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Recipe Light

Most of us know by now that eating out is the easiest way to add pounds, but cooking seems out of vogue even though cookbooks sell like hotcakes. Maybe we use them as coffee table books, or perhaps we're just in love with the romantic idea of cooking. In fact, I've always been a cookbook skeptic — who has the time to buy the ingredients, go through all those steps — when you can whip up the old staples without giving it a thought?

But I'm a convert. When they are done right, and the instructions are clear — wow! I decided I'd cook a number of recipes and see how they tasted. My criteria? They had to be easy to prepare, fun to make, very low in calories, carbs and fat, and they had to taste great — an important criterion for any Calorie Bargain.

Black-Bean Griddle Patties
Cary Neff's book Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002) really is a treat. The Black-Bean Griddle Patties are terrific as a meal or even appetizers. Add a bit of salsa or any low-calorie condiment, and these bean patties will impress the most skeptical critic. These vegetarian burgers have a high protein content because of the black beans, which help bind them. As for calories — three burgers add up to only 240 — not bad.

1/4 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups cooked or canned black beans (15-ounce can), drained
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh corn kernels
2 large egg whites
2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cornmeal, for coating the patties

Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add 3/4 cup of the beans, the red onion, garlic, and corn. Cook until the onion has just softened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a food processor, process the remaining one cup of the beans until smooth. Add the egg whites, cilantro, oregano, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Mix the pureed beans with the sauteed beans.

Using 1/4 cup at a time, form the bean mixture into patties and coat with cornmeal. Heat a griddle over medium-high heat and coat with olive oil spray. Brown the cakes on both sides, about two minutes each. Keep in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Makes 6 patties

Per patty: 80 calories, 6g protein, 0.5g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 14g carbohydrate, 5g dietary fiber, 0mg cholesterol, 210mg sodium

Excerpted from Conscious Cuisine, by Cary Neff, Sourcebooks, 2002.

New Orleans-Style Barbecue Shrimp
Terry Conlan is the famed chef at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Texas and author of Fresh: Healthy Cooking and Living from Lake Austin Spa Resort (Favorite Recipe Press, 2003). The preparation and cooking times were a bit longer than the others, but this is a true healthy, gourmet recipe, possible for a rank beginner to make with amazing results. Be sure you have the ingredients prepped before you start cooking. This dish is a real Calorie Bargain at about 300 calories for two servings — you will be stuffed, very impressed with your newfound cooking skills, and you will not believe that eating healthy can be this good. As far as taste, even though the dish has no cream, you'll be surprised at how thick and rich the sauce is — in fact, you will probably want to use it for other foods. Oh, and don't worry about the seafood stock — it's easy to find.

2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 ounces medium to large shrimp, shells on
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup minced onion
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup beer at room temperature
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup seafood stock or clam juice
4 tablespoons light butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
French bread for dunking

Mix the paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, white pepper, thyme, oregano and salt in a bowl; set aside. Spray a nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and saute just until the shrimp begin to turn pink. Add the spice mixture, garlic and onion. Cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Whisk the flour, beer, Worcestershire sauce and stock in a bowl. Pour into the skillet and cook, stirring constantly for one minute. Reduce the heat and add the butter, one piece at a time. Shake the skillet gently just until the butter melts. Divide the shrimp and sauce among four wide-bottom soup bowls. Garnish with parsley and serve with bread for dunking.

Makes 4 servings

Per serving:153 calories, 16g protein, 7g carbohydrate, 7g fat, 39% calories from fat, 731mg sodium

Excerpted from Fresh: Healthy Cooking and Living from Lake Austin Spa Resort, by Terry Conlan, Favorite Recipe Press, 2003.

Asian-Style Gazpacho
Gazpacho is a great cold soup for any season. It's very easy to prepare, and you will marvel at the taste — it's refreshing and so low in calories (as well as fat and carbs) that you can't go wrong.

6 tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon dry sherry
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
4 scallions, white part only
4 thin slices fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce
2 limes

Place the tomatoes in a two- or three-quart saucepan over low heat. Add the broth, sherry, cilantro, soy sauce, scallions and ginger. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Puree in a food processor or blender. Chill.

Right before serving, stir in the chili sauce. Grate the peel from one lime and add it to the soup. Squeeze the juice from both limes into the soup. Serve in chilled bowls.

Makes 6 servings

Per serving: 48 calories, 1g fat, 0g saturated fat, 2g protein, 9g carbohydrate, 2g dietary fiber, 0mg cholesterol, 454mg sodium

Excerpted from South Beach Diet Cookbook, by Arthur Agatston, M.D., Rodale Inc., 2004.

Send in your unique "calorie-saving recipe" using the low calorie criteria to If your recipe is published, you'll receive a $20 check and a free copy of the forthcoming book "The Automatic Diet."

Created: March 13, 2009  Last Reviewed: March 18, 2010

CHARLES PLATKIN, Ph.D., M.P.H., THE DIET DETECTIVE is one of the country's leading nutrition and public health advocates, whose syndicated health, nutrition and fitness column, the Diet Detective appears in more than 100 daily newspapers and media outlets nationally. Dr. Platkin is also the founder of, which offers nutrition, food, and fitness information. Platkin is a health expert and blogger featured on, and Additionally, Platkin is a Distinguished Lecturer at the Hunter College School of Urban Public Health and CUNY School of Public Health in New York City.


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