Bathed in cheesy goodness that we may lick off fingertips or turned crisp to just the right side of burnt to match grandma’s culinary bravado, comfort food occupies the liminal is-it-myth-it-should-be-true space between stress eating and fragrant nostalgia.
The cravings for comfort food
Satisfied cravings lead to the release of feel-good hormones. The boss of this temporary high in our brains is called the nucleus accumbens that controls the production of serotonin and dopamine upon engaging with food, sex (or other strenuos activity sometimes) or narcotics.
Scientific research has singled out smell as the single most potent sense that can trigger very specific memories, even from our subconscious parts of the brain- memories we might have repressed or think are simply water under the bridge. Combined with taste, they form remarkably stubborn linkages to withstand the passage of time.
Comfort foods, working on this principle, trigger a biochemical response to make us feel pleasure. Food may also generate a Pavlovian response, as is often the case with reward systems where being offered chocolate for every right answer or when being comforted reinforces the targeted feeling in a manner that even thinking about the food item might suffice to produce the desired effect.
Our favorite comfort food recipes
1. Dump omelet
The dump omelet is an efficient fridge cleaner wherein you can add any vegetable you’re left with little quantities of. Saute the minutely chopped veggies in a skillet with salt and pepper. Once tender, add in a thick mixture of whisked eggs, milk, refined flour and salt. Cook on a low flame till golden. Flip and cook the other side too. Spread crumbled cottage cheese and grated parmesan (or any cheese of your choice) along the middle, fold over the sides to make it resemble a wrap.
Pour in a thin layer of whisked eggs and lift the omelet carefully with a spatula so that the egg can coat the entire base. Once cooked, fold over the sides to cover the rolled omelet and serve with ketchup.
2. One-pot pasta
It doesn’t get easier than this. This comfort food recipe entails comfort cooking to ensure you don’t spend hours in the kitchen.
3. Boiled egg sandwich
A go-to comfort food that also makes for a healthy breakfast, this one makes use of whatever dips or spreads you have in the kitchen- sandwich spread, jalapeno cheese dip, mayonnaise, etc. Lather them over your bread slices, toss in sliced tomatoes, onion rings and thinly sliced pieces of boiled egg. Sprinkle black pepper and toast till crisp. Cheese slices can be added as well. Serve with ketchup.
4. Mac and cheese pockets
Just your regular mac-and-cheese-turned-calzone. Follow any basic calzone recipe, substituting the filling for mac and cheese. A bit of pizza sauce or any other tangy sauce will enhance the flavor. While a traditional calzone is baked, you can prepare smaller pockets with a thicker sheet of dough and deep fry them for crispy macaroni pockets.
5. Cheesy scalloped potatoes
Thinly sliced potatoes held together by mozzarella and made bubbly with parmesan and cream are the perfect accompaniment to any meal. Heat oil in a thick pan with a few smashed garlic cloves. Once the garlic begins to brown, remove them and spread the oil to coat the insides of the pan. Spread out sliced potatoes, followed by salt, pepper, butter, shredded mozzarella and heavy cream. Cover with another layer of potatoes and repeat the process. Cook them lidded on a low flame till the potatoes are half done. Transfer the contents into a shallow baking dish coated with butter. Layer with parmesan cheese and slow-bake for about 20 minutes.
6. Garlic noodles
Instant noodles are the Gen X comfort food. Infused with the aroma of slow-cooked garlic, they’re absolutely glorious. Pour oil and chopped garlic in a pan with a thick base (don’t preheat). On low flame, allow the garlic to turn golden with a pinch of salt. Slender pieces of onion might be added after a few minutes too. Once cooked, add water and bring to a boil. Crack in an egg to poach. If you aren’t confident about your poaching skills, just whip the egg in a bowl and drop into the water slowly while continuously stirring so that the egg separates in a thread-like manner.
When the egg begins turning white, add in instant noodles of your choice (preferably ones whose flavoring isn’t too strong or overpowering so as to mask the garlic flavor) along with the spices or sauce that comes in the packet. Once done, top with a dash of butter and chopped spring onions.
7. Chocolate-Banana Pancake Breakfast Casserole
There’s no reason to not adore this wholesome breakfast in a bowl that can be stored as comfort food to bite into whenever with your favorite ice cream! This layered pancake dessert recipe is easy to follow and allows for variations to suit your taste.
8. Pasta pizza
This is not a palindrome but can mean two things- either you get your favorite pasta as toppings on pizza or get a crusty pizza literally made of pasta strands. Either way, this comfort food combines two popularly cherished dishes and opens up doors of possibilities.
9. Pizza in a jar
This might not be a genie in a bottle but it’ll amaze you just the same. Opt for a fully prepared pizza with minimal toppings. Cut it into about an inch-big cubes and mix in heavy cream, chilli flakes, black pepper and oregano. You can also add jalapeno cheese dip and ketchup to taste. Transfer into a buttered baking tray. Top with shredded mozzarella and bake till the cheese is golden. Serve in a soup cup or a shallow jar with a wide mouth.
Alternately, you can utilize a plain pizza base to cut into cubes and stir fry with onions and capsicum and then follow the aforementioned steps.
10. Chicken noodle soup
Granted comfort food status unanimously, chicken noodle soup is as much a grandma’s favorite as it is adored across the most famous street food destinations. This recipe with wide egg noodles is definitely worth a try. If you’re up for some experimenting, have a go at the Korean dak kalguksu.
11. Baked pizza dumplings
This one’s for the food connoisseurs. For this one, you can either buy dumplings or momos with the filling of your choice or make them at home. It’s best to use tender but not overly cooked pieces. Dip them in a thick mixture of mayonnaise, Schezwan sauce and chili flakes. Arrange in a buttered tray, blanket with shredded mozzarella, black pepper and a few basil leaves. Bake till the cheese melts and turns golden.
12. Lasagna soup
The ultimate comfort food for cold nights and colder hearts! This simple recipe combines the goodness of chicken broth and lasagna in a cheesy delight that makes for a filling, yet not too heavy dinner.
13. Zesty crushed peas macaroni
Boil fresh or frozen peas, strain and add a dash of butter or olive oil and mash lightly with the back of a spoon (or bast in a processor). Add to your regular boiled macaroni and squeeze in a hearty amount of lemon juice. For a variant of this, swap out lemon juice for cream and chopped and cooked spinach, topped with grated parmesan.
14. Baked capsicum gratin
As much as we love ourselves a potato gratin, the capsicum version makes for an unbeatable brunch item. To prepare the filling, boil and mash potatoes and peas and add them to fried onions. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Grated carrots and crumbled cottage cheese can be put in as well. Top with coriander leaves. If you have large capsicums, slice them into half but if they’re petite, slice off the head and scoop out the inner vein and seeds. Stuff with the filling, oil the skin of the capsicum and slow-bake for 25-30 minutes.
15. Carrot pudding
Boil full cream milk in a thick skillet, add grated carrots and cook on a low flame, preferably lidded. You can also use condensed milk or heavy cream to speed up the process. Cook till the mixture thickens to a barely flowing consistency. Add sugar, cardamom powder and ground dry fruits of your choice. Serve hot or cold. With a bit of chopped dark chocolate on top, this is easily my favorite winter dessert and comfort food.