It may seem like an oxymoron: comfort food that’s also healthy. (Imagine that!) This is precisely what drew us to Simply Julia: 110 Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food (Harper Wave, 2021). The idea that foods we associate with indulgence like pot pie and coffee cake could possibly be part of a lifestyle led by mindful eating is genius – and perfectly aligned with the focus of this issue. It’s so much easier for healthy habits to become routine when they have a sensory payoff, too.
Julia Turshen is a New York Times bestselling cookbook writer and a champion of nostalgia-loving but unfussy home cooks. So these recipes are not long lists of fancy ingredients but many things we have on hand or can easily get without making multiple trips to different stores. They go light on cream, butter and sugar but – we love this! – also don’t avoid those ingredients, because, I mean, come on! You gotta live a little.
We picked three recipes from Turshen’s approachable compendium that we think would make for easy, light summer meals – white pizza-style kale, stewed chickpeas with peppers and zucchini, and ricotta and potato chip fish cakes with peas. These dishes also won’t keep you chained to the kitchen for hours, allowing for the mindful pursuits you’ll find liberally sprinkled throughout this issue.
Turshen uses canned salmon here for its convenience and reliability. The fish cakes are served on a bed of creamy peas, but as a sandwich alternative, she suggests serving them on toasted potato buns spread with mayo and topped with shredded lettuce and sliced pickles.
One 2-ounce bag potato chips (preferably sour cream and onion flavored)
Two 6-ounce cans wild pink salmon packed in water, well drained
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning (or 1 teaspoon each kosher salt, sweet paprika, and garlic powder)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
One 10-ounce package frozen peas
½ cup half-and-half
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Let some air out of the potato chip bag and then crush the bag with a rolling pin or wine bottle to make fine crumbs. Transfer the potato chip crumbs to a large bowl and add the salmon, ricotta and Old Bay. Finely grate the zest from the lemon and add it to the bowl (reserve the zested lemon). Stir the mixture well to combine, really breaking up the salmon as you mix.
2. Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions and use your hands to form each into a patty. It’s helpful to divide the mixture in half and then in half again and so on to make sure the patties are the same size.
3. Place the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once it melts and begins to bubble, place the fish cakes in the skillet and cook without disturbing them until their bottoms are nicely browned (what a sentence!), 2 to 3 minutes. Use a spatula to carefully flip each one over and cook until nicely browned on the second side, another 2 to 3 minutes. You might need to cook the fish cakes in 2 batches depending on the size of your pan (you don’t want to crowd the pan, and definitely give yourself space to flip them – think of the spacing like pancakes). Transfer the fish cakes to a plate and cover them with foil to keep them warm.
4. Turn the heat to high and place the peas, half-and-half, and salt in the same skillet. Cook, stirring, just until the peas are bright green and tender and the half-and-half has reduced slightly, about 4 minutes. Transfer the saucy peas to a serving platter and place the fish cakes on top. Cut the zested lemon into wedges and serve the wedges with the fish cakes for squeezing over. Serve immediately.
The recipe calls for serving this stew with couscous, but you can use rice, pasta or quinoa. It’s also adaptable for other vegetables. Try adding chopped tomatoes or chunks of roasted eggplant. You could even substitute canned beans for the chickpeas.
For the Sauce
1 large handful fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped (a little stem is fine)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup regular or vegan mayonnaise
½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Stew
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bell peppers (red, yellow and/or orange), stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 medium zucchini (about ½ pound), ends trimmed, cut into bite-sized pieces
Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Cooked couscous, pasta, rice, quinoa or any other grain
1. First, make the sauce. Place the parsley, lemon juice, mayonnaise and salt in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Reserve the mixture.
2. Next, make the stew. Place the olive oil in a large, heavy pot (like a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Once it’s warm, add the onion, garlic, bell peppers, tomato paste, oregano and a large pinch of salt. Cook, stirring now and then, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the zucchini, chickpeas, water and another large pinch of salt. Turn the heat to high and when that little bit of water begins to boil, turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and cook, uncovering it every so often to stir, until the zucchini is very soft and the mixture is stewy, about 25 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the vinegar, and season the mixture to taste with salt. Serve the stew warm over the couscous (or whatever you’re serving it with). Top each serving with a large spoonful of the sauce.
Dressing up kale with her favorite pizza toppings is one of the best ways to “take the boring out of eating your greens,” Turshen says.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound kale (preferably lacinato or dinosaur kale), rinsed, tough stems discarded, coarsely chopped (2 standard bunches)
3 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
½ cup coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
1. Position your oven rack 6 inches from the broiling element and turn the broiler to high.
2. Place the olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the kale and water, and then sprinkle with the salt. Cook the kale, stirring now and then, until it’s softened and the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
3. Turn off the heat. Dollop the ricotta cheese evenly on top of the kale and sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella cheese.
4. Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Keep an eye on the skillet as broilers vary and yours might take a little less, or a little more, time.
5. Sprinkle the kale with the Parmesan cheese, oregano, garlic powder and red pepper flakes (if using). Serve immediately, straight from the skillet.