Guilt-Free Comfort Food
Relive your childhood memories with healthy vegan-friendly versions of three American classics.
By Kathryn Budig
Signs of autumn are in the air—from crisp mornings and kaleidoscopic foliage to rosy cheeks and curiously vocal bellies. Ayurveda tells us that seasonal shifts manifest inside of us as well as around us. As temperatures drop, our natural hibernation tendencies kick in, and we tend to crave foods that provide warmth, nourishment, and, of course, comfort.
The idea of comfort food evokes nostalgic memories of childhood. Growing up in Kansas—where calories were never counted and food came out of packages with hard-to-pronounce ingredients—I adored a good hot dog, creamy macaroni and cheese, and, of course, a chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven. Now I’m all grown up and living the eco-yogic life in Los Angeles, where I’ve come to terms with the fact that dairy and I don’t get along, gluten tends to slow me down, and the more processed my food is, the less vitality I have.
Instead of letting my health sensibilities rain on my comfort food parade, I’ve come up with some delicious vegan alternatives to my childhood faves. A savory and satisfying finger food, the Grilled Carrot Dog will call you back for seconds. Pick carrots that are deep orange—the bright color signals more beta-carotene, which helps keep your eyes healthy and your complexion glowing. The creamy dairy-free goodness of Not Your Mama’s Mac ’n Cheese packs a protein punch with walnuts and gluten-free nutritional yeast, while the fresh herbs in the dish provide flavonoids, which help fight free radicals in the body. The vegan Happy Hippie Cookies—contributed by Ashley Swider, founder of YesUmay Cookies in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina—takes processed sugar out of the dessert equation and is a delight for anyone who struggles with dairy sensitivities.
After all these healthful indulgences, you might find yourself giggling and feeling like you’re four years old again, without a care in the world. So here’s to your comfort, health, and joy!
Grilled Carrot Dog
Yields 6 servings
For Carrot Dog:
6 organic carrots, scrubbed
1 small bundle fresh sage
1 small bundle fresh rosemary
5 garlic cloves in skin, smashed
1 orange, peeled and quartered
enough water to cover carrots
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons pink salt
1 bay leaf
6 brown rice hot dog buns
spicy brown mustard
1 small head green cabbage
1½ tablespoons water
1½ tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1½ tablespoons agave
pinch of salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
Place the carrots, fresh herbs, garlic, bay leaf, and orange into a large shallow frying pan. Cover with water and add salt. Bring to a light simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the carrots can be lightly pierced by a fork (be careful not to overcook or you’ll have mushy carrots on your hands). Remove the carrots and pat them dry with paper towels.
While the carrots are poaching, you can prepare the coleslaw. Finely chop the green cabbage and place it into a bowl. Whisk the water, vinegar, agave, salt, and red pepper and drizzle them over the cabbage. Give the slaw a good shake and set it aside for about 10 minutes to soak in the flavors.
Lightly oil a grill pan and bring it to a high heat. Massage the carrots with a bit of olive oil and sea salt and place them onto the hot grill for about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Don’t be tempted to fidget with them—you want nice dark grill marks.
Remove the carrots and place the buns facedown on the grill for 1 minute on each side to give them a golden hue. Remove and pile on the brown mustard, slaw, and carrot dog.
Not Your Mama’s Mac ’n Cheese
Yields 3 servings
½ box brown rice pasta (penne is best)
½ cup walnuts, toasted
2 tablespoons Earth Balance spread (or butter for dairy alternative)
3 tablespoons shallots, chopped
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup white wine (such as a Viognier)
1 cup nutritional yeast (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
1 cup rice or soy milk, plain
2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
½ tablespoon tamari
dried red pepper flakes to taste
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bundle fresh chives, chopped
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; generously salt the water and return to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions to al dente, drain, and set aside. Keep in mind that gluten-free pasta tends to cook faster than regular pasta; for optimal timing, start the pot right before you make your sauce.
Place the walnuts in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Stir the walnuts frequently and attentively (they burn easily) until a nice aroma hits your nose or they begin to slightly brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
Transfer the walnuts into a food processor with the Earth Balance and a pinch of salt. Blend until all the ingredients are incorporated and the nuts are finely chopped. Set aside.
Place the olive oil into a large frying pan and sauté the shallots and pepper flakes over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the white wine and let it cook off for 1 minute, stirring. Add the yeast, milk, mustard, and tamari, and mix. Pour in the lemon juice and walnut mixture, mixing well for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in fresh parsley. Pour the entire contents over the drained pasta in a serving bowl. Toss until the pasta is coated evenly, and top with freshly chopped chives.
Happy Hippie Cookies
Yields 20 cookies
½ cup sunflower butter
½ cup virgin coconut oil
1 cup natural cane sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup dark chocolate chips
In a large mixing bowl, combine the sunflower butter, coconut oil, bananas, sugar, and vanilla until they are creamy. Then add the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt until the dough is smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds on medium speed. Finally, add the chocolate chips and mix until they are well incorporated throughout the dough—again, about 30 seconds on medium speed.
Chill the dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Then use a small ice cream scoop to heap the dough in two rows on a lightly sprayed baking pan (use organic coconut cooking spray, if possible). Bake for 15 minutes at 325 degrees and voilà!
Kathryn Budig is an international yoga teacher by day, food wizard by dinnertime, and professional dog snuggler by night.