International Comfort Food from Triangle Chefs

’Tis the season for comfort food and family gatherings. We asked North Carolina culinary pros about their favorite food traditions.
by Melissa Howsam

“My grandma used to make a dry Fideuá with Shrimp, a Spanish dish that’s similar to paella, but made with pasta. I make an upscale version that’s easy to prepare in advance or just moments before serving—it’s a real showstopper for dinner or a party.” 

Katsuji Tanabe, chef-in-residence at Vidrio + LM Restaurants

Katsuji Tanabe’s Dry Fideuá With Shrimp 


  • 4 cups of dry fideuá 
  •  1 pinch saffron 
  • 4 cloves garlic 
  • 4 cups tomato sauce 
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1/4 cup of chopped jalapeños 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fine onion 
  • Salt


  • 4 cups of peeled and clean shrimp 
  • 1 Tbsp chopped garlic 
  • 1 cup frozen peas 
  • 1/4 chopped parsley 
  • 2 Tbsp butter 
  • 1 lemon 


  • 4 cloves garlic 
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  •  1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard 
  • 2 tsp salt 
  • 1 1/2 cups of light olive oil 

*This aioli is going to be used as a garnish on top of the pasta and shrimp. 

In a large pot or paella pan if available, add the oil onion, jalapeños and pasta. Cook until the pasta changes color to a toasted brown. Keep stirring to avoid burnt pasta. Then, in the blender, add tomato sauce garlic and saffron, blend. Add this to the pasta and cook at low flame for 15 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked and has absorbed all the liquid. Hold at a super low flame.

In a saute pan, add the butter and garlic, and cook until soft; then add the shrimp, salt, and squeeze the lemon. Cook until done (5 to 8 minutes). Then add the peas and parsley. Then amass this on top of the fideuá, making sure the shrimp looks nice and organized. Spread around the peas.

In the blender add garlic, egg yolk, mustard, sherry vinegar, salt. Blend until smooth, then slowly drizzle the oil until you get a thick consistency (do not over mix). Then hold in the fridge until needed. If you want to cheat, you can always chop some garlic and mix it with mayo ( but don’t tell anyone).

Garnish with some lemon wedges, and there you have it!

“A delicious childhood staple of mine, I make a simple vegan eggplant stew that’s a beloved recipe throughout my home country, Trinidad & Tobago. This savory dish has a mild tingle of garlic, and I enjoy sharing because it’s approachable but not predictable, and the no-frills ingredient list makes it easy to replicate.”

–Brigid Washington, cookbook author, educator and food writer

Brigid Washington’s Vegan Eggplant Stew

A dash of madras curry powder and a handful of fresh garlic allows this low-effort, high-reward eggplant dish to sing with unique  unexpected flavors. 

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Chief or madras curry powder
1 medium globe eggplant (12-16 ounces)
7 cloves garlic (¾ oounce)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon tabasco sauce or other spicy hot sauce


1. Cut the top off the eggplant as close as possible to its upper stem. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the thick purple skin from the eggplant. Discard the peel. Using the chef’s knife, slice the eggplant in half lengthwise. Cut each half, into thirds, so that there are three thick long steaks. Cut each steak into four or five pieces, or into a large dice.

2. Ready a saute pan with a well-fitting lid, fork and large metal spoon. In the saute pan, over medium heat, add the oil and allow it to heat for about 30 seconds. Then add the curry powder and stir to combine the curry into the oil for a minute. Reduce heat to medium low. Add the eggplant and stir to ensure the chunks of eggplant are coated with the oily curry.  Stream in a ¼ cup of water, stir eggplant and allow the eggplant to cook, covered, for about seven to nine minutes, until the eggplant is tender.

3. In the meantime, while the eggplant is cooking, peel and mince garlic using a chef’s knife.  Remove the lid, stream in another ¼ cup of water, stir, cover and cook for another seven minutes. Remove the lid, using a fork, mash the eggplant, which should be tender and juicy. Add garlic, salt, and Tabasco and stir to combine, cook uncovered for another three minutes, until flavors have melded and garlic has mellowed. Remove from heat and season with salt and hot sauce to taste.

Save some time: Eggplant can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

“My heritage is Korean, so at family gatherings, we almost always include barbecue of some sort, so a Korean BBQ Marinade is a must. My version has a classic sweet-and-salty flavor profile that’s very versatile and works well with any meat or fatty fish like mero sea bass or salmon. I enjoy it on all meats, but especially for short ribs and rack of lamb.” 

–Michael Lee, chef/owner of M Sushi and M Restaurant Group

Mike Lee’s Korean BBQ Marinade for Meat

Obviously the thinner/less marbling the meat, the less time needed for marinade.  More marbling is good for flavor, but takes more time to penetrate as fat repels moisture.  

I like to choose cuts of meat such as the picture attached as “la galbi meat.” These might seem unusual and unique/hard to find, but they are readily available through your butchers market (ask them to cut it against the grain into ¼- and up to ½-inch thick). The thicker the cut, the longer the marinade needs to work.

1/4 inches will be good enough after one day, and I would say add another day for additional ¼-inch thickness added. Don’t add fruits such as pineapple, kiwi, etc., as they are for another day to get the meat marinated and tenderized quicker … that is for another day!

So the 311 (3 parts water, 1 part soy, 1 part sugar = 311) is the base that you can use for marinade for any meat.  Below is my latest version that I enjoy for all meats but especially for short ribs and rack of lambs as well.  You’ll notice that the ratio is very much the same.


  • 3 parts water
  • 1 part soy sauce
  • 1 part dark or brown sugar
  • 1/2 part of cilantro stems roughly chopped in volume
  • Pinch of black pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, granulated garlic (not fine garlic powder!), and finally some toasted sesame oil

You can also use this or the above recipe and thicken with corn/potato starch to use as a finishing sauce much like teriyaki.  When thickening with starch, make sure the sauce is rolling boiling, and drizzle the starch/water ( equal parts water to starch) to thicken. Keep in mind it will be thicker when it cools.

Where to get “la galbi” style of short ribs? Your local Walmart, Costco, and Sam’s Club usually carries these cuts nowadays, but you should always ask your local butcher as well.

“I come from a rural town on the south coast of South Africa, where any cooler weather always called for a sticky Malva Pudding. It’s made with apricot jam and has a distinct, spongy  texture that’s sinfully delicious. You pour a cream sauce over the “cake” while it’s hot so it absorbs into it. Lekker (yummy)!”

Keta Jade Halaszi, co-owner of Benelux Coffee

Keta Halaszi’s Malva Pudding 

Ingredients for the Malva pudding (cake) base

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp smooth apricot jam
  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Sauce (see below)

Cooking the Malva pudding “base”

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  • Beat sugar, egg, butter and jam until even and fluffy.
  • Beat in flour, baking soda, milk, vinegar and vanilla. Important: Make sure ingredients are well blended.
  • Pour mixture into a buttered baking dish and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until it is brown on the outside and it can pull away from the sides of the dish. It should be cooked through—you can test with a knife or fork for dryness (should come out clean).

Ingredients for the Malva pudding sauce

  • 3 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Making and adding the sauce

  • While the pudding is in the oven, prepare the sauce by combining the butter, sugar, milk/cream and vanilla in a microwavable bowl or in a saucepan.
  • Heat in the microwave or on the stove until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Pour the hot sauce over the pudding little by little. The pudding will soak up the sauce slowly. Keep adding a little sauce at a time until it is finished. It helps if you poke a few holes in the pudding with a knife to ensure more sauce is being absorbed. If your edges of the baking dish are high, you can pour more on at a time—otherwise it might take a few pours to absorb. Be patient and use all the sauce!

Leave to sit for about 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm with whipped cream, custard or ice cream!

“In France, we always had a seasonal fruit tart. In the fall, it was always an Apple Tart. The smell of the crust baking and the apples caramelizing reminds me of home. For me, this isn’t just for dessert—it makes for a fantastic snack with coffee, too.”

—Lionel Vatinet, owner of La Farm Bakery

Lionel’s Mini Rustic Apple Tartelettes

For a similar taste in a simpler and smaller recipe, try these Rustic Apple Tartlettes from Lionel, also available at La Farm this season.

Ingredients for the Pastry Dough:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 1⁄4 cups butter
  • 2 1⁄4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 egg

Directions for the pastry dough:

  • In an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, mix flour, butter and powdered sugar until there are just tiny balls of butter.
  • Add the egg and mix for approximately 25 seconds on 1st speed, until everything is well combined.

Apple filling ingredients:

  • 6 Granny Smith Apples (or any tart apple)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Directions for the filling:

  • Slice apples and toss in cinnamon and sugar.

Needed for assembly

  • 1 Egg
  • 2 Tbsp Water


  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Roll out pastry dough to 1⁄4” thick.
  • Cut into 6” round circles.
  • Spoon cinnamon apple mixture into center of pastry dough circle.
  • Fold edges of dough up around apple filling, leaving the center uncovered.
  • Place on parchment lined baking pan.
  • Mix water and egg together and brush edges of tartelette with mixture.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
  • Top with powdered sugar or drizzle with caramel sauce.