Maintaining

Comfort Foods (with A Clear Conscience)

So many good things in life come with bad calorie and carb counts. Especially our cherished “comfort” foods.

You know that broccoli cheddar soup that’s so damned good on a chilly fall day? That you feel so guilty about slurping down (after two generous helpings already)? With a little buttered cornbread on the side maybe?

Or those oily, salty can’t-stop–after-one French Fries? Even if they’re nominally healthy sweet potato fries?

Or the Buffalo wings that make a football afternoon (or even a Netflix movie) even more finger-licking perfect?

Alas, many comfort foods in their classic versions add unwanted fat, salt, calories, and simple (boo) carbohydrates to your diet. But hang on, stay in the kitchen. And drop the guilt. There’s a reason we crave certain foods: researchers tell us that so-called comfort food can reduce feelings of loneliness, something many are experiencing to a greater degree right now.

Also, comfort food (everything from steak and ice cream, to tacos and fried chicken) isn’t just about eating something because you enjoy it. It’s intertwined with emotions, memory, and culture. Everything may seem unfamiliar in a new country or even a new town, but those greasy home fries or chocolate cake keep us connected to our culture or past providing some comfort at the plate. Food and culture make up an important part of who we are, how we connect, what we value, and how we express ourselves as human beings.

Interestingly, an article appearing in the International Journal of Gastronomy in 2017 notes that the reasons for gobbling up comfort foods aren’t necessarily the same between women and men. Guilt, depression, and loneliness are the main drivers for women, the article says, while men typically use comfort food as a “reward for success.”

Whatever your gender or motivation, here are a few favorite comfort foods revisited and reimagined — guilt-free!

MOCK MASHED POTATOES

3-4 cloves of garlic

2 (1-pound) cauliflower heads, broken into a few large pieces (reserving stems)

1 tablespoon minced rosemary

4-6 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil

Thick plain yogurt

Salt (or salt substitute) and pepper, preferably fresh ground

Optional: Grated parmesan cheese or plant-based parmesan

  • Drizzle individual peeled cloves with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake in preheated 350 oven until soft (about 15 minutes).
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cauliflower and boil until knife-tender. About 15 minutes.
  • In a food processor, puree cauliflower with roasted garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste (or salt substitute). Add yogurt and remaining oil and cheese, if used.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more olive oil, salt, pepper, and/or rosemary to taste.

Variation: stir in a bit of guacamole, pesto, or hummus for a flavor spike.

 

BAKED CARROT (AND SWEET POTATO) FRIES

2 lbs of fresh carrots, or 1lb of carrots and 1 medium longish sweet potato

Olive oil or coconut oil

Salt and pepper

Paprika

  • Preheat oven to 425 deg.
  • Peel and slice carrots (and sweet potato) into roughly fry shaped sticks, not too big, not too skinny
  • Toss with oil and seasoning
  • Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet
  • Bake for 10 minutes on each side until cooked through and a bit crispy.
  • Serve with ketchup, salsa, or Greek yogurt. Spiked perhaps with a little sriracha.

 

PLANT-BASED BUFFALO WINGS

4 cups of raw cauliflower florets (white or purple)

½ cup plus ½ cup milk (dairy or plant-based)

1 tsp cumin powder plus 2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp paprika

Salt, pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 400-425 degrees (depending on your oven) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Combine liquid ingredients with spices until smooth and moderately thick. Dip florets in batter and place in a single layer on baking sheet.
  • Sauce: Combine ¾ cup of hot sauce with 1 Tbs coconut oil or plant-based butter in saucepan. Heat without boiling.
  • Combine cauliflower and sauce well in a separate bowl. Then return to baking sheet. And bake for 10 minutes on each side.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. Or keep it simple, and combine a little yogurt with guacamole or a few swirls of garlicky hummus.

-Frances Goulart

Photo by Mohammad Fahim on Unsplash

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