Five comforting dinners to try now it’s miserably cold

It’s time to start thinking about soups, casseroles, braises and roasts, says Emily Weinstein

Wednesday 17 November 2021 16:01 GMT
In this ramen, spring onions are so much more than a garnish
In this ramen, spring onions are so much more than a garnish (Getty/iStock)

Grab a blanket: we are careening towards the end of the year, which means it’s time to get cosy, people, at least those of you who live places where the weather gets cold. I’m talking soups, casseroles, braises and everything roasted. The farro and cauliflower parmesan below is a good place to start.

And, crazy but true, it’s also nearly time to start thinking about Thanksgiving.

Farro and cauliflower parmesan

A crispy-melty-tomatoey one pot wonder
A crispy-melty-tomatoey one pot wonder (Getty/iStock)

This dish has all of the crispy-melty-tomatoey appeal of a chicken or eggplant parmesan, but it uses only one pot. Olive oil provides richness, and grilling lends a cheesy crunch without the mess of breading and frying. The pizza-like flavours and mellow cauliflower make it a (potentially) kid-friendly meal. Feel free to omit the olives if that makes more sense for your family. In fact, this dish is highly customisable: add more or less red-pepper flakes, throw in some capers or use broccoli raab instead of cauliflower. Any salty, hard aged cheese will work in place of parmesan, like asiago or pecorino. Leftovers are great crisped in the oven.

By: Sarah DiGregorio

Serves: 8

Total time: 1 hour and 5 minutes


For the farro and cauliflower:

680g cauliflower (about 1 small cauliflower head or ½ large cauliflower head), florets and tender stems cut into large bite-sized pieces

340g semi-pearled or pearled farro

1 (32-ounce) jar good-quality marinara sauce

60ml olive oil

90g pitted kalamata or black olives, roughly chopped (optional)

8 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped

85g grated parmesan

1½ tsp sugar

1½ tsp onion powder

1½ tsp dried oregano

1 tsp balsamic or sherry vinegar

½ tsp red-pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)

1½ tsp salt

Black pepper

For the topping:

90g panko

56g grated parmesan

1 tbsp olive oil

225g fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds


1. Heat the oven to 220C. In a 22-by-33cm pan, combine the cauliflower, farro, marinara sauce, olive oil, olives (if using), garlic, parmesan, sugar, onion powder, oregano, vinegar and red-pepper flakes. Season with the salt and a generous amount of black pepper. Pour in 400ml water and stir well to combine. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

2. Uncover the pan, stir, and continue baking uncovered until the farro is tender-chewy and the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes more (if the farro has already soaked up all the sauce and the pan is looking dry, stir in 120-180ml water, just to make sure the farro has enough liquid to become tender and saucy).

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, make the topping: stir together the panko, parmesan and olive oil.

4. Turn on the grill. Evenly cover the top of the farro with the panko topping. Top with the sliced mozzarella. Grill on the top rack, about 15cm from the heat source, for 2 minutes, rotating the pan once and watching carefully for burning, until the panko topping is deeply browned and the mozzarella has melted.

Chicken birria

Use chicken thighs in this birria for faster cooking
Use chicken thighs in this birria for faster cooking (Getty/iStock)

Birria, a classic Mexican stew from Jalisco, is traditionally made with goat but also enjoyed with lamb or beef. This weeknight version features juicy chicken thighs for faster cooking. A quick blender sauce of dried chillies, garlic and tomatoes creates a smoky and rich base for the stew, which deepens in flavour as the chicken simmers. Here, the birria is enjoyed as a stew, but it also makes terrific tacos: simply dip tortillas in the warm broth, fill them with shredded chicken and top with chopped white onion and coriander, then fold in half and pan-fry until golden and crispy.

By: Kay Chun

Serves: 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes


3 dried guajillo chillies, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces

3 dried ancho chillies, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces

700ml low-sodium chicken broth

1 (800g) tin whole tomatoes

2 tbsp distilled white vinegar

3 large garlic cloves, peeled

Salt and black pepper

3 tbsp safflower or canola oil

680g boneless skinless chicken thighs

75g finely chopped white onion (from ½ medium onion), plus more for garnish

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp ground cloves

1 dried bay leaf

Chopped coriander, for garnish

1 lime, quartered, for serving

Rice, for serving (optional)


1. In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the dried chillies and 1 cup of the broth, and bring to a boil, stirring to submerge the chillies. Remove from heat and let stand for 3 minutes. In a blender, combine the chillies and the liquid, the tomatoes and their juices, vinegar and garlic, then season with salt and pepper, and purée until smooth.

2. In a large casserole dish, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and add half to the pot. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned and no longer pink, about 3 minutes, then transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken.

3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, onion, oregano, cumin, cloves and bay leaf and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the remaining 2 cups broth and the puréed sauce (carefully, as it may splatter), scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add chicken (and any accumulated juices), and bring to a boil. Simmer briskly over medium, partially covered, until sauce is thickened and chicken is cooked through, 25 minutes. Taste and season with salt.

4. Divide birria among 4 bowls, and top with onion and coriander. Serve with lime wedges and rice, if using.

Crispy salmon with mixed seeds

Yoghurt is the key ingredient to achieve shatteringly crispy skin on this salmon
Yoghurt is the key ingredient to achieve shatteringly crispy skin on this salmon (Getty/iStock)

This recipe produces not only silky salmon with a crunchy coating of fragrant seeds, but also a shatteringly crisp skin. That’s all thanks to yoghurt, which secures the seeds to the salmon and caramelises into a crust when cooked. Mix assertive and mild seeds for a balance of textures and flavours, or swap in a ready-made seed mix like everything bagel spice or dukkah. Eat the seared salmon with more yoghurt, as well as a squeeze of citrus and tuft of herbs for freshness.

By: Ali Slagle

Serves: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes


90g soft herb leaves and tender stems (such as mint, dill, coriander or parsley, or a combination)

1 lemon or lime

245g full-fat Greek yoghurt


1 tbsp sesame, millet or sunflower seeds

1½ tsp fennel, cumin or coriander seeds

½ tsp black pepper

4 (170g) skin-on salmon fillets

1 tbsp neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed


1. Finely chop 2 tablespoons of the herbs, and set aside the remaining herbs in a small bowl or measuring cup. Finely grate 1½ teaspoons lemon zest. In a medium bowl, stir together the chopped herbs, lemon zest and yoghurt. Season with salt. Transfer 3 tablespoons of the yoghurt to a small bowl. To the small bowl, add the sesame seeds, fennel seeds and black pepper. Stir to combine.

2. Pat the salmon dry. Season both sides lightly with salt. Spread the seeded yoghurt evenly over the flesh side of the salmon (this will be a thin layer; you’ll still be able to see the flesh through the yoghurt in spots).

3. Coat the bottom of a large (30cm) nonstick frying pan with the oil. Add the fish skin side down, then place the pan over medium heat. Cook until the skin releases easily from the pan and the flesh is opaque ¾ of the way up the sides, 10 to 12 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, thin the remaining yoghurt with water (about 1 to 2 tablespoons) until it’s saucy and spoonable. Lightly dress the herbs with a squeeze of the lemon, then cut the remaining lemon into wedges for serving.

5. When the salmon is nearly cooked through, flip the fish, and swirl so the oil goes under the fish. Cook until the seeds are fragrant and the fish releases easily from the pan, 1 to 2 minutes (reduce or turn off the heat, if burning). Gently transfer the fish to plates skin side up so it doesn’t get soggy. Eat with the yoghurt sauce, herb salad and lemon wedges.

Ramen with charred spring onions, green beans and chilli oil

Spring onions can be so much more than a garnish. Raw spring onions bring an assertive pungency, but when cooked, they take on a sweet tenderness that is very pleasing to the palate. In this vegan recipe, treat spring onions as you would a bunch of greens. Take cues from the Chinese cooking technique used for stir-fries, and add the spring onions to very hot oil to let them “bao” (to crack, explode or burst), drawing out their natural aroma. Those packets of ramen noodles stashed in your pantry are perfect for this quick yet intensely satisfying weeknight noodle dish. The chilli oil makes just enough for this dish, so if you want extra for future meals, make double.

By: Hetty McKinnon

Serves: 4

Total time: 30 minutes


For the chilli oil:

2 tbsp red-pepper flakes (see tip)

1½ tsp salt

120ml neutral oil, such as grapeseed, vegetable or canola

1 (2.5cm) piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tsp toasted white sesame seeds

1 tsp sesame oil

For the noodles:


4 (85g) packages ramen noodles, seasoning packs discarded

2 bunches spring onions (10 to 12 spring onions), white and green parts separated and cut into 5cm pieces

2 to 3 tbsp neutral oil, such as grapeseed, vegetable or canola

280g green beans, trimmed and halved diagonally

1 (5cm) piece ginger, peeled and julienned

White pepper

1 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds


1. Prepare the chilli oil: add the red-pepper flakes and salt to a heatproof bowl. Place the oil, ginger and garlic in a small saucepan, and heat over medium until it bubbles, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and very carefully pour the hot oil over the red-pepper flakes. Add the sesame seeds and sesame oil, and stir well. Set aside while you make the rest of the dish (chilli oil can be stored in an airtight jar at room temperature for up to a month and indefinitely in the refrigerator).

2. Prepare the noodles: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ramen and cook according to package instructions, about 3 minutes, until the noodles are just tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain well again.

3. Slice the white parts of your spring onions lengthwise, in half or quarters, depending on thickness, to make cooking faster.

4. Heat a wok or large (30cm), deep frying pan on high. When smoking hot, add 1 tablespoon of oil, toss in the green beans and season with salt. Cook, tossing the beans, for 2 to 3 minutes, until charred. Remove the beans from the wok, and set aside.

5. Heat the same wok or pan over high, and when smoking, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil, along with the spring onions (white and green parts) and the ginger. Allow the spring onions and ginger to sizzle for 20 to 30 seconds, to release their aromas, then stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until the spring onions have a nice scorch.

6. Add the green beans and noodles back to the pan, along with 2 or 3 tablespoons of the chilli oil (reserve some for serving), and season with salt and pepper. Toss well to combine, just until the noodles are heated through. To serve, divide the noodles into bowls, top with toasted sesame seeds and more chilli oil.

Tip: If you want to add a tingly heat to your ramen, you can add 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns and/or 1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean red-pepper flakes) to the bowl with the red-pepper flakes when preparing the oil. To save on time, skip making your own chilli oil, and use store-bought Sichuan chilli oil.

Traybake roasted mushrooms and spinach

If you love to cook but don’t always feel like cooking, this minimalist recipe is the recipe for you. Great with just about any protein – salmon, steak, chicken or even eggs, wrapped into an omelette – it comes together in under a half-hour, and develops loads of character from its time spent in the oven. While this versatile vegan side pairs well with protein, it’s also great over rice or noodles.

By: Millie Peartree

Serves: 4

Total time: 25 minutes


450g cremini mushrooms (or any combination of mushrooms you like), trimmed and sliced

3 small shallots, peeled and sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed

Salt and black pepper

2 (140g) containers baby spinach


1. Heat oven to 220C. On a rimmed baking tray, toss together mushrooms, shallots, garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread in an even layer. Roast until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add spinach to the baking tray, toss with mushrooms, and roast until wilted, about 5 minutes, turning once after 2 or 3 minutes and drizzling with a bit of olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve hot or at room temperature.

© The New York Times

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in