Winter comfort foods without all the carbs and fat

It's been almost a month since the holidays — are you feeling better yet? Thanks to a calorie-counting app on my smartphone and a strategic diet soda during my afternoon sweet-tooth cravings, I've gotten my diet back in balance, and I am feeling much healthier.

I've been trying not only to cut the high fat, sugar and excessive complex carbohydrates out of my diet but to infuse it with more of the good stuff too. These include greens; I have had spinach, Swiss chard and bok choy all in the same week. And call it psychosomatic if you want, but I feel like I have more energy and am less fuzzy-headed.


But it is winter, and it is freezing out, and I still crave those comfort foods. So I've been trying to look for recipes that fulfill those flavors I'm seeking without the fat and carbs.

My first recipe today is one that I kind of adjusted from a recipe I found online. It's a quinoa fiesta bake, named so for having Mexican flavors. Quinoa is used instead of rice and is a better grain because it's actually the seed of a grain and has more protein, fewer carbs and more antioxidants and anti-inflammation nutrients.


The original recipe called for making enchilada sauce using tomato sauce and adding chipotle peppers in adobo sauce — an ingredient that always annoys me anyway because it's usually only used a tablespoon at a time but only comes in 4- to 8-ounce containers, and I think their spiciness level can be unpredictable. So I followed their recipe — even washing the insides of the peppers out to release the seeds (which can harbor a lot of the spicy flavor), and I still thought the enchilada sauce was too spicy and only ended up using a quarter of it. To prevent the same frustration, I recommend just buying an enchilada sauce that you like. It also did not have any chicken, and I felt like it wasn't going to be filling enough, so I added some cooked chicken breast, and the result was very satisfying without being heavy.

The second recipe is for spaghetti squash with mushrooms and Parmesan. I was attracted to it because it sounds like a pasta I would like, but, surprise, there's no pasta. Spaghetti squash does have long, noodle-like strands, however, and it can be fooling to the mouth, if not the stomach. I thought the flavors of the mushrooms and Parmesan would satisfy my pasta craving, though again, I'd recommend having a lean protein with the meal as well so you really do feel full.

So there you have it: two more healthy meals to try this month as we try to get back on track.


Quinoa fiesta bake

Cooking spray

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

2 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles

3/4 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed

3/4 cup fresh or frozen thawed corn

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish


11/2 cups cooked, chopped chicken

11/2 cups part-skim shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided

1 cup enchilada sauce

1 medium Haas avocado, diced

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 2-quart baking dish with oil.

In a medium saucepan cook the quinoa with broth according to package instructions.

In a large bowl combine the cooked quinoa, green chiles, corn, black beans, ¼ cup cilantro and chicken. Stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese and mix will. Place into the baking dish. Top with the enchilada sauce and remaining cheese. Cover with foil and bake until hot the cheese is melted, about 30 to 35 minutes.

To serve, top with avocado, scallions and remaining fresh cilantro. Cut into 6 pieces and serve right away.

Adapted from Skinnytaste.com

Spaghetti squash with mushrooms and parmesan

1 spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cups button mushrooms, roughly chopped (about 8 ounces)

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 380 degrees.

In a deep skillet, add olive oil, garlic and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes over high heat and add mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are golden brown. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Put the spaghetti squash on a baking tray and bake for about an hour, until squash can be pierced with a knife.

Take squash out of the oven and let cool to room temperature. Cut in half lengthwise and get rid of the seeds. Use a fork to scrape the squash into strings.

Add squash to the skillet, turn the heat to high and quickly fry with mushrooms. Sprinkle parmesan while sauteing for a minute.

Turn the heat off, season with salt and pepper and serve warm.

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