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Comfort Without the Carbs: Dishes to Warm and Restore

By Catherine Newman

In the most unusual of times, we bring you low-carb comfort food for good days, bad days, cold days, and everything in between – these recipes will warm you right up and make you feel like things are okay in the world

These dishes are the fleece blankets of the dinner world. They’re so warm and cozy that they’ll give you a kind of “bring it on” feeling about both life and cold weather. They cook forever and smell fantastic while they’re in the oven or on the stovetop, and they look great by candlelight even if they don’t all photograph that well. And, yes, most of them are not exactly light – they’re more like stick-to-your-ribs fare, made to be eaten before you go ice skating in the dark or, even, before you curl up to watch whatever show it is you’re binge watching.

Low-carb comfort food might sound like an oxymoron – where’s the pasta? the potatoes? – but trust me when I tell you that these hit all of the same notes as the classics. They’re long-cooked and aromatic and totally like what your grandma used to make, if your grandma made the kind of meal you’d order at an American diner. Plus, they’re unfancy crowd pleasers, and the leftovers always heat up well. While none of them are going to win any prizes in, say, the salad category, they do all offer way more in vegetable matter than their carbier cousins, which means loads of bonus nutrition in every bite. So, hunker down, give in to the cozy, and enjoy.

1. Baked Zucchatoni

This is like a cross between an unfussy lasagna and a baked ziti: cheesy, rich, and deeply satisfying, despite the actual absence of noodles. Even my daughter, who tends to be totally skeptical about “fake vegetable pasta dishes,” loves it. Don’t be daunted by the ribboning of the zucchini with a vegetable peeler: it honestly doesn’t take that long, and the resulting strands are thinner and wider and just generally more noodle-like than what you’d get with a spiralizer. That said, if you want to start with a pound of zoodles, go ahead – just be sure to salt and drain them really, really well or the resulting dish will be watery. One last thing: if you’d prefer a meat sauce, go ahead and brown a pound of ground beef after you sauté the onions and before you add the tomatoes – and expect the dish to feed more people that way.

View the recipe.

2. Best-Ever Beef Stew

This classic stew should be the mascot of your winter kitchen. It’s completely delicious, and it smells fabulous during its long stint in the oven, filling the house with warmth and promise. I love mushrooms, and the fact that they’re healthy, but if you don’t like them or don’t have any, just leave them out. This stew takes a long time to make, but honestly, after the rigorous and somewhat tedious browning of the meat, the oven does most of the work. Serve it with Creamy Mashed Cauliflower and a nice sharply-dressed green salad.

View the recipe.

3. Chicken (Sort of) Noodle Soup

This recipe is designed around the chicken-eating habits of your household: if you love rotisserie chicken, but favor one kind of meat over the other, then just enjoy your favorite parts, and make soup with the rest of it! Or feel free to devote the whole chicken to the soup—just pull off your favorite meat and dice it, then add it back at the end once the soup is cooked. Please note that you don’t have to use all of the noodle-like ingredients (of course). The zucchini strands are tender; the mushrooms are chewy; the cabbage is strand-like and toothsome – but omit any that you don’t like or don’t have.

View the recipe.

4. Cottage Pie

If your own mum isn’t English, then maybe you don’t know the difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie – but I do! Shepherd’s pie is traditionally made with lamb; cottage pie usually means beef. But just use whatever meat – and whatever name – you prefer. This is homey comfort food at its best, even with cauliflower swapped in for the usual mashed potatoes.

View the recipe.

More comfort food recipes on diaTribe:

Cauliflower “Mac and Cheese”

Chicken Parmesan

Tomato Soup

Enchilada Zucchini

Creamy Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

Long-Roasted Chicken Thighs

Two-Bean Beef Chili

Creamy Mashed Cauliflower

Baked Chicken Fingers

About Catherine

Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop series of mission-driven cooking magazines. This kids’ cooking magazine won the James Beard Publication of the Year award in 2013 – the first non-profit ever to win it – and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. Her book "How to Be A Person" was published in 2020. She also helped develop Sprout, a WIC version of the magazine for families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as Seasoned, their senior version. They distribute over a million magazines annually, through paid subscriptions, doctor’s offices, schools, and hospitals. Their mission started with obesity as its explicit focus – and has shifted, over the years, to a more holistic one, with health, happiness, and real food at its core. That’s the same vibe Catherine brings to the diaTribe column.

[Photo Credit: Catherine Newman]

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