Recently, 27 of Denver's best-known restaurants showcased their most healthful and delicious offerings to mark the opening of the American Dietetic Association's 73rd annual meeting.
And I tasted everything, looking for perfection: diet food that didn't taste diet. To meet my standards, recipes had to fall within the Dietary Guidelines for reducing sodium, sugar, fat and cholesterol, be easy to prepare, and -- here's the acid test -- offer flavor that was truly sinful. Here are my choices for best of the West:
Thai beef salad
From: Chives American Bistro. Chef: Brian Wood.
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 head radicchio
1/2 cup mixed tender greens
2 scallions, julienned
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and julienned
1 red tomato, seeded and julienned
1 small cucumber, cut in half, seeded and thinly sliced
1 1/4 pounds flank steak, grilled medium rare, chilled and thinly sliced across the grain
Thai beef salad dressing (see recipe below)
2 cups cooked rice
Cut red leaf, radicchio, and mixed greens in one-inch pieces and mix. Place greens on plate. Mix scallions, jalapeno peppers, tomato, cucumber, beef and dressing, then place on top of greens. Serve with rice on the side.
Thai beef salad dressing
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
6 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup mint, chopped
Blend garlic, soy, lime and sugar in a blender. Remove from blender and mix in herbs.
Makes four servings: 463 calories, 27 percent protein, 42 percent carbohydrate, 31 percent fat, 429 milligrams sodium, 71 mg. cholesterol per serving.
Grilled salmon with sesame mustard sauce
From: The Fresh Fish Co. Chef: Tim Ball.
1 medium carrot
1/2 medium bell pepper
1/4 cup water
30 snow peas
10 medium mushrooms, sliced in 1/4 -inch pieces
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 5-ounce fresh salmon steaks
sesame mustard sauce (see recipe below)
2 cups pasta, cooked
1/2 fresh pineapple, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons dry roasted cashews
Halve carrot, cut in 1-inch lengths and slice thinly. Cut pepper in half, then cut in 1-inch strips. Cut scallion bulbs lengthwise, then cut 1-inch lengths. Place 1/4 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add vegetables, cover and cook two minutes. Drain vegetables (reserve liquid) and toss with olive oil. Set aside.
Cook salmon steaks, about 3 minutes per side, on grill.
When salmon is nearly done, return vegetables, mixed with 2 tablespoons of sesame mustard sauce, to the burner, just long enough to heat.
To serve, place salmon atop pasta and next to three or four pineapple slices on a serving plate. Cover with vegetables. Top with cashews. Serve sesame mustard sauce on the side for dipping.
Sesame mustard sauce
1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon water from vegetables
1 teaspoon sherry
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup rice vinegar
' 1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Make sure cornstarch is completely dissolved before applying heat. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Sauce will thicken as it begins to boil. Remove from heat.
Recipe makes four servings: 488 calories, 31 percent protein, 38 percent carbohydrate, 31 percent fat, 273 milligrams sodium, 100 mg. cholesterol, per serving.
*Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.