Winter is here, and with it, all of our harsh-weather food cravings, likely laced with more fat than fiber, more sweet than salad, more of everything that says “comfort” and little that says “creative.” While many of us take pride in inspired meal preparation for ourselves and our families, somehow in winter, “healthy” goes down the tube as fast as the mercury in a thermometer. We just want our favorite, feel-good foods.
Alison Phelps of Whole Foods is here to save the day—or maybe the season. Here are her no-nonsense, easy tips on how to make comfort foods healthier:
- To add savory flavor to dishes, consider using stocks and broths, fresh or dried herbs, wines, vinegars, ginger, garlic and onions rather than processed sauces or salt.
- Swap out traditional pasta for a whole-wheat version, or try using a spaghetti squash. The inside of this fantastic gourd is similar to a noodle’s shape and texture, and provides a healthier, lighter alternative to pasta.
- Loading these comfort foods with nutrient-dense greens such as kale, collards or spinach is a great way to warm up and get a good portion of healthy vegetables.
- A common trap with comfort foods is sodium. By using fresh vegetables, herbs and spices, and low-sodium options, you can cut out the excessive salt.
- Swap high-fat dairy ingredients for avocado and pureed fruits and vegetables. They add the needed creaminess without all the fat and refined sugar.
- Nuts are also easy to turn into a cream to replace traditional sour cream frequently called for in hearty recipes. Nuts have nutrients and healthy fats, and can bring richness to recipes like mushroom stroganoff (see recipe above).
- When choosing meats, make sure to look for lean cuts. Ground bison or turkey is a great alternative for traditional ground beef. If you want to try a non-meat option, fiber-packed brown lentils are a great alternative, or try half lentils, half meat.
Firm, flavorful mushroom varieties like cremini, portobello, shiitake and oyster are ideal for this delicious vegan recipe. It’s excellent served over barley.
- ⅔ cup raw cashews
- 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 1½ lbs. assorted mushrooms
- 3 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2½ cups mushroom broth or low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp. paprika
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley or dill
Place cashews in a small bowl, and cover by about 1 inch with boiling water. Let soak 30 minutes. Drain, discarding soaking liquid. In a blender, combine cashews, ¼ cup water, vinegar and salt, and blend until smooth; add more water a tablespoon at a time as needed to make a cashew cream. Halve or quarter smaller mushrooms, and thickly slice larger ones. Place mushrooms and shallots in a heavy pot, and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms begin to brown; add broth, a few Tbsp. at a time, to keep mushrooms from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook, adding more broth as needed, until mushrooms are browned and softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in remaining broth, mustard, paprika and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until mushrooms are very tender and sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes. Stir in ½ cup of cashew cream. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve with remaining cashew cream on the side.