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Comfort Therapy : The Dinner Pot

January 20, 1994|MARION CUNNINGHAM

The best therapy for winter days is comfort food. Even if you don't cook much, any of these dishes will be easy to make--and the results will lift your spirits. And if you go a step further and invite someone to share your food, you can't help being cheered.

The first recipe for comfort food was the most daunting, because I felt a low-fat dish should be included. For me, the definition of comfort food is the feeling of being completely satisfied when finished eating, and somehow this is difficult to accomplish without fat. But Chinese winter soup has the magic of an elixir: You feel restored afterward.

After that, it was easy. Split pea soup is a timeless classic, beyond fashion and style. As such, it must be plain and simple (I have had "creative" versions that included rosemary, garlic or even hard-boiled eggs and capers, which is like taking your paintbrush and trying to improve a Cezanne.) The flavor should be of earthy dried peas with a hint of aromatic onion and ham or bacon, and the texture must be thick and creamy. Serve it hot.

The cheese-and-chile supper dish is a cross between a custard and a frittata. Rich with three melted cheeses and spiced with green chiles, it goes well with sliced tomatoes--or a tomato salsa--and warm tortillas. This dish is good either hot or cold.

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You can mix it and pour it into the pie plate hours before you are going to bake it. Just refrigerate covered until near serving time. Be sure to put it into a cold oven if you bake it straight from the refrigerator. What could be more comforting than that?

CHINESE WINTER SOUP

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup sliced mushrooms, wiped clean

1 cup young small spinach leaves, rinsed

2 tablespoons light or mild soy sauce

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chile oil or hot pepper sauce

1/2 pound tofu, cut into small dice

2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons water

1/2 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

1 green onion, finely chopped

In saucepan heat broth, mushrooms and spinach. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes. Combine soy sauce, vinegar, pepper and sesame oil in small bowl. Stir to blend. Add to broth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add tofu, cornstarch and egg, stirring constantly until bits of ribbons form. Sprinkle some of cilantro and green onion on each serving. Serve hot. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

137 calories; 873 mg sodium; 18 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 0.24 gram fiber.

SPLIT PEA SOUP

2 cups dried split peas

3 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

7 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup ham bits, or 1 ham bone with some ham on, or 6 slices bacon, chopped and fried until tender

Pepper

In pot soak peas overnight in water to cover. Drain. Melt butter in soup pot. Add chopped onion and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add water, peas, salt and meat. Simmer about 1 hour, until peas are mushy.

Remove ham bone, if using, and leave ham bits in soup. Put soup through food mill or processor until creamy and smooth. Return to pot and heat before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

592 calories; 1,443 mg sodium; 47 mg cholesterol; 24 grams fat; 63 grams carbohydrates; 33 grams protein; 3.90 grams fiber.

Note : If you want to keep ham or bacon bits in pieces, strain from soup before putting through food mill or food processor. Garnish soup with bits when serving.

Soup bowl and scallop dish from Bristol Farms Cook 'N' Things in South Pasadena.

CHEESE-AND-CHILE SUPPER DISH

3 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 pound shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 1/2 ounces cream cheese, cut into bits

2 tablespoons melted butter

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 pound chopped canned green chiles

In mixing bowl combine eggs and milk. Whisk vigorously until well blended. Stir in shredded cheese, cream cheese, and melted butter. Blend well. Add baking powder, cornmeal and chiles. Mix thoroughly. Grease 8x1 1/2inch-deep pie plate. Pour mixture into greased pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees about 25 minutes. Check after 20 minutes for doneness. It should be lightly golden around edges and center should be moist and trembly. Remove. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

407 calories; 550 mg sodium; 239 mg cholesterol; 31 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

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