Going out to eat is fun. Who doesn’t love being waited on and served scrumptious food? If you are like most people, with a tightening budget, you eat at home more than you do in a restaurant and you are careful to cook healthful meals. Fun as it is to get out and let loose, there is no reason to blow your caloric consumption for the month on one meal. Contrary to what you might suppose, you don’t have to limit yourself to just vegetables and one grain of rice. Surprisingly, healthy and delicious can be in the same sentence.
Here is a little guide to consider the next time you book your reservations.
Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian
A favourite at Thai restaurants, Pad Thai is typical of many Thai dishes that are stir-fried. Ingredients are simple, yet healthful: Rice noodles, bean sprouts, shrimp, cilantro, garlic, chives, scallions, eggs, can include chicken and/or tofu. It is usually garnished with peanuts, coriander, chili sauce and lime. It can be made spicy or mild, depending upon your taste. If you are feeling daring, why not try one of their many dishes that use curry (green or red) or red hot chili sauces? Thai food is also famous for using lots of coconut, both in their main courses and their soups. Another favourite is the Tom Yam Kung Nam Khon, which is a soup made from shrimp, yams and coconut milk.
Given the close proximity to Vietnam, their foods will be quite similar. The Vietnamese love their soups, called Pho, which marry rice noodles with everything from chicken, beef or shrimp with Asian basil, bean sprouts, lime, mint leaves and if you are daring, chili sauce.
Given that Cambodia was a French colony for many years, their food may seem like a cross between Vietnamese and French. Soups, stir-fry and rice dishes, all with more vegetables than meat, are common in Cambodian cuisine, along with dishes that use curry. But one hangover from the French is the baguette, which they eat with sardines and pâté.
Although the concept is simple, sushi chefs first study and then apprentice for years before they can serve you your favourite raw fish over rice – or without the rice, which is called sashimi. Salmon, tuna, spicy tuna, mackerel, halibut, shrimp (they are cooked), eel, octopus, and myriad others over sticky rice are both healthy and delicious. With that touch of wasabi between the fish and the rice, dipped in soy sauce is heaven for many people. If eating raw fish doesn’t excite you much, try their teriyaki dishes. And if you are a fan of edamame, you have your vegetable, protein and starch all in one fell swoop. No doubt on the menu will be lots of sautéed vegetable dishes as well.
Hold the Fried Rice
Although many Westerners have come to associate Chinese food with fried rice and lo mein noodles, the Chinese themselves eat a far more balanced diet than these two might suggest. Also fans of stir-fry, blending anything with fresh vegetables is their specialty. Lean meats with broccoli, snow peas, spinach or green beans; seafood with black beans and vegetables; tofu with all the above-named vegetables, all accompanied with white or brown rice are among their more popular dishes.
However, what’s interesting about Chinese food is that China has many different provinces, and each one influences the cuisine. It is not safe to assume that chicken with broccoli will taste the same in Cantonese cooking as it will in Szechuan style, where hot and spicy are as important as using lots of fresh veggies.
Talk about the Yin and Yang of diet. If Americans are said to have the highest incidences of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, some group of people has to boast the lowest. The Greeks, Tunisians, The Turks and myriad others along the Mediterranean Sea have for thousands of years eaten what scientists today consider among the healthiest diets on earth. Unlike the American diet, which pays homage to meat while adding a few vegetables here and there, the Greeks, for example, will create a meal that consists of spinach, olives, a light salad, nuts and seeds and then add a little omega-3 rich piece of salmon to compliment things. They will use olive oil instead of vegetable oil or butter, feta cheese in place of processed American cheese, and spices like turmeric, basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley instead of salt and ketchup. Instead of washing the meal down with beer, which is calorie laden, having a glass of red wine will not only relax you, but it will also improve your blood circulation and help digest your meal.
One added benefit to eating any of the above-mentioned dishes is that when you have finished your meal, you won’t feel weighed down.