These healthier spins will make you feel better about trying the tasty trend.
If you spend any amount of time on any social media platform, you're sure to have come across the latest viral trend, the baked Feta Pasta, which got mega-popularity on TikTok. While I'm always up for trying the hottest new thing, I try and eat most of my carb-heavy dishes earlier in the day, so a heavy pasta and cheese dish isn't something I regularly make for dinner. But a dish along the same lines with a healthier twist is right up my alley.
Because I'm not a chef and I wouldn't even describe myself as an amateur cook (I'm best with the microwave), once I decided to put some healthier spins on this #ViralBakedFetaPasta trend, I turned to none other than social media to get inspiration and ideas for healthier options, which are below.
To get started, I reached out to nutrition specialist Ixiana H. Wilmot, co-founder of Guava Kitchen, a cooking and nutrition education resource for kids. I figured if anyone would have easy tips to make the feta dish healthy and kid-friendly, it would be Ixiana. My initial thought was to make the dish with fat-free feta cheese, but Ixiana explained why that wasn't the best option; "I would not go for fat-free anything," she explained. "Usually when fat is removed a lot of the nutrients go with it and other things are added to add flavor, like sugar."
Keeping this in mind, I opted to keep the full-fat feta, considering Ixiana also taught me feta cheese is "a great cheese because it's high in protein and not as high in calories," compared to other cheeses.
Here are some ideas on how to make the dish a tad healthier:
Swap out the pasta for plant-based noodles
You can substitute the pasta for a veggie-based pasta like zoodles (zucchini noodles) or spaghetti squash. Because spaghetti squash tends to get watery when it's cooked, you may want to consider baking the spaghetti squash and feta separately.
Remove the cheese and create a meat-based protein sauce
Finally, if you want to ditch the cheese (and you eat meat) you can make a similar style dish with just chicken. I saw this "Baked Tomato Pasta" on Kikifoodies Kitchen's Instagram page. Instead of surrounding feta with the tomatoes, Kikifoodies Kitchen surrounded the chicken with them and once it was cooked, shredded it up to make a sauce. For this full recipe and step-by-step video, check out Kikifoodies Kitchen's Youtube page.
Use high-fiber veggies
If you want to move away from the noodles altogether, you can try making the dish with a combination of roasted squash, zucchini, carrots, and sweet potatoes, Ixiana suggests: "it would make the dish very high in fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants like carotenoids and vitamin C," she says. You would add the feta in the middle of all these veggies and bake until the cheese is browned on top and the veggies are soft. Mix it all and you're ready to eat!
New spin: Add Za-atar chicken
The original feta pasta bake was made with just feta, tomatoes, and pasta. But after seeing a bunch of different versions, I decided to go with one that included protein. Instagram influencer and Forbes contributor Yola Roberts posted a video of the dish with added veggies and Za'atar seasoned chicken strips. After watching her video and realizing my mouth was watering, I knew I had to try that version of the viral trend. Here's how I did it:
For the sauce, I sliced red peppers and red onions, halved a bunch of garlic cloves, and added baby tomatoes to my version. I placed two blocks of feta in an aluminum pan, surrounded by the vegetables, drizzled olive oil over the cheese and veggies, and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Next, I made the chicken, which was as easy as one, two three. I put chicken tenders in an aluminum pan, cut up white onion, and seasoned everything with za'atar spice. Both pans went into the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. While that all cooked, I snuck in a quick shower (a win for this busy mama) and then put the pasta on the stove. While Yola used Banza chickpea pasta (another healthy substitute for regular pasta) I went with my favorite Vegetable Radiatore from Trader Joe's.
Once everything was cooked, I mixed the pasta and pasta water with the feta and veggies. I placed the chicken on top of the pasta and added some olives as the finishing touch. Not only was the meal a tasty dish for Monday night dinner, but there were enough leftovers for lunch the rest of the week. Honestly, I found the pasta to be even better on the second and third days.
I loved the dish so much, I reached out to Yola, who told me about her inspiration. "Growing up, whenever I would cook with my mother and grandmother, we would add za'atar to dishes to balance out the salt and to add more depth to the overall dish," she said, "The Feta alone can make the dish extremely salty so by adding the za'atar chicken brings out more of the creamy flavors in the feta and elevates the texture in the onions, peppers, and olives."
This Za'atar Chicken Feta Baked Pasta Dish is just one example of how to bring a healthier spin to the pasta trend that broke the Internet.
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