Life Food & Drink

Friday 17 January 2020

Rachel Allen kicks off a month-long celebration of comfort food

It’s January - we are cold and tired and in need of some comfort. Rachel Allen eases us gently into 2020 with some hearty, cosy meal ideas

Rachel Allen's Leek, mussel, potato and bacon chowder
Rachel Allen's Leek, mussel, potato and bacon chowder

Happy New Year to you all! To ease you gently into 2020, I'm going to be talking about comfort food this month. We'll start with extra hearty soups this week - each one is what you might call a meal in a bowl; then go gently into risottos next Sunday; then easy casseroles, and, finally, we will have cosy, comforting puddings at the end of the month.

A chowder is one of the most comforting soups ever. Smooth and creamy with chunks of delicious goodness, the leek, mussel, potato and bacon chowder recipe, right, is one of my favourites.

The comfortingly simple mercimek corbasi recipe, far right - a superb rice, lentil and lemon soup - comes from my friend Shermin Thompson, who has Turkish Cypriot roots. It's often eaten to break the daily fast during the month of Ramadan, but in my opinion, it's just perfect at any time of the day. The lemon juice and salt seasoning are really important for the overall balance of flavour - add lots of chopped parsley too, if you fancy it.

I love Mexican food, and find the soups from that part of the world really restorative and comforting, but, at the same time, they have a nice kick on the side. This black bean number with sour cream and coriander, also far right, really ticks the boxes for me - it's hearty, deliciously tasty and oh-so comforting.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

Now that's a hug in a bowl.

Shermin's mercimek corbasi

Serves 4-6

You will need:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Sea salt

200g red lentils

100g long-grain rice, such as basmati

1.5L cold water

Juice of 1-2 lemons

1 Pour the extra-virgin olive oil into a saucepan sitting over a low-to-medium heat, and add the finely chopped onion. Season with sea salt, cover the saucepan, and cook until the onion is soft.

2 Add red lentils, the long-grain rice, and the water. Season with more sea salt. Bring up to the boil, and simmer, with a lid on, for about 15-20 minutes, until the rice and lentils are fully cooked. Add lemon juice to taste, and some more sea salt if necessary, and serve in deep bowls.


Leek, mussel, potato and bacon chowder

Serves 4-6

You will need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

110g smoked or unsmoked bacon, cut into 1cm dice

10g butter

110g trimmed and diced leek

275g peeled and diced potato

1kg mussels

300ml dry white wine

200ml milk

200ml cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Crusty bread, to serve

1 Heat the olive oil in a saucepan on a medium heat, and cook the diced smoked or unsmoked bacon, whichever you're using, for 3-4 minutes until it is crisp and golden.

2 Add the butter, and when it is melted, add the diced leek and the diced potato. Cover the pot, and cook the vegetables gently on a low heat for 6-8 minutes, or until they are tender but not browned, then remove the pot from the heat. Set aside.

3 Meanwhile, prepare the mussels. Scrub the shells clean, and discard any mussels that remain open when you tap them against a hard surface. Remove the beard - the little fibrous tuft - from each mussel.

4 In a separate large saucepan, bring the dry white wine to the boil, and add the prepared mussels. Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and leave the mussels to cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the shells have opened.

5 Remove the saucepan from the heat, and drain the mussels in a colander, retaining the delicious cooking juices. Discard any shells that remain closed. Once you've drained the mussels, return them to the empty pan to keep them warm. Place a fine sieve over a measuring jug and strain the cooking juices. If the juices in the jug measure less than 600ml, add some water to make them up to that quantity.

6 Add the 600ml of juices and the milk to the bacon and vegetable mixture in the pot you set aside earlier, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, and pour in the cream, and simmer for two minutes.

7 Meanwhile, remove half of the mussels from their shells and add them to the chowder, along with the remaining mussels still in their shells. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the chopped fresh parsley, and serve with some crusty bread.


Rachel's top tip

For a faster version of the Mexican black bean soup, skip soaking the beans overnight - instead, use three 400g tins of cooked (and drained) black beans. Boil them in the stock for five minutes before adding the other ingredients.

Mexican black bean soup

Serves 4-6

For some extra bite, drop a few deep-fried tortillas into each bowl, along with the sour cream.

You will need:

225g dried black beans (see my Top Tip, left)

1.5L chicken stock or vegetable stock

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 tablespoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan and crushed

1 x 400g tin of tomatoes

3 generous tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (see Rachel Recommends)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few pinches of sugar

150ml sour cream or creme fraiche

1 Put the dried black beans in a bowl, cover them with plenty of cold water and soak them overnight. Make sure the bowl is large enough, and that there's enough water to keep them covered, as they'll almost double in volume when they are soaked.

2 The next day, or at least eight hours later, drain the beans, put them in a saucepan and cover them with fresh water, then bring them to the boil, and drain them again.

3 Now put the beans in the saucepan again, and cover them with the chicken stock or the vegetable stock, whichever you're using. Place the saucepan over a medium-to-high heat and bring it to a simmer. Cook the beans for at least half-an-hour, until they are almost tender.

4 While the beans are cooking, place a separate saucepan, on a high heat. Add the olive oil and allow it to get hot. Now add the finely chopped onions, the finely chopped garlic, the finely chopped chilli and the finely chopped celery, and saute the vegetables until they are translucent, stirring them regularly - this should take about 10 minutes. Add the crushed toasted cumin seeds, the tinned tomatoes and most of the chopped fresh coriander. Add this mixture into the saucepan of cooked beans and their liquid, and leave to simmer for half-an-hour or so, to allow the flavours to blend.

5 Season the soup with some salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a few pinches of sugar. Serve in deep bowls with a dollop of sour cream, or creme fraiche, whichever you're using, and the remaining chopped fresh coriander over the top.

Rachel recommends

Use fresh parsley in the Mexican black bean soup if you don't like coriander.


In season: Cockles

As well as being a great time of the year for mussels, cockles are also at their best now. Use half-and-half cockles and mussels in the chowder recipe, or all cockles, if you wish.

Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in Life