One hears a lot about “comfort foods” these days. They are the simple, down-home dishes--meat loaf, chicken croquettes, pot roast, etc.--that are on traditional American menus, and they are enjoying a revival.

What about the comfort foods of other lands? Every country has them, and--in many cases--they need no revival, because they have remained staple fare for hundreds of years.

Jamaica’s Spicy Beef Patties are a good example. Here is a recipe that has given comfort far beyond the shores of Jamaica. These little pies are so nourishing, flavorsome and easily eaten out-of-hand that at least one large-city American school system has adopted them. Typical of Caribbean cooking, the preparation begins with sauteéing onions in vegetable oil that has been turned golden and tasty with annatto seeds (achiote in Spanish). Tomatoes and ground beef are then added, along with garlic, thyme, a touch of red pepper and allspice (the spice Jamaica grows and loves). This mixture is then enclosed in pie pastry. The result is similar to a popular American comfort food--chicken turnovers--except it is spicier.

Barbados has a recipe that comes close to chicken turnovers; it calls for cubes of chicken, small onions, carrots and peas. From there, however, it takes some different twists. The filling is seasoned with black pepper and nutmeg and flavored with a little sherry, and the pie crust is made with sweet potatoes in place of flour.

Empadade Camarao is a comfort pie that is traditional in Brazil. The feature in this dish is shrimp combined with mushrooms, onion and tomatoes, and spiced with both black and red pepper. The shrimp mixture, topped with crumbled, hard-cooked egg and chopped olives, is enclosed between two layers of pastry. The pie is then baked until golden.

French Canadians call their comfort pie tourtiere. It is simply ground pork in a pie crust, but the spicing makes it interesting. The meat is first seasoned with onion, garlic and a bay leaf, then it is spiced with cloves, cinnamon and savory. Many Canadians believe it is best if frozen first and then reheated. pf

Pilot recipes for these “comfort pies” from foreign lands had originally been adapted exclusively for Prepared Foods by the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Assoc.  (FR0393)  

Jamaican Spicy Beef Patties
Grease a large baking sheet; set aside. In a cup, combine onion and 2tbsps water; set aside to soften, about 10 minutes. In a large skillet, heat oil until hot; add annatto seeds; cook, stirring occasionally, until oil is yellow, about three minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard annatto seeds. To oil add reserved onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until nearly crisp-tender, about three minutes. Add beef; cook, stirring occasionally, until brown, about five minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic powder, thyme, red pepper, salt and allspice; cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are soft, about five minutes. Stir in eggs; cook, stirring occasionally, until firm, about two minutes; remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 450°F. On a floured board or between two pieces of waxed paper, roll each ball of dough 1⁄8 inch thick. (See recipe below.) Using a 5 inch-diameter cutter, cut dough into rounds. Place 2tbsps beef mixture on half of each round; using a pastry brush, moisten edges of pastry with water; fold pastry over filling; seal and crimp edges; prick tops with fork. Place on prepared baking sheet. Beat egg white with 1tsp water; lightly brush tops of pastry with egg white mixture. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes.

Yield: 22 patties.

Pastry dough

In a bowl, combine flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles small peas. In a small bowl, beat egg yolk and water; add to flour mixture, stirring until combined. Shape into two balls.