Comfort Food Cook-Off


Eve from The Garden of Eating has decided to hold a Comfort Food Cook-off, to mark the rapidly cooling weather. While everyone in the northern hemisphere is probably waxing lyrical about perfect roast chickens and plump sausages perched on couches of mashed potato, I pause for a moment to quietly recall how much I love such dishes, before realising with a glance out the window that the pastel blue skies and gentle breezes of summer in Sydney evoke a completely different type of comfort food altogether : one which is equally comforting despite (or because of) the weather. …

….Since writing the above paragraph, it has been raining for days, and I’m actually beginning to fantasize about sausages and mash. Luckily, we still have a couple more months of Summer left, so there’s still time to indulge in the comfort food of hot weather, which is a combination of crisp, brightly coloured salads, juicy chilled slices of watermelon, fresh fruit ice creams and a tall glass of something icy with perhaps a generous splash of Prosecco, Campari or Pimm’s. Anything that makes you go Ahhhh! as you slump into a deckchair. Or failing that, as you collapse onto the living room floor, limbs akimbo, having reasoned that hot air rises and cold air sinks, so being closer to the ground should theoretically feel cooler to your sun soaked body. I remember doing this as a kid, growing up in the heat and humidity of Malaysia. On particularly hot afternoons, I would be sprawled on the floor, strategically positioned under the whirr of the ceiling fan, reading a selection of Lat, Asterix and Tintin comics.

Having had two childhoods; first in Malaysia, and then in Sydney, Australia, my personal version of comfort food skips between the two cultures on a daily basis. It has developed from things I used to love and still feel nostalgic about, such as :

– steamed lotus seed paste buns
– a big slice of blackforest cake
– banana fritters
– fried hokkien noodles with soy sauce
– anything chocolate

.. to things I find very soothing these days after a particularly long day at work :

– still anything chocolate
– a bowl of blueberries
– whole fish steamed with ginger and shallots
– pickles and rice

The last on the list is probably my ultimate comfort food. The type of pickles can be anything from fiery kim chi, to Indonesian achar. Given the recipe and a specific set of ingredients, the end result can be physically replicated, but to completely understand why it’s so comforting, you’d also need to come over to my house, sit on my favourite bit of the couch, tuck your feet under my favourite blanket (weather permitting), and be eating it with my favourite person, while watching Robot Chicken.

However, the recipe below is a good place as any to start. It comes from one of Kylie Kwong’s earlier cookbooks, and is great served as a side dish or an appetiser accompanying a Chinese feast. You can also thinly slice the finished pickles and toss them through a chilled noodle salad (there’s a very good recipe for this in the same book) or through a green salad (utilising the pickling liquid in the dressing). It’s a great, easy recipe that yields a decent sized batch of crisp pickles that will last in your fridge for a long time (depending on how much comfort food you find yourself needing!).

Just be aware that if you have a small kitchen like I do, you find find the assault of simmering vinegar on the nostrils a little confronting. Let me assure you though, that these tangy pickles are totally worth all the eye-watering and nose-hair singeing you might experience!

Goong Goong’s Homemade Pickles :
(recipe from Kylie Kwong’s Recipes and Stories)

650-700g savoy cabbage
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 medium daikon radish, peeled
1 bunch red radishes
1/4 cup sea salt
2 1/2 cups white sugar
1.5 lt white vinegar
1 teaspoon chilli oil
1/4 cup light soy sauce

Slice cabbage in half lengthways, remove core and cut into irregular pieces about 5cm x 2.5cm. Roughly pull pieces apart to separate leaves. Slice cucumber and carrots in half lengthways, then cut into batons about 6cm x 1cm. Slice daikon in half lengthways, and cut into pieces roughly 3cm x 2cm. Cut red radishes in half. Place prepared vegetables in a large bowl, sprinkle with salt, and mix well to combine. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Combine sugar and vinegar in a heavy-based pot and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer, without stirring, until reduced and slightly syrupy – about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Next day, pour the cooled syrup over salted vegetables. Add chilli oil and soy sauce to taste, and mix thoroughly. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days to allow the flavours to develop before using. The pickles will keep, refrigerated, for several months.


  1. Helen said,

    January 20, 2008 @ 5:52 pm

    Yum, I love those free plates of pickles you sometimes get at Chinese restaurants. I could quite happily munch on these for an entree.

  2. Y said,

    January 20, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

    Oh, I’d forgotten about those! You don’t see them very often these days, do you! These pickles taste just like those restaurant ones.

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