Cheese is among my favorite foods. I like the calcium boost it gives, but the fats can be a concern.
Cheeses that reduce the fat have expanded options for incorporating more cheese in lower-fat diets. But I’ve also found that some recipes just don’t work as well if I make a straight substitution for full-fat cheese.
Still, what is a taco without cheese? Or lasagna? Or casserole?
Luckily, the quality and melting abilities of lower-fat cheeses have improved greatly. I rarely can tell the different in many dishes, especially if the lower-fat cheese is blended with full-fat cheese.
Having cheese sticks or string cheese as a snack can be a lifesaver for folks on diets to keep them from pulling out a chunk of cheese and eating their way through the whole thing, which is easy to do if you’re a cheese lover. Also, string cheese often uses naturally lower-fat mozzarella cheese.
The Associated Press offers some suggestions for ways to incorporate cheese into a healthy diet and a tempting quesadilla recipe:
Cheese really can be part of a healthy diet
By JIM ROMANOFF
As with so many foods, fat equals flavor in cheese. It also gives it a creamy texture and ability to melt.
But not all cheeses are equal.
First, the terminology. To be labeled low-fat, a cheese must have 3 grams of fat or less per serving. Reduced-fat cheeses must have at least 25 percent less fat than the full-fat version. Fat-free cheese must have less than .5 gram of fat in a 1-ounce serving.
For eating cheese on its own, stick with full-fat cheeses, which have the best taste and texture.
Cheeses that are naturally lower in fat include Neufchatel (light cream cheese), part-skim mozzarella, farmers cheese and most soft goat cheeses. Harder cheeses such as Swiss, cheddar, Muenster and Parmesan, tend to be higher in fat.
For cooking, low-fat cheeses usually work well enough, though they won’t melt as well as full-fat varieties. There are many good low-fat versions of cheddar, Monterey Jack and Swiss cheeses.
But keep in mind that even these cheeses can have melting issues. And making sauces with them can be difficult because they tend to break down and get grainy rather than creamy.
Fat-free cheeses can be difficult to cook with.
Cheeses that are notable for their creaminess, such a most blue cheese and soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, are best enjoyed in their full-fat versions.
An excellent way to get the best of all worlds is to blend reduced-fat cheeses with more flavorful full-fat varieties. This is most easily done with shredded cheeses. Try substituting a half to two-thirds of full-fat cheese with a reduced-fat version.
These turkey and green chili quesadillas use a reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend combined with some shredded extra-sharp cheddar for a burst of tanginess.
They also call for canned roasted green chilies and sliced deli turkey, so they are quick to prepare. The green chilies are quite mild, so, if you want more heat, add the optional pickled jalapenos.
TURKEY & GREEN CHILI QUESADILLAS WITH CILANTRO SOUR CREAM
Start to finish: 20 minutes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
3 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
2/3 cup shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend
1/3 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 (10-inch) whole-wheat tortillas
2 (4-ounce) cans roasted, diced green chilies
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapenos (optional)
8 ounces sliced deli turkey breast, preferably smoked (about 8 slices)
Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium.
In a small bowl, combine the cilantro, yogurt and sour cream. Set aside.
In another small bowl, combine the Mexican cheese blend with the Cheddar cheese.
Place a tortilla on the counter. Spread a quarter of the cheese blend over half of the tortilla, then top with some of the chilies, jalapenos (if using) and about 2 slices of turkey. Repeat with remaining tortillas and ingredients.
Fold the tortillas in half and carefully transfer them to the grill. Grill the quesadillas, gently flipping them once, until they are crispy and golden and the cheese is just melted, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes per side.
To serve, slice each quesadilla into four wedges and serve with sour cream blend.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition facts per serving: 325 calories; 11 g. fat (4 g. saturated); 54 mg. cholesterol; 26 g. carbohydrate; 26 g. protein; 4 g. fiber; 831 mg. sodium.