Nix the soup, try other warm bowls for chilly evening fare, says Andrew Coppolino
Beyond familiar soups or mac-n-cheese, a world of bowl foods brings warming comfort
When I started thinking about warming bowls of food at local restaurants, snow was swirling in a stiff wind. It's why we need such dishes with flavour and comfort as November rolls in.
Representative and not comprehensive, here a few warming stew-like bowls from local restaurants (for economy, I've left out mac 'n' cheese, soups and breakfast bowls; please check with restaurants for dish availability).
Chili for the chill
I searched for it in many places: rare is the phrase "chili con carne," but it's a mainstay of pubs and diner-style restaurants, such as the Piper's Arms near Sportsworld Drive and the "Badger chili" with melted cheese at Black Badger pub in Galt.
Slices in downtown Kitchener (which has a good, inexpensive basic breakfast) clocks in as one of the most economical "home-made chilli with toast" for $7. As well, Cambridge Restaurant in Preston serves its spiced chili with garlic toast for $6.75.
At Morty's Waterloo, the family chili recipe is 40 years old and served with Grainharvest Bakery garlic bread with cheese, according to Morty's Jay Taylor.
"It's scratch-made using local ground beef and simmered in a house-made tomato sauce with charred green and chipotle peppers, onions, corn, and three kinds of beans," he says.
A few blocks south from Morty's, Ethel's Lounge cranks out a "gunpowder" chili. When they were testing out a recipe, they roasted and ground some ancho chilis and added them to the spice blend.
"The smell and look and all made us think gunpowder. Plus, the name was cool too," according to Ethel's owner Glenn Smith.
Ethel's chili comes with grilled garlic bread or "Texas" toast; the latter got me thinking of Texas chili with chuck or brisket – and a paste of chilis with no beans in the mix at all: I couldn't find any locally (but would love to hear word).
Shepherds and cottages
While chili is meaty, the addition of some potatoes or a savoury crust gives meat pies some added depth of flavour.
Lamb is often reserved for Shepherd's pie and Kitchener's Rich Uncle Tavern has lamb and porcini mushrooms topped with Dubliner cheese and smashed potato. In Cambridge (Preston), the Argyle Arms makes a pie with beef, onions, peas and carrots topped with mashed potatoes and cheese.
Scran & Dram in New Hamburg has a beef and mushroom pie with rich Guinness gravy and a savoury crust, while Kitchener's The Falls Road Pub makes a "cottage pie" with ground beef and mashed potatoes with grated cheese.
Veggies can warm a bowl, too
If you shop at the grocery store, you've likely seen a few varieties of artichoke dip and variations thereon. It's a favourite snack of mine, but with some warmed pita bread it's filling enough to be a meal.
Beertown makes a spinach-artichoke dip as does Ennio's Pasta House in Waterloo and Kitchener; Nostra Cucina on Manitou adds Asiago cheese to theirs and ciabatta to scoop with. Meanwhile, the new Crowsfoot Smokehaus in Conestogo has a warm pepperjack cheese and cider dip – we can imagine the bit of acidity from the cider gently cutting through the rich, creamy cheese.
A classic veggie bowl is ratatouille (the word comes from the Old French word meaning a "coarse stew," capturing the way it should be made); it's a classic veg stew of Provence packed with onions, zucchini, peppers, garlic, tomatoes and herbs. Check out Crazy Canuck in Kitchener and near St. Jacobs Market for their version.
World of flavours
While it's not technically a "bowl," robust stews come from local Ethiopian restaurants: tekel gomen is cabbage, carrot and potato stew and red lentil dishes like misir key wot are just so delicious scooped up with some injera. Visit Muya and East African Cafe in Kitchener for these warming and comforting foods.
Lisboa Bakery and Grill in the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Kitchener cooks a classic Portuguese cod dish dish called bacalhau and braz: it's grated cod, potatoes, onions, eggs and black olives.
Across the Iberian peninsula to the Middle East, The Bauer Kitchen prepares an Egyptian-inspired "Taaza" rice bowl packed with grilled chicken, hummus, pita crisps, avocado, kale and other vegetables along with cumin yogurt and dukkah, a spice condiment that blends herbs and almonds.
A curry bowl is very warming, and there are many at local Thai restaurants, including the panang with broccoli and sweet peppers at Mimo Thai Kitchen and the steak and shrimp yellow coconut curry with red onion, zucchini, rapini and water chestnuts at Red House, both in Waterloo.
A couple of favourites of mine are rice bowls like bibimbap and donburi: the former from Taste of Seoul in Kitchener is a "mixed rice" bowl of beef, sauces, veg and an egg; the latter, a tangy sushi rice layered with slices of avocado, a couple of pieces of crab, an assortment of mixed greens, crispy shards of fried batter and thick house-made kewpie-style mayonnaise from Izna in downtown Kitchener. The extra flavour punch comes from furikake, a seasoning rich in umami.
A few dishes I've just discovered – and which are on my list – are oyakodon at Suki Sushi on Erb Street (an egg, poached chicken and rice bowl that translates to something like "parent and child rice bowl") and the Korean baked corn-and-cheese "casserole" with creamy mayo, some sugar and melted butter that is on the menu at Onnuri in the plaza near University of Waterloo. Doesn't the combination sound delicious?
Add to that as well the eggplant dish at Waterloo's Loloan; it's elevated in flavour by virtue of chef-owner Paul Boehmer's expertise in southeast Asian cooking.
"It's a Burmese dish from Rakhine state, the home of the Rohingya people," Boehmer says. "It's typically served as a part of a multi-course meal. The grilling of the eggplant gives a smoky flavour, balanced with shallot oil, turmeric, dried chillies, lime and mint."
It's a warming bowl that sounds delicious — and one with no little geo-political gravity to reflect on when it comes to human rights.
As I mentioned Friday on The Morning Edition, over the next week Princess Cinemas in Waterloo will be screening First We Eat. It's a documentary by Suzanne Crocker, who tests her family's food security living 300 kilometres from the Arctic Circle by removing all grocery store food from the house. For more information about the film and a schedule of screenings, visit https://www.princesscinemas.com/movie/first-we-eat
Texas Chili recipe
As promised to listeners of The Morning Edition on Friday, here's the Texas Chili recipe.
- 1 ounce dried guajillo chilis
- 1 ounce dried pasilla chilis
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Salt to taste
- Vegetable oil
- 1 pound brisket trim or beef chuck (cut into small bite-sized pieces)
- ½ cup finely chopped onions
- 2 clove finely chopped garlic
- Beef stock (about 1 cup)
- Water (as needed)
- 1 to 1½ tablespoon masa harina (corn tortilla flour, or ground up corn chips)
- ½ teaspoon honey
- ½ cup brewed coffee
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- Garnish such as sour cream, lime wedges or chopped scallions
- Reconstitute the dried chilis in hot water (30 minutes; reserve liquid) and remove stems and seeds. Chop the chilis, remove any tough skin and combine with the spices and salt and pepper in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add some reserved liquid and some water to make a paste.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet and cook the beef gently. Remove and keep warm. Cook the onions and garlic until soft. Add the stock and heat.
- Whisk in the masa harina until incorporated and without lumps. Stir in the honey, coffee and cocoa powder until combined.
- Add the chili paste and the reserved beef. Reduce heat to a low simmer, stir occasionally and let it stew for about 2 hours, checking for tenderness of the meat. Adjust for seasoning. Add broth, water or reserved chili liquid if chili is too thick.
- Remove from heat and let chili rest for 20-30 minutes. Garnish and serve with jalapeno corn bread.