Monday, February 15, 2010

Right around the corner

This may look like the most uninspiring bowl of soup you've ever seen.

I beg to differ. It's the most fantastically amazing soup I've ever eaten! And it was a long time in the making.

My aunt and uncle gave me a great cookbook for Christmas. On first flip-through, I thought things like 'where could I ever find that in Japan' and 'pressure cooker?!?!?' and 'if only I had access to a Tex-Mex wonderland I could make that.' Nevertheless, they have never let me down before, so I lugged the book back with me to Inaka-cho. It wasn't quite so difficult to find ingredients-- some of them I already had in the house, like pearled barley, of all things-- and I've tried several of the recipes, only to be delighted every time. The cookbook is called Lorna Sass' Complete Vegetarian Kitchen: Where Good Flavors and Good Health Meet.

This particular soup is a simple Zesty Black Bean Soup. The soup itself is a snap to make if you can chop onions, garlic, carrots, and celery quickly, and if you have canned black beans on hand. The spices involved are cayenne pepper, cumin, oregano, and a couple of bay leaves. I added a few dashes of ginger.

However, I made it harder on myself because, when I was at the grocery store the other day, I thought, 'I needed bell peppers for something, I just know it!' Before I knew it, I was bringing home the bell peppers. What they were for was an optional 'garnish' to this soup, a roasted red pepper sauce. I had never roasted a pepper before, but I wasn't going to let those bright-colored gems go to waste, either, so I figured it out. The roasted peppers (two of them) were blended up with about half a bulb of roasted garlic, two tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, three tablespoons of olive oil, one of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and a dash of cinnamon. I think that's all. Anyway, they blended up beautifully into an orange-colored puree, and instead of putting a mincing little dollop in my single bowl, I just tipped all the contents of the blender into the pot of finished soup and stirred it together. Magnifique!

As we approach Lent, I've been reading around trying to find some good ideas for things to give up and take on. Sister Mary Martha had some good advice about food in Lent: we eat less, and more simply, in order that we may use the money we didn't spend on food to give to the poor and hungry, and so that we may use the extra time we didn't spend preparing the food to pray, do good works, etc.

This soup got me thinking: it's not very expensive to make, but it took me a whole two hours or so from start to finish. (I am very slow at chopping vegetables, for one thing.) To be honest, there's nothing I hate more than 'wasting time in the kitchen' when I could be reading a book, turbo-kicking, playing piano, or catching up on lost sleep. My idea of a perfect recipe is one that requires no more than 30 minutes to complete. So it might be even more of a penance (and exercise in patience) in my case to keep the grocery bill down, but to spend more time preparing food.

It also made me reflect that the good Lord does marvelous things with pretty unpromising materials. The celery was practically wan with a faint tinge of seasick-green; the carrots looked ashamed to be orange, and yet the soup is still delicious.

1 comment:

Sue said...

That sounds fabulous! I'm always looking for new soup ideas.

I used to be so slow at chopping until I got married and my dear husband teased me mercilessly about it. Getting fast was a matter of pride at first, but now it's really convenient to chop faster than a food processor! Tip: you need a nice big Japanese knife. No puny paring knives allowed.

I have been thinking about how to adjust our food for Lent. I guess the biggest one for me will be saving baked treats for Sundays.