Despite all our clean eating and start-the-year-the-right-way intentions, sometimes cravings for comfort food kick in hard. When they do, rather than succumbing to the temptation of takeout or heading in the direction of that grab-bag packet of crisps, why not give the ideas below a whirl?
Each one takes a typically indulgent meal or dish and gives it a nutritious, healthy twist. The recipes also happen to be fast to prepare and seriously satisfying, which is what we all need towards the tail end of January.
Healthy breakfast that feels like a treat
When the weekend (finally) rolls around and you’re in the mood for an indulgent breakfast or brunch, it doesn’t get much better than a towering stack of tall and fluffy pancakes. While admittedly our version of the US diner classic doesn’t come dripping with syrup and melted butter, it’s really rather good as imitations go (and is much better for you than the original).
By that we mean these pancakes are protein-rich, can easily be made vegan, boast hidden fruit, don’t contain any butter or processed sugar and come together quickly – so quickly, in fact, you may well find yourself whipping them up on a weekday morning, too.
Recipe: Banana, chia and oat pancakes
Ingredients for pancakes
1 tbsp chia seeds
180ml milk (dairy or non-dairy), plus 2 tablespoons
1 very ripe banana
1 tsp walnut, almond, olive or sunflower oil
130g plain, buckwheat or wholewheat flour
40g old-fashioned oats
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1-2 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1-2 tbsp neutral oil, for cooking
Ingredients for garnish
Almonds or pecans
Agave syrup or honey
Put the chia seeds in a small bowl with the two tablespoons of milk. Stir and set aside for five minutes.
Blitz the banana, oil and remaining milk briefly in a blender.
Tip in the flour, oats, baking powder and cinnamon. Add a small pinch of salt and the soaked chia seeds. Blend until smooth.
Set a large, non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a ladleful of batter to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes until small bubbles start to appear on the surface. Flip the pancake over and cook for a couple more minutes. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remaining batter.
Serve topped with bananas, nuts and/or syrup.
The crisps and dip alternative
Ah, crisps (or chips, if you’d rather) and dips … the delicious downfall of so many a would-be healthy eater. For times when you don’t want to give up the pleasure that these nibbles bring, this lighter, veg-forward version will satisfy hankerings for something salty and crunchy admirably well.
Baked kale crisps (aka one of the easiest ways to eat a big pile of leafy greens) provide much-needed crunch here, while the veggies up the good-for-you factor exponentially. The smoky, slightly sweet roasted carrot and butterbean dip, meanwhile, not only tastes great, but is also packed with goodness: there’s protein and fibre from the butterbeans, a raft of vitamins and minerals courtesy of the carrots, and further nutritional heft from the almonds.
With kale crisps, there’s a fine line between snack delight and limp sorry mass. To avoid the latter, make sure the leaves are well spread out on your baking trays (ie not touching each other) and cook at a low temperature to avoid burning. The recipe below only calls for salt and pepper as a seasoning (and impressively uses just one tablespoon of olive oil), but you could riff on this interminably: add smoked paprika, chilli flakes, Parmesan or nutritional yeast.
Recipe: Kale crisps and crudites with sweet and smoky carrot and butterbean dip
Ingredients for the kale crisps
1 large bunch kale
1 tbsp olive oil
Ingredients for the sweet and smoky carrot and butterbean dip
500g carrots, peeled
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
Juice of ½ lemon
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
50g low-fat Greek yoghurt
1 x 400g can butterbeans, drained
Ingredients to serve (choose from)
Baby or heritage carrots
Baby cucumbers, sliced lengthways
Baby gem lettuce, leaves separated
Cauliflower or broccoli florets
Asparagus spears, lightly blanched
Sugar snap peas
Apples, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 150°C and line two large baking trays with baking paper.
Wash and dry the kale, then tear into pieces, discarding the steams. Tip into a large bowl, drizzle over the oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Massage the oil into the kale.
Spread the kale out on the baking trays, ensuring the leaves aren’t touching. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 22 minutes until crisp but still green. Leave to cool.
For the smoky carrot dip, preheat the oven to 180°C. Spread the almonds out on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook for eight to 10 minutes until nicely toasted.
Cut the carrots into batons. Tip into a large bowl, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the smoked paprika. Season with salt and black pepper and mix well. Tip on to a baking tray and cook for an hour, until tender.
Leave to cool slightly, then transfer to a blender. Add the lemon juice, garlic, Greek yoghurt, butterbeans, remaining oil and all but one tablespoon of the toasted almonds. Blitz really well, adding more oil if necessary, until you have a chunky dip. Scrape into a serving bowl and top with the reserved almonds and a scattering of smoked paprika.
Arrange your choice of vegetables, with the kale crisps and dip on a large platter and serve.
The main course game changer
It’s a simple but back pocket-worthy idea, this. When you’re craving a typically indulgent main course, take the core ingredients and flavours, and turn them into a salad. In doing so, you invariably make the dish lighter and healthier, yet still get to enjoy the essence of the original.
In the recipe below we’ve run with this thought and applied it to the restaurant classic that is steak and chips. Salt-speckled, vinegar-drizzled (trust us on this one) sourdough croutons take the place of chips, the steak remains (slicing it thinly against the grain means that a little goes a long way and it stays tender) and the blue cheese dressing stands in for a traditional blue cheese sauce. By all means, swap this for a mustard-heavy dressing if mustard is your condiment of choice when it comes to steak accompaniments.
The choice of lettuce is important here. You need a robust leaf (think romaine, kale, frisee) that will stand up to the punchy flavours of the other ingredients rather than wilting upon first meeting.
For a meat-free version of the recipe, swap the steak for portobello mushrooms.
Recipe: Steak and chips salad with blue cheese dressing
1 head romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
200g sirloin steak
1 tbsp olive oil
Ingredients for the croutons
3 slices sourdough, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp malt vinegar
Ingredients for the dressing
100g blue cheese
75g low fat Greek yoghurt
Juice of ½ lemon
Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a large baking tray with baking paper. Drizzle the sourdough with the vinegar and olive oil, and season generously with salt. Spread out on the prepared tray and cook for eight to 10 minutes, turning halfway, until crisp and golden brown.
Put the blue cheese, yoghurt and lemon juice in a blender, season and blitz until smooth.
Set a heavy-based frying pan over a high heat. Rub the steak all over with the olive oil and season. Add to the hot pan and cook for two to three minutes on each side, or until done to your liking. Remove from the pan and leave to rest for a few minutes before thinly slicing, against the grain.
Tip the lettuce into a bowl, stir through the dressing and croutons and divide among plates or bowls. Top with the sliced steak and serve.
Other riffs on the steak-and-chips as salad idea, include a pizza salad and a fish and chips salad.
For the first, make croutons from store-bought pizza dough scattered liberally with oregano. Once baked, mix together with halved cherry tomatoes, basil leaves and torn mozzarella, then finish with a dressing made from extra virgin olive oil, red vinegar and honey. Feel free to add your favourite pizza toppings to the salad: olives, cured meats, peppers, anchovies et al.
For a fish and chips salad, make crouton chips following the method in the recipe above. Prepare a tartar sauce-style dressing replacing half the mayonnaise with low-fat Greek yoghurt. Toss together torn iceberg lettuce, the tartar sauce dressing, croutons and blanched-then-cooled garden peas. Divide among serving bowls and top with oven baked fillets of breadcrumbed fish. Serve lemon wedges on the side.
Chocolate mousse gets a makeover
As desserts go, sure there are fancier, trendier, far more complex choices than chocolate mousse, but the popularity of the retro puddings endures. And with good reason: it’s smooth yet fluffy with an intense chocolate flavour and melt-in-the-mouth texture – what’s not to like?
Ah, well. The downside of the traditional version of the dessert is, of course, the fat content and calorie count. In the recipe below, we’ve done our best to remedy that, with a lighter but genuinely no less delicious offering (and a cheeky peanut butter twist).
Recipe: Chocolate and peanut butter mousse
3 tbsp natural peanut butter
100g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces, plus 2 tbsp finely grated to decorate
2 egg whites
1 tbsp caster sugar
50g full-fat Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp salted peanuts, finely chopped, to decorate
Set a small saucepan with the peanut butter over a low heat. Leave to melt, stirring occasionally. Spread out over the base of four small glasses of ramekin dishes.
Put the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (ensure the base of the pan doesn’t touch the water).
Once the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
In a clean, dry bowl whisk the eggs whites to soft peaks. Sprinkle over the caster sugar and continue to whisk until thick and glossy.
Beat the yoghurt into the cooled chocolate. Using a metal spoon, fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mix, then add the remaining egg whites taking care not to over mix.
Divide the mixture between the glasses or ramekins that you prepared earlier. Transfer to the fridge to chill for at least 2-3 hours or overnight.
To serve, top each chocolate mousse with chopped peanuts and finely grated chocolate.