• By Judith H. Dern

Slim Down Spring Feasts with Delicious Alternatives

This spring, honor the traditions of Easter and Passover meals while you celebrate a bright new season with fresh, lighter tastes. Made flavorful with slimmer ingredients and a new focus, these cherished meals still retain their festive character. The secret? “In low-fat versions of recipes it's essential to tweak the seasonings to add a punch of flavor so our palates don't miss the fat," says Marie Simmons, a California-based cookbook author and food writer acclaimed for her flavorful low-fat dishes. Read on to learn how.

Celebrate a bright new season with fresh, lighter tastes

Count the ways to lighten Easter fare

A lighter makeover of a traditional Easter menu needn’t mean bland. In fact, the bold, fresh flavors of simple, slimmer preparations for a classic roast ham, various vegetables, potatoes, and dessert will surprise you. Expect everyone to ask for seconds!

  • Heat one 10-ounce (284-g) jar of apple jelly with 1/4 cup (59 ml) balsamic vinegar and use as a low-fat glaze for ham or pork roast.
  • Use fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary to season boneless pork roast or lamb; rub crushed herbs into meat before roasting and/or place in bottom of roasting pan or inside cavity of butterflied leg of lamb.
  • Season baby carrots with fragrant fresh mint and a smidgeon of butter. Boil or steam 2 pounds (907 g) carrots; toss and sauté 3 to 5 minutes with 1/4 cup (59 ml) melted butter and 1/2 cup (80 g) chopped fresh mint.
  • Lightly drizzle olive oil over various cut-up vegetables and potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Place on a jellyroll pan and roast 45 minutes in a preheated 400°F (204°C) oven, turning once.
  • Prepare low-fat garlic and cheese mashed potatoes: Blend 2 to 3 cloves of mashed fresh garlic, 1/2 cup (115 g) low-fat sour cream, 1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, and 1/4 cup (40 g) grated Parmesan cheese into 2 pounds (907 g) hot mashed potatoes. For a more nutritious variation, try it with sweet potatoes.

Make Passover meals lusciously lighter

The eight days of Passover offer multiple opportunities to prepare lighter holiday dishes. While the Seder meal, with its focus on family, history, and ritual, is the heart of the holiday, Passover menus are deliciously varied. Options for lighter, flavorful fare can be the cook’s choice within traditional kosher restrictions.

  • Use low-fat prepared chicken stock to make matzoh ball soup.
  • Season a prime rib roast or brisket with a mixture of crushed fresh rosemary, tarragon, and thyme by rubbing the fresh herbs into the meat before roasting.
  • Substitute low-fat sour cream, yogurt, or half-and-half for full-fat dairy products.
  • Use less butter, oil, and salt with vegetables. Try steaming broccoli, asparagus, or green beans. Shower with gremolata: finely chop a leafy sprig of Italian parsley, a strip (1.5 x 2 inches [3 x 5 cm]) lemon or orange zest, and a garlic clove. (Increase ingredient amounts according to quantity of vegetables.) Sprinkle over vegetables just before serving.

Light orange cheesecake

The perfect grand finale for a Passover or Easter feast, this light and lovely cheesecake has a novel coconut macaroon crust complementing its fresh orange filling. Strawberry lovers, note the alternate strawberry topping. (Serves 8 to 10.)

  • Crust—2 cups (186 g) soft coconut macaroons, crumbled
  • Filling—1 packet orange-flavored gelatin (use plain with strawberry topping), 1 cup (236 ml) boiling water, 2 teaspoons (4 g) fresh grated orange rind (omit with strawberry topping), 2 (8-ounce [227-g]) packages light or low-fat cream cheese, softened, 1/2 cup (115 g) light or low-fat sour cream, 1 cup (236 ml) heavy cream
  • Orange topping—1 (11-ounce [312-g]) can Mandarin orange segments, drained
  • Alternate strawberry topping—1 (10-ounce [284-g]) package frozen strawberries in light syrup, 2 teaspoons (10 ml) orange juice, 1/4 cup (59 ml) reserved strawberry syrup


  • Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
  • Crust—Press crumbled macaroons on bottom and 1 inch (2.5 cm) up the sides of a 9-inch (23 cm) spring-form pan. Bake 10 minutes; cool.
  • Filling—In small saucepan, bring water to boil. Remove from heat, stir in gelatin until dissolved, and add orange peel. Refrigerate mixture until thickened. In large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth; add sour cream, and gradually beat in gelatin mixture. In another large bowl, beat heavy cream until stiff. Fold into cream cheese mixture. Pour filling into prepared crust. Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.
  • Orange topping—Pipe extra whipped cream or drop spoonfuls around edge; garnish with orange slices.
  • Strawberry topping—Drain strawberries, but reserve syrup. Place berries in blender and purée. Add orange juice and syrup. Spoon purée over top of cake, drizzling some down sides.

Judith H. Dern

Judith H. Dern, an independent writer living in Seattle, enjoys cooking for a crowd at every holiday.

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