Bonne sante (good health)
French food is known and loved for its rich, hearty stews, creamy sauces, buttery pastries and bread, but Nadia Lim finds there is just as much flavour in lighter fare.
French food is no doubt delicious, but not food that is great for your waistline. When I was in France I felt like I put on a few kilos just by looking at the food in some of the shop windows.
It is true the French love to enjoy these foods, but they are eaten much less often than foreigners think. Most of the time they eat very simply and healthily — soup or salad for lunch, a simple dish like an omelette for dinner, and fruit for dessert, saving the rich foods like duck confit to be eaten occasionally. They don’t snack in between meals, and they take their time to eat, rather than wolfing it down in minutes. All of which helps keep you from putting extra calories in your mouth.
Here are a couple of lighter French recipes — the classic salad Nicoise is a healthy tuna salad full of flavour, perfect for lunch or a light dinner. Coq au vin can traditionally be quite rich, but this one has been lightened up both on the calories and cooking time (it’s normally slow-cooked for hours and hours), and is darn tasty — it’s going on the list of quick midweek winter dinners for me.
Coq au vin ("cock in wine’') is traditionally slow-cooked, turning an old tough rooster that’s been marinated in red wine into a tender stew. It’s pretty rare to find rooster, so I’ve given you a much more modern version using chicken that works for the time-poor cook who wants dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. Delicious served with mashed potato and steamed spinach or broccoli.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 sprigs thyme leaves (about 2 tsp)
3 rashers streaky bacon, diced
4 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
¼ cup tomato paste
1½ cups chicken, beef or mushroom stock
600g (about 8-10) boneless skinless chicken thighs, quartered
250g brown button mushrooms, stalks removed, quartered
1 tsp cornflour mixed with 1 Tbsp cold water
- Heat olive oil in a large fry pan on medium heat. Cook onion, garlic, thyme, bacon and bay leaves, until onion is soft and starting to caramelise a little.
- Pour in red wine and allow it to bubble away for a minute while you use a wooden spoon to rub the bottom of the pan to release any pan brownings into the liquid — this will give the stew more flavour.
- Add tomato paste and stock and bring to a gentle boil. Add chicken and mushrooms; stir, cover and leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in cornflour mixture and simmer for a further 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens.
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A traditional French dish from Nice in the south of France (hence its name Nicoise — pronounced ‘nee-swah’). It usually has beans in it, but seeing it’s winter I’ve replaced them with some more seasonal vegetables.
700-800g waxy baby potatoes
4 free-range eggs
1 baby cos lettuce, witloof (Belgium endive) or radicchio
1 bulb fennel
3 baby radishes
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 x 185g can tuna (I prefer mine in oil), drained
¼ cup kalamata olives or 2 tablespoons chopped capers
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 small clove garlic, finely minced or grated
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve
- Halve any larger potatoes so they are all roughly the same size. Place potatoes in a pot with 1 teaspoon salt and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.
- Place eggs in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a gentle boil and time for 6 minutes. Drain eggs and run under cold water to cool down. Once they have cooled, peel off their shells and roughly chop.
- Separate baby cos lettuce leaves and roughly chop. Finely slice fennel and radishes. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Mix all dressing ingredients together and set aside.
- Drain potatoes and toss with chopped egg, vegetables, flakes of tuna, olives/capers and dressing. Season to taste with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
- To serve, divide nicoise salad between plates and serve with a lemon wedge on the side to squeeze over just before eating.