When I went to visit my father, who had just been released from the hospital, comfort food was definitely in order. Risotto came to mind, but it’s generally laden with butter and cheese – a big no-no for my family of heart disease sufferers.

Luckily, it’s easy to turn risotto from a “heart attack on a plate” to a nutritious meal. This farro risotto is the perfect example. It’s super comforting, but completely guilt-free! It’s got whole grains, vitamin-packed squash and mushrooms, and no dairy in sight.

I love the texture, too. The farro has the chewiness of barley, while the squash melts into the dish a bit, giving it a wonderful creaminess.  Every bite is sure to make you feel cheerier on a short winter’s day.

Farro Risotto with Delicata Squash and Mushrooms

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 delicata squash (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cubed
1 small fennel bulb
2 cloves garlic
1 medium yellow onion, diced
10 ounces mushrooms (shiitake, crimini or a combination)
1 1/2 cups pearled farro (can substitute barley)
1/2 cup vermouth
4 cups vegetable broth (plus more if needed)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt, or less if your broth is salty
Black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the base off the fennel bulb, cut a V-shape in the bottom to remove the core, and cube. Toss the squash and fennel with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté 5 minutes. Add the farro and sliced mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes.

Raise the heat, add the vermouth and cook until it has evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add ½ cup broth. Simmer, stirring frequently, until it is absorbed. Repeat this with the remainder of the broth, in ½-cup increments. It should take about 25 minutes; the farro should be cooked through but al dente.

Add the roasted squash and fennel, and simmer for three minutes longer, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if the risotto seems too dry.

Add parsley and black pepper, and serve.

I started out with a good basic recipe for a vegan molasses cookie. Then I went and fiddled with it…again and again. I was out to make it a more “adult” cookie, and boy did I succeed. Some extra spices including a pinch of cayenne pepper, a little cocoa powder, espresso and pecans did the trick. I used heart-healthy whole wheat pastry flour and extra virgin olive oil (I very rarely use Earth Balance or vegan shortening – don’t want the palm oil, etc.)

These are some intense cookies, and I mean that in the best possible way. Next time I might up the ante and add some fresh ginger, too. Watch out, kids!

I hope you’ll make these for your next holiday party. You’ll definitely blow the minds of any butter-lovers who taste them, because you’d really never know these are vegan cookies.

Two words of advice. First, make sure your spices are fresh. If you’ve had your ginger and cloves in the spice cabinet for over six months, buy some more. It really makes a difference, I swear.  Second, the brand of molasses seems to matter – a LOT. The first time I made these I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Molasses, which is a blackstrap type, and the cookies were appropriately intense.  The second time I used Grandma’s brand and they had a milder taste that wasn’t nearly as appealing. So it’s worth seeking out a flavorful molasses.

Molasses-Ginger Cookies

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
3 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
Pinch cayenne pepper
Scant 3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup well-chopped pecans
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk of choice (can substitute regular milk)
½ cup blackstrap molasses (see note above)
¼ cup demerara sugar

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients (through pecans) in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the oil, vanilla, milk and molasses.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon just until combined.

Form into 1-inch balls and roll in the demerara sugar. Place a few inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 9 minutes. They may still look a bit wet inside, but don’t worry.

Let cool on the baking sheet for 3 or 4 minutes, then remove to a rack and cool fully before eating.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

I can’t believe I’ve never posted my favorite cornbread recipe. Well, better late than never.

This is based on a famous recipe published in Cook’s Illustrated, called “Blue Ribbon Vegan Cornbread.” It was created by an 11 year-old girl, who won a contest at the Iowa State Fair. I’ve made a few changes to the recipe, namely using a heart-healthy oil, substituting whole-grain flour, reducing the sugar and throwing in some fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional).

My other secret weapon is a roasted cornmeal called Brinser’s Best. It’s darker than most cornmeal, with a completely distinctive taste. My favorite ratio is half Brinser’s Best, half regular stone-ground cornmeal. I’m not sure why, but the combination is just right in cornbread. Brinser’s is made by a company called Haldeman Mills in Pennsylvania. One great thing about Haldeman is that they don’t use genetically modified corn. Yay. I found Brinser’s at the awesome Court Street Grocers in Brooklyn. Otherwise, I’m not sure where to tell you to look for it, as it’s out of stock on Amazon. In any case, this stuff is worth the search.

I like to serve my cornbread with collard greens and Hoppin’ John. Which reminds me, I haven’t posted my recipes for those yet, either – maybe because they are completely un-photogenic. But I’ll try someday!

Whole-Grain Vegan Cornbread

2 Tbsp. ground flax seed
6 tablespoons water
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (all-purpose flour works, too)
1 cup cornmeal (see above)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup soy milk
1/4 cup high-oleic safflower oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Spray a cast iron skillet with cooking oil spray and place in the oven 5 minutes before you are ready to put the cornbread in.

Vigorously mix the flax and water in a small bowl or mug, and microwave for 30-40 seconds, until thickened. Alternatively, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, add the flax and simmer for a few minutes.

Mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

In another bowl, mix the flax mixture, soy milk and oil. Add to the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

Add corn kernels, if using.

Pour the batter into the heated cast iron pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or  until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly before cutting.

Serves 8

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge. Here, I’ve pulled together all the recipes that were submitted: eleven from contributors and five of my own. Enjoy the slideshow. I’m also happy to announce the three winners for the cookbook giveaway. Of the 62 entries, Dalores B., Jean M. and Gloria P were the winners!

Lastly, people keep asking me what’s on my own Thanksgiving menu. Well, I haven’t 100% nailed it down yet. I probably won’t make any of the recipes I did for this Challenge, because even though I love them all, I want to keep trying new things. Jodi’s Brussels sprouts from this year’s Challenge, and Trudy’s healthy green bean casserole from last year’s are major contenders. Oh, and Stephanie’s chocolate bourbon pecan pie – oh my. But scroll down to see other recipes on my Thanksgiving radar.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

sps butternut

Silky Butternut Squash-Cauliflower Soup from Sweet Potato Soul

wild-mushrooms

Wild Mushroom Croustades from Cooking on the Weekends

ChocBourbonPecanPieSlicePlates34

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie from Recipe Renovator

Lime brussels sprouts

My Lime Roasted Brussels Sprouts

wonderland cranberry_top

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce from Wonderland Kitchen

TasteSpaceCarnival

Carnival Squash Stuffed With Cranberry-Maple Quinoa and Beans from The Taste Space

carrots

Sweet Curry Carrots with Yogurt Sauce from Pursuit of Vegetables

brussels-sprouts-cabbage-WCGL

Brussels Sprouts with Cabbage and Toasted Almonds from What's Cooking Good Looking

Liz sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts from Liz the Chef

roasted grape stuffing sat

My Wild Rice and Bread Stuffing with Roasted Grapes

caras Maple-Mustard-Brussels-Sprouts-with-Pepitas-and-Pomegranate-Seeds-@Caras-Cravings-1

Maple Mustard Brussels Sprouts with Pepitas and Pomegranate Seeds from Cara's Cravings

winter vegetable soup 2

My Pureed Winter Vegetable Soup

Quinoa apple salad 2

My Warm Quinoa Salad With Apples and Chickpeas

jolly tomatosweet-potato-pixlr-600x399

Heirloom Apple and Sweet Potato Tian from Jolly Tomato

Winter salad

My Winter Green Salad with Butternut Squash and Beets

LivApple crumbles

Individual Apple Crumbles from Liv Lives Life

Silky Butternut Squash-Cauliflower Soup from Sweet Potato SoulWild Mushroom Croustades from Cooking on the WeekendsChocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie from Recipe RenovatorMy Lime Roasted Brussels SproutsDIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce from Wonderland KitchenCarnival Squash Stuffed With Cranberry-Maple Quinoa and Beans from The Taste SpaceSweet Curry Carrots with Yogurt Sauce from Pursuit of VegetablesBrussels Sprouts with Cabbage and Toasted Almonds from What's Cooking Good LookingRoasted Brussels Sprouts from Liz the ChefMy Wild Rice and Bread Stuffing with Roasted GrapesMaple Mustard Brussels Sprouts with Pepitas and Pomegranate Seeds from Cara's CravingsMy Pureed Winter Vegetable SoupMy Warm Quinoa Salad With Apples and ChickpeasHeirloom Apple and Sweet Potato Tian from Jolly TomatoMy Winter Green Salad with Butternut Squash and BeetsIndividual Apple Crumbles from Liv Lives Life

A few more healthy and delicious-looking Thanksgiving recipes:

Fennel and Apple Slaw

Savory Cornbread Stuffing

Pureed Roasted Squash and Yams with Citrus

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Pistachios

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs

Pumpkin Meringue Pie

 

 

 

 

The Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge is officially over, but I have one more late-breaking holiday recipe for you.

I had an intense craving for Brussels sprouts but didn’t feel like making my usual mustard-maple syrup vinaigrette version, as much as I adore that. Something simple like lemon sounded good, but…damn, no lemons in the fridge. I spied a lime and fearlessly forged ahead.

My friend Sharon, who was my cooking pal that day, said “What about some hot pepper flakes?” Well, I wouldn’t have thought of that, but what the hell. I decided on Aleppo pepper flakes, which are a bit more subtle in their spiciness.

The dish is that simple – olive oil, lime and pepper flakes. With a slight tang and a hint of spiciness, I think these sprouts would add an interesting dimension to any Thanksgiving table. Maybe yours?

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lime and Chili

2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of two limes
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes (or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk together the oil, lime juice, chili pepper and salt. Toss with Brussels sprouts and place on one or two baking sheets.  Roast for about 40 minutes (or until well-browned), turning once halfway through.

Serves 8-10

I’ve gotten a number of requests from gluten-free readers for alternatives to the usual bread stuffing.  While my Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash is an amazing gluten-free option, I wanted to come up with a new side dish that contained some protein – because protein is often lacking for vegetarians at Thanksgiving. Thus, this warm quinoa salad with chickpeas and walnuts was born. The apple adds just the right amount of sweetness (I would use a sweet apple rather than a tart one here, unless you want to add some dried cranberries for sweetness.)

This salad doesn’t need to be limited to a gluten-free Thanksgiving table. It’s so delicious, it will surely appeal to just about everybody. I can picture carnivores eating it cold with a turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving, too!

This is my sixth recipe for this year’s Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge.

Warm Quinoa Salad with Apples, Walnuts and Chickpeas

1-1/2 cups quinoa
1 tablespoon finely minced shallots
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil , divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large, crisp sweet apple, cored and diced
2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted
1 cup cooked chickpeas (if canned, recommend Eden brand, for BPA-free cans)
1-2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the quinoa in a medium saucepan with 2¼ cups cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 12-14 minutes, until done but still a bit crunchy. Set aside but mix with dressing while still somewhat warm.

To make the dressing, mix the vinegar, mustard and shallots in a bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. If needed, season with a bit of extra salt or vinegar.

Combine the dressing, apple, walnuts and parsley. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6 as a side dish