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A Hearty, Healthy Winter Meal

Start the new year right with a lower-fat Southern-style chicken dinner

Pam Anderson Healthy Meal New Year Chicken Thighs

Pam Anderson

Seared chicken thighs with Brazilian flavorings make a healthy and delicious alternative to fried chicken

En español | When I was a child, my family would have big Southern-style winter meals. To celebrate the new year, for instance, we'd dine on black-eyed peas and hog jowl, pork-flavored greens (collard, turnip or mustard), fried chicken and hot corn bread.

I love the foods of my youth, but now I try to eat a little healthier. I've found that replacing some of the fat with bright, bold flavors can be just as satisfying. Rather than fry chicken thighs in a pool of oil, I use just a tablespoon as a rub, then sear them in a dry skillet. When these chicken thighs — well-seasoned with paprika (which helps with browning), garlic, salt and pepper — come out of the skillet, they get a dousing of piquant lemon juice and hot red pepper sauce.

To flavor black-eyed peas, I've traded fatty pork for fresh, colorful ingredients such as yellow bell pepper, red onion and cilantro.

And caramelized onions take the place of pork in the winter greens, adding buttery sweetness. Before cooking the greens, I prepare them as I do for winter green salads: I massage them! This light oil rub softens their texture and flavor, reduces their volume and makes them easier to cook quickly.

My family always ended our meals with dessert. For special occasions there was cake, which in the winter came with a little dish of simple orange salad with coconut and sugar. Ambrosia, we called it. Below is a healthy, splashy variation — orange slices, pomegranate seeds and unsweetened coconut drizzled with honey. It tastes like home.

Seared Chicken Thighs With Brazilian Flavorings

Serves 6

Just as chicken breasts have tenderloins, which can cause them to cook unevenly, chicken thighs have little nuggets, which can prevent sections from getting done quickly. I suggest pulling them off and cooking them separately.

6 trimmed boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 3/4 pounds)

1 tablespoon each: olive oil and paprika

1 teaspoon each: garlic powder, black pepper and salt

Juice of 1 lemon (2 to 3 tablespoons)

1 1/2 teaspoons hot red pepper sauce

Toss chicken with olive oil. Mix paprika, garlic powder, pepper and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle chicken all over with seasonings. (Can be covered and refrigerated a couple of days.)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is hot, add chicken and cook, turning only once until thighs are cooked through and impressively brown on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Mix lemon juice and pepper sauce and add to hot skillet. Scrape up browned bits and then immediately pour over chicken, and toss to coat. Let stand a few minutes for flavors to blend. Serve.

Black-Eyed-Pea Salad

Serves 6 to 8

2 cans (15 to 16 ounces each) black-eyed peas, drained (about 3 cups)

1 can (14.5 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes, drained

1 to 2 medium jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and minced

1/2 small red onion, cut into small dice

1/2 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into small dice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon each: salt and ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 2 days). Before serving, adjust seasonings, including additional vinegar, salt and pepper.

Quick-Cooked Collards With Caramelized Onions

Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 very large onion, halved and sliced thin

2 pounds collards (stemmed, cleaned and coarsely torn)

Salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until tender and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; continue to cook until rich caramel brown, 8 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer to a small bowl.

Meanwhile, drizzle greens with remaining tablespoon of oil and hand-massage them until they darken in color and wilt in size. Working in 3 or 4 batches, chop each mound of greens into small pieces.

Return now-empty skillet to medium-high. Add greens and cook until their liquid has mostly evaporated. Add chicken broth; cover and steam until greens are tender yet still bright green, about 5 minutes. Return onions to skillet and sauté until well combined and heated through. Add vinegar and serve.

Swanky Ambrosia

Serves 6

6 oranges, skin and pith removed and sliced thin

1 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds

6 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes

2 tablespoons honey

Shortly before serving, arrange orange slices on dessert plates. Scatter a portion of pomegranate seeds over each plate, sprinkle with coconut, drizzle with honey, and serve.

AARP food expert Pam Anderson is a best-selling cookbook author and blogger at threemanycooks.com.

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