February is not only the month for love because of Valentine’s Day, it’s also the month dedicated to heart health. With all the heart-shaped candies and dessert overload this month, I thought it would be a good time to provide a little balance and dedicate this article to taking care of your heart (which has been taking care of you from day one). Now, I know I’m in the business of selling sugar on most days, but to be honest, I don’t consume that much sugar at all. Not to say I don’t enjoy dessert every now and then, but for the most part, we try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables along with plenty of heart-healthy foods.

So what are some heart-healthy foods? You probably have several in your home already: foods with omega-3 such as salmon, tuna and flaxseed; foods with antioxidants such as green tea, dark chocolate and even a little red wine; fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, leafy greens, onions, peppers, berries, apples and citrus; and nuts and grains such as almonds, walnuts, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat products. If you already have a kitchen full of these items, then great job! If not, don’t worry, you can get there in no time.

It’s not as hard to incorporate heart-healthy foods into your diet as it seems. A couple of different choices here and there can really change the whole way you eat. Again, I’m a pastry chef, as well as the daughter of a dietitian, so believe me when I say I have to actively work to balance the foods that come into our home. 

I really believe the best diet is one that allows flexibility, enjoyment as well as healthy options. If food isn’t enjoyable, then I don’t want it. It needs to taste good no matter how healthy it is, and I think that’s where we encounter the biggest hurdles. How do we get food that’s good for us to taste good, too? My personal opinion is that the secret is herbs. They’re cheap, readily available, not to mention growable, they’re calorie-free and best of all, they pack a punch of flavor.

One thing I make frequently is fish, but sometimes we eat so much of it that chicken is a welcomed departure. But, as you know, chicken can get boring (and sometimes dry) very quickly.

The recipe for this Greek chicken is one of the staples in my kitchen. I can whip this up pretty quickly and don’t have to worry if it’ll be good because it's a crowd pleaser even with the kids. It’s flavorful, but approachable, which is important to me. And best of all, I can throw so many heart-healthy ingredients together when I make this meal. 

I like to make a big batch of this and serve it with brown rice and/or a chickpea salad on the first day, then shred the chicken and use it as a makeshift souvlaki and use the shredded chicken in pita bread with tons of fresh veggies and tzatzik as a sandwich. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do and hope this month you make love of yourself a priority over all else.

 

Greek Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 red onion sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp. good olive oil
  • 3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed and chopped
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup sliced black olives
  • 1/2 fresh lemon
  • 4-6 chicken breasts, flattened slightly or chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 1-2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley for garnish

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and saute the onions, peppers and garlic until fragrant.

  2. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken and brown in the same pot. Make sure both sides are starting to brown. Add in the herbs and stir.

  3. Continue cooking the chicken for a few minutes, then add in the tomatoes and olives. Stir together, then add in the broth and allow it to simmer with the lid on until the chicken is fully cooked (internal temp of 160, but it will continue to cook with residual heat).

  4. Squeeze half of a fresh lemon into the pot, stir, then top with feta and fresh chopped parsley and serve.

 

Chickpea Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup sliced olives
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 English cucumber, sliced into half moons
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • squeeze of fresh lemon
  • drizzle of honey

Directions:

  1. Place first seven ingredients into a large bowl. Stir together the remaining components in another bowl and pour over the salad and serve.

 

From Z to A with Zara Abbasi

Zara Abbasi is the pastry chef and recipe developer for Zara Made It. Follow her food adventures on Instagram at @zaramadeit