By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com
Today's cooking blog is a lesson in cooking without a recipe. Once you know which ingredients pair well together, how big a serving size is, you can start to combine them to suit your needs. We're starting with a dish that anyone, regardless of their cooking skills can make: pasta salad.
Pasta salad is an easy, go-to meal when the weather is warm, but most of the recipes we know and love are mayo-based, which means they're not so great for us. The easiest swap is to use lowfat plain yogurt instead of mayo.
But what about when you're tired of your same-old pasta salad? Here's an easy way to turn one box of pasta into dinner for four or a side dish for your next neighborhood gathering.
You don't even need a recipe. Adjust the portions as needed, and learn to cook "without a net." This is a great chance to experiment in the kitchen without taking a big risk.
- "Cook" this dish the night before. The flavors taste even better the next day.
- Undercook your pasta slightly--it should be al dente. Drain and rinse your pasta with cool water, then immediately combine with the other ingredients. Overcooked pasta yields a gummy glob of pasta salad.
- You'll also want to use a bite-size pasta in this dish.
- For vegetables, figure on 1/2 cup of each per person.
- For protein, you'll want 12 ounces cooked for four people.
- For the extras like nuts, bacon, or cheese, keep portions small: 1/2 ounce per person.
- Cook your protein ahead of time for an even faster meal!
|Cool Summer||Sliced grapes or cherries||Diced celery and cucumbers||Cubed poached or grilled chicken||Toasted walnuts or pecans||Cucumber-yogurt dressing|
|All American BLT||Chopped Romaine||Chopped green onions||Sliced grape or cherry tomatoes||Chopped turkey bacon, cooked||Tomato-yogurt dressing *swap 1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes for fresh|
|Grilled||Grilled Romaine||Grilled eggplant||Grilled summer squash and zucchini||Parmesan cheese||No dressing--just drizzle your veggies with balsamic, pepper and olive oil|
|Asian||Snow peas||Bean sprouts||Shredded carrots||Grilled or poached chicken||Sesame-ginger dressing|
|Italian||Chopped tomatoes--fresh or roasted||Thinly sliced red onions||Chopped parsley and basil||Feta cheese||Your favorite vinaigrette|
|My Favorite!||Wilted spinach or arugula||Artichoke hearts (packed in water and drained)||White beans (drained and rinsed)||Steamed asparagus||Basil vinaigrette or pesto(homemade or jarred)|
|Southwest||Grilled shrimp with a spice rub||Roasted corn||Black beans (drained and rinsed)||Chopped tomatoes||Cubed Monterey or pepper Jack cheese (no dressing needed)|
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SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of " The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.