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In October, I’ll be host

October 16, 2009

Mr. Spy and I are both fending off either terrible colds or perhaps swine flu. I’ve had mine for a week and have been glued to my inhaler, which makes me jittery and irritable. But it doesn’t seem to be quite bad enough to head to the doctor. But the media blitz has made hypochondriacs of us all.

In deference to my illness, I made a large pot of soup for dinner last night, which was really the only thing I wanted. Several years ago, my mother gave me a monastery soup cookbook, with soups organized by season. She used to spend a few days every summer working at a New Mexico monastery to be able to stay there and meditate. Often she worked in the kitchen and this was a book they used often. The thing I love most about this book is that the soups are almost all made of humble and inexpensive ingredients but often have a twist, a little something unexpected that makes it taste so good that you want to eat one bowl too many.

The one I made last night involved sauteeing chopped onions, carrots and garlic in olive oil, adding lentils, chopped chard and stock, and simmering for a half an hour or so. When the lentils are cooked through, you remove the soup from the stove and add several tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. It seemed like a lot, but once you stir it in, the soup changes completely. It doesn’t taste like vinegar in the least. It tastes incredible, though. Strange that something so acidic pulls all the flavors together and raises it to another level entirely. I had two enormous bowls and I’m already thinking about the leftovers. I may very well cook up the last of the garden chard into another batch tonight, because I’m pretty sure this batch won’t make it through lunch.

I’ve always found soup-making a meditative process. I can see why the monks make a lot of soup. There is a balance of ingredients, but precision is less important than inspiration. But this particular soup — that vinegar — seems like a metaphor for something. I’m not sure what yet. The acrid, most difficult member makes everything else better than it is on its own. Perhaps a metaphor for group dynamics. I’m not sure.

Te rain has finally stopped, and the sun has come out, at least for a little while. This has so far been the coldest October I can remember.

Also, I decided to spare you the dubious poetry this week, but there’s a hastily written poem of mine up over at Miss Rumphius, if you’re so inclined.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2009 4:30 pm

    Is the cookbook still in print? Link? I’m trying to cook seasonally so I can stop buying items grown in Chile. Local and seasonal just go together.

  2. freshhell permalink
    October 16, 2009 5:05 pm

    I’m in a pumpkin mood. I might make pumpkin/corn chowder (with soy milk instead of cream) and pumpkin muffins this weekend.

  3. freshhell permalink
    October 16, 2009 5:05 pm

    Oh and: …to witches, goblins and a ghost. I love that book.

  4. October 16, 2009 5:10 pm

    Freshhell: I love that book/song too, and I’m especially in the mood for it after reading all the reviews of Where the Wild Things Are. I may have to watch our Sendak video later. I’d love a recipe for pumpkin corn chowder.

    Jill, it looks like the book is back in print. The layout/graphics look totally different from mine, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same book. It’s called Twelve Months of Monastery Soups and you can find it here:

  5. October 16, 2009 5:13 pm

    And Jill, if you don’t have Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, it’s a staple. It’s not organized seasonally, but it has recipes and substitutions for all kinds of vegetable, so you can nearly always find something to do with your Farmer’s Market or CSA veggies. It’s the Joy of Cooking for vegetarians. Or just for people who like vegetables.

  6. October 16, 2009 8:31 pm

    Recipe… please…..

  7. October 16, 2009 9:49 pm

    Jill, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, but off the top of my head, this is what I did.

    2-3 TB olive oil
    3 carrots
    1 small onion
    3 cloves of garlic
    7-8 cups of stock or bouillon (chicken or veg; I usually use stock, but keep bouillon handy for emergencies. This time I actually used bouillon.)
    1 bunch of chard, chopped (the original calls for 6 leaves of Swiss chard. I used a lot more– several handfuls; I removed the stems and am saving them to try a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone — more on that when I get around to it)
    3/4-1 cup of lentils rinsed and picked over (I used some gourmet variety that I ordered from a company no longer in business, but I’d think anything but red lentils would work. You want something that doesn’t totally fall apart)
    2 -3 TB of balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
    salt/pepper as needed

    In a soup pot, saute carrot, garlic and onions “until golden” (says the original recipe. Add stock, lentils and chard. Cover and simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes until the lentils are soft (exact time will depend on what kind of lentils you use). Remove from heat. Stir in vinegar (start small and add more as needed), adjust seasonings and serve.

    After you stir in the vinegar, you need to let it sit for a minute or two before you taste it to see if you need to add more. The flavor mellows as it sits.

  8. October 18, 2009 2:22 pm

    …to witches, goblins, and a ghost. I’ll serve them chicken soup on toast. Whoopie once, whoopie twice, whoopie chicken soup on rice. I read that book so often in elementary school that I memorized it and the basic idea for each month has never left my brain, although sometimes I get a word wrong here and there. Your title was like someone playing a seventh and then leaving the room!

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