Healthy choices can still mean flavor, variety

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- New Year's resolutions to slim down and eat more healthfully might seem to preclude the idea of fine dining. Far from it: There are dishes within reach whose eye-appeal and rich flavor qualify them for entertaining, let alone healthful, everyday meals.

Most of us can stick to strict diets and limited food choices for only short periods. But according to the American Institute for Cancer Research it's a myth that eating for health and weight loss has to mean food with less flavor and variety.

AICR nutrition experts recommend eating a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and other plant-based foods; in moderation, they can also help people lose weight.

They advise reducing unhealthy saturated fats, while keeping rich flavor and mouth feel by using more healthful fats, including olive, canola and sesame oil. Salt and sugar can be replaced with ingredients that are health-protective as well as flavor-boosters, like fruit and their juices, spices, herbs, nuts and seeds.

Red meats offer important nutrients, but fish, especially those found in deep water, are more abundant in health-protective substances like omega-3 fatty acids. Generally, they also contain less fat and calories per serving.

The easy-to-make recipes that follow are festive in looks as well as taste. They complement each other in color, texture and flavors so they can pleasingly be served together.

Salmon is rich in color as well as omega-3 fats, and has a meaty texture. The Asian-style marinade, which adds extra flavor, uses both orange and lime juices.

Asian-Style Salmon

1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/2 tablespoon fresh or prepared orange juice

1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/2 tablespoon prepared Chinese mustard

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

Four 4-ounce salmon fillets

1 tablespoon sesame oil

Canola oil cooking spray

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

With a spoon, mix together soy sauce, juices, mustard and spice powder in a shallow pan or dish. Add salmon and turn to coat all sides with marinade. Cover with plastic and refrigerate 1 hour. Bring salmon back to room temperature before broiling.

Preheat broiler. Remove salmon from the marinade, pat dry with paper towels. Brush top and sides of fillets with sesame seed oil and place on broiler pan. Broil 4 inches from heat until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium heat until hot. Add sesame seeds and, stirring continuously, toast just until golden, about 1 minute. (Sesame seeds can quickly go from golden to burned, so watch carefully.) Immediately transfer sesame seeds to a small bowl. Remove skin from salmon fillets and place 1 on each of 4 serving plates. Garnish the top of each with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 216 cal., 11 g fat (2 g saturated), 3 g carbo., 24 g pro., 0 g dietary fiber, 443 mg sodium.

Turmeric is used in the following recipe to turn brown rice a rich, golden color without affecting the flavor. Dried fruits give a bright, jeweled appearance and slightly sweet taste.

Golden Jeweled Rice

2/3 cup quick-cooking brown rice (see note)

1 and 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups fat-free reduced-sodium broth or water (or follow rice package instructions)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 cup dried apricots, cut in small pieces

1/4 cup dried cranberries

In a large saucepan, bring broth to a boil, stir in rice and turmeric. When liquid comes to boil again, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

Meanwhile, place dried fruit in a small bowl. Add hot (but not boiling) water to cover. Let soak for 5 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Drain well.

Remove rice from heat and stir in dried fruit. Cover and let stand 2 to 5 minutes. Lightly fluff mixture with a fork and serve.

Note: Regular brown rice can also be used. To shorten the usual 50 to 60 minutes required, use an appropriate amount of rice and liquid as given on package instruction. Cook at a low boil (not a simmer) until rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain away any remaining liquid.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 104 cal., 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 24 g carbo., 3 g pro., 2 g dietary fiber, 1,877 mg sodium.

Steaming is a simple, fat-free way of preparing vegetables, and helps retain nutrients and phytochemicals often lost with other cooking methods. The citrus sauce, which is similar to the marinade used for the broiled salmon, helps sweeten this dish.

Steamed Asparagus With Citrus Sauce

12 asparagus spears of roughly equal thickness, ends trimmed

2 tablespoons finely-minced mint leaves (see note)

Place asparagus in a dish that will hold 1/3 cup water and can be used in a microwave. Sprinkle herbs over asparagus. Carefully add water at edge of dish. Cover with wax paper or a damp paper towel, and cook in a microwave until crisp-tender. (Timing depends on the power of the microwave, which can vary. If in doubt about the time required, first cook 3 minutes at 50 percent power, check degree of doneness, and repeat as needed.) Asparagus can also be steamed stove-top using a steaming pot, or using an electric steamer.

Arrange asparagus on a serving dish or evenly divide among 4 plates. Spoon 1/2 to 1 tablespoon Citrus Sauce over each serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: Thyme may be substituted if fresh mint is not available.

Nutrition information per serving (including 1/2 tablespoon sauce): 17 cal., 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 3 g carbo., 1 g pro., 1 g dietary fiber, 97 mg sodium.

The following citrus sauce makes far more than is needed for a vegetable side dish, but it can be refrigerated or frozen for future use. Besides dressing vegetables including carrots, broccoli and cabbage, the sauce can be used as a marinade or sauce for fish, poultry or pork dishes. The ingredient amounts called for can be halved if a smaller quantity is desired.

Citrus Sauce

2 1/2 cups fresh orange or tangerine juice

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/3 cup diced peeled fresh ginger root

In a large saucepan combine citrus juices, soy sauce, vinegar, oil and ginger root. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, or until mixture thickens slightly. Pour sauce through a strainer into a container.

Use immediately or store, covered and refrigerated, up to 3 or 4 days; in a freezer, up to 1 month. Reheat sauce before using.

Tip: If a somewhat thicker sauce is desired, cornstarch can be added, using 1/2 tablespoon per 1 cup of sauce. Thicken by mixing cold sauce with cornstarch until dissolved, then heating in a pan over medium heat to a simmer, stirring until sauce thickens and appears translucent.

Makes 2 1/2 cups (40 tablespoons).

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 13 cal., less than 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 2 g carbo., 0 g pro., 0 g dietary fiber, 182 mg sodium.

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