The recent vogue of French cuisine minceur -- or slimming cookery -- has become increasingly popular in America. But true minceur cooking is very difficult for the amateur and requires some unusual supplies, like pig bladders and seaweed, which are hard to get at the corner store. But, there is a simple alternative for elegant, low-calorie dishes: diet cooking with wine.
Wine itself is highly caloric -- with an alcohol content of twelve to fourteen per cent, the average four-ounce glass contains more than a hundred calories. But virtually all of the alcohol evaporates in the heat of cooking, reducing the wine to only the essence of the grape, and lowering the caloric content to about fifteen. What remains after cooking is more than enough to turn low-fat dishes, which would otherwise be bland or ordinary, into really flavorful creations.
Diet-wine cookery can be accomplished with the usual kitchen equipment, but a Teflon-coated skillet will permit sauteing with a very small amount of margarine or oil. And a good electric blender works well for pureeing vegetables or smoothing out low-fat cottage cheese to the consistency of sour cream. Finally, a pressure cooker is extremely useful for making broths. The bones and carcass of a roasting chicken, together with bits of celery, onion, carrot tops and seasonings, cooked in a quart of water and a portion of wine, will yield about a pint of excellent broth in twenty to twenty-five minutes.
Some diet-wine cookery enthusiasts recommend diet margarine, but the difference in calories simply doesn't compensate for the superior cooking qualities of a regular margarine like Chiffon, especially the unsalted. However, many low-calorie products work well with wine, including non-fat milk, mozzarella, parmesan and romano cheeses, and, of course, low-fat cottage cheese.
Wine cooking, like wine drinking, abounds in nonsense. For example, I have heard it said that fish should never be cooked in red wine -- an absurd statement, since the classic French dish, cotelettes du saumon braisees au vin rouge, dit a la bourguignonne, marries a burgundy wine sauce to salmon with delightful results. Nor does the rule hold for fowl: most coq au vin recipes call for red wine, although admirable results can be obtained with white.
There is one invariable rule, however, which must be observed: there is no such thing as "cooking" wine. If it is not fit to drink, it is not fit for cooking. Happily, several jug wines, most from California, are highly palatable for both drinking and cooking, and have been used by first-rate French chefs in Washington restaurants for a long time.
Of course, diet-wine cookery can never duplicate classic haute cuisine, especially French, which depends so heavily on the unstinting use of butter, cream and eggs. But after having adapted and cooked repeatedly the following recipes, I can vouch for their quality and flavor. Chicken Breasts with Grapes
Serves six 2 tablespoons margarine 3 whole chicken breasts boned and halved salt, pepper and thyme 1/4 cup chicken broth 1/2 cup dry white wine 2 tablespoons each chopped scallions and parsley 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms 2 tablespoons instant-blending flour 1/2 cup skim milk 1 tablespoon medium sherry 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce dash of nutmeg 3/4 cup seedless grapes sliced lengthwise
Saute chicken in margarine until golden brown and season with salt, pepper and thyme. Add chicken broth, white wine, onion, parsley and garlic; simmer gently for about thirty minutes, turning pieces occasionally. Remove chicken from pan; set aside and keep warm. Skim fat from pan; add enough chicken broth to make 1 1/2 cups. Blend flour with skim milk, add to pan and stir over medium heat until mixture bubbles and thickens. Add mushrooms, sherry and nutmeg; check seasoning. Add grapes. Return chicken to pan, cover and heat gently. Greek Beef Stew
Serves six 2 pounds cubed round or rump beef 1/2 cup diced onions 1/2 cup diced carrots 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed 1/8 of an unpeeled orange strip of lemon peel about 2 inches wide 1 1/2 cups tomato juice (or V-8) 1 cup red wine 6 whole cloves 1 stick cinnamon salt and freshly ground pepper
Put first six ingredients in a casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Heat remaining ingredients to boiling and pour over the meat mixture. Cover casserole and place in a 350 degrees oven until meat is done, about two hours. Check to insure that liquid is almost or completely covering the meat. If not, add beef broth. Check for doneness; do not overcook. Remove from oven. Discard cloves, cinnamon, orange and lemon peel. Let meat cool to room temperature in cooking liquid. Sop up fat on top with bits of paper towel. In a half cup of cooled cooking liquid, stir two tablespoons of instant-blending flour, and add to casserole, stirring thoroughly. Check seasoning and reheat. Pimiento Dressing for Vegetable Salads 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese 2 tablespoons buttermilk 1 tablespoon dry vermouth 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped onion 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed 1/2 teaspoon salt dash of Tabasco and Worcestershire
Blend in a blender until smooth. Chill. Veal with Parmesan and Wine
Serves three 1 pound veal scallops 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan 2 tablespoons margarine 3/4 cup chicken broth 1/2 cup dry white wine 2 minced scallions 2 tablespoons minced parsley 1 tablespoon capers (optional) 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce Dash each of thyme and marjoram Salt and freshly milled pepper 1/4 pound thinly sliced mushrooms 1 tablespoon medium sherry 1 tablespoon instant-blending flour 1 tablespoon fresh dill or 1/2 dry
Cut and flatten scallops to about 4 inches square and about 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle both sides of meat with parmesan, pressing it in with a spatula or your hand. Let stand for about thirty minutes.Over direct heat or in a double boiler, melt half the margarine and in it saute all ingredients (excepts flour, chicken broth and wine) until soft. Add chicken broth and white wine, stirring. Add sherry. Let cool slightly and in a half cup of the liquid stir flour and add to the rest of liquid.Saute the scallops on both sides in the rest of the margarine, a total of about six minutes. Serve scallops with sauce separately. Beef and Spinach Casserole
Serves six 1 pound ground chuck or round steak 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed 8 ounces tomato sauce (use standard recipe) 1/3 cup red wine 1 cup fresh mushrooms, partially sauteed 1 teaspoon fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, or 1/2 dried salt and pepper 10 ounces spinach, fresh or frozen but not canned 3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese 1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella
Saute meat, onion and garlic in a Teflon-coated pan, or in ordinary pan with a tablespoon of cooking oil. Add tomato sauce, wine, mushrooms and seasonings and simmer until sauce is thick. Cook spinach, squeeze out water and mix with cottage cheese.Season with salt and pepper. Spread spinach in oiled baking dish (about 8x8x2 inches) and cover with meat sauce. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella, and then the parmesan. Bake in 375 degrees oven for about twenty minutes, or until bubbling. Zucchini-Beef Casserole
Serves six 1 pound round chuck, ground 1/2 pound chopped onions 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 cup red wine 8 ounces tomato sauce (standard recipe) 1 bay leaf crumbled 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms 2 pounds small zucchimi 1/2 pound shredded mozzarella cheese 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Saute beef, onion and garlic until meat is browned. (Teflon pan is preferred, but if not, with a bit of oil in an ordinary pan.) Add tomato sauce, wine and seasonings and simmer for an hour. Add mushrooms. Boil whole zucchini ten minutes. Halve lengthwise. Place cut side up in an oiled baking dish. Sprinkle mozzarella on zucchini. Pour meat sauce over zucchini, and sprinkle parmesan over top. Bake in 350 degrees oven for forty-five minutes. Horseradish Dressing 1 pint low-fat cottage cheese 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 1/2 tablespoon salt dash of cayenne 2 tablespoons chopped chives (optional)
Combine everything except the chives in a blender and blend until smooth.Taste for your idea of horseradish intensity and add more if you wish. Stir in chives and chill. Good with beef instead of cream-based horseradish sauce, also with tomato or beef salads. Celery Bouillon 2 cups strong beef broth 3/4 cup water 1/2 cup finely chopped celery 4 whole cloves 4 tablespoons dry sherry 1 tablespoon minced parsley
Simmer all ingredients except sherry and parsley for five minutes. Strain. Add sherry and return to simmer. Add parsley. Correct seasoning. Chicken Salad with Sharp Dressing 1/2 cup cooked white chicken meat (or whatever you have).See note 1/2 cup sliced raw mushrooms 1 thinly sliced scallion 1 ounce Gruyere cheese, shredded 1/2 cup freshly made croutons 1/2 slivered hard-cooked egg 1 1/2 cups bite-size bibb, Boston or leaf lettuce
Put chicken and other ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with three or four tablespoons of dressing. (For dressing, see recipe below.) Dressing 1/2 cup V-8 juice 1/2 cup dry vermouth 3 tablespoons vegetable salad oil 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1/2 teaspoon freshly miled pepper
Combine all ingredients in a covered jar and shake well.Let stand for about an hour.
(Note: This is one moderately large serving that can be adjusted to suit the appetite.)