Like most people, I am not immune to the seductive allure of comfort foods, especially when the days grow short and the weather turns brisk. There’s just one problem: all of those rich and soothing dishes can fill your belly with a lot more than intangible comfort. Yes, I’m talking about packing on unwanted pounds—I call it the comfort food casualty.
But I am a stubborn woman, and I refuse to give up the foods I like just because they may not agree with my waistline. Instead, I’ve come up with ways to lighten up some of my favorite hearty cool weather dishes, and I’ve not lost any flavor in the process.
This chickpea flatbread, also known as socca, is my new favorite way to make homemade pizza, and as an added plus, it’s gluten free. The dough is made from chickpea—aka garbanzo bean—flour, and it’s a protein-rich, carbohydrate-free treat that feels like nothing short of an
indulgence. I’ve topped mine with a pea puree and fried cheese, but let your imagination run free. Anything you love to pile on your favorite pizza will work here.
Buttery mashed potatoes have always been my No. 1 go-to food when I need a big helping of comfort. But since I can inhale pounds of the stuff in one sitting, I don’t partake as often as I’d like. The solution to this craving conundrum: my root vegetable mash, a healthy and hearty mash of carrots, parsnips and rutabaga, which gets a luscious punch from Greek yogurt rather than butter.
If bulgogi isn’t on your list of comfort foods yet, it should be. This Korean dish of fried thinly sliced beef marinated in, among other things, a sweet and hot mixture of sesame oil, dark soy sauce, ginger, garlic and honey, is usually served with heaping portions of starchy white rice. Here, I’ve made a vegetable “rice” out of steamed cauliflower flavored with sesame oil and black sesame seeds.
Finally, I’ve used spaghetti squash to transform another one of my dietary Achilles’ heels—spaghetti with marinara sauce—into a filling, flavorful and low carb version of the original. Who says you can’t have your cake (or pizza) and eat it too?
Bulgogi with Cauliflower ‘Rice’
For the bulgogi:
1 pound skirt or flank steak, cut against the grain into paper thin strips
(Tip: If you find it difficult to cut the meat very thinly, stick it in the freezer for 5 minutes. The meat will firm up and be easier to slice.)
For the marinade:
6 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1⁄4 -1⁄2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you like it)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1⁄8 teaspoon ginger powder
1 clove minced garlic
1 large green onion, chopped (green stalks included)
Pinch white pepper
Whisk all the ingredients together, add the meat, stir, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
For the cauliflower “rice”:
1 large head of cauliflower
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
Meanwhile, make the cauliflower “rice.” Chop the cauliflower into roughly equal parts. Steam until very soft, approximately 20 minutes. Mash with a potato masher until it has the consistency of short grain rice. Add the sesame oil, black sesame seeds and salt. Stir to combine. Reserve and keep warm.
When it’s time to cook the steak, heat a deep-sided skillet over medium heat and fry the meat in batches, stirring often, until brown, about 4-5 minutes. Serve the meat, along with any juices from the pan, over the “rice” and garnish with sliced green onion.
Spaghetti Squash with Marinara & Fresh Basil
Serves 2 as a main course; 4 as a side dish
1 3-pound spaghetti squash
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 -6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
1⁄2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
3-4 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake, face down, on a tinfoil-lined cookie sheet until tender. When cool enough to handle, shred each squash with a fork—spaghetti-like tendrils will emerge. Set aside.
While the squash is baking, make the marinara. In a deep-sided skillet over low heat, gently cook the garlic so that it infuses the oil. Before adding the tomatoes, remove the garlic cloves. Squish each tomato so that the sauce has a chunky consistency. Add the salt and pepper, and cook covered at low heat until the squash is ready. To serve, spoon the sauce over the spaghetti squash stands, as you would with pasta. Serve garnished with the fresh basil, fresh ground pepper and Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Root Vegetable Mash
serves 4 as a side dish
5 carrots, peeled and cut into rough chunks
1 large rutabaga, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
(note: cut all of the vegetables into roughly equal sizes)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1⁄4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh chopped chives, to garnish (approximately 1 tablespoon)
To a stockpot filled with salted boiling water, add the carrots and the rutabaga. Ten minutes later add the parsnips. Boil the vegetables until soft, for a total of 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside. In
a saucepan, saute the garlic over medium heat until fragrant. Add the root vegetables and stir. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Temper the yogurt and stir in to combine completely. Add the salt and pepper, stir. Serve hot with the chopped chives.
Chickpea Flatbread Pizza (Socca) with Pea Puree & Fried Cheese
serves 4 as an appetizer; 2 as a main course
For the flatbread:
1 cup chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Whisk together all the ingredients and cover. Let sit for 2 hours at room temperature. Meanwhile, make the pea puree. When you’re ready to make the flatbread, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a cast-iron skillet and heat under the broiler until the oil is just beginning to smoke. Remove and add the chickpea batter, swirling it to coat the pan completely. Return to the broiler and cook until the edges are brown and the middle is set, about 10 minutes. Allow to sit for a few minutes, and then gently slide the flatbread from the skillet.
1 tablespoon butter
1 small shallot, minced
1⁄2 pound peas, fresh or frozen
8 – 10 leaves fresh tarragon, minced
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
In a medium saucepan, saute the shallot in butter until translucent. Add the peas and tarragon, lower the heat, and cover until the peas are tender. Using an immersion blender, puree the peas to a slightly chunky consistency, adding salt and pepper to taste.
4 ounces halloumi or paneer cheese
In a frying pan, fry the cheese on both sides until brown and crispy. To assemble the flatbread, add the pea puree and top with the cheese, and garnish with chopped chives. Serve hot or at room temperature.