Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kitchen riffing

I've certain parameters for myself this January. Discipline. A black coffee.

You see, I have attention-deficit disorder. Self-diagnosed. I continue to accumulate recipe after another. I'm overwhelmed by my Bon Appetit collection, not to mention all 524 recipes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Stay tuned for "Julie & Julia...& Blair," in which I will master each recipe from finish to start, then translate my blog into French.) But in the spirit of focusing and saving some dough, I've decided to cook with what I have on hand. Chopped-style.

Instead of eel, durian, and ketchup, luckily I had sweet potatoes, yellow lentils, garlic, onions, and vegetable broth. A soup was born. I must say this was a pleasing winter meal, perfect for lunch, dinner, breakfast!, or an afternoon snack. Cardamom lends a subtle sweetness, accenting the sweet potatoes, and curry powder/red pepper offer balance and kick.

Cure what ails you with this soupor, better yet, riff on what you've got.

Sweet Potato and Yellow Lentil Soup
Serves 4

2 sweet potatoes (keep the skins!), chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup dry yellow lentils (or substitute red lentils)
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock

Mix curry powder, cardamom, salt, pepper, and red pepper. Set aside. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium flame/temperature. Add garlic, then onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add spice mixture and stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour in about 1 cup of stock; add sweet potatoes. Stir. Pour in remaining stock; stir. Add lentils and bay leaf. Stir. Bring to boil, then turn heat down to medium-low. Cover and cook until potatoes and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

You can gently mash potatoes and lentils to give liquid extra heft/texture/bite. I prefer a textural variety of whole, mashed, and liquid elements.

Ladle into bowls and enjoy! This soup, like most otherslike most of lifegets better with time.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Winter song

It's a beautiful world. Sorry to wax lyrical at first line, but I'm at Spill the Beans, downtown Greenville, staring out wide windows. Bare branches delicately entwined with white twinkle lights.

This, I have determined, is my favorite time of year. Fall/winter. Perhaps I should add "in South Carolina," though I remember loving this time in New York. I love the light on brick and asphalt. A sense that the world sort of retracts and cocoons itself. Donning my heavy coat and bevy of scarves. For whatever reason, I'm a cold-weather person and perhaps a cold-weather cook. Soups and stews and curries, oh my!

One-pot meals, or what I call "dinner parties," are great for entertaining because the recipes make ladlefuls. Add a smart salad, chocolate dessert, $10 wine (try Mouton Cadet White Bordeaux, a tasty blend of Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, and Muscadet, or a slightly more expensive Oregon Pinot if you're serving Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon), and bada bing! You're set.

Of course the holidays offered ample opportunities to break out the Dutch oven (or huge pot, in my case). For example, last week I whipped up one of my favorite ethnic stews, Ethiopian chickpea, all six servings of which were neatly consumed by my guest and me. Well, mostly by my guest.

I see this trend continuing. Winter's here for a while. I say, grab the lotion and go outside! Chill out. See the light. And dig in.