POSTED: July 1, 2023
Some time ago I started into this challenge of getting my blood pressure numbers in line. In my January 1 post My Doctor Does Not Know Jack, I introduced the issue of getting those numbers down. Part of the equation is getting some exercise, part is consistent sleep, a good dollop of cutting back on the alcohol and getting into a good head space. But a substantial portion is simply changing a diet from one that has an abundance of fat, sugar, carbohydrates and salt to one that eliminates or significantly reduces these components.
What complicates things is that each individual responds differently to the various elements. One person might have sugar as their real culprit, while another may be more affected by the carbs. So its important to experiment and find out which one is your real problem and then build a diet to respond to that. But with that said, if you are managing hypertension, cutting back on all of them is good plan.
Now this is easy to do on the short term, but if you like food, it is a bit of a challenge on a longer term basis. You just can’t replace a nice crème sauce with sawdust and expect to get the same effect.
What are the tricks? Well one that is not really a trick at all but something every gardener knows: fresh = flavour. It is pretty hard to beat anything that is just off the vine or out of the ground. I have heard my buddy Jim go on at some length about being a young boy and going to his great uncle Charlies big garden behind Aunt Josie and Uncle Charlies house in a little village close to Jims parents cottage. Uncle Charlie would go take him down one of the many rows and pull up some fresh carrots and then wash them in the rain barrel and eat one, still wet from the rain barrel with Jim right there in the garden. Fresh. Really Fresh.
So either growing your own vegetables, or buying at a fresh market is a good start. A sliced tomato that is super fresh doesn’t need a lot of dressing up.
But what of sauces? I really like using sauces as a way to take some rather pedestrian proteins like chicken in a more tasty direction. A good starting point is to move away from the ones of my heritage – the really heavy crème based French ones, and move to more of the vegetable based (often Italian) ones.
Tomatoes, green beans, broccoli all are full of nutrients, and onions and garlic and mushrooms can add texture and flavour without adding anything else.
The “sauce” I have been working with most recently is diced tomatoes. I know that in the winter I may have to move to canned diced tomatoes and even that will be fine if needed but getting a variety of nice fresh tomatoes, especially the ones that have peaked and may not be as attractive visually just sliced up can be a very powerful sauce. I have also taken to using mushrooms as a substitute for potatoes. Because I cook for several people, most of which are not having to watch their blood pressure numbers I will prepare some nice Yukon gold potatoes for them and have some cremini mushrooms for myself.
What follows is a simple one pot dish that I enjoy, has great specs for anyone watching those blood pressure numbers or wants to lose some weight, and is nice enough to be served to guests.
Skinless, boneless chicken breasts – one small piece per person cut in half to make two roughly square portions. I am moving away from the whole carnivore consumption so while not becoming a vegetarian the size of the meat portion I have really cut back on, and a dish like this one allows that to happen rather organically. Not a bad way to go with the price of meat these days anyway.
One medium tomato per person, diced – More is better but a minimum of one medium or a couple of smaller ones. If small roma’s are at a good price go with two or three for each person or two thirds of a big beefsteak tomato but the key thing here is that you want to end up with about a cup of diced tomato or more per person. At the end of the day these are going to be cooked so if there are some on sale that are really ripe, but don’t look quite like the super models of the basket those will be great.
Small Potatoes and Cremini mushrooms – why are these together ? Well four or five small potatos each for those who are not looking at the specs and a similar number of mushrooms for the ones who are is a nice route to go.
Green Beans – A handful of fresh green beans, or French beans per person makes a good bed for the dish, both in terms of a component of the meal as well as the visual.
Other Vegetables – this is a matter of taste. You can put in broccoli or some carrots cut up finely and onions, garlic or zucchini or bell peppers etc. This is all a matter of personal taste but you don’t need to add any if you don’t want to as those flavourful tomatoes will carry the day.
Herbs – if you are adding a bunch of veggies to this sauce then I would not add herbs but I have found just going with the diced tomatoes and some nice cilantro or parsley makes a very nice sauce without creating too many conflicting tastes.
Spices- Some people are spice crazy and at times I will add them, particularly in the winter or in a context where I don’t have the fresh components to really carry the meal but if you have made this with the fresh tomatoes and it is going over some fresh green beans, I would leave the spices in their drawer or rack for this one.
As usual you clean, cut and otherwise prep all components first. While I call this a one pot dish and if camping you could do it that way I prefer to have a second pot of water with a steamer as well as using a larger pot, jumbo cooker or large covered sauce pan.
The starting point is the little potatoes go into the pan with the water and bring to a rolling boil. We are starting the boiling process with them as they take a bit longer.
The washed and cut chicken gets a light dusting of canola or vegetable oil and then jumps into jumbo cooker, or sauce pan brown each side. If you have a grill it is a great way to go. The key thing here is whether in a pan or on the grill, this is all about the visual. No one wants to eat something that looks like a big white erasure, so we are giving it a bit of character before we actually cook it.
If you are working with onions I would then put the meat aside for a moment and just put in your cut onions to soften up a bit before proceeding, otherwise just leave the chicken in the pot or pan and add your tomatoes.
If you are adding any other vegetable this is where they would go in.
The pot is covered and then goes into the oven at 375 f and set a timer for 30 minutes.
Whenever those boiling potatoes have lost their really hard texture (but have not become soft to a fork) we are going to get them out of the water and add them to the pot in the oven.
When the timer is getting down to about seven or eight minutes put the green beans in the steamer insert and a few minutes later add the mushrooms on top.
When the timer goes put a thermometer in the thickest portion of the chicken pieces and if it is at 160 or higher you can turn off the oven and check the green beans that should now be soft to a fork.
Plate up the green beans with two pieces of chicken on top of each and a dollop of the tomato sauce. Place the potatoes around the outside of the plate for those able to have them and the mushrooms around the plate for others. The chicken will be moist, the beans will not need to be seasoned as the diced tomatoes will also have helped with that.
This meal I also find lends itself very well to doubling up and reheating a day to two later but you will want to do the mushrooms and green beans on the day you are eating.
P.S. In my little vegetable pot garden I have stopped committing the space to tomatoes and just buy those fresh but have had great success with lettuce this year. I cant bear to cut up some of those amazing leaves for a salad though so just clean them and put them down whole for a salad. I have also found that n contrast to the specs for using any kind of vinaigrette or oil based salad dressing the numbers are pretty good to just use a drizzle of balsamic glaze. If you are eating with others who can have it, a piece of focaccia or other nice bread can really round out the dish.