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Family Central: Lightening Up For Spring

Every spring, I rethink dinner. A lot of my family’s favorite meals are on the heavy side – spaghetti, chili, hearty soups – and those just don’t cut it when the weather turns this warm. Here’s what I’ve been pondering, as we make the switch to lighter, cooler spring and summer meals.

Think seasonal: We always try to choose seasonal produce, but that’s easier this time of year. I love a pasta primavera, with traditional spring veggies like peas and asparagus, or a spinach salad with sliced strawberries and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Cool it down: A cold salad plate won’t do it in the winter, but this time of year, we like chopped salads (as simple as chicken, bacon, and whatever veggies we have on hand, atop mixed greens) or the traditional French salad nicoise. We leave off the traditional anchovies, and use a good imported oil-packed tuna, or even a slab of seared fresh tuna from the FRESH chef case, with the rest of the usual ingredients of greens, haricot verts, hard-boiled eggs, and a citrusy vinaigrette.

Go ethnic: Many Asian dishes, especially, are naturally lighter – like a cold Thai beef salad, with a lime-chile vinaigrette, or sushi. The made-as-you-watch sushi at our sushi bar makes a wonderful lunch or grab-and-go dinner; a great starter course for a sushi meal is edamame, served cold and salted.

Go meatless:  Often, this again means ethnic – making falafel work as a main course, for instance. But I often lighten up dishes just by leaving off the meat: Adding vegetables and subtracting pepperoni from a pizza; grilling meaty portabello mushrooms for mushroom “burgers.” This is also a good time to experiment with meat subs like tempeh, the soy-based protein that’s firmer and nuttier than the more common tofu. Try slicing tempeh very thinly, pan-frying it till the edges are crispy, and substituting it for beef or chicken in your favorite stir-fry recipe.

More grains: Replace plain rice and pasta with grains like quinoa, freekeh, bulgur or farro. They’re still filling and hearty, but because you’re getting more fiber, you will naturally eat a little less, and they also go well with warm-weather ingredients like fish and spring vegetables. My latest find may seem a little odd – using steel-cut oats in savory dishes. Steel-cut oats contain the whole oat kernel, and are chewier and denser than rolled oats – so they make a good whole-grain side dish, almost like polenta or risotto, and delicious with roasted chicken or grilled fish. Here’s a quick way to try them:

Savory steel-cut oats: Cook steel-cut oats as directed on package, except use vegetable or chicken stock in place of water. For each serving, top with about 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon of shredded or shaved Parmesan, and a dash of kosher salt and black pepper.

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