If you’re a homebody who thinks an intimate home-cooked dinner with your Valentine is more appealing than a night out at a fancy restaurant, you’re in luck. We’ve got one more reason for you to stay in: Your home-cooked meal is likely to be much healthier than the five-course prix-fixe dinners you’ll find at some of the nicer restaurants in town. Dietitian Heather Calcote, who has been vegetarian for two years, created a three-course meal that feels just as indulgent as one from La Chaumière but has only a fraction of the calories—not to mention the cost.
Starter: Arugula-Cranberry-Pecan Salad
Photograph by Heather Calcote.
You’ll start your meal with an arugula-cranberry-pecan salad, which contains healthy fats and is high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as B-complex vitamins.
Calories per serving: 80
3 cups fresh arugula
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
½ cup cucumber, sliced and then cut into fourths
3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese*
Balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Combine first three ingredients in a large bowl. Top with freshly grated Parmesan. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette.
Main Course: Sweet Potato, Fennel, and Eggplant Lasagna
Photograph by Heather Calcote.
You won’t even miss the meat in this main course. It’s a sweet potato, fennel, and eggplant lasagna that packs at least one full serving of vegetables and makes you look like a master cook. If you buy regular lasagna noodles instead of the no-boil kind, you can assemble the dish the night before (with raw noodles) and refrigerate it overnight, so all you have to do after work is pop it in the oven.
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
Calories per serving: 500
3 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ small eggplant, cut lengthwise, then sliced thinly
¾ fennel bulb, sliced thinly (Cut rings in half for semi-circle slices. Discard top and leaves.)
3 cups spinach leaves
3 fresh thyme sprigs (or 1 tablespoon dried thyme)
1 tablespoon plain soymilk
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 cups water
¾ cup marinara sauce, divided
1½ cups shredded mozzarella*, divided
8 no-boil, oven-ready lasagna noodles
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large casserole dish or pan, cover lasagna noodles with water and let soak for 60 minutes. Remove from water.
2) In the meantime, put the water and potatoes in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until soft. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside in a large bowl to cool.
3) Heat 1½ tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a deep sauté pan. Add fennel and cook for five to six minutes, stirring frequently. Add eggplant, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté together for an additional four to five minutes, until both vegetables are soft and translucent. Remove from heat and set aside in a separate bowl.
4) Heat remaining ½ tablespoon of oil over medium heat in the sauté pan. Add spinach and cook for one to two minutes, stirring frequently, until leaves begin to soften and turn dark green. Remove from heat and set aside in a small bowl.
5) Once potatoes have cooled, add soymilk and thyme and mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth.
6) Lightly oil an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, or coat with cooking spray. Cover bottom with two tablespoons marinara sauce and top with two lasagna noodles. Top generously with mashed sweet potato mixture, using about one-third cup per noodle. Layer with fennel and eggplant, and top with spinach and a light sprinkle (about ¼ cup) of cheese. Top with two lasagna noodles; cover noodles with two tablespoons marinara, one-third cup sweet potatoes per noodle, vegetables, and cheese. Repeat. Top with remaining two lasagna noodles. Cover with remaining marinara sauce and cheese (about one cup).
7) Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and continuing baking for five to eight minutes, until cheese is lightly browned; watch carefully to prevent burning. Let cool for five minutes before serving.
*Substitute dairy-free cheese for a vegan meal.
Dessert: Mexican Chocolate Tofu Mousse
Photograph courtesy of Flickr user llsimon53.
(From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything App)
For dessert, there’s a Mexican chocolate mousse with a secret ingredient: tofu. “You’d never know it’s in there,” Calcote says.
You can make the mousse the night before, too. Silken tofu is tricky to find—we’ve only been able to buy it at Whole Foods—but you need it to get the right texture. At 325 calories a serving, the mousse is just as decadent but far less sinful than the desserts you’ll find at most restaurants.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Calories per serving: 325
¾ cup sugar
1 pound silken tofu
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste
2 tablespoons Triple Sec or other orange-flavored liqueur
1) In a small pot, combine sugar with ¾ cup water; bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.
2) Put all ingredients except for chocolate shavings in a blender and purée until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down its sides if necessary. Divide among four to six ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes. Garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.
Note: For plain chocolate mousse, omit the cinnamon, chili powder, and Triple Sec.