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Cooking for comfort

Reflections and ideas on how to use cooking as a means of comfort during this time

I’ve found most of my comfort recently in routine things like making easy and nutritious meals.
I’ve found most of my comfort recently in routine things like making easy and nutritious meals.

It has been a hard year — that is no secret. At the beginning, many people — including myself — sought a new skill to master while they finally “had the time.” For some it was baking sourdough breads, and for others, it was filling their days with classes or studying for big tests like the MCAT or LSAT. Or maybe you just binged “The Office” repeatedly — because that is a skill, too.

I — and I would guess plenty of others — found plenty of solace from these new and strange undertakings. They helped occupy our minds and keep us busy. But then they lost their touch and started to get a little old.

Maybe they started to wear you down in another way. Maybe you are like me and found out about the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and a less than ideal test score at the same time and now you just don’t feel like doing any of it anymore. That is okay too — six months into the pandemic, the prospect of something new sometimes just isn’t enough.

With everything going on, I’ve transitioned to searching for ways to make life feel a little easier. I’ve found most of my comfort recently in routine things like waking up and going for a run, making easy and nutritious meals and ending the day with dessert and “Westworld” — yes, I have watched every other series possible before resorting to this one, but it’s actually great.

All that to say, even when you’re not up for cooking, there is still pleasure in finding what is comfortable for you to eat. Because food is fuel, and everyone needs to eat. 

I would understand if what is comfortable to you looks like cereal for dinner tonight — a power move if I ever saw on —  or it could be finding a staple side that you pair with a source of protein. For instance, I love baking whole Japanese sweet potatoes, and I eat them most nights of the week paired with chicken, salmon or beans. It’s a simple pleasure, really.

Perhaps, with the weather transitioning and humid evenings turning soft with a slight bite hanging in the air, the ideal comfort meal is drifting towards soups, simple curries or even pastas. The good news is that these aren’t hard to make, and all three choices will warm you up just the same. 

There are many no-recipe recipes that work well in these cases, too. You could make a box of Annie’s mac and cheese. White cheddar shells amped up with some broccoli for extra fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamins — great to keep your body getting the nutrients it needs to function and ward off sicknesses. Banza, a pasta brand known for pasta made from chickpeas, also sells a plant-based mac and cheese, if that’s your thing.

For a bit of an adventure, and perhaps some more effort despite everything said above, my favorite no-recipe recipe of late has been soy-ginger turkey meatballs. It’s a simple mix. 

Ingredients for meatballs

  • 1-2 lbs of ground turkey
  • Chopped scallions
  • 1 egg 
  • Chopped cilantro
  • A couple tablespoons of sesame oil
  • A couple tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce  

Ingredients for Sauce

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup low sodium soy sauce
  • ½ cup Mirin — rice wine, typically found in the international aisle of grocery stores 
  • Grated ginger to taste

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients for meatballs in bowl then form into balls
  2. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 15-17 minutes
  3. Meanwhile, simmer ingredients for sauce together over low heat on stove
  4. Remove meatballs from oven once completely cooked and transfer into sauce  
  5. Simmer the meatballs and sauce together for 10-20 minutes
  6. Serve

I usually eat my meatballs with a bowl with rice or sweet potato and complete with a simple vegetable on the side. 

Sometimes there is comfort in following a recipe, in working to fulfill an end or prepare a meal you can freeze for weeks to come. The New York Times recently did a whole week dedicated to “the Big Lasagna,” a recipe I’ve been keen to try as the weather grows cooler.

Now I can’t end this comfort food column without mentioning some ideas for dessert. A great no-recipe recipe is honestly just eating some ice cream. I do that quite often these days. If you’re looking for an easy, healthy thrill, you could make these simple double chocolate chip cookies I wrote about a couple years ago — very subtle plug, I know.

Cake, however, is one of the most fulfilling desserts to make because of the grand appearance of the final product — if you’re up for it. Specifically, this chocolate cake from the New York Times is a great place to start and tastes incredible. It’s pretty hard to mess up too. There are no layers or any big decorations. Just make sure you spray your pan so it doesn’t stick. And if you’re hesitant — contrary to popular opinion — no occasion is necessary for cake. I like to think of it as an act of self-appreciation.

Whatever it is that feels comfortable to you, I hope you choose to nourish yourself with it. Eat it every day of the week, if you like. There’s comfort to be found in the monotony of cooking, but I believe that what is comfortable looks different for everyone. Why not take a moment to find what it looks like for you?

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