Comfort foods. By definition, these are foods that provide comfort, remind you of carefree times and undeniably bring back memories from a period when you were unhappy or stressed or simply ill and these served as pick-me-uppers. All of us have foods that fall into such categories.
For me, comfort food conjures up images of a plate of steaming white rice, with a bowl of lentil daal (called “varan”), Indian pickled lime and a crisp wafer called “papad”. Each time I was under the weather or not feeling my 100%, my mom would simply know it was time to make me this meal. This always hit the spot, made me smile and instantly helped uplift my mood. Similarly during the monsoon season, the indisputable favorite of all those in west India, specifically in the state of Maharashtra, was fried onion pakoras (akin to onion rings except way tastier) and grilled corn on cob, doused in lime juice, hot chili powder and salt. I am salivating as I write this so you can imagine how those neurons in my brain must be firing! 🙂
When I first came to the US, I was awed by the plethora of options presented to me. I was in the deep south in Alabama and fortunately immersed in enough diverse cuisine where I didn’t balk at a piece of pork on my plate. Instead I went on a culinary pilgrimage – tried everything from fried chicken with mashed potatoes, to BBQ, macaroni and cheese to chicken pot pie. The first month of being here, I was in food heaven and for the most part in a food coma too. My trousers admittedly got a little snug but this was my right of passage into this country and I enjoyed it to my fullest.
A month in though something strange happened. I got in my car to go pick up some lunch, except all my usual haunts didn’t appeal to me. I even drove to a subway in the hopes of expecting a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki to call my name. Nada! Lunch hour in the Alabama office was 1.5 hours. My office was 3 miles, 10 minutes from my apartment. I went home, quick soaked some rice and daal and pressure cooked it. Just the aroma of it cooking brought back memories of home and tears to my eyes. This is what I was craving today! Once it was done cooking, I sat down and enjoyed it with some pickled mango (that’s all I had) and papad and I could have died right there and not had a single regret! That night I had leftovers from the same meal and finally came to understand what the words “comfort food” mean!
So why am I writing about this today? Because it is a little overcast here, and thundering and about to rain and I am craving nothing more than some onion or potato pakoras! Pakoras however soak up a lot of oil, and the remaining oil while it can be used for cooking other items, carries a distinct taste of the pakora batter that pervades the taste of whatever else is cooked in it. Not to mention the calories that come with deep frying something. Oof!
OK I cannot stifle the need to have pakoras. Something must be done! I scrounge through my pantry. I find 3 potatoes. Score! I slice them up and leave them to soak in a salt water bath. These shall be dunked in a mixture of salt, red chilli powder and rice flour and pan fried to crispiness. The main entree will be a rice, red lentil and chopped veggie preparation (commonly known as “khichdi”), cooked in clarified butter with enough green chillies and garlic to faint an adult goat. If only it would rain already so I can plate these items and eat at the table outside as I hear the rain beat down on the roof. Comfort food in comfortable surroundings…what a way to end the day!