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Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 12:01 am

Foreign comfort

Moules mariniere, mussels steamed in white wine.
PHOTO BY NURI VALLBONA/TNS

 

Athens: A ham-and-bean supper will be held at Athens United Methodist Church on Friday, September 13…
 
Decades later, it still makes me laugh. I was in third or fourth grade at what was then Ball Elementary School. Whatever grade, it was the first time I’d encountered world history at school. One of our first homework assignments was to bring a newspaper clipping from a foreign country to class. I don’t remember the girl who contributed the Athens ham-and-bean article. But I do know that I couldn’t have been much more sophisticated than she. My family wasn’t world travelers, although we’d gone to St. Louis and Chicago a few times, as well as to Detroit where my dad’s sister, her husband and my three unbelievably handsome male cousins (all 10+ years older) lived.

Perhaps it was because I was (and still am) a voracious reader, and books about Greek gods would have been high on my list back then. But my exploration of food and food culture was years away. Regardless, I knew enough back then to realize that ham and bean suppers didn’t happen in Greece.

Comfort foods are linked to location and culture: macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and bread pudding come to mind here. But other dishes provide that warm blanket of comfort around the globe. The following recipes have joined my personal list of comfort foods.

Mussels are black bivalves that are frequently available (fresh) at Robert’s Seafood and local groceries’ fish counters. Mussels in various forms can be found around the world. New Zealand’s enormous green-lip variety is especially succulent, albeit frozen, at Asian markets. Mussels are relatively cheap, delicious and exceptionally nutritious.

There are dozens of ways to serve them but none more classic than the preparation below, found in Belgium, France and other West European coastal countries.     
 
Moules mariniere - Mussels steamed in white wine
• 4 lbs. fresh (not frozen) mussels
• 1 c. chopped onion or sliced leek
• 1 c. chopped celery
• 4-6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly, optional
• 1 T. butter
• ½-1 tsp. freshly ground pepper, or to taste
• 1 bay leaf, optional
• 1/2 bottle dry, acidic white wine, such as a Sancèrre, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc
• 1/2 c. chopped parsley, preferably flat-leafed

Rinse the mussels thoroughly. Throw away any with broken shells or those that are open and whose shells do not begin to close when pinched. Pull off and discard any fibrous “beards” protruding from the shells.

Melt the butter in a large kettle over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic, pepper and bay leaf, and stir to coat the vegetables. Cover the kettle and sweat the vegetables until softened.

Add the mussels to the pan and stir to combine. Pour the wine into the kettle, cover and raise the heat to high. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mussels have opened. Immediately discard any mussels that have not opened. Serve the mussels with their broth, sprinkled with parsley either directly from the kettle or in a large deep bowl. Be sure to have plenty of crusty bread for dipping into the broth.

Serves 4 to 6 as a first course, 2 as a main course.

I’d always thought that lamb was only appropriately paired with red wine until I made this Italian braised dish, which has become a winter favorite in our kitchen. Don’t let the use of anchovies scare you off; used sparingly, few people will even know they’re there. The anchovies add that elusive element of umami as they do in Worcestershire sauce. Incidentally, as with most braised preparations, this tastes even better the next day; I like to make extra to freeze for another meal.   

Lamb braised with white wine and garlic
• 3 lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into approximately 2-inch cubes
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
• 4-6 anchovy filets, minced
• 6–8 thinly sliced garlic cloves, or to taste
• 1/4 c. chopped fresh marjoram, divided, or substitute rosemary or thyme
• 1 1/2 c. dry white wine or vermouth
• 1/4 c. white wine vinegar, white wine balsamic vinegar or seasoned rice wine vinegar
• 1 T. all-purpose flour

Sprinkle the lamb pieces with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy-bottomed casserole with a cover, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Brown the lamb on all sides, being sure not to crowd the pan. You will probably have to do this in batches. As the lamb is browned, remove to a platter and set aside. Pour off any excess fat from the casserole.

 Reduce the heat to medium, and return the casserole to the stove. Add the sliced garlic and minced anchovies and sauté until the garlic is softened and golden, but not browned. Stir in the white wine, vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the marjoram and the flour. Return the lamb pieces to the casserole and mix gently. Reduce the heat to the barest possible simmer, cover the casserole and cook until the lamb is fork tender, about 1 hour. Adjust the seasoning. If the sauce is too thin, remove the meat from the pan and reduce the sauce. It should just coat the meat. Return the meat to the casserole, let stand for about 15 minutes and serve, sprinkled with the remaining marjoram.

Serves 6 – 8.
 
Rice puddings are pretty much comfort food by definition, none more so than this Southeast Asian version which replaces the West’s traditional egg-and-milk custard sauce with coconut milk and the rice’s “stickiness.” I’ve rarely had a rice pudding that I didn’t like, but this one is one of the best.
 
Sticky rice with mangoes and ice cream
• 1 1/2 c. glutinous rice, such as rice suitable for sushi
• 1 c. coconut milk, not presweetened
• 1/2 c. light brown sugar
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 3 c. cubed, ripe mango
• Best-quality vanilla ice cream, such as Haagen-Daas

Wash rice in a colander until water runs clear. Cook according to package directions. While rice is cooking, reduce the coconut milk in a small saucepan over high heat to 2/3 cup. Remove from the heat and stir in the brown sugar and salt. As soon as the rice has finished cooking, remove from the heat and gently stir in the coconut milk mixture. Let stand in a warm place for 30 minutes. Serve warm, topped with the vanilla ice cream and cubed mangoes.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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