For Mother’s Day, I got two new cookbooks and we’ve already tested out several recipes in Lighten Up, Y’all (link just FYI – no perks for me). We’ve loved this one so far so I didn’t want to wait to share it with you!
The author, Virginia Willis, is a French trained Southern chef who created these recipes when she herself needed to lose a little weight. I love that the focus is more on making healthy switches than on “diet” food. These are real Southern dishes, with the robust flavors and homegrown ingredients my husband and I grew up with, with a healthier profile.
The introduction talks a lot about Willis’ history as a chef and how her personal history with her family influenced these recipes. It also includes discussion of tools to get started in the kitchen, the rationale behind some of the swaps made in these recipes (like healthier fats, filling up on the good stuff like veggies and using lean proteins) and the approach to the nutritional information that is provided with every recipe.
While not every recipe includes photos, the photos that are in the book are exquisite and take me back to my grandmother’s house. My husband and I are both native Southerners (Louisiana & Arkansas) and as such, have a high standard for anything calling itself Southern food. I can promise you that many of these recipes graced the farm tables both of us grew up eating around. She doesn’t give up flavoring ingredients like sausage or bacon, but rather uses them in smaller doses. I particularly enjoyed her sense of humor about the bacon that features frequently in these recipes and about the frustrations of small portion sizes of steak in some recipe guides. 🙂
So far we’ve tried the Grilled Balsamic Flank Steak, the Quinoa Cobb Salad and Darrell’s favorite: New Soul Creole Dirty Rice. That one is such a big hit we’ve already made it twice!
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 chopped sweet onion, 2 stalks celery, chopped, and 1 chopped poblano pepper (**subbed a bell pepper the second time I made this – still delish). Cook 3-5 minutes until soft and add 3 cloves garlic; saute until fragrant. Add 4 oz sausage and cook another 3-4 minutes (**NOTE: Recipe says use chicken livers or chicken andouille sausage. We used turkey andouille sausage and closer to 8 oz of it). Add 1 tbsp fresh thyme (**subbed 1 tsp dried thyme), 2 tsp paprika and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. She also suggests salt and pepper to taste. I added a couple of grinds of pepper but no salt since we had plenty of salt from the sausage. Add 1 cup finely chopped collard greens and saute for another 5 minutes.
**Note, at this point she suggests adding 1 cup long grain rice and 2 cups water and then cooking the rice with all of the other ingredients like you typically would for rice (bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover for 18 minutes for white rice, 35 minutes for brown). I actually used two packets of boil-in-a-bag brown rice, that cooked as I was prepping the rest of this. I tossed the ends of my sausage links into the water I was using to boil the rice to just a little extra oomph of flavor in there. Then I stirred the cooked rice into the whole dish after I’d sauteed the collards, along with a splash of chicken stock to loosen up anything yummy stuck to the bottom of the pan. The flavors melded wonderfully and it makes this a 20 minute weeknight meal.
This makes 6 servings of 2/3 cup each, with 194 calories. Really, we ate bigger servings than that (probably twice that) as a main dish for dinner and loved it. You don’t taste the collards at all so it is a great way to sneak in extra greens and flavor. Even Oliver was interested in trying it and he’s very anti-greens. Look around for a variety of greens and leaner sausages you could use to switch it up based on what’s available in your area.
The dessert section is going to get a workout this Memorial Day, with a yogurt based pie crust I’m curious to try and several gorgeous fruit based cobbers and cakes. There’s even a healthier brownie recipe I may use for Darrell’s treat at work next week to see if they notice that it is healthified.
This was a great addition to my giant collection of cookbooks, as Darrell has already decreed that the dirty rice will be part of our regular rotation. Have you gotten any new cookbooks? My birthday is coming up in July so let me know if there’s anything I should add to my list. 🙂