A heart-healthy dish for your sweetheart



February 04, 2007|By SANDRA PINCKNEY

We show our love on Valentine's Day by indulging our loved ones with lots of good things to eat and drink.

With a special Valentine's dinner, the more courses the better. It usually includes a super-rich dessert, and don't forget the big box of chocolates!

But richer and bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to your heart.

According to the American Heart Association, we eat too much of the wrong foods and too little of the right ones.

Too much fat, sugar and salt and too few lean meats, whole grains, veggies and fruits. And as if that's not enough, we're under too much stress and we don't get enough exercise.

All of this leads to heart disease, which is now the leading cause of death among women and men in this country.

So since February also happens to be American Heart Month, I thought we could plan a main dish for Valentine's that was both delicious and healthy.

Now, I know the last thing you probably want to think about on Valentine's Day is healthy eating. But healthy does not have to be tasteless, boring or bland.

A Valentine's dinner should be a feast for the senses and should set the stage for a romantic evening with your sweetheart.

So, for the main course, I have chosen Arroz con Pollo. It literally means chicken and rice, but it's so much more than that. It's an explosion of spicy flavors and colors.

This dish is a national favorite from Spain to Mexico and Spanish-speaking countries in between. The main ingredients are rice and chicken. When cooked together with the spices, peppers and tomatoes, the rice absorbs the flavors and colors.

It's a one-dish meal that's easy to make, beautiful to look at and even tastes better the next day. To set a festive table, serve it on a large colorful platter, and don't forget the candles and romantic Latin tunes.

I chose a fresh homemade salsa for the side dish.

This salsa is crisp and cool -- a good balance for the spicy Arroz con Pollo.

Make it your own by using the ingredients you and your Valentine like best. The jalapeno peppers give the salsa a little kick and the substance in them -- capsaicin -- is good for your heart.

This dish tastes best if you serve it soon after putting it together. It does not keep well in the refrigerator after more than a couple of hours.

For a bit more of a splurge, stay south of the border for dessert with a recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate Shots.

The rest of the evening is up to you. Happy Valentine's Day!

You can find information on taking care of your heart from the American Heart Association at americanheart.org.

Sandra Pinckney, a former Baltimore TV journalist, is host of "Food Finds" on the Food Network. Send comments to unisun@baltsun.com.

Arroz Con Pollo

Serves 6

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

kosher salt and ground black pepper

canola oil

1 whole cut-up chicken

1 Spanish onion, diced

2-4 garlic cloves, minced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 bay leaves

2 cups long grain white rice

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes (pour in a large bowl and crush the tomatoes until chunky)

1 quart chicken stock

1 cup pimento stuffed olives (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.

In a bowl, mix together the cumin, oregano, paprika, cayenne and cinnamon. Add up to a teaspoon of kosher salt and about 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

Drizzle with enough oil to moisten the mixture.

Mash everything together with a fork to create a smooth paste. Rinse the chicken pieces and pat them dry.

Rub the chicken with the spice paste and let sit for at least 20 minutes to develop the flavor. (You can do this ahead of time and let the chicken marinate all day.)

Place a large, wide Dutch oven over medium heat with enough oil to cover the bottom.

Brown the chicken pieces skin-side down. Depending on the pot size, you may have to do this in batches.

When you can move the chicken around without the skin sticking to the bottom of the pan, flip it over and brown the other side. (This whole process should take about 20 minutes.)

Take the chicken out of the pan and set it aside.

Saute the onion, garlic, bell pepper and bay leaves in the pot until the vegetables are very soft, about 10 minutes.

Fold in the rice so the grains are well coated.

Pour in the tomatoes and the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Return the chicken to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Cover and transfer the pot to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until the chicken is done and the rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid. For an authentic taste, fold in olives during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Per serving: 507 calories, 25 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 42 grams protein

Fresh Salsa

Serves 6

3 tomatoes, diced

1 avocado, diced

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped

3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

fresh lime juice to taste

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

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