Not to cast a pall over your day or make inappropriate political observations but—we all need some comfort right now.

At the time of this writing (early June 2020), we have been under lockdown for a pandemic for almost three months. We are in a state of social unrest (some might say upheaval). It is a time of economic change for everyone and hardship for many. And that’s just for starters. 

What could be a better time for comfort food?

What is comfort food, anyway? And is it possible that indulging in comfort food could actually be a good thing?

According to lexicon.com, comfort food is “Food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically having a high sugar or carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.”

A quick look at the tables of contents of Melanie McDonald’s Vegan Comfort Cooking yielded the following recipes: Feel-Good Potato and Chickpea Curry, Mom’s Spaghetti and “Meatballs,” and Miracle No-Knead Focaccia.

If there is a theme to comfort food, it can be summed up in one word: carbs.

Carbs make us feel calmed, satisfied, sustained, soothed, and nurtured—in a word, comforted. Most of us can think of a carb that makes us feel anchored and grounded: a bowl of rice or pasta, a baked potato, a slice of warm bread. 

But can it be good to eat carbs? The answer is YES. Carbs are good for you, if you eat the right ones.

A short nutrition lesson:

—All whole foods have all three macronutrients in them: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. 

—Carbohydrates are healthful if they come from whole foods and are in as close to their natural state as possible. 

Many carbs like beans and grains need to be cooked or sprouted to be edible, which is a kind of processing. And many of us enjoy bread and pasta, which is processed, but that’s okay as long as nothing valuable is taken out and nothing bad added (credit to Dr. Greger here, How Not To Die p.)—i.e. whole grain bread and pasta with no or few additives. 

There are at least four or five cookbooks with “vegan” and “comfort food” or “comfort cooking” in the titles. But be forewarned that many of the recipes in these books are high in salt, sugar and fat and you would need to steer around or adapt many of the recipes.

Here are a couple of recipes from plant-based websites that are sure to nourish you and make you feel full and taken care of: plant-based comfort food.

HEARTY CHICKPEA NOODLE SOUP
(simple-veganista.com)
(10 min. prep, 20 min. cooking)
(Serves 4 to 8)

1/4 cup water
1 onion, diced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs celery, sliced (some leaves ok)
1 teaspoon EACH dried thyme, basil and oregano*
2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
12 – 16 ounces rotini pasta (use whole wheat or brown rice pasta)
10 – 12 cups water or vegetable broth (or combo)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
salt & pepper, to taste
lemon wedges, to serve
Sauté: In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat water over medium heat, add onion, carrots, celery and herbs, cook for 5 – 6 minutes, stirring frequently.
Simmer: Add the chickpeas, pasta, and liquids to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 6 – 7 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
Season: Finally, stir in the chopped parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve: Ladle into individual bowls and serve with lemon wedges for squeezing. The lemon is highly recommended and will add a delicious spark of flavor, trust me! Add a little more fresh parsley to garnish.

*If you don’t have all three herbs on hand, use 1 tablespoon of whichever herb you have on hand. Or if using 2 herbs, use 1 1/2 teaspoons each.

GARDEN VEGETABLE STEW
(drmcdougall.com)
(15 min prep, 30 min cooking)
(Serves 6 – 8)

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable broth or water
28 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
4 small zucchini, sliced
2 small yellow crookneck squash, sliced
1 cup green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 tbsp soy sauce (optional)
1 tbsp parsley flakes or 1/4 cup fresh
1 tsp dried basil or 1 tbsp fresh
1 tsp oregano or 1/2 tbsp fresh
1 tbsp cornstarch mixed in 1/4 cup cold water

Place the onion, garlic and bell pepper in a large pot with the vegetable broth. Cook and stir until slightly softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and beans. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the corn and seasonings, except for the cornstarch mixture. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Editor’s note: I would not be able to resist adding some peeled diced potato along with the corn. Also, you could substitute flour for the cornstarch, or you could use neither and have more of a soup than a stew—still delicious. Good served over cooked brown rice or quinoa for added comfort!