Providing speedy menus filled with healthful, low-calorie foods for a family on the run may seem an insurmountable challenge, but a bit of ingenuity and a willingness to try something new will solve the problem.
‘I have few requirements for cooking these days,” said a friend recently. “I’ll tackle any recipe . . . so long as it’s quick, easy and someone has taken the calories out.”
Sound familiar? Almost as if someone were reading your mind? If so, you have lots of company. Everyone is looking for low-calorie, home-style, fast meals that look and taste as if Michel Richard had prepared them.
Unfortunately, producing such foods on a day-in-day-out basis seems like an impossible task, particularly when success appears to depend on abandoning one’s usual methods of cooking along with a number of familiar but too caloric ingredients.
Happily, it can be done more easily than one might think. There really are some non-boring, non-trite, low-calorie recipes that are quick and easy to cook. It just takes a little willingness to try some new cooking techniques and ingredients to come up with a new repertoire of both family and company favorites.
The following recipes were developed with the three words, quick, easy and light in mind. Some are old favorites that have been drastically changed to reduce the preparation and cooking time and to reduce total calories. Others are simply an amalgamation of good ingredients that cook quickly and flatter each other flavor-wise.
In trying to come up with some new ideas for meals to fit today’s life styles, our first goal concerned speed. Could these recipes be prepared, ready for the table, in less than an hour, preferably in less than 30 minutes? We also wanted readily available, easy to use ingredients. No one wants to spend 45 minutes at the market, searching for some exotic vegetable or spice when what’s really important is to get the family fed and the dishes done in nothing flat.
One way to speed dinner preparation is to use a microwave oven as much as possible during food preparation. Another suggestion is to substitute ingredients that require short cooking times for those requiring longer cooking. Our Hurry-Up Vegetarian Chili is a good example of this type of cooking. By eliminating the meat and using canned, cooked beans, it’s possible to feed a hungry crowd within an hour from of the time you start chopping.
Our last goal was to find a way to cut calories but not the flavor in each of these dishes.
I am an admitted butter and mayonnaise freak. Lots of butter . . . and lots of mayonnaise. A small amount of self-discipline, though, is helping me learn to replace my beloved butter with olive oil where possible. And wonder of wonders, I’m finding that I don’t need anywhere near as much of the oil as I do butter. I also find it’s as easy to reach for a nonstick pan or the nonstick spray as it is to extract the butter from the refrigerator.
I’m even learning to start with only a small amount of “light” mayonnaise, adding more only if whatever I’ve made is not palatable without such an addition. In many cases I find I can substitute light sour cream or even yogurt and never miss my old standby.
Granted there will be times when it’s easier just to go on and prepare a familiar casserole in the same old way rather than bother to find a way to speed it up or to lighten it. If so, why not take a few extra minutes some evening when you have a few moments to yourself and really read some of your family’s favorite recipes through. Look for ways to shorten the preparation time and eliminate some of the less-desirable ingredients.
Can you reduce the amount of fat called for? If a recipe suggests sauteing onions in butter or margarine, why not substitute defatted chicken broth? It probably won’t make a difference in the eventual flavor of the dish. And while you can’t always do this, every time you do, you’ve cut out another batch of calories and reduced your fat intake.
Can you cut the amount of cheese required in half? Or substitute low-fat milk for half and half or whole milk.
Once you begin thinking along these lines, it’s surprising how quickly you begin to adapt to a more healthful way of cooking. And if you look for all possible short cuts at the same time, you’ll become a home-style fast food expert in no time.
Here are some quick, easy and light recipes that will start you down the right path.
CREOLE-STYLE PEPPER STEAK
1 medium flank steak, about 1 1/4 pounds
2 cloves garlic, mashed
5 or 6 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
Place flank steak on cutting board. With very sharp knife make shallow diagonal cuts, evenly spaced, about 1 inch apart over entire surface of steak. Give steak 1/4 turn and repeat 1 inch slashes so surface of steak is covered with crisscross diamond pattern.
Turn steak over and repeat shallow crisscross slashes on other side. Sprinkle surface of steak evenly with garlic, bay leaves, oregano, thyme and pepper. Season to taste with salt. Roll steak up and refrigerate until shortly before serving.
To cook, unroll steak and discard garlic and bay leaves. Broil meat 3 to 4 inches from heat source to desired doneness. Or pan-fry steak in nonstick skillet sprayed with nonstick spray. Slice meat very thinly across grain. Makes 4 servings, 205 calories per serving.
ORANGE ROUGHY IN ORANGE-MINT-YOGURT SAUCE
1 1/2 pounds orange roughy fillets
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger root
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (8-ounce) carton plain nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon minced fresh mint leaves
Brush fish fillets with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with ginger and garlic. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat source about 5 minutes or until fish flakes when tested with fork.
Meanwhile stir together yogurt, orange peel and mint leaves. Season to taste with white pepper. To serve, spoon yogurt sauce over fish or serve separately. Makes 6 servings, about 178 calories per serving.
PESTO CHICKEN PASTA
1 whole chicken breast, about 1 pound
1/2 cup Pesto Sauce
1/4 cup diced dry-pack dried tomatoes
1/2 pound bow-tie pasta
Poach, skin and bone chicken breast. Cut meat in 1/2-inch cubes. Heat Pesto Sauce, chicken and dried tomatoes together in small saucepan.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Toss well-drained pasta with pesto mixture and serve hot or chilled. Makes 6 servings, about 261 calories per serving.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 clove garlic
Combine oil, basil, pine nuts and garlic in blender container and blend until creamy. Makes about 1/2 cup sauce.
STUFFED MIXED PEPPERS
1 yellow pepper
1 sweet red pepper
2 green peppers
2 tablespoons margarine or oil
1/2 cup bulgur
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 pound ground turkey
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Cut yellow, red and 1 green pepper in halves lengthwise. Remove seeds and place pepper shells, skin side up, on broiler pan. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat until skins are lightly browned in spots and flesh is tender. Set aside in warm spot.
Melt 1 tablespoon margarine in skillet, add bulgur and saute, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook about 15 minutes or until bulgur is tender and liquid has been absorbed. Set aside.
Dice enough of remaining green pepper to measure 1/4 cup, reserving remaining pepper for another use. Saute turkey in remaining 1 tablespoon margarine in skillet, stirring constantly until meat loses pink color.
Add diced pepper, garlic and onion and continue cooking, stirring often, until turkey is cooked and vegetables are tender but not browned. Stir in sage, pine nuts and cooked bulgur. Heat mixture through then spoon into pepper halves. Makes 6 servings, about 184 calories per serving.
HURRY-UP VEGETARIAN CHILI
2 small red onions, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup orzo pasta
1 (1-pound) can tomatoes
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 yellow squash, cut in chunks
2 pattypan squash, cut in chunks
1 large zucchini, cut in chunks
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15- to 16-ounce) can chili beans with liquid
In large heavy saucepan, saute onions and garlic in olive oil just until soft. Do not brown. Add orzo and cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes or until orzo is well coated. Stir in tomatoes and liquid and 1 can broth. Bring mixture to boi.
Add celery, carrots, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, oregano, marjoram, yellow and pattypan squash, zucchini and tomato sauce. Bring mixture back to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes, adding additional chicken broth as needed. (Mixture should be thick rather than watery.)
Add beans and season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until beans are heated through. Makes 8 servings, about 185 calories per serving.
ARTICHOKE BOTTOM FILLED WITH WHITE EGG SALAD
2 large artichokes
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4 hard-cooked eggs
2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons finely diced celery
2 tablespoons chutney
Trim top leaves and points of remaining leaves from artichokes. Trim stem end even with base of artichoke. Cook in boiling water to which lemon juice has been added until stem end of artichoke can easily be pierced with fork, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Pour off water and set artichokes aside, upside down, to drain thoroughly. Remove leaves and choke from artichoke bottoms and trim any uneven portions from bottoms. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator.
While artichokes are cooking, separate egg whites from yolks, reserving yolks for another use. Chop whites coarsely and combine with mayonnaise, curry powder, celery and chutney. Cover and chill mixture well.
To serve, spoon egg white mixture onto artichoke bottoms. Garnish with sprigs of parsley. Makes 2 appetizer servings, about 163 calories per serving.
HOT SHELLS STUFFED WITH SHRIMP
12 large pasta shells
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound small or bay shrimp, cleaned
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh sorrel leaves
Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Drain well and keep warm.
Saute garlic and onion in olive oil just until tender. Add shrimp and saute 2 to 3 minutes longer or until shrimp are cooked.
Stir in sorrel leaves and fill shells with mixture. Serve at once with lemon wedges for garnish. Makes 4 servings, about 241 calories per serving.
MICROWAVE VEGETABLE LASAGNA
3 medium zucchini
3 medium yellow crookneck squash
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
1 (15 1/2-ounce) jar thick vegetarian marinara sauce
1/2 pound ricotta cheese
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram leaves
1/2 cup shredded Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Slice zucchini and yellow squash lengthwise in halves and place cut side down in microwave-safe baking dish. Cover dish with plastic wrap, venting 1 corner. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp and have released excess water.
Add mushrooms. Microwave on HIGH 3 more minutes. Drain vegetables on paper towels and cut zucchini and squash into 1/4-inch-thick lengthwise slices.
Spread 1/3 marinara sauce over bottom of 10-inch round, flat-bottomed glass baking dish. Top with layer of 1/3 mixed zucchini and squash slices arranged spoke fashion. Spread half ricotta over vegetables. Sprinkle with half each of onions, mushrooms, oregano and marjoram,
Repeat layering. Cover second layer with remaining 1/3 zucchini and squash and top with remaining 1/3 marinara sauce. Sprinkle Jack and Parmesan cheeses over top. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cover dish with plastic wrap, sprayed with non-stick spray, venting 1 corner. Microwave on HIGH 6 to 8 minutes or until mixture is bubbling and vegetables are cooked but still slightly crisp, turning dish after 3 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand, covered, at least 5 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings, about xx calories per serving. Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane