Cashew Chicken Conundrum
A Canadian reader sends in a nutty curry entrée for one of our most challenging makeovers.
The Reader: Abby Huck, 25, stay-at-home mom, Ottawa, Ontario
The Recipe: Indian Cashew Chicken
The Story: While living in Kenya with her husband, Huck was introduced to Indian Cashew Chicken―a dish of chicken thighs marinated in a nut-yogurt mixture and cooked with tomatoes and cream. The friend who prepared the meal shared the recipe, but when Huck read the ingredient list, she saw why the dish was so sumptuous. Among its elements were the aforementioned chicken thighs, along with plenty of heavy cream and butter―all sources of saturated fat. Huck tries to avoid such foods, and she knew the delicately spiced Indian dish would not fit into her meal plans. So she sent the recipe to Cooking Light for nutritional improvements.
The Dilemma: With one cup each of heavy cream and cashews, one-third cup butter, and two pounds of chicken thighs, the original recipe tips the scales at 712 calories and 51 grams of fat per serving. Besides the high total fat and calorie counts, one serving also contains 22 grams of saturated fat―more than the maximum 16 grams recommended daily by the American Heart Association (AHA) for a 2,000-calorie diet. The chicken thighs, cream, and butter also contribute most of the dish’s 200 milligrams of cholesterol per portion, or two-thirds the maximum daily recommended amount, according to the AHA.
The Solution: We focused on the high-fat ingredients, which also helped cut calories. First, we eliminated the butter for sautéing the onion, reducing 11 grams total fat (about seven grams saturated) and 100 calories per serving, and instead caramelized the onions in cooking spray. We finished the sauce with three tablespoons of half-and-half, in place of heavy cream, to preserve the dish’s signature richness, while shaving nearly 130 calories and 14 grams of fat (nearly nine grams saturated). We replaced half the dark-meat chicken thighs with breast meat, which trimmed another 80 calories and seven grams of fat per serving. Lowering the amount of cashews to two-thirds cup dropped another 65 calories and five grams of fat. Thick, tangy fat-free Greek-style yogurt stood in for whole yogurt. Because the lightened recipe has substantially less fat (and fat smooths the taste of pungent ingredients), we reduced the amounts of garlic and spices to maintain the subtle balance of flavors in the original recipe.
The Feedback: Huck and her husband found the new version just as tasty as the original, and her 19-month-old son requested seconds. Since she prefers white meat, she likes the addition of chicken breast. Armed with a revamped recipe, Huck says she is now thrilled to share this meal with those around her table.
Before | After
Calories per serving
712 | 340
51.3g | 13.6g
Percent of total calories
65 percent | 36 percent