What does comfort food mean to you? Ask that question on Twitter and the answers will come quickly and easily. Homemade soups of any description. Toasties with cheese. Valley and rice. Macaroni cheese. Fish pie. Miso soup. Everything and everything that involves minced meat – lasagne, chili, cottage pie, shepher’s pie. A Hungarian soup called Gulyásleves. Warm apple crumble and apple pie. The chicken stew or the beef stew or the lamb stew. Noodles, ramen.
Comfort food is a force for good in the world, and much of it is related to what we ate in childhood, tied up with memories of love and being taken care of. It is the cozy food, the toast, the only-use-a-spoon-food that we ate when we were under the weather, or that we associate with parents who cooked for us.
A cornerstone of comfort food is that it is homemade: creamy mashed potatoes are highly valued, along with the expectation of a stew or a soda or soup from the large pot in mom’s kitchen.
defines comfort food as ‘food that provides comfort or a sense of well-being, typically with a high sugar or carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or homemade food’. But that is not always correct. Food that gives a sense of well-being does not always have to be super cheesy or creamy or carby or sweet. It can be a spinach-packed saag paneer, toast with good peanut butter or marmite, the perfect scrambled egg.
Our definition of comfort food can also change as we evolve through life. Despite the fact that I never met a lens before I was in my 20s – the joys of an Irish upbringing in a small town in the 1980s – dal (or dahl or daal) is one of my favorite comfort foods , served with a steaming bowl of rice.
There is often just as much comfort in making these dishes as well as in eating. Stir nutmeg rice porridge or richly caramelizing onions, enjoy the aroma of a slowly cooked stew, form cool dough into a round of scones: the rule in my house is that if you make it, you can eat it. But moderation is everything, and comfort food should not make you feel like you have been pampered and burdened with indigestion and regret.
No matter if our comfort food comes from childhood kitchens or is a relatively new acquisition, the same thing happens every year when the thermostat goes down: We want the food that makes us feel cozy and safe. It is not just fuel for the body; it is the care of the soul.
Food writer Clare Anne O’Keefe chooses a combination of creamy and crispy and fresh and punchy: homemade hummus with a topping of “red onion, mint, roasted almonds and canned lemon. Eat with a spoon or pile of biscuits with brown bread.”
Consoling with apples is a theme from many kitchens – apple crumble, apple mushroom and the glory of all, a good apple pie. Keith Brennan of Hawthorn Hill Farm still dreams of it: “My mom’s apple pie. Sweet. Pie. Plenty.”
One of wine writer Aoife Carrigy’s favorites is very much associated with her childhood: “Eggs in a cup with toast soldiers are my best comfort food because my grandmother wanted to make it when we lived with her and we ate it hidden in her. Bed: safe and loved. “
Author and chef Brian McDermott, whose bookis packed full of Irish cozy food like hot pots and boxty and soda breads, voices on her mother’s big solid vegetable broth, full of vegetables, potatoes and barley: “She raised 14 of us on it. God bless her. I feel safe and nourished , when I eat it all these years later. “
It may not be a food, but a cup of tea has a prominent place along with many people’s choice of comfort food. Lucy Lambe from the Green Sheep in Thurles takes it to another level with “sweet milky chai”, a warming spicy tea that oozes coziness.
Norwegian chef and author Signe Johansen voted for “good chocolate cake”, and when the weather is cold, there is much to be said for the comfort of turning on the oven for a baking session. Her bookhas a recipe for easy double chocolate cake: for balance, she recommends that you have a slice next to a cup of green tea or a glass of cold milk.
: go heavy on broth, light on the noodles and wrap it with vegetables like purple budding broccoli or pak choi.
: mix it up – for many years my daughters thought lasagna was the quick version of spinach and ricotta that I made regularly, and was very surprised when everyone else’s lasagna turned out to contain meat. Faster to make and just as tasty.
: Change to brown. Although it is the same rice, just unrefined, the brown option contains more nutrients, fiber and a little more protein. If you can get your fingers in brown basmati, you will still have the wonderful aroma in the kitchen while it simmers. However, it takes a little longer to cook, so include it in your dinner plans.
: Thicken stews and stews with protein-rich lentils, use chickpeas and butter beans to fill curries, make chili with twice as many beans as usual or go without meat with chili non carne.
: I have always seen pasta – especially wholemeal pasta – as a means of including as many vegetables in a meal as possible. My standard macaroni cheese involves using at least twice as much broccoli or cauliflower as pasta while still maintaining its comfort food classic status.