Want to be health conscious and a red meat lover? Try bison.

Bison (also called buffalo) meat has a flavor that is similar to beef, though many say it is slightly sweeter. But what is most notable, especially to the healthy cook, is that the American Heart Association has included lean cuts of bison as part of a heart healthy diet.

Nutritionists like bison because it is low in total fat, saturated fat, sodium and dietary cholesterol. It also is nutrient-dense, containing a high proportion of protein and minerals relative to calories.

Ground bison and bison sirloin steaks can be found in most supermarkets, and an even wider range of cuts can be purchased from specialty meat purveyors.

Around the South Coast, Fred Meyers has a special every three months, and Ray’s Market in Bandon is said to have it at the butcher counter all the time. And Oregon Ranch Meats can get it, if they don’t have it on hand. Many stores, including Safeway, have it in the one-pound pre-packs near their selection of ground beef.

Bison can be used in the same ways you would beef, but the leanness of the meat comes with a downside — it has to be cooked carefully or it can easily dry out and become tough.

It is best to cook bison steaks to a rare or medium doneness, so if you prefer your meat well done you may want to stick with beef.

Ground bison is quite versatile and works well for tacos, chili, meatloaf and meatballs.

Grilled marinated bison steak sandwiches

Start to finish: 2 hours 20 minutes (20 minutes active)

Servings: 4

1⁄2 cup balsamic vinegar

1⁄4 cup finely chopped shallots

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Four 6-ounce bison sirloin steaks, about 1-inch thick each

4 slices sourdough bread

2 cups baby arugula, washed and dried

In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, shallots, olive oil and mustard.

Place the bison steaks in a zip-close plastic bag and add half of the balsamic dressing. Turn to coat well. Set the remaining dressing aside. Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 2 hours, and up to 8 hours.

Heat a gas grill to medium or prepare a charcoal fire. Remove the steaks from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Oil the grill rack using an oil-soaked folded paper towel held with tongs.

Grill the steaks to medium doneness, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Be careful not to overcook. While the steaks are cooking, grill the bread, turning once, until toasted, about 1 minute per side.

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Toss the arugula with the reserved balsamic mixture. To assemble the sandwiches, top each slice of bread with dressed arugula and steak. Serve immediately topped with a dollop of creamy horseradish-chive sauce.

Nutrition information per serving: 556 calories; 116 calories from fat; 13 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 105 mg cholesterol; 58 g carbohydrate; 49 g protein; 3 g fiber; 756 mg sodium.

Creamy horseradish-chive sauce

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Servings: 4

2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise

2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, horseradish, chives and vinegar.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 26 calories; 18 calories from fat; 2 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 4 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber; 81 mg sodium.

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