Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vegetables for breakfast

A fresh tomato and herb frittata with cheese


Most people eating Western diets could use some more vegetables in their day. One meal that is often overlooked as an opportunity for adding a healthy serving of veggies is breakfast. The most important meal of the day can also be the cheapest, healthiest meal, and one that satisfies you easily until lunchtime.



A hearty breakfast will provide you with roughly a third of the food you plan to eat all day. Common breakfast foods like bagels, breakfast cereals and bars, and other pastries pack a lot of carbohydrate, and while some are fortified with vitamins and minerals, they're usually still weak on the other macronutrients. A balanced breakfast has protein, fat, and fiber as well as carbs, and about a third of your caloric needs. Eating enough at breakfast, and particularly foods that keep you feeling full—fat, protein, and fiber are especially satiating for their caloric density—will give you energy and focus to get through the morning.


You can make something ahead, like a frittata that tastes just as good cold as it does hot. You can whip something up from last night's leftovers, or make something fast and fresh. Here are a few ideas.

Beef soup for breakfast
In many parts of the world, it’s common to start the day with a hot bowl of soup. My husband likes to make his own. He warms a cup of beef or chicken stock in a pan on the stove while he juliennes or shreds a little bit of vegetable: some cabbage or another leafy green vegetable, plus a bit of sweet bell pepper or root vegetable. He cooks these in the warm stock while thinly slicing some beef chuck steak. Chuck is his favorite and is one of the cheapest cuts, though if you prefer leaner or higher quality meat, try top round or sirloin. For beef soup he prefers beef stock, but sometimes he gets pork for breakfast, and says that it tastes best with chicken stock. Whichever kind of meat he uses, he slices it thinly and adds the meat to the soup last: it cooks in less than a minute. He eats it with a squeeze of sriracha hot sauce. The amounts of meat and vegetable he uses are not very large, about half of a typical serving. Later in the day he has a smoothie with milk, yogurt, and fruit, complementing the soup by adding fat and carbohydrate to his protein-rich breakfast. Both are full of vitamins and enough fat for their absorption.



Eggs with greens. I haven't gotten into Kevin's soup routine, preferring the comforting familiarity of eggs for breakfast. I share coffee and a smoothie, then take a walk with our dog. After I come home and shower, I’m ready to eat something more substantial. For most of the summer I ate grilled egg and cheese sandwiches. Other times, I make a more composed plate, and then I like to add some greens to my dish. A typical breakfast of eggs and greens starts with a handful of fresh, chopped collards or kale sauteed in butter or bacon fat, though other kinds of greens are also good (I love callaloo), and if I have leftover, cooked greens from the night before, I'll just warm a serving of those in a skillet. Then I move the greens to the side, and fry a couple eggs in the same pan.  When I fix my plate, I put the greens on the bottom, and top them with the eggs. Sometimes, after cooking the greens, I will just make a little hole in the middle, and fry the eggs in the hole. Then I can warm a split sausage in the same pan, and it won’t get coated in egg. A lazy method, yet still makes an appealing breakfast.

Fried eggs over sauteed collards, a split half-link of curry sausage, and a wedge of cantaloupe

Another way I like to eat vegetables with eggs is as huevos rancheros. When I have leftover cornbread and/or chili, I incorporate them into my breakfast. I split a wedge of cornbread, butter and toast it in a toaster oven. You can also fry your cornbread in a skillet. Warm the chili in a small, covered saucepan and when it’s hot, crack the eggs into the chili and poach them, covered, until they’re opaque. Part of the thrill of eggs in chili is cutting through the molten yolks and having them run through the chili, making everything taste very rich. Consider that many French sauces are little more than egg yolk, and this seems less strange.



If I don’t have cornbread, I just eat the chili and eggs: maybe with some grated cheese, chopped avocado, pico de gallo or salsa, or some sriracha. My chili is full of vegetables, including kale, usually, and tomatoes, as well as peppers and sometimes squash or sweet potatoes. If I have cornbread, I serve the eggs over them, either with the chili or fried in a skillet with greens. For a rich meal like this, I like something to cut it: salsa, or a piece of fresh fruit to eat alongside.



Potatoes count as a vegetable, too. Hashed potatoes are tasty, cheap, and filling, and there are other ways to use potatoes in breakfast dishes, like these two recipes for spicy breakfast foods. Sweet potatoes baked or steamed from the night before are also good for breakfast, refried in butter. I like a little pinch of chili powder on them when I eat them this way with eggs. You could make a hearty vegan breakfast of white or sweet potatoes, cooked or refried beans, and sauteed greens.



Practically any prepared vegetable leftovers from last night’s dinner, from steamed kale to roasted eggplant, can be thrown into an omelet or scrambled eggs. Warm the fillings in a small saucepan before adding them to a cooked omelet. Fresh chopped tomatoes, avocados, green onions, and fresh herbs, with or without a grating of cheese, make an elegant filling for a breakfast omelet. Have your omelet alone or with fruit or toast, over polenta, or wrapped in a tortilla.


A portable and versatile breakfast dish is the burrito. Stuff it with leftover vegetables, cooked beans, eggs cooked any way, chopped up cooked leftover meat, cooked plain or seasoned rice, and anything else that appeals first thing in the morning.
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