Friday, July 15, 2011

Healthy Substitutes for Summer Meals

Like many people, I want to eat healthy--but I also want my food to taste good, and not to be loaded with artificial fat or sugar substitutes. Especially in the summer, I look for lower-calorie, lower-fat ingredient substitutions that work well in recipes AND preserve as much of the flavor and mouthfeel of the original recipe as possible. My philosophy boils down to this: If there's a healthier, natural alternative to a high-fat or high-sugar ingredient, go with it. But if it doesn't taste good, or if the substitute is packed with fake ingredients, stick with the original and simply have a smaller portion.

After some reading as well as experimenting in the kitchen and on the grill, I've found the following healthy substitutions to work well in summer (and other) recipes. Even when the finished product doesn't taste exactly like the original version, the healthier version tastes quite good in and of itself--and, it's healthier, which is the whole point.

* Use fat-free or low-fat plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream for tacos, nachos, burritos and other Mexican fare. It's pleasantly tangy and has a much richer density and mouthfeel than ordinary yogurt, and is lower in calories and fat than sour cream. Natural Greek yogurt also tastes much better than the fat-free or low-fat sour creams on the market, which tend to have artificial ingredients added to them. I also use plain nonfat Greek yogurt when baking my favorite cornbread recipe, which calls for a cup of sour cream. No one can tell the difference in flavor or texture, and the end result is much lower in fat.

* If making a dessert that calls for sugar-sweetened sour cream, such as a fruit salad or in a topping, try some vanilla or honey-sweetened nonfat Greek yogurt instead.

*Veggie burgers are usually much lower in fat and calories than hamburgers. However, veggie burgers aren't very "grill-friendly" and I've yet to find one--either from a store or homemade--that satisfies my craving for meat when I want a burger. Assuming you're not a vegetarian (or cooking for a vegetarian) and simply want to make a healthier burger, here's a great substitution I recently learned. Instead of using 1 pound of raw ground beef (or ground turkey or chicken) for your burgers, reduce the amount to 3/4 lb. and add 1 cup of canned beans that you've rinsed, drained and mashed. This beans-to-meat ratio multiplies, too. Black beans or kidney beans work well with beef, pork and venison. Garbanzos (chickpeas), navy beans and cannellini beans work well with turkey or chicken. Mix the mashed beans into the ground meat or poultry along with your favorite seasonings, shape into patties and cook as usual. These "hybrid" burgers will hold their shape and not dry out like 100% veggie burgers, and will still taste meaty while being lower in fat and calories. I haven't tried using a cup of cooked lentils yet, but I bet that would work with beef and other red meats.

*If you make basil pesto, substitute walnuts for the traditional pine nuts. Walnuts are lower in fat and provide more nutrients, especially omega-3 fatty acids.

*Instead of using store-bought syrup toppings for ice cream, try grilled or fresh summer fruit instead. Here are my favorite pairings:

--Grilled peaches or grilled pineapple with vanilla or butter pecan ice cream
--Fresh ripe berries (mash a few to release their sweet juice) or grilled bananas with chocolate ice cream
--Grilled plums or grilled bananas with strawberry ice cream.

I haven't tried grilling cherries yet, but I think it might work: My plan is to remove the stems, halve and pit the fresh cherries and place them in a foil "packet" without sealing too tightly (similar to a poaching packet for fish or vegetables), and then grill for a few minutes to cook the cherries and release their juices and make them naturally sweeter. If this works, I bet the grilled cherries would taste great with chocolate or vanilla ice cream. If anyone tries this, or has other tips for grilling cherries, please leave a comment!

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

No comments:

Post a Comment