PUBLISHED: 4:15 PM on Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Dieting gets much easier in summer
You don't have to be on a diet to check out diet cookbooks. In fact, I've found they offer lighter fare, which are perfect for the summer when it's too hot to cook or even eat.

I'm not talking about some fad diet like the cabbage diet or the "Eat All You Want and Buy Bigger Clothes to Make You Feel Like You've Lost Weight" diet. But two go-to books around my house this summer are "The South Beach Diet Cookbook" and its companion, "The South Beach Diet Quick & Easy Cookbook."

Courtesy photo
  You don't have to be on a diet to check out diet cookbooks, which offer lighter fare for the summer.
I wouldn't say we are following any specific eating plan. However, we were eager to use the books when we realized that potatoes had worked their way back into our diet big time.

The once-a-week french fry treat has slowly become a regular part of my lunch. For a while, I was going crazy with my stick blender's whisk attachment, using it to make rich, whipped potatoes with heavy cream and butter. I thought I was being disciplined by taking the time to bake a potato in the oven or on the grill rather than nuking one in the microwave.

Though I love potatoes, they can help pack on the pounds (especially with all of the fatty garnishes).

I turned to the South Beach books because they are filled with recipes for real food that tastes good and is easy to make.

Sesame-Ginger Asparagus, for example, is a flavorful side. Blanche skinny asparagus cut into 2-inch sticks for a couple of minutes and then shock in cold water. Heat a pan and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Saute the asparagus with 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, ¼ teaspoon pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon sesame seeds.

The flavor is nutty and hot. We've since cut the amount of pepper flakes and sesame oil to less than half. Nonetheless, it still packs plenty of flavor.

Diet cookbooks may also introduce you to a flavoring that works with other dishes. That's the case with Baked Sea Bass with Chermoula.

Chermoula comes from Morocco and combines a bunch of cilantro, 4 peeled garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil and ¼ cup fresh lemon juice.

You make the chermoula like a pesto in a food processor. Chop the solid ingredients, then slowly add the oil and then the lemon juice.

Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

When you're ready to cook the fish (the recipe suggests 6-ounce fillets), season both sides with salt and pepper. Spread one- quarter of the chermoula on the bottom of a baking dish, place the fish on top and cover with the rest of the chermoula. Bake in a 450- degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes.

Chermoula works with salmon, monkfish or cod, and also beef, lamb or chicken.

During the summer I love cold soups, and two ingredients that work great together are cucumber and mint.

One recipe says to use a blender or food processor to puree three peeled, chopped and seeded cucumbers with 1 chopped scallion, a chopped and peeled garlic clove, 3 tablespoons mint leaves and ½ cup water. To that, add 8 ounces of reduced-fat sour cream, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon white pepper. Mix until blended.

Chill that in the refrigerator for about three hours and you've got a cool dish for a hot day.

Besides great food, diet cookbooks offer something else: Use them often, and you might not have to go on a diet.