By Brandy Rushing
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When it comes to making food delicious and light, our test kitchens professionals have learned all the tricks. Here, they share some of their tried-and-true techniques for making dishes more nutritious without sacrificing an ounce of flavor.
For all recipes
1. Study the recipe. Closely examine the original to see where changes can be made. "You can't just wing it, no matter how familiar you are with the recipe," says Test Kitchens Professional Kathryn Conrad. "Look at each ingredient to see where you can take away, add, or substitute."
2. Reference lightened versions of similar recipes before starting. Check out past issues of Cooking Light, cookbooks, or visit CookingLight.com.
3. Limit sodium. Try the recipe with half the recommended sodium.
4. Reduce portion sizes. When plating, start with a smaller amount and see if that satisfies you.
5. Give yourself some slack. "We try different versions of the same recipe three or four times," says Test Kitchens Professional Jan Moon. "Recipes are a science; you may need a few attempts to get it just right."
6. Choose a flavorful cheese. "Use a variety with more flavor, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano," says Assistant Food Editor Kathy Kitchens Downie, R.D. "The stronger the flavor, the less you have to use."
7. Sprinkle cheese, chocolate, or nuts on top rather than mixing into batters. As toppings, they deliver concentrated flavor.
8. Reduce sugar-crumb toppings. Half the amount is often enough.
9. Substitute panko, extra crisp Japanese breadcrumbs, for ordinary bread or cracker crumbs. Doing so can reduce the crust's fat, calories, and sodium by half.
For baked goods
10. Think beyond fat-free. Sometimes no-fat foods don't satisfy. "To account for this, we often use a blend of reduced-fat and fat-free varieties," says Vanessa Johnson, Test Kitchens director.
11. Use egg substitute in recipes that call for more than one egg. A quarter cup equals one egg, cutting 5 grams of fat and 213 milligrams of cholesterol from your recipe.
12. Increase low-calorie ingredients. For example, add extra vegetables to casseroles and fruits to breads, muffins, or snack cakes. This will increase the yield of your recipe without adding fat.
13. Finely chop nuts, bacon, olives, and other high-fat or high-sodium ingredients. They will distribute more evenly, allowing you to use less without sacrificing taste.
For meats and vegetables
14. Opt for leaner meats, such as center-cut or loin meats and skinless, white-meat poultry. "For example, a slice of center-cut bacon has slightly less sodium and fat than regular cured bacon," Downie says. In some cases, pork can be a leaner option than chicken.
15. Add zing with citrus. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice can help brighten the flavors of veggies and meats without added sodium.
16. Use nonstick pans and cooking spray in place of oil or butter.
17. When you need oil, use canola, which has nearly half the saturated fat and more healthful, unsaturated fat than other oils.
For soups and stews
18. Opt for low-sodium broths and no-salt-added tomatoes; always rinse canned beans in a strainer under cold water, which cuts sodium by up to 40 percent.
19. Puree vegetables to add body. For example, mash some of the beans in a chili or the potatoes in a chowder.
20. Trade 1 percent milk for whole, or half-and-half for heavy cream, in creamy soups.
Brandy Rushing is an assistant editor at Cooking Light.