Cold Comfort: a New Take on Old Food Favourites

hot soupWhile we might rather be without the cold, this weather prompts us to crack open the cook books to the well-worn pages marking our favourite foods. Update your recipes with healthier alternatives for comfort foods from around the world.

Buon appetito

Italians have already mastered the art of delicious, healthy cooking with their use of fresh herbs like basil, parsley, rosemary and sage instead of fats, and the abundance of aromatic vegetables like onions, garlic and peppers. Try this tips for ‘healthy-ing up’ your lasagna!
•Omit beef and try ground chicken or turkey to lower fat.
•Go vegetarian with eggplant or spinach
•Choose low-fat ricotta and cottage cheeses
•Make or purchase a sodium-reduced sauce
•Whole wheat noodles add fibre and flavour; gluten-free rice noodles help balance grains
•Flavourful Romano and Parmesan cheeses are made with partly skim milk: one tablespoon of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano over pasta, in soups and chilli, or on salad for less than two grams of fat.

Esta bien

Whether to remind ourselves of a tropical vacation or simply because the flavours are exquisite, a Mexican menu hits the spot on a winter night. While TV ads show foods like tacos spilling over with ground meat, cheese and sour cream, authentic recipes are much healthier. Rather than fatty ground meat, chopped chicken breast is great in a taco. Carlos Amestoy, Chef/Owner of Carlos Cantina in St. Catharines, Ontario, agrees: we can have our Mexican fix and our waistline too. “Search out authentic recipes containing ancho, chipotle and poblano peppers, chiles pasillas or maseca corn flour. Fresh ingredients, not canned or frozen, make foods tastier and healthier. Finish your meal with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro for a taste of summer all year long.”

Spanish simplicity

Paella is a dish that combines medium grain rice with whatever is on hand for a delicious, easy meal. The most familiar version in North America combines seafood with chicken, but it’s also made with pork, fish eel, squid or vegetables. To reduce meat intake and lighten your grocery bill, try a vegetarian version with beans, eggplant, peppers, artichokes and tomatoes, seasoned with saffron. Cooked on the BBQ in a large paella pan, this comfort food is the perfect one-pot supper! Jais Fernandez of Embrujo Flamenco Restaurant in Toronto shares the secrets to perfect paella: combine Roma tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic and sauté in olive oil to make the sofrito (base); use homemade chicken stock for reduced sodium and better flavour; and finally, Fernandez believes that Spanish saffron tastes best.

Hurry home to curry

There are innumerable versions of this Asian delight, and it’s perfect to warm your insides on a cold winter night. And the various seasonings that make up curry – particularly curcumin and turmeric – are getting attention in medical circles for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help stave off cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. While many recipes call for the addition of coconut milk, you can reduce your fat intake by diluting the coconut milk with broth or water, or look for a recipe without coconut milk. For higher fibre and more nutrients, serve your curry over brown rice.

Nothing warms our hearts like comfort foods – except maybe spending time with friends. Why not combine the two with a cozy potluck? Comfy clothes and fuzzy slippers optional.

Feel good food

•Pass the bar. Daily consumption of antioxidant-rich chocolate containing 495 mg of polyphenols may help reduce levels of inflammatory compounds which contribute to development of atherosclerosis. Look for chocolate with over 70% cocoa, and enjoy in moderation.
•Whip your mashed into shape: for some of us, nothing says ‘home’ like a steaming bowl of mashed potatoes. But we lose a lot of fibre when we discard the peel, so leave peel on red or yellow potatoes for a heartier version. To reduce dairy intake, reserve potato cooking water to use in lieu of milk for mashing. For a high Vitamin A twist, try mashed sweet potatoes. To reduce starch, opt for mashed cauliflower for an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, manganese and omega-3 fatty acids: simply steam a head of cauliflower (florets) for 10 minutes or until tender. Mash as you would potatoes. Your kids will never even know!
•Chilli in here? Reduce your meat intake and up your fibre content by switching out meat in your chili recipe for extra beans and a good dose of protein, thiamine, iron, copper, magnesium and potassium. Red kidney beans are great, but white kidney beans, navy beans and black beans are delish, too!
•Fries with that? Reduce your intake of unhealthy saturated and trans-fats by baking healthy fries at home. Cut unpeeled red, yellow or sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Cut each half into ¼ inch wedges. Toss potatoes in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Experiment with paprika or cayenne pepper on top; or combine lemon juice, crushed garlic and dried oregano with oil and toss potatoes to coat. Turn onto cookie sheet. Bake in pre-heated 425 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until crisp; flipping once.

Who said comfort food can’t be good for you, too?

By Lisa Petty
Originally published in Canadian Health & Lifestyle

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