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Lose the fat, not the flavor, with these barbecue side dishes

Updated May 24, 2024 - 9:57 am

A typical spread at a Memorial Day barbecue might not scream “healthy,” but nutritionists see an opportunity in those gloppy, heavy side dishes.

In short, it pays to be sneaky.

Take classic potato salad, which often comes so sodden with mayonnaise that you can barely taste the potato. Registered dietitian Patricia Bannan swaps the mayo for an easy citrus-based vinaigrette that is both healthier and more flavorful.

She also slips in leeks and lentils to add protein, fiber and necessary minerals — but not so much as to scare people off.

“If you just had a lentil salad, you’re gonna have some people who are like, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t want lentils,’ ” said Bannan, author of “From Burnout to Balance.” “When you’re combining it with those potato salads, it’s like the gateway vegetable.”

Besides being healthier, reducing the fat content of familiar dishes helps you enjoy the rest of the meal more, said Dan Churchill, an Australian chef and performance trainer whose celebrity clients have included Chris Hemsworth and Lindsey Vonn. “You’re not weighed down with heavy ingredients,” he said.

In his recipe for “Mac and Cheese with Sneaky Veg” from his book “Eat Like a Legend,” Churchill sneaks in spinach and broccoli chopped into small florets. The vegetables add nutrients but also texture that makes the dish more interesting. He also calls for olive oil, which has less unhealthy saturated fat than the traditional butter, and whole wheat pasta to inject more fiber into the meal.

Once the pasta is cooked, it is combined with the raw vegetables and a lighter-than-average Mornay sauce, which is a cheesy béchamel. The veggies gently cook in the residual heat while the dish spends just a few minutes browning under the broiler.

Sprinkled with breadcrumbs, it comes out hearty but light, with a crispy top, creamy pasta and crisp-tender vegetables.

“That’s the thing about mac and cheese. It should be textural,” said Churchill, who also offers a dairy-free sauce option made from cashews, tofu and miso. “In my opinion, it’s just delicious.”

Patricia Bannan’s Potato, Leek and Lentil Salad with Citrus and Herbs

2½ pounds multicolored fingerling potatoes, rinsed and sliced lengthwise

1 large leek (white part), halved lengthwise and sliced

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons, separated

½ cup canned lentils, rinsed

Zest of 1 orange

3 tablespoons orange juice

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

½ bunch fresh chives, finely chopped

½ bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a large sheet pan, toss the potatoes and leeks with the ¼ cup oil, season with ½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper, and roast for 30 minutes, until the leeks are lightly crispy and the potatoes are golden on the edges.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining oil, orange zest and juice, vinegar, honey and mustard, season with salt and black pepper, and stir in the Parmesan until incorporated. Once roasted, add the vegetables, lentils, herbs and dressing; stir to combine.

Dan Churchill’s Mac and Cheese with Sneaky Veg

Time: 40 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk, warm

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

⅓ cup, plus ¼ cup grated pecorino Romano, separated

⅓ cup, plus ¼ cup grated Parmesan, separated

1 pound macaroni or penne

1 head broccoli, cut into medium florets

2 cups baby spinach

⅔ cup coarse toasted breadcrumbs, like panko

In a deep, oven-safe skillet, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until it turns golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the milk ¼ cup at a time, and continue to cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the cheddar and ⅓ cup of each cheese, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper until the cheese melts. Set aside.

In a large pot, boil the pasta in 2 quarts of water with ½ tablespoon of salt. Once it is just shy of al dente, drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Turn on the broiler with a rack at the top. In a large casserole dish, combine the pasta, sauce, vegetables and ½ cup of the cooking water and stir until creamy, adding splashes of water if needed. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese. Broil until the cheese browns, 2 to 3 minutes.

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