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Healthy and tasty substitutes for common ingredients
Culinary experts dish on the flavors of summer
Published Monday, July 21, 2014 8:15 am
by Brandpoint

Simple and healthy food substitutions can help anyone embrace the fresh flavors of summer. Some substitutions are easy, for example, substituting brown rice or quinoa for white rice or adding barley in with brown rice to add another type of whole grain. Other substitutions are completely unexpected. To be inspired and jazz up any mealtime, take cues from culinary experts.

Chef Andrew Lyman, culinary director, The Art Institute of Austin, suggested, "It is not uncommon to use brown sugar, for white sugar, but I often challenge my students to use other ingredients as a sweetener - for example, using a teaspoon of vanilla can often produce similar results as a cup of sugar and it saves over 400 calories. Another option is using prunes for butter, especially in brownies or other dark baked goods - 3/4 cup of prunes with 1/4 cup of boiling water, puree to combine and you have a great option."

Chef instructor Peachy Seiden from The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Cincinnati-Ohio said, "Using pureed fruit warmed on the stovetop with a bit of honey is a great substitute for classic maple syrup - decreasing the sugar content and providing an extra dose of antioxidants and vitamins and minerals."

Elliott Hilton, culinary director for The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Michigan, adds, "Using non-fat Greek yogurt when the recipe calls for mayonnaise or sour cream works really well since it's a lot less fat and a good way to add additional protein."

Reducing the calorie count of meals is helpful, but small adjustments make a big impact.

"Something simple that I recommend is to make broths, soups and stews in advance and chill them,” said Hilton. “Before reheating, lift the hardened fat that formed on the surface. In a pinch, you can also float a few ice cubes to help harden the fat so it can be lifted and removed.”

Here are a few more substitutions you can make in your recipes:

  • Unsweetened applesauce for sugar (can be in a 1:1 ratio, but reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup).
  • Mashed bananas for fats. The creamy, thickening power of very ripe mashed bananas is the ideal consistency in place of one cup of butter or oil.
  • Spaghetti squash for pasta is a natural substitute. Simply roast and pull apart with a fork and voila.
  • Using coconut oil instead of butter adds additional health benefiting nutrients and the flavor is superb.
  • "Using brewed tea (green, white, oolong, black) as a 'liquid ingredient' to our sauce or stews add another flavor dimension, not to mention the added protective antioxidants" said Seiden.
  • Swapping out meat with another high-protein food like beans or portobello mushrooms. 

Meat consumption overall is an area that can be reduced tremendously both for the sake of health and calories. "We make a mean veggie burger here at the student-run restaurant - one that would make any meat lover a veggie burger convert," said Lyman, who shares the following recipe:

Veggie Burger

(Makes four to six burgers)

Umami Glaze:

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons Thai golden mountain sauce (available at Asian markets, optional)

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons honey


1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice

1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, drained and roughly chopped

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/2 medium onion, smoked then minced

4 cloves garlic, smoked then minced

1/2 cup grated cooked beets (use a box grater to grate one roasted beet)

1/4 cup oat bran plus more as needed

1 tablespoon pureed chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

6 prunes, minced

1 teaspoon salt (kosher)

1 teaspoon ancho chile powder

1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, Thai golden mountain sauce if using, the hoisin sauce, molasses and honey.

2. Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and when hot, add the minced onion. Cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to caramelize and brown. Add garlic and continue cooking until the onions are golden brown.

3. In a large bowl combine the cooked rice and roughly chopped beans.

4. Add 1/2 cup of the Umami Glaze and the remaining ingredients including the sautéed onion and garlic.

5. Mix well to combine. Evaluate how well the mixture holds into patties. If too dry, add some of the Umami Glaze. If too wet, add a little more oat bran.

6. Shape the veggie mixture into four to six patties, depending on size. Place the patties on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

7. To cook, brush the patties with a little vegetable oil and cook on a flat top griddle or nonstick pan over medium heat about five minutes per side to set the burger up.


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