When I wrote about redefining comfort foods and shared some of my favorite “new comfort food” recipes this time last year, I quickly discovered I couldn’t have picked a better topic for March. Spring officially arrives late in the month, but for a few more weeks many of us are still bogged down by winter weather and yearning for warmer, brighter days. Seed catalogs and fairs arrive to tempt us with garden dreams, but at my house, feet of snow still blanket the beds and the Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a “cooler than normal” spring for these mountains.
No wonder food cravings have set in. Solutions for dealing with the intense desire to eat high-fat, energy-dense, sweet, and/or salty foods—in other words, typical comfort foods—range from mind tricks to improving overall health. But what if you simply give in to your craving by making a recipe from scratch that uses real ingredients and includes the component you crave?
Giving In Isn’t Giving Up
If you’ve ever ignored a craving, you know it takes an incredible amount of willpower. If you don’t give in, an ignored craving can still taint your mood and sour your attitude. Many of us eventually give in—and feel guilt and shame at doing so. But what if you cared for your craving?
Just the process of cooking a meal can help satisfy a craving. As you cook, you think about what you will be eating, how you’re preparing it, and how you will soon be savoring it. By caring for your craving, you’re enjoying food instead of just filling up. Over time, you might even find that your cravings change to healthier and seasonal foods. As William Leith wrote in his fabulous article “Can we cook ourselves thin?” for The Telegraph, “What if cooking, in and of itself, promotes healthy eating? What if cooking, like a good recipe, adds up to more than the sum of its parts?”
By finding the root of your craving, you can prepare a solution high in satisfaction and low on guilt. In last year’s post on new comfort foods, I listed many substitute recipes for commonly craved foods. With a whole year’s worth of new recipes on the blog, you’ll find plenty of options to satisfy particular types of cravings.
When we crave salt, we often reach for foods that are not only drenched in salt but also fried, battered, or otherwise coated in unhealthy fats and preservatives. But what if you swapped salt for flavor? If you make one of these flavorful dishes, you may not notice the reduced or missing salt:
- Glazed Carrots
- Hot and Sour Soup
- Mushroom–Sweet Potato Salad
- Grilled Shrimp with Chermoula
- Vegetarian Smoked-Beet Reuben
If you have a sweet tooth, you probably find it hard to avoid refined sugars and sugar-heavy preserves, desserts, and even meals. Again, flavor comes to the rescue, making a little honey, maple syrup, or other sweetener go a long way:
- Pearl Barley Cereal with Honeyed Nuts
- Tomato–Apple–Basil Jam
- Honey–Chili Buttermilk Biscuits
- Cinnamon Couscous
- Baked Rice Pudding
Sometimes you just need to crunch. When my brain says “potato chips,” I’m quickly diverted by the jars of pickles filling my fridge and pantry, easily baked snacks, and other homemade crunchy foods:
- Baked Chickpea Snacks
- Crunchy Baked Lentils
- Fermented Dill Pickles
- Quick-Pickled Beet Snacks
- Pan-Fried Tofu
We easily demonize fats because unhealthy ones are so prevalent in processed foods. But when you’re cooking at home, you likely use healthier fats, in smaller quantities, than commercial equivalents intended to be cheap and easy to make, store, and transport. I’ve found that when I make high-fat foods, like full-fat sour cream, from scratch, the flavor is so powerful that I eat far less at each serving than I would of the commercially prepared version. And you’ve probably guessed that in some dishes, less fat and more flavor can still seem decadent:
- Homemade Sour Cream
- Tomato–Basil Mac and Cheese
- Spanish Shrimp in Garlic Oil
- Golden Baked Custard
- Freshly Ground Peanut Butter Cookies
Twice as Tasty
You aren’t alone if you take comfort in food as winter grabs one last toehold. This month, I’ll be sharing more recipes that fit my definition of comfort foods and put a well-stocked pantry to use. Next week, we’ll start the day with one of my favorite pancake recipes—besides sourdough. Later in the month, I’ll share a soup recipe that can be kept as a light lunch or filled out for dinner. I’ll also share one of my favorite comfort foods that’s a bit more labor intensive but so worth the effort: gnocchi. So hold on—spring will soon be here!
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