Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Comfort Foods From Different Corners of the World

Recently I was so stressed that I ended up cooking all kinds of comfort foods. Our favorite comfort foods are like warm hugs, they bring out all the contentment of childhood. One bite and you’re smiling from the inside out and all the chaos of the world subsides for a few moments.
Both kids and husband got sick. The littlest one had 102 degree fever. All three were off their food. Now I’ve been a mom long enough that I don’t panic easily, but my first-born was born at seven months and weighed one pound 11 ounces. Imagine a coke can with arms and legs. He fit in the palm of one my husband’s hands. It’s an image that will be with me forever.  Now my son is almost 9-years-old and he’s on the scrawny side but healthy. However, when he almost stops eating, yes I do panic.
So I called the pediatrician, only to be told the stuff was going around and to do the usual –plenty of fluids, rest and monitoring.  Watch and wait. Patience has never been one of my virtues, and add to that a feeling of helplessness...bad combination.  I did what I always do in such moments: went into the kitchen and cooked. 

 I chose to make a pot of soft khichuri, a comfort food from my childhood. It has all kinds of good stuff in it: chicken stock, rice, lentils, veggies, tummy-soothing spices like cumin and turmeric.

My mother always made this rice and lentil porridge when I was sick and whatever the ailment –a sniffly cold or a sensitive tummy – a bowl of this would make me feel a whole lot better. I served the khichuri with stories from my childhood and the kids almost cleaned their bowls.
Of course, like all good conversations, this one meandered over to include the other parent and we asked the Cowboy what his favorite childhood comfort food was. The answer: Gravy Meat.
I was confused. “You mean meat gravy?”
“No,” he was adamant. “Gravy meat.”
This isn’t an old German or Polish recipe, but an army one. “It’s a dad recipe,” the Cowboy said. My father-in-law served in the army during World War II and didn’t much like the food. The only exception was “Gravy Meat” or the less-polite "Shit-on-a-Shingle." Whatever the name, he liked the dish so much that when he returned home he had my mother-in-law recreate it. And so the Cowboy enjoyed it growing up.

It doesn’t matter where in the world you’re born or where you end up, every culture has its comfort foods to soothe a sick child and/or a worried parent. You grow up with this food and when things are not perfect in your world—you yearn for it.

Cooking all these wonderful foods definitely helped calm me down. The best part though was to curl up on the couch with a bowl of Khichuri and watch the twinkly splendor of my Christmas tree on Sunday night. I’m glad my children will have so many different kinds of comfort foods, and their associated stories, to help them through life.

 So what are some of your comfort foods?

Soft Khichuri – As far as comfort foods go, this one is actually on the healthy side.
½ cup white, short grain rice (or whatever rice you have)
¼ cup red mushur lentils
¼ cup pale yellow mung lentils (I’ve seen this in H-E-B, or if you want substitute both these lentil varities with ½ cup green or brown lentils)
2 tablespoons of canola oil
½ a medium onion, finely sliced
A thumb-length of fresh ginger, skin scraped-off and coined
1 bay leaf
6 to 8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
¼ teaspoon of turmeric
¼ teaspoon of cumin
½ teaspoon of coriander powder
¾ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 cup of pumpkin puree (my mom used a traditional Bengali gourd called lao, but she suggested the more readily-available pumpkin would have a similar tummy cooling effect)
1 cup frozen mixed vegetable
5 to 7 cups of liquid (I use a mix of chicken broth and water)
  1. Mix the rice and lentils together, wash several times until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion, ginger and bay leaf and cook until onion has softened.
  3. Add the rice and lentil and fry for two minutes, then add the garlic and spices (turmeric to cayenne) and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add 5 cups of liquid and pumpkin puree, stir and bring to a boil.
  5. Cover and cook on low heat for about 25 minutes. Check on it. Most rice is cooked by now, but at this point you probably can see rice and lentils as separate ingredients. You want them to meld together and give you a creamy, porridge-like consistency. So cook for another couple of hours. If it thickens too much, add more liquid, stir. Keep an eye on it.
  6. When you think it’s coming together, add in the frozen vegetables and simmer for 15 minutes more.
  7. Serve with sliced lemons on the side. Remember to remove the ginger chunks if you don’t like to bite into their intense flavor.

Rashda’s version of Gravy Meat (Now that I think of it, this is similar to the Southern breakfast food sausage gravy and biscuits)
2 tablespoons oil
1 pound ground meat
1 teaspoon dried thyme or Italian spice blend
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ a medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like heat)
½ cup white flour
4 cups of milk
1.       Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add meat and spices. Cook until meat is browned.
2.       Add garlic, onions, bell pepper and red pepper flakes and cook until the vegetables are soft.
3.       At this point you can either spoon out the meat mixture and set it aside, or leave it in the pan. Stir in the flour until dissolved. Gradually stir in the milk. Cook until the gravy is thick and bubbly. Taste test, and add more salt and pepper if needed.
4.       Serve with toast, biscuits or mashed potatoes.


  1. Hi Rashda
    Good that you dropped in and led me here :) I hated Khichuri as a child but love it now. Make it almost same way as yours. We like ours with papad, omlette or fried eggplants.
    Hope that made your son feel better

  2. Thanks so much for visiting! Yes,we ear it with aachar, omelette and fried eggplants. In fact my parents are coming tomorrow, so I'm making regular Khichuri, seem bhorta and dim curry!

    TY for the well wishes. He's doing much better :)