Adapting favorite recipes can keep flavor, healthy heart

Adrienne Freeman Originally Published February 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 6, 2013 at 10:28 a.m.
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Fresh or dried herbs and exotic spices such as red pepper, rosemary and curry powder are excellent for adding interest and flavor without adding fat and salt to a heart-healthy menu. Experts suggest adding two or more servings of fish to your weekly meal plan.

February is sort of the “runt of the litter” as months go, disadvantaged by a shortened number of days that are often full of dreary daylight and drab temperatures. Although February does boast the biggest day for love all year, Valentine’s Day, the month features another affair of the heart — Heart Health Awareness Month.

Raising awareness of this cause is important to everyone because many myths prevail when it comes to heart disease. Tradition tells us that heart disease is something that primarily affects men and the elderly. This is wrong. According to the American Heart Association, the following statements are true:

• Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly for women than all forms of cancer combined.

• Heart disease causes the death of one in three women each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.

• Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.

• While one in 31 American women die from breast cancer each year, heart disease causes one in three women to die each year.

• Women are less likely to call 911 for themselves when experiencing symptoms of a heart attack than they are for someone else.

One way to help prevent heart disease is to adapt favorite menus to be more heart-healthy. This process can sometimes be as simple as adjusting a few ingredients. Some changes to a person’s diet may be more significant, such as limiting fatty red meat or processed foods, but any attempt at improvement is positive.

Following are some simple changes for more cardiac-friendly food preparation:

• Select lean cuts of beef and pork — look for “loin” or “round” in the name.

• As delicious as it can be, remove all visible fat from meat before cooking, including the skin on turkey or chicken. (Removing the skin afterward is better than nothing — you just get more of the fat.)

• Bake, broil, roast, stew, grill or stir-fry lean meats, fish or poultry. All these methods can help to retain moisture and texture without adding extra fat.

• When making gravy, stew or soup, refrigerate it; then skim off the fat with a spoon before serving.

• Fatty fish such as mackerel, sea bass and salmon are high in omega-3s, which are essential to a healthy heart.

• Thicken sauces with evaporated fat-free milk instead of cream or milk.

• Use liquid vegetable oils and soft margarine instead of stick margarine or shortening. Remember — if it sets up solid on your table, it will set up solid in your arteries.

• The simplest tip of all is that instead of using extra salt or butter, season foods with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, peppers and lemon or lime juice to add flavor.

If you have never utilized many fresh or dried herbs in your cooking, it can be fun to try creative combinations. McCormick makes a great product called Recipe Inspirations that is available in most supermarkets. The package includes several pre-measured spices, a recipe card and serving suggestions.

Two examples are Chicken Tuscan Stew, with garlic, rosemary, fennel, black pepper, basil and oregano; and Shrimp and Pasta Primavera, with minced garlic, dill weed, coarse ground pepper and thyme leaves. It’s a simple and affordable way to find flavor combinations you like without spending a small fortune on spices you might not use again.

And don’t forget the wine. Alcohol, primarily red wine, in moderation, has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease in some research studies.

Try these new twists to brighten a foggy February day with a heart-healthy meal.

Recipes courtesy of the American Heart Association:


Olive Relish:

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup chopped, pitted imported black olives, such as kalamata

1/4 cup finely chopped celery

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Grilled Tuna:

1 3/4 pounds tuna steak, trimmed and cut into 6 portions

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Lemon wedges for garnish


To prepare olive relish: Combine parsley, olives, celery, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

To grill tuna: Preheat grill to medium-high.

Rub tuna all over with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Grill the tuna until seared on both sides and just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Serve with Olive Relish and lemon wedges.


The charred tomato adds a smoky taste for a delicious twist.


1 pound ripe plum tomatoes, cored (about 4-5)

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 large white onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

4 scallions, chopped

12 corn tortillas, warmed

1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream for garnish

2 limes, cut into quarters


Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat until very hot. Place tomatoes in the skillet, and turn occasionally with tongs until charred on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly. Cut in half crosswise; squeeze to discard seeds. Chop the remaining pulp and skins; set aside.

Add 1 teaspoon of the oil to the pan and heat over high heat until the oil is very hot. Add chicken, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is browned on all sides and no longer pink in the center, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium, and add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeños, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add lime juice and the reserved chicken and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and stir in cilantro and scallions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

Spoon filling into warm tortillas, roll up, and serve with sour cream and lime wedges.

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