I’ve never been successful in putting together a capsule wardrobe, but I do have something of a capsule recipe box.
When the weather starts to cool down every fall, I giddily browse my cold-weather recipes—namely, soups. There is something objectively delightful about a hot meal on a chilly day, but a lot of the appeal for me is returning to recipes I make year after year. Making my favorite seasonal recipes fits right in among the other rituals I look forward to, like taking long walks to enjoy the changing leaves and getting out my candles. Familiarity is powerfully comforting.
So, it’s not surprising that familiarity is also an important determinant of what we consider “comfort food.” Research suggests that the associations we have with specific food—especially relationships and memories of being taken care of—are as or more important than the food itself.
“People who have positive family relationships are more likely to reach for reminders of those relationships in times of sadness—and often, those reminders come in the form of something edible,” writes Cari Romm. “A grilled cheese sandwich can be a greasy, gooey, satisfying endeavor in its own right, but even more so if it features in happy childhood memories.”
I don’t remember eating a lot of grilled cheese growing up, but I do fondly recall waking up to a house smelling like homemade meatballs and tomato sauce (which would simmer all day on special occasions, like holidays or birthdays). Maybe that’s why I love a good Crock-Pot recipe: the aroma of dinner food wafting through my home during the day still reminds me of some of my happiest childhood memories.
I’m always adding to my recipe box, but these are a few of the recipes that I’ve made so often they qualify as traditions—maybe even my children’s future comfort foods.
Pumpkin and cinnamon are lovely additions to your typical chili—in fact, I now rarely make any chili without adding at least a little bit of cinnamon.
This recipe is easy enough to assemble, and the aroma alone will make your home feel extra cozy. Like most chili, it’s pretty forgiving; as long as you have approximately the right amount of tomato ingredients (whether they’re diced, crushed, or stewed) and beans (whether they’re the tri-bean blend listed in this recipe—which I have yet to see in a grocery store—or plain old black beans) it’ll come out fine. I often throw in diced sweet potatoes for extra bulk and color.
Chicken wild rice soup
This creamy soup tastes like Thanksgiving in a bowl. I often buy premade mirepoix (diced celery, carrots, and onions; my local grocery store sells it in the refrigerated produce section) so I can throw it in the Crock-Pot in under five minutes. There’s a little more work at the end between shredding the chicken and making a creamy sauce over the stove to stir in, but it is so worth it.
And if you’re interested in a vegetarian version, try this mushroom wild rice soup. It’s the same recipe but swaps chicken for mushrooms, and you can cook it over the stove or in the Instant Pot.
Creamy mushroom ramen
I have already sung this recipe’s praises, but I will do so again and again. It’s quick; it requires only a few ingredients; it’s simple enough to memorize; and it’s one of the tastiest soups I have ever made. (It’s even vegan. Find fault with it, I dare you.) I typically double or triple the recipe (as written, it serves one), and it’s been very forgiving even when I haven’t evenly scaled up every ingredient.
Now that we’re midway through October and the weather is changing accordingly, from my home to yours, I wish you a happy, comforting soup season.