January menus, with or without resolutions, ought to be gentler and milder, given December’s inevitable excesses.
For postholiday cooking (since your kitchen has no doubt seen a lot of action lately), you want comfort, ease and lightness, and these three dishes cover all counts. They can be served sequentially, as a menu for a quiet dinner or on their own.
We’re all craving comfort, especially this winter, and nothing soothes like a warm bowl of soup, whether as a starter or as a meal. Puréed vegetable soups are both easy to make and quick to cook. It’s simply a matter of simmering the vegetables until tender and blitzing the contents of the pot.
There are, of course, details that need minding. Make sure to season the soup as it cooks — it should taste good even before it goes into the blender. And there’s the matter of thickness. I prefer a puréed soup that pours easily, with a creamy consistency, rather than one that’s as stiff as porridge. But that’s easy to achieve: It just means adding a bit more liquid, as necessary.
Classic leek and potato soup is well known and well loved. Replacing the potatoes with parsnips may seem arbitrary, but the result is sweeter, earthier and more fragrant. I have kept it quite plain, seasoning with only salt and pepper and a touch of turmeric for color, but it is satisfying and tastes of what it is. Sautéing the vegetables very slowly before adding liquid is the key to success. I like it best made with water rather than broth — it makes a lighter soup. For a little richness, a dab of crème fraîche or yogurt or a drizzle of olive oil can be nice.
As a main course, generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with meatballs. Though, traditionally, a meatball may swim in red sauce, in the spirit of lighter, leaner fare, these are made with ground chicken and go sauceless.
There is no stinting on flavor, however; the chicken mixture is laced with aromatic spices. A blend of black pepper, lemon zest, cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon and crushed fennel seeds supplies the necessary zing. Cooked chopped spinach, a shower of cilantro and a little serrano chile lend the required green, herbaceous back notes and a bit of a kick.
To keep kitchen time to a minimum — and flavor at a maximum — make the meatball base a day in advance of cooking. Frying the meatballs gently in olive oil over medium heat keeps them juicy. (High-heat cooking would make them tough.) For a pleasantly light meal, forgo any kind of sauce, and serve the spiced meatballs with steamed rice and lemon wedges or alongside a salad of leafy greens.
A stellar fruit salad makes a perfect dessert. Packed with vitamins and antioxidants, it’s delicious, and stunning to boot. Winter is the season for citrus, so choose among colorful oranges and grapefruit, including blood orange, if possible. Fuyu persimmons, also in season now, can be eaten raw and unripe. (Pointy-bottomed Hachiya persimmons cannot.) They have the slippery texture of mango and a lovely flavor somewhere between melon and papaya.
Bright, ruby-red pomegranate seeds, like sweet-sour jewels, top everything off. I think this salad, well chilled, needs no garnish at all, or any additional flavors. But, if you want something more, add a splash of orange liqueur or limoncello.
After a deliberately restorative meal like this, one will leave the table glowing, and with no regrets.