Cooking lighter

"Today low-calorie dishes can taste better than the boring diet food of my childhood because now there is a greater variety of fresh ingredients."

Janel’s Moroccanstyle fish (photo credit: ESTI PHOTOGRAPHY)
Janel’s Moroccanstyle fish
(photo credit: ESTI PHOTOGRAPHY)
‘There are lots of delicious foods out there. Plenty of recipes with fat and sugar that taste really, really good,” wrote Victoria Dwek, author of the new kosher cookbook Secrets of Skinny Cooking: Mouthwatering Recipes You Won’t Believe are Low Calorie. “But I realized that what people didn’t know... is that light food can be just as satisfying.”
According to Dwek and her co-author, nutritionist Shani Taub, the goal of their book is to help people who want to lose weight or avoid gaining it. To do this, they advise preparing meals that are low in calories by minimizing fats and sugar and keeping carbs low.
These recommendations haven’t changed much since my high-school friends and I were trying to slim down. What has changed is that low-calorie dishes can taste better than the boring diet food of my childhood because now there is a greater variety of fresh ingredients at the market.
Taub, who struggled with weight problems as a teenager, wrote: “I learned my lesson: endless fat-free foods weren’t okay. But the right amount of a variety of foods, in moderation, certainly was. When I visited that first nutritionist, ...she told me I can have pizza – but just one slice. I had to train myself to eat it slowly... so that it would take the same amount of time to eat that one slice as it did to eat those three slices.
It gave my brain time to process that I had actually eaten... and that I was actually satisfied. Today, my clients are shocked that they can be so satisfied with less food.”
Dwek and Taub provide a variety of tips for making dishes tasty while keeping the calories low, such as caramelizing onions without oil, a technique they use in their mushroom chili. (See recipe.) To brown the onions, you cook them with nonstick cooking spray and salt in a dry covered pan. Once the onions have softened, you continue cooking them uncovered over low heat until they are golden.
Roasted vegetables are another preparation that can enhance skinny dishes. To roast vegetables without oil, cut them in pieces, put them on a firm baking sheet, spray them generously with nonstick baking spray and roast them at a high temperature.
This is the method used by Dwek and Taub to cook the eggplant slices for their sabih, the vegetable and egg sandwich dressed with tehina. (See recipe.) When making salad dressings, use less oil than lemon juice or vinegar, as in fatoush salad (see recipe); if the dressing is too acidic, add a little water. Another way to make lighter dressings is to blend low-calorie mayonnaise with lemon juice and water. For more flavor, season these dressings with mustard, garlic or herbs.
Don’t eliminate carbs, but stretch them, advise Dwek and Taub. Add diced vegetables to a relatively small portion of carbs. Dwek adds diced tomatoes, cucumber and parsley to cooked rice, and roasted strips of eggplant and a roasted red pepper sauce to pasta.
For a slimming breakfast, spread protein-packed hummus on toast and top it with Israeli salad; or spread toast with avocado, sprinkle it with shredded fresh basil and top it with light feta cheese or an egg-white omelet. If you like a sweet breakfast, top Greek yogurt (thick, strained yogurt) with fresh fruit, such as peaches and berries, and sprinkle it with low-calorie granola. When you want a breakfast treat, crumble a quarter or half of a muffin into your yogurt.
“I believe in a well-balanced plan,” wrote Taub. “...A diet should be a way of life that you can live with forever.... It simply means that you know exactly what you’re eating....
In the beginning, I want my clients to use their calories for the most nutrient-dense and satisfying foods. But later on, a diet doesn’t mean not eating a piece of cake. It means knowing that we ate that cake. Even sitting down to enjoy it with a fork.”
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.
Fatoush salad
“Fatoush is like an Israeli salad ramped up with more crunch factor and flavor,” wrote Victoria Dwek.
She noted that you can chop the vegetables and prepare the pita chips in advance. Toss everything together when you’re ready to serve. If you don’t need it all, dress and add pita chips to just a portion of the salad and save the rest of the chips for another day to keep them crunchy.
Serves 6; 145 calories per serving.
Pita chips:
An 85-gr. pita bread, halves separated and cut into even pieces
Salt, for sprinkling
Onion powder or garlic powder, for sprinkling
225 gr. or 1 head romaine lettuce, very finely chopped
1 large or 2 small Persian cucumbers, finely diced
3 plum tomatoes, seeds removed if desired, finely diced
1 Belgian endive, finely sliced 1 sweet red pepper, finely diced
1 cup red cabbage, shredded ½ red onion, finely diced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. sumac or zaatar
2 tsp. fresh or dried minced parsley
2 tsp. dried mint 3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste Coarse black pepper, to taste
Prepare the pita chips: Preheat oven to 205°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; spread pita pieces on top. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with seasoning. Bake until pita chips are golden and crispy throughout, 7-8 minutes.
Let cool; crush into smaller bits. In a large bowl, combine all salad and dressing ingredients. Toss to combine. Add pita chips just before serving.
Janel’s Moroccanstyle fish
Thanks to this dish, Dwek’s sister-in-law’s kids, ages five and three, enjoy fish. “They gobble it up,” wrote Dwek. She notes that this fish dish suits all kinds of popular diets – gluten-free, low-carb, sugar-free, Whole30 and paleo.
Serves 6; 185 calories per serving.
2 red peppers, cut into thick slices
450 gr. salmon, cut into chunks
450 gr. sole or tilapia, cut into chunks
2 tsp. salt, divided
¼ tsp. black pepper, divided
1 tsp. garlic powder, divided
1 tsp. smoked paprika, divided
1 tsp. cumin, divided
8 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup fresh cilantro (fresh coriander), chopped
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
Pinch crushed red pepper (or more, if you like it hotter).
Line a sauté pan with red pepper slices. Top with both kinds of fish; season with half of each of the following seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika and cumin.Add all the fresh garlic and cilantro.
Whisk together 1 cup boiling water, tomato paste, crushed red pepper and the remaining salt, pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin. Pour liquid over fish; bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Cover pan; reduce heat and simmer until fish is cooked through and there is still some liquid left in the pan; depending on the size of the chunks, this might take between 20 and 45 minutes, and boneless pieces will cook faster than fish on the bone. Serve fish with pan sauce.
Mushroom chili
About a half-kilogram of meat makes two steaks that can feed two people, wrote Dwek and Taub.
“The same amount of ground meat, though, can also feed a family of six a nourishing and filling dinner... when it’s made into a chili and ‘beefed’ up with lots and lots of mushrooms. Mushrooms take on a meaty flavor of their own and add to, rather than detract from, the heartiness of the stew. Each serving here is a very generous portion.”
Chili is one of the most freezer-friendly foods, so you can make this dish ahead. You can serve it with an avocado sauce made of 1 avocado blended with half a peeled cucumber, 3 tablespoons lime juice, salt to taste and chopped cilantro; or with a corn salsa of cooked fresh corn mixed with chopped red onion, minced jalapeno pepper, cumin, salt, pepper and sweetener, to taste.
Serves 4 ; 295 calories per serving.
1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp. salt, plus more for sprinkling
2 garlic cloves, crushed
450 gr. small portabello or any brown mushrooms, finely diced
450 gr. ground beef, preferably extra-lean
An 800-gr. can crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. oregano Pinch cayenne pepper (or more, if you like it spicy)
Pinch smoked paprika (or more, if you like it smoky)
Pinch black pepper
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat; coat with nonstick cooking spray. Lower heat, add onion and sprinkle with a little of the salt. Cover; cook until onion is soft, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and mushrooms; cook until mushrooms are deeply brown, 15-20 minutes. Add meat; brown, breaking apart meat constantly until meat is no longer red and is cooked through, about 2 minutes.
Add crushed tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, 1 tablespoon salt, oregano, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, and pepper; stir to combine. Bring to a boil, lower heat to the lowest setting. Cover; simmer for 60-90 minutes. Serve hot.
“The sabih is typically a classic Israeli breakfast,” wrote Dwek, “including fried eggplant, Israeli salad, hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, hummus, tehina, and plenty of olive oil. It’s healthy and bright... though not particularly light. This version takes the best of those sabih flavors, then lets you choose – include the potato and toss all the components together in a salad or stuff ’em into a wrap.”
For entertaining, Dwek recommends using a mixture of different colored baby potatoes in the salad.
Serves 2; 262 calories per serving.
1 small eggplant, sliced into half-moons
Salt, for sprinkling
225 gr. yellow-fleshed potatoes or 2 wraps (thin flatbreads)
4 hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise, whites only
2 pickles, sliced
Israeli salad:
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved, or 1 diced tomato
½ regular cucumber or ¹⁄3 large cucumber, diced
½ red onion, diced
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp. salt Pinch coarse black pepper
1 batch tehina-style dressing (see note below)
Preheat oven to 220°. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place eggplant in a colander; sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 20 minutes over a bowl or in the sink. Rinse; dry on paper towels. Place eggplant on prepared baking sheet; bake for 20 minutes.
If preparing the salad version, place whole potatoes in a pot; cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook for 30 minutes, until tender. Let cool; slice or dice potatoes. Prepare the Israeli salad: In a bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumber, onion, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper.
Assemble sabih as a wrap or salad.
For a wrap, line 2 wraps (flatbreads) with eggplant slices. Top with egg white halves, pickles, and Israeli salad; drizzle with tehina-style dressing.
For a salad, toss potatoes with eggplant, egg white halves, pickles, Israeli salad, and tehina-style dressing.
Note: Tehina-style dressing: In a small bowl, whisk 2 Tbsp. light mayonnaise with 1½ tsp. tehina paste, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1½ Tbsp. water, 1 garlic clove, crushed, 1 tsp. fresh minced parsley leaves, ½ tsp. salt and a pinch of cumin.