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7 Lighter Versions of Your Favorite Winter Recipes (That Still Taste Great)

By Justine Harrington and Jess Novak
January 11, 2022
Image credit: Destination Delish

When the weather is the coldest and days are at their darkest, that’s when we crave super-creamy pastas, cheesy bakes, and the most decadent lasagna imaginable. If you absolutely need a bowl of something soul-warming to combat the winter blues but don’t want to slip into a food coma afterward, having some light-but-comforting recipes in your repertoire is essential. Here are seven of your favorite nourishing winter recipes — with a healthy twist.  

1. Cauliflower Alfredo

Cauliflower Alfredo

Image credit: Feel Good Foodie

Who doesn’t love a good alfredo, especially when it’s 30 degrees outside and all you want to do is snuggle up on the couch in your coziest pajamas? But all that heavy cream on top of simple carbs is… not necessarily the healthiest choice in the world. Instead, consider this remarkably creamy, plant-based cauliflower alfredo. In lieu of pasta, consider making broccoli noodles (aka boodles, if you want to be extra cute about it). These use up broccoli stems — which are so often discarded, but are full of plenty of nutrients — to create a pasta-like texture. 

Serve with roasted broccoli crowns on the side: just toss the broccoli with thinly sliced garlic, kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and plenty of good olive oil before roasting. Once it’s out of the oven, mix the broccoli with a little lemon zest, lemon juice, and a tad more olive oil (add salt and pepper to taste) for an elevated veggie side that’s the perfect complement for rich alfredo sauce. 

2. Simple, Authentic Cioppino

Authentic Cioppino

Image credit: Feasting at Home

There are hearty winter stews that leave you needing a three-hour nap, and then there’s cioppino. A tomato-based seafood stew that’s loaded up with fresh fish and made flavorful with white wine, fennel, and plenty of garlic, cioppino will make you look and feel like a culinary superstar. This impressive-tasting dish is made even better by using the best homemade seafood stock you can find (ask your fishmonger if they have any for sale) and the freshest, highest-quality fish you can get. And don’t skimp on the clam juice (or fish sauce — we love Red Boat).

3. Roast Chicken & Vegetables

roasted chicken with vegetables

Rotisserie chickens you find at the grocery store are “enhanced” with all kinds of icky ingredients, including preservatives like sulfites and carageenan, so instead, consider making a home-cooked roast chicken — it’s way easier than you think. A simple roast chicken is a great wintertime staple, and pairs beautifully with roast vegetables. Roasting the perfect bird involves nailing some key techniques that go beyond this recipe: First, you’ll want to ensure that your chicken is as dry as possible, so that the skin gets extra crispy when you cook it. You can use the rub listed in the recipe, or just use salt and pepper — be sure to use more salt than you think is necessary, as this will help tenderize the meat and dry out the skin (since crispy skin is the goal). Stuff the cavity with lots of aromatics like lemons and fresh herbs. Finally, if you have the time, let your bird sit in the fridge for a couple days right after you’ve salted it, to really achieve the perfect texture and flavor.

4. Healthier Spinach Lasagna with Mushrooms

spinach lasagna

If you’re not in the mood to overdo it on dairy, this spinach-and-mushroom lasagna is a great alternative. Use fresh spinach, and try adding fresh basil into the mix. It’s also worth making your own marinara sauce instead of using a store-bought jar. To do so, simply heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, sautée up some onion and garlic until translucent, season everything with salt and pepper, and then add in a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste. After a few minutes, add a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes to the pot, along with a little more salt and pepper. (Think of this recipe as a jumping-off point — feel free to add basil, anchovies, or whatever else suits your fancy.) Simmer your sauce for at least an hour, so that it gets thick and chunky (too-thin sauce is a no-no for lasagna). Keep in mind that you can make your marinara in advance and store it in the fridge. 

5. Homemade Vegetarian Chili

Homemade Vegetarian Chili

Image credit: Cookie + Kate

When frigid temps strike, few dishes are more comforting than a big pot of chili simmering on the stovetop. And this veggie chili will soothe you to your very soul since it’s absolutely packed with all the veggies (we’re big fans of adding zucchini and mushrooms into the mix, too), beans, and robust spices. If you want your chili to be on the thicker side (who doesn’t?) you could mash up some of the beans with a potato masher or a wooden spoon, or try simmering it with the lid off to cook off any excess liquid. Or, to really thicken things up, mix a little corn flour with warm water to form a paste, then add it to the chili and let it simmer for at least 20 minutes. The result? Thick, hearty, insanely tasty chili that’s totally good for you.

6. Vegan Bolognese

vegan bolognese

Rich and luscious, with silky, meat-like vegetables and nuts, this vegan bolognese sauce is a lighter, healthier version of an old Italian classic. The directions say 10 to 15 minutes, but you’ll want to let this sauce go for at least an hour — even better if you’re cooking in advance and can let it simmer for several hours. The key to making a good bolognese sauce is letting it simmer very, very slowly (ideally all day, in either a slow-cooker or Dutch oven), to really let the flavors commingle. It’s the difference between a just-fine bolognese and an absolutely delicious one. This is especially delicious over swoodles (sweet potato noodles) and toodles (turnip noodles).  

7. Mashed Cauliflower Shepherd’s Pie

mashed cauliflower shepherds pie

Image credit: Destination Delish

The ultimate cold-weather comfort food, shepherd’s pie is one of those dishes that makes everyone happy — albeit a little overstuffed. But simply by substituting mashed cauliflower for potato, you’ll have a shepherd’s pie that has an overall lighter feel, without sacrificing flavor. Be patient when you make the filling; this dish definitely benefits from letting all the veggies lightly soften and getting the meat nice and browned before transferring everything to the oven.  

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