Red Onion, Tomato and Caper Tilapia

Red Onion, Tomato and Caper Tilapia
Serves 2
Can be doubled| Can be halved

I’ve spoken on this blog before about our nanny Tess and her love of cooking. She has a knack for turning out recipes that look delicious and taste even better. The most surprising thing about her creations is their simplicity, and this one is no exception. Tilapia is one of her favorite fish so I order it for her often and love watching how she transforms it into a delicious lunch or dinner.  Its mild taste makes is an ideal candidate to welcome almost any flavor, and in this particular recipe, she used red onion, tomatoes, caper and parsley for an Italian twist. She made it for lunch one day last week, and it looked so good that I copied the same recipe for dinner. I chopped the veggies and herbs while the tilapia cooked, and in less than 10 minutes, we had a meal. 10 minutes later, that meal was gone leaving all three of us happily full.     ~Shivani

Ingredients:

1 pound of tilapia
1/2 to 1 cup of tomatoes, chopped (I love using cocktail tomatoes which are sweeter)
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1/4 cup flat-leaf parley, chopped
2 teaspoons of capers
2 teaspoons of olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

Preheat a nonstick skillet on medium heat. Coat with cooking spray.

Season tilapia with salt and pepper and add to pan, cooking until done (about five minutes a side depending on the thickness of the fish).

While the fish cooks, toss together tomatoes, onions, parsley, capers, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Divide mixture in half, and serve on top of fish.

Serving Suggestions

A crusty whole wheat roll and a green salad with cucumbers, carrots, thinly sliced fennel and red, yellow or orange bell pepper strips nicely round out this light meal.

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Savory Chicken & Vegetable Saute

savory chicken & vegetable sautee low fat recipe

Savory Chicken & Vegetable Saute
Serves 2
Can be doubled | Can be halved | Makes great leftovers | Can be frozen
Vegetarian Substitutes

This is a quick stir fry, using savory herbs and sea salt instead of the Asian flavors typically associated with the term “stir fry”. We created this dish on a whim the other night when we had a rare evening at home and not much in the fridge, but really wanted a home cooked meal instead of ordering out. It’s one of those recipes where you can dig around in the vegetable drawer and make a number of tasty variations. In addition to the vegetables we used below, I’d go for green beans, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, snap peas, leafy greens, mushrooms – any combination would be delicious! The main ingredient I’d really miss in this mix is the tomatoes, so as long as you’ve got those to toss in you’ll have a great dinner in minutes!     ~ Susan

Ingredients:

1 large or 2 small boneless skinless chicken breasts – thinly sliced into bite size pieces
2 teaspoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion – minced
1 large green (or red or yellow) pepper – diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
3 cups broccoli florettes
1 cup little tomatoes – cut in half
1/4 cup water
sea salt & black pepper to taste

Instructions:

Heat a large nonstick (or well seasoned cast iron) skillet over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons of oil and use a spatula to spread the oil evenly over the surface. Add chicken and stir fry just until cooked throughout and a little browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the same skillet add the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil and the use the spatula again to coat the surface of the pan with the oil. Add the onion and peppers and sauté over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until they are getting lightly browned. Add the thyme and oregano and sauté 1 minute more. Add the broccoli, tomato, and 1/4 cup water along with sea salt & black pepper to taste.

Stir it all together and let mixture cook for about two minutes, stirring frequently, until broccoli is bright green and all water is evaporated. Serve hot!

Serving Suggestions:

We enjoyed this for dinner with a side of simple quinoa pilaf (I added some chopped celery, onion & carrot to the pot along with a dash of sea salt and cooked it in with the quinoa).

It would also be good tossed with hot whole grain pasta, or over brown rice.

Vegetarian Substitutes:

Try seitan or diced firm tofu in place of the chicken. Either one will be equally delicious!

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Shrimp and Tofu Soba Noodles

Shrimp and Tofu Soba Noodles
Serves 4
Can be doubled| Can be halved| Makes great leftovers

Our nanny Tess is Filipino, and in her culture, when it’s your birthday, you’re supposed to eat a long noddle dish. The belief is that the long noodles signal a long life and bring good luck. When I turned 31 last year, she surprised me by making this recipe for my family and I for dinner. It’s since become a regular on our menus. I love it because it’s a one pot meal that gets in your veggies, protein and starch, and it’s great for carnivores and vegetarians because it’s easy to make two batches and top with your favorite protein. Just about anything goes: shrimp, fish, steak, grilled chicken, seitan, tofu and even fried eggs. We’ve mixed shrimp and tofu for a double hit, and the combination works beautifully for a tasty lunch or dinner. I’ve made this with my favorite vegetables, but you can feel free to add whatever suits your palate.  It’s also a crowd pleaser so go ahead and entertain with it- making a double batch takes no extra time.     ~Shivani

Ingredients:

1, 8-ounce package soba noodles
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 container sliced water chestnuts
1 large bunch of bok choy, washed and shredded
1 red or orange pepper, sliced
1 bunch of scallion, thinly sliced
1 large handful of sno-peas, trimmed
8 ounces of large shrimp
1 packet of tofu, cut into small squares
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
black pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

Instructions:

Cook soba noodles according to package directions.

In a large nonstick pan set to medium, heat oil and saute garlic and ginger for one minute. Add scallions and cook for an additional two minutes.

Add shrimp and cook until done, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan.

Add in soy sauce and vegetables including water chestnuts. Cook for five minutes or until softened.

Add tofu and cook for one minute.

Add in cooked noodles, cooked shrimp, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Toss everything together well and top with sesame oil.

Season with additional salt, if needed.

Serving Suggestions:

You’re not going to feel deprived if you don’t eat anything else with this dish, but if you’re extra hungry, serve alongside a salad of shredded napa cabbage, chopped cilantro and sliced red onion in a ginger dressing. Sauteed shitake mushrooms are also a nice addition.

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Savory Baked Tofu

savory baked tofu low fat recipe

Savory Baked Tofu
Serves 4
Can be doubled | Can be halved | Makes great leftovers

Here’s another no-oil recipe that’s destined for your your collection. Don’t think you like tofu? I’ve changed the mind of many a tofu nay-sayer by offering up these tempting little morsels. This recipe calls for breadcrumbs as a topping – but most commercial brands are made with cheap oils and additives. Making homemade breadcrumbs (from whole grain bread which has been dried out in a warm oven and then ground in a food processor or blender, or crushed whole wheat melba toast works well too) ensures that you are adding only the most wholesome ingredients to your recipes. You can also find some great gluten-free breadcrumbs in the grocery stores nowadays. I always make a double batch of this recipe, it’s just that good!   ~ Susan

Ingredients:

1 package firm or extra firm tofu
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce, I use San J wheat free tamari to keep it gluten-free
2/3 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1/4 teaspoon dry granulated garlic
a few grinds of black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/3 cup whole grain or gluten-free breadcrumbs

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Slice the block of tofu in half lengthwise, and then into slices just shy of half an inch thick.

Place the tofu slices in a baking dish.

Combine the tamari, apple juice, sherry in a mixing cup and pour over the tofu. The marinade should come up just above the top of the slices and cover them completely in liquid. If you come up a little short on liquid, just add a bit of water until the mixture reaches the top of the slices and covers them.

Next, combine the granulated garlic, thyme leaves, breadcrumbs and ground black pepper in a little dish and sprinkle evenly over the tofu.

Bake, uncovered, for about 30-40 minutes or until the liquid is almost all gone (the pan should not get totally dried out or the tofu will stick). Remove from oven and serve hot, or let cool to room temp to enjoy as a snack or to keep cold in the fridge.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve tofu hot out of the oven with simply cooked brown rice and steamed greens dressed with a little vinegar and oil.

Try the cold tofu on a sandwich, or straight out of the fridge as an easy snack.

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Bhindi ki Subzi (Okra Indian Style)

Bhindi ki Subzi (Okra Indian Style)
Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish and 2 as a main course
Can Be Doubled| Can Be Halved| Makes Great Leftovers

Okra is one of the most overlooked vegetables. That’s too bad since this green produce is loaded with health benefits: its high fiber content helps stabilize blood sugar, is rich in Vitamin A and potassium, and, like most vegetables, is low in calories. A cup of raw okra comes in around 33 calories. It’s used in African cuisine, in Southern dishes and is also popular in Indian food. It’s available in the frozen vegetable aisle at many grocery stores. I admit that unless my mother or my mother-in-law in India made me okra subzi, I never ate it, but one day last week, I was walking by the vegetable and fruit stand on 59th and 2nd and noticed the vendor selling fresh okra. Once I saw it, I couldn’t stop craving it so I bought a pound and Tess and I experimented and came up with this delicious recipe. Give it a try!     ~Shivani

Ingredients:

1 pound of okra, each piece cut into three pieces (frozen okra is usually precut)
1 tablespoon of punch pudan (a Bengali five-spice mix of mustard, nigella, fenugreek, fennel and cumin seeds. Make it yourself, buy it from any Indian store or online from Kalustyan’s).
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of cumin powder
1 teaspoon of coriander powder
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of canola oil
salt and pepper, to taste
one large handful of cilantro, finely chopped (optional)

Instructions:

Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet or pan set to medium.

Add spices and fry for one minute.

Add 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil.

Add okra and season with salt and pepper.

Cover pan and cook for five minutes. Turn off stove and let sit for an additional five minutes still covered.

Top with cilantro, if using.

Serving Suggestions:

Try with brown rice and lentils for a complete meal or alongside a whole-wheat pita and a simple piece of grilled tilapia with tandoori spice or salt and pepper.

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Chickpeas & Red Quinoa

Red Quinoa & Chickpea Pilaf

Chickpeas & Red Quinoa
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish
Can be doubled | Can be halved | Makes great leftovers

This colorful dish can be whipped up in a snap, especially if you have chickpeas already cooked. I like to use dry beans which I’ve soaked overnight and cooked to my liking, but in a pinch I’d certainly reach for a can of chickpeas to use in this recipe. I’ve kept the seasonings pretty simple, since I originally made it for a client to serve alongside the moroccan chicken stew from last week’s post, but you could get creative and add all sorts of herb and spice combinations if you’re serving it as a main course (try adding a generous pinch of savory herbs like thyme and sage, for instance, or spice it up with cumin and a dash of garam masala). This is a great dish to take on a picnic, it’s just as delicious at room temperature as it is hot out of the pot.    ~ Susan

Ingredients:

1/2 cup red quinoa – cooked in 1 cup water till all water is absorbed
2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 large scallions – sliced
1 large garlic clove – minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
a pinch of hot chile flakes
1 teaspoon turmeric
sea salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped parsley

Instructions:

Heat a non stick skillet (or well seasoned cast iron skillet) over medium heat.

Add the oil and let it heat just until it begins to shimmer. Add the scallions and sauté one minute. Add the garlic and chile flakes and let it all sauté one minute more, making sure the garlic doesn’t actually brown by lowering the heat as necessary.

Add the turmeric and stir until well combined.

Add the quinoa, chickpeas parsley and about 1/4 cup of water. Season to taste with salt & pepper and stir it all together. Let it cook for a minute, if needed, to help the water evaporate, and serve!

Serving Suggestions:

As a main dish I’d love it over a bed of spinach salad simply dressed with lemon and olive oil.

As a side dish it’s great with grilled or stewed chicken, or even some simply grilled halibut rubbed with tandoori spices.

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Meal Planning 101

Meal Planning 101

Susan and I thought it would be fun to do a series of articles that give a behind- the-scenes look at the creation of A Tablespoon of Oil recipes.

My friends and acquaintances are usually stunned when I tell them that I cook five days a week. Cooking in New York City where the takeout options are abundant and inexpensive is not the norm, and getting in the kitchen might seem even more daunting when you consider that I work full-time as a journalist in between running after an active toddler.

I’ve been getting lots of questions on how I manage to prepare home cooked meals so often so I thought it might be useful to share my tricks of the trade. The reason why I’m able to cook most every weeknight is simply because of preplanning.  By Friday, I have every meal planned for the following week and all of the ingredients ordered from a grocery delivery service called Fresh Direct (www.freshdirect.com).

Most people I know who have intentions to cook usually don’t plan their meals in advance. At the end of the day, they’re hungry and tired and usually at a loss of what to make so frozen meals or ordering in seems like the easiest option.

I spend a half-hour a week prepping for the week ahead. I start by thinking if there is anything Mahir or I have been craving like tacos or lasagna. If so, that’s the first thing I add to the menu and build from there. If it’s a chicken dish, for example, I try to pick a few kinds of seafood meals, one vegetarian meal using eggs or tofu and occasionally, a meal using flank steak. I aim for as much diversity as possible without using too many different ingredients and get ideas from magazines like Cooking Light, Self, Shape, Fitness and from sites like Epicurious.com.

Because I try to make sure my ingredients are as fresh as possible, I get my groceries delivered twice a week. My weekly orders always have almost two dozen of the same ingredients, and the rest of the items vary depending on what we are cooking.

Here is last week’s menu:

Sunday:

Flank steak in a chimichurri sauce

Grilled peppers and onions

Whole wheat rolls

Monday:

“Fried” chicken cutlets (the parsley in the chimichurri sauce repeats in the breadcrumbs here)

Shredded brussel sprouts

Roasted potatoes for Mahir and Meenakshi and Food for Life Sesame bread for me

Tuesday:

Spicy Indian Scallop Curry

Brown Rice

Salad

Wednesday:

Halibut with mint-cilantro chutney (the cilantro from the scallop curry repeats again here)

Whole Wheat Rolls

My Mother’s Gobi (uses cilantro)

Thursday:

Indian style Masala Omelet (uses the cilantro from the previous two recipes)

Food for Life Sesame toast for me, Regular whole wheat toast for Mahir and Meenakshi

Steamed Broccoli

Once I have this menu in place, I spend a few hours on Sunday chopping herbs, garlic, ginger and whatever other ingredients I need so at the end of a workday, putting together a meal takes minimal time. It takes a little practice to come up with different recipes where you’re not ordering a bunch of ingredients that you end up wasting, but once you get the hang of it, takeout will become an occasional habit, not the mainstay it usually is.

Coming up next: a list of all the ingredients in my grocery cart and my pantry staples.

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Asian Style Crab Cakes

Asian Style Crab Cakes
Serves 3 to 4
Can Be Doubled| Can Be Halved| Freezes Well| Makes Great Leftovers| Make Ahead

Crab is such a summertime food, and with the heat wave we’ve been having in New York the past few weeks that has brought summer early, I’ve been more in the mood for this light and tasty shellfish. My favorite way to enjoy it is as a crab cake. Unfortunately, when most restaurants make them, they take this low calorie and fat seafood and load it with mayo and breadcrumbs and fry it in so much oil that is becomes a calorie bomb. Would you believe the version I’ve come up with has NO breadcrumbs at all? I use one egg and a few tablespoons of light Spectrum mayo, and my creation tastes just as good, if not better, than anything you’ll ever order from a menu. The secret to getting it bind is making the cakes a day in advance and letting them harden in the fridge. Consider yourself warned: you’ll want seconds and thirds when you make these so make sure you have plenty of extra meat!     ~Shivani

Ingredients:

1 pound of crab meat
2 teaspoons of butter, divided
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons of grated ginger
1 to 2 teaspoons chili paste (usually available in the ethnic food aisle at most grocery stores)
1 egg, beaten lightly
3 tablespoons light mayo (I love Spectrum)
salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

In a small nonstick pan, melt 1/2 teaspoons of butter over medium-low heat.

Add scallions and ginger and fry until the scallions are limp, about 6 to 8 minutes.

In a large bowl, add crabmeat, scallion ginger mixture and all of the other ingredients except the egg.

Mix well, and fold egg in at the very end.

Make cakes- this recipe should yield anywhere from 8 to 12 cakes depending on the size.

Place on a wax paper or foil lined cookie sheet or try and leaven in the fridge overnight to harden.

The next day, using a large non stick frying pan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat and fry the cakes on both sides until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes each side.

Serving Suggestions

Stir-fried bok choy and shitake mushrooms are a great veggie side. For a carb fix, try soba noodles tossed with a little sesame oil, a crusty roll or roasted potatoes. You can also serve over a green salad.

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Moroccan Chicken Stew

moroccan chicken stew low fat recipe

Moroccan Chicken Stew
Serves 6
Can be doubled | Can be halved | Makes great leftovers | Freezes well

This a great meal to make in advance when guests are coming over. It gets better overnight and can even be made a few days in advance if necessary. If you double the recipe you can freeze half of it and you’ve got a handy stash of nourishing dinner food ready to go for moments when you’re pressed for time. It’s smart to have delicious dishes like this prepped in advance — sometimes, after a busy day it’s just a joy to do nothing but throw a loaf of fresh bread dough into the oven while reheating a pot of this tantalizing stew. The flavors are fantastic, and the meal is truly satisfying even though it’s got barely any added fat per serving!      ~ Susan

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken (we like a mix of light and dark)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion – halved and thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves – minced
1/2 cup apricots
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste – thinned with 1/2 cup water
sea salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
water as needed

Instructions:

Cut the chicken into large chunks.

Heat a a large soup pot (I use an enameled cast iron pot) over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium, add the oil and the onions and sauté for one minute or until onions just begin to brown.

Add garlic and sauté another 30 seconds.

Add the remaining ingredients and enough water to come up even with the top of the ingredients in the pot.

Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking, simmer another 30 minutes or until chicken is very tender and apricots have basically “melted” into the braising liquid.

Serve it hot, garnished with fresh chopped parsley, cilantro, or scallions, or all three.

Serving Suggestions:

We love this stew garnished with chopped parsley or cilantro and sliced scallions, along with a big green salad and some freshly baked crusty whole grain bread.

Moroccan chicken stew also goes great with a side of steamed green beans and a whole grain cous cous, brown rice, Isreali couscous pilaf or a wholesome quinoa dish (stay tuned for a red quinoa/chickpea side dish which is a great accompaniment – to be featured in next week’s post).

Vegetarian Substitutes:

Try making this stew with seitan or cubed tofu, adjusting cooking tines as needed. It’s also fantastic made with chickpeas in place of the chicken.

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