Carving out Calories Feast-worthy foods are blessed with less fat but just as much taste

November 18, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Here come the holidays -- and, oh no, here come the calories!

It's inevitable; mankind has always celebrated special occasions with feasts. And feasts are always, well, big, and special, and laden with rich ingredients. Butter-basted turkey. Gravy made of fat drippings. Sweet potatoes with sugar and butter. Mashed potatoes with cream and butter. Pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Roast goose, dripping in its own fat . . .

It's the death knell for diets.

But wait -- it doesn't have to be that way. Holiday meals can lighten up, and still be worthy of the name of feast.

"We've taken all the traditional items and looked at the ingredients," says Harvey Shugarman, restaurant owner of Harvey's at Greenspring Station. "If it has oil, we take that out. If it has a roux -- which is made with butter and flour -- we use arrowroot. And for flavor, we use a lot of herbs and spices."

The result is a "spa" Thanksgiving menu that greatly reduces fat and salt and still tastes marvelous.

It's basically the traditional meal, with roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes, even gravy. "It's the holidays," Mr. Shugarman says, "and though people want to eat what's right, they still want to feel it's the holidays -- they still want to feel that feeling."

Offering spa versions of traditional foods gives people "the opportunity to pick and choose and refuse," says Sheila Callahan, Harvey's director of off-premise catering. "There's an option, and it's not an undressed salad."

Harvey's, which has a regular spa menu for lunch and dinner featuring reduced-calorie appetizers, entrees and desserts, also is offering traditional favorites for take-home at Harvey's Kitchen Gourmet carryout (adjoining the restaurant).

"Food should be fun," says Marie Simmons, whose latest cookbook is "The Light Touch" (Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1992, $24.95 hardcover, $19.95 paperback).

The book is billed as "all-time favorite recipes made healthful and delicious." Her simple strategy for lightening up, Ms. Simmons says, is to identify the fat in a recipe and use less. "I substitute broth or juice to add moisture," she says. "For stuffing, instead of using butter, I'd use broth."

Fat-reduction can work at every level of preparing a dish, she says. "When I saute onions for stuffing, I use a non-stick skillet, a little bit of butter and a real slow flame." Cooking the onions very slowly allows their natural moisture to come out, she says. "And if I need a little bit more moisture, I add a little broth."

"Without noticing, really, you can cut a lot of fat out of your meal."

Another favorite technique is to roast vegetables. It works best with those that have a little natural sweetness -- bell peppers, onions, carrots and fennel are examples. "As they roast, that sugar caramelizes and gives you the sweetness -- and you don't really miss the melted butter," she says.

Snacks and appetizers can be dangerous in terms of fat content, Simmons warns. She suggests vegetable-based dips served with cut-up vegetables, pita chips, or crostini (plain toast). She called cut-up vegetables "the best investment you can make" for snacks. "I know it's a little trouble to cut them up, but you can do them ahead and store them in zip-close bags in the refrigerator."

"It's a good thing to keep kids busy," she adds.

It's not enough to simply eliminate fat when cooking, Ms. Simmons says. "You have to substitute something else that's flavorful. Fat tastes really good. You can't just leave it out

and go on your merry way -- the food won't taste the same and you'll feel deprived." Broth, herbs and spices, and vegetable purees are all flavorful ingredients that don't contain a lot of fat.

Of course, there are some parts of the traditional holiday dinner that don't need to be touched. "There's nothing wrong with cranberries," Ms. Simmons says. "There's nothing particularly fattening about turkey. Just don't eat the skin."

It's important to remember that the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines say that more than 30 percent of total calories should come from fat. That doesn't meant each single item of food has to have less than 30 percent of calories from fat, it means over the whole diet the fat content should be less than a third of all the calories consumed. So if one dish is a little bit higher in fat, it simply means some other dish should be lower. Or the next day's dishes should be lower in fat. For healthy folks who aren't overweight, it's enough to balance weekly intake.

That's also the reason even people who are concerned about fat can still have a feast every once in a while.

Lightening up is "not deprivation," Ms. Simmons says. "We can still have calories. We just have to have moderation."


The following are variations on traditional holiday dishes. All have less fat than the old-fashioned versions, though some still have more than 30 percent calories from fat.

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