Comfort Foods Home Chefs Are Making For Their Families During The Pandemic

They also share recipes!
Home is where the food is, for these talented chefs.
Home is where the food is, for these talented chefs.

Although restaurants across Canada are opening up again in some parts of the country, not everyone is comfortable yet with take-out and delivery, never mind eating out at a physically distanced patio. So, what to do if you’re queasy about dining out and ordering in but craving some eclectic fare?

Now is the perfect time to flex your culinary muscles in the comfort of your kitchen. We got four talented Canadian cooks to share their favourite go-to comfort dishes that represent cuisines from different parts of the world.

Some recipes are as easy as 1-2-3, while others may require a bit more muscle and patience. But, the end result? So worth it!

Who: Rick Matharu

Rick Matharu
Rick Matharu

Pandemic woes: When popular Mississauga restaurant Rick’s Good Eats shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, chef and owner, Rick Matharu, knew that he had to pivot quickly.

Known for his Punjabi-Canadian fusion food and quirky takes on Indian staples, Matharu refurbished his website to offer new heat-and-eat meals and a line of spices and sauces for home cooks to recreate their favourite “Rick’s recipes.”

Comfort dish: There has been so much to deal with that I had forgotten to actually enjoy the process of cooking creatively,” Matharu told HuffPost Canada. “I am paying more attention to my health. Taking time to breathe and spending time with my family has been the greatest joy in this lockdown. In these times, I turn to my Tandoori mac and cheese because cheese makes everything better. It’s buttery, gooey goodness in a bowl and it’s so easy to make — what’s not to love?”

Rick's tandoori mac and cheese.
Rick's tandoori mac and cheese.

Tandoori Mac and Cheese:

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 heaping tbsp sour cream or yogurt
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ to 1 tbsp tandoori masala spice
  • 1 box macaroni and cheese
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • ½ tsp garam masala or curry powder
  • 1 sweet red pepper, sliced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup mozzarella, shredded
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro to garnish

Method:

  • In a large bowl, mix chicken thighs, sour cream, lemon juice, and tandoori masala. Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 1 hr and up to 24 hrs.
  • Preheat the oven to 420 F. Place marinated chicken on a well-oiled baking sheet. Bake 15 – 18 min, flipping once halfway through. In the last minute of cooking, set the oven to broil for a crispy finish. Let the chicken rest, then slice.
  • Meanwhile, cook macaroni according to package directions. Then, start your sauce. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 min. Add garam masala and a pinch of salt, stir until fragrant, 1 min. Add red pepper and sauté until soft, 2 min. Add butter to pot and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add cream and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk in a packet of powdered cheese. Add drained macaroni and mozzarella to pot of cheese sauce. Stir until well-coated and cheesy. Add chopped chicken to mac and cheese.
  • Garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately.

Who: Muralitharan Thamba

Muralitharan Thamba 
Muralitharan Thamba 

Pandemic woes: Ajax, Ont.-based chef Muralitharan Thamba had massive cancellations for events that he was going to cater over the summer.

In an effort to adapt to the crisis brought on by the pandemic, Thamba is rolling out his signature Sri Lankan-inspired preserves, sauces, and pickles that are made in-house, under his catering and event brand, Brindleberry.

Comfort dish: “In our home in Trincomalee [Sri Lanka], which is a coastal paradise, we were a big joint family who sat down together for our meals,” Thamba told HuffPost. “There was a lot of laughter and good food all around and I miss that feeling, especially now.

“With my Kozhi Kulambu or traditional Sri Lankan chicken curry I am transported to my hometown and that’s very comforting.”

Kozhi Kulambu
Kozhi Kulambu

Kozhi Kulambu

Ingredients

  • 1lb chicken leg (cut into medium pieces with bones)
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 to 4 tbsp ceylon roasted curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 6 small cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 5 to 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 medium sliced ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp lemongrass
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • 1 pandan leaf (rambai)
  • 1 medium red onion chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes cubed
  • 1/2 tsp lime juice
  • Salt

Method:

To marinate the chicken

  • Add ceylon roasted curry powder, turmeric powder, ground pepper, 1 sprig curry leaves, 1⁄2 pandan leaves, 2 finely chopped garlic, 2 slices of finely chopped ginger, lemon grass, 1 tbsp coconut oil and salt with chicken pieces.
  • Marinate for 20 minutes.

Prepare the chicken curry

  • Heat up oil in a clay pot or medium saucepan. Add coconut oil. When the oil is hot enough add cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, curry leaves and pandan leaves into the pan. Sauté it for a few minutes.
  • Increase the heat of the pan to medium high and add chopped red onion, finely chopped ginger, and garlic into the pan and sauté for a few minutes until onions turn slightly golden.
  • Add the marinated chicken and coat well over medium heat. Cook the chicken for about 10 minutes while stirring gently. Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer.
  • Simmer for about 30 mins over low to medium heat until chicken is cooked. Add lime juice and adjust with salt if needed.

Who: Rawan Shwaikany

Rawan Shwaikany and her family.
Rawan Shwaikany and her family.

Pandemic woes: When schools remained shut past March Break, Shwaikany was bracing for the worst: keeping her three kids happy and gainfully engaged while her husband worked from home.

“The first three weeks were hard because they missed their friends but gradually we all fell into a daily rhythm of chores and activities and actually enjoyed time together as a family. As parents, we were thankful that our kids were safe at home with us,” says the homemaker, who escaped war in her native Syria to move to Oakville, Ont. in 2016.

Comfort dish: “My kids are picky eaters but when I make yabrak, a Middle Eastern rice and meat dish, they devour it. That gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. It is also a painstaking process and when it’s done and done well, there is a sense of achievement,” she says.

Rawan Shwaikany's yabrak.
Rawan Shwaikany's yabrak.

Syrian Yabrak

Ingredients:

  • Grape leaves (number depending on how many people you need to feed)
  • 1 lb ground lamb or beef
  • 1 cup rice rinsed and drained
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp cardamom
  • ½ tbsp ginger powder
  • Lamb shanks

Method:

  • Blanch fresh grape leaves just until they change colour. Drain well and let the leaves dry.
  • Make a mixture of the rice, meat, and spices and blend well.
  • Stuff the leaves with the above mixture. Tuck the leaves tightly at the bottom before you start filling so that the mixture does not ooze out.
  • In a big pot place large chunks of meat (lamb shanks for example) and then add the rolls over it closely together. Add just enough water to cover the rolls.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  • Serve with yogurt.

Lamia Chowdhury

Lamia Chowdhury.
Lamia Chowdhury.

Pandemic woes: Raising three kids while working full time as a senior analyst at the University Health Network has been daunting for Lamia Chowdhury, but the Scarborough, Ont. resident has been taking it one day — and one delicious meal — at a time.

“Work and home hours have definitely blurred but I have my in-laws and that really helps a lot. Though observing Ramadan and celebrating Eid was a tad different this year, I loved making treats with my mother-in-law and we bonded as a family,” she says.

Comfort dish: Beef Tehari, for me, is one of the easiest one-dish meals one can make, but every time I make it, it feels like a special occasion. It is a really flavourful, traditional Bangladeshi rice and beef dish that doesn’t require any side dishes to feel like a complete meal.

“Growing up, my mom made tehari on weekends and so I associate the flavours with the carefree weekends of my childhood with this dish,” she says.

Beef biryani tehari.
Beef biryani tehari.

Beef Tehari

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup mustard oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 green cardamoms, slightly crushed to open up the pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, 2” long each (or a tsp of ground cinnamon)
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp mace
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 2 lbs beef, cubed (about 2″ pieces)
  • 2 tbsp ginger paste
  • 2 tbsp garlic paste
  • 10-15 whole green chillies
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 250 F.
  • Wash the rice and keep it soaked in water.
  • Heat mustard oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Pick a large enough pot that will fit the meat and the rice, and make sure it has a tight fitting lid.
  • Add the onions and cook until slightly golden (about 5 min).
  • Add all the spices followed by the meat, ginger, and garlic pastes, and yogurt and salt to the pot.
  • Stir to mix all the ingredients well and cook covered over medium heat until the beef is cooked through and tender (about half an hour). Keep checking the pot to make sure the water hasn’t dried out, and add about half a cup of water at a time if needed.
  • Once the beef is cooked, carefully remove just the beef from the pot, leaving the gravy behind. Keep the beef aside and return the pot with the gravy to the stove.
  • Add enough water to the gravy to make 6 cups of liquid. The rice will be cooked in this liquid.
  • Turn the heat on high, and bring the water/gravy mixture to a boil. Add salt.
  • Drain the rice and add it to the pot and stir gently to make sure the gravy mixes with the grains of rice. Bring to a boil.
  • Add green chilies, and spread the cooked beef on top.
  • Cover the pot with a layer of aluminum foil and a tight fitting lid, and place in a preheated 250 F oven for 20 min.
  • Remove from the oven and let the dish rest, covered, for about 10 min.
  • Uncover the pot, fluff the rice and mix in the beef that is resting on top. Serve with a salad of your choice.

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