Watching your weight, but don’t want to survive on rabbit food? Fear not - food writer Angela Nilsen has given classic recipes a low-calorie twist. Lisa Salmon takes a (guilt-free) taste.
If you find sticking to a healthy eating regime too much of a struggle, because you simply can’t give up your favourite foods, Angela Nilsen’s new book could be just the ticket.
The former food editor of BBC Good Food magazine has taken traditionally calorie-packed meals and treats, including a full English breakfast, pasta dishes, curries, cakes and desserts, and recreated recipes for them with less sugar, fat and salt - but the same deliciousness, she promises.
Make It Lighter also features ‘slimmed down’ versions of fish, chips and mushy peas (classic version, 915 calories; lighter version, 649), Thai green curry (classic version, 817 calories; lighter version, 487) and even chocolate brownies - which Nilsen’s managed to make possible at a less-than-naughty 191 calories, compared to the typical 314 in a regular brownie.
“They are all classics, the kind of food you love to eat but might feel a bit guilty about,” she says, describing the recipes in the book.
“My challenge was to find ways of maintaining the desired taste while creating a much lighter version - recipes with less fat, sugar or salt, the very ingredients that make them so popular in the first place.”
Nilsen admits the task wasn’t always easy, as she refused to compromise on the irresistibly rich taste of well-loved treats, and wanted to avoid using low-fat alternative ingredients, as she felt the full-fat versions added to the taste.
But, she says: “Where I have occasionally used them, I’ve worked out lower fat ways of increasing richness and flavour.”
She insists these aren’t ‘diet’ recipes - just ways of enabling people to eat the food they enjoy, but in a lighter, healthier way.
“They are recipes you can enjoy with your family and friends without the guilt.”
Her personal favourites include the lemon tart and the chocolate brownies: “I like them for the surprise element, as the secret ingredient I used to keep fat down but gooeyness in fact was mayonnaise, which fooled everyone.”
Nilsen also singles out her lighter hummus recipe, in which she uses a whole bulb of roasted garlic after it was recommended to her by a friend in Canada.
“I tried it and was amazed how well it worked,” she says. “The roasted garlic didn’t overpower and it gave the hummus its creamy texture, which didn’t require as much oil.
“It’s these kinds of struggles and unforeseen twists that have made all the recipes in the book an exciting journey to take.”
Each recipe comes with tips to help you cook more healthily, such as brushing vegetables with a little oil then roasting or cooking them on a griddle, instead of frying them, or bulking out a shepherd’s pie with lentils, so you can cut down on mince.
Nilsen says her personal guidelines for eating healthily are simply to eat a balanced diet that includes a little of every food group, and to eat in moderation, rather than to excess.
“If you have just a few good recipes in your repertoire that use fresh ingredients, rather than relying on convenience foods that may be higher in fat and calories, I think you have more chance of keeping your weight down,” she says. “To make the most of these lighter recipes, do use them as part of an ongoing, healthy balanced diet.
“And if you want the odd treat, don’t deny yourself, perhaps just consider taking a smaller portion and forget the second helping.”
Here are three recipes from Make It Lighter to kick off your guilt-free year.
Recipes to try
Twice-baked cheese souffles (serves 6)
For the souffles:
1tbsp (heaped) polenta
1½tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
25g plain flour
250ml semi-skimmed milk
50g grated Parmesan cheese
1tsp Dijon mustard
50g light soft cheese
2tbsp (heaped) snipped chives, plus extra to serve
2 large egg yolks
3 large egg whites
50g rocket, to serve
Freshly ground black pepper
For the tomato salsa:
350g cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
½ small red onions, finely chopped
1tsp tomato puree
Pinch of crushed dried chillies
Freshly ground black pepper
n Lightly brush six 150ml ramekins with olive oil and coat with the polenta, shaking out any excess. Place the ramekins in a small roasting tin.
n Heat the oil and butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for one minute. Remove from the heat and pour in the milk, a little at a time, stirring well until the mixture is smooth.
n Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil. Remove from the heat. Reserve one heaped tablespoon of the Parmesan and stir the rest into the mixture, with the mustard, then the soft cheese in small spoonfuls. Add the chives, season with pepper and leave to cool slightly.
n Meanwhile, make the salsa. Mix together the tomatoes, onion, tomato puree and crushed chillies. Season with pepper, cover and chill until ready to serve.
n Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C/gas mark 6).
n Beat the egg yolks into the cheese mixture. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Using a large metal spoon, fold a spoonful into the mixture to slacken slightly. Gently and evenly fold in the remaining whites, half at a time, keeping the mixture light and airy. Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekin dishes.
n Pour cold water into the roasting tin to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden on top and risen. Carefully remove from the tin and leave to cool. The souffles will sink as they cool.
n The souffles rise again when re-baked, and you can prepare them up to 24 hours in advance. If re-cooking, preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C/gas mark 6) and remove the souffles from the fridge about 10 minutes before baking. Turn each out of its dish and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
n Sprinkle the reserved Parmesan over each souffle, then bake for 10 minutes or until risen. Scatter with chives. Serve each with a pile of salsa and rocket.
n Classic version/lighter per serving: kcals 275/175, fat 21.6g/10.6g, sat fat 12.5g/4g, salt 0.9g/0.5g.
Fish & chips with crushed mushy peas (serves 4)
For the chips:
800g even-sized King Edward or Maris Piper potatoes, unpeeled
2tbsp olive oil
For the peas:
300g frozen peas
1tbsp olive oil
2tsp lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
For the fish:
4 even-sized pieces of skinless haddock, hake or cod fillet (about 650g total weight)
50g self-raising flour, plus 1tbsp for coating fish
1 medium egg white
125ml ice-cold sparkling water
600ml sunflower oil, for frying
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
n Scrub the potatoes, cut them lengthways into 1.5cm thick slices, then cut each slice into 1.5cm thick chips.
n Tip the chips into a large saucepan, pour in enough water to just cover and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and gently simmer for four minutes. Drain, tip on to a clean tea towel and pat dry, then leave to cool. This can be done one to two hours ahead.
n Preheat oven to 220C (fan 200C/gas mark 7). Put one tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, shallow, non-stick roasting tray and heat in the oven for 10 minutes.
n Transfer the chips to a bowl and toss in the remaining oil using your hands.
n Tip out in a single layer into the hot roasting tray. Roast for 10 minutes, then turn them over. Roast for five more minutes, then turn again. Roast for a final five to eight minutes until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.
n While the chips are in the oven, cook the peas in boiling water for four minutes, then drain, tip into the pan and lightly crush with the back of a fork. Mix in the oil, lemon juice and freshly ground pepper. Cover and set aside.
n The fish can also be cooked while the chips are in the oven. Pat the fillets dry. Put the one tablespoon of flour on a plate and use to coat each fillet, patting off the excess.
n Mix together the remaining flour, cornflour, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Lightly whisk the egg white with a balloon whisk until frothy and bubbly, but not too stiff. Pour the water into the flour mix, gently and briefly whisking. The batter shouldn’t be completely smooth. Add the egg white, then lightly whisk in just to mix. Try and keep as many bubbles as possible so the batter stays light.
n Pour the oil for frying into a heavy, medium non-stick wok. Preheat to 200C, using a thermometer to check the temperature. Cook two pieces of fish at a time, dip them in the batter to coat and let some of it drip off, then lower into the hot oil using a slotted spoon. Fry for five to six minutes, making sure the oil stays at 200C and turning the fish over halfway through so it’s golden all over.
n Lift out with a slotted spoon, drain and keep hot. Check the oil temperature is still 200C, then repeat with the remaining fish.
n Reheat the peas and serve with the fish, chips and lemon wedges.
n Classic version/lighter per serving: kcals 915/649, fat 36g/27g, sat fat 11.5g/4g, salt 2.1g/0.87g.
Chocolate mousse (serves 4)
85g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
1tbsp cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
½tsp instant coffee granules
½tsp vanilla extract
2 medium egg whites
1tbsp golden caster sugar
50g full-fat Greek yogurt
Fresh raspberries, to decorate
n Chop the chocolate very finely and put it into a large heatproof bowl that will fit over a pan of simmering water.
n Mix the cocoa, coffee and vanilla with two tablespoons of cold water, and pour over the chocolate.
n Place the bowl over the gently simmering water, stir, then remove from the heat. Leave with the bowl of chocolate still over the water (just off the heat), stirring occasionally to check when melted.
n Stir the melted chocolate, and stir in two tablespoons of boiling water. Leave to cool slightly.
n In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites to fairly soft peaks, then whisk in the sugar until thick and glossy.
n Beat the yogurt into the cooled chocolate. Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mix using a large metal spoon, then very gently fold in the rest of the whites until they are evenly mixed in - being careful not to over-mix, or you will lose the volume of the mousse. Spoon into four small cups or 125-150ml ramekins and chill for a few hours, or overnight.
n To serve, top with a few raspberries, then dust with a little cocoa powder. They’ll keep for up to two days in the fridge.
n Classic version/lighter per serving: kcals 397/167, fat 29g/10g, sat fat 14g/5g, sugar 20g/11g.
Twice-baked cheese souffles, featured in Make It Lighter by Angela Nilsen, published by Octopus
Fish and chips with crushed mushy peas