While there are some constants in comfort food—pasta, chocolate, salty/sweet—one of the best aspects of comfort food is that it’s personal. What’s comforting for me may not be for you. But, regardless of taste, comfort food provides a nostalgic or sentimental feeling to the one eating it.
Which is why it’s different for everyone, yet the same.
Some people associate it with large family gatherings. Others think of an intimate meal. Still, for others comfort food is something they may have discovered on their own at a young age.
I grew up in a traditional American Jewish family. Throughout my childhood my family maintained our cultural ties through traditional foods and flavors. Every holiday brought its share of noodle or potato kugel, matzoh ball soup, and beef brisket (see recipe below).
Today, every time I walk past a deli I think back to my childhood. Eventually, I find myself anticipating the next holiday when I’ll be able to join my family and eat the foods that have satisfied my taste buds since I was old enough to recognize flavors.
My experience with comfort food is far from unique. It reflects more than just a tangible reaction to a delicious dish, but also how that food satisfies a deeper hunger to grow closer to the traditions and customs of a culture I deeply associate with. From my observations, it seems these kinds of connections through food are common.
For me, munching on a dill pickle or some bagels and lox, helps connect me to history. It’s almost as if I’m sharing that meal with an ancestor I’ve never even heard of, but who is like me in many key ways.
For me, feelings like those are what makes comfort food comforting. No matter where you come from, or how you celebrate your heritage and history, there are foods that immediately create a bond with a host of people and traditions you may only be aware of vaguely.
My mom’s parents both died before I was three. Fortunately, I have clear pictures in my head of both of them from the last year or two of their lives. For instance, I remember my grandfather, who had Alzheimer's disease, sitting in a chair while the rest of us shared matzoh ball soup a few feet away in the dining room of my grandparents’ apartment.
My grandmother managed to carry on for several months after his death. She was a tiny woman and always had a cigarette dangling out of one corner of her mouth. Despite the waft of smoke and the smell of burning tobacco, her traditional soups and meals managed to taste and smell like they were prepared in a professional kitchen, not the cramped space a few short steps from the dinner table.
To this day, matzoh ball soup—that delicious blend of chicken broth, matzoh meal, carrots, and dill—still calls to me and reminds me of my grandparents. Sometimes, especially when I’m feeling down or homesick, a yearning for that warm, soothing soup rises in me. When the mood is overwhelming, I’ll take an afternoon and make a batch at home—from Grandma’s recipe (with some personal preference variations). Regardless of my tweaks, it still hits that comfort food sweet spot that only a simple, traditional dish can reach.
And, ultimately, that’s what comfort food is supposed to accomplish. It’s supposed to take you back to a simpler, seemingly happier time, and provide the comfort you felt then. So, find the food or foods that bring you a warm glow—that remind you of a time you wish you could go back to—and fix that food. Then let each bite transport you to a place where whatever cares or concerns that nag at you melt away—even if just for a few minutes.
8- to 10-pound whole brisket, fat trimmed to 1/2-inch
6 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large onions, sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
2 large ribs celery, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 small bay leaves
Preheat oven to 350 F. Season meat with salt, pepper, and minced garlic.
Spread the onions, carrots, and celery on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place 2 bay leaves on top of the vegetables, then top with the meat. Place remaining bay leaves on top of the meat.
Cover the pan tightly with a lid or aluminum foil. Cook in preheated oven 3 to 3-1/2 hours. Remove foil. Baste the meat with juices, return to oven and cook uncovered an additional 1-2 hours until fork tender and top is browned.
Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 15 to 20.
1 4-pound roasting chicken
1 cup chopped onion (2 medium)
1 1/2 cups sliced celery (3 stalks)
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup sliced carrot (2 medium)
1 cup sliced parsnip (2 medium)
4 sprigs fresh dill weed or 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
Dash ground black pepper
4 slightly beaten eggs
1/4 cup chicken fat
1/4 cup carbonated water
Place chicken in an large pot. Add the water, onions, celery, salt, and pepper. Boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, until chicken is almost tender (1-2 hours). Add carrots and parsnips; simmer, covered, for 30 minutes more or until chicken and vegetables are tender.
Remove chicken from pot. When cool enough, remove skin from chicken, discard. Pull meat from bones, discarding bones. Chop meat, reserving 3 cups.
Using a slotted spoon, remove vegetables from broth; set aside. Strain broth through two layers of 100-percent cotton cheesecloth placed in a colander; discard solids. Return broth, vegetables, and 3 cups chicken to pot. Add dill weed; heat through. Serve in bowls with Matzo Balls.
In a mixing bowl combine matzo meal, salt, and pepper. Beat in eggs until well blended. Stir in carbonated water. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Carefully drop dough into a large pot of gently boiling salted water. Cover; simmer 30 minutes or until light and cooked through. Do not uncover pot until end of cooking. Remove with a slotted spoon. Serve in hot Chicken Soup. Makes about 30 balls.
Categories: Food & Recipes