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Cut the sauce and eat lighter and healthier by flavoring your food with robust and delicious marinades.

Marinades Tenderize Leaner Meats

In days past, we finished off a dish with a sauce, usually laden with butter or oil plus a myriad of other ingredients to complement the flavor of the food we were preparing.

Eating lighter (and healthier), the sauces are now less frequent, and instead, we flavor the food first with marinades.

Why marinate?

Besides adding flavor to the food, it also very often helps to tenderize tough meat or enhance the flavor of a milder-tasting food. Since much of the beef, pork, lamb, and poultry are being bred leaner, marinades have become very important part of both indoor and outdoor cooking.

Marinades may taste like a complicated recipes, but they are actually pretty simple to concoct. Start with an acidic base (fruit juices or vinegar), then add spices or herbs to elevate the flavor of everything from meat, fish, or poultry to vegetables. Here's some other add-ons so that you can develop your own recipes for marinades without a drop of oil (or other fat).

To impart a flavor of the Southwest, Mexico, South America, the Pacific Rim, India, or Middle East, add a spice blend of ground chiles, oregano, ground cumin, and garlic.

To further develop an Asian interest, add fresh ginger, star anise, sesame seeds, and hot pepper sauce.

For a sweet, pungent curry flavor, combine ginger, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and cumin.

Shake up everyone's taste buds with a savory blend of mustard (Dijon or coarse grain), marjoram, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Balsamic vinegar is a godsend for people with diabetes -- it imparts a sweet flavor without the extra carbohydrates and goes well with most every food.

The longer the food is in the marinade, the more flavor you get. Just remember to marinate fish or seafood for no more than 30 minutes, or the fish will stat to "cook" by the acid (that's how seviche - raw fish or seafood "cooked" by marinating in lemon or lime juice for six to eight hours - is made). After 30 minutes, the acid begins to change the texture of the fish or seafood.

It's best to always cover and refrigerate any food as soon as the marinade is added. If you're grilling, remove the food from the marinade and let the food to return to room temperature. Cold liquids dripping from cold food will cause grill flare-ups.

If you intend to baste with the leftover marinade while cooking, be sure to transfer to marinade to a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a rapid boil for a three minutes. Since the marinade has been in contact with raw food, it may have some bacteria that needs killing by high heat in order to avoid any possibility of contaminating the cooked food. The boiling will kill any existing bacteria. Don't ever save a marinade to soak another food.

Glass Container The acids that you use in the marinade can penetrate into the dish you're using. For that reason, to be extra-safe, don't use an aluminum or metal container that might be a composite of aluminum and another metal. You also shouldn't use those colorful glazed ceramic dishes you brought back from your last trip abroad--the paint used might contain lead. We like to use a glass baking dish or a self-sealing plastic bag for marinating food. Using the glass dish will necessitate your basting the food several times during the marinating time. If you're using a plastic bag, you only need to turn the bag over to redistribute the marinade. Don't use the plastic bags that you grab in the produce section when you're buying fruits and vegetables. Again, the acid might "eat" through it. Better to invest in self-sealing plastic bags that are chemically resistant to the presence of acids.

Since none of these marinades contain any oil, the additional calories from the marinade will be negligible. One word of caution: if you are on a sodium-restricted diet, you already know that some of the ingredients used in some of the marinades are high in sodium. Always follow your doctor's and/or dietitians instructions on their use.

Did You Know?

Marinating with yogurt and spices creates more tender, juicy meat.

Following are some favorite no-oil marinade recipes on printable recipe cards.

Yogurt Dill Marinade

Yogurt Dill Marinade Recipe Card

Hot and Spicy Marinade

Hot and Spicy Marinade Recipe Card

Lime Garlic Marinade

Lime Garlic Marinade Recipe Card

South of the Border Marinade

South of the Border Marinade Recipe Card

Teriyaki Marinade

Teriyaki Marinade Recipe Card

Veggie Marinade

Veggie Marinade Recipe Card

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