Each New Year starts with well-intentioned resolutions, many of which involve cleansing your body of all the goodies you gorged on during the holidays. But resolutions are as quickly broken as they are promised—especially if there isn’t a solid plan in place. For foodies, the biggest challenge has to be giving up tasty meals for dull salads. This is even more difficult during the colder months when our bodies (and souls) crave comfort foods. (photo by Sonia Nolasco) But we can meet this challenge with a bit of ingenuity in the kitchen. With all the information television chefs have been feeding us all these years, surely we’ve become equipped to come up with a few solutions. Deconstruction is the tool I turn to, a way to put a healthy twist on some of my favorite Portuguese dishes. Because healthy doesn’t have to mean flavorless! Last year, we brought you five days-worth of Portuguese-inspired healthy meals. This year, we start you off with one more, but would love it if you could build on it with us. We’re curious to see what you come up with! For every recipe we receive, we’ll throw in one as well. Ready to get your cleansing on? I’ll go first!
One of my favorite Portuguese dishes is the “Carne de Porco à Alentejana,” a combo of pork cubes and clams served with fried potatoes. It’s a southern specialty that’s in no way diet-friendly, since all you’ll want to do is sop up the garlicky sauce with crusty Portuguese rolls! That doesn’t mean we can’t borrow from its flavors to create a tasty, yet guilt-free dinner option. Why not try my Grilled Pork Burgers with Roasted Parsnips? Make sure you’re using pork tenderloin for this recipe. It falls under the diet-friendly lean meat category. It’s an excellent option for foodies who want to eat healthier but don’t want to give up flavor entirely. If you can’t find pre-ground pork tenderloin, buy the the whole tenderloin, cut it up in cubes and throw it into your food processor in batches. Freshly-ground meat is always better anyway, and parsnips are a great alternative to potatoes. They’re lower in calories and higher in the kind of fiber that will make you feel fuller longer, assisting with weight loss. When charred, their sweet and spicy flavors are a delightful surprise.
Let me know what you think!
- 2 lbs. of ground pork loin
- 2 large parsnips (don’t like parsnips, substitute with your favorite root vegetable)
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 large garlic cloves
- ½ lemon
- ½ red bell pepper (the veggie that inspired Alentejo’s “Massa de Pimentão”)
- 4 tablespoons of white wine
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- Fresh cilantro
- Black pepper
- The night before, season the pork with the salt and black pepper (to taste) and 2 tablespoons of paprika (or to taste).
- In a food processor (or blender), add the garlic, lemon juice, wine, bell pepper, four/five sprigs of cilantro, the vinegar and drizzle in the olive oil gradually. Add the mixture to the meat as well as two egg yolks; mix it all together with your hands. Marinate in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, peel the parsnips, cut them into cubes and spread them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Drizzle with olive oil and pop them into the oven at 475 degrees until slightly golden
- Shape the pork meat into two/four patties (depending on preferred size).
- Brush both sides of the pork patties with olive oil and when the grill pan is hot, place the patties. About 5 minutes each side, or until a thermometer reaches 160 degrees.
- Remove the parsnips when the edges begin to crisp and season with salt.
- Garnish the patties and the parsnips with freshly-chopped cilantro and serve.
- For a version with clams, place the cleaned mollusks (how many you desire) on a baking sheet and in the oven a few minutes before removing the parsnips.
- Instead of garnishing the dish with the chopped cilantro, create a vinaigrette that also complements the clams. In a food processor, mix a handful of cilantro sprigs with approximately 3 teaspoons of lemon juice and olive oil.
- Pour it over the open clams and serve with the patties and the parsnips (even if you don’t want the clams, you can finish with the vinaigrette instead of the chopped cilantro).
Let’s cheer to a healthy New Year! Sonia Andresson-Nolasco