As we start a new year, we’re all trying to make healthier decisions. In the kitchen, that can be a challenge, so we turned to the pros: our Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen cooks, who spend all day developing recipes for our brand. Along the way, they’ve picked up a few helpful tricks for making dishes more nutritious, from substituting ingredients (and adding new ones) to swapping cooking techniques. Read on for their tips!
Pass on potatoes. Regular white potatoes are a home cooking staple, but they don’t offer much on the nutrition front. Mix other veggies into your potato routine. Sub cauliflower for a portion of the potatoes in a mashed potato or pureed soup recipe — its soft texture is similar to that of cooked potatoes. Also, root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes can be used in many of the same applications as white potatoes, packing in more vitamins.
Bake, don’t fry. You’ve heard it before: foods fried in oil are loaded with fat and calories. But achieving the same texture in the oven is easy! Brush tortillas, pita wedges or thinly sliced root vegetables with oil on both sides, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake in a 375-degree oven until lightly browned and crispy. These healthier crunchy toppings and dippers still have plenty of flavor. Also, our cooks love to bread chicken breasts or fish fillets with light panko breadcrumbs and bake them in the oven for a crispy crust (instead of battering and frying).
Go for new grains. Give your morning oatmeal a makeover by substituting another healthy whole grain such as quinoa or farro — both can make delicious breakfast cereals (or risotto, for a dinner option). Choose one with a comparable cooking time to keep you on schedule. When possible, use brown rice or whole grain pasta in recipes for added nutrients. Heartier grains like farro and barley are also great additions to vegetarian meals, as they tend to be satisfying. It’s usually safe to replace a percentage (our cooks recommend 1/3) of the all-purpose flour called for in a recipe with whole-wheat flour. The texture may differ slightly, but we love the nutty flavor the heartier flour lends.
Bake better. Speaking of baking, coconut butter has become a popular item on grocery store shelves and is incredibly versatile. Our cooks have successfully swapped coconut butter for butter and shortening in baking recipes, and it gives baked goods a great sandy texture. It may also lend a slightly coconut-y flavor, though, so expect a slight difference. Soy, almond and coconut milks can also usually stand in for cow’s milk in baking recipes (and also provide a vegan alternative).
Go nuts! Nuts and seeds are a great way to incorporate the crunch you love into a variety of dishes. Add them to salads instead of croutons or fried tortilla strips. Add them to baked goods, too. If you don’t like the crunch, explore different varieties of nut butter — many markets now carry not just peanut butter but almond, pistachio, macadamia nut and sunflower seed butters. All are packed with protein and healthy fats. Similarly, ground flaxseed is prized for its health benefits; add a scoop to smoothies or to muffin and quickbread batters.
Make cheese count. Instead of using creamier cheeses, finish dishes with a sharper, harder cheese — they are saltier and more pungent, so you’ll likely use less. Our cooks love finishing salads with a little bit of crumbled feta, ricotta salata or cotija.
Cut the fat. You typically don’t need as much fat for cooking as recipes call for. When sautéing, try using nonstick sprays or oil spray bottles, or even decreasing the fat in the pan by half. When searing meat for a braise, transfer protein to a platter and pour off any excess fat once you have finished. Also, if you have time to chill your braise, it’s much easier to pull off the fat layer that rises to the top and solidifies when cold. On the other hand, don’t be too afraid of fat, which helps you stay full — it’s the type of fat that matters. Our cooks love the healthy fats that come from plants, such as avocados.
What are your healthy cooking tips? Tell us in the comments!