When my health takes a dip, the first thing I look to is the cabinet. But not the one you think. Not the one with pills and bandaids and hot water bottles. The cabinet I’m thinking of is full of spices and grains and all the things I can put on my plate and into my body.
I’m talking about food. Because that’s my favorite kind of medicine.
If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that I’ve been a bit more absent this year and that’s because, well, my body kind of had it with me. After almost 11 full years of post-Lupus-attack-survival and living life to its fullest (and beyond), it got tired. It also got a lot of colds and sinus infections and late nights with toddlers. It got some extra pounds (and a lot of new sweat pants). It got inflamed. It got a lot of weird new conditions (gout!?!) and illnesses (Noro virus?!?). I got tired. And to say the least, things started to feel really of control.
In a situation like this, you face two options. One: give in, give up, and get angry about it. Or two: get motivated, get curious, and get cooking. I obviously chose door number two.
One of my favorite quotes is that when your life changes, change your life. And, often, in my case, also change your diet.
So faced with a totally worn out body, I slowed down, I worked less, and I added a whole lot of restoration to my life. I also decided to totally reexamine what I eat. I didn’t change much. I just went back to basics — whole, fresh food. And looked to other resources for anti-inflammation, belly-healing ideas. Because while I’m no dietitian or doctor, I strongly believe in the Eastern notion that health starts with your gut. It literally feeds your body. And if the plumbing isn’t working well, you better believe you’re not getting what you need to be healthy.
But note: ALWAYS want to work with your medical and nutritional team to figure out the right diet for your body and its needs.
So what exactly did I do? Two things. First, I started drinking a lot of turmeric tea thanks to my friend at Nutrition Stripped and I also working with a bad-ass Ayurvedic nutritionist, who is helping me kick my coffee addiction and has me drinking yogurt at night. Second, though, I tried the Whole30 plan for, yes, 30 days. I was immediately drawn to it because the principle was simple: eat real food. It had a lot in common with low-so (and renal) diets. And I found it to be a great way to give my gut and body some well-deserved R&R as well as reboot my creativity in the kitchen. Especially when it came to fun food swaps.
Like low-so, Whole30 asks you to ditch processed food. But you also leave behind diary, bread and grains, legumes, sugar, and alcohol for the month — adios wine and beer. And while it can be heavy in protein, check out the vegetarian guidelines (which let you add in some grains and legumes) if you need to watch that meat intake. It requires a good amount of batch-cooking and weekend prep — which can seem time consuming but is a great routine to get into, for anyone, on any diet. And, yes, in many ways it is actually more restrictive than keeping low-so. But once I got into a groove, I found the “limitations” extremely helpful when it came to kitchen creativity.
Which finally brings me to today’s recipe: SWEET POTATO FISH CAKES.
With no grains, I found myself making a lot of steamed sweet potatoes and yams on the weekends to add bulk to vegetable-heavy lunches and dinners. I slathered them in soup and topped them with grilled meat. I smashed and roasted them. I made them into cupcakes. And then one night, it struck me. With their starchy, gluey texture, I used it as the binder in fish cakes. No breadcrumbs, flour, or eggs needed. Or massive amount of oil. And guess what? These two-ingredient Sweet Potato Fish Cakes turned out better than original. With a shallow-pan fry, the sweet potato helped the cakes get crispy on the outside, while remaining soft and fluffy on the inside.
So where am I now?
I’m eating a lot of these fish cakes. I’m still resting and doing a lot of restorative yoga. And despite my efforts, I’m also still drinking a cup of coffee in the morning (sorry, Britt).
But I am also drinking a lot of turmeric tea at night. I’m listening to my body and putting my health first. And I’m looking to food, per usual, to help me heal. And while I am no longer doing the Whole30, I am using a lot of the principles I learned to stretch my imagination in the kitchen and re-prioritize meal-planning as an important part of staying well. It is my commitment for the New Year.
So even though the next few holiday weeks will be filled with a ton of cookies and sweets and gluttonous gatherings, I hope you make these fish cakes. And that they remind you that YOU have control of your help. In your two hands. And your kitchen. And a hot plate of fish cakes.
SWEET POTATO FISH CAKES
Makes 6 Sweet Potato Fish Cakes
- 1 large Japanese yam (or sweet potato if you don’t mind the orange color), steamed
- 1 Tbsp + 1/4 cup olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee
- 6 to 8 ounces of white fish filets (tilapia, cod, halibut), deboned
- 1/4 cup finely chopped spinach
- 1/2 tsp salt-free garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Fresh herbs (basil or dill), optional
Fill a medium pot with about 1 to 2 inches of water and then place a steamer basket on top so it sits just above the water. Cut the yam (or sweet potato) into chunks and then lay them in a single layer on the steamer basket. Cover the pot with a lid and bring the water to a gentle boil over medium heat. Steam until the yam flesh is soft enough to pierce with a fork, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add 1 Tbsp of oil or ghee to a large saute pan and heat over medium heat. Add the fish to the pan and cook until the fish is no longer translucent and turns white, about 6 to 8 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break up the fish and make sure it all gets evenly cooked (and even a little crispy). Transfer the cooked fish to a medium mixing bowl and let it cool to the touch, about 5 minutes.
Scoop the steamed yam from its skin and add to the bowl of fish. Use a fork or your hands to break up and smash the yam. Then add in the spinach and spices. Use a fork or best of all, those hands, to then mix everything together until well-combined and you can easily form the fish mixture into round patties, about 1/2-inch in height and the size of your palm.
Clean out your fish pan. Cover a large plate with paper towels.
Then add 2 to 3 Tbsp of oil so that the entire bottom of the pan is coated and bring to temperature over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to ripple a bit, about 2 minutes, add in your first three patties so they are in a single layer and are not crowded. Cook until browned and crispy on the bottom side, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove fish cakes from the pan and place on the towel-lined plate. Then repeat with the remaining patties.
Serve while warm with Salt-Free Chunky Carrot Dressing, yogurt (if you’re doing dairy), or smashed avocado. And of course, a sprinkle of fresh herbs in you have them. Otherwise, store fish cakes in an air-tight container and in the fridge for up to 3 days for an easy breakfast or lunch option. You can also cook and then freeze fish cakes for up to 3 months for a super-fast and super-healthy super. Just cook in the oven at 375dg F to reheat or place back in an oiled and hot pan! Straight from the ice box.