Have I ever mentioned my mother is the best cook in the whole wide world? Well, she is. All I know about healthy eating I learned from her, even when my trials to emulate her are not that successful. My kids notice the difference first, and I don’t know why, since I follow her teachings to the smallest detail! This is what they tell me: “It is good, but Aya’s taste better”. We call her Aya.

When I go to Spain she cooks for me. She doesn’t get tired and she never makes excuses to avoid cooking. Everyday I spend there she asks me in the morning: “ What do you want to eat today?”

On Christmas Eve I wanted to know what she was making. She told me she was going to cook light, since they had been overeating for a few days and she doesn’t like going to bed while still digesting heavy food. She made white fish with shrimp, saffron rice and spinach with garlic. I’ve tried this recipe before and I am going to adopt it for New Year’s Eve.

Aya’s White Fish with Shrimp

You take 2 white fish fillets; it can be any kind of white fish, from pangessius to cod. You place them in an oven-safe dish, applying olive oil to the bottom part, in contact with the dish. Then you take about ¾ lb of uncooked shrimp, cut them in very small pieces and place them over the fish, covering the whole surface.

Then apply mayonnaise on top, being careful not to disrupt the shrimp on top of the fish. A good way to apply the mayonnaise is by using a rubber spatula, which allows you to make the surface smooth. How much mayonnaise to apply? I don’t know, enough to have the shrimp completely covered. Be generous! Then you only have to place in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until you observe the mayonnaise is turning brown.

The saffron rice is prepared just the way you would prepare white rice, but adding saffron. Take 1 cup of rice, ½ onion and 1 garlic clove. Warm up 2 ½ cups of water and in the mean time start sautéing the onion and garlic in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When the water is about to boil, add the rice to the onions and garlic and, immediately, cover it all with the boiling water. Add 1 envelope or 1 tsp of saffron and allow cooking for about 20 minutes. Add salt while it is cooking.

The spinach part of the meal adds even more color and texture. In a wok, place 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 3 garlic cloves. When the garlic starts to get golden, add the spinach, stirring until they are done; it takes a couple of minutes. Be aware, spinach reduces in size a lot when you cook them. Plan to use a large amount if you are feeding 4 people or more. I usually buy a big tub containing 16 oz of spinach at the grocery store. If we don’t eat it all at one meal, no problem, it tastes good if you microwave it the next day. This will be my New Year’s Eve dinner.

This year my family and I decide to create a new tradition for Christmas Eve. We decided to cook  something humble and easy, since we are celebrating the birth of He who was Humble and Modest. We made fried potatoes, eggs and Spanish chorizo. This combination constitutes the typical Spanish meal for when you don’t have anything else ready. If you visit friends or relatives unannounced at mealtime and they don’t have enough food prepared to share, they will make you a good plate of fried potatoes with eggs and chorizo. All fried in abundant olive oil. It is not calorie-free, as no food is, but it is natural and simple. From now on, fried potatoes with eggs and chorizo are going to be my family’s Christmas Eve meal. A tradition I hope my kids would continue for years to come in their own houses (if they ever move out of mine, that is).

Note: if interested in buying good Spanish chorizo, visit www.latienda.com.

Happy 2010 to you all!

Marta Katalenas M.D.

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.