Winter is the season for comfort foods. The cold, dark nights demand warm, soothing and sustaining meals—hearty stews, hot soups and bubbling casseroles. For most of us, the particular foods that give comfort hearken back to childhood and reflect the culture or area in which we grew up.
But rather than stick exclusively to the traditions of my own somewhat one-dimensional culinary upbringing—tuna noodle casserole, instant mashed potatoes, frozen chicken potpie—I like to experiment with the iconic flavors of other cultures and countries. These four dishes are inspired by the cuisines of Morocco, India, Iceland and Great Britain, respectively.
The tagine—both the name of a North African clay cooking vessel and the dishes that are cooked in it—is essentially a chicken stew, kicked up with an aromatic spice blend, tangy preserved lemons and olives. It cooks low and slow, resulting in meltingly tender meat. (If you don’t have a tagine, don’t fret: a Dutch oven will do just as well.)
The Indian-style triple pumpkin curry is the perfect dish for vegetarians or a Meatless Monday feast. It’s filling, spicy and, thanks to the chickpeas, it packs a protein punch. A drizzle of nutty pumpkin seed oil and crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds give the dish depth and textural variety.
The shellfish soup was inspired by a recent trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, where locals regularly warm up with a piping hot bowl of lobster soup. Finally, the steak cottage pie is my version of the classic British dish. Rather than minced beef, I use chunks of meat, and add parsnip to the mash for an unexpected pop of sweetness.
In flavor, these dishes are all very different from one another, but they have one thing in common: They are guaranteed to warm your soul on a cold winter’s night.