UNITED STATES (NEW YORK TIMES) - Comfort food is hard to pin down. It is as slippery as noodles, with any attempt to characterise it often countered by an exception.
Cambridge Dictionary defines it as "the type of food that people eat when they are sad or worried, often sweet food or food that people ate as children".
I connect with the nostalgia part and love sweet things, but I reject the idea that comfort food must fill a sadness- or worry-shaped hole.
To me, all food is comfort food. Do we ever set out to make food that discomforts?
It is true the past year has seen a focus on food's particular ability to provide solace amid uncertainty.
Slippery though noodles can be, then, it is interesting to ponder why noodles - so simple, so basic, so everyday - have such an ability to nurture, sustain and, indeed, comfort.
For all the ways to define comfort food, the dictionary definition is the one on which I would push back.
Why is comfort food associated with sadness, lack or guilt? Why is the tub of ice cream we fall into on a Friday night seen as a substitute for the real hugs we have all been missing? Can we not just love it because it is delicious, easy and there?
I do not like champagne - no guilt - but I do love this quote from Bollinger Champagne's former head Lily Bollinger: "I drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad.
"Sometimes, I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
I feel the same way about food.
I eat when I am happy and when I am sad. Sometimes, I eat when I am alone. When I have company, it is a must. I snack when I am peckish and feast when I have an appetite. Otherwise, I can go without - unless I am hungry.
Soba with ginger broth and crunchy ginger
6 Tbs (90ml) olive oil
11/2 tsp red-pepper (chilli) flakes
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
30g fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 3 Tbs)
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
20g panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbs white and black sesame seeds
500ml chicken stock or
65g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small head of garlic, halved crosswise
200g dried soba
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
2 Tbs soya sauce
10g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1. Prepare the toppings: Add 4 Tbs of oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Place the red-pepper flakes and paprika into a small heatproof bowl. Once the oil is hot but not smoking, pour it over the spices. Set aside to infuse as you make the ginger crumbs.
2. Add the remaining 2 Tbs of oil to the same skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Once hot, turn the heat down to medium and add the ginger and shallot. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until nicely browned and starting to crisp.
3. Add the panko, sesame seeds and 1/4 tsp of salt. Cook for four to six minutes more, stirring often, until nicely toasted. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
4. Make the broth: Add all the broth ingredients plus 200ml water and 1 tsp of salt to a medium lidded saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover once simmering, turn the heat down to low and cook for 25 minutes.
5. Drain through a sieve set over a bowl, discarding the solids, and return the broth to the saucepan along with another 300ml hot water. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.
6. Prepare the noodles: Boil them in a pot or saucepan according to package instructions, or for five minutes in plenty of boiling water. Drain well and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Return the drained noodles to the pot or saucepan and toss with the lime juice, soya sauceand coriander.
7. Divide the warm broth across four bowls. Use a fork to twist and gather the noodles, and nest them artfully in the bowls. Top with a spoonful of the ginger crumbs and the red-pepper oil, serving the rest of it alongside.