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Published on April 18, 2019

bowl of penne carbonnara

How to Substitute with Success

It’d be nice if there were some simple steps you could take to make any dish a bit healthier. Good news is, there are some easy substitutions you can try to add nutrients, fiber and other good-for-you elements.

Avera Executive Chef Nicholas Skajewski offers these sense-making ingredient swaps.

Instead of regular pasta, try spiral-cut kohlrabi.

Why: It is a fat-free food and adds more vitamin C than an orange would. It’s also very low carb!

Instead of butter, use olive oil.

Why: Most folks may already do this, because olive oil is full of unsaturated fats (versus the saturated ones in butter.) Remember that olive oil has a low smoke point, so it’s best used at room temperature or when cooking at low temperatures.

If you’re stir-frying or cooking at higher heat, augment your olive oil with canola or an oil that can stand the heat.

Instead of white rice, eat brown rice.

Why: Brown rich has higher levels of protein and fiber. It makes less of an impact on your blood sugar levels, too. Its taste and texture take a bit of getting used to, but it’s worth the effort. In time, you’ll hardly know the difference between brown and white rice.

Instead of sour cream, use plain Greek yogurt.

Why: This substitute is becoming more common, and it’s smart because the yogurt is higher in protein. Greek yogurt supports healthy digestion and immune health, too.

Instead of potato chips, eat air popped popcorn.

Why: Popcorn (air-popped) only contains 31 calories per cup and adds great fiber to your daily diet. For a healthy treat, top it with a little coconut oil and sea salt. Great flavor, no guilt.

This recipe uses healthier substitutes, and it's also heavy in fiber; the noodles are made almost entirely from red lentils.

Penne a la Carbonara

Serves 2


  • 10 ounces lentil penne noodles
  • 8 ounces pancetta, cubed in half-inch cubes
  • 1 cup water from the cooked pasta pot
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 3 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Coarse black pepper and sea salt, to taste


  1. Cook lentil penne noodles according to box instructions, taking care to reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Use well-salted water and cook the noodles to al dente “a bit firm.”
  2. In a cast-iron skillet, over medium heat, brown pancetta until crisp. Drain grease from pan and set aside meat. You do not need to complete clean the pan – some residue is desired for the next steps in recipe.
  3. In mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks and cheese; season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add cooked pasta, pancetta and egg mixture to cast iron skillet. Stir until smooth over low heat. Add pasta water as needed to thin the sauce.
  5. Garnish with more grated cheese, cracked black pepper and sea salt.

Source: Avera Executive Chef Nicholas Skajewski 

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