Comfort food can mean so many different things. It can be a smell, a texture, a plate, or just the person sitting across the table from you. To me, nothing is more comforting than sitting down to a meal comprised of things that tie me to the people I care about. Cue Thai Chicken Pot Pie--the ultimate American comfort-food dinner infused here with fresh umami ingredients. To me, this recipe is a memory--the warm comfort of pot pie from a New England childhood, combined with the adventure of discovering new flavors.
In the formative years of my current relationship, I would travel from Philadelphia, PA to Washington, D.C. to visit my boyfriend. We’d spend the weeks before I came swapping recipes we could make together and searching ferociously for exciting things to do during my visits--new restaurants to try, a local event, anything that would make our limited time together special.
During these years of long-distance, my boyfriend was gifted a home hydroponic garden. It is a small box with 6 slots for soil/seeds and an LED light hood, which can grow anything from herbs to tomatoes, flowers, or any other plants you might want in your home. The roots grow in the water you fill at the bottom of the box, after which the only maintenance is adding in liquid nutrients every 14 days. It is, without a doubt, the coolest gadget I have ever seen.
Suddenly, his small apartment was filled with beautiful and delicious plants! We started growing Genovese basil, curly parsley, dill, thyme, chives, and Thai basil. Neither of us had regularly eaten fresh herbs before, and as a result, we were both so much more inspired to cook at home to try new ways to use these plants. Most of the herbs we were growing could be considered garnishes, but we challenged ourselves to make them the stars of our plates. Although we had fun with mint salad, dill cream sauce and thyme potatoes our absolute favorite was Thai basil. We started sneaking it into all of our food, from tomato sauce to lemonade and everything in between. After the years of long-distance were over, cooking together had become synonymous with comfort and our idea of home.
If you have ever had the pleasure of cooking with Thai basil, you’ll know it brings an underlying earthy flavor, with strong notes of licorice and a warm, spicy taste. It’s commonly used in Southeast Asia and is found throughout Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. In addition to its culinary impact, it's also a beautiful plant with its deep purple stem and pink flowers. You would probably never know it was an edible plant unless you tore off a leaf and bit into it!
Having access to these herbs pushed us out of our culinary comfort zone and into a world full of new foods and flavor for which I will be forever grateful.
We now, years later, live together in Shanghai and have access to a whole slew of new ingredients, so we can confidently embark on experimenting with new flavors. Our hydroponic garden made the journey to our Shanghai windowsill and still helps us make fresh additions to all our food. This recipe is a simple gateway from familiar food to more complex flavors, all wrapped up in a comforting package. Surprisingly easy and made to share, who knew one herb could turn a meal into so much more?