Sometimes we worry so much about the entrée, we put little effort into the sides. So here’s what I suggest!
When you need a side dish, ready-to-heat and packaged rice mixes can save time. There are a handful of quality brands on the market, like Seeds of Change, which I recommend! Unfortunately, most popular brands are highly processed and not so healthful. By eating these latter picks, you may be shortchanging your health since most mixes are based on processed “white” rice and contain way too much sodium. They also can be a hidden source of trans fat—of which the body needs absolutely zero!
When you’re in the mood for a rice dish, consider making your own whole grain pilaf, like this Greek-inspired recipe. I did add my own signature Lebanese influences to it, including fragrant cinnamon and fresh mint. I suggest simmering in tea rather than water, too; it’s one of my favorite ways to boost antioxidants and add calorie-free intrigue. And I went for it with the whopping one-pound spinach addition!
Ultimately, this recipe acts as a grain side plus a vegetable dish, so all you need to serve it with is a protein-rich entrée of choice. Hint: When you glam up your side like this, you can simplify your main dish—which you can prepare while this spinach and rice is simmering.
Calories saved: 80
Why it’s better for you? Health-promoting whole grain goodness plus a plentiful pop of spinach!
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium white or yellow onions, chopped
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup long grain brown jasmine or other brown rice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
- 1 1/3 cups unsweetened green tea, herbal tea, or water
- 1 pound fresh baby spinach
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh herb mixture, such as flat-leaf parsley, mint, and dill
- Zest of 1 large lemon
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, increase heat to medium-high, and sauté until the onions are lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the rice, cinnamon (if using), and tea (cold or hot). Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to simmer (low), and simmer for 40 minutes.
- Top with the spinach and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, cover, and simmer until spinach is wilted, about 10 minutes. Uncover, stir over the heat until the spinach is fully wilted and rice is fully cooked. Stir in the fresh herbs. (Hint: Try 2 tablespoons parsley and 1 tablespoon each mint and dill).
- Transfer to a large serving bowl, garnish with lemon zest, and serve. (Hint: If you're a cheese eater, sprinkle a little feta cheese on top. If you're a nut lover, top with some toasted pine nuts.)
Per serving: 230 calories, 8g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 670mg sodium, 36g total carbohydrate, 5g dietary fiber, 3g sugars, 6g protein
The “Before” Version
Inspired by rice pilaf
Per serving (1 cup prepared): 310 calories, 9g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 1.5g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 1060mg sodium, 52g total carbohydrate, 2g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 7g protein
- Simmer whole grains in a flavorful liquid, such as unsweetened green tea (regular or decaf) instead of water; it creates more flavor depth and adds bonus nutrition
- Plan to use lemon zest as an integral ingredient, not an optional afterthought; you may be able to use a little less salt when you do
- Consider a mixture of fresh herbs rather than sticking with one for extra cuisine intrigue