The other day, my husband Chip and I were debating what to make for dinner. He said wistfully, “What I’d really like is fish and chips, with malt vinegar to douse the chips.”
Mmm, that did sound good. But I’d firmly resisted the temptation to get a deep fryer, even as I listened with private envy to my sister-in-law’s tales of making fried risotto balls, pumpkin donuts and light-as-air vegetable tempura with the shiny new deep fryer that she got for her birthday.
Was there a way to replicate this meal, in all its crisp glory, without the evils of frying? I decided to give it a shot. I bought tilapia, our favorite fish since it’s lean and versatile, and Whole Foods gets it from a very eco-friendly aquaculture source in South America. I picked up some panko crumbs, the Japanese breadcrumbs that are big as snowflakes, light and crunchy–a far cry from the mealy American breadcrumbs we’re used to. And I bought a package of our favorite brand of frozen oven fries. To balance out the starchiness of the meal, I also picked up some fresh broccoli.
We breaded the tilapia and fried it in a small amount of grapeseed oil. It turned out just as good as battered, deep fried fish (if not better!)–the breading was crispy and flaky, while the fish inside was steaming-hot and tender. I cooked the oven fries a little more than I normally do, so they were crunchy and golden–the better to hold up to generous lashings of malt vinegar. As for the broccoli, to stay in keeping with filling, satisfying comfort food, I prepared it my favorite way–steamed and then mashed like a potato, mixed in with a few dollops of yogurt for creaminess.
This meal made me think about how I might be able to prepare other comfort-food favorites in a way that makes them healthier. I’ve already been sneaking chopped vegetables like broccoli, green beans and edamame into macaroni and cheese for my daughter to make a wholesome one-pot meal (I add even more nutrition by sprinkling toasted wheat germ on top in place of breadcrumbs). And when I make pancakes and even pie crust, I’ve been substituting white whole wheat flour, which gives you the fiber and benefits of whole grains, but is lighter and milder than regular whole wheat flour.
Instead of cheese-laden pizza, we make calzones (also with whole-wheat flour); you can stuff them chock-full of good-for-you vegetables like spinach, mushrooms and peppers, and then just use an ounce or two of part-skim mozzarella to get that requisite cheesy gooeyness, plus a ton of lycopene-rich tomato sauce.
Whether it’s sprinkling oatmeal with wheat germ or flax seeds, using nonfat yogurt in place of sour cream on chili, in burritos, or on baked potatoes, or making risotto with barley instead of white Arborio rice, there are plenty of easy substitutions you can make to add nutrition into even the most sinful comfort foods.