Lighter Classics

The best-tasting meals are also the unhealthiest, right? Wrong, as Lawrence Brackstone demonstrates with three of the nation's favourite meals

Issue ID: June 2009

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For most of us, one of the hardest parts of being a triathlete is having a greater awareness of food intake. In one way we’re lucky, in that we can get away with eating more calories than the average Joe. But it can still be tough viewing food merely as a set of calorific numbers and missing the enjoyment from meals that non-athletes indulge in. What’s worse, some of the best-tasting food is normally the food that’s highest in fat, packed to bursting point with calories, saturated fats, trans fats and other dietary no-go nasties.

But there are a few simple ways in which we can transform some of the worst culinary offenders into figure-friendly treats. This month, I’ve taken three of the UK’s favourite dishes, common to most restaurant menus, and given them a makeover. The challenge was to avoid the higher levels of fat that normally put them on the naughty list, but still deliver on the all-important taste and enjoyment factor. Would you believe that you can still enjoy a lasagne without a hillside of cheese mixed in? Or a chicken tikka masala that isn’t doing breaststroke in a slick of oil? Read on and prepare to be amazed…

Lasagne (serves 4)

This classic Italian heavyweight just shed some pounds: I’ve removed the calorific béchamel sauce, vastly reduced the cheese content and used low-fat pork instead of beef. I don’t think Mama would be particularly proud, but the result is a quicker and healthier recipe, which doesn’t compromise on taste.

Preparation time 20mins
Cooking time 25mins
Equipment Non-stick saucepan, ovenproof dish


1tbsp olive/rapeseed oil
500g lean pork mince
10-12 fresh lasagne sheets
1 large onion
700ml tomato passata
3 cloves of garlic
6-8 fresh basil leaves
25g fresh Parmigianino Reggiano (Parmesan), grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste, optional
Rocket, optional


1 Preheat the oven to 180°C. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large
non-stick saucepan.
2 Add the pork mince and cook on
a high heat for 2-3mins, stirring until it has cooked the outside of the meat.
3 Reduce the heat and add the
onion and seasoning. Cook for
5mins on a medium heat.
4 Add the garlic, passata and Tabasco, if using. Cook for 10mins on a steady heat, stirring occasionally.
5 Place one lasagne sheet in the base of an ovenproof dish and add a quarter of the cooked pork/sauce.
6 Layering as you go, build up a stack of alternating pasta ‘sandwiches’, finishing with a sheet of pasta.
7 Grate half of the Parmesan on top of the mixture.
8 Place in the oven and cook for 25mins, until piping hot and golden brown on top.
9 Tear and sprinkle on the basil leaves and shave the remaining Parmesan over the lasagne, before serving with a side salad of rocket, if using.

Chicken tikka masala (serves 2)

The nation’s favourite! This version has a real zing and freshness to it, with all of the taste you love but minus the high fat count. Copious amounts of double cream, salt, ghee, oil and butter are all common ingredients to this dish, as is red food colouring – a big no no! – but by making it yourself you’ll know exactly what’s in it.

Preparation time 15mins
Cooking time 20mins


Tikka marinade
2 chicken breasts
3tbsps natural yoghurt
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
25g fresh ginger, finely chopped
2tsps ground coriander
2tsps ground turmeric
1tsp chilli powder
1tsp ground cumin

1tbsp sunflower/rapeseed oil
400g plain tomato passata
2tbsps tomato purée
1 small onion, chopped
25g fresh ginger, chopped
1tsp ground cumin
½tsp ground chilli
Pinch of salt
Juice of half a lemon

To finish
1 small onion, quartered
2tbsps natural yoghurt
A small handful of fresh coriander
Lemon wedges to garnish, optional


1 Firstly, mix all the ingredients of the marinade together in a bowl, apart from the chicken. Now add the chicken to the mixture (this can be done up to 24hrs ahead and will actually
improve the taste).
2 Next, the sauce… Slowly cook the chopped onion in the oil for 3-4mins. Add the cumin, chilli and ginger, cook for 3mins, stirring often. Now add the passata, tomato purée, salt and lemon, and cook for a further 5mins.
3 Meanwhile, place the chicken breasts covered in their marinade under a preheated grill for 4mins on each side, until fully cooked. Blistering and charring are desirable; burning is not! At this stage you can also add a quartered onion to the grill with the chicken. To finish the sauce, stir in the yoghurt and the coriander and serve immediately with the chicken breast on top.
4 Serve with boiled rice.

Chicken Caesar salad (serves 2)

A true modern classic, this is really crunchy, packed with flavour and is light on the gut. A classic Caesar relies on eggs or mayonnaise to make the dressing. By using the dressing outlined below, its fat level drops considerably but still retains the key signature of garlic. By adding the chicken breast and potatoes, it turns an otherwise simple salad into the ideal meal for a hungry triathlete.

Preparation and cooking time 15mins
Equipment Blender, griddle or non-stick frying pan


2 chicken breasts, skinless
12-16 new potatoes, boiled
Half a Cos/Romaine lettuce
A little fresh Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan), grated/shaved
1 thick slice brown/granary bread
6 fresh chives, chopped or halved
4 marinated anchovy fillets, optional

5 tbsps olive oil
3 garlic cloves
3tbsps Dijon mustard
4tbsps water
A pinch of fresh ground black pepper

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1 Firstly, make the dressing. In a blender, add all the dressing ingredients and blend until smooth. Keep half of the dressing in a jar or container for use later, as there’s double the amount you’ll need.
2 Boil the potatoes until just tender, slice and keep warm.
3 Preheat a griddle pan and cook the chicken breasts for approx 4mins on each side until fully cooked. Put to one side.
4 Cut the bread into small chunks and toast, to make the croutons.
5 Wash and cut the lettuce into strips.
6 Place the potatoes and lettuce in a bowl and drizzle some of the dressing over the leaves.
7 Carve the chicken breast and add on top, followed by the croutons, anchovy fillets, if using, and chives.
8 Finally add a little more dressing, shave or grate the Parmesan over the top of the salad and tuck in!