You guys, have you heard of ‘hygge’ yet? Pronounced hoo-gah, and loosely translated from Danish to “a sense of comfort, togetherness and well-being,” the concept has recently started to gain popularity outside of Denmark.
My personal obsession began when I learned about The Little Book of Hygge (William Morrow, 2017), written by the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen – a guy I suspect knows a thing or two about well-being. Ever since getting my hands on this book, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about this funny word.
Hygge is, above all, a mindset. It’s generally experienced in the winter, likely in the company of close family and friends. Hygge is about slowing down and enjoying a time of calm and peace. A major part of hygge is being physically cozy, like wearing a knit sweater, wool socks, and hyggebukser – that beloved pair of comfy pants we all own but are not likely to be seen in outdoors. Hygge also requires being surrounded by coziness, by way of dim lighting (specifically candles and fireplaces), blankets and pillows and other pleasant-to-touch textures, as well as elements of nature, like wooden furniture and animal hide rugs. Add warm drinks like tea, coffee and mulled wine, and you’ve got 100% hygge nirvana.
According to the author, although this sense of comfy hominess is prevalent in other countries – like the Netherlands, Norway, Germany and Canada – hygge is especially important in Denmark because the winters are long and cold, and daylight is hard to come by for most of the year. Thus, creating a warm, softly-lit home is a means for keeping one’s sanity in spite of the weather.
Since reading the book, I’ve found myself making more time for hygge in my own life – whether it’s watching an episode of Z: The Beginning of Everything with a cup of tea before bed (a big feat for someone who rarely makes time for relaxation!), or making it a point to light my favorite Mrs. Meyer’s candle whenever I work from my “home office”. Implementing these small acts of hygge has truly improved my quality of life; just knowing that this concept exists has made me a calmer and happier person.
One of the reasons I love hygge is that it places importance on spending time at home, versus itching to go out and have some quintessential NYC experience every weekend (which rarely happens these days anyway). A couple of weeks back, my roommate Sofya and I had our friend Fill over on Saturday night. It had been cold and snowing all day, but warm and cozy inside our apartment. I decided to cook dinner and improvised this vegan Bolognese recipe, which we ate on the couch with the bowls in our laps. We also simmered a giant jug of wine with spices and orange peels, and drank it with alternating bites of Godiva chocolate, while sinking deeper into our respective couches and armchairs. We didn’t know about hygge at the time, but looking back on it, I realize we were having the ultimate hyggelig time.
This vegan Bolognese has been a staple in my weeknight cooking repertoire since. It’s warm and comforting but still light and nutritious. The beef from traditional Bolognese sauce is replaced here with tempeh and mushrooms; roasted spaghetti squash – a magical vegetable that resembles the texture of angel hair pasta – takes place of the usual white spaghetti. Typical hygge food is meat and potatoes-based but this recipe proves that comfort food doesn’t need to be heavy to be satisfying.
- 1 medium spaghetti squash
- About ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- About ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch of hot red pepper flakes, plus more to serve (optional)
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
- One 8-ounce package of tempeh, finely diced
- 6 ounces cremini mushrooms, finely diced
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ cup dry red wine
- One 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, to garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Slice about ½" off the top and bottom of the squash, and halve the squash lengthwise. Using a tablespoon, scrape out the strings and seeds (reserve the seeds to roast later, if desired). Discard the strings. Generously season the insides of the squash with smoked paprika, garlic, salt and pepper. Place squash halves cut side down on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and roast until the flesh gives easily when pressed, 40-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, using a fork, scrape the squash width-wise to remove the spaghetti-like strands; discard the skins. Transfer cooked squash to a bowl and season with more salt, pepper and spices to taste.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce: heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Add red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add onions with a pinch of salt and cook until softened, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Raise the flame to medium and add the tempeh. Season with pinches of salt and pepper. Cook until you start seeing some browned crispy bits, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms, oregano and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the wine. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the wine reduces a bit and you no longer smell alcohol. Add the tomatoes and sugar, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover the skillet tightly with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with more salt, pepper or sugar, if needed.
- To serve, divide the squash among 4 bowls, top with Bolognese and garnish with parsley.