From chilis to soups: Ranking the top 15 cold-weather comfort foods (with recipes)
(This story originally published on Oct. 11, 2019, when the weather went from warm and sunny to cold and overcast overnight during the Austin City Limits Music Festival.)
Just in time for the second weekend of ACL, it’s about 50 degrees cooler than it was yesterday.
That’s a big drop, no matter where you live, but it’s the first real cold snap of the year in Austin, which means iced pumpkin spice lattes are now warm pumpkin spice lattes and home cooks are breaking out their best soups, stews and casseroles.
As I contemplated what I want to make during this two-day cold snap, I thought I’d compile some of my favorite cold dish recipes and rank them in a Top 15 while I’m at it. Like every ranking, this one is entirely subjective and highly influenced by the nostalgic foods of my youth, not to mention my current cooking preferences. Every fall and winter, I’ll make each of these dishes at least once, and certainly every time we get a big drop in temperatures.
Let’s be honest here: I eat ramen all year long. Fancy ramen from a restaurant has inspired me to spiff up ramen from the package that I buy at grocery stores, but I haven’t gone as far as trying to make my own noodles. I have recreated the soft-boiled egg and pork, though.
14: Massaman curry
With just three ingredients, you can make this Thai curry when a cold snap hits. I like to make massaman curry with chicken, potatoes and whatever thick greens I have in the fridge.
I’ve never successfully replicated at home the rich broth of my favorite restaurant pho, but I need to keep trying because this soup is restorative and hearty, without being heavy.
12: Moong dal
Yellow or red lentils are a wonderful base for a cozy vegetarian curry, but I really like this garlicky moong dal, which you can eat for any meal of the day.
Of all the warming seafood dishes out there, this Italian-American spin on more traditional Italian stews is probably my favorite. It’s complicated enough to make that I don’t usually try to recreate it at home, but it’s the soup of my dreams, especially when served with crusty garlic bread.
10. Shrimp and grits
Creamy, butter grits (or polenta) with garlicky shrimp makes for a stick-to-your-ribs dinner that isn’t a soup, but warms your belly nonetheless.
Without sauce, red beans and rice is just an OK side dish, but once you add slices of kielbasa or other smoked sausage, it transforms into a rich (and easy and not too expensive) dish worth sharing with neighbors. Plus, turning on the oven to make the cornbread warms up the whole house.
Once I figured out how to make risotto in the Instant Pot, I stopped fearing this notoriously fussy Italian rice dish. For a seafood twist, I’d reach for this paella-like Spanish rice dish.
There’s no need to boil lasagna noodles when making lasagna, but on a cold day, sometimes it’s nice to bring a big pot of water to boil on the stove anyway. There are about a million ways to make lasagna, but it takes so long to bake in the oven, it’s perfect for a day when it’s cold and gray outside.
Mashed potatoes, by themselves, a dinner do not make, but throw a little chili, chicken noodles or other stewed concoction in a baking dish and top with mashed potatoes? That’s comfort food, squared.
5. Chicken pot pie: Savory pies are much easier to make than you might think. Some people might argue that shepherd’s pie and chicken pot pie are too alike to each get their own ranking, but I disagree. Make a chicken or vegetable stew, mix in a little flour, pour into a baking dish and top with pie crust. (I keep store-bought crusts around for this purpose.) Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, and you’ll serve a piping hot dinner that’s better than anything from the frozen section of the grocery store.
Everybody has their own favorite way to make chili. That’s fine. But I hate to brag: My way is the best. Or at least that’s what I hear, even from people to whom I am not related. My kids like to eat it with macaroni, but I prefer Fritos, avocado, sour cream and cilantro. The key is heavy chili powder and a few dashes of garam masala. I also like the combo of ground beef, pork, black beans, kidney beans and sweet potatoes, but that’s just me.
Chicken tortilla soup has easily replaced chicken noodle soup in our house. The tortilla chips have something to do with that, but mostly, it’s the heafty dose of lime juice. The acid from the citrus balances the richness of the stock to create a bright, hearty dinner that will cure what ails you.
2. Pozole: Make it red or green. With pork or chicken. Just don’t forget the hominy, cilantro and lime juice. I like pozole just a hint more than tortilla soup because the large pieces of hominy make it even more filling, plus the leftovers keep a little better.
My No. 1 comfort food is entirely based on nostalgia and the fact that my grandmother really did make the best chicken and dumplings I’ve ever had. I’ve been trying to perfect her thick, hand-cut egg noodles over the years, but even when I don’t come close, I still feel the most comforted when I eat this dish. And because I can’t get enough carbs with it’s cold, I insist on eating those fluffy dumplings with saltine crackers. I don’t mind the biscuit-like dumplings, but the noodle-like ones are my favorite.