Remake of Risotto: Packs Nutrition and Preps Faster

Risotto is a creamy, smooth rice dish that is a lovely side to most meat main dishes. It is, however, fairly high in fat and calories, with plenty of butter or oil added during cooking.

Today's recipe uses a little oil, substituting reduced-fat cream cheese for less added fat. Brown rice is used instead of the more refined Arborio rice, which makes up most risotto dishes. Brown rice plus vegetables adds more fiber and nutrients to the traditional dish.

The other component of this recipe that makes it a keeper is that it is much faster than making traditional risotto.

Standard risotto recipes have you stirring the rice mixture constantly to keep the rice from sticking and to produce the desired creaminess. Most cooks these days don't have 30-45 minutes to stir one dish constantly.

This recipe uses instant brown rice, which substantially reduces the cooking time, and the creaminess is provided by the reduced-fat cream cheese.

If you prefer to use vegetables other than the ones listed, feel free to substitute, but the asparagus, red pepper and peas add both color and a significant nutritional impact to this dish.

Just one serving provides 120 percent of the vitamin C and 70 percent of the vitamin A you need for a whole day, plus almost one third of the folate. Red peppers are extremely high in vitamin C, and all three vegetables are high in vitamin A and good sources of folate.

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant for our bodies, helping to offset the free radicals formed when oxygen is metabolized. While oxygen is vital to our survival, its use by our bodies causes free radicals to form.

A free radical is an unbalanced molecule that causes damage to cells within our body. Theory has it that this damage is at least part of what causes the aging process. If we can prevent cell damage as much as possible, perhaps we can age better.

Will vitamin C and other antioxidants smooth out your wrinkles? No. But maybe optimal amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and other antioxidants may at least slow the effects of aging.

The hefty dose of folate found in a serving of this risotto enables the body to do one of its most important jobs, which is to make new DNA. This is especially important for rapidly growing cells, such as red blood cells and cells that line the digestive tract. We are constantly making new cells in these areas. If we don't get enough folate, our red blood cells don't form correctly and we may develop macrocytic anemia. With this condition, our body doesn't carry adequate oxygen to the cells, and we are likely to feel tired and run down.

Fortunately, many vegetables are good sources of folate, including asparagus and peas. Lentils and pinto beans are also high in this important vitamin.

This risotto works fine as a vegetarian dish by itself or with a salad, or serve it alongside grilled meat or fish.

Mock Risotto

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups instant brown rice
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups vegetable or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into -inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 4 oz reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup minced chives or scallion greens

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and salt and cook, stirring often, until soft and just beginning to brown, four to six minutes. Add rice and garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to one minute. Add broth and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for five minutes.

Remove cover and spread asparagus and bell pepper on top of the simmering rice -- do not stir into the rice mixture. Replace cover and continue simmering, adjusting the heat if necessary, until the liquid is almost absorbed and the asparagus is bright green but still crisp, about five minutes.

Add peas and cream cheese; stir until the mixture is creamy and the cheese is incorporated. Return to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated and the asparagus is tender, about five minutes more. Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Serve topped with chives or scallions and additional grated cheese if desired.

Makes four generous servings.

Per serving: 368 calories, 14 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 29 mg cholesterol, 51 g carbohydrates, 7 g fiber, 13 g protein, 665 mg sodium.

Megan Murphy is a Tennessee-licensed registered dietitian and assistant professor of nutrition at Southwest Tennessee Community College. E-mail

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By Megan Murphy

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