From the first course to last, a meal that is almost too good for you to eat

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Design the world's most nutritious meal -- that's the challenge we gave dietitian Barbara Gollman. It meant coming up not only with nutritious recipes, but with a menu that tastes and looks fabulous.

The result is a low-fat dinner anchored by broiled salmon with plenty of fruits and vegetables prepared in simple, but imaginative ways that maximize flavor and nutrients.

All the foods used promote better health in one way or another.

That meant increasing fruits, vegetables and grains, which contain heart-beneficial fiber as well as a multitude of substances that help reduce cancer risk. Vitamins C and E and beta carotene also may retard aging.

It also meant cranking up the flavor with chilies, herbs, citrus, garlic, ginger, peppercorns and vinegars.

Ms. Gollman also wove other nutrients into the meal: a wealth of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A for good vision; calcium for strong teeth and bones; folic acid to prevent birth defects; plenty of potassium, which helps maintain blood pressure; and iron.

The meal also contains lots of fiber, whose benefits range from reducing the risk of some cancers and cardiovascular disease to regulating blood sugar.

The heart of the meal, salmon is the most concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have excellent heart benefits, she says.

People tend to shy away from nutrient-dense wild rice (high in protein, vitamins, minerals, folic acid, iron) because it's so pricy, she says. But bought in bulk it can be economical. Or small amounts can be mixed with brown rice. Sweet potatoes are readily available, adding vitamins A and E, fiber and other nutrients.

Broccoli, with its awesome cancer risk-reduction properties, is a must on any healthful menu.

Both the spicy salsa and the salad are different approaches to serving nutrient-rich fruit. Ms. Gollman prefers seasonal fruits -- mangoes (fiber, vitamin C, beta carotene), cantaloupe (fiber, vitamin C, beta carotene, calcium), and strawberries (vitamin C, fiber). Tomatoes and bell peppers also are good vitamin C and fiber sources.

For the salad, spinach replaces iceberg lettuce because it is rich in vitamins and minerals (vitamin E, beta carotene, folic acid, iron, fiber)."

Dessert starts with yogurt. Its calcium helps prevent osteoporosis. Its lactobacillus boosts resistance to infection, Ms. Gollman says. The sauce provides the heart-beneficial effects of wine. (The alcohol evaporates in cooking.)

Some scientists think that reversatrol, the component believed to protect the heart, also is found in grapes, which complete this menu.

How menu ingredients work

* Grilled salmon with basil mustard crust: Salmon reduces the risk of heart disease.

* Mango-red pepper salsa: Mango, tomatoes and bell pepper reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and are good vitamin or mineral source; mango promotes good vision.

* Wild rice and sweet potato pilaf: Wild rice and sweet potatoes reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and are good vitamin or mineral source; rice reduces the risk of birth defects; sweet potatoes promote good vision; onions reduce risk of cancer.

* Spinach, strawberry and cantaloupe salad: Spinach, strawberries, cantaloupe and soy nuts reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer; spinach is a good source of iron; spinach and soy nuts reduce the risk of birth defects; strawberries and cantaloupe are good vitamin or mineral source.

* Broccoli stir-fry : Broccoli reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer and birth defects; is good vitamin or mineral source; and builds strong bones and teeth.

* Grapes in cabernet sauce with yogurt: Grapes and wine reduce the risk of heart disease; grapes reduce the risk of cancer; and yogurt builds strong bones and teeth.

* Kendall-Jackson Zinfandel 1991: Wine reduces the risk of heart disease.

Other benefits

Here are some ingredients used primarily for flavor -- and their benefits:

Garlic: Reduces the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. "Garlic is kind of like broccoli -- it does everything."

Lime juice: Adds vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin: may help reduce cancer risk.

Mushrooms: Add lots of B vitamins.

Shallots: Help reduce cancer risk.

Grilled Salmon with Basil Mustard Crust

Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

3 tablespoons fresh basil, minced

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1 pound skinless salmon fillet, 1-inch thick, cut into 2 pieces

Mix mustard, basil and olive oil. Spread mustard mixture heavily over both sides of fish. No flesh should be showing. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Heat grill to very hot. Spray surface with oil, place fillets on it. Cook for 5 minutes, turn and cook 5 minutes more. Some of the crust may fall off. Or broil the salmon.

Remove from heat. Loosely cover with foil and allow to stand 5 minutes. Cut to make 4 pieces and serve.

Per serving: calories: 172; fat: 7g; cholesterol: 42mg; sodium: 229mg; percent calories from fat: 41 percent.

Mango-Red Pepper Salsa

Makes 8 servings

1 ripe mango, diced

1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup red onion, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

zest of 1 lime

dash hot pepper sauce

1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Combine all ingredients and marinate, refrigerated, 2 to 3 hours.

Per serving: calories: 33; fat: 1g; no cholesterol; sodium: 3.4mg; percent calories from fat: 6 percent.

Wild Rice and Sweet Potato Pilaf

Makes 8 servings

1 cup wild rice or 3/4 cup brown rice and 1/4 cup wild rice

nonstick cooking spray

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 cup red or green bell pepper

1/3 pound mushrooms, sliced

2 cups reduced-sodium, fat-free chicken broth

1 1/4 cups peeled, diced sweet potato

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons dry sherry

In a large, ungreased skillet, toast the rice over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let it burn. Set aside.

Spray a large Dutch oven or saucepan with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, pepper and mushrooms. Cook and stir until vegetables are just softened, about 5 minutes. Cover pan if vegetables begin to stick.

Add toasted rice and broth to vegetables. Stir in sweet potato, herbs, soy sauce and sherry. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 40 minutes.

Per serving: calories: 171; fat: less than 1g; cholesterol: 1mg; sodium: 21mg; percent calories from fat: 7 percent.

Spinach, Strawberry and Cantaloupe Salad

Makes 4 servings

Fruit and Olive Oil Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

6 cups fresh spinach leaves, washed, stems removed and torn into bite-size pieces

1 cup strawberries, sliced, plus 4 whole with stems for garnish

2 cups cantaloupe, cubed or sliced

2 tablespoons dry roasted soy nuts (see note)

Make vinaigrette. Set aside. Keep spinach refrigerated in plastic or cloth bag until ready to use. Cut fruit as close to serving time as possible.

Place spinach in large bowl, add dressing and gently toss. To serve, divide spinach among 4 salad plates and arrange with 1/4 cup sliced strawberries and 1/2 cup cantaloupe each. Garnish with a whole strawberry. Sprinkle with soy nuts.

Note: Soy nuts are available at health food stores.

Fruit and Olive Oil Vinaigrette: Mix together 1/3 cup rice wine or raspberry vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, 1 tablespoon canola oil, 2 teaspoons crushed pink peppercorns and 2 minced shallots.

Per serving: calories: 128; fat: 5g; no cholesterol; sodium: 77mg; percent calories from fat: 31 percent.

Broccoli Stir-Fry with Ginger and Garlic

Makes 6 servings

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

nonstick cooking spray

2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 large head broccoli, cut in florets (about 6 cups)

2 tablespoons chicken broth

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place sesame seeds on a baking sheet and toast in oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn. Set aside.

Spray heavy skillet or wok with nonstick cooking spray; briefly place over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger; stir-fry for 15 seconds, being careful not to burn them.

Add the broccoli and broth, mix well, cover and cook, for 3 minutes. Remove cover, turn heat up to high and cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or longer to cook broccoli until crisp-tender. Stir in soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds.

Per serving: calories: 56; fat: 1.5g; no cholesterol; sodium: 141mg; percent calories from fat: 19 percent.

Grapes in Cabernet Sauce

Makes 8 servings

2 cups good red wine (preferably cabernet)

3 cups Red Flame or seedless black grapes

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup currant jelly

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

non-fat yogurt

Reserving 2 tablespoons, pour reminder of wine in saucepan over medium heat with grapes, cinnamon and jelly. Heat to boiling, reduce heat and simmer 4 to 5 minutes.

Pour cornstarch in small dish, add reserved wine and mix well. Slowly stir into hot liquid. Remove from heat. Let cool. Serve warm over non-fat yogurt, frozen yogurt, angel food cake or other low-fat dessert.

Per serving (sauce only): calories: 92; fat: 1g; no cholesterol; sodium: 40mg; percent calories from fat: 1 percent.

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