We spent the first four Wednesdays of January looking at foods to help us get back on track after the holidays. It’s still January, but it’s the fifth Wednesday, a sort of a bonus week, and so I’m moving on to the next topic. With February around the corner, I’m looking ahead to comfort food.
Everyone has their own food that comes to mind when they think “comfort food.” It might be a regional interpretation, such as biscuits and gravy, or even a family specialty, like my mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese was for our family.
If you’re like me, you probably take time to enjoy your favorite comfort foods throughout the year. But in the winter, comfort foods tend to make up half my dinners in the weekly plan, rather than the once a week or so that I make them in the summer.
I really do like trying new recipes, so there are very few recipes that I have locked in as my “favorites.” I might discover a new favorite type of food, like corn chowder, and then I’ll try a half-dozen different recipes to see which way I like it best, also ensuring we don’t get tired of eating the same thing all the time. This corn chowder has potatoes! This corn chowder has thyme! This corn chowder has bacon! It works for us.
This week I really wanted to write about stew, but I feel like stew, particularly beef stew, is one of those categories where people really do find a recipe they like and stick with it. I have a hard time with this. Maybe it’s not the recipe’s fault that you didn’t like it, maybe it was because the beef was too fatty. Maybe your onions were too strong. Maybe you wanted to use an amber bock in the broth but the liquor store doesn’t sell the one you like anymore. I’d rather just keep trying new recipes and try to compare notes between each one about what may have made one work better than another one.
In any case, I do not have a beef stew recipe this week. Instead, I have two rich and filling soups and a chicken chili. The idea was to find recipes that fill you up and really satiate your hunger, hopefully giving you some comfort during this cold weather. (And I’m sorry, but 55 degrees is not warm. Anything under 72 degrees feels the same as 32 to me.)
First up, a minestrone soup that the author designed to make very thick. Yes, it’s a vegetarian soup (unless you choose to use chicken broth instead of vegetable broth), but if it’s mostly solid vegetables with just a little broth to make the flavors meld together, it’s going to be very filling. The soup has three kinds of beans in it and your choice of rice or pasta, as well as a whole can of tomato paste to really thicken it up. It also freezes well, so make a big batch and save a healthy meal for the near future.
Second, a creamy mushroom and wild rice soup. This happens to be vegetarian, too, but it would go nicely with chicken as well. The creaminess comes from full fat coconut milk, but it won’t taste sweet or coconut-flavored with those earthy mushrooms, white wine and wild rice.
And finally, a hearty chicken chili. This one is hearty because it has two cans of white beans and three pounds of chicken breast compared to just 6 cups of chicken broth. And the spicy flavor comes from chili powder, jalapenos, green chiles and red pepper flakes. I look forward to making a big pot of this one.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup sliced or diced carrots
1 cup sliced or diced celery
1 cup sliced or diced zucchini
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
5-6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2-3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 (14-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can green beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste
1 and 1/3 cups uncooked rice or pasta
3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 4-quart (or larger) pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrots, celery, zucchini, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir and cook for 6-7 minutes as the vegetables soften up and let out some juices.
Add broth, water, red wine vinegar, bay leaf, all the beans, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then add uncooked rice or pasta. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes. Stir in the chopped spinach and simmer for 5 more minutes. Remove bay leaf.
Serve soup warm in homemade bread bowls (or regular bowls, of course!) and top with fresh parmesan cheese, if desired.
Keep leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week. May need more broth if reheated. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Creamy mushroom and wild rice soup
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
8 ounces mixed fresh mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups full fat coconut milk
Coat the bottom of a large pot with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the mushrooms in as even a layer as possible. Cook 5 minutes, flip and cook 5 minutes more, until lightly browned on both sides. Remove the mushrooms from the pot and transfer them to a plate.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Sauté until the veggies begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour to coat the veggies and cook 2-3 minutes more.
Stir in the wine and return the mushrooms to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower heat and allow to simmer until the liquid has reduced by about half, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the broth, coconut milk, rice, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower heat and allow to simmer, uncovered, until the rice is tender, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add some water to the pot during simmering if needed.
Remove the pot from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with fresh parsley, if using. Serve.
Hearty chicken chili
1 medium jalapeno, diced (and de-seeded if you are concerned about spice level)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 4-ounce can green chili peppers
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Cilantro, avocado slices, tortilla strips, sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced jalapeño, optional for serving
In a large stock pan, heat olive oil to medium heat. Add diced onion and jalapeño, and sauté until softened, approximately 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, salt and pepper, cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes and stir another minute.
Add chicken broth and green chilies, and cook until boiling. Turn heat down slightly and add chicken breasts. Simmer for approximately 20 – 25 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
Meanwhile, mash one can of cannellini beans. Add to pot, along with the other can of beans.
Remove chicken to shred. Add it back to pot and simmer on low for another 10 minutes. Check seasonings and adjust according to your tastes.
Serve with optional garnishes – cilantro, avocado slices, tortilla strips, sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced jalapeño, etc.