Rē-defining Healthy Comfort Food this Memorial Day with Cookbook Author Julia Turshen

Healthy food doesn’t have to be restrictive.

By: Karyn Trepanier
Rē-defining Healthy Comfort Food this Memorial Day with Cookbook Author Julia Turshen

This memorial day we’re sharing a guilt-free, healthy comfort food recipe from best-selling cookbook author, Julia Turshen. The conventional mentality around comfort food has been that it’s “bad” for your health and full of calories that might make you gain weight. Healthy food on the other hand often gets an unfair rep for being plain and calorie-restrictive. But, Turshen recently told rē•spin that in her book (both figuratively and literally), “healthy food has nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with our relationship to what we cook and eat.”

Julia Turshen is a home cook, food equity advocate, podcast host, and New York Times, bestselling cookbook author. Her newest cookbook Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food debuted on March 2, and reexamines the meaning of the word “healthy” through easy recipes and personal essays. It proves that healthy food and comfort food can be synonymous. For Turshen, healthy comfort food is about so much more than just-food. It’s about love, community, connection, and nourishment for the body and soul.

Changing the language of diet culture

A self-described “productive procrastinator” who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her wife, Turshen has been doing the work for years to disentangle herself from diet culture. “Diet culture is one of the things that has definitely caused the most stress in my life. It was this language that was spoken for so much of my life, and I’m now learning a new one,” she says. After struggling with self-doubt about her body image she sought the help of both a cognitive-behavioral therapist and body justice therapist, who have helped her reframe her health goals and nourish her relationship with food and her body in more positive ways.

Diet culture often brings up feelings of shame and guilt if you’re not able to restrict yourself enough to meet your weight loss goals. But, comfort food doesn’t have to be something you deprive yourself of while pursuing the health goals you might have in mind. Turshen wants to take guilt out of the equation by indulging healthily. She doesn’t use the word “healthy” to refer to recipes that are low-calorie, but instead uses it to highlight ones that are nourishing in a holistic way – meaning nutritious for your body, pleasing to your soul, and delicious enough to want to share with others.

On affordability and “easy” cooking

The recipes she features in her book showcase the way she cooks at home with her wife, Grace, who has Type 1 diabetes. She leans towards low-carb, heavy plant-based meals that are easy enough for the average home cook to whip up on their own. Turshen is intentional in the ingredients she uses, making sure that “easy” recipes have readily available ingredients – regardless of your annual income. You’ll find MANY substitution suggestions in her recipes because she’s mindful of the fact that what’s both available and affordable in your local grocery store isn’t the same for everyone.

In fact, many of her recipes are inspired by meals she and her wife cook in their weekly volunteer shift at a local organization, Angel Food East. Her volunteer work has been instrumental in helping her discover firsthand whether a recipe is truly easy enough to make for over 60+ people at a time and with unfussy ingredients. Turshen wants her recipes to feel like a hug, and she hopes everyone feels welcome in embracing them.

Cooking for connection this Memorial Day weekend

While she describes every recipe in her book as “healthy”, she also encourages us all to form our own definitions of the word. What we each define as healthy can be deeply personal. For Turshen, healthy food is very much rooted in making connections.

“Healthy food isn’t just what I eat,” she says. “It’s connecting myself to the person sitting next to me at my kitchen table, and also strengthening the connections I have to the people in my neighborhood. Healthy food connects the dots. It invites gratitude. Healthy food in my book, does not have room for guilt. It’s about feeling full, in a truly holistic sense, and has zero to do with deprivation of any kind.”

This memorial day we encourage you to indulge, guilt-free in the delicious, buffalo Brussel sprouts recipe below. It’s actually “easy” (no exaggeration here) for anyone to cook and makes an ideal Memorial Day side dish or even an appetizer when you serve it with toothpicks. “This recipe is such a good example of all of the recipes inside Simply Julia— it’s healthy and it’s also fun and it’s a reminder that those two things can exist at the same time,” Turshen told rē•spin.

Buffalo Brussel Sprouts

Taken from her cookbook, Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food

“Roasted in a super hot oven until crisp, tossed with butter and hot sauce, and then topped with Gorgonzola and thinly sliced celery, these Brussel sprouts are about as far away from mushy and dull as you can get. If you don’t like things too spicy, start with less hot sauce (and feel free to add more if you prefer things super spicy). Serve with toothpicks for easy noshing, or they also work well as a side dish.”

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ lbs of Brussel sprouts, tough outer leaves trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (I like Franks Red Hot for this)
  • ½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced (on the diagonal, if you’re feeling fancy), plus a few celery leaves for garnish if you have them and feel like it (not a deal-breaker if not!)

Method of Preparation:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450 F.
  2. Place the Brussel sprouts on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with the salt, and mix everything together with your hands.
  3. Roast the Brussel sprouts, stirring them once or twice while they cook, until they’re softened (test with a paring knife), and also dark brown and crispy, about 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, place the butter and hot sauce in a large bowl and stir well to combine.
  5. Transfer the hot Brussel sprouts to the butter mixture and toss well to combine. Season the sprouts to taste and add additional salt if needed.
  6. Transfer the sprouts to a serving platter. Sprinkle evenly with cheese, celery, and celery leaves. Serve hot.
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