Comfort foods to nourish your body and soul on a cold winter's night
Black History Month inspires many things in many people. My mind immediately goes to soul food, a term that became popular in the 1960s and has Southern African-American roots. Today, though, I think soul food is a tradition that encompasses more than just the ingredients of a meal and a style of cooking. It’s about recipes that have been passed on for generations, that speak to the experience of Americans as a whole, and that indicate the epitome of comfort and home.
It’s a delicious coincidence that February is Black History Month, because in the thick of winter, we turn to comfort food—food that nourishes the soul. Perhaps that means dishes from our childhood like vinegar pie, a Southern dessert that Brian (Shake Foundation) Knox's mother made it while he was growing up in Milwaukee. Or maybe it's a regional dish you've come to love, like shrimp and grits—a classic New Orleans meal that 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar's Louis Moskow whips up whenever he's in need of nourishment for the body as well as the spirit.
For Walter Dominguez, executive chef at Amaya, it's a versatile red chile sauce that does the trick, since it pairs well with enchiladas and other New Mexican comfort foods. For Beth Koch of the Zia Diner, the perfect soul food is a rich mac'n'cheese with a crunchy Panko bread topping.
For me, a gooey grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup for dunking does the trick, as does my mom's recipes for barbecued chicken, spanakopita and chocolate mousse. But when I really need food that feeds the soul, I turn to a Swedish dish my mother used to make, Janssen's Frestelssehn ("temptation"), a potato and anchovy casserole traditionally served to dinner guests before they departed to ensure they have something warm inside of them during their journey home. It's often served during Christmas and Easter, but it will warm you up on even the coldest of winter nights.
Below you'll find the recipes for these comfort foods that will nourish your soul and warm your body on a cold winter's night. Feel free to share your favorite recipes for comforting soul food in the comments below.
315 Restaurant & Wine Bar's Louis Moskow learned to make shrimp and grits while working for Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans. “My interest in the dish was reignited after a trip to Louisville, Kentucky, where many of the Bourbon bars were featuring the dish,” he says. “I thought it would work well with our expanded whiskey inventory but it just caught on and became a staple on the bar menu.”
315's Shrimp and Grits (Serves 8)
1 cup stone-ground grits
3 cups milk
4 ounces cream cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 ounces olive oil
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 cup onion, finely diced
½ cup celery, finely diced
½ cup bell pepper , finely diced
½ cup tomatoes chopped
1 cup white wine
¼ cup green onion sliced
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce
½ lemon juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 pounds shrimp peeled and deveined
¼ cup parsley chopped
Heat milk in a heavy gauge 2-quart pot. Stir in the grits and cook for 15 minutes over low heat. Add the cream cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 ounce of the oil in a 2-quart heavy gauge pot. Add the garlic and onions and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers and celery. Cook for 5 minute more. Add the tomatoes and wine and cook for 10 more minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the remaining ingredients and season to taste.
Heat 1 ounce of oil in a large heavy gauge sauté pan. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes till just translucent. Stir in the sauce and cook through.
Serve the shrimp over polenta and garnish with parsley or green onions.
Walter Dominguez, Executive Chef of Hotel Santa Fe's Amaya Restaurant, has a favorite comfort food that has many uses, from a sauce for enchiladas and tamales—classic New Mexican comfort food—to a marinade for grilled chicken. “It's one of my favorite red chile sauces and it's perfect for the land of the chile,” he says. “It's been on the menu at Amaya for a good long time. We get great feedback about it from our guests.”
Oaxaca Guajillo and Chile Ancho Sauce (Makes 7-8 cups)
12 guajillo chiles seeded
12 ancho chiles seeded
2 charred yellow onion and then diced
6 charred tomatoes(cored)
10 garlic cloves, peeled and roasted
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups chicken stock
½ toasted bolilllo or telera Mexican white bread
¼ cup dulce piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar)
In a medium pot, cook the guajillo chiles, ancho chiles and roasted garlic for 3 minutes, then add onions and tomatoes and cook for an additional 4 minutes. Add oregano, and thyme and cook for about 1 minute then add the chicken stock and boil for 12-15 minutes Add the bread and piloncillo and boil for 5 minutes. Place mixture in a blender and puree for a few minutes, until smooth. Pass through fine strainer.
When Brian Knox of Shake Foundation needs comfort food, he turns to Vinegar Pie, a Southern soul food staple made with sour cream, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, nutmeg and blond raisins. “In the 1960s in the U.S., when black culture was looking to define the Southern/African legacy of cuisine, food for the soul, or "soul food," became the cultural marker for those foods that came from fields, from the ground and from recipes that were handed down through families for generations,” Knox says. “This humble pie represents all that is blessed from that legacy, and all that is good—all that simply tastes good."
“I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where my parents had migrated in 1949 from the heart of the South, Mississippi,” Knox continues. “My mother was a very good cook who kept a Southern kitchen stocked at all times. That meant that Southern staples such as buttermilk, cornmeal and vinegar were always on hand. My mother's idea of dessert was a glass of buttermilk with leftover cornbread crumbled in to the brim. Dessert was not a daily occurrence, but on special occasions such as church socials, picnics and parties, she would break out her repertoire of cakes and pies. One of my favorite desserts that she would bake was known as a Vinegar Pie. Not unlike a Chess or Buttermilk pie in taste, this custardy, not cloyingly sweet pie, was a fascination to me as it was a combination of the worst possible ingredient, vinegar, and the best possible ingredient, sugar."
Vinegar Pie (Serves 8)
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup of Crisco shortening or lard
For the filling:
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup blond raisins
1/2 teaspoon. ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
To make the crust, sift flour and salt together into a large mixing bowl. Rub shortening and butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add egg, then four tablespoons ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until dough holds together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
To make the filling, beat eggs in a a large mixing bowl. Add flour, sugar, butter, vinegar, vanilla, raisins cinnamon, nutmeg, and sour cream. Stir until just mixed.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Roll out dough into a 12-inch round on a floured work surface. Ease dough into a 9-inch pie pan and crimp edges. Add filling and bake until top is golden, about one hour or until filling doesn't wiggle when pan is shaken. Serve warm or cold.
For Beth Koch of the Zia, mac'n'cheese is the perfect food for a cold winter's night. "At the Zia we make our green chile mac and cheese with four cheeses and a roux, but no eggs," she says. "It's the recipe that my mom always used and that I still make for my father. My mother undoubtedly thought the extra protein was good for her children I made this for my kids when they were little as well."
Mom's Macaroni and Cheese (Serves 4)
2 cups macaroni, uncooked
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Panko bread crumbs for topping
Cook macaroni in plenty of salted water. Drain well. Pour into buttered oven-proof casserole dish. Beat eggs, add rest of ingredients and pour over macaroni, stirring to mix a bit.
Top with 1/2 cup more grated cheese and some Panko bread crumbs for extra crunch! Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Perfect with a salad!
As for me, my parents spent two years living in Sweden where my father was an American student studying in Lund. This is where I was born, and though I was just two months old when they brought me to America on an oceanliner, I have had a lifelong love for all things Swedish, from the dalahäst (traditional painted wooden horse) presented to my parents upon my birth—and sits proudly in my dining room—to this savory dish, which my mother often served us on Christmas Eve, albeit without the anchovies for us kids.
Janssen's Frestelse (Serves 8)
1 cup onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup butter
4 cups Idaho potatoes, peeled and sliced into very thin strips
1 2 ounce-can anchovy fillets, drained and place in a bit of water so they melt
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 1.5 quart baking dish with butter.
In a large skillet, cook the onions in 2 tbsp of the butter over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until they are golden.
Arrange 1/2 of the potatoes in a layer and sprinkle 1/2 the onions on top,followed by the anchovies. Top with the remaining potatoes and onions then the juice from the anchovies. Dot with remaining butter, and pour cream on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Revmoe foil and back for an addition 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the potatoes are tender.