Lower-calorie cooking

One of my goals is to learn how to cook whatever I want without appreciably shortening my lifespan. It is about as close as I can literally get to having my cake and eating it too. (Disclosure: I prefer savory snacks to cake.)


Let me digress on the larger issue of dieting. There are infinitely many ways to diet. I believe in restricting calories and a balanced diet, mainly because nutritional  science seems so unsettled. I rule out methods like weird substitutions, e.g. turkey bacon for regular bacon. I’d rather cut calories without abusing my palate.

If you’re like me, I’ve found a book you’ll want to read: Smart Chefs Stay Slim. The book is like Culinary Artistry — interviews of important chefs woven together across several topics — except the focus is on enjoying great food without looking the part. Rick Bayless has the central quote:

“When you eat good food, it satisfies you and you don’t have to be gluttonous about it. I’d rather have one bite of a great dish than fifty bites of a mediocre dish” (p. 2).

That seems exactly right. I can’t count the times I’ve kept eating only because my palate wasn’t satisfied. At least in the short time I’ve tried it, it seems possible to train your eating so that you eat what’s great and avoid the rest (subject to manners, etc.).

My post is motivated by this approach. But even if you don’t think it’s the right one, the information below should still help reduce calories (at least the first two sections). Of course, I’m no doctor or nutritionist. This post doesn’t constitute advice; just examples from my kitchen. Actually, my only advice is that you consult a healthcare professional on your health problems.


I try to make vegetable eating pleasurable. The problem is to do so without sabotaging myself with excess fats and oils, because vegetables need help if they’re going to provide savor. My solution is to mind the details. The recipes for cooking greens below are about increasing savor healthfully with mindful seasoning and flavoring.

Simmered greens

This is a building block recipe. The greens are salted but receive no additional help. Fat and other flavors are added in the recipe below. Still, sometimes salted greens are enough. There are times when you just need bulk. I’m still experimenting with the salt-to-water ratios. The correct ratio seems to depend on how I cool the greens and how I remove excess water.


  • Bunch greens (spinach, chard, kale, collards, etc.)
  • Pot of salted water (1 to 3.5 percent salinity by weight, X tbsp per quart)


  1. Trim and wash the greens while waiting for a pot of salted water to come to a rolling boil.
  2. Once the water boils, drop the greens and cook until barely tender.
  3. Cool and remove excess water. Refrigerate.

Garlicky braised greens

These greens are additionally flavored with an infused oil. The 4 tbsp of olive oil is just a starting point. I’m experimenting with smaller amounts of oil, observing how mouthfeel and garlickyness change as the amount of oil changes. For some greens I’ve found smaller, but still delicious, amounts of oil with enough repetitions and a little notetaking. My thought is, also, that by substituting greens for meat, I’m making more room for fats like olive oil and butter.


  • 2 lb cooking greens, precooked as above is fine
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced


  1. If precooked, proceed to the next step. If uncooked, prepare the greens as above, minus the cooling step.
  2. Mince the garlic. Infuse the garlic into the oil over low heat until the garlic mash easily until a lightly pressed fork.
  3. Once the oil is infused, add the greens. Cook until the flavors meld. The greens will be well beyond tender.


I try to avoid adding fat early in the day. I’d like to save those calories for richness at dinner. Below I use a non-stick surface to brown and toast. Going non-stick helps me avoid oil or butter. Browning and toasting improves flavor and texture. Adding the greens above increases bulk (and balance) in what is now my go-to lunch sandwich.

My go-to lunch sandwich

I choose strongly flavored meats. Though my choices are more calorie dense (e.g. pastrami vs. turkey) I need less of it to satisfy my palate. I take care that the greens are seasoned; adding bulk doesn’t help when they’re a chore to eat. This sandwich probably works in a regular non-stick skillet, but I haven’t tried. (This reminds me I should discuss cooking equipment at some point.)


  • Scant few slices cooked and/or cured meat
  • Slice cheese
  • 1 soft sandwich roll
  • Cooked greens, as desired 


  1. Preheat a cast iron skillet on medium-low heat.
  2. Lay out the meat in the skillet. Season with salt if desired. Top with the roll, the cut side of the roll’s lower half on top of the meat and the other cut side on the skillet.
  3. Once the meat has sufficiently browned, remove the bread. Turn over the meat. Top with the cheese and then the greens. Season the greens if necessary. Top with the roll, this time placing the roll’s top half on top of the meat, cheese, and vegetables.
  4. Once the cheese has melted, remove the sandwich from the skillet, close, and serve.


I can’t eat light all day. My reward for eating light before dinner is a richer dinner.

I’ve recently appreciated how errors with fats can compound in rich dinners. The addition of small amounts of fat improves mouthfeel and flavor. However, additional amounts mute flavors. I learned this the hard way by sweating vegetables for soup in too much olive oil. Unskimmed beef fat has the same effect in beef stews. So there is the double whammy of less satisfaction and increased calories when fats are improperly used.

The recipe is an update of my previous experiment with beef stew. I’ve stripped down the recipe to its essentials to understand how the different stew recipes relate. I’ve also been more careful about trimming which reduces fat both in the beef chucks and that floating in the sauce. I now concentrate and strain the bag juices to intensify the beef flavor, juices that have themselves been fortified by pre-searing the meat.

Obviously this recipe relies on a relatively uncommon technology. I’ll just say that the technology eventually belongs in your kitchen, especially since prices are falling.

Super-slow beef stew


  • Beef chuck roast
  • 1 lb potatoes
  • 1 lb carrots
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 2/3 cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsbp AP flour


  1. Sear the roast on all sides. Weigh and bag with 100 g water, salted such that the salt is equal to 0.5 percent of the total meat and water weight. Circulate at 53 degrees C for 6 hours. Cool in an ice bath or on the counter and refrigerate overnight. While the beef cooks, cut the potatoes and carrots into bite-sized pieces, coat with cooking spray, and roast at 450 degrees F until browned. Cool and refrigerate.
  2. The next day, simmer the bag juices to coagulate solids and strain through a coffee filter. (I’m not sure this is necessary, but these solids aren’t enticing. See the picture below. They don’t taste like anything either. I’m still thinking about this.)
  3. Prepare a roux with the butter and flour in the saucepan. Deglaze with red wine and reduce. Add the beef stock and filtered bag juices and reduce. 
  4. Add half the vegetables. Once the vegetables have warmed through, mash into the sauce.
  5. From the cooked roast, portion 1 lb of beef into bite-sized pieces. (I’ll follow up with pictures of my current portioning and trimming.)
  6. Add to the sauce to warm through and correct color, taking care not to overcook the meat.
  7. Once the dish is warm enough, correct sauce texture (add water to loosen) and seasoning as necessary.
Unappetizing and unflavorful

Unappetizing and unflavorful

Print Friendly, PDF & Email