Healthy, Flavorful Cooking Essentials

Just because you're watching your waistline doesn't mean you have to sacrifice flavor. This is especially relevant as the holiday season nears. Everybody expects to put on a couple of extra pounds from Thanksgiving through New Year's and some people even starting cutting back in preparation for holiday party hell.  

News flash: We have proof that healthy food doesn't mean you are left eating fat-free foods, bland grilled chicken or flavorless soups.

Chef Chad Luethje, Executive Chef at Miraval Resort & Spa, knows how to maximize flavor while minimizing caloric intake. He is responsible for feeding the spa-resort's guests five times a day, producing a variety of healthy dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as mid-morning and before-dinner snacks. Everything at the resort tastes so fresh and flavorful that one forgets that all of the offerings are low in fat and calories, thanks to a variety of tricks and alternatives he relies on in his cooking.

Remember: to cook flavorful food, choose flavorful ingredients. Chef Luethje finds the best ingredients possible, selecting organic and natural products, and local and seasonable offerings when available.  Think about fresh herbs, grown in your windowsill. That fresh basil flavor helps make the Roma tomato, basil & shallot salad burst with flavor when it's served with Angus beef filet mignon.

When maximizing flavor, it is also important to add as much flavor in each ingredient as possible. Instead of packaged salad dressing, try making your own with homemade basil oil, or homemade strawberry vinegar. You can also use these infused oils in your cooking, drizzling a bit over a bowl of soup, or on a piece of simply grilled meat, for extra flavor.

Utilizing fresh herbs and spices is another easy way to infuse your cooking with lots of flavor. Chef Luethje serves Asian crab rolls with a mango dipping sauce full of fresh garlic, ginger, cilantro and scallion flavors, with only one gram of fat. We love adding a little curry powder to butternut squash soup to add a complexity to the dish, or rubbing chicken breasts with a fresh herb pesto before cooking them. You can even dress up plain old fat-free yogurt with cinnamon and a bit of agave syrup for much more flavor than any store-bought brand, with fewer calories. New to spices, or in need of a spice rack makeover? Check out our list of essential spices to have in your kitchen for more inspiration.

When preparing flavorful food, also keep in mind how you are cooking the food. Instead of pan-sautéing fish, why not try cooking it in parchment with lemon and herbs? You'll infuse the fish with lots of flavor without losing moisture. Instead of steaming broccoli or Brussels sprouts, try roasting them; the result are perfectly cooked vegetables with a caramelized and concentrated flavor. Toss the vegetables with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them in a 400 degree oven until browned around the edges and cooked through.

And if you're absolutely craving a salad with candied nuts, or a heap of cheese on your pasta, all hope is not lost. When you want to add a calorically dense ingredient to your dish, choose those with pungent or strong flavors, like blue cheese and Parmigiano, where a little will go a long way. In the case of nuts, choose the one you really want, but just use a small amount, like an ounce or two, so the caloric damage won't be too great. Sometimes a little bit of the real thing is just what you need.


Here are some more of Chef Luethje's tips and tricks for maximizing flavor while minimizing calories:

–Use a mister or spray bottle to add oil to your recipes instead of free pouring from the bottle- this is a great, inexpensive tool that allows you to really fine tune the amount of oil going in to the dishes you're cooking.

–When using a recipe calling for mayonnaise, try substituting a mixture of three parts fat free yogurt and one part reduced fat mayonnaise for great flavor with less fat and calorie content.

–When baking, choose non-fat milk over whole fat versions, like in this blueberry scones recipe. You can also swap half of the white flour for whole wheat flour to add more fiber and protein (and help to prevent the blood sugar crashes linked to refined white flour products)

–Instead of adding cream in soups, add a bit of pureed potatoes and a little soy, skim, rice, or almond milk in its place. Or try tofu in dressings, soups and smoothies.  Just puree and add the other ingredients, but leave out the egg yolks, heavy cream, etc. that would normally provide the texture.

–Choose low-sodium products, like chicken stock or canned beans, over regular products so that you can control the salt content.

–Substitute applesauce or puréed prunes, or other fruits, for egg yolks when baking.