Tag Archives: Diane Henry

Small comforts


I KNOW IT’S A CLICHÉ to write about “comfort food,” but the anxiety I’ve experienced  since the election has made comfort seem more necessary than ever. There is something calming about the normality of cooking, especially if you’re making something both comforting and nourishing.

Last week I made a mushroom-chicken pot pie topped with biscuits that fit the bill. Aviva showed me how to do this basically in one pot: saute onions and garlic with your choice of vegetables –some options: mushrooms, chopped potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, cauliflower greens– in butter and/or oil in a cast iron skillet. Add a few tablespoons of flour and seasonings (salt, pepper, rosemary or thyme) and then add enough broth (chicken or vegetarian) to make a nice “gravy” for your pie. Add cooked chicken or leave it out for a vegetarian version. The sauce should be a little thinner than you want it as it’ll thicken in the oven. You can top with a biscuit dough, as I did here (Mark Bittman’s biscuit topping works well) or with a typical pie crust.


Or, for the easiest method, do as I did recently and use puff pastry (buy it frozen and thaw it). Lay a circle of puff pastry over your filling, and cut a few slits for the steam to escape.

For any of these toppings, bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits or other crust is golden.

The pot pie is a little more ambitious than my usual comfort nourishment though. I gravitate toward the simplest form of cooking. Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that I love SOUP, especially in fall and winter, when my go-to supper is soup and bread (or toast, popovers, cornbread, etc.).

Indeed I have a long family history with soup, one part of which I wrote about in my latest sketchbook:


In just the last few weeks, I’ve run through a lot of my soup favorites: lentil with spinach and lemon, parsley-potato; chicken soup with matzo balls, red lentil soup; and of course, minestrone.

My latest soup creation is another lentil soup, this time with lots of carrots to brighten its color, and some seasoning to perk up the flavors. I adapted it from a recipe by British food writer Diane Henry for “Turkish carrots and lentils with herbs” in the book Plenty (no, not the Ottolenghi Plenty).

Henry’s recipe is more a side dish with fewer lentils and no real broth; I doubled the lentils and added more water for a soup-ier version. She suggests fresh mint, parsley or dill for the herbs — I chose to use cilantro (but I do want to try the mint version sometime.) Henry also adds 2 teaspoons of sugar, but I left it out; it didn’t seem to need it. The coriander seeds and red pepper, along with the lemon and herbs give it a bright and lively flavor.


This first serving was more stew-like; when I heated it up the next day, I added more water to make it more of a soup. Really good either way.

Carrot-lentil soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1/4 – 1/2 dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 6 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (or you can use tomato puree)
  • 4 or 5 cups vegetable stock or water
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped cilantro
  • lemon juice
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute’ the onion until soft. Add garlic and spices and cook for two minutes. Then add everything else except the cilantro and lemon juice.
  2.  Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water or broth as you like — it can be more of a lentil stew or a soup.
  3. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a glug of olive oil to the soup (I don’t but you might want to).
  4. Ladle into bowls, adding a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a good sprinkle of cilantro into each bowl.

I love Diane Henry’s concise description: “This shows just how delicious frugality can be.” And comforting too.



Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, supper time, vegetables, winter

Still winter…….

sweet potato with marinated feta and olives

Baked sweet potato with marinated feta and kalamata olives

Well, when we were in Southern California, it was all very well to subsist on loads of mandarins and quick meals of tacos or lemon fettucine (along with twice-weekly fabulous huevos rancheros breakfasts at Esau’s Cafe).

Back in the Pacific Northwest, it’s still winter and something heartier is needed. I made my usual round of soups — minestrone, potato-leek, mushroom-barley and lemony lentil with spinach — and then looked around for some non-soup inspirations.

In a used bookstore in San Francisco, on our way south to Carpinteria, I had picked up a book by Diana Henry, called “Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons.” (See why I had to buy it? … and more about those pickled lemons later.) Henry is a food columnist for The Telegraph in London and her writing is very appealing, as are the recipes.

Henry offers many Middle Eastern recipes, but this one is not traditional, as sweet potatoes are seldom eaten in the Mediterranean. I think it would be excellent with regular baking potatoes too, and it’s simple and quick to put together.

Break up 6 or 7 ounces of feta cheese and mix with 1/2 a tablespoon of fennel seeds, a medium red chili, seeded and cut into fine slivers, a crushed garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds and enough olive oil to moisten. Cover and set in a cool place or refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.

Bake four medium sweet potatoes until tender.  Split them open lengthwise and sprinkle with a little olive oil and freshly ground black pepper, then fill with the marinated feta and sliced kalamata olives. Scatter chopped cilantro over all and serve.

Another recent inspiration was from the engaging Italian cook, Lidia Bastianich, whose braised Swiss chard and cannellini beans recipe is very satisfying. It was similar to some greens-and-beans I make, but in this case the chard is cooked till very tender, and crushed tomatoes add a lively note. The original recipe called for more olive oil than I thought it needed and for a dab of tomato paste, which I didn’t have. I’m sure it’s dandy as she made it, but I’ll give you my slight adaptation, below.


Cannellini Beans with Swiss chard, adapted from Lidia Bastianich

  • 1/2 pound dried cannellini beans (or 3 cups canned beans, drained and rinsed. You can also make this with Great Northern beans)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • a big bunch of Swiss chard
  • about 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes (such as San Marzano)
  1. Rinse the beans and soak overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain, transfer beans to a large saucepan and cover with fresh cold water. Boil for about 40 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat, stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and let the beans cool to absorb the cooking liquid.

  2. Rinse the Swiss chard and cut off the stems (save for soup stock). Slice the leaves crosswise about every two inches.

  3. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to the boil. Drop in all the chard at once, stir and cover the pot. Cook for five to ten minutes, until the chard is thoroughly tender. Drain the cooked chard well in a colander. Also drain the beans.

  4. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil with the sliced garlic in a skillet over medium-high heat, until the garlic is sizzling. Toast the red pepper flakes in the skillet, then pour in the crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil.

  5. Add the beans, season with salt, and heat rapidly, stirring. As it’s simmering, stir in the chard and bring to a boil over high heat for a couple of minutes, tossing the mixture and stirring constantly. As the juices thicken, drizzle in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and simmer another two or three minutes.


The next night, I served the leftovers with some polenta and a grilled chicken sausage. Great winter meal!


Mandarins were perfect for dessert

Oh yes –what about those pickled lemons?


Diana Henry’s recipe for pickled lemons is very simple: sliced lemons, sprinkled with salt and paprika. How do they taste? I don’t know yet… it takes about three weeks before they’re ready. Stay tuned.


Filed under baked goods, Praise for other cooks, soup, supper time, vegetables, winter