A great low-cal alternative to pasta, with a rich sauce, than can also supply 2 of your 5 a day! Ready in under 10 minutes, too.
1 medium courgette (around 34 cals)
50g quartered white or chestnut mushrooms (7 cals)
2 tablespoons/30g plain or flavoured Philadelphia Light or other soft cheese (40-45 depending on flavour)
1/2 teaspoon truffle or olive oil (22 calories - or use 1-calorie spray)
Optional: 10g finely grated parmesan/Italian hard cheese (40-45 cals)
Fresh black pepper, plus fresh basil if you have some
- Add the olive or truffle oil to a non-stick saucepan and let it get pretty hot – then sauté the mushrooms till they’re browned. Don’t move them around too much, so they get nice caramelised edges.
- While the mushrooms are cooking, cut the courgette into very fine spaghetti like strands, or fettuccine-like noodles -you can use a sharp knife, a box grater or see my tip below about the Julienne Cutter I use which makes it very easy. Pat the 'noodles' dry with kitchen roll.
- When the mushrooms are browned, tip them into a warmed serving plate. Add the courgettes to the same pan, stir fry them in the little oil/moisture left from the mushrooms for 1 minute or so, depending on the thickness of the noodles (they take very little time to cook and you don't want them to go soggy).
- Add the cream cheese and cooked mushrooms to the pan, on a low heat, for 30 seconds or until the cream cheese begins to melt and cover the courgette. Tip onto a plate, and add lots of pepper and herbs, if using.
Top tip: to make the noodles, I use this brilliant gadget – a julienne cutter is small and useful for all kinds of veg and makes this a breeze, though watch out you don't julienne your fingers!
Serving suggestions: The noodles can be used with any sauce you like, courgette is so virtuous that you have a few more cals to play with for sauce on a Fast Day. For a 'true' carbonara, add some sliced ham to the pan at the same time as the courgettes (a wafer-thin slice can contain 5-20 calories so check the packet).
Spiced Squash with Pomegranate & Feta
Serves 1, Calories per serving 185
Ras al Hanout is a spice blend from north Africa – it means ‘head of the shop’ and should be the most aromatic spices the seller in the souk has to offer. You can try it with paprika or curry powder if you have them instead, but I love this combination: it’s sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy and soft… a real mini-feast if you like pumpkin or squash (I do: the boyfriend loathes it). The colours alone make the dish so uplifting – but squash can be a pain to prepare. I cheat by using frozen chunks, though the edges will caramelise more with fresh.
Butternut squash fresh or frozen, 200g, 80
½ teaspoon olive oil 22
½ teaspoon ras al hanout spice mix 3
25 reduced fat feta cheese 45
5g pumpkin seeds 29
½ teaspoon pomegranate molasses 6 or 1 tablespoon fresh pomegranate seeds, 12
Fresh herbs to garnish
Heat oven to 200C.
Cut the squash into cubes approximately 3cm square.
Mix the olive oil and spice mix in a small bowl. Add the cubes and coat with the oil – it won’t be even because we’re being sparing with the oil, but that doesn’t matter.
Bake for 30 minutes, until the squash is tender. Turn once during the cooking time.
Turn onto a plate and crumble the feta on top, then the pumpkin seeds. Dot the molasses into the squash and top with a few snips of fresh herbs – mint or parsley would work well.
Taken from 5:2 Your Life: Get Happy, Get Healthy Get Slim - with a complete six-week eating plan new for 2014!
Pink Peppercorn Risotto with Salmon/Fennel
Serves 2, Calories per serving: 357
This tasty dish is perfect for winter, and for entertaining. It makes sense to cook this for 2, because it’s a bit time-consuming: great for a weekend supper dish. Vegetarians can substitute their favourite vegetables for the salmon – mushrooms, asparagus, baby carrots or young leeks: or simply stir a little fresh pesto through just before serving. Did you know that pink peppercorns aren’t peppercorns at all, but come from a different type of shrub? Let’s not hold it against them – they look lovely and their spicy, fruity flavour is a great match for salmon, and also great in salad dressings. But you can simply use fresh black pepper if you don’t have want to splash out on the pink version.The Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon are beneficial to mental function, and fennel may balance female hormones.
1-cal cooking spray
1 white onion, peeled and finely chopped 38 cals
50g sliced fennel, 15, or 1 celery stick, finely chopped 6 cals
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 4 cals
150g Arborio rice 510 cals
30ml white wine 21 cals
350-400ml hot fresh vegetable stock made with marigold 1tsp 12 cals
75g petit pois (frozen is fine) 38
30g smoked salmon (offcuts are fine for this, or chop into small pieces), 66
zest and juice ½ lemon, 10 cals
A dozen or so pink peppercorns
Optional: 1 tablespoon Light cream cheese, 22 (Additional 11 cals per portion)
Spray a little 1-cal cooking spray in a large heavy-based non-stick saucepan. Fry the onion and fennel/celery for 2–3 minutes over a medium heat, until softened but not coloured. Turn down the heat, add the garlic and fry for another minute.
Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes. Turn up the heat, pour in the wine and heat for a couple of minutes.
Then begin adding the hot stock, a ladleful at a time, waiting until each one is absorbed before adding the next: the rice grains will gradually change colour.
When you’ve used about half the stock, add the petit pois, and stir through. When the rice is almost cooked but still has a little bite to it – this will take 15-20 minutes depending on the rice – stir in the salmon offcuts, lemon zest and juice and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick. Stir in the cream cheese, if using, just before serving, scatter the pink peppercorns over the top.
Taken from 5:2 Your Life: Get Happy, Get Healthy Get Slim - with a complete six-week eating plan new for 2014!
Serve with a rocket or watercress salad.
Mushrooms, garlic and crème fraîche – no wonder this is one of my favourites! It really doesn't taste anything like this low in calories. You can make double quantities and chill one portion without the crème fraîche. It will keep for two days in the fridge. If you prefer your mushrooms with a kick, try the spicy version!
Calories per serving: 70
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
2g dried porcini mushrooms 5 cals
50ml boiling water
1-cal cooking spray
½ onion, peeled and finely chopped 19 cals
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed 4 cals
½ teaspoon paprika (or try smoked paprika) 3 cals
100g mushrooms, chopped or sliced (use your favourite variety, but chestnut mushrooms work well in this dish) 13 cals
squeeze lemon juice
1 tbsp reduced-fat crème fraîche 26 cals
salt and pepper
parsley leaves or chives, to garnish
- Soak the porcini mushrooms in 50ml of boiling water for at least ten minutes while you cook the other vegetables.
- Spray a small non-stick pan with 1-cal cooking spray. Cook the onion for 2–3 minutes, to soften. Add the garlic and paprika, and cook for another minute.
- Add the chopped fresh mushrooms and a squeeze of lemon juice (this will add flavour and also helps prevent the mushrooms from sticking to the pan until they begin to release their juices). Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Chop or tear the soaked mushrooms into smaller pieces. Add these and the soaking liquid to the pan and heat for 4-5 minutes, until the sauce starts to thicken. Stir in 4 tablespoons of water, if necessary, to help loosen the sauce.
- Remove from the heat. If serving immediately, stir in the crème fraîche and season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with chopped parsley or chives. Perfect with Cauliflower Rice or Courgette Pasta (see The Ultimate 5:2 Diet Recipe Book for the recipes).
Variations: Use as a stuffing for sweet peppers. Cut 1 red or yellow pepper in half (15 cals), remove the core and seeds and grill, cut-side down, for 5 minutes. Add the mushroom mix (without the crème fraîche) and grill for 2 minutes. Top with crème fraîche just before serving. These are great with a green salad. You can also substitute Light Philadelphia or other cream cheese for the crème fraîche for a subtly different flavour and texture.
Elderflower Jelly with Berries and Mint
Gorgeous to look at, even better to eat! The elderflower gives a sophisticated flavour that’s not overpowering, and the fruits look like little jewels in the individual serving glasses. Impress family or friends – or save them all for yourself (they keep for four days in the fridge!). If you are happy using sweeteners, then you can get a much lower calorie count. I’ve tried these with three different kinds of sweetener – Splenda, xylitol and a stevia-based baking blend. All gave excellent results. In all cases, follow the instructions on the pack as the quantities are different to sugar. Splenda, for example, substitutes volume but not weight, as it weighs very little.
Calories per serving: 106 made with sugar, 40+ made with sweetener
Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus chilling
Cooking time 5 minutes
5 leaves gelatin, 15 cals
75g caster sugar 297 cals or equivalent sweeteners (for example, 5 tablespoons of Splenda, 30 cals, or granular stevia-based sweetener, 75 cals)
3 tbsp elderflower cordial 46 cals
150g mixed raspberries and blueberries, plus extra for serving 65 cals
small bunch fresh mint leaves
- Soak the gelatin leaves in cold water until soft. Place the sugar in a small saucepan with 300ml water and heat over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. Squeeze out the excess water from the gelatin, add to the hot sugar water and stir until melted. Add the cordial and stir well.
- Place a small handful of fruit and mint leaves in the bottom of 4 glasses (the tips of the mint are very pretty here), add a little of the jelly mixture and chill in the fridge for 2 hours. Set the remaining jelly aside covered with cling film but not in the fridge. If it isn’t in the fridge then it should not set.
- Once set, divide the rest of the jelly mix between the glasses and chill until set. Serve with extra berries and mint on the side.
NB: You can cut the chilling time down if, like me, you’re not a perfectionist and don’t mind some of the fruit floating nearer the top. Just divide all the jelly between the glasses on top of the fruit and chill for 2 hours. N.B. Gelatin is not suitable for vegetarians but you can use seaweed-based agar-agar: make sure you follow the instructions as it works differently.
Variations: Other cordials and fruit pieces will also work well. I love the Belvoir Apple and Ginger (with very slim wedges of apple and a few blackcurrants or berries), or their Raspberry and Rose drink (use rose petals from your garden as garnish, if you haven’t used pesticides). Or try Bottlegreen’s Lime and Coconut with slices of kiwi. It’s such an adaptable recipe! Do check the calories, as fruits and cordials can vary.
M & S Delicious & Nutritious Roasted Aubergine Curry
The transparent packaging of this dish seems designed to say 'look at me, I'm gorgeous' and, it's true, the contents are very appealing to look at. The price, not so much, but your intrepid reviewer decided it was worth investing, for the sake of 5:2.
And, I have to say, it was a good decision.
The container is microwave only - you take out the pot of dressing, replace the film and then cook. The scent filling my kitchen after a couple of minutes was a promising sign.
The dish itself looks colourful and though it's not a huge portion (365g), it's enough. The aubergine looked slightly dry - and aubergine cooked without much fat can be rubbery and tough.
But my doubts disappeared on the first taste. The aubergine was soft and smoky, the rice was well-spiced and the yogurt topping added the creamy contrast I love with curries. This really was delicious, just like the name says, and on the nutrition front, it does deliver 2 of your 5.
At 365 calories, it's definitely a main meal choice for a Fast Day, leaving enough for, say, a soup and fruit at lunchtime. I must say, though this is one of the few dishes I'd eat on a feast/normal day too, perhaps with a naan bread.
Downsides: well, the price. Worth looking out for 3 for 2 offers. Also the use-by dates are worth watching as these don't have the longest shelf life.
But overall it's great to see such a tasty veggie choice, as M&S have been quite poor at adding vegetarian options to their lower calorie ranges. More, please?
Like it says on the tin (um, label): delicious, nutritious, high quality.
Review: Waitrose LOVE life spinach cannelloni
Sheets of free range egg pasta around a spinach and ricotta filling, on a tomato sauce and covered in a béchamel sauce, topped with grated mature Cheddar cheese.
Oh dear, Waitrose. I had such high hopes for this: pasta, spinach, cheese, tomato. So many of my favourite things, and at only a little over half of my Fast Day allowance? It sounded too good to be true.
And, unfortunately, it was. The appearance wasn't unappealing, especially with a few herbs on top. But that was the highlight. The taste, texture and smell were all fairly horrible, I'm afraid. The pasta was floppy, the white sauce was just... well, white. And the spinach had a strange bitter taste. I suppose the tomato sauce was tolerable but, really, it was one of the worst ready meals I've had in a while.
The one upside: there was a lot of it, and I definitely didn't want any more...
To be fair to the developers, I think it's possibly too hard to create a pasta dish at this calorie count that will bear any resemblance to the 'real' thing. I'd rather have a smaller portion of, say, wholewheat pasta, or courgette ribbons peeled to resemble pasta ribbons with a good sauce.
Actively unpleasant. But filling...
Review: Easy Bean French Cuisinees
256 per 320g pot
£3.49 from Waitrose/Ocado
Description: Green lentil and sweet chestnut simmered with classic vegetables, rosemary and thyme. Ingredients: Vegetable stock (water, vegetables, salt, black pepper), tomatoes, green lentils (9%), sweet chestnuts (9%), carrots, onions, celery, leeks (vegetables 24%), olive oil, molasses, cider vinegar, chestnut flour, garlic, mustard, rosemary, thyme, black pepper, sea salt.
Most veggie bean-based dishes tend to be heavy on chilli or strong spices - which is great, especially in the winter, but can get a bit samey. So I was intrigued to try this French-style Bean Pot, which can be microwaved in its pot.
The pot is smaller than similar dishes - I'm thinking Innocent Veg Pots, for example, which are 70g larger at 390g. But those tend to include more fresh veg, which has its own disadvantages. I've had a couple of Veg Pots which are still within their Best Before date but develop the tell-tale domed lid and become somewhat, um, explosive. So perhaps the lack of fresh veg avoids that. It did make it seem a little over-priced in comparison though.
I heated the bean pot and poured it into the bowl, added some parsley (which seemed suitably Francais) and took a look. It's a sludgy brown colour with red from the tomatoes and lots of texture, including chunks of chestnut. Herbs definitely help liven it up visually.
The taste was earthy and subtle. So subtle that I wasn't quite sure if I liked it at first, but it grew on me. The texture works well and as it was a Fast Day, I savoured every sweet chestnut in particular, and there was definitely a herby, warming flavour. If I closed my eyes I could almost imagine a French man of the soil (played perhaps by that gorgeous actor who plays the lawyer in Spiral/Engrenages) coming home from his labouring to me and my cassoulet pot.
Anyway, enough of that. I did think it might work better as a topping for a jacket potato, or served with sausages. But that'd push the calorie count up too much for a fast day and they're also not cheap as a side dish.
I'll probably buy another one when I am in the mood for an alternative to fiery chilli-based ready meals.
Interesting, earthy alternative to more fiery bean-based ready meals.
Review: Kirsty’s Moroccan Vegetables
Calories: 276 for one pack
£2.60-£3.10 from Sainsbury's, Ocado
Aduki Beans, Courgette, Pinto Beans, Apricots, Peppers Carrots, Chick Peas and Sweet Potato in a Moroccan Tagine style sauce mildly spiced and flavoured with tomato, mint and coriander served with a Quinoa, Brown rice and Puy lentil mix
Kirsty Henshaw appeared on TV's Dragon's Den with her ideas for a range of foods free from allergens. This is the only vegetarian dish in her range of chilled ready meals, available from Sainsbury's and Ocado. It's a microwaveable meal in two sections: the vegetable 'stew' and the rice, quinoa and lentil mix.
It's dairy, gluten, soya and egg-free and gives you two of your five-a-day portions of fruit and veg.
I tried this after recommendations from the forum and it's become a real standby for Fast Days. It's SO filling - I have no idea how the recipe developers have managed to get so much food in the container for so few calories but you get 400g of vegetables and grains. The vegetable sauce itself is a bit on the thin side, but tasty, with varied vegetables and pulses. The grain mix is really filling and has an interesting variation of textures and flavours. I like to add some pepper and herbs to the dish, and also tend to mix in a little Philadelphia Light into the sauce and rice to give them some extra flavour and a creamy hit without adding too many extra calories. One slight annoyance: the packaging is different to conventional supermarket meals and means you have to cut into the film on top rather than peel it off when the food is heated up. This does taste as though it's doing you good (!) and might not appeal to dedicated meat eaters. But the range of veggie low-cal ready meals in supermarkets can be quite limited and this is a good edition. I also like the ethos of the company and the fact they're doing their best to offer alternatives for people with allergies.
Verdict: a tasty standby for hungry vegetarians and non-vegetarians that will fill you up
Indian Spiced Tomato & Red Lentil Soup
130 calories per portion (makes 2 portions)
This is an adapted version of the Tomato and Lentil soup from The 5:2 Diet Book – I simply dry fried the onion with some Panch Poran spice blend, which gave it a delicious warming Asian flavour.
1 chopped onion
Pinch of chilli flakes
2 tablespoons of red lentils
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock (I used Marigold bouillon)
Coriander leaf, to taste (maybe ½ bunch)
Put all the ingredients, except the coriander, in a pan together and heat till simmering.
Cover and cook for twenty minutes till the lentils are soft.
Add the coriander, cook for one minute and blend with stick blender. Season and serve.
Try it with your favourite spices – whole coriander or cumin seeds are lovely, or add some ground ginger and turmeric. This freezes very well so why not double up the portions for your next Fast Day - the ultimate in Fast Food.