Healthy Cooking Hacks for Your Favorite Dishes
Easy ways to lighten fried chicken, greenify casseroles and more tricks for making the foods you love better for you.
A Twice-Cooked Fried Chicken
The secret technique for healthy fried chicken? Flash-frying it. Here's how: You poach the meat first in a pot of broth, until it's tender. Since it's already cooked, the chicken needs less time in a frying pan full of oil to develop a golden crust. In a "flash" (read: 30 seconds to a minute) the poached chicken crisps up nicely, without absorbing as much oil as it would if you cooked it the traditional way.
Get the recipe: Flash-Fried Finger-Lickin' Chicken
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Chili That Swaps in a Leaner Protein
If you've got a slow cooker, you've probably made chili in it, realizing, as we have, that it seems there's no limit to how long the meat and spices can simmer away, melding together in perfect harmony. Instead of beef, though, this recipe uses lower-calorie (yet still filling) boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into cubes. The poultry goes well with corn, green chilies, salsa, beans and cilantro; it's a milder meat than beef and lets the bright taste of all those other ingredients shine.
Get the recipe: Slow-Cooker Cilantro Cumin Chicken Chili
A Stealth Ingredient to Add to Taco Night
Mexican meals don't often feature many leafy vegetables, but this tortilla casserole is an exception. It includes a half-pound—roughly two big bunches—of fresh spinach, so it's packed with vitamins and vibrant color. The greens wilt considerably during cooking, so they blend seamlessly with the other ingredients—which include tomatoes, mozzarella and shredded chicken-breast meat. Corn tortillas hold the ingredients together nicely, making the dish easy to cut and serve.
Get the recipe: Layered Tortilla Casserole
A New Way to Fill and Seal Potpie
Eating pie for dinner doesn't necessarily have to derail your healthy efforts. There are two keys to making the meal better for you: First, ditch the meat and potatoes for a hearty, healthy mix of carrots, shiitake mushrooms, pearl barley and white beans; and, second, swap in phyllo dough for the usual pie pastry; it's a quicker, flakier and lighter alternative to a butter-heavy dough. It even comes in a whole wheat version, which you can find in specialty and health-food stores.
Get the recipe: Vegetable-Barley Potpies
A Veggie-Forward Lasagna That's Still Cheesy and Hearty
A handful of spinach leaves does not a vegetarian lasagna make—which is why this take, exploding with veggies, is so wonderful. It's made with two eggplants, six zucchini, five portobello mushrooms and two red onions, which, even when cooked, retain their texture. Bonus: The recipe has an additional healthy twist, recommending cottage cheese instead of ricotta (it's lower in fat and calories but still gives the dish that signature creamy filling).
Get the recipe: Vegetarian Lasagna
A Better Burger—from the Inside Out
Stuffed burgers (that is, ground meat with a melty orb of cheese in the middle) can taste decadent even without tons of cheese. Although many recipes call for four tablespoons of cheese, you really only need two tablespoons of shredded, reduced-fat cheddar to get ooey-gooey results. And using buffalo—aka bison—meat, as suggested in this recipe, saves fat and cholesterol but still delivers deep flavor, especially when you add finely chopped Vidalia onion, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to the mix.
Get the recipe: Cheddar-Stuffed Burgers
A Green Bean Casserole with a Healthful Sub for Cream
Green beans in a cream sauce topped with fried onions are a Thanksgiving staple, but this slimmed-down take on the dish deserves to be on your table throughout the year. There's no canned soup, nor are there French fried onions—but you won't miss them. The replacements are surprisingly tasty: The sauce is creamy thanks to plain low-fat Greek yogurt, and the topping gets its crunch from panko bread crumbs.
Get the recipe: Skinny Green Bean Casserole
A Deliciously Meaty, Bean-Forward French Dish
Cassoulet may not be French for "extremely rich dinner," but it's not that far off. Traditionally, the dish is a heavy mix of beans, pork sausage, pork shoulder, pancetta and duck (plus duck fat). You can still enjoy the luxurious, slow-simmered taste—and even the crisp top layer of fresh bread crumbs—with this smart twist on the classic. It has you use diced, lean pork; just three ounces of chorizo sausage; and, lots of cannellini beans, so the finished dish has less fat but still boasts plenty of flavor.
Get the recipe: Skinny Cassoulet
A Spiralized Ramen
Whether you're eating Styrofoam-bowl-style ramen or something handmade by a Japanese chef, the noodles themselves are probably made from wheat flour. This vegetable version is a satisfying low-carb stand-in you have to taste to believe. It uses spiralized zucchini as the noodles, which are light and bright, yet the dish has plenty of oomph, thanks to some powerhouse ingredients: miso paste, soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, ginger and shiitake mushrooms. You can add tofu, quinoa and a soft-boiled egg or shrimp for protein, if you'd like.
Get the recipe: Vegan Ramen Soup with Zucchini Noodles