Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Two Tales of One Soup

I am a cookbook-lover. One of the wonderful things about being a cookbook-lover is that on occasion people will just give me cookbooks. It’s not my birthday, it’s not Christmas, but because people know I love cookbooks, they enthusiastically donate books to my kitchen library. It’s quite nice, really. In turn, I will happily cook for them, especially if they take the trouble to visit my kitchen in person.

This story unfolds over several hundred miles and two trips traveled by two different people. During my trip home to Michigan last month, my dear friend Anne gave me a copy of The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking by Linda Fraser. This charming little green cookbook is chockful of enticing recipes such as Fresh Tomato, Lentil, and Onion Soup, Spicy Bean and Lentil Loaf, and Butternut Squash and Sage Pizza. Anne passed this book on to me because she already had a copy of it. Nevertheless, I was thrilled by the gift and couldn’t wait to cook with it.

My brother and sister-in-law were more than happy to let me cook from this book in their kitchen. After a weekend of celebrating little Lydia’s first birthday, we were all exhausted, but I hadn’t done much cooking in several days and I was missing the smell of freshly chopped onions and garlic. So on a fall evening in early September, with just a slight chill in the air, I made a batch of Garlic, Chickpea, and Kale Soup. This soup is rich rich RICH (that’s what happens when you add 2/3 of a cup of heavy cream to a soup that makes 4-5 servings!), but it is wonderful. To enjoy that beautiful fall evening, my brother suggested we have a picnic, so we packed up our soup and a leftover loaf of delicious bakery bread and headed over to the local nature preserve. It was one of those evenings that is just perfect in its simplicity: hot soup, flavorful bread, and the best of company with whom to share your food. Quietly, together, we savored our supper amid the trees and the flocks of birds soaring above our heads.

After making this soup for my family, I knew it was good, but I had no idea about its powers of seduction. Last weekend, my friend Matt came up to Evanston from North Carolina to visit. Matt is the kind of friend every woman should have: he’s funny, charming, empathetic, intelligent, and wise. And he’s Southern! Our relationship had existed in the space between friends and lovers for months. Distance allows a relationship to settle comfortably into that space. But I knew that his visit would beg the question, and I didn’t know what the answer would be. The answer, it turns out, is soup.

One of the things I love best about Matt is that he is a cook. Men who can cook are sexy. Men who can cook are comfortable hanging out in the kitchen, even when they aren’t cooking. While Matt didn’t do much more than chop some potatoes during his visit, he proved himself among the best of kitchen company. And that made me adore him just enough to provide the answer he was seeking.

Garlic, Chickpea, and Kale Soup
Adapted from “Garlic, Chickpea, and Spinach Soup” in The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking by Linda Fraser
Makes ~4-5 entrée-sized portions

This soup is a hearty, rich, full-meal soup. Lightly spiced with cumin and coriander, it takes flavors and ingredients from Middle Eastern cooking and dolls them up with a generous pour of heavy cream. It’s a soup to make for a special evening, a soup to share with lovers and loved ones. Serve it with a great bread and you’re all set.

2 tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
5 c. vegetable stock
4 medium-sized potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces (peeling the potatoes is optional—I wouldn’t peel unless the peel is gnarly and unappetizing)
1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, drained
1 tbsp. cornstarch
2/3 c. heavy cream(!)
2 tbsp. tahini
1 bunch of kale (or more to taste*), leaves washed, stripped from the stems, and torn into bite-sized pieces
Red crushed chile peppers to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet or a large soup pot. Add the garlic and onion to the oil and cook for about 5 minutes or until the garlic and onions are softened and golden brown.
2) Stir in the cumin and coriander and cook for another minute.
3) If you are using a skillet to saute the onion, transfer the onion, garlic, and spices into a soup pot. Otherwise, pour the vegetable stock into the pot with the onion and friends. Add the chopped potatoes and bring everything to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer for another 5 minutes. Check the tenderness of the potatoes by tasting one; if the potatoes are tender, you’re ready for the next step. If the potatoes are not quite tender enough for you, simmer for a few more minutes until they are perfect.
4) Measure out the cream by pouring it into a liquid measuring cup. Add the cornstarch and tahini to the cream and use a spoon to mash and blend them together. This mixture might still be a bit chunky after you’ve mixed for a few minutes, and that’s okay. When you add it to the hot soup, the heat will help it blend into the soup nicely.
5) Add the cream mixture to the soup and stir. Add the kale to the soup, stir, bring it to a boil, and simmer for about 2 minutes. Season the soup to taste with crushed red chile peppers, salt, and pepper.
6) Serve in big bowls, preferably accompanied by thick slices of bread to mop up the creamy broth.

*Both times I’ve made this soup, my cooking companions and I just piled several cups of torn kale into a bowl and then dumped it into the soup. Because the kale wilts into the hot soup, you don’t need to be very precise about how much you add.


a said...

And tonight I'm making this! It's a good week for Rose-Anne recipes.

Unknown said...

Hip hip hurray for Ammie! I adore this soup, and I can't wait to hear what you think about it. I'm going to make it this weekend, along with a batch of Nicole's Tabbouleh with Grilled Vegetables, although my vegetables will be oven-roasted, not grilled.

Happy cooking, friend!

a said...

Ooh, I'm getting raves... This is totally going in the next cookbook!

Unknown said...

Ooh, I'm so glad your dining companions liked the soup, Ammie! It's certainly never let me down. I can't wait to have a pot of this simmering on my stove this weekend--bliss!