January is the perfect time for making small changes in our lives that can make a big impact on our health. When dieting, it’s important to eat balanced, tasty meals to keep you on the right track and prevent you from slipping back into your old habits.
Since Maltese cuisine is so incredibly delicious, not to mention comforting for these chilly Winter months, we thought we’d put a healthy spin on some of the classics. Kul! (geddit?)
1. Qarabagħli Mimli
The Don of all vegetable dishes, qarabagħli mimli or stuffed marrows can easily be shaken-up to produce a healthier dinnertime recipe, even though they’re not all that naughty to begin with. Start by replacing your minced meat with soya mince, which you can buy dried in granules from the wholefoods isle of your local supermarket. It’s so important to cut down on red meat if you want to keep your heart in check.
Soak your soya mince in enough boiling water to cover it and add a pinch of salt and some herbs for flavour. Non veggies can also add half an OXO cube or a teaspoon of Bovril at this stage to really imitate that meaty flavour.
Recreate your traditional recipe exactly the same, but substitute your white rice for brown rice or even quinoa for a protein packed dinner. If you make enough you can have leftovers the next day and be the envy of the whole office!
2. Rabbit Stew
What if I told you rabbit meat is perfect for slimming down? Yep! It’s low fat content and super high levels of protein (twice as much as chicken per ounce!) make it fantastic for building up muscle and cutting down on cholesterol and calories. It’s also rich in vitamins and minerals such as zinc, potassium and iron- which helps against anemia and feelings of weakness, all the better for your next workout.
However, all this goes to pot when you start fractioning in greasy chips and carb-packed pasta. So cook your rabbit in sauce as you normally would and mix it up by complimenting your meat with “good carbs” like a baked sweet potato, a half-serving of white mashed potato or corn on the cob with a side salad. You’ll soon be fitting rabbit into your everyday meal plans.
3. Catch Of The Day
If there’s one foodie resolution you should be making this year, it’s to eat more sustainable fish. Support our local fishing industry and businesses by making a habit of paying a visit to a fish shop after your regular supermarket shop. Take your fishmonger’s advice on how best to prepare whichever fish or seafood you fancy, they will also be able to advise you on the healthiest cooking options, like steaming and grilling. Bear in mind the seasonal catch will often be the most economical, and that you can freeze any extra.
Lampuki is in season for a short while longer, so act fast if you fancy this well-loved fish whilst it’s still relatively cheap. Of course, Lampuki is traditionally prepared by coating it in seasoned flour and frying it until crisp and golden.
Instead of missing out on this way of eating lampuki, (i.e the best way), you could substitute your starchy white flour for wholegrain, and your side of chips for a small boiled potato and a nice big portion of spinach to make up for it. It’s all about compromise!
4. Bigilla Break
Our favourite national dip, bigilla, made from tic beans, or ful ta’ Ġirba, herbs, olive oil and garlic and is actually very healthy. Eating beans and legumes can decrease the risk of diabetes and heart disease and raw garlic is full of magical properties. It’s antibacterial and anti fungal and can help fight off the common cold- amazing! Try to stay clear of the pre-packaged varieties of bigilla as these contain extra additives, preservatives and a whole lot of sodium and excessive vegetable oil.
Hate to break it to you but galletti have very little nutritional value, so swap them over for carrot sticks for a healthy snack, perfect for the 3 o’clock slump when your energy levels are falling. Raw carrots, as well as being satisfyingly sweet and crunchy, are full of antioxidants and vitamins, including Vitamin C and Vitamin A or retinol- which is great for eyesight and actually does help you see better in low light conditions if you were previously lacking in it. Mind blown.
5. Souper Healthy
What better time of year to fire up a steaming hot pot of comforting soup? Traditional Maltese soups and broths such as vegetable packed Minestra, the tiny pasta classic Kusksu Bil-Ful, fish based Aljotta and the ever so simple Soppa Tal-Armla are all fantastically healthy. However, that doesn’t stop you from making little adjustments here and there, like reducing added salt or using homemade stocks instead of shop bought ones to cut down on sodium levels and nasty additives!
We are lucky to enjoy an abundance of gorgeous locally grown organic vegetables at this time of year which can be purchased from your trusty greengrocer or from farmer’s markets such as the satisfyingly large one at Ta’ Qali. Experiment with tried and tested recipes or even make up your own- soup is quite tricky to mess up! Go wild for unusual vegetables such as cholesterol-lowering fennel and brussel sprouts and other leafy greens which are rich in folic acid.
Sprinkle with crumbled ġbejna, our national cheese traditionally made from sheep or goat’s milk which is actually protected by law by the European Union, along with our variant of irkotta- cool huh? Also try as hard as you can to pass on the Maltese bread. Hey, we never said it would be easy!
6. Ħobż biż-żejt
This lunchtime favourite simply can’t be beaten, but it can be made healthier. Instead of your classic beloved ftira, make yourself two sandwiches using brown bread. Slather on that kunserva, pack in loads of tuna, fresh tomatoes and lettuce, olives, red onion, a pinch of black pepper, capers- the works. You can even drizzle on half a tablespoon of olive oil on each sarnie, just don’t overdo is as olive oil, despite being a healthy, “good fat”, measures in at a whopping 100 calories per tablespoon.
Granted, it’s not going to be the same as our beloved classic Maltese ħobża, but if you normally eat a lot of bread, you’ll most definitely notice the difference in your physique after switching to brown and sliced after a while, so you can look forward to sunny days at the beach tearing in to the real thing, kif suppost.
BONUS: Patriot’s Salad
If you’ve decided that you’re going to break free from the usual unhealthy lunchtime perpetrators and have a salad for lunch every day, at least make it a good one! The Greek Salad is well known the world over for it’s fresh cucumber and crisp cos lettuce complimented by sharp, salty Feta cheese. Little do they know that we can go one notch better with the help of our traditional peppered cheeselets, which pack a tangy punch to any raw vegetable arrangement.
Add in half a cup of boiled quinoa for oodles of protein, half a tin of drained and rinsed butter beans which will keep you feeling fuller for longer, a couple of chopped locally grown and sundried tomatoes, a sprinkling of oregano and a drizzle of olive oil and you’ve got something healthy, tasty and most importantly, patriotic, to look forward to for lunch. Viva Malta!