Recipes that taste as good as they make you feel

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I’ve never been one for dieting. All food, be it “healthy” or junk, has its right time and place and, as we all know but maybe don’t put into action, moderation is key. However, like all mortals, I too can be influenced by the zeitgeist, and the “new year diet,” however you want to interpret it, does give everyone an opportunity to at least reflect on what we eat. Does what we eat make us feel happy overall? Are there things about the way we eat that we’d like to change? And if so, what’s stopping us from taking the leap?

I’ve taken the opportunity of the new year to not eat less but, rather, eat more. On a specific diet plan for a training session under the guidance of my gym, I’m eating more than I usually do, but my eating is different. Everything is high-protein and pretty low in fat. And though it may seem irritating for me to recommend recipes based on a personal diet, I know, if the marketing of the last half-decade is to be factored in, everyone is concerned about protein — how much are they supposed to get and what foods have the most.

It’s in the spirit of my own need for high-protein meals that taste delicious that I’ve gathered a group of them for you as well. If you’re on this same journey or are just looking to eat in a manner that’s a little more balanced, these dishes are a great place to start. And if you’re not at all entertaining this notion, well, the recipes taste great, and that’s all that matters.

One of my favorite weeknight meals, diet or not, is my brine-braised chicken thighs, which use the salty, flavorful brine from olives to add flavor to baked chicken and kale. Need to lighten up on the fat? This dish works well with breasts too, and you can omit the olives themselves since their flavor will be in that brine.

Paprika — punchy when used in large amounts — ruddies sweet peppers in my quick paprikash sauce that pairs beautifully with seared pork chops, as it does with fish fillets or boneless skinless chicken breasts. Hungarian wax peppers are traditional for the sauce, but use some yellow bell peppers in a pinch to cut out an extra shopping trip.

If you have a little more time to focus on cooking, try Paola Briseño-González’s za’atar beef cheeks, which can be made on the weekend to use in meals throughout the coming week. Can’t find beef cheeks or want a lighter cut? Cubed beef shoulder, lamb shoulder or pork shoulder also pair well with the earthy spices in this saucy braise.

If fish is more your thing, Dawn Perry’s grilled swordfish is sublime, topped with a caper-and-parsley herb sauce and served over mashed potatoes enriched with only a couple of shots of olive oil to keep them simple for a weeknight meal.

On the vegetarian front, I love these tofu bowls — also by Dawn Perry — that use soy-marinated tofu blocks (super easy to prep ahead and keep in the fridge to add protein to other meals throughout the week) to create a healthful bowl made with your favorite grain, some crunchy and bright cabbage and an avocado.

Brine-Braised Chicken Thighs With Kale and Avocado

The chicken in this dish is baked in olive brine, so it doesn’t need extra salt. (If you aren’t convinced, taste the dish before adding any salt at the end.) If you have mixed olives you want to use but no brine, simply season the chicken with salt before adding it to the dish and pour over ½ cup chicken stock or water in its place.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes.

(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Pork Chop Paprikash

In traditional paprikash, flour is stirred into sour cream to keep it from splitting when it’s added to the hot pepper sauce, but here I serve the sour cream and sauce separately so you can choose how much you want to include in each serving. Hungarian wax peppers are very common in most grocery stores and, along with hot paprika, lend the sauce its distinctive flavor. You can substitute Cubanelles, sweet banana peppers or small yellow bell peppers in a pinch.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 35 minutes.

Pork-chop paprikash

(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Za’atar Beef Cheeks With Fennel and Mango Salad

Beef cheeks are crusted in za’atar and then braised in a date purée, which gives them a complex herbal sweetness to balance the rich cut. If you can’t find cheeks, use beef chuck as a substitute. The tart and crunchy fennel and green mango salad lifts the beef with its bright flavors. Green mangoes are available in most grocery stores but if you aren’t able to find them, substitute the amount with tart green apples.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 40 minutes.

Za'atar Beef Cheeks with Fennel and Mango Salad

(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Grilled Swordfish With Quick Crushed Potatoes and Parsley-Caper Relish

Your grill performs double duty in this dish, adding flavor to meaty swordfish steaks as well as lightly charring scallions for a smoky, herb-packed relish. If you’re not a fan of swordfish, you can swap it out with any firm-fleshed fish that grills well, such as tuna or monkfish steaks, or haddock or halibut filets.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 40 minutes.

Grilled Swordfish with Quick Crushed Potatoes and Parsley-Caper Relish, served with green beans

(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Tofu Bowls With Avocado, Cabbage and Turmeric Tahini

This recipe shows that seasoning tofu can really be as simple as letting it soak up soy sauce before a quick sauté to get the edges crisp and browned. Squeezing as much liquid as possible out of tofu is the secret to getting it delectably crisp. If you’d rather not use a ton of paper towels, you can use a couple of clean, absorbent dish towels instead.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 30 minutes.

A Tofu bowl with lemon-lime cabbage, avocado and turmeric tahini

(Lindsay Kreighbaum / For The Times)

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