Fast Healthy Meals: 5 Tips From Our Chefs
The traditional view of healthy cooking is that you have to spend tons of time in the kitchen. “Not so!” asserts Pritikin’s Executive Chef Anthony Stewart. Here are tips for a skillet-free supper, herbs, grilled veggies, roasted peppers, and tofu.
Here are five secrets from Chef Anthony and his team at the Pritikin Longevity Center for preparing fast healthy meals.
1. Skillet-Free Supper
It’s 7 p.m., and it’s been a long, exhausting day. Take it easy and whip up a homemade supper so simple that you don’t even need your stovetop.
Simply wash, then pierce a baked or sweet potato with a fork a few times.
Then, heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a marinade of lemon juice, chopped garlic, dried oregano, and stoneground, no-salt-added mustard. Rub the marinade over a salmon filet. Place the salmon in a sheet of aluminum foil and crimp to seal.
Put your salmon in the oven, and your potato in the microwave. Both should be done in about 6 to 8 minutes.
While they’re cooking, break open a bag of fresh, pre-washed lettuce greens for a nice big salad. Check out your refrigerator for other veggies — and even fruit — you can chop up and add to your salad. (Last night, this writer added tangerine slices to a baby spinach salad for nice citrusy kick.) Sometimes, wonderfully creative combinations start with surveying what you already have in kitchen.
Salmon. Potatoes. Salad. Supper doesn’t get much simpler or tastier, and cleanup is nothing more than washing a couple of plates, a knife and fork, and the marinade dish.
2. Fresh Herbs at the Ready
Enjoy fresh herbs often and easily with Chef Anthony’s “Herbal Ice Cubes.” They’re a great way to store herbs and keep them fresh and delicious.
First, rough-chop your fresh herb. Put the chopped leaves into the wells of one of those old-fashioned ice cube trays we all used to have. (You can still buy them at stores like Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond.)
Into each well place about a tablespoon of your freshly chopped herb. Then, fill each well with a little cold water. Place your tray in the freezer.
When your herb cubes have frozen, pop them out of the trays and place them in a freezer bag labeled with the name of the herb. Love several herbs? Make up several bags. (I currently have six – yep, six! – bags of Herbal Ice Cubes in the freezer – basil, dill, oregano, cilantro, Italian parsley, and thyme.)
This way, you can buy herbs at the height of the season and store them for long periods. Anytime you need them, just take the number of cubes you need from the freezer. Let them melt in a little colander on your kitchen counter, or simply melt them in your sauce or stew as it cooks.
Voila! You’ve eliminated the time – and inconvenience – of buying fresh herbs for each new recipe (not to mention the expense), and you’re enjoying the healthy seasonings and flavors of fresh herbs year around.
3. Easy Veggies
While grilling your fish or chicken, throw your fresh veggies on the grill, too. Many varieties grill well, like zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, asparagus, portabello mushrooms, and bell peppers. The result is deep, roasted caramelized flavor – the perfect addition to any dinner.
For a marinade, forgo the calorie-dense oils we’ve seen many TV chefs literally bathe their vegetables in. Instead, recommends Pritikin Chef Vince Della Polla, “Make up a zesty marinade of balsamic vinegar with a touch of water, plus freshly grated garlic or ginger, and maybe, if you have them on hand, some fresh herbs.” Cut up your veggies into grillable slices, pop them in the marinade for about 10 minutes, then pop them on the grill.
And because vegetables are so low in calorie density, load up your plate! Enjoy MORE to weigh less.
4. Fuss-Free Roasted Red Peppers
Ah, several slices of roasted red bell pepper tossed into a big green salad or tucked into a whole-wheat pita sandwich can be so richly satisfying! Deep smoky flavor, and all for just a few calories.
Many of us find it pretty easy to roast peppers on the grill or in the broiler, turning the sides as they blacken and blister. What’s tedious and time-consuming is peeling off the blackened skin afterwards. Sometimes we get lucky, and the skin slides off easily, but only sometimes.
Here’s a solution. After removing your peppers from the heat that blackened them, put them into a paper bag, and immediately put the bag in the freezer. After about a half-hour to an hour, take the bag out (the peppers should be cold, but not frozen). That little blast of cold shrivels up the blackened skin a bit, which makes peeling them much faster and easier.
5. Tasty Tofu In No Time
“This is one of my favorites, I must admit,” laughs Chef Anthony.
Chef takes a block of firm tofu (firm tofu is the type that sits in a container of water in the refrigerated section of your grocery store), and picks it up and squeezes it with both hands to let some of the water out.
Then, as if he’s cutting up a loaf of bread, he slices his tofu into about four ¾-inch-thick slices, and marinates his slices in balsamic vinegar, chopped garlic, and dried oregano for 4 to 5 minutes.
He heats a large nonstick skillet over a high flame, and, using tongs, places his tofu slices in the skillet. When the side facing the skillet is darkened, he flips the tofu to the other side and darkens it too, about 4 minutes per side.
When the tofu slices are nicely browned on both sides, Chef removes them from the skillet, and slices each into bite-size squares.
“I store them in a baggie in the refrigerator, and I use them for everything,” smiles Chef. “You know how people say, ‘Oh, I’m having a salad, but I need some protein like chicken or fish for it.’ Well, animals aren’t the only source of protein. Tofu is packed with protein, and so easy! You just toss these little tofu squares into your salad, and you’re getting plenty of rich, chewy, filling protein, but with none of the cholesterol and saturated fat of animal protein.”
Chef also enjoys his mighty little tofu squares as a snack. And he adds them to soups, marinara sauces, and whole grain dishes, like quinoa.
“Tofu is definitely a product you should stock up on in your refrigerator,” encourages Chef Anthony.