Sometimes, you’ve gotta go back to the basics.
A classic done well is an immensely satisfying experience in any field- food, film, fashion….
This month has been cold, windy, dark, and wet. All of us have been recovering from the month before which felt like a mild, modern day urban plague situation- fever, flu, colds, infections…
So I was not surprised to find myself turning to soup and salad over the past few weeks.
And not just any salad- I went as classic as you can get- spinach, roasted beet, feta salad with balsamic vinaigrette. (And toasted pepitas and avocado of course).
I had been taking a break from beets- they can get overwhelming and boring. And I usually don’t enjoy raw spinach as much as other greens because it can be so minerally and chalky in your mouth.
But I was ready for those color-popping root vegetables again and the acid from the vinaigrette and mixing the salad while the beets and pepitas were still a bit warm softened the spinach just enough to change the mouth feel for me.
Some people can’t get motivated to cook creatively if they are eating by themselves. I used to be like that too. Other people were the inspiration for my effort- myself alone could not have been enough of an occasion. I think there are some broader social issues playing out here. While our society encourages us to behave in an intensely individualistic manner, we are simultaneously trained to be more externally focused in our energy when it comes to love, enjoyment, self-image, etc. We end up not valuing and loving ourselves consistently, not being more grounded in ourselves as sources of wisdom and pleasure. And even though I am unquestionably committed to communal meals as fundamental to the good life, I am committed to good food on the daily, no matter what.. I thus have learned to value myself as a perfectly worthy diner to cook for.
I have the privilege of working from home several days a week. There can be times when I’m sitting with my breakfast or lunch creation, thoroughly enjoying it all by myself, when I get so excited that I need to document it and share it with someone. These moments are no longer about feeling regretful that others aren’t here to acknowledge/enjoy the masterpiece. It’s more that I just get excited about beautiful things and want to share.
My culinary comrade Sonny, a Big Ceci contributor, has often served as an enthusiastic receiver of such random outbursts of Wednesday afternoon food photography. My partner tolerates my enthusiastic texts with some amusement- I know he’s laughing at me as he looks at my latest bowl of ramen or slice of frittata. It’s always satisfying to share with Boris, my friend who has his own creations he proudly documents at his new cafe The Pantry– being the love bug and Parisian chef trained from childhood that he is, he always responds with encouragement. It would never occur to him to do anything other than unabashedly and constantly celebrate one’s meals.
I am very wary of the boring food photography and general self-obsessed over-sharing that social media facilitate so I tend to be a more reluctant, self-doubting blogger. But this soup and salad have made many delicious, easy meals for me these past couple of weeks and the colors are so inviting against the backdrop of a grey city right now. Also, my friend Jackie, a brilliant film-maker who usually can’t be bothered with complicated culinary labor, is finally turning her attention to cooking soup and I promised her a recipe.
So I’ve decided to share. Buon appetito!
Carrot Cashew Ginger Soup
Sauté one large yellow or sweet onion in about 2.5 tablespoons coconut oil for 1 minute.
Stir in about 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger. (A bit more if you want more of that kick).
Add about 1 teaspoon of curry powder and a couple of dashes of sweet paprika.
Sauté for a couple of minutes- just until the onions soften and start looking translucent.
Then add about 3/4 cup of raw cahsews and stir them in so they get all coated in the goodness. After 1 minute, add about 3 or 4 cups of carrots, peeled and chopped into small chunks. Add 1 cup of peeled and chopped up butternut squash (this adds to the sweet orangeness of it all). Then I sprinkle 1 or 2 teaspoons of thyme and 1 teaspoon of salt on the veggies and stir it in.
Sauté with the lid on, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. You want the veggies to start getting soft but not too soft.
Then add several cups of vegetable broth. I usually make sure that the vegetables are covered by about 2 inches of liquid. You can add more later if it’s not enough. You want the final product to be creamy so don’t add a huge amount of stock at first. After I bring the soup to a boil, I turn it down to simmer.
Brief tangent: I make my own stock because it’s so easy, saves money, and repurposes what would otherwise be waste! (Also, when I use stock prepared by someone else, I feel like I can’t claim full credit for the flavors of my dish. So a little ego is involved here too).
I just save the peels, stems, and ends of garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, herbs, kale, herbs, and other veggies in a container in the freezer for a few weeks. When I have enough, I put it all together in a big pot and fill it three quarters of the way with water. I bring it to a boil and add about 3 tablespoons of salt (I use a huge pot- put a bit less if your pot isn’t a cauldron like mine). I also add a big handful of parsley (if you have a bunch of the stems in there already you’re fine) and some thyme (dry or fresh) and simmer it until it’s nice and dark and fragrant. Then I pour it through a strainer and store it in jars, jugs, and tupperware, making a huge mess along the way.
Back to the soup. When the veggies are soft enough to easily stick a fork in them, I turn off the soup and let it cool for about 5 minutes. Just so it’s not scalding. You should probably wait longer but I never have time for that. Then I ladle the soup into a strong blender, working in batches and making sure each batch has a good balance of liquid and veggies. After combining all of the pureed soup into a new pot, I taste it to determine how much more salt it needs (it will need more or less depending on how salty your broth was). I also add the juice of half a (juicy) lemon and a few dashes of black pepper.
Spinach Beet Salad
As for the salad, y’all can easily figure that one out for yourselves. I prepare my beets the way my father does. I wash them and cut the stems off and place them whole in a piece of tinfoil in a roasting pan. I pour ample amounts of olive oil over them, throw in a few cloves of peeled garlic, and sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Then I wrap them up in the tinfoil and roast them on 385 for about an hour. I check them at about 45 minutes to see if I can easily stick a fork into them and pull it out. When I cut them up, I leave the yummy, oily and salty skins on them. Others might choose to peel them for a smoother texture. I cut them up and mix them with spinach, sliced radishes, crumbled feta, toasted pepitas (or pine nuts), and diced avocado. Cucumbers are good too but I’m not feeling them in these wintery months- they’re too cool. The vinaigrette I toss it with is one that my wifey and I make in large batches and just keep around the house for all kinds of purposes (including marinading). It’s just olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, lemon juice, a few dashes of hot sauce, salt, and pepper. While doctoring it up, I sometimes I add a few dashes of tamari sauce instead of more salt.