Slim Down Spring Feasts with Affordable Alternatives

Healthnotes Newswire (April 2, 2009)—We keep hearing that the tight economy makes it more difficult for people to eat healthfully. But it is more important than ever to protect your health—and it is possible, with a little creativity and a fresh mindset. So this year, as you prepare to honor the traditions of Passover or Easter, celebrate with lighter tastes that also happen to be lower fat and therefore better for your heart and arteries.

Made flavorful with slimmer ingredients and a new focus, these cherished meals still retain their festive character. The secret? “In low-fat versions of recipes it’s essential to tweak the seasonings to add a punch of flavor so our palates don’t miss the fat,” says Marie Simmons, a California-based cookbook author and food writer acclaimed for her flavorful low-fat dishes.

Also remember that many of the heavier elements of a meal, such as sauces and meats, are often made up of the most expensive ingredients that are at the same time the worst for your health. So start by looking for more seasonal, heart-healthy vegetables, which tend to be better prices, and serve more of those up with a smile, using meats and sauces as delicious accents to be savored all the more, rather than the cornerstones of the meal.

Make Passover meals lusciously lighter

Starting next Wednesday evening, the eight days of Passover offer multiple opportunities to prepare lighter holiday dishes. While the Seder meal, with its focus on family, history, and ritual, is the heart of the holiday, Passover menus are deliciously varied. Options for lighter, flavorful fare can be the cook’s choice within traditional kosher restrictions, using ingredients that cost no more than their standard counterparts.

• Use low-fat prepared chicken stock to make matzoh ball soup.

• Use less butter, oil, and salt with vegetables. Try steaming broccoli, asparagus, or green beans. Shower with gremolata: finely chop a leafy sprig of Italian parsley, a strip (1.5 x 2 inches; 3 x 5 cm) lemon or orange zest, and a garlic clove. (Increase ingredient amounts according to quantity of vegetables.) Sprinkle over vegetables just before serving.

• Substitute low-fat sour cream, yogurt, or half-and-half for full-fat dairy products.

• Season a prime rib roast or brisket with a mixture of crushed fresh rosemary, tarragon, and thyme by rubbing the herbs into the meat before roasting. If fresh feels to spendy, raid your spice rack and use the dry versions, which can still be deliciously pungent.

Count the ways to lighten Easter fare

A lighter makeover of a traditional Easter menu needn’t mean bland. In fact, the bold, fresh flavors of simple, slimmer preparations for a classic roast ham, various vegetables, potatoes, and dessert will surprise you.

• Heat one 10-ounce (284-gram) jar of apple jelly with 1/4 cup (59 ml) balsamic vinegar and use as a low-fat glaze for ham or pork roast.

• Use fresh or dry herbs such as thyme and rosemary to season boneless pork roast or lamb)—or start a new tradition with a more affordable whole chicken. Rub crushed herbs into meat before roasting and/or place in bottom of roasting pan or inside cavity of the chicken or butterflied leg of lamb.

• Season baby carrots with fragrant fresh mint and a smidgeon of butter. Boil or steam 2 pounds (907 grams) carrots; toss and sauté 3 to 5 minutes with 1/4 cup (59 ml) melted butter and 1/2 cup (80 g) chopped fresh mint.

• Lightly drizzle olive oil over various cut-up vegetables and potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Place on a jellyroll pan and roast 45 minutes in a preheated 400°F (204°C) oven, turning once.

• Prepare low-fat garlic and cheese mashed potatoes: Blend 2 to 3 cloves of mashed fresh garlic, 1/2 cup (115 grams) low-fat sour cream, 1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, and 1/4 cup (40 grams) grated Parmesan cheese into 2 pounds (907 grams) hot mashed potatoes. For a more nutritious variation, try it with sweet potatoes.

Light orange cheesecake

The perfect grand finale for your holiday feast, this light and lovely cheesecake has a novel coconut macaroon crust complementing its fresh orange filling. Strawberry lovers, note the alternate strawberry topping. (Serves 8 to 10.)

Crust—2 cups (186 grams) soft coconut macaroons, crumbled

Filling—1 packet orange-flavored gelatin (use plain with strawberry topping), 1 cup (236 ml) boiling water, 2 teaspoons (4 grams) fresh grated orange rind (omit with strawberry topping), 2 (8-ounce; 227-gram) packages light or low-fat cream cheese, softened, 1/2 cup (115 grams) light or low-fat sour cream, 1 cup (236 ml) heavy cream

Orange topping—1 (11-ounce; 312 -gram) can Mandarin orange segments, drained

Alternate strawberry topping—1 (10-ounce; 284-gram) package frozen strawberries in light syrup, 2 teaspoons (10 ml) orange juice, 1/4 cup (59 ml) reserved strawberry syrup


• Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).

Crust—Press crumbled macaroons on bottom and 1 inch (2.5 cm) up the sides of a 9-inch (23 cm) spring-form pan. Bake 10 minutes; cool.

Filling—In small saucepan, bring water to boil. Remove from heat, stir in gelatin until dissolved, and add orange peel. Refrigerate mixture until thickened. In large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth; add sour cream, and gradually beat in gelatin mixture. In another large bowl, beat heavy cream until stiff. Fold into cream cheese mixture. Pour filling into prepared crust. Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.

Orange topping—Pipe extra whipped cream or drop spoonfuls around edge; garnish with orange slices.

Strawberry topping—Drain strawberries, but reserve syrup. Place berries in blender and purée. Add orange juice and syrup. Spoon purée over top of cake, drizzling some down sides.

Ms. Dern is a veteran of national consumer public relations agency programs for both commodity board food products and branded manufactured foods. She is coauthor of The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Fields, Farms and Oceans (2004, New Society Publishers). Her articles have appeared in publications such as Relish, Cooking Light, Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Northwest Palate, and Woman’s Day Special Interest Christmas Publications. She has also served as copywriter and ghostwriter on several cookbooks and has written on food for regional and national organizations. A member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), she was awarded the Harry A. Bell Grant for Food Writers in 2003.

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