I’ve been on a diet.
I hate diets and I kind of really hate talking about them because I don’t like body-snarking, even when I do it to myself – and especially in front of others. I never want my words about myself to inadvertently hurt someone else.
Like many people, I have complicated relationship to my own body and I’m always trying to be more at peace with it. Happy, healthy, not hung-up. I’ve always loved food, loved to cook and eat and try new things, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that food was not just nourishment or fun but, well, it’s my thing. Some of my friends are beautiful knitters, others are photographers, marathon runners, amateur musicians, or weekend motorcyclists. One of my cousins is sky-diver with his own plane! As I’ve settled into my adult self, I’ve realized I’m not the adventurous wanderer I once thought I would be – I’m a nester. I like to take care of my home and I love to spend time in my home cooking, eating, and sharing delicious homemade food with friends and loved ones.
Of course somewhere in there, I went from a person who bought heavy cream a couple of times a year to someone who has a carton of heavy cream in her fridge at all times – and I’m not a coffee drinker! Learning more about food brought all kinds of complicated thoughts and ideas about what was “good” food. Like many people, I have struggled to re-define my relationship to food – rather than low-fat being good for me, I now want to eat cleaner, more natural and unprocessed whole foods. Beyond pursuing the most exotic imported foreign goods I can find, I am interested in mining the depths of local food items. But somewhere in there things got complex and heavy. And my pants got tighter and tighter. Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and not just sort of generally think about “eating healthier” – but to commit to the dreaded thing, a diet.
In the end of course I chose one that worked for me. It’s based on simple whole foods and emphasizes eating “super-foods” like nuts and olive oil at every meal. The program starts with a “jump-start” where you eat whole vegetables and fruits and lean proteins with no salt – this is the most gimmicky part of the whole thing. Going salt-free and keeping foods very simple and clean is meant to reduce bloating and boost your confidence by immediately helping reduce your waistline. It worked! However, it was very boring.
What was fascinating was that as I began to eat normally after those days of no salt and very simple, clean (dull) food, I starting tasting things anew. I needed less salt to really taste what I was eating. I could enjoy the richness of a small amount of chocolate without having to have the whole piece of cake. I remembered the difference between feeling “full” and “ridiculously overstuffed” (and didn’t feel cheated). This was a revelation!
The very boring part is over and I’m back to thinking about food, cooking with luxurious, fabulous, amazing salt (it’s so important, y’all!), and eating the kinds of foods that satisfy not just my physical needs but my senses as well. I’m just doing it a little leaner and lighter these days.
Back to cooking means – back to blogging! A dear couple of friends hosted us for shabbat this week and I brought this to share with our Mediterranean meal. It’s adapted from the fabulous Deborah Madison, of course. She calls it yogurt and cucumber salad – to me, it’s just tzaziki.
One tool that I use for this dish is a yogurt strainer. This is the kind of device I would not have bought for myself – I have cheesecloth and a bowl, and I’d always figured I could strain my own yogurt. But somehow this little tool makes the whole process a snap (thanks Aunt Julie and Uncle Nick for the awesome Christmas gift!). It fits nicely in your refrigerator for overnight straining, which produces a gorgeously thick almost cheese-like substance. For this tzaziki, I strained the yogurt only for a few hours which thickened it up but still left it quite liquid and lovely. I’ve also eaten yogurt cheese on toast with za’atar and salt or on a biscuit with Mimi’s homemade strawberry preserves. The tzaziki below is amazing with lamb burgers and pretty fab with felafel, too.
Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
2 cups plain whole or low-fat yogurt, strained for several hours or overnight
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, white and part of green parts chopped
Fresh mint and dill chopped, to taste (about 2 tbsp each)
2-3 tbsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Good-quality olive oil
Mix together ingredients. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed. Let stand for at least 15 minutes or several hours. Drizzle with olive oil and serve. Makes 3 cups.
Tip: To keep your tzaziki creamy and not watery, toss your chopped cucumbers with a little salt and let them sit in a strainer in the sink while you prep the rest of the ingredients. This draws out some of their water and leaves you with a luxuriously thick dip.
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