Winter has arrived. There is a Northerly chill in the air and our warm hats and scarves have had their first outing of the season. With this change in temperature comes a change in our appetite. The soul is calling for comfort food, the mind reminds us to be healthy and the body wants to be nourished. Comfort food is different for all of us but for Nick, one of our founders, it is almost always made in one pot, served hot and should be shared with friends or family. Love and friendship are at the heart of comfort food.
So, what to cook? Nick shares his go-to winter evening dishes and some clever tips to jazz them up.
‘I love keeping things simple in the kitchen and the one pot process not only suits my attitude towards cooking but also produces some of the best comfort food in my opinion. Some of my favourites include braised beef with Chantenay carrots; chicken, lemon and fig tagines; a quick coconut and butternut squash curry and my new discovery; Fesenjan - a stew made from Persian Lentils with walnuts and pomegranate. Lentils feature a fair bit in our household. Cooked properly they are nourishing and great at absorbing a variety of flavours. They cook quicker than beans so are perfect for weekday feasting. Different varieties will offer up creaminess (red) for soups, firmness (beluga) for braising or colour (green puy) for salads.
Classic potato topped pies are what I think most of us consider as the perfect comfort food. Fluffy mashed potato smoothed over a creamy white sauce encasing soft chunks of fish, hard-boiled eggs and fresh herbs never fails to please on a cold winter’s night. Why not try something new and switch up the topping by replacing it with a savoury crumble made with breadcrumbs, parmesan, nuts and herbs. The humble fish pie may well be the king of comfort food along-side its two potato topped cousins; the Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie. Cottage being made with beef and Shepherds, with lamb. Don’t forget the vegetarians at the table and try a replacing the meat for lentils and the mashed potato with cauliflower mash. Steam the cauliflower till just soft, allow to cool then add extra virgin oil and salt and blitz in your food processor till smooth. Season and paddle over your lentil casserole and bake slowly.
Second to the humble potato, for a comfort ingredient, is of course cheese. I whole heartedly believe that putting vegetables at the centre of your table and your diet is a good thing. Combine them with a layer of cheese sauce before baking in the oven and you’ve created the ultimate comfort dish. Cauliflower Cheese is a favourite in our home and we often upgrade the veg by using Romanesque Cauliflower and adding green veggies like broccoli florets and grilled leeks. A handful of sourdough bread crumbs scattered of the top and the dish transforms from a school diner classic to a classy and cool suppertime favourite. No longer a dish to be avoided by vegans, tasty dairy-free white sauces are not difficult to achieve. Replace the butter with a quality margarine, use oat milk and replace the cheese with nutritional yeast flakes and a teaspoon of mustard. Another of my favourites is Mac and Cheese and we’ve created a simple recipe for our healthy take on this kitchen classic.