A little comfort food can go a long way. With the COVID-19 pandemic confining us to our homes and leaving many out of work, finding joy in the little things is more important than ever.
We chatted with some of Philly’s finest chefs about their favorite comfort food recipes and the stories behind them.
Chef Jezabel Careaga Jezabel’s Studio, 204-208 S. 45th St., Jezabelsstudio.com
Comfort food pick: Sopa de Mani
“We used to visit a family friend Doña Deida. She was from Bolivia and for special birthdays, she would serve this soup. My mom started making it at home regularly and it’s become a staple at my parent’s home. Nowadays, my sister makes it in London, I serve it here in Philadelphia and my dad also makes it wherever he finds himself traveling. With its creaminess and flavor of chicken and oregano flavors, it always connects me to home.”
200 grams raw peanuts
1/2 cup oil
1 stalk of celery thinly sliced
2 medium onions thinly sliced
4-6 chicken thighs
2 quarts water or stock if preferred.
salt and oregano to taste
1 cup rice
Soak peanuts for 2-3 hours. Blend peanuts until creamy with a cup of water. Combine peanuts with the 2 quarts of water or stock and boil for 2 hours. On a roasting pan, pour oil, add celery and onions and roast at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, add chicken and cook for another hour. Don’t salt until the end. Once the peanuts are boiled for 2 hours, add the celery, onion and chicken in the pot and let simmer for another 20 minutes, adding the rice. Once rice is cooked (approximately 8-10 minutes), taste and add salt. I would recommend starting with 2 teaspoons of salt for this amount, but more can be added depending upon your taste. At this point, also add a pinch of oregano.
Chef Beth Fox Brown The Fairview, 601 N. 21st St., thefairviewphilly.com
Comfort food pick: “Jok” or Breakfast Congee
“I learned to make this dish while traveling in Thailand with friends years ago. Of course, there are variations of this dish all over Asia. It’s a breakfast staple. We had a host on one of the islands where we stayed, her name is Bella, and she would invite me into the kitchen every morning to watch her cook while the coffee brewed. She made a lot of sweet porridges as well — but this was really my favorite. I’ve taken some liberties with the recipe. Bella used sausage and a fried egg. We have those options at the restaurant but this is the way I like to eat it. It was one of those foods that I tried for the first time and immediately wondered how I’d lived without it my whole life.”
For the rice porridge:
1 cup broken jasmine rice
4 cups water
1-inch knob of ginger
1 stalk lemongrass
1 tsp kosher salt
For the egg:
6-minute soft boiled egg
soy sauce to cover
For the garnish:
Thai chili in soya bean oil or bird chiles in fish sauce
Soft boil the egg, peel and soak in soy sauce for no less than two hours. Rinse the rice until water runs clear. Add water, sliced ginger and smashed lemongrass and cook until rice is cooked and water is reduced considerably. Porridge should have a soupy consistency. Add garnishes to taste. Feel free to play around. (Some people really love adding dried shrimp.) Slice egg in half and stir yolk through rice porridge.
Chef Bobby Saritsoglou Stina, 1705 Snyder Ave., stinapizzeria.com
Comfort food pick: Yemista (Greek stuffed vegetables)
“Yemista are vegetables that are stuffed with rice and ground meat, and roasted in the oven until almost melted and all flavors are mingled. This dish is so comforting for me because it was a staple in my family growing up, the ultimate peasant dish that can feed many. As soon as it hit the preheated oven, it brought back such comforting memories and filled the house with a fragrant aroma, everyone slowly wandering into the kitchen to see what was happening.”
4 medium tomatoes
4 medium bell peppers (green and red)
4 medium potatoes
2 large Spanish onions
½ cup of garlic
2 cups rice
1 cup parsley
2 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp paprika
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt and pepper
1 lb ground beef
1 cup chicken stock or water
Steps: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mince onions, garlic and parsley, and place into a large pot. Add the olive oil, salt, pepper and other seasoning and saute on medium heat until softened. Add rice and toast for a few minutes. Add ground beef and break up with a wooden spoon. Take off heat. Cut off tops of vegetables and scoop out flesh and seeds. Place in a deep roasting pan. Stuff vegetables with the beef stuffing. Peel potatoes, place in the roasting pan and add stock or water, covering with foil tightly. Place in the oven for two hours. After two hours, check your vegetables to make sure they are soft. They should look wrinkled and almost collapsed. Uncover and continue to cook until tops begins to slightly charr. The key to this dish is patience.