by Tricia Williams, executive chef and founder of Food Matters NYC
The cold weather is upon us. Nothing tastes better at this time of year than comfort food, but few cold nights of indulging in our favorites is a sure-fire way to pack on some extra unwanted pounds this winter. If salad for dinner doesn’t sound like a fun way to stay healthy this season, though, is it possible to stay healthy and still be satiated with some of your favorite foods? Our clients continuously challenge us to make healthy versions of their favorite foods. From a pot pie to a gummy bear to a Twinkie we have done it all. Our number one requested comfort food dinner makeover is Chicken Parmesan.
Chicken Parm is traditionally crusted with bread crumbs, pan-fried and coated with marinara, melted mozzarella, and parmesan. By deconstructing this dish with some healthy swap outs, you can easily enjoy a much healthier version! First, an easy healthy swap out for bread crumbs are quinoa flakes. Marketed as a breakfast cereal, they make for an excellent crispy crust for this chicken recipe. They also give you the benefit of the whole grain, as they are simply quinoa that is steamed, and rolled to flatten. We also love to use these as filler in meatballs, meatloaf, or any other place where you can imagine that bread crumbs are used.
Then, rather than dredging the chicken in white flour, we prefer to keep this dish gluten free by using arrowroot. Although arrowroot is considered to be a starch, it is higher in protein than most of its counter parts. The arrow root, paired with the egg dredge and quinoa flakes will deliver the flakiest crispy crust. Your kids or dinner guests may not notice the difference! Brown the chicken on each side and then bake it in the oven rather than frying it. Avocado oil, unlike olive oil, can take high heat without becoming unstable. The oil temperature can rise, allowing the chicken to brown nicely while protecting the integrity and nutrition of the dish.
Chicken Parmesan with Basil Cashew Cream
4 organic boneless skinless chicken breasts
Sea salt and pepper to taste
2 egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup arrowroot
1 cup quinoa flakes
4 tablespoons avocado oil
1 1/3 cups tomato sauce
4 tablespoons basil cashew cream **
2 basil leaves
**Basil Cashew Cream
3/4 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup basil, blanched and shocked
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Pound chicken breast to ¾ inch thick.
Mix arrowroot with sea salt and pepper in a medium bowl, set aside. Whisk eggs together in a medium bowl. Set aside. Place quinoa flakes in a medium bowl.
Evenly coat chicken breasts in arrowroot, shaking off any excess flour. Dredge chicken in the egg mixture and then in the quinoa flakes, coating evenly.
Heat avocado oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Sear chicken on each side until golden brown, about a minute and a half on each side. Place skillet in oven and continue cooking for 5-7 minutes. Remove from pan and let rest on a paper towel.
To plate spoon 1/3 cup of tomato sauce over each chicken breast.
For the Cream
Place cashews and water in a blender, let stand for 15 minutes. Add sea salt and basil. Puree on high speed until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Top each breast with 1 tablespoon of cashew cream.
Garnish with a basil leaf. Serve with your favorite sautéed greens.
Another great swap is for the dairy. Our favorite go-to alternative to replicate the taste and texture of the cheese is cashew cream. Its creamy texture bakes and sets like cheese in the oven. The following recipe for basil cashew cream couldn’t be easier. It’s simply soaked cashew, water, and basil in a blender. If wanted to give this cashew cream an even cheesier taste you can add Nutritional Yeast. Not only will it impart an even cheesier taste, but it will blast this dish with a load of B vitamins. You don’t even have to bake the cashew cream to enjoy it. You can use it as a dip with crudité or crackers. Another use is to massage it into kale with some lemon for a creamy salad dressing.
Finally, if you are going to use store bought tomato sauce for this recipe, be diligent about reading the ingredients and find a brand with no added sugar. A great tip is to remember that ingredients are listed by weight, so if sugar is one of the first few ingredients you know it will be high in sugar without even looking at the nutrition facts.
Comfort food doesn’t always have to mean fattening or high in calories. With these simple, easy swaps, you can enjoy a much healthier Chicken Parm and use these tips for other comfort food favorites any time of the year!