Comfort foods: no doubt they are a necessity for our brutal and unforgiving winters, but they can also be unforgiving to your waistline. Thankfully two local chefs have tips for healthier takes on the comfort classics we all know and love.

Chef Brett McDermott- Our Daily Brett

Chowder is not exactly synonymous with health food, but cream and bacon aren’t the only way to pack flavour and richness into your favourite chowder recipes.

Chef McDermott from Our Daily Brett suggests swapping cream for coconut milk. It still contains fat, but it also comes with health benefits, like increasing your good cholesterol. Plus you can use light coconut milk if you want to cut down on calories.

All good chowders start with a base. Chef McDermott uses mirepoix – carrots, onion and celery – as the foundation for his chowder. He then adds spices like cumin and coriander to amp up the flavour. Rather than thickening his chowder with a roux, he takes advantage of the starchy quality of corn, pureeing it into the broth. Not only does this remove the extra fat that comes with adding a hefty scoop of butter, but omitting flour also makes the chowder gluten-free.

Depending what other ingredients you want to stir into your chowder, you could make it vegetarian, or even vegan. “Chowder is a great way to sneak veggies into a meal,” claims Chef McDermott. Sweet potatoes, kale, mushrooms, and of course, corn, are all great add-ins. If you want to stick with seafood, choose nutrient-dense fish like salmon or trout, both of which are packed with omega-3s.

Chef McDermott has plenty of other tricks up his sleeves to cut calories without sacrificing flavour. “Not only are pickles and other fermented things virtually fat free, they are also full of probiotics and healthy bacteria that’s good for your gut,” he says. Kimchi is a great example. Try adding it to scrambled eggs, fried rice (using brown rice would be even better!), or even turn it into a pizza topping. After all, healthy eating still has to taste good if you’re ever going to sustain it!

Chef Mark McEwan– The Main Dish

In our carb-phobic, gluten-free world, traditional wheat-based pastas often get a bad rap. Zucchini noodles are the perfect lighter “noodle” alternative. Chef McEwan from the Main Dish, a Calgary establishment dedicated to providing healthy meals for Canadian athletes, shares some tips on how to make a satisfying zucchini primavera.

In addition to zucchini noodles (which are made by slicing zucchini into thin strips and then salting them to release their moisture), he adds a myriad of roasted vegetables to the dish. Roasting adds concentrated, caramelized flavour without extra fat. “You can also steam your vegetables in an aromatic broth,” Chef McEwan suggests. Unlike water, stock provides extra aromatics to infuse into your veggies.

Garnishes can also be used for additional texture and taste. Whether atop zucchini noodles or curries and stir-fries, raw nuts add both crunch and nutrients. Although roasting them changes their flavour, it also decreases some of their nutrient content, so keeping them raw allows you to maintain all the health benefits.

Fat is not the enemy either when it comes to healthy eating. “Try upping the good fats in your diet by using avocado oil, olive oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil in your salad dressings and other recipes,” says Chef McEwan, “And make sure to use oils in a timely fashion; if they smell old or rancid throw them out.” The same goes for nuts and seeds, so to extend their shelf life, store them in the refrigerator or freezer.

Vegetables aren’t always a go-to when temperatures drop to negative, and melty, gooey cheese feels like the only viable option. However, using different preparations like turning zucchini into noodles, deeply roasting vegetables, and adding exciting garnishes can make it easier to opt for vegetables over fat and carbs. They might even help to brighten up a dreary winter day.

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

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