Another Day, Another Dal

A couple weeks ago, I had suggested Chimp use yellow moong beans for a dish he was making for our dinner. When I came home from work, I found Chimp in the kitchen with a batch of lentils draining in a mesh strainer and another batch on the stove.

“What’s with all the lentils?” I asked him, looking at the first perfectly-cooked batch in the strainer.

“I ruined the first batch. They totally disintegrated.”

“That’s what they’re supposed to do.”

“Oh. Really?”

“Yes,” I said, tasting the second batch, which was just finishing cooking, “and these are perfect too.”

“I meant to do that.”

“So we have extra lentils?”

“I guess so.”

“Why don’t we just stash the first batch in the freezer, then, and I’ll use them sometime soon.”

Saturday morning was the day. I was up at 6:30, at the farmer’s market by 7:30, and home a little after 8. I made this right then, and it was done by 10 a.m. When Chimp woke up, around that time, I told him I’d already finished this and a batch of curtido, and he muttered into his pillow, “Jocelyn: she cooks more before 10 a.m. than most people cook all day.”

I have a great dal makhani recipe up already. I even have a cabbage dal recipe up already. This one, though, is less rich than the first one, richer than the second one, and has more vegetables than either, so it gets a place too.

I was out of garlic, so this has no garlic – you could certainly add it, if you think you just can’t live without it. Because I was out of garlic, I compensated by adding plenty of other rich flavors – the ginger, bell peppers and tomato all provide dimension.

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Something Simple with Zucchini

This white bean and zucchini stew is an old standby; over polenta or pasta or with a slice or seven of garlic bread, it is a comfortable balance of familiar flavors that makes me feel calmed and taken care of.

For six summers, starting twenty years ago next month, I went to St. George’s Camp, which is ostensibly run by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, but was effectively run by a batch of insanely smart, funny and musically-talented college students. (If you want a sense of it, page through these pictures and count how many people you see with their arms around each other or holding guitars.)

I should not get started on telling camp stories, as I will never stop, beginning with the counselor I had a crush on (James Brown) and going on to the friend for life I netted. It would be hard to overstate how much influence the place had on me. It would not be going too far to say that it is a real part of why I’m working in produce – though that might seem like a stretch, believe me, I could explain exactly how it links up in less than a thousand words.

Among the activities at St. G’s were camping trips: two cabins went each night through the middle part of the session. One of these trips is the source of one of my favorite outdoor truisms, learned from then-counselor Stuart Gunter, through this exchange:

Camper: (bored) Stu, what time is it?
Stu: (kindly) Dude, you’re in the woods. It’s daytime. It doesn’t matter what time it is.

Dinner on these trips, prepared by the counselors, was what was referred to as salmagundi, with macaroni and cheese. Salmagundi, as interpreted there, was a tomato and vegetable stew, with too many dried herbs applied to it by an overzealous counselor from one of those divided plastic shakers with a different herb in each compartment. It always tasted great out in the woods, though, as everything does – steaming-hot vegetables cooked over a wood fire piled on top of pasta.

This isn’t exactly it, of course. There were no white beans, not to mention no arugula, in what I ate out in the woods when it didn’t matter what time it was, but whatever time it might have been, this reminds me of it, and for a little while when I make it, I imagine we are all singing with our arms around each other while James plays banjo, Kat plays guitar, Stu plays bongos, and everything is right with the world.

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The Spice is Right #2 – Sweet or Savory: Tomato-Fennel-Anise Soup

I loved the black jellybeans and the white spice drops as a kid. And Good n’ Plenty.

When we moved to Michigan, I discovered licorice flavored herb-menthol Lakerol (good luck with the navigation on that, unless you speak Swedish) in the green box. There are a case of them in my pantry, bought from the Svensk Butik in nearby Kingsburg.

It’s always dicey when people ask you if you have gum or mints.

“No, but I have Lakerol.”

“What are those?”

“Licorice-herb drops. They’re strong, though.”

“Okay.” (Beat) Ptoowie. “Yuck.”

How can they spit out my precious Lakerol? Why are anise and licorice flavors so often reviled? I don’t understand it.

When Barbara announced this second challenge, I thought about it for a long time, considering the sesame cookies my mother made, wondering if I could develop a tolerance for caraway if enough sugar was involved, or whether there was anything unexpected that could be done with fenugreek.

In the end, I came to this soup mostly because I feel anise flavors are often unfairly maligned, and like a personal ambassador for them. I’ve heard plenty of people over the years say they hate licorice, and the flavor seems to be disliked in sweet foods by many and avoided in savory foods by even more, perhaps.

The problem, I think, is partly that those who dislike anise flavors see them as all alike. Fennel is that plant that tastes like licorice, and licorice flavors are only for candy.

Except it doesn’t, and they’re not. Anise flavors come in a great range of diversity and intensity. The family includes everything from subtle, herbaceous French tarragon and bracing fresh fennel to the green bite of fennel seeds, the warm scent of ground aniseed and the spicy-hot complexity of star anise.

I love the anise- and cinnamon-flavored tomato sauces I’ve learned to make in Indian cooking, so I thought I’d take that anise-tomato pairing and carry it a little further, by using multiple anise-flavored foods.

This was a one-off, this soup, invented one afternoon and not refined to perfection – if I make it again (which I expect I will) I’ll probably up the tomato content and add a couple carrots to deepen the flavor. If I was presenting this at a dinner party, I might strain it. It would also be wonderful with cream added, but I wanted to keep this vegan. Hot soup is tolerable in Fresno in May, but hot cream soup starts to push it a bit.

(I’ve also noted my farmers’ market sources here – this breaks the Eat Local Challenge a bit, but I had planned to do it ahead of time.)

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Chimp’s ‘Dude,You Better Use That’ Squash Soup

Squash_1 My husband Chimp (that’s his longstanding ‘net name) asked if he could guest blog this week while I’m traveling for business. Why not?  Due to my CFS, he’s cooked more dinners in the past two years than I have, though I’m still way ahead on the lifetime total.  So here comes Chimp’s improvised butternut squash soup recipe from last week.

The nice thing about his improvised recipes is that he sometimes does something that would never have occurred to me that turns out wonderfully. Like this – I’ve added traditional warm spices and hot seasonings to squash soup in the past, but never five-spice powder; I just never thought of it. This will come out very thick – if you’d like it soupier, just add water.  So here’s Chimp.

***

With your regular host on the road this week, I’m stepping in to fill your left-field vegetarian needs.  No, I am not an actual chimp and no, I have not been hurling anything that I shouldn’t have been hurling before heading into the kitchen.  Now let’s get to it. . .

Imagine you were blissfully married to someone, but that someone really loved butternut squash.  That might not be so bad for some of us, but for others, squash makes the mouth go limp as does the body when bear-hugged as a child by distant relatives who smell of mothballs and calamine lotion.  This calls for a plan.

The nice thing about butternut squash is that initial prep is pretty easy.  (1) Turn oven on to 400 and insert squash.  (2) Wait for length of two Simpsons reruns.  (3) Remove from oven.  It also keeps just fine till the next day, so one could put this in the oven while making something else one night, stow it in the fridge overnight and have the makings of soup the next night.  Just remember to use it in a timely fashion, as the name would suggest.

Oil for the pan

2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped

1 tsp. ginger, very finely chopped

1 tsp. Chinese Five Spice

2 red peppers, diced

3 carrots, diced

1 butternut squash, roasted about an hour and minus its skin and seeds

1/2 cup water or broth

salt and black pepper to taste (and I do mean a lot of both)

Heat the oil and the garlic and ginger for about a minute, stirring regularly.  Toss the Five Spice and lots of black pepper in, then add the peppers and carrots.  Sauté until tender.

Add the squash and the water or broth and let simmer for 10 minutes. Put the contents through a food processor or blender and return them to the pot.  Add salt and let simmer another 10 minutes or so.

Serve in bowl to grateful spouse after long day at work.

What makes this is that the Five Spice and the black pepper are strong enough to give the squash a bit more bite without turning the soup into an excuse for too much hot stuff.  (Some of us have been accused of this on other occasions.)  The peppers seem to add just enough sweetness to wake the whole thing up without making it taste sugary. It worked for me.

Soup Technique

I made a recipe I haven’t used in years last night and was reminded of a good broth technique for vegetarian soups.

When I was about 20, I received Yamuna Devi’s book Lord Krishna’s Cuisine. It was my go-to cookbook for years, as I made my way through it, learning what urad badis were and how to combine spices and make homemade milk fudge. My copy reflects all of that. It’s yellowed and turmeric-stained and a little wavy on some pages from wet fingers repeatedly turning from the first page of a recipe to the second.

Many of the recipes have copious notes from my first attempts in the margins. I made this on January 10, 1996. I’ve written around the illustration of the spine being sliced off a cabbage leaf that there was a huge snowstorm the night before – about 2 feet of snow was on my car that morning.

This is a fine winter-ingredients soup – cabbage, carrots, nothing unusual there. However, what sets it apart is its approach to creating the broth.

Broth can be an issue in vegetarian soups, and that’s where this recipe shines. Chicken or beef stock is a quick way to create flavor in non-veg soups. For herbivores, there’s always the option of vegetable bouillon – I love this stuff from Organic Gourmet, as the paste form feels more flexible to me – and somehow more foodlike – than a pre-measured bouillon cube. The problem with always relying on bouillon is that all your soups tend to come out tasting the same.

In this recipe, split lentils and coriander seeds are covered with boiling water and allowed to steep for an hour, then ground until smooth in a food processor. Aromatics are added later in the process. This creates a smooth, creamy-textured, lightly spiced broth without the soup becoming overtly a lentil soup. It’s wonderfully delicate and flavorful.

The dal called for by the recipe is toovar dal, also spelled as tuvar dal or toor dal. They’re yellow split peas, basically. Devi suggests substituting moong dal for variety; I used the moong dal pictured above.

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Coconut Cream of Tomato and Corn

Earlier in the week, when we went grocery shopping, I thought I would make a tortilla soup. By the time it got to be yesterday, though, I was no longer very excited about the idea. How could I make a corn-and-tomato soup more interesting? I thought. I knew onions, garlic, tomatoes, corn and cilantro would be involved. Into the fridge. Earlier in the week, Chimp made a Thai curry – the other half of the can of coconut milk he had opened was still in there.

That sounded like a good idea. After all, there are Indian and Thai tomato soups made with coconut milk; the Indian versions use cumin as an aromatic, a spice shared by Mexican cooking, and Thai versions are sharpened with kaffir leaves or lemongrass where Mexican cooking might place lime juice. Coconut makes its way into Mexican beverages and desserts, at least, to my knowledge – and coconut milk is so rich, you can hardly go wrong adding it to something.

This was a success. I would have had to fight Chimp for the last of this if I was the fighting type.

This soup has a certain familiarity to it; it reminds me of a mulligatawny that I used to get at Gulshan, my beloved and long-defunct Indian restaurant on 2nd Avenue in NYC. There’s one by the same name on 6th St.; who knows if it’s the same one? (If it did still exist and I went back there, I would probably not think it was great now, based on all the restaurants I have eaten at in the past dozen years, but it was great to me then – and really cheap, which was of paramount importance at the time.)

I’ve tried to reproduce that soup many, many times over the years, and I think I am finally getting close. I’ll likely try a version of this without corn and with carrots soon to see if that gets even closer. If I made this as is again, I’d probably increase the amount of corn; it ended up playing an almost imperceptible background role.

I even measured the amounts on this, for once.

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Carrot and Tomato Soup

Sometimes I have an idea of a recipe and must adjust partway through. This was one of those. I thought I’d make this soup with a strong hit of fresh ginger, but it turned out we’d just finished up the ginger on the tofu and green beans we made tonight. Instead, I started the soup with chopped garlic and powdered ginger, which contributes a less aggressive, darker note than fresh ginger’s brash brightness.

I made this because there were tomatoes that needed to be used; a container of cream in the fridge is such a boon when there are random vegetables to be productively dispensed with. All you need are cooked vegetables seasoned with one or two distinctive seasonings, then buzzed through the blender, back into the pan, cream in, and maybe a fresh herb or some juice stirred in if you have it.

Frozen vegetables, also, can be quickly turned into something wonderful with a good dollop of cream. A bag of frozen peas, a sautéed onion, cream, salt to taste and a generous grinding of pepper at the end make something that will surely bring up memories of spring. A little chopped spinach or briefly heated lettuce added to that adds to the vernal mood.

For tonight, this didn’t go exactly as planned, since I didn’t have the ginger I was thinking I’d use, but it came out nicely anyway; bright carnival orange with a mild citrus flavor, and background notes of ginger and garlic.

1/2 T. butter
1/2 T. canola oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 t. powdered ginger
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
1 c. grape tomatoes
7 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
salt to taste
1 c. water
1/2 c. cream
1/4 t. paprika
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. orange juice

Heat the butter and oil together in a large saucepan. (I use part oil to allow for sautéing, and to cut the saturated fat a little bit because cream will be added later.) When hot, add the garlic and sauté briefly, until fragrant but not browned. Add the ginger and stir briefly until incorporated into the fat, then add the carrots and tomatoes. Crush the grape tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pan. (Be careful, they squirt like crazy.) Add salt to taste (you’ll need less if you add it at this point). Cover the pan, reduce the heat to just below medium, and cook until the carrots are tender. Remove from the heat.

Place the contents of the pan into the blender or food processor, and cover. Puree, adding up to 1 c. of liquid as necessary to process. Return the puree to the pan and add the cream and paprika, and stir to combine. Add the lemon and orange juices, and stir again to combine. Check seasoning and reheat as necessary, without allowing to boil.

Cream soups benefit from decoration: dust with paprika or minced herbs or drizzle with additional cream before serving.