Beyond Comfort Food: Recipes for Dark Days
That there exists a link between your state of mind and what you eat is well known, at its worse manifesting itself in life-threatening eating disorders. What’s less generally recognized is that malnutrition can cause genuine psychological problems, long before your health is affected in any way that shows physical symptoms.
We all know that we should be paying attention to a healthy diet; particularly those with special nutritional needs, such as when you’re depressed, pregnant, taking medication, or vegetarian. There’s more than enough information out there about what we should be eating – the problem arises at about the moment when we realize we’re not all foodies. If you don’t know how to cook quinoa, how to gut a sardine or even what a brinjal is, it’s just that much easier to pop something out of a packet and into the microwave.
Perversely, this is even more true for those suffering from depression, who happen to be most in need of certain nutrients. While improving your diet won’t improve your mood by the very next day (what does?) and can’t replace other forms of treatment (even if that means you need to get therapy counseling online), eating right is certainly something that’s under your control. It can help in regularizing your emotions over the long term, and the physical benefits alone make trying it out worthwhile.
The following recipes can all be prepared without an advanced degree in chemistry, won’t blow a week’s food budget on one dinner, contain nothing that’s excessively processed, and will provide you with sustained energy rather than a brief sugar speed bump. Enjoy!
Starter: Spinach and Mushroom “Pies”
Spinach: Rich in folate, phytochemicals and a variety of minerals and vitamins
Mushrooms: Give you selenium, vitamin D and B vitamins (depends on species, but any mushroom is good for you)
Garlic: Heavy on the antioxidants
Grease a muffin tin and line each mold with store-bought puff pastry. Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C) and bake for 15 minutes, or until crisp. For best results, place baking parchment over the dough and weigh down the bottom with uncooked rice, though this isn’t critical.
While your pastry cups are getting a tan, thinly slice four cloves of garlic, a ½ pound (250g) pack of mushrooms, and either de-vein a huge bunch of spinach or cheat and use two pounds or so of the frozen stuff. Saute the garlic and mushrooms in a high-walled pan for three minutes, then add the spinach, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg, and cook until the spinach has just wilted.
Turnover and tap the muffin tin to release the pastry cups (breaking a few is part of the fun) and scoop in the spinach mixture just before serving, minus the fluid that the mushrooms and spinach will have released in cooking.
Main: Sicilian Sardine Pasta
Sardines: Ecologically sustainable, high in selenium, B vitamins, omega 3 and 6 fats
Capers: Superb source of antioxidants
Tomatoes: High in vitamin C, if not out of a can
Parsley: Ridiculous amounts of vitamin K
Fill a large pot with water, add a tablespoon of salt and start bringing to the boil. While this is happening, brown a chopped onion in some olive oil. Finely dice (peel if you have the patience) four to six tomatoes and add to the pan.
The goal is to have the tomato get soft as the water approaches a boil, at which point you can throw in one pound (500g) of dry wholewheat spaghetti. Cook the spaghetti for 8 to 10 minutes, during which time you can add to the sauce two heaped tablespoons of capers, half a cup of chopped fresh parsley, half a pound (250g) sardines canned in either olive oil or tomato sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. When the pasta is drained, simply toss everything together and decorate with a little more parsley.
Dessert: Chamomile, Honey and Apple Jellies
Chamomile: Reduces anxiety, relieves insomnia
Walnuts: Loads of omega 3s
Apple: Good source of phyto-nutrients, helps in producing neurotransmitters
First, place half a cup of walnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10 minutes to release their flavor. Chop these roughly, and slice three or four ripe apples finely. Throw the slices into a bowl of cold water with a little lemon juice added to prevent discoloration. Make about 3 cups of strong chamomile tea as you would normally do, with two tablespoons of honey. Pour half a cup of boiling water over 2 tablespoons of gelatine powder, wait three minutes, and stir until dissolved. Add to the (still warm) tea.
For molds, you can either use flexible disposable glasses if you plan to decant your jellies or eat them out of any type of decorative glassware. Simply throw in as many apple slices as will fit, sprinkle over the walnut pieces, and pour in the tea mixture without washing all of the walnuts to the bottom. Refrigerate for at least four hours before serving.