This post is part two of the series that could be subtitled, “Delicious Things I Cooked Using Homemade Beef Stock.” About a week ago the Guardian food blog ran a piece on comfort food. It was a nice musey piece; good ‘food for thought.’ What defines “comfort food?” Certainly it means something a little different for each of us. I agree with Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall (the post’s author) that comfort food doesn’t need to be heavy stodgy stuff like shepherd’s pie, although I’m not totally persuaded that it can really extend to anything you’re in the mood to eat. I may be ecstatic about the beautiful salad I’ve just made, but that doesn’t make me want to call it “comfort food.” For me, sometimes comfort food is spicy Asian noodle soups like pho or Szechuan beef tendon soup. But usually when I think of “comfort food,” it is something that evokes a feeling of nostalgia. So I think I liked best what my friend Sabrina said, which is that comfort food is food that feels like a hug.
A LOT of Polish food is comfort food to me, since it’s the food I grew up eating. (My mother is Polish.) And I have to admit that I have been feeling pretty nostalgic lately. This soup was one of my favourite things to eat as a little girl, and it reminds me of chilly New York winters and good kitchen smells and (of course) of my mother. Like a lot of peasant food it is strong simple stuff. The nice thing about this soup is it’s fairly adaptable. You can add sliced button mushrooms, or vegetables like carrots or celery, or even potatoes, and you can use a vegetable or chicken broth instead of beef broth, and you’d still be making “krupnik.” I like to keep this soup fairly minimalist and (what I think of as) classic: I use a rich beefy broth, plenty of dried porcinis, and pearl barley. I actually don’t know if this is exactly how my mother makes it, but it tastes right to me.
What’s your comfort food and why is it comfort food? When do you crave it? And who made it for you first?
750 ml good strong beef stock
250 ml boiling water
20-40 grams dried porcini (cepe) mushrooms (depending on how strong and mushroomy you want your soup to be)
75-100 grams pearl barley
Salt and pepper
Additional items as desired, such as chopped fresh parsley or sour cream for garnish, sliced button mushrooms, or diced vegetables
Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in the boiling water for about an hour, or until soft. Strain out and reserve the liquid, and chop the porcini mushrooms into smallish chunks.
Combine the chopped mushrooms, soaking liquid, and beef broth in a medium-sized pot and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes or until the soup is fully infused with the mushroom flavour. If your mushrooms have swelled during the cooking, you can (if you wish) skim them from the soup and chop them more finely.
Season with salt and pepper. Add the barley and (if using) the mushrooms and/or diced vegetables, and cook for a further 30 minutes or until the barley is cooked and any additional ingredients are soft. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve very hot, topped (if you wish) with fresh chopped parsley and/or sour cream, and accompanied by good crusty bread for dunking.
Makes 4-6 servings.
yes agreed Susan comfort food is different to every one. I also love Pho and I cant go past a big bowl of peas….. ( or for that matter pea and ham soup). I would love your soup and you have certainly managed to use the beef stock with aplomb
Thanks Tania! I like that peas spell comfort food to you. That sounds like a childhood memory for sure.
Confort food covers so many bases for me – from cheese on toast or beans and baked spuds (comfort food of my youth) to slow cooked meats, particularly lamb, from tagine to curry to hotpot.
Once constant is big bowls of rice, either plain, with a little spicy seasoning or with some of the aforementioned lamb dishes. This comes from my first few years with Nigel Slaters “Real Fast Food”, back in the dim and distant 1990s past at university.
Loving the sound of the Krupnik too – I wonder if some rosemary and carrots might be just teh addition… *wanders off plotting changes*
Mmm… Rice and spicy lamb. I could do with some of that right now. I can’t wait to hear about your version of Eastern European comfort food.
Variations on this soup are endless. I have made a version by adding diced carrots and potatoes. The heady flavor and smell of the mushrooms is what I associate most closely with my childhood. I fondly recall fishing for the largest chunks of cepes from the bowl.
Yeah, what was with you getting all the big chunks of cepes from the bowl? Older sisters always get the best cepes. Anyway, great minds, etc. I meant to mention that you were making a version with turkey stock and vegetables but … I forgot. But now you’ve done it. Good!
I lived in Poland for two years about ten years ago and I loved all the soups there. It’s really annoying me now because I can’t remember the name of my favourite one, which I’ve never had since. For me, comfort food is slow cooked stews and casseroles.
If you describe the soup to me, I am certain that (1) my mother would know what it was and (2) she’d give me the recipe and I’d blog it! I may even recognize the soup if given sufficient detail. This is a promise.
Soup is my go-to comfort food. Not entirely sure where it started, but I love it in any season and almost any kind. I tend to make myself a variation on chicken soup for lunch most days, using whatever veggies or protein I have in the house and a chicken broth base. I also have to make sure I have some crunchy chips to eat on the side!
Isn’t it funny how much we all love soup. I wonder if there is some biological imperative — we all have some embedded Paleolithic memory of stewing all the things that were otherwise too tough to chew…
that soup looks like my idea of comfort food, usually a big warm bowl of something, with rice or noodles inside. that, or like you said, anything, that is nostalgic and reminds me of home and mum’s cooking, which I always strive towards. never knew your mum was polish, please keep mor epolish recipes coming (:
also, linked up your squid-cleaning post in my recent blog(: I figured you did such a nice thorough job explaining it already, no point in me trying to do so!
I’m ecstatic that you linked to me!!! And so flattered! I will keep the Polish recipes coming. I promise.
Mmm I bet that tastes so nice and earthy!
It does, especially if you use a lot of mushrooms. Very woodsy and rich.
My sister-in-law grew up eating Russian and Polish food, whereas I am a California wimp. She says beef stock. I say chicken stock. She says rice. I say bread. She told me borscht needed beef stock and tons of mushrooms. My comfort foods are sweets and starches: baked custards, Indian pudding, homemade bread. My Mom made them. My Grandma made them. I eat a wide variety of things and like to cook various cuisines but the basic comfort foods are family foods for me. I prefer hot and sour soup, however, when I am sick, or chicken pho. P.S. I made black bread a couple days ago: too bad my sister-in-law wasn’t around.
I like that your comfort foods are sweets and starches! Homemade bread is a special one. My borscht isn’t made with beef stock or mushrooms — that’s more Russian than Polish I think — but I think I’m more like your sister because of my Polish mother. I’m looking forward to trying your black bread recipe!
I agree: big, warm dishes are very comforting. For me, comfort food can’t be meager portions. Kind of defeats the purpose of being comforted, I think. Home-made food is a given. Nothing fancy or show-offy. Most importantly, it has to taste good, refer to good memories, and promise equally good ones in the future!
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This looks gorgeous, Susan! I cannot wait for Winter. It will be here soon and then I’ll be able to cook so many wonderful dishes like this! Hope you’re well x
My mom is Polish too and so I love kielbasa z kapusta, kiszka, and chicken gizzard soup (not sure if this is Polish or just a family recipe). Also, pork hocks cooked in kapusta is gorgeous (skin on!). We make a similar beef & mushroom soup finished with sour cream. Mmmmmmm, lots of umami there.
I asked my mother about the gizzard stew and she said, “zoladki!” and that it is something she used to cook for my father in the early days of their marriage when they were young and poor. I intend to post more Polish recipes when the weather gets chilly again (klopcik, for example). Thanks for the nice comment and keep them coming! 🙂
Hi! Love your recipes. Bring back so many memories. My parents were both Polish born in Poland. The one food I never learned to make was a (my Mom called it perogy) but these were baked, the outside was a bread dough and the inside was buckwheat mixed with potatoes , salt pork. That’s all I can remember. If you hear of a recipe for these type of “perogies” please let me know. Thank you.
That sounds phenomenally delicious! I’m going to check with the expert on this one (read, Mom) and get back to you.