Lowish carb/cholesterol weeknight dinner recipes for the pescetarian?
October 2, 2015 9:14 AM   Subscribe

We're trying to de-starchify our vegetarian/pescetarian weeknight dinners. Your help with specific recipes would be awesome.

Spouse charmedimsure recently went to the doctor for the first time in five years and came back with lab results that indicate he is on the high end of prediabetic and also has high cholesterol. He is already a very active person with a normal BMI, but we are trying to make some dietary changes including way less eating out and better home eating to get ahead of the labwork. I am, however, struggling to figure out main dishes that aren't too carb-heavy and don't also push the too-much-cholesterol button.

I am the primary cook and meal planner in the house, and was a vegetarian for the last 20 years with slippage into pescetarianism in the last three years. I won't cook pork/chicken/beef, although my husband will sometimes add rotisserie chicken to a vegetarian base meal, so something like that is an option. My go-to more protein-heavy meals of late have been based around shrimp, which doesn't seem to be great cholesterolwise, and he doesn't find meals without a reasonable amount of protein filling enough. I can only marinate and bake so much salmon or throw so many frozen salmonburgers on the grill, and we're both a little bored.

What can I do for weeknight main dishes with these constraints that is a) interesting b) ready in under an hour c) not too carby/starchy? Assume a well-stocked kitchen, decent cooking skills and access to average suburban supermarkets. I am an above average recipe-follower and a sub-par improviser.
posted by charmedimsure to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I would look for fish-in-a-packet recipes -- there are tons online, and most involve taking a piece of tin foil, adding some type of veggies (some favorites of mind are asparagus, cherry tomatoes, green beans, and broccolini), topping with a piece of fish (both salmon and white fish work well in my experience), and some type of sauce (pesto is fantastic, as are various ginger/soy Asian-style sauces), then folding up the foil and tossing everything in a hot oven or on a hot grill. Easy and delicious, and you can switch up the fish/vegetable/sauce combo to keep it fresh.

Another option is to use eggs as your protein -- my understanding is that egg yolks (and dietary cholesterol in general) are no longer considered such a danger for high blood cholesterol, although of course you'll want to check with the doctor. But here I'm thinking things like frittata/crustless quiche stuffed with lots of veggies, shakshuka, huevos rancheros with no tortillas or small corn tortillas, etc.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:30 AM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I often make Coconut Curry Shrimp and serve it over the coconut pineapple cauliflower "rice" recipe from the Nom Nom Paleo cookbook (there are other cauliflower rice recipes on the Nom Nom Paleo website but the pineapple rice is only in the cookbook). Also you might try using zucchini "noodles" cut either with a mandoline or a spiralizer in place of your favorite pasta, or use spaghetti squash in place of noodles. You can find a lot of good ideas on Paleo blogs if you just ignore the meat parts.
posted by matildaben at 9:41 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Crustless quiches are awesome, and take just about one hour of which virtually all the time is spent just baking in the oven. You can fill them with anything you want (one of my favorites is crumbled krab and swiss cheese) and even use Eggbeaters if you want to avoid the fat and cholesterol in whole eggs. The formula is this: 1-1/4 cups evaporated skim milk (which is most of a full can; our dog loves the little bit left over) combined with equal amounts of egg or egg product. Put your fillings into a greased pie pan, then pour the egg mixture over your fillings. Bake for 18 min at 425F, then another 30-35 min at 300F. Be sure to let it sit for a few minutes before cutting it.
posted by DrGail at 9:42 AM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I love stir fries for a healthy-ish dinner, because you can throw as many veggies in as will fit in a wok or large skillet. Tofu and shrimp are both perfect for stir fry. You can serve it with brown rice or quinoa - or if you have enough veggies, you may not even need a starch.

BTW, I used to not love making stir fry because I didn't know the proper technique. Now that I know how, I actually like mine better than the mediocre Chinese/Thai takeout places that deliver to my area. This is a good primer - the basics are:

- Cornstarch in your sauce
- Use the highest heat you can.
- brown your protein in the wok/pan first, remove it, cook your veggies, and then add the protein back in at the end, right before you add the sauce.

posted by lunasol at 9:43 AM on October 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

Oh and also, non-white-potato root vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips) often have less of an impact on blood sugar than many other starches, and can be good for scratching that need-starches itch, especially if you roast or mash them.
posted by lunasol at 9:45 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are beans/legumes of appeal? How about spices?

I cannot say enough good things about misr wot, yetakelt w’et, and many other vegetarian dishes from that unexcitingly/obviously named ethiopianrecipes.net site.

There is a little initial work in making the butter and the berbere if you can't buy it ready-made, but after that it's not too much fuss, and it all freezes beautifully so you can cook a huge pot in one go and portion it out.

Grilled halloumi is a glorious thing. I like it with loubi bi ziet, green beans in tomato and olive oil, and mujadarra (if some rice is okay?).

Ful medames with a poached egg on top, bread optional, is warming and filling.

(I can't figure out whether beans are kosher here. They have carbohydrate/starch. This random site asserts that "Beans help prevent diabetes and weight gain.
Since the fiber and resistant starch in beans and other legumes keep their glycemic load low, they are great foods for preventing or reversing diabetes.")
posted by kmennie at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't have it in front of me, but in the Newman's Own Cookbook (which is actually quite good for being a Celebrity Thing) there's a recipe for a "salmon supper salad" that can probably be made with a bunch of different fish. I want to say that we even did it with tilapia.

Basically, you cook the salmon and... uh... the only other real ingredient I remember was avocado, and maybe a vinaigrette of some kind, but it wasn't a lettuce-y salad and that's what I liked about it.

Fish tacos might also be a good option for you that would break up the "slab of fish" tendencies. You can use just about anything for the wraps; I know corn is better than white flour tortilla, but there are a ton of lower-carb wraps out there, and you could also use lettuce.

A nice pureed cauliflower and/or butternut squash soup could also work.
posted by St. Hubbins at 10:40 AM on October 2, 2015

I second the fish taco idea. A few wholemeal tortillas won't hurt, and you could load them up with lots of guac, salad, splashes of lime juice and hot sauce.

I also enjoy making veggie lasagnes with layers of eggplant/zucchini/sweet potato instead of pasta sheets. You could use low-fat ricotta mixed with some grated Parmesan instead of the usual béchamel.

The other day I went to this vegan cafe and had an amazing massaman curry with tempeh, squash, some other veg (I can't remember them all but I'm pretty sure broccoli was one), served on a bed of quinoa.

Oh and here's something I came up with when I needed to use leftover kale pulp from juicing: mix cooked quinoa, kale pulp (or just finely chopped kale), corn kernels, tinned tuna, Parmesan, one egg, paprika and salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Shape the mixture into small patties and shallow fry in olive oil or rice bran oil until golden and crispy. I think if you look up a recipe for "quinoa fritters" you'll get something similar (sorry, I'm bad with exact quantities).
posted by sweetshine at 10:52 AM on October 2, 2015

Something you may want to integrate is modest portions of whole-grain sides (really modest - a couple of tablespoons) like bulgur, freekah, quinoa, even savory oatmeal. The studies on cholesterol reduction from whole grain fiber are pretty convincing (though not the miracle Quaker might like you to believe). Ditto modest servings of beans and legumes. Those are slow carbs and help with satiety.

You probably need to dive more in-depth into tofu, as well as faux meat (I am an omnivore but eat Beyond Meat products 1-2 times a week, their Feisty Beef crumbles make a great taco/burrito/bowl/salad).
posted by Lyn Never at 11:13 AM on October 2, 2015

Re: tortillas/wraps, there can be a huge difference in carbohydrate counts, so it's important to read the label (and don't forget to subtract the fiber from the carbohydrates for the net count). The three brands in my area that have lower carbohydrate versions are Joseph's, Mission, and Market Pantry (aka, generic Target). Also: large leaf lettuce as a wrap can work really well sometimes.

If you haven't tried them yet, shirataki noodles might be in your produce or tofu section. My grocery stores carry Explore Asian noodles -- the bean pastas are low in carbohydrates. None of them are exact regular pasta replicas, but the non-insulin-challenged in my house are willing to eat them.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:30 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

If beans/tofu/seitan are ok for your husband and appealing to both of you, take a look at Appetite for Reduction for quick, vegetable-heavy vegan meals. The recipes are extremely good given how easy most of them are, and there's enough variety that I think you could piece together a good rotation of low-ish* carb meals from the book.

* I'm assuming you just want to get rid of potatoes/bread/white starchy foods. If you mean keto-style low carb, this isn't a helpful answer.
posted by snaw at 11:42 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

To reduce carbs but not cut them totally in every meal: I like to mix a small amount of a carby/starchy thing with its vegetable doppelganger. For example, mix a small amount of whole grain spaghetti with spaghetti squash and/or the shirataki (kelp) noodles mentioned by gnomeleaf. Mix a small amount of wild rice with a big pile of "cauliflower rice" also mentioned above. It's hard to really just eat 1/4 cup of pasta or rice, and it's also hard to never eat them. This is for me a satisfying solution, and both of these are great with fish.
Low fat, healthy fish: I take a mild white fish filet, season it, squeeze lemon on it, and cook it in (in foil or parchment paper with veggies as mentioned above, pan "fried" with cooking wine, or broiled); put on thin round slices of the lemon while baking and they kind of melt goo-ily onto the fish. I find that no added fat is needed once you get used to the taste/technique. Serve it with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
posted by flourpot at 11:50 AM on October 2, 2015

Response by poster: To clarify: not looking to go keto-style, just trying to head towards a staple repertoire which has an overall lower glycemic index.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:54 AM on October 2, 2015

You may have seen the recent news that dietary cholesterol levels might not actually have that much to do with blood cholesterol levels in most people. I, personally, used to almost completely avoid egg yolks, which as you probably know have completely ridiculous levels of cholesterol, and although I'm now averaging several whole eggs a day at some points in the past few years I haven't seen any change in my blood cholesterol from lab testing. (I've made all sorts of other changes in my diet too though so it's inconclusive.)

I like the South Indian dish fish mouli/mooli. An ingredient that recipe seems to be missing is curry leaves; fresh curry leaves started showing up in supermarkets near me during the last couple of years, and looking for something to make with them is how I found this recipe. The flavor is very distinctive but it would still be good without them.
posted by XMLicious at 11:55 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also the Anglo-Indian vindaloo dishes are incredible; shrimp vindaloo is my favorite but it's really the onion sauce that makes it delicious, so I'm sure the other variations are great too though I've never had the strength to leave the shrimp out, myself.
posted by XMLicious at 12:00 PM on October 2, 2015

I'm assuming having him cook is not an option for some reason? Even if you cook most of the meal and he just cooks whatever protein he wants?

This summer I got into making, for lack of a better term, fish bowls. There were basically 3 components:

Protein - I used cod or shrimp, you can use whatever you guys like/fits your needs
Veggies - I used zucchini (as zoodles or sliced), mushrooms, and broccoli OR corn, tomatoes and swiss chard. Again, use what you like.
Sauce - I make the base sauce with broth, coconut cream (the solid part of coconut milk), and lemon or lime juice. I usually add garlic too, and some salt to taste.

To put it all together, I would sear the protein in a pan, then add the veggies and saute until tender. Add fresh garlic, if desired, then add sauce ingredients and simmer until your protein is cooked through. The whole thing should take 10-15 mins, tops. If you want more carbs, you can add rice or rice noodles. Here a photo of the cod + corn, tomatoes and swiss chard. If you want more explicit instructions PM me and I'll try to put some together :)

I'm the primary cook in our house, and when my spouse was eating low carb I would focus on making protein + veggies dishes with the starchy carb as a separate side. That way I could still eat carbs and he could take as much or as little as he wanted.

Another idea: Can he buy lunchmeat to add as a pre-cooked form of protein to your regular veggie meals? There are also lots of pre-cooked chicken sausages out there. I'm thinking he can heat them in the microwave and the eat with your veggie dishes.
posted by geeky at 1:55 PM on October 2, 2015

Response by poster: Yes, having him cook (or plan) would in theory be a great option but for various scheduling, skill and personality reasons that's not going to happen. There are very few foods I dislike, so I don't mind switching things up and cooking to this particular end and won't miss the breads/pastas if I replace them with something else.

Things that can be microwaved and thrown on top are good- lunchmeat and precooked sausages are a great idea.
posted by charmedimsure at 2:02 PM on October 2, 2015

Check out www.inspiralized.com (on phone, sorry for no link). It requires a piece of equipment, but damn, are those recipes good and infinitely customizable and low starch should you choose.
posted by mrfuga0 at 5:32 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

fellow pescetarian here!

Salade Nicoise with tuna.... I've only ever had it in restaurants but it seems pretty easy to make. Yummo!

Also, seconding (or thirding) others!- Another thing I recently discovered is cauliflower rice which I mix with regular rice (cooked separately) 50/50.
posted by watrlily at 6:58 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bean- or lentil-based curries are staples for us. I used to serve them on brown rice or other grains, but have largely switched to serving them on a bed of cooked greens. We get a ton of whatever greens are in season and/or on sale. Wash, cook in salted water, drain, chop, then saute in a little oil in which you've fried some spices (cumin seeds and mustard seeds are nice) and/or garlic/onions (salt & pepper, too). I cook enough for a few meals, or even more and freeze them. They're so healthy and great under curries or as a lunch with a couple of eggs, a can of sardines, etc. I don't miss the carbs.

African-style peanut stews are filling and rich. Serve alone as a stew, or if you make them thick enough, you can also serve on a bed of greens.

I know you didn't ask, but if you are eating out on occasion, you can ask for a second vegetable instead of the starchy side of rice/potatoes/bread. Most places don't charge for this substitution, in my experience.
posted by Frenchy67 at 9:08 AM on October 3, 2015

Speaking of those peanut stews which I also appreciate, I was just shopping at one of those supermarket-style Walmarts here in the North-East U.S. and I was surprised to find that next to about three dozen different brands and sizes of all-purpose flour they had only exactly one type of the cake flour I was looking for... but there in the baking section of all places there were multiple varieties of flax, chia, and hemp seeds and a brand of peanut powder, which I'd only noticed in fancy whole foods stores before.

(I've always simply used "natural" peanut butter in peanut stews, but some of them specifically call for peanut powder.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:06 PM on October 3, 2015

I found a recipe for "Mediterranean fish" a while back and it is very quick and easy.
Chop some onion.
Sauté onion in 2 tbsp olive oil for 5 min.
Add minced garlic.
Add 16 oz diced canned tomatoes and sauté 5 more minutes.
Add 14 oz rinsed and drained cannellini beans.
Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or fresh herb of your choice) and salt and pepper.
(You can also add fresh greens of your choice here)
Lay 3/4 lb of white fish (I like cod), cut into four pieces on top of bean and tomato mixture. Salt and pepper fish.
Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes, until fish is done.

Really easy. Using canned beans and tomatoes makes it fast.
posted by natasha_k at 7:49 AM on October 4, 2015

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