Balanced Living

Comfort Food with a Healthy Twist

Posted by Arja on November 14 in Main Dishes, Meatless

It’s that time of year again…  As the weather gets cooler and the daylight hours get shorter we find ourselves looking forward to warm, comforting foods like soups and stews.  Summer is a time of fresh salads, raw veggies and other ways to celebrate summer’s bounty.  Fall, on the other hand, is when we begin looking for heavier, warming foods to sustain us through the cooler days and nights.

There is nothing wrong with comfort food.  It does more than sustain our bodies nutritionally as it also provides emotional comfort.  Comfort food is not the same for everyone and in some cases, it’s also not particularly healthy.  In the quest for better health and nutrition, people must often leave behind comforting favourites that are laden with cream, high fat cheeses or nutritionally void “white” products (flour, sugar, white rice, bread, etc.).  Food that is comforting does not have to be bad for you and many delicious slow cooked stews and soups are a testament to this.  If, however, your family’s favourite comfort food is not a nutritional superstar why not consider giving it a makeover instead of giving it up?

Some of our family favourites are pastas and casseroles and with a few tweaks they have been able to remain on the menu.  Substitutes have included whole grain spelt pasta for white, increasing the vegetable content and reducing the meat, sweet potato instead of white, brown rice for white and the list goes on. 

One of my favourite things to make on a weekend used to be risotto.  Many people shy away from this dish fearing that it is too complicated.  Risotto is the exact opposite.  All it really takes is a bit of time and patience.  After switching to all whole grains I had not found a risotto recipe that satisfied me.  Alternative grains made for a nice dish, but I wasn’t getting the same satisfaction and anyone who has cooked with brown rice knows that it uses considerably more cooking liquid and takes much longer to cook.  After purchasing Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters” cookbook I saw a recipe for a brown rice risotto.  It calls for short grain brown rice, so you’re not losing the starch that creates the creaminess of a good risotto, but it also calls for par boiling the rice to reduce cooking time.  It was like a light bulb went off in my head.  Why didn’t I think of that myself?  I immediately set about adapting a few recipes to come up with this totally decadent brown rice risotto recipe.

The wonderful folks over at Front Door Organics provided inspiration with their Mushroom Risotto Recipe and Mark Bittman’s suggestion to par boil the brown rice worked like a charm.

Mushroom and Kale Risotto
Serves 4-6

14g dried mushroom of your choice (morels, chanterelles, etc.)
1 ½ cups boiled water
8oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
4oz shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1/3 cup finely diced onion (or shallots or leeks)
3 cloves minced garlic
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice
5 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
½ white wine
1 bunch shredded kale (lacinato, red bohr)
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup water
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped parsley

Step 1 – Boil water and pour over dried mushrooms.  Soak for at least 30 mins.  Drain, reserving liquid.
Step 2 – Fill a medium size pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add rice and cook for 10-15 mins.  Drain well and set aside.  Rice can be par boiled well in advance and kept in the fridge or left on the counter for up to an hour.
Step 3 – Put stock and reserved soaking liquid into a pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to keep warm.
Step 4 – Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large sauce pan/sauté pan, add kale and ¼ cup of water.  Immediately cover and let cook for about a minute.  Remove lid and stir about kale until well softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Removed from pan and set aside.
Step 5 – Add butter to same pan and heat until melted, then add onions and garlic.  Cook until softened and just starting to brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. 
Step 6 – Add rice and stir.  When rice looks shiny and well coated, after about a minute or so, add the ½ cup of wine and stir.  Cook until liquid is almost fully absorbed.
Step 7 – Add ½ cup of hot stock and stir.  After liquid is almost fully absorbed, add another ½ cup.  Repeat liquid additions and stirring.  The key is to add hot stock after the previous addition is almost fully absorbed and then stir – not dry, but not soupy.
Step 8 – After about 15mins of adding hot stock add all the mushrooms to the pan and then add hot stock.  Cook until mushrooms have released their liquid and stock is almost fully absorbed before continuing to add more liquid.  Continue to add stock until rice has a soft but still chewy texture.  This could take another 15-20 mins.
Step 9 – Stir in your reserved, cooked kale. 
Step 10 - Once your rice is cooked “al dente”, add parmesan cheese and parsley and stir.  Cover with lid and let sit 2-3 mins before serving.

This dish makes a wonderful vegetarian main dish, or accompaniment for some meat.  We often eat this as our “Meatless Monday” meal, though I must admit, it takes some time to prepare so it’s probably better as a weekend meal. 

Though the ingredients seem simple, mushrooms, kale, garlic, onions and brown rice are all nutritional powerhouses that support a healthy liver, immune system, digestive tract and energy levels.

Don’t be put off by the seeming number of steps involved here.  It’s mainly a case of adding liquid and stirring after each addition until desired consistency is reached.  Once you try this healthy, comforting remake I guarantee you’ll want to make it again and again!

Do you have a family favourite that could use a healthy makeover?  I can help!  Contact me and I’ll help give your comfort foods a nutritional boost!

arja pennanen lytle c.n.p. n.n.c.p certified nutritional practitioner

Arja is a Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for balanced living. She loves to help people sleep better, think better, feel sexier, and just generally feel better by putting the focus on eating foods that make you feel good. Arja uses whole foods, lifestyle adjustments, herbs, and some supplements to help people feel their best and achieve their health and wellness goals.