You would think that on a food blog, comfort food would be mentioned somewhere way before the 25th post! But you can write about comfort food only when you crave it from the depths of your tummy. Today was that day. It was a beautiful day, sunshine and clouds kept playing peek-a-boo with each other all morning. The air was cool as it has been since the monsoons started. Yet something didn’t sit right on my shoulders. There was that weight that often threatens to crush your will. But in the afternoon as baby and I were taking a nap, the clouds heavy with their burden of moisture, decided to just let go. The world darkened, the skies roared, water poured and the concrete and trees in front of our apartment purged themselves. The first sound of thunder woke me up as if there was someone at the door I was waiting for. I lay in bed listening to the water; it has been a favorite sound of mine ever since as a 13-year-old on a trip through the hills of Garhwal with my parents, I woke up at dawn one morning to the sound of the river in the valley below. The baby slept a little longer even though the thunder kept disturbing him. I kept dreaming of what I would like to eat in such a weather. At first I thought of making choux pastry doughnuts called zeppole. I kept remembering one of Giada’s recipes; the idea of rolling the soft puffs, hot from the oil in orange sugar and warm chocolate sauce brought a smile to my face. Then I thought I needed to balance out the sweet with something savory and cheesy. What better than choux pastry cheese puffs – one dough, two birds! As I salivated at the thought of all that yummy goodness I remembered the bleu cheese in my fridge that needs to be used and wondered what I could do with it to make something delicious to suit the weather. Then the baby woke up – and so did I.
Comfort food is not something I had heard of while I was in India; somehow I never thought of food as comfort. It was more of a fun thing. But my first winter at Ohio State I understood what they meant. The sun would go down before five. I would finish my last class and head home with an incredible feeling of loss. The day had ended and I had accomplished nothing. Wrapped in layers of warm clothing, I would reach home and head straight for the kitchen; then lie down in front of the TV with a bowl of something. The short days do something to you and I found myself finding comfort in that bowl of something. By the next winter I was used to it. I had no option; over winter break I broke my ankle ice skating. After the initial fear of how I would cope with my research, teaching assignment, classes and household chores had passed, I started liking my new status – cast, temporarily handicapped and all! It was a great excuse to eat Ramen noodles every day I thought and bought myself a whole case of it. But a dear friend and colleague of mine who barely cooked for himself, would land up at my doorstep every afternoon with boxes of food until my roommate came back. Hot sambhar poured over warm rice with vegetables on the side – that was comfort food. Then my very understanding roommate came back and took over and the husband (then boyfriend) also came over from Cornell to help. The Ramen noodles stayed in our coat closet the rest of the year and I discovered that anything that people cook for you while you put your foot up is comfort food.
In my final year of grad school, when food was becoming more and more important in my life, everything that I cooked was comfort food. A friend was reminding me of our dinners at Don Pablos, a tex-mex place close to the university that we frequented because we all loved the food and occasionally (when we could afford it) margaritas as well. My friend would have this white bean and chicken soup with tortilla strips on the top that we tried to duplicate at home using this recipe. I made it several times and returning to an empty home, a bowl of this with rice or bread and some Law and Order or Grey’s Anatomy on TV was such a treat.
I rediscovered comfort food during the first few months of my pregnancy when all I wanted was my mom’s rasam and small fried potatoes. I tried to duplicate them at home but somehow it was never the same. I also slurped up a lot of lauki ka jhol (bottlegourd with sour yogurt), jholi (a.k.a kadhi) and avial! I know the last one is a bit of a surprise but I ate a lot of avial made using this recipe in my pregnancy. In fact I made a huge batch and froze it. I think it was the sour yogurt in it, plus the fact that the avial is made with practically odorless ingredients which was easy for me to do when the nose was extra sensitive.
Today even though I wasn’t able to cook any of the stuff I was hoping for, I ended the day with a meal that I would call comfort food – without having to cook. The cook had made dinner. Rotis, my mom’s special paneer-capsicum, nani’s special sweet and sour pumpkin subzi and masoor dal. Top that off with mangoes and litchis and you have one happy tummy. But if you add nutella and cookies to that list, well then I am so light, I am taking off for the moon.