9 Superfoods You Can Turn Into Scrumptious Comfort Food
Nutritionists reveal the best ways to eat for your body and soul.
You can eat healthy and have it taste good
Foods that offer comfort often get a bad rap because they’re typically high in calories, fat, and carbs—plus they put you into a food coma. But it doesn’t have to be that way. From cauliflower parmigiana to stuffed sweet potatoes, there are plenty of ways to rethink comfort food utilizing superfoods—nutrient powerhouses—that pack large doses of antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals.
Healthy Cauliflower Parmigiana
“This dish was a result of a serious craving!” says food blogger Jessica Sepel of JSHealth. Traditional chicken parmigiana involves pan-frying the chicken, coating it with breadcrumbs, dousing it with lots of cheese, and serving it over a mound of pasta. Comforting? You bet. Healthy? Not at 1,000-plus calories! Sepel’s version is a great alternative, featuring one of fall’s best superfoods: cauliflower. Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which research has found may fight cancer.
“Full of goodness and so easy to prepare, it’s such a warm and nourishing option for those rainy nights,” says Jessica, who suggests topping off the recipe with a touch of Parmesan cheese and some fresh basil.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt (to taste)
- 2-4 tbsp of Napoletana/tomato-based sauce (good quality, no additives or sugar)
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- A handful of chopped basil
Pulse the cauliflower head in a food processor until it reaches rice-like consistency, and then heat up a large saucepan and melt the coconut oil. When the oil has melted, add the onion. When the onion starts to brown, gradually add the cauliflower rice. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt over cooking cauliflower.
When the rice starts to cook (four to five minutes)—add in sauce. Stir to combine and then turn off the pan. Sprinkle with Parmesan and chopped basil, and then spoon onto plates.
Black Bean Burgers
Sometimes you just want a big, juicy burger to bite into—even when you’re trying to eat less meat. Enter this black bean burger, brought to you by Katie Willcox, author of Healthy is the New Skinny. Black beans have fewer calories and less saturated fat than meat, while also being a great source of protein. Research has found that, along with their high fibre and protein content, black beans are a rich source of antioxidants. In fact, the dark skins of these beans are packed with bioflavonoids, which are potent plant-based nutrients.
Carrots also shine in this recipe. With a natural season of late summer and fall, this root vegetable is a good source of antioxidant agents. They are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B8, pantothenic acid, folate, potassium, iron, copper, and manganese.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 carrots
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 cans black beans
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 cup quick oats
- 1 burger bun (or bread of your preference)
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. Combine onions, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook until onions are translucent. Add carrots, cumin, coriander, chili powder, and cayenne pepper until carrots are tender. Remove pan from heat.
In a bowl, mash the beans and then add the contents of the pan along with the soy sauce and quick oats. Mix and form four patties. Place in freezer for 30 minutes to set. Cook patties on a pan coated in cooking spray over medium heat, flipping halfway. Add to bun and serve.
Stuffed Sweet Potato with Goats Cheese, Lentils and Avocado
People shy away from potatoes, but that’s a mistake when it comes to sweet potatoes: They’re an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), a very good source of vitamin C, and they offer plenty of potassium and dietary fibre, says Sepel. Their high levels of vitamin A have been shown to boost immunity.
This recipe comes from Sepel, and it’s basically a healthy version of everyone’s favourite baked potato with all the fixings. She calls this “the perfect comfort meal when you don’t want to put a lot of effort in, but are in dire need of something nourishing.”
- 4 sweet potatoes
- 2 avocados
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2x 400g tins canned, organic lentils
- 150g goat cheese, crumbled
- A handful of pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 2 tbsp parsley/coriander, chopped (optional)
- 1 tbsp chili flakes (optional)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line a baking tray and place sweet potatoes on it, evenly spread. Using a fork, poke holes in each sweet potato. Place sweet potatoes in the oven for 45-60 minutes, until soft and cooked through. Allow to cool for five to 10 minutes.
In a separate bowl, mash the avocado with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Drain, rinse, and dry lentils.
Cut the cooled sweet potatoes in half and scrape about half of the flesh out using a spoon.
Fill each sweet potato with lentils and crumble goat cheese over the top. Return to oven for a further 10 minutes, until cheese is golden. Meanwhile, evenly spread the pumpkin seeds on another lined baking tray and place in the oven for five to 10 minutes, until toasted and slightly golden. Remove the sweet potatoes and top with avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped herbs, and chili flakes. These are 10 of the healthiest vegetables you can eat.
Celery Root “Mashed Potatoes” with Asparagus
“Whenever I think comfort foods, I think mashed potatoes,” says Sahara Rose Ketabi, a holistic and Ayurvedic healer as well as a sports nutritionist; Ketabi is also the author of Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda. “Growing up in New England, mashed potatoes were a staple in our diet. However, they always left me feeling heavy and drowsy, causing a post-Thanksgiving slump.”
Sahara found celery root a perfect replacement for potatoes. Available year round but best in the cooler months, the root vegetable looks like a potato but is a superfood that’s lower in carbohydrates than potatoes while delivering more vitamin C, K, and B. This root is also known to reduce high blood pressure, with research suggesting phytochemicals called phthalides present in the superfood are responsible for this benefit.
- 2-pound celery root
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- l 1/2 cup of 100 percent coconut milk (the thick kind)
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt
- Pepper to taste
- Optional: ½ tsp mustard seeds
- Optional: 1 tsp coconut oil or ghee
Heat a big pot of water over high heat to bring to boil. Preheat oven til 350 degrees. Wash and peel the celery root and dice into small to medium-sized pieces. Once the water is boiling, place the diced celery root into the pot and allow to cook for 25 minutes, until tender. Drain water.
In the meantime, coat asparagus in olive oil and place on parchment paper-lined tray. Allow to cook for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven.
Once celery root is cooked, combine cooked celery root, coconut milk, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper and optional mustard seeds in a blender and blend until smooth.
Remove from blender and add optional coconut oil or ghee. Serve asparagus on the side. (Or, turn your asparagus into one of our springtime faves: Asparagus Mimosa Salad.)
Roasted Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Tofu in Peanut Sauce
A classic chicken stir-fry with peanut sauce over rice is a comforting dish, but it’s very high in calories. This healthier version from Willcox is vegan-friendly and is packed with superfood goodness, including broccoli. The cruciferous vegetable, which peaks beginning in October, is a great source of vitamins K and C, a good source of folate (folic acid) and also provides potassium and fibre. It’s also a good source of tryptophan, the amino acid responsible for the production of serotonin, the happiness hormone.
- 16 oz tofu, pressed and drained
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 2 cups cauliflower florets
- 2 teaspoons olive oil or additional sesame oil, divided
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups cooked rice
- 1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 cup 100 percent pure maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
- 1/4 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cube tofu and place in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet and cook for 25 minutes. If you aren’t using a non-stick baking sheet, lightly spray with cooking spray. Remove from oven and place in a shallow bowl.
Whisk together the ingredients for the sauce (sesame oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, chili garlic sauce, peanut butter) until creamy and smooth. Add 1/2 of the sauce to the tofu bowl and let marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Toss the broccoli and cauliflower with 2 teaspoon sesame or olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes until just tender.
Heat remaining olive or sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu, in batches, along with the marinating sauce until crispy and golden browned, about three to four minutes.
Arrange rice and veggies on a plate or in a bowl. Top with tofu pieces and drizzle with peanut sauce and peanuts. (Note, we also love adding a little sweet Thai chili sauce to the cauliflower.)
Easy Peasy Green Lentil Soup with Veggies
This warm and nourishing lentil soup is high in protein, and prevents sugar cravings later on, according to Ketabi, who came up with the recipe. “Lentils are superfoods in Ayurveda and something that can be consumed by any of the mind-body types or Doshas,” she says. Lentils support a healthy cardiovascular system, with various studies suggesting the folate found in this legume helps reduce the incidence of stroke.
The recipe also features in-season carrots and portobello mushrooms. Portobellos are powerful superfoods thanks to their high levels of B vitamins, antioxidants, phytonutrients like CLA and L-ergothioneine, selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, and even some plant-based protein.
- 1 cup green lentils, soaked at least 15 minutes (but preferably overnight)
- 5 cups water or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ tsp cumin
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ pound asparagus, fresh or frozen (cut off tough ends)
- Fresh cilantro leaves, to garnish
Your choice of veggies:
- 1 medium-large portobello mushroom, stock, and gills removed, cut into small strips
- 1 medium carrot, diced (about 1 cup)
- 2 celery stalks, diced
Cover lentils with water in a bowl and let soak overnight to aid with digestion. After soaking, rinse lentils and place in a large pot with water/stock, and salt. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, and your choice veggies. (Ketabi uses portobello mushrooms, carrots, and celery.) Cook on medium-high heat until the onions start to become brown, about three minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In the pot with the lentils and stock, add the cumin, ginger and bay leaves. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer on medium-low heat for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender. You can also use a pressure cooker to reduce cooking time. Add the chopped asparagus if using them and cook another eight minutes if using fresh; four minutes if using frozen. Asparagus should be bright green and tender—try not to overcook.
Remove from heat. Serve with fresh cilantro.
(Related: 3 Ways To Get More Lentils In Your Diet)
Green Superfood Pizza
“I’m all about listening to your body. When you have a craving for pizza… sometimes your body needs pizza!” says recipe creator Sepel. “But instead of making the heavy, cheesy, not-so-great-for-your body version, try this Green Pizza—a gluten-free, dairy-free and nutrient-filled dinner that doesn’t compromise on taste or crunch! Get creative with toppings—leftover roast veggies, mushrooms, or ricotta are delicious additions!”
- 2 cups almond meal
- 1/2 cup LSA or ground flaxseed
- 1/2 cup chia seeds
- 1/4 cup crushed almonds
- 1/4 cup psyllium husk
- 5 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 2 tbsp virgin organic coconut oil
- 1/4 cup milk or almond milk
- 2 cups mixed greens e.g. kale, spinach, rocket, silverbeet etc.
- 1/4 cup good-quality tomato/pasta sauce
- 2 zucchinis, sliced
- 1/2 cup shaved parmesan cheese (optional)
- 3-4 tbsp pesto
Preheat oven to 180 degrees (or 160 degrees if fan-forced).
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the almond meal, LSA/flaxseed, chia seeds, crushed almonds, psyllium, baking powder, and salt. Place the eggs, coconut oil, milk, and greens in a food processor and process until combined, making sure the greens have been very finely chopped.
Slowly add the wet mixture to the dry, stirring until everything is well combined. If the batter is too wet, add extra almond meal. If it is too dry, add more almond milk. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Take out half the mixture and shape into a circular pizza base with a thickness of one to two centimeters; you want it to be thin enough so it gets crispy. Repeat with remaining mixture to make a second pizza.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden around the edges. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Top with tomato sauce, sliced zucchini and parmesan and return to oven for a further 15 minutes, until cheese is golden and bubbling.
Remove pizza from oven, slice and enjoy.
(More into cauliflower as a base? Try our healthy cauliflower pizza crust recipe.)
Vegetable Coconut Curry with Ayurvedic Spices
“Indian food is one of my favourite comfort foods because it’s warm, creamy, and nourishing,” says recipe creator Ketabi. “However, most Indian restaurants use heavy cream, unhealthy oils and/or large amounts of ghee that make it extremely heavy on the digestive system, leading to that post-eating slump.”
This recipe contains two of the biggest superfoods—broccoli and cauliflower—as well as stimulating cayenne pepper to boost your metabolism and keep your body burning calories. The combination of ingredients was intentional, says Ketabi: “Anti-inflammatory turmeric is 50 percent more absorbable by your body when paired with black pepper and two to four times more absorbable when paired with fat like coconut oil. This recipe contains both. Turmeric is also an antidepressant and aids in weight-loss, leaving you happy rather than heavy after this meal.”
- 1 tbsp coconut or olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 2 cups broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, snow peas or bell pepper, diced
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp turmeric
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 14-ounce cans light coconut milk (sub in full-fat for a richer texture)
- 1 cup water or vegetable stock
- Optional: ½ cup pea sprouts or 2 cups leafy greens
- Pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt
- Black pepper, to taste
- Optional: fresh cilantro and lime as garnishes
Heat a pot to medium heat and add 1 tbsp coconut or olive oil. Add the onion and garlic, stirring until slightly translucent. Add the ginger, vegetables, and spices. Cook and stir continuously until softened for about 5 minutes.
Add coconut milk, water/vegetable stock, and salt. Bring to simmer then reduce heat and cover. Allow to cook for about 12 minutes. If you are including the pea sprouts and/or greens, add those in last for just two minutes so they don’t overcook. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Remove from heat and allow to cool before consuming.
You can pair this with quinoa, rice, cauliflower rice.
(Also try: Chicken, Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Curry)
One-Pan Japanese-Inspired Salmon
Being healthy doesn’t mean you need to spend countless hours in the kitchen, says recipe creator Sepel. “I am on a mission to prove how easy and fast healthy cooking can be. This took me no time to prepare and tastes absolutely delicious,” she says.
Along with healthful salmon, this recipe features sweet potato and broccolini. Broccolini is at its best during peak season: October through April. The vegetable is rich in vitamins A, C and K, calcium, folate, and iron.
When you want something saucy for comfort food, and your love for Japanese flavours is creating an unbearable craving, whip up this dish. It’s full of healthy fats, nutrients from the greens, and low-GI sweet potato.
“This is all about throwing a protein and a whole lot of veggies onto a baking dish and popping it into the oven. How easy is that?!” asks Kepel.
- 1 sweet potato
- 1 tsp coconut oil (or spray)
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 bunch broccolini
- 2 salmon fillets
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1/4 cup tamari sauce
- 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp honey (optional)
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Chop sweet potato into rounds (one to two centimeters thick). Arrange on a lined baking tray—leave room for salmon and broccolini—and drizzle with coconut oil or spray. Sprinkle sesame seeds and sea salt. Add to oven for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the marinade by combining all marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisking until combined.
Remove semi-cooked sweet potato from oven and add broccolini to tray. Spray broccolini with coconut oil and another sprinkle of salt.
Place two salmon fillets in the middle of the baking tray, surrounded by broccolini and sweet potato, and drizzle over marinade. Add to oven for 12-15 minutes.
Remove cooked salmon, broccolini and sweet potato from oven. Serve with brown rice, if desired.
Get the recipe.