Roti Dal has always been my home base. It's comfort food in its simplest, no-frills, most pragmatic form, and through many sorry purchases, I've found that no store-bought or frozen iteration can do it justice.
The popping oil of tempering spices, the kitchen exhaust on roaring high, and the shriek of the pressure cooker signaling that it's time to set the table are essential parts of the experience. Adding to its appeal is that dal is endlessly customizable. Some cook the lentils down to a creamy consistency, while others let them retain a toothsome bite. Everything from the spices used to temper to the thickness—varying from slurpable soup to stick-to-your-bones stew—can be tailored to the moment. It's a warming, nourishing, grounding meal, and its rejuvenating qualities multiply when eaten with family and loved ones.
Our ritual: My mom whips up roti, her bare hands deftly touching the smoking-hot cast iron tawa with dexterity and speed I can't dream of approximating. My brother and I wait at the table for her to pass the puffed roti, steam escaping from the edges, from tawa to our plates, and we obsess over "the ratio." Too much dal left over in our bowl compels us to ask for another roti. If there's a bite of roti left, we have to serve ourselves another helping of dal. So we go back and forth, lingering at the table until we're stuffed and our fingers are stained yellow from turmeric, in hopes of the elusive, perfect final bite. —Antara Sinha
While most of my kindergarten peers eagerly awaited the tooth fairy, I went to bed in anticipation of a visitor unique to our home alone: the soup fairy. Our courtship was fleeting but memorable; if I finished my soup at dinner without protest, I'd wake up to a crisp $5 reward under my pillow. I rarely finished my bowl and hit payday.
As an adult now looking to compensate for those stubborn, soupless childhood years, I often make a classic Turkish soup with chickpeas and barley, topped with a heaping spoonful of dried mint leaves and Urfa pepper. Relying on yogurt—even yogurt nearly past its prime–for its tangy flavor, it's an optimal dinner for snowy nights when you don't want to trek out to the grocery store. Although most Turks will opt for pide bread to accompany this soup, potato- and cheese-packed velibah from North Ossetia, a region in the Russian Federation, is a particular treat for my family. (My mother's side hails from the region, which is also my namesake.) In my grandmother's Istanbul kitchen, I spent hours sipping sugary black tea and watching butter slide into the velibah's cracks, marveling at how much those paper-thin layers could swallow. Coupled with this soup, it's just as unorthodox a pairing as myself, a Turkish American named after a region in the North Caucasus. I wouldn't have it any other way. —Oset Babür
I grew up in the Bronx, where the flavors of your family's curry were as personal as the block you were raised on. Everyone's mom made their own version, and I quickly came to recognize the different flavor, heat, and spice profiles from the curry blends I tried as a kid. I learned that while heavy turmeric, pimiento seeds, fenugreek, cumin, and coriander are usually in your standard curry, the true signature of a great iteration was in the balance of the spices.
I was blessed enough not only to grow up eating West African dishes but also to have had people from the Caribbean and West Indies in and around my family. The ingredients my mother used the most often were the same ingredients my friends' parents cooked with, and even today, they hold powerful nostalgia for me. Individually, ingredients like Scotch bonnet peppers, ginger, thyme, and garlic are staples in my household, but when they are combined in a curry, the aroma is nothing short of electrifying.
These days, I like to bring that Caribbean influence home in a coconut shrimp curry, which I combine with doubles, two turmeric- and cumin-spiced bara. As kids, my best friends and I would walk up the hill from our church every Sunday to grab bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches; oxtail with peas and rice; and, of course, those warm flatbreads. As an adult, I love bara more than ever, especially as the vehicle for curry. The rendition I'm sharing here, a play off of a traditional South Asian–influenced Trinidadian street food, uses a generous portion of dough for each flatbread, creating a heartier vessel for whatever tasty accompaniments you want to add. —Eric Adjepong
Mole Verde has a special place in the Masala y Maíz kitchen. It was on our first menu when we opened our restaurant in Mexico City in 2017 and, since then, has been a mainstay in some form. This richly textured, spicy, deeply aromatic mole verde is our take on one of Norma's abuela's classic recipes, which Norma always requested for her birthday. It is a dish for celebration, one that captures a feeling of joy that we wanted our restaurant to embody. While the roots of this mole are pre-Columbian and based on a pipián, a laborious sauce with a base of toasted and ground pepitas, sesame seeds, and fresh chiles and herbs, our mole verde draws on the mestizaje, or blending, of our South Asian and Mexican cultures. It is a smooth, rich pipián with a spice profile more like what you'd find in the North Indian cuisine of Saqib's family. Like much of our food at Masala y Maíz, our mole verde tastes both very Mexican and very Desi.
This is not a quick weeknight dish but one to simmer all day and fill your home with a beautiful aroma. It tastes like love and feels like care. Garnish your mole with thinly sliced rings of white onion and toasted sesame seeds, and serve with a side of beans and rice. Make sure everyone has some warm, fresh corn tortillas or bolillo buns to mop up every last bite. —Norma Listman and Saqib Keval
It was with my French lover that I first encountered the word "le quignon." The rounded heel of a baguette was being used to sop up the brothy bits from roast chicken that had seeped onto the plate. The word stood out to me for the specificity of its function. It wasn't just a torn corner of loaf—it had a purpose: helping scrape down the sides of a bowl or savor the herby mirepoix that had escaped a puree.
My partner and I had reached the spoons-down, sop-it-up stage of our relationship. Our hands were busy, too: one hand held the side of the bowl, while the other engaged the craggy corner of the quignon, coaxing bits of seafood bisque into our mouths.
We would never eat like this in a restaurant. In those settings, I'd pay attention to my table manners, and so much would be left behind in the bowl.
Laid-back eating habits often only take place in the comfort of one's home, shared amongst family, close friends, and loved ones. When sitting across from your lover, it's acceptable to lick frosting off your wrist, double-dip chopsticks in the communal rice, or hover over caldo de pollo as your quignon absorbs the tangy broth.
Ultimately, the quignon gets to the bottom of everything, touching the depths of any dish. It helps you put down your spoon—and your guard—and savor. When you're done, your elbows can go back on the table. —Jamila Robinson