Healthy, Creamy Vegetable Risotto

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Risotto is usually a really heavy dish. As delicious as it is, it’s not something that we can eat everyday. Although, with this recipe, by cutting down the oil and replacing the heaps of parmesan cheese and heavy cream, you can still have a creamy risotto; just a little bit lighter. I used Zucchini blossoms and spinach for this recipe, but you can use whatever vegetables you have in your fridge!

Ingredients

  • Arborio Rice
  • Vegetable broth
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • vegetables of your choice!
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • parmesan cheese
  • cream cheese
  • 1 tsp of rosemary
  • 1 tsp of thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

To start off, Finely dice your carrots, celery, garlic and onion. This trio is the basic of any flavour development. It’s crucial for soups, risottos and stews. Once that is prepped, you can chop your other vegetables that you’re using into larger chunks. Since I used Zucchini blossoms and spinach which wilt down very quickly, I added in my vegetables at the very end. If you’re using hardier vegetables like zucchini, squash, broccoli, etc, you can either roast them and add them in at the end or cook them once your trio of celery, carrot, garlic and onion has cooked down a little bit.

Add your olive oil to a high side skillet and cook your carrot, celery, garlic and onion until softened. At this point you can add any other vegetables you’d like to use. To your vegetables, add your thyme and rosemary. While that’s cooking off, in a separate pot, bring your stock to a simmer. For Risotto, you need to gradually add your liquid so that you can gage the perfect texture of the rice. Keeping the liquid hot will help keep the temperature of the dish consistent and won’t slow down cooking. You can use water instead of stock if you would like.

Once everything is soft and almost cooked through, add your rice to the dry pan and let it sit and soak up the excess oil and flavour from the vegetables. Then, gradually add in your stock. A couple ladles of broth at a time is perfect. Wait until the rice has almost absorbed all the liquid and then keep adding more. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked al dente (please don’t let it to turn to mush). If you’re adding spinach or any vegetable that wilts down fast, add them in now.

Turn off the heat and finish off the risotto with a tablespoon of low fat cream cheese. Ricotta is also a good alternative. Also add a tablespoon of parmesan cheese. once the cheese is melted, season with salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe is light and as low fat as you can make a creamy risotto. Also completely Vegetarian! It may not be traditional, but it is definitely Nonna approved!

Grilled Tofu with Creamed Spinach and Sweet Potato Cakes

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You can still get some use out of your grill if you’re vegetarian. In fact, the grill is an awesome way of adding some depth of flavour and smokiness to your vegetables and meat substitutes. In this recipe, I’m using smoked tofu because I think that it lends an extra hand with flavour. Tofu tastes like anything you put near it. It’s like a sponge. But at least by using smoked tofu, your flavour sponge will already be less bland! My serving size made an obscene amount of potato cakes so please adjust the recipe to how many you want. My measurements made about 30.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 7-8 cups of spinach
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 4 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of ricotta or parmesan cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups of flour
  • smoked tofu
  • 1 tablespoon Barbecue sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Maple Syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon Ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon of rosemary or sage
  • 1 tablespoon of your favourite steak spice

Prep

First, peel and wash 4 large sweet potatoes. Cut into chunks that will cook quickly and place in a bowl. Next, finely chop your onion and garlic and place in a separate bowl. For the tofu, we’re going to marinate it so that it has time to suck up all the flavour. Mix together your barbecue sauce, maple syrup and soy sauce. Coat both sides of the tofu with your favourite steak spice (I used Montreal steak spice). Next, place each piece of tofu into the marinade and coat evenly. Place in the fridge until needed.

Sweet Potato Cakes

For the sweet potato cakes, you have to boil your sweet potatoes first. Cook them until they are super tender and slightly falling apart. Drain the sweet potatoes and place them back in the pot. Mash with your ricotta or parmesan cheese. This helps lighten the batter. Sweet potatoes are very dense, so the cheese helps make it fluffier. You can also use regular potatoes for this recipe, but sweet potatoes have so many amazing health benefits that I would definitely recommend using them. Gradually add your flour until it forms a loose dough. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I used rosemary in this as well, but sage would be just as tasty.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Use a spoon to create little cake type of form on the paper. Once your form all your cakes, place them under the broiler for about 5-7 minutes of until the top of them are brown and crusty, then flip them and broil again on the other side. Both sides of the cakes should be crisp and browned but the inside will remain fluffy. You can also preheat your oven to 425 if you prefer that over the broiler.

Creamed Spinach

Creamed Spinach is a traditional barbecue side dish. I wanted to lighten it up. First, I softened my onions and my garlic in a bit of water. You can use oil for this but I prefer to keep this whole meal as oil free as I can. Once the onions and garlic are fragrant and softened, add your milk and cream cheese to the pan. With a whisk, work the cream cheese and milk together until there are no lumps and the cream cheese is melted. Then, add your spinach to the sauce. Let the spinach wilt down all the way, then turn your heat on medium low and let it simmer and reduce for about 15 minutes. Spinach contains a lot of water which will water down your sauce. Reducing the sauce for about 15 minutes will evaporate the excess water in the sauce.

Smoked Tofu and Glaze

The last step is to grill your tofu. Tofu just needs to be cooked so that its warmed all the way through. I like a char on the top as well, so throw it on your grill and cook the tofu for about 1o minutes of until its warmed through the inside and the top is nice and crusty like a steak would be. Watch your tofu carefully so that it doesn’t burn. Because the marinade had maple syrup in it, the sugar may cause caramelization.

The sauce that it was marinating in makes a great glaze! Pour it into a pan with 1/2 a tablespoon of ketchup and let it come up to a simmer. The ketchup will balance out the sweetness from the maple syrup. Taste for salt and pepper. Once it’s come up to a simmer, take off the heat.

 

I hope that this recipe shows you that you can still have a classic barbecue without the meat! For all the vegetarians out there, you don’t have to stay away from the grill because you don’t eat steak or burgers. The tofu steaks are meaty and a great source of protein. Plus, the smokiness from the smoked tofu and the grill replicate all the flavours you love in a good barbecue.