Faux Lasagna, with Tofu and Carrot Noodles

This faux lasagna tastes like the real deal: tomato-y, cheese-y, and just plain delicious.  It was inspired by a lasagna that I saw at a vegetarian restaurant in Ottawa, The Table.  To make it gluten-free, the chef had replaced lasagna noodles with long carrot slices. 

For the first time, it occurred to me that I might be able to make a lasagna that would not upset my food sensitivities or have a calorie count in the stratosphere.  All I had to do was re-think the usual ingredients.  The result not only has carrots in place of noodles, it also has soft goat cheese in place of ricotta and tofu instead of ground beef.  Plus, in the spirit of “vegetables are good,” I added grated zucchini and sliced mushrooms to the tomato sauce.

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Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large, fat carrots, sliced lengthwise (I used a Japanese mandolin slicer to achieve long, wide slices.  Since only the middle of the carrot yields that kind of strip, you’ll end up with a number of extra strips.  I cooked all of them and used the extra as just cooked carrots.)
  • 2 tbsp. chicken broth powder and ½ cup water, mixed together
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 9 oz. medium tofu, diced small
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, grated
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 tbsp. oregano
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • 90 grams soft goat cheese
  • ½ cup grated sheep romano
  • 1-2 tbsp. sugar, if grated carrot has not sufficiently reduced acidity of tomatoes (although it usually does)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Cooking spray

Directions

  1. Tomato sauce: In a large saucepan over medium high heat, begin tomato sauce by sautéeing onions and spices in chicken broth-water mixture.  (Add more water if pot goes dry.) When onions are just tender, add crushed tomatoes, grated zucchini, grated carrot, and sliced mushrooms.  Bring to boil and then lower heat until sauce is simmering.  Taste and add 1-2 tbsp. of sugar if tomatoes are too acidic.  Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
  2. Carrot noodles: While tomato sauce is cooking, create the carrot noodles.  Cook carrot strips until tender.  (You should be able to easily pierce the carrot slice with a fork.)  I put mine in a glass baking pan with some water and covered with plastic wrap, microwaving them for 10 minutes.
  3. Goat cheese: Using a knife, spread one side of each of the 8 best carrot slices with goat cheese.
  4. Constructing the lasagna: Spray a shallow baking pan (mine is 10″ by 10″) with cooking spray.  Cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of tomato sauce, then put down 4 carrot slices covered with goat cheese.  Sprinkle with ¼ cup of sheep romano cheese (see photo).  Add the next layer of tomato sauce and then the remaining 4 carrot slices covered with goat cheese.  Cover with tomato sauce and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of sheep romano on the top.  (Note: I had about 1 cup of leftover tomato sauce so I should have added more in the layers.)
  5. Bake in 325º F oven for 30-40 minutes, or until mixture is bubbling and cheese on top has melted.

For Weight Watchers: The only ingredients with point-values in this dish are the tofu (total value: 6 points), goat cheese (total value: 6 points), sheep romano (total value: 4 points), and sugar if you’ve added it to the tomato sauce.  I needed 2 tbsp. of sugar (total value: 2 points) because (confession!) I had forgotten to add the grated carrot as I usually do. 

  • With only carrot and no sugar: Each of the 4 servings is 4 points on both the Points and PointsPlus plans. 
  • With 2 tbsp. of sugar: Each of the 4 servings is 4.5 points on both the Points and PointsPlus plans. 
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Eggplant Strata with Minted Yogurt

Once again I succumbed to the discount rack and recently brought home four marked-down eggplants.  I could make eggplant soup out of two of them, but what about the other two?  I couldn’t make a vegetable pie because I had no mushrooms. Time for research!

I cruised my cookbooks and the Internet for eggplant dishes, and found that most were heavy on oil, cream, and/or cheese.  However, in this delicious and low-calorie version, the oil is replaced by chicken broth, the cream by yogurt, and the cheese toned down to a sprinkling of sheep romano. 

The key to this dish is the fresh mint which provides a subtle, Middle Eastern backdrop to the vegetables. The original recipe called for 3 tbsp. of chopped fresh mint.  I used 4 tbsp. or ¼ cup.  If you love mint, I suggest adding more!

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Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup goat or sheep yogurt
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup chicken broth powder
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 large onion, sliced into rings
  • 1-2 unpeeled eggplants (about 1½ lbs. total), sliced into ¼” slices
  • 2-3 ripe tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • ¼ cup grated sheep romano cheese

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, mint, garlic, and salt.
  2. In another bowl, mix together chicken broth and warm water.
  3. Using a large nonstick skillet, pour in ¼ cup of chicken broth-water mixture.
  4. Over medium-high heat, saute onions until tender.  Remove to a plate.
  5. Add ¼ cup of chicken broth-water mixture.
  6. Saute eggplant slices (in batches), turning them once, until softened but not falling apart.  Add more chicken broth-water mixture if pan dries out.
  7. In a shallow baking dish, overlap ½ eggplant slices to form a layer.
  8. Layer on ½ tomato slices and then ½ onion rings.
  9. Repeat eggplant-tomato-onion layering.
  10. Drizzle yogurt mixture over the surface until it is covered.
  11. Sprinkle with cheese.
  12. Bake in 350° F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until strata is hot and bubbly.

For Weight Watchers: I cut the strata into six pieces because this recipe has only 6 points total on both the Points and PointsPlus plans.  Therefore, each serving (approximately 1-1½ cups) was worth 1 point.

(Adapted from “Middle Eastern Eggplant Baked with Yogurt and Fresh Mint” in Lighthearted at Home by Anne Lindsay.)

Quinoa Tabouli for Dieters

Tabouli is a wonderful dish.  It’s delicious and healthy for you, textured with crunch and snap, and has a lovely smell, dominated by fresh parsley, green onions, and lemon.

Still, from a weight watcher’s perspective, tabouli has problems.  It can be heavy in carbohydrates if the ratio between quinoa and vegetables leans towards the quinoa.  And many recipes call for more oil than a dieter would want.

How, I wondered, could I make this more of a diet dish while still retaining the tabouli goodness?  My solution was to cut the oil dramatically and add new crunchy vegetables, snow peas and green beans, to the classic ingredients of tomato, cucumber, parsley, and green onions.  I’m now thinking that I could have also added baby bok choy; I’ll try that next time and let you know.

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Mushroom-Eggplant Vegetable Pie

BEFORE

BEFORE

Hurray!  After some interesting experimentation, I have arrived at a delicious, extremely low-cal vegetable pie.  It’s rich with mushroom flavour that is complemented by the tang of romano cheese and is filled with interesting textures from soft to crunchy.

 

 

AFTER

AFTER

 

 

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Makes 4 servings

Recipe update: I recently added 4 oz. of soft, herbed goat cheese, spread just above the mushroom layer, when making this dish for a dinner party.  Very, very delicious.  But remember, if you do this, to add to the Weight Watcher points value.

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • ½ yellow onion, sliced into onion rings
  • ¼ cup (2 oz.) sheep romano cheese, grated
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • Dried thyme, to taste
  • Cooking spray
Creating the pie crust

Creating the pie crust

Directions

  1. Spray 10″ pie plate with cooking spray.
  2. Create pie crust with eggplant slices (see picture).
  3. Spray interior of pie crust with cooking spray, particularly the scalloped top edges of the eggplant.  This will keep them from wilting and turning brown.
  4. Fill pie with sliced mushrooms.
  5. Sprinkle generously with garlic powder and thyme.
  6. Layer onion rings over the mushrooms.
  7. Layer tomato slices over the onions.
  8. Again, sprinkle generously with garlic powder and thyme.
  9. Add a top layer of grated cheese.
  10. Bake in 400° oven for 30 – 40 minutes until the eggplants are thoroughly tender.
  11. Cut pie into 4 pieces, using a serrated knife.
  12. Remove 1 piece and then drain mushroom liquid out of pie plate.
  13. Ready to eat or store for the next day.

For Weight Watchers: Only the cheese has a points value in this pie for a total of 2 points.  This makes a ¼-pie serving worth .5 point in both the Points and PointsPlus plan.  (If you have points to spare, consider doubling the cheese.)

Lentil Lover’s Soup

 A hearty and filling peasant soup chock full of lentils, tomato, and spinach that is fast and easy to make.  The original recipe also called for 2 Thai, cayenne, or serranco chiles—that’s too hot for me, but might be perfect for you.

 A great accompaniment to this soup is either Yummy, Tummy-Friendly, Sugar-Free Cornbread or Sweet Quinoa Cornbread

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Full of lentils, tomatoes, and spinach.

Full of lentils, tomatoes, and spinach

 

  Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  •  1 tbsp. minced garlic
  •  2 cups of cooked lentils
  • 4-6 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 ½ cups of diced tomatoes with liquid
  • 2 (8-10 oz.) bags of spinach, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • Salt

Directions

 

  1. In large pot, mix onion, garlic and lentils with 4 cups of chicken broth.
  2. Heat to boiling and then simmer.
  3. Add tomatoes (and chillies, if desired).
  4. Cover pot and simmer until flavours are blended, about 15 minutes.
  5. If soup is thick, stir in 1-2 cups of broth.
  6. Stir in spinach and simmer until wilted.
  7. If necessary, add more chicken broth if the soup is still too thick for you.
  8. Salt to taste.

For Weight Watchers: Only the lentils have a point-value—a total of 8 points for the entire pot of soupon both the Points and PointsPlus plans.  I ended up with 12 cups of soup so a 1-cup serving would be .5 points.

 

(Adapted from “Lentil-Spinach Soup” in Best of Weight Watchers Magazine.)

 

Cumin-Cinnamon Chicken

This family favorite—a spicy chicken dish with a rich tomato and peanut sauce—is delicious served over a bed of basmati rice. 

This dish cooks quickly so it’s a good idea to prepare the ingredients in advance. 

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Makes 9 1-cup servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. chicken broth powder mixed into ½ cup of water for a thick sautéeing sauce, or ½ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (approximately 2 lbs.), cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1.5 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 

Directions

Prepare the chicken

  1. Mix cumin and cinnamon and put into a plastic bag.
  2. Add chicken pieces to bag.
  3. Close bag and shake until pieces are coated with spices (You may find it easier to do ½ of the chicken and spices at a time.)

Prepare the sauce

  1. Put all the liquid and ½ the tomatoes from the can of tomatoes into a blender or food processor.
  2. Add peanut butter, lemon juice, and garlic.
  3. Blend or process until smooth.

 Make the dish

  1. In a large pot, sauté onions and spice-covered chicken in broth, stirring frequently so that chicken pieces don’t stick to the pan.
  2. When the chicken has given off its own juices (about 8-10 minutes), add sauce and rest of canned tomatoes.
  3. Cover and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
  4. Salt to taste.

For Weight Watchers: 4 points per 1-cup serving on the Points plan and 4.5 points per 1-cup serving on the PointsPlus plan.

Nutritional Information for a 1-cup serving:

  • Calories 115 (29.2 from fat)
  • Protein 14 grams
  • Fat 3.5 grams
  • Carbohydrate 7.3 grams
  • Fibre 1.6 grams
  • Cholesterol 3.3 mg
  • Sodium 194 mg

This food is a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Phosphorus and Selenium, and a very good source of Protein and Niacin.

(Adapted from “Spicy Peanut Chicken” in 500 Low-Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender.)

So Very Vegetable Soup

The Diet Equation: vegetables + vegetables + vegetables 

 The Solution: soup + soup + soup

 

So Very Vegetable Soup with Grated Sheep Romano

So Very Vegetable Soup with Grated Sheep Romano

So Very Vegetable Soup was my first soup creation and, after some tweaking, I pronounced it good—tasty, satisfying, and filled with different textures because some ingredients are crunchy while others are softer.  Then it turned out to be extra-good when I added a dollop of goat cheese or a sprinkling of sheep romano cheese to a serving. 

This soup is easy to make (except for lots of chopping), is foolproof (except if overcooked), and has so much fiber, you don’t have to worry about the carbs.  You can eat all you want with no weighing or measuring.  Or you can enrich the soup by adding potatoes, peas or legumes. A can of lentils, in particular, really enhance the taste.  But remember: additions like this will bring you back into the world of diet calculations.

So Very Vegetable Soup + Lentils

So Very Vegetable Soup + Lentils

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Caveat culinaria/us: The vegetable quantities below are rough estimates because I take an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach and just put in what I have.  You can add more of one vegetable and less of another, but you should aim for balance.  For example, too many carrots could make the soup too carroty and too sweet.

Basic Ingredients

  •  3-5 cups of chicken stock, broth, or bouillon to barely cover the vegetables.  The amount really depends on how many vegetables you’ve added.
  • 1-2 onion(s), chopped.  Any type will do.
  • Garlic to taste.  I add 2 tbsp. of chopped garlic.
  • 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ – ½ head of cabbage, chopped to bite-size pieces
  • 1-2 tsp. of a spice that appeals to you.  I find that parsley, thyme or basil works nicely.
  • Salt to taste. 

Other Vegetables You Can Add

  • 2-4 celery stalks, sliced.  You can leave on the leaves as well.
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and sliced 
  • 2-4 green zucchini, sliced
  • 2-4 yellow zucchini, sliced (Add halfway through cooking so this vegetable survives.)
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup turnip or rutabaga, diced
  • 1 cup daikon or lo bok, diced
  • 1-2 cups bok choy, chopped

Problematic Vegetables

  • Beets may overpower the taste of other vegetables, not to mention the colour of the soup.
  • Mushrooms give off a liquid when cooking that could alter the balance of the soup.  I suggest mild mushrooms such as enoki.
  • Spinach, because of its consistency, would have to be cooked separately, chopped, and added at the end.

 Directions

  1. Chop vegetables beforehand.
  2. Turn heat under a large pot to high.
  3. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth.
  4. Add garlic, onions, and all other vegetables.
  5. Add canned tomatoes and mix well.
  6. Add more chicken broth until vegetables are barely covered.  You want the soup to be chock-full of vegetables.
  7. Add spice(s).
  8. Bring soup to boil, then turn down heat until it is simmering.
  9. Taste to see if you need to add salt.  Start with 1 tbsp. and then taste, and so on.  My salt philosophy is to cook with it sparingly and let people add their own after being served.
  10. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

For Weight Watchers: 0 points on both the Points and PointsPlus plan.  If you’re dieting under the Points plan, you don’t have to worry about carrots or parsnip unless you plan to eat all the soup in one sitting!  The  quantity of soup will be so great that any individual bowl serving won’t have enough of either to count.