Celebrate with these healthy versions of comfort-food classics
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
St. Patrick's Day isn't just about wearing green. It's the holiday when many Americans make an extra effort to eat like the Irish. It may be the one time a year when we sit down to a corned beef and cabbage dinner.
When we think of "Irish food," we often think of the irrepressible potato. But the potato actually wasn't brought to Ireland from the New World until about 300 years ago. Besides potatoes, beef and dairy farming are strong in Ireland. But the most popular meat to serve at the big Sunday meal is (drumroll, please) ? pork!
Wheat and barley crops have been growing in Ireland for about 5,000 years, and oats and rye became staple cereals about 1,500 years ago. You'll find these smart carbohydrate-rich cereals in many an Irish recipe.
Speaking of recipes, I thought you might be in the mood for a few fun Irish dishes. These are lighter renditions of the original Irish recipes, and each includes journaling suggestions.
Mini Potato Cakes
The original potato cake recipe calls for making a large, skillet-size pancake and dividing it into 4 wedges once it's browned. In this rendition, we cut out the dough into 3-inch-round mini cakes instead.
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
2 tablespoons butter, chilled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups mashed potatoes (leftover mashed potatoes work great)
1 tablespoon fat-free half-and-half or low-fat milk (if needed)
Canola cooking spray
About 1 tablespoon canola oil (optional)
- Add flour to medium bowl. Using a plastic knife, cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour until granules have formed. Measure the salt and baking powder and add to the flour mixture; stir well with fork.
- Measure and mix in mashed potatoes. Knead mixture in the bowl with your hands, incorporating as much of the flour mixture into the mashed potatoes as you can. Add a tablespoon of fat free half-and-half or milk, if needed, to make the mixture into a dough.
- Roll out the dough on a floured board, using a rolling pin, till about 1/2 inch thick. Cut dough into circles using a 3-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter.
- Heat nonstick griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly grease bottom of pan with canola oil (or canola cooking spray). Add potato cakes to pan, spraying tops with canola cooking spray. When bottoms are nicely browned, flip cakes over with spatula to brown other side. (If you want to add cheese on top of the cakes, do it now.) When the underside is browned, remove cakes to serving plate.
Serving suggestion: Although it's not called for in the original recipe, these cakes are delicious when you sprinkle grated cheddar cheese over the top while the second side is cooking. By the time the second side has browned, the cheese is melted!
Makes 10 mini cakes (about 5 servings).
Per serving (without cheese): 132 calories, 3 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 261 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 35%.
Irish Chicken & Dumplings
I've been told Chicken and Dumplings is Irish comfort food at its best. Here is the "Recipe Doctored" version -- lighter in calories and fat grams, but still comforting.
2 cans (10.75 oz. each) Healthy Request reduced-fat cream of chicken soup, condensed
3 cups water
1 cup sliced or chopped celery
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
4 whole carrots, sliced (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup frozen green peas
2 large potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch slices, then quartered
1 1/2 cups reduced-fat Bisquick baking mix
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup fat-free half-and-half or low-fat milk
- In large saucepan, add condensed soup, water, celery, salt if desired, onions, poultry seasoning, pepper, chicken breasts, potatoes, and carrots. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cover pan. Simmer over low heat about 30 minutes.
- Remove chicken from the saucepan, shred it into bite-sized pieces (or break up into pieces in saucepan using a spatula), return to saucepan, and stir in the peas.
- Add Bisquick, buttermilk, and fat free half-and-half to medium-sized bowl and blend to make a soft dough. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into the simmering stew. Cover pan and simmer about 20 minutes. Uncover pan and simmer 10 minutes more. Serve hot!
Makes 6 servings
Per serving: 347 calories, 24.5 g protein, 51.5 g carbohydrate, 4.5 g fat (1.2 g saturated fat, 0.8 g monounsaturated fat, 1.6 g polyunsaturated fat), 50 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 465 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 12%.
Cabbage is the better half of the famous Irish duo, "corned beef and cabbage." This is a flavorful recipe for just the cabbage that you can make easily in a large, nonstick frying pan.
3 slices Louis Rich Turkey Bacon
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 head of cabbage, cut into 4 wedges
1 cup low-sodium beef or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon sugar or Splenda
Pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar
- Add turkey bacon strips to a large nonstick frying pan and cook over medium heat until crisp. Remove strips to a paper towel to cool. Crumble the bacon and set aside.
- Add the onions to the pan with any turkey bacon drippings (there won't be much), and cook over medium heat until lightly browned (4 minutes).
- Add cabbage, broth, and sugar to the frying pan with onions. Cover pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and cook until cabbage wilts and broth is almost evaporated (about 5 minutes more), stirring occasionally.
- Stir in turkey bacon pieces and vinegar. Serve immediately.
Makes 3 servings
Per serving: 78 calories, 5 g protein, 7.5 g carbohydrate, 3.4 g fat (0.9 g saturated fat, 1.3 g monounsaturated fat, 0.9 g polyunsaturated fat), 12 mg cholesterol, 2.2 g fiber, 225 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 38%.
Baked Lemon Pudding Cake
This is an old-fashioned family dessert. It separates into two very different layers -- a cakelike layer on top and a creamy pudding layer on the bottom.
Canola cooking spray
2 tablespoons butter (no- or low-trans fat margarine can be substituted)
6 tablespoons Splenda
6 tablespoons super-fine granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup lemon juice
Zest from one lemon, finely chopped
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1 1/4 cups low-fat milk
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch pie dish with cooking spray.
- In a mixing bowl, cream the butter or margarine well with an electric mixer. Add the Splenda and sugar and beat well.
- With an egg separator, separate the eggs; save the egg whites in another mixing bowl. Add the yolks to the butter mixture one by one; gradually add the lemon juice and lemon zest. The batter will look like lemon frosting at this point. Slowly add the milk to make a thin batter. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff with an electric mixer. Gently fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture. Gently mix in flour until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pie plate.
- Place the pie plate into the preheated oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the pie plate from the oven and allow the pudding cake to cool. Dust top with powdered sugar if desired and/or serve with fresh sliced strawberries.
Makes 6 servings.
Serving suggestion: Try it with strawberries and light whipped cream.
Per serving (without strawberries and whipped cream): 170 calories, 5 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (3.3 g saturated fat, 2 g monounsaturated fat, 0.4 g polyunsaturated fat), 83 mg cholesterol, 0.4 g fiber, 83 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 32%.
Originally published March 11, 2004
Medically updated March 17, 2010.
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