Chefs share tips for healthy, flavorful dishes

aweigl@newsobserver.comJanuary 14, 2014 

  • Links to more healthy recipes

    Breana Lai, associate food editor at Eating Well magazine, shared links to some of her favorite recipes:

    • Quinoa Mushroom Soup:

    • Mushroom, Squash & Chicken Salad with Sesame Dressing:

    • Corn & Black Bean Quinoa Salad:

    • Tabbouleh with Chickpeas:

    • Brussels Sprout & Potato Hash:

  • Cookbook giveaway

    All month we’re giving away cookbooks to help readers stick to their healthy eating and cooking resolutions in 2014. The cookbooks include those by Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis, Cooking Light and Southern Living. For details on how to enter, go to the N&O Lifestyles’ Facebook page:

Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean bland food. It doesn’t have to be an endless march of beige whole grains, grassy juices and skimpy salads.

We sought advice from three chefs well-versed in creating flavorful food for those trying to eat healthier. Unlike most chefs, these cooks don’t rely heavily on the calorie bombs of butter and cream or the blood pressure nemesis that is salt.

These chefs add creaminess with coconut milk and pureed vegetables. They season with smoky spices, fresh herbs and a hint of acid. They use their grills instead of their deep fryers. Their dishes have less fat, less salt and fewer calories, which means they are better for your health.

Our experts are chef Alyssa Gorelick, who teaches a series of healthy and sustainable cooking classes at the Atherton Mill and Market in Charlotte; chef James Castellow, who started practicing what he’s been preaching at North Raleigh’s Zest Cafe and Home Art and lost 130 pounds over the last two years; and Breana Lai, a Chapel Hill native and now associate food editor at Eating Well magazine.

Alyssa Gorelick’s advice

• Reach for less processed fats, such as coconut oil or ghee, a clarified butter commonly used in Indian cooking, instead of canola or vegetable oil. Tip: Coconut oil can be a direct replacement for butter.

• Lend a smoky flavor to a sauce or stew by adding smoked paprika, an ancho chile (a dried poblano) or a dried Anaheim chile pepper.

• Instead of using cream, place a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator. The contents will separate and a thick cream will form on top, which can be used instead of dairy cream in recipes to save calories. Even better, coconut cream is more stable and will not separate like dairy cream at high temperatures.

• When eating meat, buy bone-in cuts of meat and poultry, which have more flavor. While it is true that chicken thighs have more fat than a lean chicken breast, the thigh will have more flavor and less can be used.

• Use a ripe avocado, which has plenty of healthy monounsaturated fats, to add a creamy texture to dishes. Tip: replace mayo with mashed avocados in tuna salad.

James Castellow’s advice

• Unless you’re making a spice rub, season with fresh herbs instead of reaching for the salt shaker. Castellow often relies on minced parsley, basil and oregano, which quickly flavor food.

• Use the grill to add flavor to such foods as asparagus, sweet potatoes and even kale.

• Create more satisfying dishes by incorporating contrasting flavors and textures, such as soft and crunchy, salty and sweet, spicy and creamy. Tip: a salad is always better with the crunch of a toasted nut or a few croutons.

• Instead of thickening soup with cream or a roux, use pureed tomatoes or pureed root vegetables to save calories.

Breana Lai’s advice

• Try adding more vegetables, especially those that are dark green or orange, to any meal. Think spinach, kale and sweet potatoes, which are packed with vitamins A and C and folate.

• Use acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, to add flavor to your dishes instead of salt.

• Vary your protein sources. Instead of always eating meat, try fish, beans, chickpeas and nuts.

• Explore different whole grains. Ancient and alternative grains, such as freekah, quinoa, millet, amaranth and spelt, can provide higher levels of protein, fiber, B vitamins and selenium than wheat.

Kale Salad

From James Castellow of Zest Cafe and Home Art in North Raleigh.

2 tablespoons raisins

1/4 cup orange juice

2 cups fresh kale, washed and chopped

1/4 cup chili lime dressing (see recipe below)

2 cups salad greens

1/2 orange, peeled and separated into segments

1/4 avocado, sliced

1 tablespoon roasted pistachios

2 teaspoons grated Asiago cheese

PLACE raisins and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Take off heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain, cool and reserve raisins.

MASSAGE kale with chili lime dressing in a large bowl to help tenderize it and let sit for at least 30 minutes.

SPREAD salad greens on a dinner plate. Top with kale in the center. Arrange orange segments, avocado slices, raisins, pistachios and Asiago cheese around kale.

Yield: 1 serving

Chile Lime Vinaigrette

From James Castellow of Zest Cafe and Home Art in North Raleigh.

1 cup fresh cilantro

1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup honey

7-ounce chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 tablespoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups canola oil

PLACE cilantro, lemon juice, honey, 1/2 of the can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, salt and pepper in the blender. Pulse ingredients until well mixed. With blender running, add canola oil. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Yield: 5 cups

Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs

From James Castellow of Zest Cafe and Home Art in North Raleigh.

1 spaghetti squash

Cooking spray

Salt and pepper to taste

7 ounces ground turkey

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, divided

1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil, divided

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano, divided

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic, divided

3/4 cup marinara sauce

8 spears fresh asparagus

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 cup white wine

1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees.

CUT squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Spray squash with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place open side up on a roasting pan and cover with foil. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool and use a fork to pull out the large strands of squash from skin. Set aside.

COMBINE turkey, 1/2 tablespoon parsley, 1/2 teaspoon basil, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 tablespoon garlic and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Mix well and form into four meatballs. Pour marinara sauce in bottom of a baking dish. Place meatballs on top of sauce. Cover baking dish with foil and bake for about 25 minutes, until meatballs reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

HEAT grill to high. Rub asparagus with 1 teaspoon olive oil and grill until tender. Set aside.

HEAT a saute pan on stove over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil and garlic to saute pan. Cook remaining garlic until brown. Add white wine, 1 cup spaghetti squash and remaining parsley, basil and oregano. Steam squash until heated through and toss to mix thoroughly.

PLACE squash in center of plate, surrounded by asparagus. Top squash with meatballs and marinara sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 1 serving.

Smoky Spiced Roasted Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach

From Alyssa Gorelick of Charlotte.

1 whole chicken, quartered

2 smoked serrano chili peppers

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon ground aleppo chili peppers

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 tablespoon Himalayan pink salt or smoked salt

4 minced garlic cloves

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon coconut oil, divided

2 tablespoons honey

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1-2 pounds fresh spinach

Zest of 1 orange

Salt and pepper to taste

PREHEAT oven to 425 degrees.

MIX serrano chili peppers, smoked paprika, ground aleppo chili peppers, cumin, onion powder and salt in a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Transfer dry spices to a bowl and add garlic, 1/4 cup coconut oil and honey to create a paste.

SPREAD paste on chicken, making sure most of it gets under the skin.

LAY chicken skin-side up on a sheet pan with parchment paper; use a roasting rack if you have one. Cook for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 375 degrees and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees.

HEAT 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat. When hot add sweet potatoes and stir with a wooden spoon until caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.

ONCE potatoes are tender, add spinach one handful at a time, to wilt. Fold in the orange zest to finish. Serve with roasted chicken.

Yield: 4 servings.

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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