Chef Devin Alexander shares the inside scoop on the newest Biggest Loser cookbook, Flavors of the World.
Chef Devin Alexander, bestselling author of The Biggest Loser Cookbooks, gives SHAPE the inside scoop on The Biggest Loser Flavors of the World Cookbook with 75 ethnic recipes. Like the other cookbooks in the series (including The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook and The Biggest Loser Dessert Cookbook), Flavors of the World has lower-fat, lower-calorie, all-natural versions of your favorite dishes. Devin, who appeared on Season 3 of The Biggest Loser, has personally triumphed over obesity: she lost 70 pounds and has kept them off for 16 years.
Q: Why did you decide on a "Flavors of the World" theme for the next Biggest Loser cookbook?
A: It was the whole team at The Biggest Loser who made the decision. Avid viewers can’t help but notice that contestants like Italian mother-son team Mike and Maria and Tongan Cousins Sione and Filipe talk about the struggles they have when it comes to participating in their cultural or family food faves. It seemed to be a theme that popped up season after season, so it seemed the obvious choice.
Q: How does home cooking with healthy ingredients help promote weight loss?
A: It's no secret that most restaurant dishes are packed with way more fat and calories than needed to make dishes taste great at home. In a restaurant setting, the chefs are required to get food on the table fast and looking great so they don’t necessarily have time to watch a dish closely enough to make it look or taste perfect using an olive oil sprayer and a non-stick pan. Throwing a ton of butter or oil in the pan makes it so much easier to insure things won’t stick and they’ll taste good. Plus, as a chef who’s consulted with and even created recipes for restaurants, I know how much more difficult (and even more expensive) it can be to source healthy, decadent alternatives. So they often just don’t. By cooking at home, it’s insane how lean yet ridiculously delicious dishes can be – even when made with all-natural ingredients. That’s what we prove with this new book, The Biggest Loser Flavors of the World. You can still have your lasagna, your Thai noodles and even your Chorizo nachos without consequence!
Q: How did you select and refine the recipes for this book?
A: Some of the recipes came directly from contestants' cravings. Others were inspired as I flipped through popular ethnic take-out menus. After I compiled the list of dishes that I knew had to be included, I spent days (literally) in Whole Foods looking at every label trying to find everything from an all-natural marinara sauce that was low in sugar, salt, fat, calories, etc and that tasted great; to a cheese that fit Biggest Losers’ nutritional criteria that also melted well (I landed on almond mozzarella); to a low-sodium soy sauce with no chemicals or preservatives. Once I found them, I hit the kitchen and ran test after test until I arrived at finished dishes I knew folks would crave.
Q: What's the best way for women to use this book and integrate it into their own weight-loss efforts?
A: Just jump in! Seriously. When the cravings hit, before picking up the phone to order take-out, open the book. Or better yet, they should flip through the minute they get it and stock up on the ingredients needed to make the dishes they know they’ll long for before the craving is too strong. Since I include comprehensive nutritional information, it’s easy to fit the meals into any weight loss plan too. These dishes are so much leaner on all levels that it won’t only help weight loss efforts, it’ll help those struggling with cholesterol issues.
Q: How is it possible to avoid deprivation while losing or maintaining your weight?
A: Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve kept 70 pounds off for close to 20 years because I create dishes that focus on cravings. I don’t just make simple substitutions like swapping veggie sausage for chorizo. Instead, I season extra-lean ground pork like you’d season the full-fat pork, then I add moisture and body (in the case of the chorizo, I add egg substitute and oatmeal – don’t worry, you can’t taste it!) to make it close to the texture of fatty chorizo. I save about 25 g of fat per serving, yet it’s just as craveable as the traditional stuff! I’m not a tofu-and-carrot-stick chef and I don’t believe in depriving yourself. Let’s face it, if you’re craving Steak au Poivre, you want red meat and cream sauce. Well, I deliver that…and not by putting yogurt on a tofu or a mushroom “steak."
Q: How is it possible to avoid deprivation while losing or maintaining your weight?
Three Cheese Spinach Lasagna
If you’re not a huge fan of spinach, but you’re looking for a way to incorporate more into your diet, this recipe is perfect. The spinach flavor is extremely mild, but you’ll still get all of the nutritional benefits. Just be sure to really squeeze the spinach well to remove all the excess moisture. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a soggy lasagna.
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
14 whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 package (12 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
3 cups all-natural fat-free ricotta cheese, drained of any liquid on top of the container
3 large egg whites
1⁄4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
21⁄2 cups all-natural low-fat, low-salt, no-sugar-added marinara sauce (I used Monte Bene Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce)
4 ounces finely shredded almond mozzarella cheese (I used Lisanatti)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper. Once the water is boiling, add the olive oil to the pot. Add the noodles to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente. Drain well. Cut or tear 2 of the noodles in half widthwise.
Meanwhile, drain the spinach well by squeezing it in a clean, lint-free dish towel until all of the excess moisture is removed. Once you think all of the moisture is removed, continue squeezing the spinach even more to ensure it is completely dry. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, egg whites, 3 tablespoons of the Parmesan, the parsley, and garlic powder until well combined. Stir in the drained spinach until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
To assemble the lasagna, spread 1⁄2 cup of the marinara sauce evenly over the bottom of a 9" x 13" glass or ceramic baking dish. Lay 31⁄2 noodles evenly across the bottom of the dish in a single layer. Dollop one third of the ricotta mixture in big spoonfuls across the noodle layer and, using a rubber spatula, spread it into an even layer. Sprinkle one-quarter of the mozzarella evenly over the ricotta. Top the cheese layer with 1⁄2 cup of the remaining sauce. Repeat this layering process (noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella, sauce) two more times. For the final layer, top the lasagna with the last of the noodles. Spread the remaining sauce evenly over the noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella, then the remaining Parmesan.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until the cheese is melted and the lasagna is hot throughout. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Cut into 8 squares and serve.
Makes 8 servings
Per serving: 257 calories, 22 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates (6 g sugar), 4 g fat, <1 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 353 mg sodium
Crispy Pork Wontons
The Biggest Loser contestants and I love to serve these wontons along with the Shrimp Toasts and Chinese Chicken Chop Salad when hosting friends to watch the show.
Be sure to use a good nonstick baking sheet for these wontons. If you don’t have one, you can line a baking sheet with nonstick foil or a silicone baking mat. Because the oven temperature is so high, it’s best not to use parchment paper. If you are using more than one baking sheet, be sure to place them side by side in your oven to ensure even browning.
Olive oil spray (propellant free)
1⁄8 cup canned, all-natural, drained and sliced water chestnuts
1 medium carrot, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 6 equal pieces
4 medium whole scallions, trimmed and cut into thirds
8 ounces extra-lean ground pork
1⁄2 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon all-natural egg substitute
1⁄2 tablespoon hot sesame oil
Pinch ground black pepper
24 (about 3"-square) all natural wheat wonton wrappers (I used Nasoya
Won Ton Wraps) see note.
All-natural hot mustard for dipping (optional)
Place an oven rack in the lowest position in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Lightly mist a large nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray.
Place the water chestnuts, carrot, and scallions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Process until the ingredients are minced, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl intermittently, if necessary. Put the chopped vegetables in a fine mesh strainer. Using a rubber spatula or a spoon, press out any moisture. Transfer the drained veggies to a medium glass or plastic mixing bowl and add the pork, sherry, egg substitute, oil, salt, and pepper. With a fork or clean hands, mix the ingredients until well combined.
Fill a small bowl with cold water.
Place a wonton wrapper on a clean, flat work surface. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the filling into the center of the wrapper. Dip your finger in the water and run your fingertip along two adjoining edges of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half diagonally, creating a triangle. Gently press your finger around the edges of the wrapper, sealing the dry side to the moistened side, being careful not to leave any air bubbles. Press on the filling slightly to spread it out (if the mound of filling in the center is too thick, the wontons won’t cook evenly).
Transfer the wonton to the prepared baking sheet. Continue filling and sealing the remaining wonton wrappers, until all of the filling mixture and wrappers are used. Working in batches if necessary, place all the finished wontons on the baking sheet in a single layer, so they do not touch.
Lightly mist the tops of the wontons with cooking spray and bake for 5 minutes on the lower oven rack. Gently flip them, mist the tops again with cooking spray, and bake for 3 to 5 minutes longer, or until the outsides are lightly browned and the turkey is no longer pink, being careful not to burn the edges of the wontons. Serve immediately with sauce for dipping, if desired.
Note: You may need a few more than 24 wonton wrappers, as the volume of the filling as well as the precision of measuring each tablespoon can vary slightly. Nutritional data is based on using all of the filling in the 24 wrappers.
Makes 4 servings
Per serving (6 wontons): 228 calories, 19 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates (2 g sugar), 4 g fat, <1 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 369 mg sodium
Fiesta Fish Tacos
Devin’s Note: When you buy your fish, always be sure to ask for “the thicker end.” The closer the meat is to the tail, the tougher it tends to be since the tail does most of the work to make the fish swim. Here you particularly want a nice thick piece of fish to ensure that your tacos will be meaty.
4 ounces halibut filet, preferably wild-caught, cut into 8 relatively equal pieces
1 teaspoon salt-free Southwest or Mexican seasoning
Sea salt, to taste (optional)
Olive oil spray (propellant free)
2 (about 6") preservative-free yellow corn tortillas
1 tablespoon Fish Taco Sauce
1⁄2 cup finely shredded cabbage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1⁄4 cup well-drained fresh pico de gallo or fresh salsa
2 small lime wedges
Place the fish in a small bowl and sprinkle it with seasoning and salt, if desired. Toss well to coat.
Place a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, lightly mist it with cooking spray and add the fish. Cook, turning occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the pieces are browned on the outsides and flake easily in the center. Remove from the pan and place in a bowl. Cover to keep warm.
Place the tortillas one at a time in another small nonstick skillet over medium heat to warm them. When warm on one side, flip them. When both sides are warm, transfer each to a dinner plate. Spread 1⁄2 tablespoon of the sauce evenly down the center of each tortilla. Divide the fish evenly among the tortillas, followed by the cabbage, cilantro, and salsa. Serve immediately, with lime wedges on the side.
Makes 1 serving
Per serving: 275 calories, 26 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates (1 g sugar), 7 g fat, trace saturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 207 mg sodium
Recipe credit: Recipe credit is: Reprinted from: The Biggest Loser Flavors of the World Cookbook by Devin Alexander (c) 2011 by Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. The Biggest Loser (TM ) and NBC Studios, Inc., and Reveille LLC. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold.