by Michael Vyskocil, photography by Tara Hope Cofiell

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about the importance of protein in our diet. Protein is essential for building muscle, maintaining hemoglobin in the blood and contributing to enzyme balance in the body. High-protein foods also play an important role in weight management.

Here is a selection of high-protein dishes you can prepare at home. More than just breakfast fare, eggs are important sources of protein and can be served for lunch and dinner. Scallops are not only protein gifts from the sea, but are also great for providing heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Grains like quinoa contribute iron, fiber and protein. Even desserts, like a cottage cheese cheesecake, can make achieving a high-protein diet sweeter.

Seared Scallops with Orange, Tarragon and Arugula

12 large sea scallops (about 1 pound), tough side muscles removed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large Valencia oranges, peeled and sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
8 cups torn fresh arugula, washed and dried

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, toss scallops with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon tarragon, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops; cook, turning once, until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer cooked scallops to baking sheet; lightly cover sheet with a piece of parchment-covered aluminum foil and transfer to oven to keep warm until ready to serve.
  2. Arrange orange slices and red onion slices on four dinner plates. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together remaining tablespoon olive oil, orange zest, orange juice and white-wine vinegar. Season with remaining ? teaspoon salt and pepper. Pour dressing over arugula and toss lightly to coat.
  3. Arrange arugula alongside orange and onion slices. Divide scallops evenly among prepared plates. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon tarragon and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Cherry Tomato and Cottage Cheese Frittata

For a lower cholesterol version of this frittata, use seven whole eggs and three egg whites, or skip the yolks entirely and use only 10 egg whites.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, halved and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 cups cherry tomatoes, lightly washed and dried
1 1/2teaspoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Coarse salt
10 large, whole eggs
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat olive oil in a nonstick, ovenproof 9- or 10-inch skillet over medium heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion slices are golden and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and parsley; cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and remove skillet from heat.
  2. Whisk eggs in a large mixing bowl until they are frothy. Stir in cottage cheese, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Return skillet to stovetop and place over medium heat. Immediately pour egg mixture into skillet and lightly redistribute onion and tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 2 minutes. As eggs cook, move them away from the sides of the skillet using a rubber spatula, and let uncooked eggs run underneath the cooked portion. Cook frittata until just beginning to set, about 2 minutes.
  3. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake until frittata is just set and the top is lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Serve frittata in the skillet or transfer to a serving platter. Makes 6 servings.

Quinoa Cakes

Pronounced KEEN-WAH, this grain is packed full of protein, iron and fiber.
This adaptation of rice cakes can be served on top of salad greens or served as a side dish.

2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth, skimmed of fat
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup coarsely ground bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. In a large saucepan, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add red onion; cook until onion is tender but not brown. Add quinoa. Cook and stir for about 2 minutes more.
  2. Add chicken broth to saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, lightly fluff quinoa with a fork.
  3. Transfer cooked quinoa to a large mixing bowl. Add eggs to quinoa and stir lightly to combine. Gently fold in bread crumbs. Stir in grated Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. When ready to serve quinoa cakes, preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Form mixture into rounds. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 quinoa cakes to the skillet. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden. Turn quinoa cakes over and cook 4 to 5 minutes more, or until second side is golden. Remove from heat. Transfer to a baking sheet; keep warm in preheated oven. Repeat cooking with remaining quinoa cakes, adding remaining tablespoon of olive oil as necessary. Serve warm. Makes 4 Servings.

Cottage Cheese Cheesecake

This cottage cheese cheesecake makes a powerful, high-protein alternative to the traditional cream cheese version.

Unsalted butter, for buttering pan
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 cup granulated sugar
2 pounds whole milk cottage cheese
Zest of 1 lemon and zest of 1 orange
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Position oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Tap out excess. Place springform pan on a parchment-lined baking sheet and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour and sugar.
  4. In a large bowl, combine cottage cheese, lemon and orange zest. Whisk until mixture is smooth. Add flour and sugar mixture and stir to combine.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, and stir gently after each addition. Stir in the vanilla and salt.
  6. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cheesecake is a light golden color. The center of the cheesecake should be fairly firm. Test firmness by inserting the tip of a sharp knife into the center of the cake (it should come out clean).
  7. Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool in the springform pan on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator until the cheesecake is chilled, about 2 to 3 hours. Makes 10 servings.