Eating for Life

Eating for Life | Cassoulet is a healthier twist on a French tradition

Editor’s note: This column was originaly published in the Feb. 14, 2007, Food section.

A traditional French cassoulet could never be misconstrued as diet fare.

The white bean stew made from sausages, pork and preserved duck or goose is undeniably tasty but rarely recommended for light eating.

Cassoulet is also a bit of chore to prepare, requiring the duck confit be made at least a week in advance. But The Star’s version of Winter Chicken and White Bean Cassoulet is as easy on the waistline as it is convenient to prepare.

Substituting chicken breast is a lean option, especially when the skin is removed. But we recommend starting with bone-in breast with skin halves rather than boneless skinless breasts because anything cooked with bone and skin will render a richer flavor.

The size of a lima bean, Great Northern beans add flavor and fiber to the dish. They also are typically grown in the Midwest.

Finally, the flavoring ingredients have been tweaked to heighten the dish’s nutrition profile: Fennel is rich in vitamin A and a good source of potassium, calcium and phosphorous; sun-dried tomatoes provide a tart tang and plenty of the antioxidant lycopene; and a splash of orange juice adds flavor with a dose of vitamin C, just the antidote to cold winter days.

Shopping tip:

Fennel has an ivory bulb with a feathery green top. In supermarkets it is often incorrectly labeled sweet anise. Although it can be served raw, when cooked it has a very mild licorice flavor. You may also use the feathery tops as you would any fresh herb.

Preparation tip:

Tempted to substitute canned beans for the dry? Convenience comes at a cost, in this case excess sodium. While the fiber content is the same, canned beans that have been rinsed still contain more sodium than dry. Soaking beans isn’t difficult; it simply requires planning.