|Article By: Leslie Fink, MS, RD|
Light cooking means so much more than swapping low-fat milk for cream and reduced-calorie mayonnaise for the real stuff. Here's how to give your recipes a true makeover.
Lightening up your favorite high-calorie, high-fat meals and recipes is a snap with a few tricks of the trade. Here are two dozen ways to maximize taste with highly flavored ingredients, and improve texture by adding low POINTS® value creaminess, crunch and juiciness to your food.
- Use small amounts of highly flavored ingredients — such as Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, toasted sesame and hot chili oils — rather than larger amounts of mildly flavored ones. You'll add more flavor for fewer calories.
- Toast nuts, spices and seeds to enhance their flavor: Bake nuts at 350ºF in a shallow pan, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes. Briefly toast spices and seeds in a hot skillet, stirring until fragrant.
- Top desserts, casseroles and other dishes with shaved chocolate, shredded cheese and chopped nuts. Ingredients that are in small pieces cover more surface area so you can use less of them and still get great flavor.
- Puree silken tofu and use it as a cream substitute in soups and a creamy sauce base for pasta dishes, as well as in salad dressings. Our Creamy Green Goddess Sauce Over Spaghetti hits the spot.
- Swap applesauce for up to 1/3 of the total butter or oil in a cookie or cake recipe (light-colored batters) or substitute the same amount of pureed prunes if you're making a chocolaty dessert. Pureed pumpkin and sweet potato are also good substitutes. Experiment.
- Rely upon fresh herbs, pungent spices, citrus juices, spicy relishes and/or hot peppers and chilis to boost flavor when cutting back on fat in recipes. Fat carries a lot of flavor so you need to replace it with strongly flavored ingredients.
- Cut back on oil and enhance flavor by using health-conscious cookware and gadgets such as nonstick skillets or woks, grill baskets, steamer baskets, zesters and silicone baking mats.
- Make a large pot (or two) of homemade chicken, beef or vegetable stock and freeze the broth in ice cube trays. Pop out only as many cubes as you need to add wonderful flavor to your food, especially on busy days when you don't have much time to cook.
- Bake sliced peppers, carrots, onions and other favorite vegetables with cooking spray (or a drizzle of olive oil) and Kosher salt to bring out their natural sweetness. Enjoy them as a side dish or chopped up and incorporated into other recipes for added flavor and texture.
- Sauté vegetables in chicken or vegetable broth instead of butter or oil. Also try using wine or fruit juice for a flavor boost. Try cooking rice, couscous and other grains in broth, too.
- Add dry crispy rice cereal to muffin and brownie batters for very low-calorie volume. Give it a try with our Raspberry Muffins.
- Chill a block of reduced-fat cheese before shredding it — this makes it easier to finely grate the cheese.
- Thicken soups with prepared instant mashed potatoes (or pureed cooked potatoes) instead of heavy cream. Evaporated skim milk can take the place of heavy cream as well.
- Puree a cooked potato into gravy for a fat-free thickener. Try it out in our Yankee Pot Roast Dinner.
- Sprinkle bland dishes with strong-flavored crumbled cheeses like feta and blue cheese to maximize taste with just a small amount of added fat.
- Use toasted, rolled oats in lieu of nuts in some baked goods.
- Make your own whole-milk substitute: Just add a little fat-free yogurt, pureed tofu or powdered skim milk to fat-free milk to thicken it.
- Add "authentic" color to egg white-based dishes such as frittatas and casseroles by adding a dash of turmeric to the egg-white mixture.
- Replace the mayonnaise in tuna, egg, pasta and chicken salads with pureed, seasoned silken tofu or plain low-fat yogurt, dressed up with your favorite diced vegetables and seasonings.
- Coat chicken and fish with a seasoned oat, cornmeal or cornflake "batter" and then bake for a crispy "oven-fried" result. Taste it for yourself with our Cornmeal-Battered Oven-Fried Catfish.
- Rely on freshly grated orange, lemon and lime peel (zest) to add tremendous flavor to food. Be careful not to include any of the bitter-tasting white membrane called the pith.
- Make your own taco shells by hanging soft fat-free tortillas directly over an oven rack and baking at 400°F until crisp.
- Swap plain yogurt for sour cream in dip recipes. Opt for Greek yogurt, if possible, to take advantage of its naturally thick, creamy texture.
- Season homemade mashed potatoes with fresh garlic and chicken or vegetable broth instead of butter and milk. Better yet, roast the garlic first for the most robust flavor.