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THE HEALTHY PLATE: Recipe for "fried" fish BLT pitas

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In terms of flavour and texture, it's hard to beat a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, reportedly one of the most popular sandwiches in America. Trouble is, it's not exactly filling.

I've always thought of the BLT as an air sandwich; it packs plenty of calories but demonstrates very little staying power. So here I've rejiggered the traditional recipe in ways that simultaneously slim it down and bulk it up.

The best news, to start, is that a little bacon goes a long way. I've used the real stuff — no turkey bacon, please — but less than usual, just a slice per sandwich. Meanwhile, I've amped up the protein with a small piece of crispy breaded tilapia. A sustainable fish choice, tilapia has a mild flavour with a firm texture, which keeps it from falling apart in the sandwich. But any firm-fleshed fish will do.

The tilapia is coated in flour that's been seasoned with smoked paprika, which nicely echoes the bacon's smokiness. The crunchiness comes in when the fish is dipped in egg whites and coated in panko breadcrumbs (everyone's favourite breadcrumb these days). The fish then is sauteed in a skillet and finished in the oven, a process requiring less oil than if it was cooked from start to finish on top of the stove.

I've flavoured the mayo with lemon and fresh basil. Basil and tomato go together like love and marriage. And speaking of tomatoes, now is the time to splurge on the beefsteak heirloom tomatoes that may well be gracing your local farmers market. A properly grown, fully ripe tomato in season is one of the pleasures that make life worth living.

The standard lettuce of choice for a BLT is romaine, which I like for its crunch. But you certainly could swap it out for spinach or arugula. Finally, I've sliced the pita pockets horizontally to form two thin rounds. This little trick helps to cut back the usual amount of bread in a BLT. You end up eating one six-inch pita instead of two slices of bread.

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"FRIED" FISH BLT PITAS

Start to finish: 35 minutes

Servings: 4

4 slices bacon

1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

1/2 cup light mayonnaise

4 teaspoons lemon juice

4 small tilapia fillets (about 2 1/2 ounces each)

Salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 large egg whites

2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Four small whole-wheat pita pockets, halved to form 8 rounds

1 beefsteak tomato, sliced 1/3 inch thick

2 large romaine lettuce leaves, halved crosswise

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment.

In a medium skillet over medium, cook the bacon until crisp, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

In a small bowl stir together the basil, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Set aside.

Season the fish with salt and pepper. On a sheet of kitchen parchment, combine the flour with the paprika. On a second sheet of parchment, spread the panko. In a shallow dish, lightly beat the egg whites. Coat the fish first in the flour mixture, then dip it in the egg whites, letting the excess drip off, then dredge in the panko, making sure the fish is well coated.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the fish and cook until lightly browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn the fish, add the remaining oil and cook until golden on the second side, about another 2 minutes.

Transfer the fillets to one end of the prepared baking sheet. Wrap the pita rounds in foil and place them at the other end of the baking sheet. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through.

To serve, spread a some of the basil mayonnaise on the cut sides of the pita rounds. Top 4 of the rounds with a piece of bacon, broken in half, a piece of fish, followed by some sliced tomatoes, a piece of lettuce and the second pita round, mayonnaise side down.

Nutrition information per serving: 550 calories; 280 calories from fat (51 per cent of total calories); 31 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 4 g protein; 890 mg sodium.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."

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