How To...

Don't know how to do it? Dr. Gourmet explains common cooking techniques and the hows and whys of what they are and why they work. More Cooking Techniques

Just Tell Me What to Eat!

The Delicious 6-Week Weight Loss Plan for the Real World

Just Tell Me What to Eat!

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP has counseled thousands of his patients on healthy, sustainable weight loss. Now he's compiled his best tips and recipes into a six-week plan for you to learn how to eat great food that just happens to be great for you.

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Cooking Techniques

Key Flavors No. 1

As with the Fettuccine Alfredo, picking out key flavors can help make a higher fat or higher calorie recipe into one that tastes the same but is great for you. With the Caesar Salad recipe, the key flavors are garlic, mustard, anchovies and parmesan.

If you were to work with this yourself, it may take a few tries to get the flavor part of the recipe just right by using different combinations of the key ingredients. Once the flavor is the way that you want it, work on the texture. Because Caesar dressing gets its creamy texture from oil and egg, I look for substitute ingredients that will give a similar mouthfeel. In this case, the combination of honey and yogurt makes for a rich texture.

Dressings are an easy way to learn how to change recipes 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) and contributes to a rich feel in the mouth.

“Key flavors” is a concept that I use when I am creating recipes. This is the idea that each dish has fundamental flavors that are critical to the final taste of the dish. Emphasizing these ingredients to enhance them while looking for ways to reduce fat and calories is the secret to healthier recipes without compromising flavor.

I begin by working to make sure that the tastes of the key ingredients will be dominant in the final dish. A lot of recipes depend on rich ingredients for both flavor and texture and Fettuccine Alfredo is my favorite example of this. The key flavors are Parmesan, garlic and olive oil. The easiest way to reduce the amount of the rich ingredients, such as Parmesan or olive oil, is to always cook with the best quality products.

Because Parmigiano-Reggiano has so much more flavor than the stuff in the green box, you need less of it. The same holds true for using a fruity extra virgin olive oil. These may be more expensive but you’ll use less of them.

Pay attention to all of your ingredients. Even though the garlic doesn’t have many calories buying the freshest garlic and storing it carefully makes for the most flavorful dish.

The creamy texture that usually comes from an excess of cheap, lesser quality cheese and oil is created by using lower fat cheese like the semi-soft goat cheese and 2% milk. The result is the same intense flavor and creamy feel with less fat and calories.

With Hollandaise Sauce, the key flavors are egg yolk, lemon juice and butter. My recipe has all three but because of the fat content in the butter and egg yolk, these are used in sparing amounts.

After key flavors are identified, the next step to creating a healthier recipe is to work on the texture. In this dish, the milk and cornstarch help to recreate the mouthfeel of the butter and egg mixture used in traditional hollandaise. There is enough of each key flavor, however, to give the sauce the rich taste of traditional Hollandaise.