Super-Healthy Eating, on a Shoestring

A big part of living a long, healthy life comes down to the way we eat, and a Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world.

On "The Early Show Saturday Edition," Food & Wine magazine Special Projects Manager Gail Simmons accepted our "Chef on a Shoestring" challenge of making a super-healthy, three-course, Mediterranean-syle meal on a meager budget of $35.

Simmons utilized ingredients and flavors found in that region.

Her menu is full of longevity-aiding, heart-healthy olive oils, protein-packed grains and cholesterol-reducing seafood. It includes: Quinoa and Shaved Vegetable Salad, Shrimp Skewers with a Feta-Dill Sauce, and Honey-Drizzled Panna Cotta Yogurt.

"Early Show" recipes galore!
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And, as our "Chef on a Shoestring," Gail was automatically entered in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition. The "Shoestring" chefs with the lowest ingredients totals will be invited back to prep our big, year-end holiday bashes.

FOOD FACTS

QUINOA: Although quinoa is new to the American market, it was a staple of the ancient Incas, who called it "the mother grain." To this day it's an important food in South American cuisine. Hailed as the "supergrain of the future," quinoa contains more protein than any other grain. It's considered a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids.Quinoa is also higher in unsaturated fats and lower in carbohydrates that most grains, and it provides a rich and balanced source of vital nutrients. Tiny and bead-shaped, the ivory-colored quinoa cooks like rice (taking half the time of regular rice) and expands to four times its original volume. Its flavor is delicate, almost bland, and has been compared to that of couscous Quinoa is lighter than but can be used in any way suitable for rice. (Source: "Food Lover's Companion")

FETA CHEESE: Traditionally made feta contains only 264 calories in 3.5 ounces, lower than all other whole-milk cheeses except ricotta and mozzarella. The lower calorie count stems from the lower fat content, at 21 grams per 3.5 ounces. Adding protein rich feta to salads and wraps will boost your protein intake while adding a rich, tangy flavor without adding many calories. (Source: LiveStrong.com)

SHRIMP: Shrimp are anything but small in their nutrient density. Our food ranking system qualified shrimp as an excellent source of selenium and unusually low-fat, low-calorie protein - a four-ounce serving of shrimp supplies 23.7 grams of protein (that's 47.4 percent of the daily value for protein) for a mere 112 calories and less than a gram of fat. Shrimp also emerged as a very good source of vitamin D and vitamin B12. (Source: WHFoods.com)

GREEK YOGURT: Yogurt promotes intestinal and vaginal health, improves lactose intolerance, builds stronger bones, enhances immunity, lowers blood pressure, and may even have anticancer and weight-loss effects. In a recent study in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers found that obese adults who ate three servings of fat-free yogurt a day as part of a reduced-calorie diet lost 22% more weight and 61% more body fat than those who just cut calories. A plus for Greek yogurt, in particular, is that it doesn't give you the sugar overload of what you usually find in U.S. grocery stores. To save on fat and calories, reach for a low-fat version. (Source: Health.com's Healthy Eating section

RECIPES

Quinoa Salad with Shaved Vegetables

Quinoa is a delicious, hearty grain and can be cooked and eaten hot, or prepared cold in a salad, which we're going to do today. It's originally from South America jam-packed with protein, vitamins and nutrients (which is why it is sometimes called a SUPERFOOD), and can be combined with many different ingredients. Here is a recipe that is a great way to kick off a meal full of delicious flavors.

INGREDIENTS:
8 large red radishes or 1 large watermelon radish
1 medium carrot, peeled
1 medium fennel bulb, cored
1 cup quinoa, preferably red, rinsed
2 1/2 cups water
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

METHOD:

Using a mandoline, thinly slice the radishes, carrot and fennel bulb. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water and refrigerate for about 1 hour, until crisp.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring the quinoa and water to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 20 minutes. Let cool.

Drain and dry the vegetables. In a bowl, combine the lemon zest and juice with the oil. Add the quinoa and toss; season with salt and pepper. Serve the quinoa in bowls, topped with the vegetables.

For more recipes, go to Page 2.

Shrimp Skewers with Feta-Dill Sauce

There's an old adage: the more fish you eat, the more weight you lose - and there is definitely truth to this. Fish is high in omega3 fatty acids that help you reduce your cholesterol, and in turn, can help you lose weight. I love to use lots of lemon and olives as garnish with my fish, like they do in Mediterranean countries, as it's the perfect way to compliment the flavor.

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (2 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds peeled and de-veined large shrimp
2 lemons, each cut into 12 wedges

METHOD:

Light a grill. In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the scallion, 1/4 of the garlic and 1/2 tablespoon of the dill. Stir in the feta, mashing it slightly. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining minced garlic and 2 tablespoons of dill with the olive oil. Add the shrimp and lemons, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Thread 4 shrimp and 2 lemon wedges onto each of 12 skewers.

Season with salt and pepper and grill over a medium-hot fire, turning occasionally, until the shrimp are charred and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the skewers to a platter and serve at once with the feta sauce.

Honey Drizzled Yogurt Panna Cotta

People often think of dessert as a no-no when trying to eat healthy, but it doesn't always have to be bad for you. This low fat and delicious panna cotta is a great example, because Greek-style yogurt contains bacteria cultures that may aid in digestion and strengthen the immune system.

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon water
1 cup fat-free milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
Red grapes, for serving

METHOD:

In a small bowl, mix the gelatin with the water and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer with the sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin until dissolved.

In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the yogurt. Whisk in the warm milk until smooth.

Pour the panna cotta mixture into six 4-ounce ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

To serve, drizzle the panna cottas with the honey and garnish with the grapes.

So, how did Gail do in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition?

Quinoa Salad
radishes $1.99
carrot $.25
fennel $.99
quinoa $2.49
lemons $.80
total $6.52

Shrimp Skewers
yogurt $.59
scallion $.79
garlic $.39
dill $.99
feta $2.49
shrimp $11.98
lemons $.80
total $18.03

Panna Cotta
gelatin $1.59
buttermilk $1.99
Greek yogurt $1.33
honey $2.99
grapes $1.99
total $9.89

Grand total: $34.44

Our current leaders board:

1. Robert Carter $32.24
Peninsula Grill

2. Paul Liebrandt $32.35
Corton

3. George Mendes $32.49
Aldea