Winter is always “the darkest season,” but this one more than most. While what we decide to cook and eat usually can’t make our problems disappear, it can soothe us, center us, fortify us, or consume our attention in welcome ways, even if only for a few minutes. For anyone in need of something to cook this week or beyond, here are five ideas that have been bouncing around my head (and my stove). For the most part, they’re simple, quick to make, don’t require any exotic or supremely expensive ingredients, and are, most importantly for the dark days ahead, warm and comforting. Read on for more.
1. Chickpea Soup With Almonds
If chorizo is your thing, try adding some with the onions and garlic.
In a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, cook a thinly sliced small onion, some smashed garlic, about a half cup of slivered almonds, salt, pepper, and a pinch of smoked paprika for about five minutes. Add a can of chickpeas (or your own cooked chickpeas; either with their liquid) and four cups of chicken broth or water; use a potato masher or wooden spoon to break down some of the chickpeas. Cook and stir until warmed through and serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley if you like.
2. Warm Cabbage Salad With Bacon
You can serve this over greens, like arugula, or not; I prefer to add a couple handfuls of homemade croutons to this, which is nice and hearty for the winter.
Chop a few slices of bacon and cook until brown. Meanwhile, use a food processor to shred a small head of red cabbage and a red onion. Add them to the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are wilting. Add a tablespoon of mustard seeds, two tablespoons of sugar, and a quarter cup of red wine vinegar; continue cooking until the cabbage is tender and the liquid has evaporated. Adjust the seasonings and serve.
3. Panini With Mushrooms and Fontina
If you can make grilled cheese, you can make panini; just use another pan or lid to press on the sandwich while it cooks in a skillet.
Cook about two cups of sliced mushrooms in butter; season with fresh oregano or thyme, salt, and pepper. When the mushrooms have released their liquid and dried out, divide the vegetable mixture among slices of good-quality whole-grain bread with thinly sliced fontina or other semi-hard cheese on top; add another slice of bread on top and brush the outside of both sides with olive oil or softened butter if you like. Cook the sandwich in whatever press you have until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted, adjusting the heat as needed.
4. Mussels in White Wine and Garlic
Wild mussels are always more flavorful than farm-raised (if you have the option); wash them well, and discard any with cracked shells or those which don’t close when you tap them.
Cook some minced garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes; add a half cup of white wine and bring to a boil. Add two (or more) pounds of mussels to the pot, cover, and cook for five minutes, or until the mussels open (discard any that don’t open). Serve the mussels in bowls with the broth, freshly chopped parsley, and slices of good baguette for soaking.
5. Chicken in Spicy Basil-Coconut Sauce
If you like more heat, don’t seed one or both of the chiles.
Season chicken cutlets with half a teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cinnamon, chile powder, and salt and sear them on both sides in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Remove from the pan, add more oil if needed, and cook sliced red onion, three minced cloves of garlic, and two seeded Thai chiles for about four minutes. Return the chicken to the pan along with about a cup of coconut milk, a couple dashes of fish sauce, and a few tablespoons of chopped basil. Cook until the coconut milk begins to bubble; reduce to a steady simmer and continue cooking until the chicken is done. Serve the chicken and sauce over rice with fresh lime wedges, garnished with more basil, cilantro, or mint (or all three).