No-fuss, healthy dining for the guiltless gourmet

Are those crispy fried, luscious latkes just a lingering memory? Or, are they sticking steadfastly to your hips?

If the answer is the latter, put those healthy New Year’s resolutions to work!

But that doesn’t mean life at the good table has to end.

Here is an informal menu sure to bring a glow of warmth and good cheer to a gathering of a few good friends for a delicious, healthwise dinner.

Easy to prepare and simple to serve, this meal, happily, is also calorically correct.

Start with a light salad of watercress, endive and pears dressed with creamy, fresh-tasting nonfat vinaigrette. A sprinkling of zesty feta cheese enhances the flavor of the pears.

The main course is a low-fat, Mediterranean fish stew, bursting with the flavors of tomatoes, garlic, orange peel and herbs. This dish is a most welcome departure after a holiday season filled with fussy and fattening foods.

Finish this leisurely, low-key evening guiltlessly, with steaming cups of coffee or tea accompanied by crunchy, Mocha Meringue Kisses.

Watercress & Endive with Pears and Feta Cheese | Serves 6

3 Tbs. chopped parsley
1 Tbs. chopped shallot
1 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbs. mustard
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey
3/4 cup nonfat or low-fat yogurt
3 bunches watercress leaves
2 heads Belgian endive, cut into julienne
2 Comice pears, cored and sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Combine all dressing ingredients until well blended. Toss with salad ingredients.

Mediterranean Fish Stew | Serves 6-8

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. saffron
1 28-oz. can Italian tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 inch strip orange peel
1 cup white wine
2 cups water
3 lbs. mixed white fish (halibut, snapper, cod, sea bass) cut into chunks
salt and pepper
chopped parsley
In large saucepan, heat oil. Cook onion, garlic, pepper and saffron, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, orange peel, wine and water. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, about 20 minutes or until thickened. Remove bay leaf and orange peel. Add fish and cook on low heat 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Mocha Meringue Kisses | Makes about 2 dozen.

1 1/2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 Tbs. instant coffee powder
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
3 egg whites
dash lemon juice
powdered sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 225 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine cocoa, coffee, cornstarch and sugar. Beat egg whites with lemon juice until they begin to peak. Gradually add the cocoa mixture, beating constantly. Beat until stiff and shiny.
Fit pastry bag with star tip. Fill pastry bag with meringue, and pipe mixture onto baking sheet. Bake 1 hour, turn off oven and leave cookies in oven overnight.
The next day, peel the paper from the cookies and store air-tight until ready to eat.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].