For about the last four years, Allison Fishman Task, 41, has been lightening up recipes for Cooking Light magazine, so she’s intimately familiar with New Year’s resolutions that revolve around weight loss. Her latest book, “Lighten Up, America! Favorite American Foods Made Guilt-Free,” aims to make healthier eating a bit more realistic. “The biggest challenge with the ‘I’m going to eat healthier’ New Year’s resolution is when a meat and potatoes family decides ‘we’re all going to go vegan for January,’ ” says the Montclair, N.J., author. “That is a really big and scary goal and you’ll probably keep it up for a few days then go crazy. I think what’s exciting about this book is you can still eat the foods you love and they’re going to be a little bit healthier.” Recipes reimagine 150 popular sinful foods as lighter delights, including regional classics like clam chowder and lobster rolls.
Q. What’s the process of making a dish lighter?
A. The goal, if done right, is you turn something completely on its head. We like to reconceive the classics by not just saying, “OK, cool, let’s use light cream,” but by pulling apart the dish and saying, “What are the components that people love in this dish and how can we present them in a different and ideally better way?”
Q. How can you make a dish like clam chowder lighter but still keep it true to the original?
A. It’s different because it’s a bacon-corn chowder instead of a clam chowder. What I do like about a lighter chowder is yes, it’s still a dairy-based thick, rich chowder but you’re going to taste your thyme and seafood more if you’re not buried in cream. So in order to lighten up, I’ll use a lighter milk, I’ll put in other items like bacon and corn instead of just relying on clams and potatoes. Corn is going to really brighten it up and be sweet and flavorful. You’re going to get really good texture from corn kernels. It’s going to kind of pop in your mouth, scraping all that heaviness off your tongue and making each bite a new flavor.
Q. And you use the same approach with the lobster roll, letting the natural flavors stand out?
A. Everyone kind of agrees when you’re making a great lobster roll, less is more. You certainly don’t want to cover up that lobster with too much mayonnaise. You want a combination of mayonnaise and butter, a little toasted bun with butter on it, and then you want to lightly, lightly dress the lobster. If you’re having a lobster roll that’s mostly mayo, you’re not going to be tasting the flavor of the food. So this is one of those recipes that in making it properly and using the best and most flavorful ingredients, you’re going to make a less caloric roll because you want that lobster to shine through, not the mayonnaise and certainly not butter.
Q. Do traditionalists still complain?
A. There are two types of these people in my world. Number one, the kind of person who’s going to be like, “No, I don’t want that diet enter-dish-name-here, diet lasagna, or diet mac and cheese.” If you have mac and cheese with butternut squash in it, of course it’s going to be a lighter version but it’s not going to be the mac and cheese you wanted. I have recipes that will work for the naysayer and I say to people, “Make them for someone who’s difficult and just shut your mouth. Don’t tell them what it is.”
Q. And the other group?
A. The other group is people who love and fantasize about their super heavy versions of the dish but really know they need to get healthy and what they’re afraid of is that healthy food won’t taste good. And yeah, if you go on that steamed carrot and broccoli diet, you’re not going to be happy. Those are the people that you want to say, “Let me meet you in the middle. I know you like cheesy potatoes and I’ve got a recipe that takes your basic cheesy potatoes and puts a ton of broccoli in it. You want to eat broccoli, but you don’t like broccoli, you do like cheesy potatoes, here’s your hybrid.”