CHEF Recipes

~-~-~-~Spinach and Black Bean Quesadillas~-~-~-~

Quesadillas are a great foundation from which you can build lots of quick healthy meals. Our colleague Pam McCall sent us a spinach and shrimp quesadilla recipe a few months ago, but when we went to make it, we couldn’t find any cheap shrimp. On the fly, we substituted black beans, another lean source of protein. Shrimp and beans are both great options! The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we eat more seafood and get more protein from non-meat sources like beans, nuts and seeds. Additionally, this recipe calls for frozen spinach, but with farmers markets re-opening all over central North Carolina, now is a great time to substitute fresh locally-grown spinach. And, as we progress into the summer, consider stuffing your quesadillas with other delicious locally-grown vegetables like zucchini, tomatoes, fresh corn, and bell peppers.

Here’s the CHEF break-down for this recipe:

Cheap: We made this quesadilla for $9.83. Canned beans are a great cheap source of low-fat protein!

Healthy: You’ve already heard us sing the praises of the main ingredients in this dish: canned beans (lean fiber-rich protein) and frozen vegetables (low in added salt and sugar and rich with vitamins and minerals). To make this meal even more nutritious, use corn or whole wheat tortillas instead of white flour tortillas. Whole grain foods like these provide fiber and may play a part in reducing a range of chronic diseases.

Easy: Most of the work in this recipe is in the assembly of the quesadillas. The only tip to keep in mind is to limit how much filling you use, so that it doesn’t ooze out once you fold and cook them. If you have children, set out the spinach, cheese, and tortillas and have them help you fill the quesadillas!

Fast: Keep your pantry stocked with canned beans and you freezer stocked with frozen vegetables and you’ll be ready to whip up these quesadillas any time! They take very little preparation and cooking time- we made ours in less than 20 minutes.


  • 1 – 10 oz. bag of spinach or one bunch of fresh spinach
  • 1 can of black beans (check the label for the brand with the least sodium)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup/8 oz. shredded reduced fat cheese (try monterey jack, pepper jack or cheddar)
  • 1 cup of salsa 1 package tortillas (look for whole wheat or corn)


1. Prepare the beans. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic. Open the can of beans. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat and, once the oil is warm, add the garlic. After 1-2 minutes, once the garlic is slightly golden, pour in the can of beans. Stir and increase the temperature slightly, bringing the beans up to a gentle boil. Boil for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture thickens slightly.

2. Prepare the spinach. If using frozen spinach, defrost in the microwave according to package directions. Then place the spinach in a strainer and squeeze out excess water. If using fresh spinach, rinse and dry it thoroughly. Then, snip off the bottoms of the stems, stack up the leaves and chop them coarsely into approximately 1/2 inch strips. (Bagged, pre-washed, baby spinach from the grocery needs no preparation.)

3. Grate the cheese.

4. Warm a medium-large frying pan on medium heat. Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees.

5. Once the beans are ready, lay out one tortilla on a plate or cutting board. Add a layer of spinach to one half of the tortilla, leaving at least a ½ inch of space around the round edge. Then, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of cheese and spoon about a ¼ cup of beans over the spinach. Fold the tortilla in half and carefully place it in the warmed frying pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes until tortilla is lightly browned and the cheese starts to melt. Press down on the tortilla with a spatula, then carefully turn the quesadilla to cook the other side, another 1-2 minutes.

6. Place finished quesadillas on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil in the oven to keep warm while you complete the rest.

7. Serve with salsa.

Nutrition Information: Split 4 ways, 1 serving of this dish contains approximately: 500 calories, 30 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, 55 grams of carbohydrate, and 1052 mg. of sodium

~-~-~-~Chicken and Vegetables Stir Fry~-~-~-~

Eat a Rainbow Week may have ended, but it’s important to keep up with that goal of eating a rainbow of colorful, nutritious fruits and vegetables every day. This CHEF recipe is perfect for helping to meet that goal! Not only is it cheap, healthy, easy, and fast, but this chicken and vegetable stir fry features a variety of vegetables such as red peppers, broccoli, green beans, and carrots to give the dish an array of colors. The beauty of this recipe is that you can use whatever vegetables you like. Although we made it here with frozen vegetables, it’s also perfect for summer when many fresh vegetables are in season.

CHEF Breakdown

Cheap: We cooked this recipe for $9.36, enough to serve four people.

Healthy: This recipe features a rainbow of vegetables. Frozen vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh because they are processed at their peak ripeness, when they are at the most nutrient rich.

Easy: We used instant rice and there were few other steps besides making the sauce.

Fast: To make this recipe even more quickly, you could use store bought sauce instead of making your own, but that will likely increase the amount of sodium in the recipe. This recipe takes under 30 minutes.


  • 2/3 lb. chicken breast
  • 2 cups instant brown rice
  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs. cornstarch
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 16 oz. bag frozen stir fry vegetables


1. Make rice according to directions on package.

2. Peel and chop two garlic cloves.

3. In a bowl, combine soy sauce, cornstarch, and orange juice.

4. Add the garlic and stir the sauce until it’s mixed.

5. Cut the chicken breast into small pieces.

6. Cook over medium heat until browned.

7. Add frozen stir fry vegetables and stir until cooked.

8. Add sauce.

9. Stir again and allow sauce to boil.

Serve and enjoy!

Nutrition Analysis (4 servings):

505 calories

24g protein

6g fat

92g carbohydrate

592mg sodium

~-~-~-~Warm Green Bean and Potato Salad~-~-~-~

(Adapted from recipe in Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley)

This recipe is a hearty meal for cold days. Even though it is winter, all of the vegetables in the recipe can easily be found at your local grocery store. This is also a great summer recipe that would be a delicious addition to an afternoon picnic. In summer, you can pick up ingredients at your local farmer’s market.

CHEF breakdown:

Cheap: We cooked this recipe for $9.87, enough to serve four people.

Healthy: This recipe features three vegetables which are good sources of fiber and vitamin C. If would like to reduce the cholesterol in the recipe from the egg yolks, you can use an alternate protein such as chicken.

Easy: There’s not much more to do besides boil vegetables and chop. Simple!

Fast: For even more speed, use frozen green beans instead of fresh. This recipe takes under 30 minutes to prepare.


1 large red onion, peeled and sliced thinly
3 Tbs. vinegar
1 Tbs. mustard
1 tsp. thyme
3 Tbs. oil
2 lbs. red skinned potatoes
4 large eggs
1 lb. fresh green beans


  1. Cut the potatoes into 1-2 inch cubes.
  2. Trim the ends off the beans and cut in half. String them if necessary.
  3. Thinly slice the onion.
  4. Warm oil in a sauté pan on low-medium. Add onions and cook until caramelized, 10-15 minutes. When finished move to serving bowl.
  5. Fill a large pot and a medium pot with water and bring both to a boil. Into the large pot, add potatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Add the beans and cook for 2 more minutes. Drain and place in serving bowl.
  6. Into the medium size pot, add the eggs. Simmer for 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs and transfer them to a bowl of cold water.
  7. While the potatoes and eggs are boiling, prepare the dressing. Whisk the mustard oil and vinegar together in a small bowl.
  8. Also, remove the thyme leaves from the stem by running your pinched thumb and forefinger from the bottom to the top of the stem. Chop thyme leaves.
  9. Mix the dressing and thyme in with the beans, potatoes and onions in the serving bowl.
  10. Peel and chop the eggs and add place on top of the salad.

Nutritional Value:

If this dish is split 4 ways, each serving will contain:

383 calories

13 g. protein

16 g. fat

49 grams carbohydrates

~-~-~-~Tuna Ball~-~-~-~

Appetizers and sidesWe had another great recipe submitted into the CHEF holiday recipe contest that might come in handy when you are entertaining this holiday season. Debbie Kotoris submitted a recipe for a Tuna Ball, which is a delicious and healthier take on all of those high fat dips and spreads we find at holiday parties. Using low fat cream cheese or “Neufchatel” helps make this a healthier appetizer option, and is a good substitution to keep in mind for other dip recipes. This is one of those recipes where you just have to open up packages and mix the ingredients together, so it’s very easy and fast. Serve with whole grain crackers and carrot sticks and you’ve got a delicious healthier party treat for your friends and family!

Tuna Ball


1- Large can tuna, drained

1- 8 oz. block of low fat cream cheese, softened

1- Small onion, diced

Couple dashes of garlic powder

Couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce

Hot sauce to taste

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)


  1. Flake tuna and mix well with cream cheese, garlic powder, chopped onion, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.
  2. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes to help it firm up.
  3. Serve as is or if desired roll into a ball and roll in chopped nuts.
  4. Serve with crackers or vegetables.

Nutritional Value:

If this dish is split 5 ways, each serving contains approximately*:

177 calories

7.9 g. fat

452 mg. sodium

5.86 g. carbohydrates

*This nutritional analysis does not include optional ingredients.

~-~-~-~Fresh Cranberry and Orange Salad~-~-~-~

Melissa Guilbeau won this year’s CHEF Holiday Recipe Contest with her Fresh Cranberry and Orange Salad. (Thanks again to all of you who submitted recipes!) This dish is bursting with bright fruit flavors and festive pumpkin pie spice. For dishes such as this where you need only a small amount of a spice, check out your local cooperative grocery store. While these types of stores often do not sell the cheapest foods, many sell spices in bulk, meaning that you can measure out the amount you want and pay for only that amount. This is also a good option if you’re experimenting with a spice you’ve never tried before and you don’t want to commit the cash or pantry space to a whole bottle of it.

The CHEF break-down:

Cheap: We made this Cranberry Salad for $12, and it serves 8-12 people. We used clementines for ease and bought a full container of pumpkin pie spice, but could have made this recipe for cheaper using normal oranges and by purchasing the pumpkin pie spice as recommended above.

Healthy: This recipe features three fruits as well as walnuts. The fruits provide ample vitamin C and the walnuts provide omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for a healthy body and may help keep your heart healthy.

Easy: This recipe only requires measuring, chopping, and mixing, and the chopping part is especially easy if you use a food processor or blender.

Fast: Using a food processor or blender to chop the fruit and walnuts is fastest and easiest, but even chopping by hand wouldn’t take too much time. Since there’s no cooking involved, you can prepare this recipe in a snap.

Fresh Cranberry and Orange Salad


For dressing:

Juice from 2 small oranges, or about ½ cup orange juice

Zest from 2 small oranges (optional)

4 to 6 tbsp. honey, depending on desired sweetness

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (may substitute with a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger)

For salad:

1 lb of fresh cranberries

6 small oranges, preferably seedless, such as clementines

1 medium apple, preferably sweet, such as gala

½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped


  1. To make dressing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk vigorously until well blended.
  2. To make salad, clean and drain cranberries. Place in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, then scoop into medium-sized serving bowl.
  3. Clean and peel oranges; cut into four equal sections perpendicular to the slices, then separate slices and place in serving bowl.
  4. Wash and core the apple; cut into chunks, place in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (but not pureed). Scoop into serving bowl.
  5. Place walnuts in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, then scoop into serving bowl.
  6. Pour prepared dressing over the salad and stir until well blended.

Nutritional Value:

If this dish is split 12 ways, each serving contains approximately:

106 calories

3.3 grams of fat

1.8 mg sodium

20.2 grams of carbohydrates

~-~-~-~Panzanella Salad~-~-~-~

As the weather starts to cool, our latest CHEF recipe provides a great way to enjoy and celebrate those last locally grown tomatoes of the season.  Panzanella salad is a hearty summer salad that features fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and basil. During the summer, when these items are in season and at the peak of their flavor, they can be found at a really good price at local farmers markets.  When we prepared the dish, we chose to substitute half of the regular tomatoes in the recipe with “sun-gold” sweet yellow cherry tomatoes.  These are like the candy of tomatoes, and available from many local growers, making them a special local summer treat, and a healthy one at that! For this recipe, we bought our produce from our local farmers market, the Pittsboro Farmers Market in Chatham County, NC.

The CHEF break-down:

Cheap: We made this Panzanella Salad for $8.88, using produce from our local farmers market, and you can easily serve 4-6 people for this price.

Healthy: This recipe features beans, which are low-fat, a great source of fiber, and when paired with bread, give you a complete protein source.

Easy: No cooking necessary for this recipe! Just chopping and mixing!

Fast: Canned beans are a quick way to add some protein to your meal.  This recipe should take under a half-hour to prepare.

Panzanella Salad

(adapted from the recipe found in Simple Suppers from the Moosewood Collective)


  • 1 small-medium loaf of crusty bread, 3-4 cups once cubed (try to get whole wheat, if you can)
  • 4 medium-large tomatoes, or substitute 2 of the tomatoes with a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 medium-sized cucumber
  • 1 can of great northern or cannellini beans (sometimes companies add lots of salt to their canned beans-check the label and if you can, try to get a brand with a lower sodium content)
  • 2 stems of basil or 10-20 basil leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. If you have time to plan ahead, cut the bread into 1-2 inch cubes and leave it out over night, lightly covered with a clean dish towel, to dry out.  If not, heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the bread cubes for 5-10 minutes on a cookie sheet.
  2. Cut the tomatoes and cucumber into approximately ½ inch cubes and place them in your serving bowl.  Roughly chop the basil and add it to the bowl as well.
  3. Open the can of beans, strain and rinse them and add them to the serving bowl.
  4. Roughly chop the garlic. Put the olive oil into a small microwave safe bowl (preferably, not plastic), mix in the garlic, and microwave for 10-15 seconds. This will mellow the garlic flavor and quickly infuse the oil with garlic flavor.
  5. After the oil cools a bit, whisk the vinegar into the oil and garlic mixture and pour this simple vinaigrette over the tomato mixture in the bowl.
  6. Add the bread cubes to the bowl and toss to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste and let stand for at least 10 minutes in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld.

From this foundation, you can dress this salad up in lots of ways:

  • Add chopped fresh mozzarella or cubes of reduced fat cheddar cheese
  • Add chicken, canned tuna, or chopped hard-boiled egg for an alternate protein source
  • Add onion or other chopped fresh herbs such as oregano for more robust flavor

Nutritional Value:

If this dish is split 4 ways, each serving contains approximately:

470 calories

9 g. fat

21 g. protein

81 g. carbohydrates

~-~-~-~Tuna Tomato Pasta~-~-~-~

Welcome to our new series, CHEF Recipes. Through this series, we will bring you recipes that are Cheap, Healthy, Easy, and Fast, to help you fit nutritious meals into your busy life. For this first installment, Tuna Tomato Pasta, we were inspired by summer and all of the tomatoes ripening in fields and gardens around North Carolina. We also wanted to introduce a great trick for maximizing flavor without adding too many more calories- caramelizing onions. Although it sounds like a fancy technique, it’s very easy and gives you rich, slightly sweet onion flavor, as the base to a delicious dish.

How did we do meeting our CHEF criteria with this Tuna Tomato Pasta recipe?

Cheap: Ingredients cost $9.63 without the use of a rewards card.

Healthy: Tuna is a nice lean source of protein and this dish relies on the powerful flavors of caramelized onion, garlic, and basil to build satisfying robust taste without too much added fat.

Easy: There’s no easier fish to prepare than one that comes out of a can ready to eat!

Fast: This meal should take about half-an-hour to prepare.

Tuna Tomato Pasta (4-6 servings)


2 Tbs. oil

1 onion

3 cloves garlic

1- 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes or 1.5 lbs of fresh, ripe tomatoes

2- 6 oz. cans of tuna (packed in water)

1 bunch basil

16 oz. ziti or spaghetti (white or whole wheat)

Salt and pepper to taste


  • Fill a pot with water for the pasta and set on high to boil. See pasta package for cooking instructions.
  • Peel and slice the onion into thin half-rounds.
  • Peel and chop the garlic coarsely.
  • Wash the basil. Remove the leaves from the stems, stack the leaves up and chop them coarsely.
  • Open the can of tuna and press or drain the water out.
  • Open the can of tomatoes and one by one, using your hands, crush the tomatoes into chunks into a strainer or colander (if you have kids around, they would love to help on this step!). Reserve the tomato juice left in the can.
  • Cook the pasta as to the directions on the package.
  • Put a large frying or saucepan on the stove on medium-low.
  • Add the oil.
  • Once the oil is warm, add the onions and stir. Allow the onions to cook slowly, for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. You should be able to hear a sizzle, but the oil shouldn’t be so hot that it splatters.
  • Once the onions are a color between golden and brown (caramelized), add the garlic and cook for another minute or 2.
  • Add the tomatoes and heat through, cooking for another 2-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point you can also add some of the reserved tomato juice from the can- add whatever amount will give you the level of sauciness that you like. You can also taste the sauce and adjust the flavor here. If the tomatoes you have taste very acidic or sour, add a little sugar; if they’re too bland or sweet, add a squirt of lemon juice to brighten them up.
  • Add the tuna. Break up the chunks as you stir. Heat through, cooking for another 2-4 minutes.
  • Mix the pasta, sauce, basil together in a serving bowl or in the pasta pot and add salt and pepper to taste.

Delicious served with a side salad or another fresh or steamed green vegetable. If you want to get fancy, and spend a little over $9.63, think about these additions:

  • More basil or other fresh or dried herbs such as rosemary or oregano
  • Capers
  • Grated parmesan
  • Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • Chopped roasted red peppers (available in a jar at most supermarkets)
  • Chopped olives

Nutritional Value:

Per serving, if the dish is split four ways, you are looking at approximately:

570 calories

8.5 grams of fat

27 grams of protein

One response to “CHEF Recipes

  1. Pingback: Announcing…The CHEF Holiday Recipe Contest! | Chatham County Public Health Department

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