I mentioned this earlier, but I recently developed a very healthy (as in vitamin-packed, all-natural, diabetic-friendly) menu for PeachDish to include in one of their weekly boxes, because for some reason they invited me to contribute and of course I was like HECK YEAH MY COUNTRY NEEDS ME. The ingredients were then shipped to customers nationwide, who were able to prepare the recipe for themselves at home with roughly zero advance planning—which is the ideal amount of planning, but which without PeachDish usually results in cold cereal and a pickle for dinner. Since PeachDish is particularly geared toward people who want to cook great meals without researching recipes, doing any grocery shopping, or spending much time in the kitchen, my recipe would have to be super delicious and able to be prepared with a reasonable number of ingredients and a minimal amount of prep and cooking time. And although the PeachDish crew had some reservations about my first pitch, Cold Cereal With Pickle, I used their constructive criticism to propel me into developing what instantly became a new favorite household recipe: a one-skillet marriage between amazing vegetables and sesame-sprinkled fish.
In addition to simplicity, speed and deliciousness, it was important to me that the dish should also adhere to my own dietary needs, not least because I’d be eating quite a lot of it in the process of perfecting the recipe. Anything I’m going to eat almost-daily for a week or two needs to at the very least not kill me or make me sad. Those are tougher criteria lately than usual, because as though being nearly eight months pregnant weren’t enough, I’ve also been slapped with a reduced-carb diet by my doctor.
It’s not for fun or weight loss or anything. An elevated result on my glucose tolerance test led to a diagnosis of gestational diabetes mellitus (a type of insulin resistance that’s brought on by various hormones produced by the placenta, and typically cures itself shortly after delivery, blah blah boring-ass medical stuff blah), and although my blood glucose has luckily proven normal and easily diet-controlled ever since, the principles behind diabetic eating—planning meals around vegetables; including ample proteins and healthy fats; limiting refined, starchy and sugary carbs—have surprised me by being awesome. I love the change of pace and the new menu-planning challenges, and meals featuring veggies have consistently been simple to prepare, easy to improvise and unexpectedly yummy. I hope to stick to the habit, or something resembling it, well beyond my GDM days. So this baby had better love broccoli. And artichokes. And being quiet and keeping his socks on and not ralphing on anything, as long as we’re making lists.
The only real snag I’ve encountered in my brief (and admittedly very fortunate) stint as a temporary diabetic is that planning a meal around vegetables rarely sounds exciting. Sure, most of our veggie-spotlight meals have become new faves, and I love them while I’m eating them. Nonetheless, when I imagine what I would like to eat, I don’t dream of these yummy vegetables. I think about ice cream. I think about mashed potatoes and biscuits and crusty bread and custard pie. And! The irony! As much as I love my starch and sugar, whenever I am actually eating the carby things, I think that in the moment, I maybe don’t always enjoy them quite as much as the less-exciting-sounding vegetabley things, like crisp fresh raw green beans dipped in hummus, or salted avocado with fried eggs. That might mean that part of my food-brain is wired backwards. Or I’ve been brainwashed by Big Carbohydrate. Is that a lobby? If it is, they got to me!
That’s the biggest challenge with veggie-led meals: to make you forget all about the carbs you may or may not be cutting back on, for your own reasons. Here are some popular reasons:
- Diabetes (Type I, Type II, Pre-Diabetes, GDM…any old diabetes you like)
- Weight loss, ideally under the advice of a physician
- A gluten thing
- High triglycerides and/or LDL cholesterol, I think
- Other reasons (I don’t really know a lot of reasons)
I’m pretty sure no one in the whole world should, or truly could, cut out carbohydrates completely. There are good carbs to be had and the body needs them. This recipe, for the sake of awesomeness, uses one of the less-good carbs: white jasmine rice. The healthiest choice is of course to stick to brown rices and other whole grains as best you can, and it’s easy enough to swap out the jasmine rice in this recipe for any kind of brown or wild rice if you prefer (including brown jasmine rice, if you can find it), or if you have stricter dietary needs.
Why didn’t I do it that way? Because I believe in wiggle room. I believe that food should keep the spirits up. And most of all, I believe that using a modest portion of white jasmine rice when it’s the most appropriate choice, instead of subbing a lesser-but-healthier grain or leaving it out altogether, is exactly the sort of tiny treat that can help keep a person happy. Happy people think more clearly, and they’re kinder, and I hear they have lower blood pressure (though I may be confusing this with something I heard about owning a cat). There’s nothing wrong with brown rice, but it doesn’t have the perfect fragrant aroma and smooth-yet-fluffy texture that jasmine rice has. I guess what I’m saying is that not everything can be evenly substituted, and there’s no reason to compromise all the time. Not if you want to be happy and lucid and kind.
But if jasmine rice doesn’t make you happy, by all means, swap in a nice whole grain!
As a potential cooker and eater of this recipe, you should be apprised of its key points. Apart from being very tasty, which is the main purpose of any recipe you find on Knuckle Salad, and being quick to prepare, which was a chief focus for me in working with PeachDish, the first goal of this recipe is to pack in lots of vegetable servings and make them the flavorful star of the dish. The second goal is to cook the fish simply but perfectly to ensure it becomes the ideal complement to the vegetables. The third goal is the toughest, because it’s for you: to share the skillet with another person and not consume the entire thing.
Because you know what’s really scrumptious? Brussels sprouts that have been browned and then simmered in mushroom juice, and mushrooms that have been sauteed with the browned bits of brussels sprouts. And fresh fish, steamed over that same mushroom-and-browned-bits liquid, with sesame seeds and crushed red pepper. And also not really having to do much work. Not having to do much work is delicious.
Oh! And if you have a cucumber and some rice vinegar on hand, you can make a bright, simple appetizer to go with your skillet and rice! The recipe below is written with the assumption that you are making both the main skillet and the cucumber salad appetizer, to maximize your kitchen efficiency, though you can skip the first five ingredients and the first three steps if you aren’t going to make the cucumber part. Speaking of efficiency, do you have a mandolin? You don’t need one, but it’s the quickest way to slice a cuke really really thin, and also lose a finger. Good luck!
Fish and Veggie Skillet with Jasmine Rice and Cucumber Salad
2 servings • 15 minutes prep time • 30 minutes total time
- 1 cucumber
- 1 small onion
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar (seasoned rice vinegar is ideal, but not strictly necessary)
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp water
- 1/2 cup jasmine rice
- Olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/3 lb Brussels sprouts
- 1 pint brown mushrooms
- Crushed red pepper
- 2 thin fillets of white fish (tilapia, whiting, whatever you prefer, as long as it’s thin)
- 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Slice cucumber and onion as thinly as possible. Set half of onion aside for skillet and put other half in salad bowl. Place cucumber slices between sheets of paper towels, ideally with something slightly hefty on top, to soak out some of the liquid.
- In a small, microwave-safe bowl (or small saucepan, if no microwave is available), combine vinegar, sugar, 1 Tbsp water and a pinch of salt. Microwave on high for 30 seconds or warm on stove, and stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Pour over onion slices in salad bowl and place in refrigerator to chill.
- Prepare jasmine rice according to package directions (now is a good time to get it started so that it will be ready when the fish is).
- Prep veggies: Peel and mince garlic cloves, and slice Brussels sprouts and mushrooms in half. (Clean mushrooms first if needed.)
- Heat 1 Tbsp oil in oven-safe skillet over medium-low heat. Add reserved onion slices and garlic and saute one minute, until onions soften. Move onion/garlic mixture to edges of pan and add Brussels sprouts, cut-side down. Add mushrooms to pan on top of sprouts. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and sprinkle with crushed pepper and salt to taste.
- Lay fish over vegetables, skin side down, and sprinkle with salt, crushed pepper, and olive oil. Transfer to oven and bake for 10 minutes, until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
- While fish bakes, add cucumbers to salad bowl with onions and dressing to marinate.
- Carefully lift fish from skillet and serve with rice and vegetables. During cooking, the veggies will create a very light pan sauce that can be used to dress the rice, if desired.
Note: You can also download and print a recipe card from the PeachDish website, if that’s the sort of thing you like to do! Some of the measurements may be given slightly differently, since this version of the recipe corresponds with the shipped box of already-portioned ingredients.
Oh, and just for fun, here’s a picture of this recipe the day our PeachDish box arrived. This was a pretty cool moment for me. :)