The skinny on delicious low-calorie dishes


Eggplant parmesan, 81 calories a serving. A 45-calorie marinara sauce. A 59-calorie peanut butter cup.

Impossible, you say? Not if you know “Secrets of Skinny Cooking”!

Victoria Dwek and Shani Taub’s new cookbook (Artscroll/Shaar Press, 2017, $34.99) could be a game-changer for people who want to make lifelong dietary changes to help them maintain a healthy weight – but don’t want a lifetime of deprivation. 

“Secrets of Skinny Cooking” makes ample use of what chefs call “culinary substitutions,” which is the very best way to modify beloved dishes so they retain their flavor but contain less bad stuff. Instead of omitting ingredients such as ricotta cheese, for example, you’d substitute cauliflower – blended to a smooth, creamy, ricotta-like texture – or whip up a cheesecake from Greek yogurt. Imagine guilt-free Fish Fajitas (122 calories), Skinny Pasta Alfredo (185 calories) and Veggie Egg Rolls (55 calories)!

As Taub, a certified nutritionist, points out, “A diet should be a way of life that you can live with forever. It doesn’t mean not eating.”

In addition to over 135 recipes, from breakfast dishes to “friendly carbs” to smoothies, “Secrets of Skinny Cooking” is replete with tips, or “secrets,” on everything from how to sauté onions without cooking oil to how to flavor oil-free popcorn. 

But perhaps the biggest secret in this cookbook is that all the recipes are Kosher! Mysteriously, this is not something you’d know from either the name of the cookbook or the cover – but you might get a hint if you’re familiar with author and chef Dwek, who is a well-known personality on cooking shows. You’ll also find a spattering of Jewish and Israeli recipes in the cookbook, including Lemony Baked Falafel (36 calories), Shabbos Steaks (287 calories) and Rice and Leben (211 calories).

In addition, there’s recipes from other cultures, including Asian and Moroccan, and plenty of gluten-free, sugar-free and low-carb choices for those with dietary restrictions.

I prepared several recipes from the cookbook for taste-testing. My usually-eager tasters (friends and family) were somewhat reluctant when they learned that the recipes were from a low-cal cookbook. My son, Benjamin, in fact, was downright scared. But after digging into the Eggplant Parmesan, the Zucchini-Parmesan Pasta (91 calories) and the Lemon Meringue Napoleon (129 calories), he gave a sheepish grin – and two thumbs up.

Mushroom Chili

Yields 4 servings (Meat, Gluten-Free, Low Carb, Sugar-Free, Whole30, Paleo), 295 calories per serving


1 onion, diced

1 tablespoon salt, plus more for sprinkling

2 garlic cloves, crushed

16 ounces baby bella mushrooms, finely diced

1 pound ground meat

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon oregano

Pinch cayenne pepper (or more if you like it spicy)

Pinch smoked paprika (or more if you like it smoky)

Pinch black pepper


1.           Heat a large pot over medium-high heat; coat with nonstick cooking spray. Lower heat, add onion and sprinkle with salt. Cover; cook until onion is soft, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and mushrooms; cook until mushrooms are deeply brown, 15-20 minutes. Add meat; brown, breaking apart meat constantly until meat is no longer red and is cooked through, about 2 minutes.

2.           Add crushed tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, 1 tablespoon salt, oregano, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, and pepper; stir to combine. Bring to a boil, lower heat to the lowest setting. Cover; simmer for 60-90 minutes.

Victoria’s note: My whole family enjoyed this chili. The kids don’t notice that it was half mushrooms (they eat it in a taco shell). Just dice the mushrooms finely and no one will be the wiser. 

Lemon Meringue Napoleon

Yields 12 servings, (Pareve), 129 calories per serving

Wonton Crisps

24 wonton wrappers

2 teaspoons sugar

Cinnamon, for sprinkling

Low-Fat Lemon Curd

10 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs

Cooked Meringue

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Berries of your choice

1.           Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Add wonton wrappers; sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Bake until golden and crisp, 7-8 minutes.

2.           Meanwhile, prepare the curd: Add sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Add eggs to a bowl and slowly pour in the lemon mixture, whisking quickly as you pour. Return mixture to the saucepan and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

3.           Prepare the meringue: Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil for 4 minutes.

4.           Meanwhile, combine egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until soft peaks form.

5.           With the mixer on high speed, very slowly pour hot sugar liquid into meringue. After pouring in the sugar, beat meringue for 7 minutes.

6.           To assemble: Top a wonton crisp with a spoonful of lemon curd, 1/4 cup meringue, and berries. Top with a second wonton crisp; serve immediately.

(Recipes reprinted from “Secrets of Skinny Cooking” by Victoria Dwek and Shani Taub, Artscroll/Shaar Press)

CYNTHIA BENJAMIN is an editor, writer and chef. She is a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, in Woonsocket.

food, low-calorie