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When I am being interviewed for television or other media I am often asked about how I go about making recipes healthier. There are two basic goals. One is to reduce the number of calories (along with saturated fat and sodium). The other is to create a recipe that is a satisfying portion size. There's excellent research to show that by making these goals part of your life you can eat well and eat healthy (See Dr. Tim Says - Proof that You Can Eat Less, Eat Fewer Calories, and Still Be Satisfied).
I begin making changes by picking out the key flavors in a dish. For example, in the Caesar Salad the key flavors are garlic, mustard, anchovies and parmesan. These are the tastes that make Caesar dressing distinctive.
Sometimes it may take a few tries to get the key flavors and their combinations blended correctly, requiring different mixtures of the key ingredients. Once the flavor is the way that I want it I begin to work on the texture. Because Caesar dressing traditionally gets its creamy consistency from oil and egg, I look for substitute ingredients that will give a similar mouthfeel. ("Mouthfeel" is the term that is used for how flavors and textures are spread throughout your mouth).
In the case of the Caesar dressing, the combination of honey and non-fat yogurt makes for a rich texture that replaces the egg and oil. Dressings are an easy way to learn how to make changes in recipes for yourself. In this recipe, the nonfat yogurt by itself isn't quite as creamy as an egg and oil mixture. Honey works well because it adds sweetness (that both the oil and egg have) while contributing to a rich feel in the mouth.
A lot of recipes depend on rich ingredients for both flavor and texture and another of my favorite examples is Fettuccine Alfredo. The key flavors here are parmesan, garlic and olive oil. The easiest way to reduce the amount of the rich, high calorie ingredients, such as parmesan or olive oil, is first and foremost to always choose the best quality products.
Because Parmigiano-Reggiano has so much more flavor than the stuff in the green box, you need less of it. Not only will this help your Caesar dressing or Alfredo sauce be lower in fat and calories, but it will taste far better. The same holds true when you use a fruity extra virgin olive oil. These may be a bit more expensive, but you'll need less.
The mouthfeel that usually comes from an excess of cheap, lesser quality cheese and oil is created in the healthier Fettuccine Alfredo by using lower fat cheese like the semi-soft goat cheese and 2% milk. The result is the same intense flavor and creamy mouthfeel with less fat and calories.
Pay attention to all of your ingredients. Even though it doesn't have many calories, buying the freshest garlic and storing it carefully makes for the most flavorful dish. Look at your recipes and pick out the key flavors. Consider how you can make small changes in your cooking by using the highest quality ingredients to keep all the great flavor while eating healthier.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
July 24, 2006