Easy Main Dish Recipes

Low-fuss, but elegant entrees that are perfect for spring and summer.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Impromptu swim outings, trips to the park, visits with friends and relatives -- these are just some of the many reasons we don't want to be stuck in the kitchen when the weather is warm. Granted, we still want to serve elegant (and healthy) lunch and dinner entrees -- but we want to do it with the least amount of trouble possible. Frankly I can't argue with that, so I combed web sites searching for top-ranked easy main dish recipes, then lightened them up on calories (and time).

Interestingly, the recipes I found tended to fall into three following categories:

1. Make-Ahead Entrees

You can beat the before-dinner rush by putting your main dish together the night before or that morning, then storing it in the refrigerator. When it's time to eat, just do the final garnishing and assembly, and you're good to go. This works for entrees like quiche (just heat it up if you want to serve it warm), pasta and grain-based salads, and easy main dish salads like Cobb salad, taco salad, and Salade Nicoise.

You can also make any type of soup, stew, or chili ahead of time. Just heat them up in the microwave at suppertime -- or keep them warm in a slow cooker all day. You can also make lasagna or another casserole ahead of time, then pop it in the oven to finish cooking. Or you can have barbecued entrees, like kabobs or skewers, marinated and ready to hit the grill.

2. The Serve Yourself 'Entree Bar'

Some main dishes -- particularly tacos, tostados, and burritos -- lend themselves to a serve-yourself setup. All you need to do is have the components prepared in bowls and ready to be set out. For items like meat or fish that need to be hot, cook them ahead of time and store in a microwave-safe bowl in the refrigerator. When you're ready to serve, just microwave for a couple of minutes.

3. The Make-and-Bake Bar

This is a variation of the entree bar concept, in which your family or guests put together their entrees that you then grill or bake quickly on the spot. Try a "make your own gourmet quesadilla" night, in which your dinner companions assemble the quesadilla they want (choosing from cooked shrimp or crab, mango salsa, assorted gourmet cheeses, and grilled vegetables, for example), and then cook them up on the griddle or grill. You can do the same with panini sandwiches (have your panini maker hot and ready to go) or grilled gourmet pizzas (use thick, home-style flour tortillas as crusts to make this even easier).

4 Easy Main Dish Recipes

To help keep your spring and summer days stress-free, here's a sampling of easy main dish recipes to try.

Super Simple Salade Nicoise

Have your eggs boiled and cooled, and your red potatoes cooked before you start this recipe.

Ingredients:
Dressing:
1/2 cup light bottled balsamic vinaigrette or Italian dressing
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

Salad:
12 ounces green or yellow beans, trimmed
2 cans (6 1/2 ounces each) tuna canned in water (chunk light or albacore), drained
8 anchovy filets, drained (packed in oil) and pat them dry
1 pound tiny new potatoes, cleaned, pierced with fork and microwaved until tender
Half a red or yellow bell pepper, cut into thin (1/4-inch strips)
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes (cut in half if large)
About 18 pitted black olives, drained well
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
3 large eggs (preferably a higher omega-3 brand), hard-cooked, peeled, and cut into quarters

Preparation:

  1. Add vinaigrette to small bowl and whisk in mustard; set aside.
  2. Add green beans to microwave-safe dish with 1/4 cup water. Cook on HIGH for about 3 minutes or until barely tender. Drain immediately and cover with cold ice water to stop the cooking process.
  3. To assemble the salad, combine the beans, tuna, anchovies, potatoes, bell pepper, tomatoes, olives, fresh parsley and tarragon. Drizzle the dressing over the top and toss gently to cover all ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Garnish serving bowl with hard-boiled eggs.

Yield: About 6 servings

Nutritional Analysis: Per serving: 420 calories, 35 g protein, 54 g carbohydrate, 6.6 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 147 mg cholesterol, 11 grams fiber, 776 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 14%.

Cashew Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps

Ingredients:
1 head butter lettuce (or use green or red leaf lettuce)
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon chicken broth powder (optional)
2 cups skinless, roasted chicken breast, chopped (from a rotisserie chicken)
1/3 cup celery, finely chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup cashew pieces



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