. Serve the warm herbed lentil meatballs with the green peppercorn gravy. Serves 6.

— From "Feasts of Veg: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes for Gatherings" by Nina Olsson (Kyle Books, $29.99)

Celery Salad With Roasted Mushrooms

Warm roasted mushrooms make this celery salad hearty and appealing on a cold day. Goat cheese, blue cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano would all be good swaps for the feta. The celery mixture needs to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. The salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. (The mushrooms aren't the same cold or at room temperature, but they are still good.)

— Joy Manning

For the marinated celery:

2 tablespoons minced shallot

2 tablespoons Champagne or other white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 ribs celery (leafy stalks from the heart preferred), sliced very thin on the diagonal

1 cup cooked or canned white beans (rinsed and drained if canned)

For the mushrooms:

12 ounces cremini mushrooms, each cut into quarters

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

For assembly:

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

3 ounces crumbled feta cheese

For the marinated celery: Whisk together the shallot, vinegar, oil, salt, sugar and black pepper in a large salad bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the celery and white beans, toss and let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

While the celery marinates, make the roasted mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the mushrooms on a rimmed baking sheet, then drizzle with oil, season with salt and toss to coat. Roast (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, until the mushrooms have browned and are tender.

Reserve 2 tablespoons of the mixed herbs to garnish the salad. To assemble just before serving, toss the rest of the herbs with the celery and white bean mixture. Arrange on a platter. Top with the roasted mushrooms, crumbled feta and reserved herbs. Serve right away. Serves 6.

— Joy Manning