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.
1/2 cup light bottled balsamic vinaigrette or Italian dressing
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
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
- Add vinaigrette to small bowl and whisk in mustard; set aside.
- 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.
- 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
Cashew Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps
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
- Remove some of the better-looking leaves from the head of lettuce. Rinse well, then dry well in paper towels. Keep until needed in a gallon size plastic bag in the refrigerator.
- Combine light mayonnaise, sour cream, curry powder, and chicken broth powder in small bowl with a whisk.
- In a medium bowl, combine the remaining chicken salad ingredients, gently tossing with spoons until well blended. Pour dressing over the top and toss to blend everything well. Cover bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Ten minutes before serving, spoon 1/3 cup of the chicken salad mixture (use 1/4 cup or less if the leaves are on the small size) into the center of each lettuce leaf.
Yield: Makes 4 servings (2 wraps each)
Nutritional Analysis: Per serving: 215 calories, 25 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 63 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 105 mg sodium (if unsalted cashews used). Calories from fat: 38%.
Bruschetta Baked Chicken
If you can find a bottled tomato-based bruchetta in your grocery store, you can use 1 3/4-cups of this instead of the diced tomatoes, tomato pesto, fresh basil, garlic, and oregano.
Olive oil cooking spray
4 chicken breasts, skinless, boneless, cut in half to make 8 thin filets
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes (in whatever flavor you like, such as roasted garlic with herbs or Italian-style)
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto (available in jars at grocery stores)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon minced or chopped garlic (you can use the pre-minced variety from a jar, if desired)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or more, if desired)
6 ounces shredded, part-skim mozzarella (1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup panko crumbs (or soft bread crumbs)
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
- Lay chicken pieces on the bottom of pan. In medium bowl, combine diced tomatoes (not drained), tomato pesto, fresh basil, garlic, and oregano. Spread bruschetta mixture over the top of the chicken.
- Sprinkle mozzarella cheese evenly over the top of the bruschetta mixture. In small bowl, combine panko crumbs with Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle crumb mixture over the top of the mozzarella. Coat the top with olive oil cooking spray.
- Bake dish, uncovered, in center of oven for 30 minutes (or until chicken is cooked throughout and cheese is bubbling).
Yield: Makes 4-6 servings
Nutritional Analysis: Per serving (if 6 servings): 251 calories, 28 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 5.5 g saturated fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 0.7 g fiber, 570 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 36%.
Make-Ahead Lean Beef Kabobs
3/4 cup bottled teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 3/4 pounds top sirloin steak, trimmed of visible fat and cut into 1-inch to 1 1/2-square pieces
1 bell pepper, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (red, green or yellow)
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, stems removed
1 cup fresh pineapple chunks (or canned in juice, drained)
8 long metal or bamboo skewers
- Combine teriyaki sauce and pineapple juice in small bowl, and set aside 1/3 cup of the mixture for basting. Add steak pieces to a gallon-size plastic bag set inside a medium size bowl. Pour the remaining teriyaki sauce mixture over the meat and seal the bag. Refrigerate for 6-8 hours or overnight. If you are using bamboo skewers, soak them for several hours.
- Place bell pepper pieces and mushrooms in a microwave-safe vegetable cooker and cook on HIGH for 1-2 minutes.
- Thread steak pieces (discarding bag and marinade), green peppers, mushrooms and pineapple onto skewers, alternating meat and produce. Place in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish or plastic container of equal size. Drizzle or brush the reserved 1/3 cup teriyaki sauce over the top. Cover kabobs well and store in refrigerator until ready to grill.
- Preheat outside or inside grill for high heat. Lightly coat grill grates or grill plates with canola cooking spray. Cook kabobs on grill until the meat is cooked throughout (about 8 to 10 minutes over direct heat, or 15 to 20 minutes indirect).
Yield: Makes 4 servings (2 skewers each)
Nutritional Analysis: Per serving (including one-third of the marinade): 340 calories, 48 g protein, 16 g carbohydrate, 8.6 g fat, 3.3 g saturated fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g fiber, 360 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 33%.
Published May 9, 2008.
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2008 Elaine Magee
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