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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

Winter warmers: the power of comfort food and the recipes to try

No matter the cuisine, comfort-food dishes share a number of traits: they’re soothing, easy to eat, robust and filling

Traditional roast dinner at Reform
Traditional roast dinner at Reform

Snow-capped hills and sunlight glinting on a frozen lake; woolly hats and gloves; steaming bowls of soup and the promise of hot chocolate topped with clouds of cream. The weather in the UAE is just about perfect right now, but as the festive season rolls around, many of us still dream of a chilly December and all that comes with it. If you too are struggling to embrace that winter feeling and want to summon up a little seasonal spirit, the quickest, easiest and most delicious way to do so is by hunkering down with a big batch of comfort food. And if you really want to get your cosy on, that food should be hearty, home-made and include the sorts of dishes that will warm you from the inside out.

No matter the cuisine, comfort-food dishes share a number of traits: they’re soothing, easy to eat, robust and filling, and they feature familiar flavours that are by no means bland, but certainly aren’t taxing on the palate. So whether your go-to dish when you need to feel soothed is South African bobotie, North Indian dal, traditional British pie and mash, slow-cooked Korean beef short ribs or a classic French tartiflette, stick with it. This is no time for culinary experimentation, refined presentation or dainty portions.

In the quest to achieve a peak state of snugness, though, it’s not only about the food. You’ll need to pay attention to your surroundings as well – which brings us to the now familiar Danish concept of hygge. Meik Wiking, chief executive of Copenhagen think tank The Happiness Research Institute and bestselling author of The Little Book of Hygge, says that while the concept is a state of mind that’s often associated with cold weather, it’s still perfectly possible for those us living in the desert to embrace the idea and turn our homes into a seasonal sanctuary.

“Candles and blankets, friends, food, talking, familiarity – all of these things are hygge. The key is that nothing should feel pressured, forced or too controlled,” Wiking explains. His suggestions for embracing hygge in the UAE include stargazing and a trip to an outdoor cinema, but his sure-fire tip for the wintry feeling that many of us crave is to go back to basics and build a bonfire: “A fire is definitely part of the hygge equation – it creates a sense of relaxed togetherness, with no need to keep the conversation going because you have the sound of the flames,” he says.

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Once those flames die down, Wiking recommends cooking snobrod (Danish bonfire bread or twistbread) over the embers. “Find a suitable straight stick and clear the bark off the end so it will hold the bread. Wrap the bread tightly around the stick and place it over the glowing embers. Now imagine: people are gathered around the fire, in a close circle that opens out a little as the smoke changes direction. Your eyes may hurt from the smoke, your hand may hurt from being close to the fire, your bread is turning black on the outside, yet remaining unbaked inside. But it still doesn’t get any more hygge than this.”

If that sounds like an idea you fancy, Wiking’s recipe for snobrod follows, as do two other dishes that have comfort at their core and should send you snowballing in the direction of a winter wonderland.

Twistbread (Snobrød)

Twisted bread. Alamy Stock Photo
Twisted bread. Alamy Stock Photo

Makes six pieces

Preparation time: 1 hour and 15 minutes (including 1 hour for the dough to rest)

Cook time: Approximately 10 minutes (depending on the heat of the flames)

Ingredients

25g butter

¼ litre of milk

25g yeast

2 tsp sugar

¾ tsp salt

400g flour

Method

Melt the butter in a pot and add the milk, heat until lukewarm. Add the yeast and dissolve. Pour the mix into a large bowl and add the other ingredients to make a dough, but save a little bit of the flour. Knead the dough well and put it back into the bowl, cover and leave it to rise in a warm place for about an hour. Put the dough on a flour-covered surface and knead well again. You may add the rest of the flour at this point. Divide the dough into six pieces and roll each piece into a strip about 40 centimetres long, then wind around a thickish stick. Bake the bread over the embers of a fire, but be careful not to have the bread too close to the heat. The bread is sufficiently cooked if it gives a hollow sound when you knock on it, or when it easily slips off the stick.

Recipe by Meik Wiking

Roasted tomato soup with cheesy croutons

Roasted tomato soup with cheesy croutons. Courtesy Scott Price
Roasted tomato soup with cheesy croutons. Courtesy Scott Price

Serves 6

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Ingredients

4 large tomatoes, quartered

½ head garlic, cloves separated (no need to peel)

8-10 basil leaves

5 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, peeled and sliced

1 large potato, peeled and diced

1 tbsp tomato puree

200ml passata

2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

1 tsp caster sugar

3 slices bread, cut into 2cm cubes

30g cheddar cheese, grated 2 tbsp plain yoghurt, to serve (optional)

Method

Line a baking tray with foil or baking paper. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Put the tomatoes, garlic and basil leaves on the prepared tray, drizzle with two tablespoons olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper, and mix well. Transfer to the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes. Set aside. While the tomatoes are cooking, put a saucepan with one-anda-half tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, stir to coat in the oil, season and add a splash of water. Cook for 10 minutes, until the onions have softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the garlic from burning, for one to two minutes. Tip in the diced potato and cook for five minutes, then add the tomato puree. Cook for two more minutes, then add the passata, chopped tomatoes and sugar. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so. Remove the pan from the heat, leave to cool slightly then tip into a blender. Squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin into the blender and add the cooked tomatoes. Blend well. To make the croutons, toss the bread cubes with the remaining oil and tip on to a baking tray. Toast in an oven at 200ºC for five minutes, then sprinkle over the grated cheddar and cook for five more minutes. To serve, divide the soup among serving bowls and top with the cheesy croutons and a little yoghurt, if you like.

Easy chicken pie

Easy chicken pie. Courtesy Scott Price
Easy chicken pie. Courtesy Scott Price

Serves 4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Ingredients

4 chicken thighs

4 garlic cloves, peeled

6 sprigs thyme

2 tbsp olive oil

10g butter

200g button mushrooms, sliced

1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped

2 tbsp plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard

100ml creme fraiche

300ml chicken stock

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry

1 egg, beaten

Method

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Put the chicken thighs, garlic and thyme leaves in a baking dish, drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Once cool, pick off the chicken meat, discarding the bones, skin, garlic and thyme leaves. Set a frying pan with the remaining olive oil and the butter on medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the mushrooms and cook, shaking the pan every so often, for five minutes. Add the spring onions and cook for three more minutes. Tip in the flour and heat, stirring constantly for one minute. Add the Dijon mustard and creme fraiche, and leave to bubble briefly, then stir in the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Spoon the filling into a pie dish approximately 25cm by 20cm. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry into a rectangle slightly larger than the pie dish. Gently lay the pastry over the pie, pressing the edges to seal. Brush with the beaten egg. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry has risen and is golden brown. Serve with buttery mashed potato for an extra comfort hit.

Three classic comfort food dishes to try when eating out

Traditional British roast

Traditional roast dinner at Reform
Traditional roast dinner at Reform Social & Grill.

Ask a British resident what meal they seek solace in when they’re feeling homesick and, more often than not, a roast dinner tops the list. Every family has their own way of serving it and everyone thinks their version is the best. Even if you didn’t grow up to the smell of roast beef filling the house every Sunday, it’s still hard not to see the appeal of the classic roast dinner and its associated parts: crispy, golden roast potatoes, cauliflower under a blanket of cheese sauce, stuffing (with chicken), Yorkshire puddings (with roast beef), mint sauce (with lamb) and lots of gravy (with everything).

Try it at

Reform Social & Grill, The Lakes, Dubai (Saturday and Sunday) The Scene by Simon Rimmer, Pier 7, Dubai Marina, (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) McGettigan’s, Al Raha Beach Hotel, Abu Dhabi (Saturday and Sunday) The Retreat, The Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa (Saturday)

Swiss raclette

Raclette. Courtesy Bistro des Arts, Dubai Marina 
Raclette. Courtesy Bistro des Arts, Dubai Marina 

If you’re familiar with raclette then its status as a comfort-food dish requires little explanation. A half-wheel of creamy, semi-soft cheese heated until molten and begging to be scraped away at with handily provided knives. The cheese is presented sharing-style for optimum conviviality, and accompanied by cold cuts, boiled potatoes and pickles. What’s not to love, or indeed feel comforted by?

Try it at

Bistro des Arts, Dubai Marina (Wednesdays are Raclette Night) Publique, Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai Chez Charles: Call 04 512 2444 to order your own raclette set to try at home from the gourmet grocer in Dubai.

Thai bua loy (rice balls in sweet coconut milk)

In contrast to the majority of Thai desserts, bua loy is served warm and features small, colourful, handrolled rice-flour balls, most often made from pumpkin, sweet potato, taro or beetroot, and sticky rice flour. These balls are boiled in sweet coconut milk and garnished with shredded coconut. Mo Abedin, the Emirati artist and designer who created the Sticky Rice concept with his mother, Amena, a passionate student of Thai cooking, describes the dish as a “hot dessert loved in all of Thailand. It is the perfect comfort food; the bowl is warm to the touch for those cold days and it has a unique chewy texture that makes it very satisfying to eat. The first thing most people notice about the dish is the beautiful colours, which resemble a rainbow, swimming in silky, rich white coconut milk. It takes a long time to prepare bua loy, but once you have finally made it, or mastered it, the results are truly striking.” Try it at

Sticky Rice, Sobha Daffodil, Jumeirah Village Circle, Dubai

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Updated: December 12, 2018 05:53 PM

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