Cheery Comfort foods

Last week I was down with a bad case of flu. I instantly reached for my edible security blanket. The special food, which makes me feel cozy, calms me down and convinces my insides that everything is going to be all right. This edible security blanket is simply Comfort food. Food that slips down your alimentary canal with a relaxed, ‘‘Aaahhh.’’ The same sound that your feet make, (if only you could hear them), when you kick off the stilettos for your bathroom slippers, and feel at home again.

There is a universal connection to comfort foods eaten all around the world. It’s all to do with food that slips down the throat easily, that doesn’t require much cutting or chewing. Hot, nourishing, something you can slurp. The immediate answer to a runny nose and a bout of homesickness. For an American it would be macaroni and cheese, for a Scottish it would be oatmeal and clotted cream, and for an Indian it would be Rice and bean porridge Kitchadi.

When the world -- or the weather -- seems harsh and cruel, here are some of my favorite comfort food recipes to cuddle up with and help bring a smile back to you, your friends, and family.
Kitchadi is the special food, which transports me to another time, another me, and brings back emotions of warmth and caring. Every time anyone in our family came down with cold or cough my grandma would make this rice and bean porridge. She would carefully grind the spices and make this humble dish that had unique healing powers. The yellow split beans are very easy to digest and quick cooking.

Here is my grandma’s version of the humble Kitchadi

1 cup rice
¾ cup split yellow moong beans
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon whole black pepper
1 garlic clove (chopped)
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar or jaggery
5 cups boiling water
Salt to taste

Wash the rice and bean mix and drain in a colander. Make a coarse mix of cumin, black pepper in a spice grinder (or Coffee grinder used only for spices) In a thick bottomed pot add all ingredients except lime juice.

Cook on high heat for 5 minutes, without any lid. Add lime juice and lower heat. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and cook for 15 minutes on low heat. Remove from heat but do not remove lid for next 10 minutes. The steam will finish the process of cooking.Garnish with chopped carrots and Serve with a dollop of ghee

Comfort food is basically a taste memory of childhood. When I was growing up in India, I loved to read books written by Enid Blyton. She was as popular as J K Rowling is now. Enid Blyton wrote adventure and mystery series. Some of my favorite books written by Enid Blyton were Famous Five, Secret Seven, and Malory towers. The most charming part of these series was the kids would solve mysteries and have fun adventures with a lot of wonderful food. I would be mesmerized by the treacle pudding, trifle puddings, scones, marble cakes these adventurers would eat. My mother, being a strict vegetarian would never cook these foods at home, as all these recipes called for eggs.

Once I was very sick and I refused to eat Kitchadi that she had made for me. I insisted on having creamy tomato soup and croutons just like the kids in Enid Blyton series. I felt like royalty getting soup in bed. ( One of the rare occasions when my mother gave into my tantrum)

Here is my mother’s version of creamy tomato soup without any cream.(My mother was not very fond of cream)

1 16 oz chopped tomato can
1 tablespoon peanuts
1 tablespoon coconut
1 inch ginger
1 green chili
Salt and pepper to taste

Make a paste of peanuts, coconut, ginger and chili with ¼ cup water. Add chopped tomatoes to make a smooth puree. Add the tomato mix with 2 cups of water and boil for 3-5 minutes. Add salt and pepper and serve piping hot with crouton.

There are some days, so bad, so stressful, and so overwhelming, that there is not a friend on this Earth, not a backrub on the planet that could unknot your neck muscles. It is on days like these I turn to food for comfort. I vividly remember when I was in seventh grade, my friend and I, had been, unfairly singled out in our class as troublemakers. We had to run an extra mile at lunch break. That evening I went to my friend’s house and we moaned and groaned about how unfair life was. Her older sister who was had just come back from college, got tired of hearing us whine. She made this aromatic cream of wheat pudding to help heal our bruised ego. It is no wonder that when the going gets tough, we turn to foods that remind us of happy times in our youth! So whether you're nursing a bruised ego, a broken heart or a common cold, it's comfort food that comes to the rescue.

This special pudding always calms me down and helps me put things in perspective.

1 cup cream of wheat
1/3 cup ghee or unsalted butter
4-5 cloves
1 cup sugar
½ cup almond powder
8-10 cardamom pods
¼ teaspoon saffron thread
2 cups milk

Heat ghee or butter in a pan. Add cloves and wait untill it puffs up. Add cream of wheat and roast for 10 minutes on low heat. Keep aside.

In a pot add milk and saffron and bring it to a boil. Add the roasted cream of wheat and stir vigorously to remove any lumps. Cover and cook for 5 minutes on low heat. Add sugar and mix well. Cover the lid again and let the steam finish the process of cooking. Discard the peel of cardamom and make a coarse mix of the seeds. Finally, add almond powder and cardamom powder and mix well.

Garnish with dried cranberries and serve piping hot.