Plant-Based Comfort Foods

With a few easy substitutions, your favorite dishes can still be cozy, satisfying — and nutritious.

Plant-based mac and cheese

Everyone has different definitions of comfort food, but most have a few things in common: In the depths of winter, we want something warm to keep the shivers at bay. When we’re stressed and stretched thin, we want hearty, rich foods, often dishes that remind us of childhood.

Yet most of the top picks for comfort food are not considered especially healthy, because they are often awash in butter and cheese with nary a green vegetable in sight. By putting a plant-based spin on some of your favorite home-cooked fare, you can enjoy the comfort you crave with added nutrition.

These recipes may seem a bit more involved than what you typically tackle for a weeknight meal, but they call for a lot of pantry staples and hands-off baking time. With a few extra minutes in the kitchen and a handful of smart swaps, one of these plant-forward dishes may become your new comfort-food classic.

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Spinach Lasagna

Spinach lasagna

Makes eight servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin avocado oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cups cubed eggplant
  • 8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tsp. sea salt, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil
  • 3/4 cup chickpea flour
  • 3 cups unsweetened nondairy milk
  • 2 tbs. nutritional yeast
  • 9 no-boil brown-rice lasagna noodles, or other noodles of choice
  • 2 10-oz. packages frozen spinach, thawed, excess water squeezed out

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and lightly oil a 9-x-13-inch baking dish.

In a large pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, eggplant, and mushrooms, and cook until the vegetables start to sizzle, about two minutes. Reduce heat to medium and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute, then stir in the tomato sauce, oregano, and basil, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.

In a large saucepan, warm the avocado oil over medium heat, then whisk in the chickpea flour. Cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil, then reduce the heat so it bubbles gently for about two minutes. Gradually add the nondairy milk, whisking constantly until smooth. Whisk in the nutritional yeast and remaining salt. Continue to cook, whisking frequently, until the sauce has thickened, about eight to 10 minutes.

Spread 1 cup of the vegetable mixture in the bottom of the baking dish. Place three lasagna noodles in the pan, evenly spaced. Sprinkle half of the spinach over the noodles, then drizzle 1 cup of the white sauce over the spinach, then 1 cup of the vegetable mixture. Place three more noodles on top and pat down evenly, then sprinkle with the remaining spinach, and drizzle with 1 cup white sauce. Top with three more noodles, pat down, and cover with the remaining vegetable mixture.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes, then uncover and drizzle with the remaining 1/2 cup white sauce. Bake, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, until the white sauce is lightly golden.

Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

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Vegan Chocolate Cheesecakes

Makes six servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes, plus 4 hours’ cooling time

Crust 

  • 1/2 tsp. melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 tbs. maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt

Filling

  • 12 oz. firm silken tofu
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • 1/2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tbs. arrowroot
  • 2 tbs. nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. sea salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly oil six 1-cup ramekins.

Place the walnuts in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the maple syrup, coconut oil, and salt, and pulse until just combined. Firmly press about 2 tablespoons into the bottom of each prepared ramekin.

Clean the bowl of the food processor, then drain the tofu and transfer to the food processor. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the coconut cream and melted chocolate, and quickly process before the chocolate hardens. Add remaining ingredients and blend until very smooth. Measure scant ½-cup portions into each ramekin.

Bake the cheesecakes until the edges are dry and puffed and the center jiggles slightly but is no longer liquid, about 35 minutes. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, about one hour. Refrigerate, uncovered, until cold, at least three hours before serving.

is a Minneapolis-based recipe developer and cookbook author.

Photography by: Andrea D’Agosto; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

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