Comfort food is very defining of my cooking and eating habits and it can be both a source of great joy as well as a curse to the waistline if not managed properly, something I have been working on for years.
I tend to consider comfort food as those childhood classics that take you back to days of warmth and safety and home. It might be dishes mum made regularly or Nan would make when you went to visit, or even something you had just one time in a restaurant or at a friends house. I only recently discovered that ‘new’ foods can join your comfort food repertoire.
My innate sources of food comfort tend to be carb-loaded; bowls of pasta, especially the creamy kind, heaping clouds of mashed potato and enough hot toast to feed four dipped into a bowl of steaming hot baked beans. Sounds healthy right?
Well, in my years of battling my sometimes unhealthy relationship with food (which you can read more about here), I have found ways to satisfy my comfort food cravings and needs and wants in healthier ways. Comfort food doesn’t have to be over-the-top calorie laden and it doesn’t have to be restricted to days of heartbreak either, as long as it is controlled a little.
How do I do this? Well, I take a little time to weigh and calculate my ingredients. It adds no more than 5 minutes maximum onto cooking time and, if you’re like me and prone to over-indulging and gaining weight, it really is worth it and is not an extreme measure. It’s simple, instead of taking your bag of pasta and pouring it right into the pan where you could be cooking yourself double the required amount without even realising it – simply pop the pan on a scale, weigh about 100g per adult and you know what you’ve got on your plate. I do this with pretty much everything apart from vegetables (excluding high calorie vegetables such as potatoes and avocados) and low calorie seasonings such as soy sauce.
Use a measuring spoon to add your oil to a pan or a recipe. Simply pouring from the bottle could add a considerable amount of calories and fat to a dish with 120 calories per tablespoon. Somehow, pouring directly into a pan looks like less than it really is where the surface is flat. If I use oil in a pan, I find just a teaspoon is enough, after all, all you need to do is lubricate the pan. Other times, I make use of non-stick pans, 1 calorie cooking sprays and sauteing in a dash of water.
Most of all, I have learned to find comfort in naturally healthier options. Sometimes, if you try dishes which are comfort foods to someone else, you can see the appeal and soon begin to find comfort in them yourself. This happened to me with soup. I was never a big soup fan until a few years ago. It wasn’t something I really ate growing up and I always saw myself as a fan of more solid foods. I loved stews which were chunky and hearty but a bowl of soup didn’t really do it for me.
Soup appears to be a real comfort for so many. When Mat first starting staying with me in my flat about 6 years ago, I’d ask him what to buy him at the supermarket and he’d simply ask for tins of vegetable and tomato soup. I didn’t get the appeal, it was something I would eat if I had to, but not by choice. This all changed a few years ago when I went to a cafe for lunch, ravenous hungry after an exam, and the only vegetarian option was a ‘special’ sweet potato and butternut squash soup. Well, it was delicious and I had no idea that homemade soup, not out of a can, could be so good. I was hooked on recreating that soup and eventually I did. I’ve since found that whilst I’m still a little fussy about my soup and don’t like it all, there are a few versions which I could eat forever. The beauty is that they are so nutritious, filling, naturally low calorie and fat (unless a load of fat is added) and, of course, comforting.
The story of this Thai Yellow Noodle Soup is simple really. I had flu late last year and Mat made me my first noodle soup – a very spicy vegetable broth with sliced vegetables and soft noodles. I was unsurprisingly hooked and asked him to make it as often as I could get away with. Also, a few years ago at a work meeting, I had a vegetable Thai yellow curry for the first time and was so engrossed in eating this beautiful, vibrant, coconut scented dish that I think I missed half the meeting. As much as I loved it, I never ate it again. I could never find a curry paste without fish sauce added and making it myself just seemed too far out of my comfort zone. Until just a few weeks ago, when I found one and excitedly brought it. I made a vegetable curry with coconut cream served with rice and reminisced the first time I had tried this wonderful blend of spices. It then dawned on me that this would be great as a noodle soup, and it was.
The happy ending is that not only did I discover this ‘long-lost’ curry paste, not only did I fall in love with soup helping my unhealthy comfort food habits, not only did I get to discover using a Thai curry paste in a noodle soup; but I felt confident enough in my taste-buds to buy the exotic ingredients to make my own paste.
And so this colourful soup was born, to satisfy comfort food cravings from so many angles – it is hot, rich, flavoursome, filling and spicy to warm you on even the chilliest nights.
I am entering this dish into the Co-operative Electrical competition where UK bloggers are sharing their favourite winter comfort food recipes and this recipe has certainly taken my winter by storm. If you want to join me for a chance to win £750 worth of electrical goods, check out the information here and get blogging!
For the Yellow Curry Paste.
- 1/2 stalk lemongrass – sliced
- 2 fresh or dried red or yellow chillies
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar or date syrup
- 2 kaffir lime leaves or 1 tsp lime zest
- 4 tbsp lime juice
- up to 4 tbsp coconut milk
- Place all ingredients except coconut milk in a blender and blend well to a paste, gradually adding the coconut milk to get the right consistency.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
- To use, stir fry about 4 tbsp for about a minute until fragrant, then add some coconut milk and/or water to make a curry or use as below for noodle soup.
Veganized and adapted from NDTV Cooks
For the Noodle Soup: Serves 2.
- 100g/2 nests wholewheat noodles (or rice or bean thread noodles for gluten free option)
- 1 small onion, sliced into rings
- 2 tbsp Thai yellow curry paste (homemade as above or from a jar)
- 100ml coconut cream (or milk)
- 10 sprigs of fresh coriander
- Half a red pepper, sliced into thin strips
- A handful of fresh spinach
- 1 red chili
- Cook the noodles as per package instructions and set aside.
- Add the onion to a medium saucepan with a dash of water or oil or cooking spray and saute for about 5 minutes on a low-medium heat until starting to soften. Add the curry paste and saute for a further minute until fragrant.
- Add the coconut cream and about 250ml/1 cup of water and stir to make a broth. Add in the pepper and chopped coriander stalks (reserving the leaves) and cook for a few minutes until it just comes to the boil then add the spinach and allow to wilt, adding more water as you feel necessary to keep a creamy broth consistency. Stir through half of the coriander leaves, roughly chopped.
- Divide the noodles between serving bowls then spoon the broth over and garnish with slices of chili and coriander leaves.
High in vitamin A
Very high in vitamin B6
Very high in vitamin C