Flavor without a fuss

Louisiana Chef Paul Prudhomme made popular the art of blackening meat and fish in his New Orleans restaurant many years ago, and the cooking method caught on worldwide. Blackening refers to the process of using a hot skillet to produce a slightly burnt-looking, dark-brown exterior on food while retaining a moist interior. Because a crispy crust of seasonings forms when searing in the juices of the fish or meat, blackening is a perfect way to eat low-fat, diabetic-friendly meals without missing any flavor.

In some instances, blackening can lead to a smoke-filled kitchen, but here are recipes adaptable to everyday cooking. And forget the load of melted butter that is typically added to the blend of seasonings in the traditional recipes. My blackening approach will maximize your entrée’s flavor without adding fat.

Quick, spicy, and always a hit, Blackened Chicken Tenders can be the center of a simple dinner the whole family will love. A full-bodied sauce provides harmony to well-seasoned chicken tenders—with a hint of sweet brown sugar and spicy chili powder. Serve them over pasta or rice for a satisfying main course, or offer them to guests as an easy appetizer.

Did you know that Louisiana produces 25% of total domestic seafood in the lower 48 states and that 75% of all seafood harvested comes from the northern Gulf of Mexico? Baked fish is always a lean, heart-healthy choice. Make fish a regular part of your diet with the Blackened Fish. Sweet and spicy collide in this unforgettable and super-easy dish.

I love shrimp; I especially love its versatility in cooking. Blackened Shrimp delivers instant sweet and spicy flavor by combining roasted shrimp with a blend of cinnamon, cumin and brown sugar. Delicious and so versatile, this dish adds instant pizzazz when tossed in salads, or layered in a sandwich.

If you are new to this cooking specialty, don’t be deterred. My secret lies in the seasoning, which distinguishes these quick-time recipes from others in the field. This healthy approach will awaken your taste buds with the immense flavor and moistness. It’s kitchen friendly, but with the weather beginning to warm, you can take this blackening method outdoors on the grill!

These are zesty alternatives to the typical breaded tender.

2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 cup chopped red onion
1 5-oz. can evaporated skim milk
1/4 cup chopped green onions

In large resealable bag, combine paprika, chili powder, brown sugar, pepper and salt. Add chicken, shake to coat. In large nonstick skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, heat olive oil over medium heat, then sauté chicken 5-7 minutes or until browned and done. Remove to a plate. In same skillet, add green pepper, red pepper and onion, scraping bits from bottom of pan. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until tender. Add evaporated milk, stirring one minute or until heated and bubbly. Serve chicken with sauce; sprinkle with green onions, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories 299 | Calories from fat 19% | Fat 6g | Saturated fat 1g | Cholesterol 100mg | Sodium 472mg | Carbohydrate 16g | Dietary fiber 4g | Sugars 10g Protein 44g | Diabetic exchanges: 1 carbohydrate, 6 very lean meat

This is a restaurant-worthy recipe that cooks up in mere minutes.

2 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 lbs. fish fillets
2 Tbsp. olive oil

In small bowl or plastic bag, combine all ingredients except fish and oil. Coat both sides of fish with spice mixture. In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Place fish in hot pan and cook 2-3 minutes on each side until fish flakes off with fork. Makes 4 servings.

Holly’s hint: Fish is done when center is white and opaque—no longer translucent. Any fresh fish may be used, such as grouper, halibut, tilapia, trout or catfish.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories 232 | Calories from fat 36% | Fat 9g | Saturated fat 1g | Cholesterol 63mg | Sodium 395mg | Carbohydrate 3g | Dietary fiber 3g | Total Sugars 0g | Protein 34g | Diabetic exchanges: 4 1/2 lean meat

Simple roasted shrimp with a slightly sweet and very spicy seasoning delivers marvelous flavor.

3 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
24 large peeled shrimp
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In plastic resealable bag, combine chili powder, brown sugar, cinnamon and cumin. Salt and pepper shrimp, add to seasoning in bag. Shake to coat evenly. Place shrimp on baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Roast 5-7 minutes or until cooked thoroughly. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories 177 | Calories from fat 43% | Fat 9g | Saturated fat 1g | Cholesterol 168 mg | Sodium 254mg | Carbohydrate 7g | Dietary fiber 2g | Sugars 4g Protein 19g | Diabetic exchanges: 1/2 carbohydrate, 3 lean meat

Holly Clegg is the author of the best-selling trim&TERRIFIC cookbooks, Eating Well Through Cancer and Too Hot in the Kitchen: Secrets to Sizzle at Any Age. For more information, visit hollyclegg.com or thehealthycookingblog.com.