Monday, February 20, 2012

Healthy Flavors of Provence on a Budget

This post is an almagamation of need and want. I wanted to try something flavorful for dinner that was easy to prepare and it also needed to fit in with the health re-boot that my family's undertaking this year. I've been inspired by a number of different recipe books lately, and had a chance to do some bulk grocery shopping last week, so tonight I took a trip to Provence. Tuna Niçoise Sliders and Tomato "Tarte."

The Sliders are my own version of the traditional salade Niçoise, and the Tarte is an adaptation of a recipe in Weight Watcher's latest "Ready, Set, Go" cookbook. I have a slight objection to calling the tomato pastry a "tarte," being a linguistic purist, but even the local French pastry shop sells a sandwich called "Haute Ham" (pronounced incorrectly as "hot"), so I'm accustomed to being surrounded by these unfortunate treadings.

The Sliders could not be more simple and the salad base is an excellent way to use up leftovers that are hanging around in the refrigerator. I had a small bowl of peas that I added in for some color, and half of a baked potato that was just the ticket.

I should start by mentioning that there are all kinds of different varations of Tuna Niçoise, and the one I'm most familiar with is the canned variety I used to buy at the local hypermarché when I was teaching. It's usually oil and vinegar, some kind of olive, and something additionally salty like capers or pickled red pepper. Those are essential. Everything else is up to the imagination. My supermarket salad always had cooked potato and carrot mixed in, so it was a double bonus that I happened to have a leftover potato ready to dice and throw in. Another variation calls for mixing in a minced boiled egg, which adds more of a protein punch.

So what's in my Tuna Niçoise, and how do I make it?

The salad base:

1 can of tuna in water, drained (and rinsed, and drained again since this recipe is "wet")

2-3 tsps of extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup minced or sliced kalamata olive (green olive works just as well)

Red wine vinegar to taste

Black pepper, salt to taste

Diced cooked baking potato, about 1/2 cup

Green peas - you can substitute chopped capers and then eliminate the additional salt

That's really all there is to it. You drain the tuna and add in the other ingredients, binding the solids together with the oil and vinegar until it's the consistency you like.

I hollowed out a wheat roll and layered slices of tomato to complete the sliders.

You could potentially pack them for a picnic or bento lunch, but I'd recommend building the sandwiches just before you leave, as they'll get soggy if being stored for a while.

As an alternative, I packed tomorrow's lunch bento with just the salad base, a fence of baby carrot, some whole-grain coucous (a favorite), and a large slice of Tomato Tarte. No hunting around in the morning for something to pack!

As for the budget, I made dinner for 3 people, and had enough for two lunch portions out of just the one can of tuna and the tarte recipe. Less than a dollar per serving even factoring in the phyllo dough I bought for the tarte.

I won't go into the specifics for the Tomato Tarte other than to say that the phyllo dough is what makes it special and crusty, and you prepare it according to the boxed instructions. It's nothing more than layering tomato slices, onion, Herbes de Provence, olive, and sprinklings of parmesan. It's also very low-fat and low-calorie. Compared to a slice of pizza, it's more flavorful and a fraction of the nutrition ding. It can be made different ways to accomodate the pickier eaters in your entourage, but don't skip the Herbes de Provence or the cheese sprinkles if you want to pretend it's authentic.

Tea Recommendation: Iced Moroccan Mint (Gundpowder Green with Mint) - it's light, and it balances the strong vineger/salt vibe

So - as promised in the introduction, these two finds combined a few things that are near and dear to my gastronomic heart: healthy, cheap, and French. Doesn't get much better than that!


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