I get it, most normal people aren’t eating cold Indian food from a bowl at 4:30 in the morning. But, as I checked out the news headlines in what has become a morning ritual for me this year, I felt the need for a little comfort. Anyone who’s taken even a passing glance at current events lately will probably agree. The world needs a little peace, love and understanding right now. And a lot of comfort.

For me, comfort means feeling secure, peaceful, and confident. It means a warm place to sit, a good book, and pajamas that don’t bunch and bind around the waist. Most of all, it means the smell of simmering food in the air, the taste of warm spice on the tongue, and the tranquil feeling one gets when their belly is just shy of being full.

When speaking of comfort food, people don’t usually stop to think about why a certain food makes them feel comfortable while other foods do not. There’s this general feeling that it’s something warm and filling, tasty but not challenging, and easy to chew and digest.

In the Midwest this can mean a Thanksgiving dinner or the pumpkin pie that follows, a casserole or hot dish like tuna noodle or wild rice, or a grilled cheese sandwich with a steaming mug of tomato soup on the side.

I think we can all agree that these foods sound comforting, but why? Presumably, it’s because we ate macaroni and cheese or blueberry pancakes when we were children and the simple act of slowing down and enjoying these foods significantly reduced the stress in our lives. Later in life, when faced with another difficult situation, we go back to that simple act, slow down, and take a few bites of something delicious.

I first discovered Indian food as a young adult after having moved to a new city. My wife and I were wandering around downtown, checking out the little shops and restaurants and generally having a good time on a crisp fall day. As late afternoon moved into early evening, we realized we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and were starting to get hungry. Many of the downtown restaurants were already closed. We were about to pack it in and go back to our little apartment when my wife spotted an Indian restaurant. We decided to stop in and give it a try.

I won’t say it was an earth shattering moment, but that experience affected me in a significant way. The combination of sweet and warm spices, the way layers of flavor are built, and the soft and creamy textures of the sauces all influenced the way I cook, the way I think about food. For that, I am eternally grateful.

That blustery fall day, all I was thinking was how delicious and perfect the food was and how good it was to have found something in this new city.

Something we could do together, to carve out our little spot and call it our own. That feeling is why Indian food is comfort food to me, that feeling of being able to take something big and new and intimidating and make it seem a little less scary with warm spices and soft sauces.

That is why I was eating cold Indian food out of a bowl at 4:30 in the morning.

Over the years, I’ve learned to make a variety of Indian dishes. These are the two that I keep coming back to. Serve with basmati rice, plain thick yogurt, and naan.

Garnish with coarsely chopped cilantro.

Oven Roasted Butter Chicken

4 chicken thighs

Salt and pepper to taste

8 T. butter

1 medium onion, diced

1 T. minced ginger

2 T. minced garlic

1 t. ground cumin

1 t. garam masala

½ t. cardamom

1 C. crushed tomatoes

½ C. chicken stock

¼ C. plain yogurt

¼ C. sour cream

Preheat oven to 375. Place chicken thighs skin side up in a small, greased roasting pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and place in the oven. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes until juices run clear or thighs read 165 on an instant read thermometer

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Saute the onions, garlic and ginger in a medium saute pan or skillet until soft. Add the spices and saute until fragrant.

Add the chicken stock and simmer 5 minutes. Gently stir in the yogurt and cream and stir until smooth.

Pull chicken from the oven, top with the sauce and roast for another 10 minutes. Remove and serve.

Cauliflower and potatoes

1 medium onion, diced

1 T. vegetable oil

1 T. butter

2 T. minced garlic

1 T. minced ginger

2 T. cumin

3 T. yellow (Madras) curry

1 T. mustard seeds

1 t. cayenne pepper

2 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 head cauliflower

2 C. chicken stock

1 14 oz. can coconut milk

½ cup frozen peas (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan, saute onions, garlic, and ginger over medium high heat, stirring, until onions are soft.

Add spices and continue to stir, cooking until fragrant.

Add potatoes and cauliflower and stir until they begin to soften and are coated with spices. Add chicken stock and simmer until potatoes begin to soften. Stir in coconut milk and simmer until vegetables are tender.

If using, add peas and adjust seasoning.

Bruce Wallis is a chef, educator, and food nerd at The Leelanau School. You can reach him at brucejwallis@gmail.com.

Recommended for you