Winter 2012
said. “I knew they had started the stew when I heard the
unique thud of the solid granite mortar and pestle being
lugged from beneath the cabinet and placed in the center
of the floor where my youngest sister was often tasked
with grinding the garlic, roasted peanuts, chili peppers and
(fermented fish paste).”
The couple, who recently moved to Chicago, believe that
the main difference between their comfort foods, be-
sides the vast difference in geographic origin, is that his
is made from scratch at home. Hers, on the other hand,
is from what she deems the “best bakery in Long Island”
and mailed frozen overnight, by her grandmother. “Even
though I do miss mixing the ingredients, rolling out the
dough and enjoying the smell of sweet pie that wafts from
the oven, I do get the pleasure of having my plate ready as
soon as the timer pings so I can offer up my plate for the
first slice,” Surrat reminisced.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin based Amanda Mouttaki was raised
through the long, cold winters of the American Midwest,
while her husband grew up in hot Southern Morocco. So
while big pots of soup boiling on Grandma’s stove or heavy
pasta dishes bring comfort to her, he prefers crisp, refresh-
ing salads and anything not very hot.
“After I came to Islam, I adapted my comfort foods to my
new halal lifestyle,” said Mouttaki who also has a popular
“I found common threads be-
tween both cultures and now chicken
is our family’s
winter comfort food.”
Tagine is named after the special earthenware pot in
which it is cooked and is common in North Africa. Amanda
has perfected the art of using warm Moroccan spices like
cumin, paprika and cinnamon with harder fall and winter
vegetables like potatoes and carrots that come together in
a light sauce.
“It’s funny how my kids love the Tagine,” Mouttaki said. “My
eight year old son wanted me to make it for his birthday!”
“I don’t think comfort food is microwavable at all,” said
Haya Radwan of Washington D.C. “Comfort food isn’t just
about the food itself, but about the vibe that comes with
it. So if it came from your mom or someone special or if
it reminds you of your childhood, then it is comfort food.
There is nothing comforting about a microwave. It needs to
be cooked with love.”
Personally, Radwan’s winter comfort food is
shish barak
, an
Arab dish comprising warm yogurt soup with dumplings of
tiny stuffed meat pies. “My mom always made it for the fam-
ily in the winter,” Radwan said. “It tastes amazing when it’s
nice and warm. Most importantly, it was made with her love,
and she always called us to come eat it with her soft, loving
voice.” For her sister, Alia Radwan, shish barak doesn’t quite
cut it. Alia’s comfort food? The all American soft, warm
chocolate chip cookie with melted chocolate inside.
Over the years, Radwan has become skilled at baking com-
fort foods herself. “I usually bake all the goodies for the
family, and I’ve even developed my own techniques on how
to make the consistency that everyone loves. It’s so much
fun,” she adds.
Surrat feels that comfort foods can be microwavable —
after they have been made from scratch.
“It isn’t simply the mechanics of turning on the stove that
makes something a comfort food. It is the process that
might begin before you enter the kitchen. Many memories
I have of special dishes started at the grocery store, as I
was told which cut of meat to get or instructed on choos-
ing the perfect piece of produce to ensure the right flavor
combination. I think heating something in the microwave
is fine the next day — after a dish has been properly fussed
over, tweaked and tasted; when an ample number of jokes,
memories and family stories, have been told.”
“Convenience can come from the microwave, not true
comfort,” Mouttaki says. “In a pinch, it may be the second
best option, but when I think a processing plant making
microwaveable foods, it doesn’t scream comfort to me.”
The first thing that comes to Aamna Anwer’s mind when
she thinks of comfort food is creamy tomato soup with a
toasted Asiago bagel on the side.
“Comfort food needs to be something delicious, that’s
within reach, makes you happy when you’re stressed —
and keeps you warm when you’re cold,” said the newly-wed
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