You may be pinching pennies this summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare restaurant-style food that tastes good and is good for you all in the comforts of your own home.

Tucson Executive Chef Richard Serna shares some of his favorite Smart Cuisine recipes with The Explorer’s readers.

What is Smart Cuisine?

“It’s a style of cooking that focuses on using fresh ingredients to not only provide a high level of nourishment, but also add bold, natural flavors,” explained Serna. “These ingredients, which I call ‘power ingredients,’ also provide a variety of health benefits when used with cooking techniques that retain those natural flavors and nutrients often lost during the cooking process.”

Serna oversees the menus at Cottonwood Tucson, a behavioral health and drug rehab center. His dishes help replenish nutrients that patients’ bodies have been deprived of for years. He believes in the positive effects food used as medicine can have. Take, for example, his recipe for Orzo Confetti Pasta Salad, which uses whole-wheat pasta.

“There are many different varieties are whole-wheat products that can be found at the local grocery store. Over the years, whole wheat has become popular for its health benefits. It is an excellent source of fiber. It contains high amounts of insoluble fiber, which is thought to reduce the risk of cancers, and promotes healthy digestion,” Serna noted. “It is a great source of carbohydrates that provide the body energy for daily activities. Replacing your diet with whole-wheat products from white and refined foods can help reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes.”

Serna’s Guacamole 3 Ways uses good fats to help with weight loss.

“Avocado has the highest ‘good fat’ content of any fruit, which helps speed up the metabolism, leading to weight loss,” he explained. “They are rich in vitamins A, K, F, C and B and are a great source of antioxidants. They have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Here are Chef Serna’s recipes for Orzo Confetti Pasta Salad and Guacamole 3 Ways, plus an added bonus recipe for Lemon Grass Skewers. Enjoy!

Lemon Grass Skewers

(yields 18 Skewers, 3 per serving)


6 Chicken Breast (4 oz)

1 Zucchini (sliced into ¼-inch disc)

1 Yellow Squash (sliced into ¼-inch disc)

1 Fresh Ginger Root (peeled and sliced thinly)

Lemon Grass Cores (cut into 3-inch long skewers)


Smoked Paprika



Dice chicken into thirds and then into half-inch squares. Each 4 oz. breast should yield six squares. Carefully cut a small hole into the center of each piece. Set aside.

Dice the vegetables into ¼-inch discs and slice the ginger in thick enough slices so not to fall off the skewer. Cut a small hole into the center of each. Set aside.

Peel the lemon grass until you reach the core and cut into 3-inch skewers.

To assemble, add one piece of chicken to the center of the skewer, add one zucchini and one squash on either side. Add two more pieces of chicken and finish off with a slice of ginger on both ends of the skewer. Repeat to all skewers.

Lightly oil, dust with the smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Place the skewers on a hot grill for about 12 minutes or until the chicken is done.

When done, squeeze fresh lemon juice over them and serve.

Guacamole 3 Ways

(4.5 oz per serving)

3 cups Avocado (rough chopped)

¼ cup Large Yellow Onion (small diced)

1 Medium Tomatoes (small diced)

½ Jalapeño (small diced)

¾ Lemons (juiced)

¾ Tbsp Cilantro (rough chopped)

½ tsp Garlic Power

1½ tsp Salt


In a large bowl, mash the avocados and yellow onion together. Once well mashed, stir in the jalapeño and the rest of the spices. Adjust salt to taste if needed. Once guacamole is to your liking, divide it into three equal amounts. Makes about 7 cups.

Mango Guacamole

1¼ cup Ripe Mango (small diced)


Add the mango to the first bowl of guacamole.

Roasted Pumpkin Seed and Cucumber Guacamole

½ cup Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (rough chopped)

3/8 cup Cucumber (peeled, de-seeded and small diced)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet and place in oven for 10 minutes or until they start to brown. Set aside to cool. Peel, de-seed and dice the cucumber. Add the rough chopped pumpkin seeds and cucumber to the second bowl of guacamole.

Tomatillo & Red Pepper Guacamole

¾ cup Tomatillo (medium diced)

1 tsp Oil

¾ cup Red Bell Pepper (small diced)


In a hot sauté pan, heat your oil, and then add the diced tomatillo; cook until soft. Remove from heat and cool. Add the diced red bell pepper and sautéed tomatillo to the third bowl of guacamole.

Pita Chips

(serves 6, three chips per serving)

1.5 Whole Pita Bread (about 18 pita chips)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees and bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown and firm. Let cool and cut into each pita into 12 equal triangles.

Orzo Confetti Pasta Salad

(one cup serving)

1 box Uncooked Whole-Wheat Orzo (16 oz)

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 cup Red Bell Pepper (small diced)

1 cup Green Bell Pepper (small diced)

1 cup Red Onion (small diced)

¼ cup Parsley (minced)

9 Fresh Squeezed Oranges (juiced)

½ Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar

1/3 cup Basil (rough chopped)

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

½ tsp Salt


Boil orzo with the 2 tablespoons of oil until tender. Drain and cool for the salad. Dice the bell peppers and red onion and mince the basil and parsley. Once all your ingredients are ready, add the cooled orzo to a large bowl. Toss all the ingredients with the orzo. Once incorporated, add the orange juice and rice wine vinegar. Toss with salt and olive oil.

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