May 01, 2009

Temperatures Rising? Take Dinner Outdoors

(ARA) - Hot dogs, hamburgers and pork ribs aren’t the healthiest eats in the bunch, especially if getting fit for the summertime is a priority. You won’t have to compromise these good ol’ grilling favorites at your next barbecue if lighter substitutions are made elsewhere.

“Incorporating healthy, flavorful side dishes is key when you’re serving copious amounts of barbecued meat,” says Chef Steven M. Simpson, Culinary Director at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Michigan. “What I like to do is take an old favorite like coleslaw that’s typically drenched in a mayonnaise dressing and modify it to create a light, refreshing alternative.” For example, Simpson makes an Asian-inspired coleslaw with several kinds of Chinese cabbages, oranges, carrots and red onion with a light dressing of orange juice, ginger and a dash of canola oil.

He also advises keeping different types of oils and vinegars on tap to make vinaigrettes, which serve as a good substitute for the heavier cream and mayonnaise dressings typically found in pasta and potato salads.

Another tip is to experiment with salad greens. “You can liven up a humdrum salad by switching out your standard iceberg or romaine lettuce with chicory, dandelion greens, Belgian endive, Bibb lettuce, watercress or arugula,” Simpson says. “Not only are these darker greens more flavorful, but they also tend to be much higher in vitamins and minerals.”

An advocate for homegrown foods and spices, Simpson utilizes herbs and various vegetables like lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and chili peppers from his own backyard. “When planting a garden, choose foods that you eat frequently and enjoy because if all goes well, you’ll have an abundance of them.”

If gardening isn’t your cup of tea, then Simpson suggests buying produce and meats from your local farmers market, as it’s the next best thing.

Grilling fresh meats and produce isn’t just for special occasions. According to the Propane Education & Research Council, 63 percent of parents say that barbecuing or grilling outdoors is the most fun way for a family to eat dinner together during the summer months. And facilitating family bonding isn’t the only benefit. Cooking on a grill can help food retain nutritional value if cooked properly.

Simpson cooks almost everything on the grill -- potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, greens, salmon and eggplant, just to name a few. “Aside from oil, salt and pepper, I don’t do too much to the foods I grill. It’s a flavorful and simple way to preserve the integrity of the organic products, whether bought or homegrown,” he says.

“The beauty of eating in the spring and summertime is that there is so much variety to choose from. My best advice is to keep it simple, refreshing and light, and enjoy the natural flavors of the food just as they are,” he adds.

To see what else is “cooking” at The Art Institutes system of schools check out www.artinstitutes.edu/nz.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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