’Tis the season of nonstop overeating, and already you’re starting to feel like the butterball turkey’s cousin. Your fat, sugar and salt intake is off the charts, yet unhealthy food seems impossible to avoid. How can you resist your neighbor’s special yuletide cookies? And it would be sacrilege to pass up the family’s traditional eggnog.
Accept the fact that there will be decadent consumption, but consider countering the calories and making up the nutritional values with the inclusion of lighter, healthy meals. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Even in the winter, Minnesotans can’t resist food on a stick. Christo’s Mediterranean-themed enclave off Highway 7 offers an oceanic escape with all sorts of goodies on sticks. The restaurant’s chicken kebabs satisfy without stuffing you to the groaning point. A kebab is comfortingly familiar: big knobs of white-meat chicken steeped in a heady mixture of oregano, garlic and lemon are threaded onto wood skewers that are easy to strip and eat. The chunks of meat alternate with bell pepper, onion and mushrooms. Christo’s char-grills the kebabs to perfection and, remarkably, the chicken stays tender while the veggies get soft. You’ll get a full dose of protein and veg without getting weighted down. The chicken is skinless and the vegetables are grilled over high heat rather than submerged in a vat of hot oil. It comes with snowy white rice, warm pita bread triangles and a fresh salad. $15.45. 15600 Highway 7; 952.912.1000.
A steakhouse is not off-limits in the quest for a lighter meal, even if it seems like an unwarranted amount of nutrition. When only red meat will do, Gianni’s petite filet is a smart choice. Only six ounces of beef, it’s the dainty, tender cut you’ll have no trouble polishing off. Get some greens in your gullet and opt for an individual spun salad for an extra few bucks—just don’t shower the fresh produce with all that crazy (high-calorie) stuff like blue cheese and bacon. Filet, $36. Spun salad, $7. 635 Lake St. E.; Wayzata; 952.404.1100.
Bukhara Indian Bistro
Bukhara Indian Bistro features a daily lunch buffet, and although there is nothing about the word “buffet” that connotes lightness, a judicious hand can choose a vegetable and spice-rich sampler that won’t knock you out for the afternoon. The selection is different from day to day, so you’ll have to return frequently to sample the full range of the kitchen’s talents. At the top of our list are the vegetable pakoras, fritters lightly fried in chickpea flour and dipped in an electric-green mint chutney. We also love the tender cubes of hot orange chicken tikka masala; the crunchy homemade carrot, cauliflower and green pepper pickles are addictive. Add a cup of cardamom-laced Indian tea to warm body and soul, and take your time with adventurous dipping action: The raita and chutneys are a rainbow that pleases both eyes and palate, running the gamut from spicy to mild, chunky, smooth, sweet and astringent. $9.50 weekdays, $10.99 weekends. 15718 Wayzata Blvd.; Wayzata; 952.476.7997.
HOT BAR: MISO SESAME GINGER COD
The Lakewinds Market hot bar is calling your name. Get over there and pick up some sustenance to eat in-store, or choose an appealing dish to feed the family at home. The selection rotates, but you can be sure that whatever cuisine is featured will be fresh, yummy and healthy. If you see cod in the lineup, get it. The chefs here know how to handle a mild white fish; it’s never overcooked nor burdened with a too-heavy sauce. Our favorite preparation is glazed with sweet-salty miso, sesame oil and a generous infusion of kicky ginger. A side of gingered sesame beets adds color, fiber and vitamin C. $7.99/pound. 17501 Minnetonka Blvd.; Minnetonka; 952.473.0292.
SEARED TUNA SANDWICH PLATE
Ike’s Food and Cocktails
Served with coleslaw and seasoned fries, this tuna sandwich is about as far from mainstream tuna as it gets. Ike’s delivers a clever Minnesotan interpretation of bahn mi, a Vietnamese sandwich known for its use of several meats at a time, be it roasted pork loin with chicken pâté or grilled chicken with chorizo sausage. Here, sushi-grade ahi tuna takes the place of ham or sausage. Seared brown on the outside and left rosy-raw in the center, this slab of fish is reminiscent of steak, albeit softened by the addition of pickled carrots, serrano chilies, cucumbers and volcanic wasabi on soft, crispy-edged focaccia. $15. 17805 Highway 7; Minnetonka; 952.681.7099.
VEGETABLE DUMPLING NOODLE SOUP
It’s hot, nourishing and brimming with a satisfying array of veggies, noodles and Big Bowl’s wonderful dumplings: fat bundles of diced ginger, Napa cabbage, scallions and cilantro. Each dumpling, cute as a button, is wrapped in a tender skin that melts away to release the savory innards. The broth, a rich chicken stock, is made in–house—and every slurp brings comfort and goodness. Baby bok choy (Chinese cabbage) provide green and crunch; shiitake mushrooms create a meaty note with nice chewy bits. This soup, an ideal one-pot meal, fills the soul without stuffing the body. Cup, $3.50. Bowl, $5.95. Chicken dumplings where available. 12649 Wayzata Blvd.; Minnetonka; 952.797.9888.
Yumi Sushi Bar
At this sushi house, choose the sashimi sampler: three kinds of fish, including the ultra-fresh fish of the day. The aesthetics alone will make you sigh with satisfaction, each glistening piece carefully cut and exquisitely arranged. Orange salmon, creamy yellowtail and red roe may decorate your plate, depending on what’s in season, but whatever the arrangement, it is a mega-dose of lean protein that will provide energy, ballast and perhaps an increase in smarts. (Remember? Fish is a known brain food.) Cold sake is the thing to highlight this artful display; the bracing beverage salutes the exquisite raw fish with panache. Your server will gladly offer a short sake primer and recommendation. $23.95. 217 Water St.; Excelsior; 952.474.1720.
ROASTED VEGETABLE FLATBREAD
It’s dinnertime. You’re exhausted and you don’t feel like cooking. It’s definitely a pizza kind of night, but somehow pizza doesn’t feel appropriate during the festive time of year. It’s too heavy; it’s boring. Make way for flatbread! Like pizza, it involves topping on dough, but the thin crust is more likely to hold herbed goat cheese than mozzarella. The 318 Café makes a beautiful, seven-inch-diameter flatbread. There are a few varieties listed on the menu, but we are captivated by the pear, prosciutto, chevre, spinach and roasted onion. The sweet pear, earthy ham and chevre make a wicked threesome, while the addition of spinach and onion amps up the vitamins. A brush with good olive oil brings it all into focus. Sit back and savor this sophisticated bite; there may even be live music during your visit. $12. 318 Water St.; Excelsior; 952.401.7902.