Saturday, January 10, 2009

Comfort Food

It has been quite cold here in Wiesbaden. I don’t think it has gone above the freezing point since I got back from my holiday trip to Seattle. I’m still somewhat recovering from jetlag; I woke up late this morning with achy joints and muscles (ok, I’m stretching it a bit – it may not be muscles, but body aches). It was the perfect condition for comfort food. So I prepared sopas, a Filipino hearty chicken macaroni soup. The hearty meal of sopas did wonders for me. I was able to have a productive Saturday buying groceries, getting my haircut, and working 3 hours overtime.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to provide my favorite recipes and the story behind them. I provided recipes for my favorite comfort food ---arroz caldo and sopas. The following was my submission:

Arroz Caldo and Sopas

I have always heard the term “comfort food,” but did not really know the meaning of the expression. My enjoyment of the food that my mother had always prepared has given me a better understanding of the phrase. When someone is a bit under the weather, what food does one crave? During cold and rainy days, what meals do you yearn for? When you want a hearty meal but not too filling, what dish do you long for to satisfy your hunger?

I consider comfort food as the “feel good” food. It is the food that I pine for when recovering from an illness. During unpleasant weather, it is the dish that warms me all over. It is a fulfilling fare after a late wake-up on a weekend. After a hearty day of consumption, it is the antidote for a day of heavy eating. It is the light snack that I seek after a full day in school or work.

My mother, Inna, has just the right meal for these conditions. It is truly made from love and she appreciated the enjoyment that each and everyone receive from eating her special creations. The two dishes that I consider to be the ultimate comfort food are ‘arroz caldo” and “sopas.” For anyone who has not tasted these dishes prepared by Inna, you have missed the enjoyment and satisfaction of eating true comfort food.

Inna had a keen sense of when to prepare these dishes. It seemed like it was always the opportune condition when these dishes were prepared. Adding the right amount of patis, lemon, and black pepper on a deep bowl of arroz caldo, made for a heavenly meal. Ample amount of thinly sliced cabbage and carrots made the sopas hearty, while the proper cooking of the macaroni and precise amount of evaporated milk produced a creamy concoction. I would savor every spoonful and always come back for second helpings.

I would know right away when arroz caldo was being prepared because the distinct and scrumptious aroma of the garlic, ginger, chicken, and patis would permeate throughout the house. In the case of sopas, the mélange of chicken, pasta, and bits of vegetables steaming in a milky blend would promptly beckon me to the kitchen. Eating sopas or arroz caldo brings back special memories for me: The days I would arrive home after school and Inna would have a bowl of arroz caldo waiting for me; during the bitterly cold days of winter when the whole family would enjoy a serving of sopas while watching TV together; the days when you can hardly get up because of muscle aches, stuffy nose, and persistent cough, but at the waiting is a nourishing bowl of either dishes; or when served as brunch in the late mornings of a lazy weekend.

Comfort food is truly food which soothes the heart and soul.

The recipes below, in no way, come close to Inna’s. I have tried to provide my version of both dishes.

Arroz Caldo

Half chicken, cut into small serving pieces
3 cups uncooked rice
8 cups water
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon of thinly sliced strips of ginger
4 tablespoons patis (or 2 tablespoons salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (or whole peppercorns)
Hard boiled eggs, peeled (optional)

In a large covered pot, heat oil, sprinkle a little bit of salt on the heated oil, and sauté garlic. Wait for the garlic to turn brown (do not burn garlic). Add onion, ginger, and ground pepper to sauté. Add the chicken and patis/salt. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes – stir chicken a few times during simmering. Add water and rice. Stir often to prevent sticking of rice and chicken in the bottom of pan. Let simmer for 20 minutes over low heat or until chicken and rice are tender. Add hard boiled eggs at anytime during the simmering process.

Once served on individual portions, add lemon, patis, and ground pepper to taste.


Half chicken, boiled and flaked
8 cups of chicken broth
1/2 medium size onion, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups of macaroni
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced in strips
¼ cabbage, thin shreds
½ can of evaporated milk
Ground pepper

Boil chicken until tender. Save broth and set aside. Flake chicken into smaller pieces. In a large covered pot, heat oil and sauté onion until the onion becomes transparent in color. Add chicken flakes. Add ground pepper. Sauté for about one minute. Add macaroni and sauté for a short time (just enough to get a coating of oil on the pasta). Add broth. Cook until macaroni is tender. Stir often to prevent pasta from sticking to pot. Add milk. Just before the pot comes to a boil again, add celery, carrot, and cabbage. Do not overcook the vegetables. Add salt to taste.

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