I love brunch. In fact, it might be my very favorite part of the weekend. The combination of sweet, savory, and greasy, washed down with lots of hot black coffee, is just so satisfying.
Under normal circumstances, there’s nothing that could make me say no to this lazy midmorning meal. But over the winter holidays, I had an extended stay with my family that involved so many rich, heavy brunches (and lunches, and dinners) that I lost count. Now — like most of us whose jeans are still a little too snug from year-end (over)indulgence — I’m looking for fare that’s a bit lighter and healthier, but still delicious.
Here are the standards I’m trying to stick to.
Use a little less dairy. There’s no satisfying low-fat substitute for full-fat milk, cheese, or yogurt, so why bother trying? Instead of making hot chocolate with low-fat milk, for instance, skip the dairy altogether in favor of homemade almond milk. It’s creamier, more delicious, and more nutritious.
Rethink egg dishes. Unless you’re vegan, a good brunch party requires eggs. But they don’t have to be drowning in sausage, bacon, and cheese. For baked egg dishes, use just a little bit of a strong cheese, like Parmesan. And give breakfast meats a rest in favor of other flavorful add-ins, like shiitake mushrooms, black beans, or crumbled tempeh.
Choose whole-wheat flour for baked goods. If you can’t imagine a weekend morning meal without some kind of baked good, minimize the damage with whole-grain flours. Usually, you can swap up to half of the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat flour before a recipe starts to get wonky. The swap adds extra fiber and a richer wheat flavor.
More vegetables, less starch. Usually, one of the best parts of brunch is the starch: potatoes, pancakes, waffles, scones, crisp buttery toast. But there’s no harm in cutting back on the starchy stuff just a little bit. Swap half the potatoes in your hash for another vegetable, like thinly sliced sautéed greens or shredded beets. Instead of full-size muffins, make minis.
Add something fresh. Round out your meal with something light and refreshing. This time of year, a mixed citrus salad is an obvious choice.
Check out the following recipes for inspiration. Then, treat your friends to a brunch that’ll satisfy any appetite — without overwhelming it.
Serves 4 to 6
Spiced, crumbled tempeh stands in for the usual sausage in this hearty baked egg dish. Be sure to let the tempeh crisp up in your skillet before adding it to the egg mixture.
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided, plus more for greasing the baking dish
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. fennel seeds
8 oz. tempeh, crumbled
6 large eggs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. whole milk
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-inch pie plate with olive oil.
In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for about 7 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, cumin, and fennel seeds, and sauté 1 minute more. Add the remaining oil and the tempeh and cook, undisturbed, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the bottom of the tempeh is crisp and golden brown. Stir, cook 1 to 2 minutes more, and remove from the heat. Let the mixture sit until it reaches room temperature.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, cheese, and milk until combined. Fold in the cooled tempeh mixture and pour into the prepared pie plate. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes; remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more, until the top of the casserole begins to turn golden brown. Serve warm.
Serves 4 to 6
A splash of apple-cider vinegar to finish makes this hash light and bright — and keeps it from tasting too earthy.
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
½ bunch curly kale, stems removed, leaves very thinly sliced
4 medium red potatoes, diced into ½-inch pieces
1 tsp. apple-cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the kale and sauté, stirring occasionally, until wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. (If the pan gets too dry, add a splash of water.) Transfer the kale to a bowl and set aside.
Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet. Add the potatoes in a single layer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and fork-tender. Stir in the kale and cook until warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes, then stir in the vinegar. Serve hot, straight from the skillet if you like.
Yield: 10 biscuits
You can’t make a butter-free biscuit (and expect it to taste good, anyway). But you can make it better for you by adding some whole-wheat flour and grated squash.
½ cup grated butternut squash
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the grated squash in a tea towel and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Use a pastry cutter or a fork to work the butter into the flour until a crumbly mixture forms. Add the milk to form a slightly wet dough; fold in the grated squash.
Use a ¼-cup measure to scoop and drop the biscuits onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake 15 to 16 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. Serve hot.
Serves 4 to 6
This salad is pretty customizable; you can use almost any combination of citrus fruits except lemon or lime.
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. water
Pinch of salt
2 navel oranges, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 red grapefruit, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 tangerine, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
In a small bowl or cup, whisk together the honey, water, and salt. The mixture should be thin and runny; if it seems too thick, add another teaspoon of water.
Arrange the citrus slices in a layer on a serving plate. If not serving immediately, cover and refrigerate.
Drizzle the honey mixture over the citrus. Garnish with the mint and serve.
It might seem a little strange to put all the ingredients in the blender before warming them, but I’ve found it prevents those dry chocolate lumps that form when you add cocoa powder directly to hot liquid.
5½ cups water
½ cup almond butter, chunky or smooth
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. brewed coffee
Pinch of salt
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
In a blender, add the water and almond butter and blend until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, sugar, coffee, and salt, and blend again. (If you prefer a silky-smooth hot cocoa, run the mixture through a strainer.)
Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once it simmers, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into mugs and drink hot.
Marygrace Taylor is an award-winning food and health writer and co-author of Allergy-Friendly Food for Families. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Related recipe: Butternut Squash Drop Biscuits; recipe: Garlicky Potato Hash with Kale Ribbons; recipe: Almond-Butter Hot Chocolate; recipe: Breakfast Casserole with Eggs and Spiced Tempeh; recipe: Mixed Citrus Salad
Culinate’s features address the practical challenges and joys of food.
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