What do I like that's like what I like but different?
November 11, 2015 8:18 PM   Subscribe

My preference is for heavy, rich food. It's too much for me lately, but that's what I'm in the habit of eating and making. What would I like that feels / tastes a bit lighter?

My activity level has reduced by a lot. The food I typically eat feels like too much, now (too rich, heavy, bready).

I'm looking for ideas for simple, filling, lighter alternatives that might hit the same kind of spot without being as heavy-feeling, or calorific. I've always had a good appetite, but I used to burn a lot more. Previously, grossed 2000-2300 calories. I think I should be at about 1600-1800, maybe 1900 now.

Some kind of meat for protein is sort of essential. I've tried to have veggie days - even loading them up with protein, I eat much more (volume/calories) than I would otherwise, and feel kind of "wrong", not satiated.

Despite the reduced appetite, I still couldn't live on salads. Same for soup-only meals (full by volume but "something's missing") and, usually, carb-focused meals (e.g. stir frys).

**Must be simple**, fast, and not involve a lot of intensive prep (RSI issues). I don't have a crockpot.

When I cook for myself, I tend to eat:
- beef (steaks, burgers, roasts), pork (any which way), lamb. Grilled, roasted, pan-fried.
- heavy casseroles & stews; chills and sauces with ground or cubed beef/pork
- cheese (mostly feta & goat cheese), yogurt, cream, milk, butter - basically all dairy's lovely
- tuna & deli meats in sandwiches ( e.g. salami, cream cheese, tomato = perfect). smoked salmon sometimes. Paninis are never wrong (except now that they're so bready and heavy feeling :/)
- eggs
- most breads
- tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach & other leafy greens, zucchini, cabbage
- legumes & beans
- potatoes
- nuts (almonds, walnuts)
- sometimes a banana or berries, that's mostly it for fruit. (Won't be swayed on this, that's the fruit I can eat).

I think when it comes down to it, I lean hard towards umami flavours. (I like a lot of flavours and cuisines, but for day to day, umami peasant food is mostly where it's at, for me.)

Fish: I'm limited to the frozen stuff I can afford/find nearby, and it's mostly awful. Shellfish are ok.

Cagey about chicken. (The stuff I can afford doesn't taste or look the way it used to.)

tl;dr: Need quick, simple, convenient, filling, umami-type dishes that are less heavy than what I've been eating. What do I want to eat?
posted by cotton dress sock to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Even before I saw you say it I was going to say you like umami-ish stuff. I would think you should make friends with the hearty grains: barley, farro, quinoa. They tend to be higher in protein, feature complex carbs that fill you up fast and stave off hunger for a long time, and they go really well with strong flavors. Almost all of them can be made into dishes that work both hot and cold and you can vary the flavors - like, orange, avocado, kale and goat cheese tossed with a grain for a cold salad, or broccoli, cauliflower, madras curry, and coconut milk with a grain for a hot curry sort of thing. They can serve as hot breakfasts, cold lunches, stews and soups or salads. Recipes for hearty whole grains are easy to Google for. They are a great way to feel satisfied without taking in too much grease and richness.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on November 11, 2015 [11 favorites]

I just made this Harissa, Broccoli, Spinach, and Wild Rice Casserole with Crispy Prosciutto which was amazing, and veggie-centered, so it's decently filling without being heavy. (I didn't have harissa, so I used sriracha and it was still yummy.)
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:26 PM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Jumping off of Miko's answer, you might like this quinoa and kale recipe. It was one of the first things I tried when I was cooking with quinoa for the first time. The curry and cumin are a nice flavor combo, and the onions get nicely caramelized. You could always throw some grilled chicken or beef on top if you want. Quinoa definitely has a nice, fuller flavor compared to grains like rice or couscous, and I do think it's more filling.

FWIW, I'm also a pretty diehard meat eater who has a hard time feeling full if meat isn't part of a meal, but when I made the quinoa and kale recipe, I served it with some diced roast sweet potato and some roasted brussel sprouts and it made for a very satisfying and filling dinner.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:58 PM on November 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Barley is lovely and high in protein and has a lot more flavor complexity than plain rice (even brown rice) but is just as easy to cook. You can even use it to bulk up a less-meaty stew; I've had amazing low-meat high-veg chili with barley that was roasted in the pot to get that malty flavor before all the other chili ingredients were added.

You only mention mushrooms in passing but they are a big component of umami-rich vegetarian cooking and can contribute so much to omnivore dishes. I think they are woefully underutilized.

Since you mention budget limitations, don't bother with fresh mushrooms except when there's a sale on bulk criminis or something. Find a reasonably priced source for dried mushrooms, instead. Rehydrating dried mushrooms is as simple as boiling a kettle of water, putting your dried mushrooms in a bowl, and pouring the hot water over the mushrooms to just cover them, and going away for a while. You can rehydrate them overnight in the fridge, too, and they last a few days.

Keep the soaking liquid and use it in place of any broth or water requirements (awesome for gravy, cooking grains in - like barley! - and adding to anything roasting that you don't want to dry out) chop or slice the mushrooms and use them in any cooked dish in addition to your meat protein. They will be chewy and soak up all the flavors in a dish. The trick is to let them brown. Since they spent a while soaking up a lot of liquid it will take a while for them to brown, but when they do they will have so much flavor. You can experiment with types of dried mushrooms; Asian supermarkets will have lots to experiment with, and mixing up a few types in one dish can be really pleasing. You can also order them online since they are a pantry staple. And if you have it, you can soak them in different liquids like broth and wine to give many different flavors to the same type of mushroom.

Do you like loaded baked potatoes? I will usually have a baked potato topped with something for about one dinner a week. The topping varies wildly but it's a good way to have a smaller portion of something like leftover taco fixings, stew or chili, side vegetables that need eating up, deli meat chopped and mixed with some sauteed onions, and so-on. Just keep it light on the dairy and widen what you consider appropriate potato toppings. If you like sweet potatoes, that's even better for you, but I think they don't go with as many things. Sweet potatoes with chili on top are wonderful, though, and just one is pretty darn satisfying, even though it's much less food than a whole bowl of chili next to a whole baked potato (with butter or sour cream).
posted by Mizu at 9:29 PM on November 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Baked sweet potatoes are quite filling, you can put almond/nut butters on them as a garnish (protein!). And you usually don't feel gross afterward!
posted by easter queen at 9:52 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hint: you can make a chewier less-creamy whole grain risotto with any of the grains people are mentioning (well, not quinoa). Just search recipe sites for "pearl barley risotto" or whatever; once you get the hang of it (it takes quite a bit longer) you can adapt any risotto recipe.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:05 PM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thai red cargo rice is high in fiber and protein. Tastes very good, nutty maybe but not over whelming. If you cut down to one serving of meat per day and make it lightly sauteed or roasted. No butter, skip the whole milk, sour cream, fry sauce, fried food. Consider 2-3 ounces of cheese or two slices of pizza, your meat for the day. Then what is lect id 2-3 servings of vegetables, and a piece or two of fruit. Don't sweeten your hot beverage of choice. Avoid preserved and fatty meats. Eat five servings of oatmeal per week. Keep some pecans around to put on it. Use soy milk to make it. Keep blue berries and oranges around. Only eat cookies if you are willing to make them using whole grain flour and olive oil, and about half the sugar.
posted by Oyéah at 11:30 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Whatever you make, throw in lots of cooked vegetables. They give you a lot more bulk for very few calories and they are a part of a larger dish you get the flavor and satisfaction of the rest of the bowl. I use a lot of broccoli and cauliflower for this. For example, if you chop cauliflower very fine in the food processor, it takes on a rice like quality - so it extends your carbs at a much lower calorie density.
posted by metahawk at 12:16 AM on November 12, 2015

Best answer: A lazy caprese type salad with chopped up tomatoes and feta or mozzarella chunks, a bit of basil if you can get it, drizzled generously with basalmic vinegar and olive oil might hit a good spot for you. If you need meat with it, as your post suggests, a couple slices of bacon or some salami on the side might do.

Sliced tart crisp apples with peanut or almond butter smeared on them make a great snack that has substance.

If you have a grocery store that would carry this, some frozen meat-based dumplings would work out nicely for you I think, and you can make a quick sauce out of soy sauce + vinegar + a dash of sesame oil to up the umami content. And dumplings would go well with veggies on the side.
posted by foxfirefey at 12:52 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Picking up the umaminess, miso soup on the side will help.

And, as far as vegetables go, I find roasted vegetables much more satisfying than steamed, boiled, or raw. Roasting brings out deeper flavors and sweetness. The texture gets "meatier" too. And, for your RSI much less cutting and chopping than say a veggie soup or salad. I only have to cut a carrot 1-3 times before it goes in the roasting pan. Just cut an onion in half. Roasted cauliflower is amazing. I just grab whatever veggies and toss em in a big steel roasting pan with oil. Salt to taste if you like. Done. Takes time, but less laborious prep. And, a big batch will keep in the fridge a while.
posted by Gotanda at 1:38 AM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'll def reconsider quinoa and other grains a bit more. I did have a quinoa moment and liked it well enough, but I was boring about it - treated it as I would a plain rice side, more or less. (I've tended to go for simplicity with cooking since I've been on my own, letting the steak or whatever do the work of tasting good for me :) A bit more complexity might be ok :). Love potatoes, I usually just parboil then sautee them with garlic, but I could dress them up. Yes to sweet potatoes :) Budget's an issue, but I can afford mushrooms. (It's just that $20 CAD for two Mennonite-reared chicken breasts is more than I feel ok about parting with, and the watery, flavourless, odd-textured $6 grocery store breasts aren't where I want to go, either.)

Consider 2-3 ounces of cheese or two slices of pizza, your meat for the day.

I appreciate the suggestion, but this would be hard for me. (Habit to date has been ~7-8 oz of meat per meal, with 1/2 cup of starch & 1-2 cups veg.)

Baking / roasting - I'm ok with it for meat, because I don't do it often (might do a roast one day out of 7) and my timings/temps are down. Most other stuff, I like to see/smell what's going on (plus it's faster, usually). But it's true that it's less work! That's persuasive :)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:42 AM on November 12, 2015

Thai black rice has a chewiness that's similar to barley, and it's more nutritious and filling than white rice. Works great for stir fries; I like this one with plenty of fish sauce for a nice umami punch.

I think caponata takes as rich as good beef if you use a high-quality herb vinegar. Another nice eggplant-based Italian dish that packs a punch is aubergine parmigiana. Dishes with eggplant and balsamic vinegar are also a good place to look.

Some types of kimchi have a nice umami flavor, and you can make lots with it, like kimchi fried rice and kimchi stew.
posted by neushoorn at 2:56 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

My favorite thing to do with mushrooms (like, the pre-sliced generic white button kind) is to cook them in a pan with a little olive oil until they're dark and shrunken - not burnt, but really really well done. This brings out the mushroomy umami flavor like whoa. Then I guess you could put them on pasta or chicken or other foods, but I'd just as soon eat them out of the pan.

How do you feel about olives? For me, they hit the same spot as mushrooms, but with extra salt and fat, and a few go a long way, either in recipes or as snacks. If there's a fancy olive bar in your area/budget, look for castelvetrano olives; they're bright green, very mild but full-flavored, and delicious.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:12 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

This Whole-Wheat Orzo Salad with Broccoli Pesto recipe is super delicious and fits that category. I'd suggest adapting it as needed, for example you could omit the pine nuts since they can be pricey.
posted by belau at 4:54 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Anything with a tahini dressing will provide richness to salads that might otherwise be missing something. Goes really well with greens (broccoli, kale) in particular.
posted by Tess at 5:46 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

The magazine Cooking Light often does recipe makeovers where they take a typically heavy dish and develop a less caloric version.
posted by Leontine at 6:38 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have similar tastes to you, except I'm vegetarian. there are lots if good suggestions here for vege dishes, but my suggestion is to scale back, rather than eliminate, the meat in some of your dishes. think of it as combining the classic meat dish with the vegetarian alternative.
Some ideas (sorry I can't post links at the moment)
Mushroom and beef stroganoff with a fancy grain or spaghetti squash (easy on the sour cream, heavy on the mushrooms)
sausage and lentil stew with bread and a side salad
Meat and vegetable curry of some sort
grilled vegetable skewers (tandoori, mediterranean, etc) with herby quinoa (add you favourite grillable meat)
any asian dish that has a tofu version as well as a meat version. e.g. mee goreng, pad thai, bibimbap. bump up the vegies in these, and sub some of the meat with tofu.
bean+meat chili, homemade cornbread(or whatever) garlicky spinach
If you are having a slab of meat + vegetable sides, scale it down and replace, say, with a portobello steak.
posted by neatsocks at 7:16 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

The thing you find missing in carb-heavy meals and salads is probably fat. Fat-heavy diets can be surprisingly low-calorie, because people usually compensate by eating less overall. If you're skeptical, imagine eating the calorie equivalent of a burger and fries in straight butter.

Try dressing a salad with a well-marbled 4 oz. steak, including pan gravy. Mushroom-barley risotto with a strong cheese (chevre, blue, parmesan). A quarter-pound of butter per pound of dry peas in your split pea soup.

Picking up the umaminess, miso soup on the side will help.

This has worked really well for me. Try making a big batch of miso soup over the weekend and warming up a pint of it to sip as you cook your dinner every night. You'll be surprised by how well it takes the edge off your appetite by the time you're ready to plate your dinner proper. And then, plate only as much food as looks appetizing to you at that moment. Feel free to leave half the steak in the kitchen for seconds (somehow, I rarely actually go back for seconds).
posted by d. z. wang at 7:27 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, have you just tried eating less? There's no reason you can't eat only 1800 kcal of steak and potatoes.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:27 AM on November 12, 2015

The prep or cost might be too much for you, but you might consider trying one of those deliver-the-ingredients and you cook it services for a while and see if it introduces you to some things you like that you didn't realize, or some cool substitution ideas. I use Blue Apron and it has really expanded my cooking vocabulary. The meals are usually between 600-700 calories each, and about $10/plate (I believe it's $60 for 3 meals with 2 servings each). I make both servings and I eat one for dinner and take the next for lunch. I'd say they use umami flavors about once every 5 or 6 meals? I get two meat entrees and one veggie and it works pretty nicely. Things I've learned I like that I have never enjoyed before, thanks to Blue Apron:


They also do sometimes send meals that are straight up steak & potatoes, but they are smaller portions and yet very filling.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:34 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'll n'th hearty grains, and also recommend cooking up a big batch and stashing in the fridge/freezing. I never want to make something like farro when I get home from work, because it takes a long time to cook (unattended, but when I'm hungry, I'm hungry!) I think having a big batch of grains + a big batch of beans or lentils in the fridge would go a long way toward making these meals easy. One of my fav dishes that feels rich but not too heavy is a simple lentil salad with beets (I buy them pre-cooked at the grocery - a big time saver if your grocery has that option), goat cheese, fresh herbs, and a simple vinaigrette. So yummy!
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:38 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I eat a Boca or Gardein burger almost every day, seared and served over wilted spinach or other vegetables. This is a leftover from my Weight Watchers days. While there are plenty of reasons to avoid or dislike fake meats, I find that these, along with tofu, are filling and have staying power in a way that very few other things do. (At least, things that are low-calorie.) Gardein is considerably more appetizing to me than other fake meat, but it is a scarce and expensive product in the US.
posted by BibiRose at 8:00 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also, have you just tried eating less? There's no reason you can't eat only 1800 kcal of steak and potatoes.

True; it's also that it sits heavy in my guts for some reason and is less appetizing than before. Less meat is doable. 2 oz of cheese/day instead, doubtful!

Great ideas everyone, thanks!
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:05 AM on November 12, 2015

This Mushroom Bourguignon dish at Smitten Kitchen is surprisingly simple although it does take time. The only chopping needed is the mushrooms and carrots and you could just get those pre-sliced. It's vegetarian, so rich in umami, and would probably be amazing over quinoa (I personally like it over buttered egg noodles but that seems counter to your requirements).
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:53 AM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Try taking the things you already eat with ground meat, and adding more vegetables. Frozen spinach is one of my wintertime staples; you can stir it into almost anything. Mushrooms go well with a little bit of meat, and chopped bell pepper is pretty versatile, too.
posted by yarntheory at 9:15 AM on November 12, 2015

Given my druthers, I'd eat like you. But my body prefers less cheese/dairy, and my ethics prefer less meat. I like recipes that use meat as flavor, rather than the central feature, and for my household, this often means stews, stir fries, curries, and soups. I just shift the meat:veg ratio so that there are a LOT of veggies. Last week was a stir fry with cabbage, red pepper, and carrot, and then a little bit of meat -- maybe half a pound for the four of us. For lunch right now, I'm eating a chicken soup that's heavy on the cabbage, celery root, fennel and carrot and light on the chicken.

The key for me is finding ways to add a bit of fat or umami to make it work. Eating a reasonable portion of cheese and crackers with my soup helps the soup feel more filling. Adding a killer stir fry sauce makes the stir fry "stick."
posted by linettasky at 1:51 PM on November 12, 2015

« Older Heron ID   |   Help me name a cat please Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.