Lighter American Main Dishes

There’s really nothing we love more than good ol’ American comfort food. But what we don’t always love are the fat and calories that come with it. The challenge here was keeping every last bit of crispy, crunchy, creamy, cheesy comfort while cutting the calories.

Smothered Pork Chops

Photo: Oxmoor House

Lighten Up, Main Dishes!

We utilized stealth veggies and smaller portions sizes, along with our other lighten-up secrets, to transform overindulgent entreés and one-dish meals into lighter, healthier dishes your whole family can enjoy guilt-free.

First up, dig into a tasty serving of Smothered Pork Chops.

The rich sauce in this dish gets its velvety consistency from a flour roux, chicken stock, and a touch of half-and-half.

View Recipe: Smothered Pork Chops

 

Meatballs and Spaghetti

Photo: Oxmoor House

Meatballs and Spaghetti

It takes a tender hand to make a light meatball. The key is in the rolling; you want to leave air pockets in the meatballs, so shape the balls gently in your hand, making sure not to squash them.

View Recipe: Meatballs and Spaghetti

 

Chicken Parmesan

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Chicken Parmesan

To make the cooking process easy, purchase pre-pounded cutlets or ask your butcher to pound them for you.

View Recipe: Chicken Parmesan

 

Meat Loaf

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Meat Loaf

Whether you enjoy it hot out of the oven or on a cold sandwich, meat loaf is a time-tested American classic. Here, it gains nutrition with the addition of baby spinach and excitement with a sweet-and-spicy glaze.

View Recipe: Meat Loaf

 

Dandelion-Stuffed Pork Loin

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Dandelion-Stuffed Pork Loin

This is a special-occasion entrée that doesn’t take too much time to make. The original version of this recipe won the blue ribbon at the Great Dandelion Cook-Off in Dover, Ohio, and was developed by Sherry Schie.

View Recipe: Dandelion-Stuffed Pork Loin

 

Chicken-Fried Steak with Milk Gravy

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Chicken-Fried Steak with Milk Gravy

The secret to this steak’s crispy crust is crumbled saltine crackers. To achieve a crispy outside and a tender inside, firmly push the cracker crumbs into the cube steak to fill crevices and to keep the steak from shrinking as it cooks.

View Recipe: Chicken-Fried Steak with Milk Gravy

 

Chicken and Dumplings

Photo: Daniel Taylor

Chicken and Dumplings

It’s generally accepted that there are two regionally distinct dumpling styles—the Midwestern biscuit-like option and the Southern pasta-like version. This lightened-up dish is inspired by the Midwest's version, and it's rich and satisfying enough to be a meal.

View Recipe: Chicken and Dumplings

 

Barbecue Pork Ribs

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Barbecue Pork Ribs

Pork loin back ribs are meaty and lean, so they cook quickly. Ribs are all about proper cooking, so that you get just a mouthful of meat you can tear with your teeth (proper barbecue doesn't actually fall off the bone). To ensure they get a nice char and have smoky flavor, start them on a grill with wood chips, but then wrap them in foil and finish in the oven. This ensures even cooking and allows the ribs to make their own pan sauce, which you’ll want to spoon over the top when you serve them.

View Recipe: Barbecue Pork Ribs

 

Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork

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Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork

This recipe was inspired by one created by Lee and Jack Manfred, a father-son cooking team from Vienna, VA. Its tender meat and flavorful, crispy edges has made it their legendary tailgate dish.

View Recipe: Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork

 

Pasta Puttanesca

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Pasta Puttanesca

The right amount of salt and spice makes this Italian pasta dish feel decadent, while fresh Parmesan, basil, and arugula keep it light. The canned tomatoes make it a quick dish, easy to pull together during the week. To make the cheese shavings, gently drag a vegetable peeler against the side of a Parmesan cheese wedge.

View Recipe: Pasta Puttanesca

 

Chicken Marbella

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Chicken Marbella

Various adaptations of this popular recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook have been a go-to dinner party favorite for decades. It’s a simple and delicious one-dish recipe for the busy host, and tastes best when prepared a day or two ahead.

View Recipe: Chicken Marbella

 

Maine Lobster Bake

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Maine Lobster Bake

An authentic lobster bake is a memorable and festive event. This recipe was inspired by food photographer Ted Axelrod. He steams lobsters, clams, corn, and potatoes in a large pot covered with seaweed. This recipe uses a simple stovetop cooking method.

View Recipe: Maine Lobster Bake

See More of America's Favorite Open-Fire Foods

 

Catfish Classique

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Catfish Classique

In the Deep South, cooks in local catfish houses typically coat the fillets in a mixture of cornmeal and flour, then deep-fry to a golden brown.

View Recipe: Catfish Classique

 

Chili

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Chili

Sometimes you just don’t mess with a classic. This Texas-style recipe takes chili back to its true Western roots. If you like, you can add beans to stretch the dish—but try it first as it’s meant to be.

View Recipe: Chili

 

Fettuccine Alfredo

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Fettuccine Alfredo

Restaurateur Alfredo Di Lelio is credited with creating this pasta classic, a favorite of American tourists who visited his restaurant in Rome in the early part of the 20th century. The original dish was made with butter, Parmesan cheese, and fettuccine.

View Recipe: Fettuccine Alfredo

 

Minnesota Wild Rice Soup

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Minnesota Wild Rice Soup

Here’s a hearty winter favorite from the upper Midwest. Wild rice—the official state grain of Minnesota—”pops” when you cook it, adding creaminess to the soup.

View Recipe: Minnesota Wild Rice Soup

 

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

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Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

Hearty and satisfying, this soup gets its rich creaminess from potatoes.

View Recipe: Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

 

Tuna Casserole

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Tuna Casserole

This American classic is a great cold-weather family meal. We take out some of the fat and sodium but keep the flavor and satisfaction. Petite peas add a touch of sweetness to this rich dish.

View Recipe: Tuna Casserole

 

Chiles Rellenos

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Chiles Rellenos

Unlike traditional stuffed chiles, these peppers are cooked on the stovetop with a small amount of oil and then baked instead of deep-fried. The result is a crispy exterior that rivals that of the fried version, but with significantly less fat and calories.

View Recipe: Chiles Rellenos

 

Cioppino

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Cioppino

This dish has been a Bay Area favorite for more than 80 years. Today, no trip to the City by the Bay is complete without it. Serve with crusty bread—ideally, San Francisco’s sourdough.

View Recipe: Cioppino

 

Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

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Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

Ranchero sauce gives this dish authentic Tex-Mex flavor. You can make the sauce ahead, then simply assemble the enchiladas just before baking.

View Recipe: Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

 

Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce

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Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce

Nothing coats pasta quite like whipping cream. This dish uses canned tomatoes and broth for convenience, and fresh basil is stirred in at the end for a boost of flavor. For a nonalcoholic version, replace the vodka with additional chicken broth.

View Recipe: Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce

 

Hoisin-Glazed Salmon Burgers

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Hoisin-Glazed Salmon Burgers

Quick-pickled cukes give these burgers some crunch. Use cilantro leaves on the burgers instead of lettuce for herby freshness.

View Recipe: Hoisin-Glazed Salmon Burgers

 

Beef and Mushroom Stew

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Beef and Mushroom Stew

There are just a few minutes of browning required before the oven does all the work for this dish. So easy!

View Recipe: Beef and Mushroom Stew

 

Bacon-Corn Chowder with Shrimp

Photo: Johnny Autry

Bacon-Corn Chowder with Shrimp

The trick to this light yet rich-tasting soup is blending part of the corn mixture in a blender. This technique creates a thick, creamy texture and eliminates the need for butter and heavy cream. This soup can also serve six as a first course instead of an entrée.

View Recipe: Bacon-Corn Chowder with Shrimp

 

Spicy Sausage and Mushroom Pizza

Photo: Johnny Autry and Randy Mayor

Spicy Sausage and Mushroom Pizza

Hot sausage gives this classic pizza a welcome spicy kick. Choosing turkey rather than traditional pork sausage keeps down the calories and fat.

View Recipe: Spicy Sausage and Mushroom Pizza

 

Stuffed Shells

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Stuffed Shells

What an American classic! Stuffed shells are a bit more involved than a simple pasta dish, but at the same time, a lot less fussy than homemade lasagna. This vegetarian version is packed with flavorful vegetables like zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach. Even though they’re lighter, these shells will fill you up.

View Recipe: Stuffed Shells

 

Jambalaya

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Jambalaya

Slightly spicy andouille sausage, shrimp, rice, and the cooking “trinity” of the Bayou—onion, celery, and bell pepper—give this regional dish its distinctive flavor. If you want to keep it mild, omit the additional ground red pepper from the rice mixture.

View Recipe: Jambalaya

Learn the History of Cajun and Creole Jambalaya

 

Lentil Soup

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Lentil Soup

This one-hour soup is surprisingly simple to make, considering how much satisfying flavor it delivers. Lentils, a nutritional powerhouse full of fiber; make a hearty winter soup when combined with a little bit of sausage and a lot of vegetables.

View Recipe: Lentil Soup

 

New Orleans Gumbo

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New Orleans Gumbo

The key to an outstanding Cajun gumbo is a deep, dark roux. To get it just right, use a flat-bottomed wooden spoon to get into all the corners of the pot, and be attentive. Cook, stirring continuously, especially during the last 15 minutes. Reduce the heat as needed if you’re concerned the roux is cooking too fast. There’s no rescuing a burnt roux—best to toss it and start over.

View Recipe: New Orleans Gumbo

 

Chicken-Matzo Ball Soup

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Chicken-Matzo Ball Soup

For a shortcut version of this dish, use unsalted chicken stock instead of making your own.

View Recipe: Chicken-Matzo Ball Soup

 

Oven-Fried Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce

Photo: Oxmoor House

Oven-Fried Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce

Fish sticks have been a staple since the 1950s. The premade, frozen variety offers a simple, inexpensive way to get dinner on the table, but this homemade version, which uses fresh cod, is superior in flavor, texture, and nutrition. They’re definitely worth the time it takes to make them.

View Recipe: Oven-Fried Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce

 

Chicken Divan

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Chicken Divan

In the early part of the 20th century, chicken divan was the signature dish of the elegant Divan Parisien in New York’s Chatham Hotel. Years later, the Campbell Soup Company redeveloped the recipe for the back of the can of condensed cream of chicken soup. This version skips the can, which reduces the sodium.

View Recipe: Chicken Divan

 

Chicken Riggies

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Chicken Riggies

This spicy, creamy pasta dish is a regional specialty from the Utica-Rome area of New York state.

View Recipe: Chicken Riggies

 

Split Pea Soup with Ham

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Split Pea Soup with Ham

Although a favorite across the nation, this dish was introduced to the U.S. by early English settlers. This recipe omits the salty ham hock, but adds smoked paprika for extra smoky flavor.

View Recipe: Split Pea Soup with Ham

 

Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

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Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

We have yet to meet an American who doesn’t love lasagna. Unfortunately, the original is often served with a side of, “But I shouldn’t….” This recipe will change all that.

View Recipe: Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

 

Chicken Tikka Masala

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Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken tikka masala is probably the most popular dish in Indian restaurants in America. Our version was inspired by New York–based Indian chef Suvir Saran’s take on the original.

View Recipe: Chicken Tikka Masala

 

Brisket Burgers

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Brisket Burgers

For a truly perfect burger, grind your own beef or ask your butcher to do it for you. Ground beef from the supermarket is often made from trim and scraps, which can mean inconsistent flavor.

View Recipe: Brisket Burgers

 

Kentucky Burgoo

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Kentucky Burgoo

This versatile Southern dish has many different interpretations. Here we use a combination of smoked bacon, Italian pork sausage, beef chuck steak, and flavorful chicken thighs to add heady flavor. Cook the rice in with the stew, so the entire dish is permeated with rich, robust flavor.

View Recipe: Kentucky Burgoo

 

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