I find cooking a chore if it’s simply involves following instructions that lead me to a known outcome. My passion comes from discovering new ingredients and techniques, exploring unusual flavour combinations, and creating something new for my mind and taste buds. More recently, I started exploring the nutritional aspects of food as well, adding a whole new layer of experimental potential. Growing up, I was often discouraged from getting too frisky in the kitchen. Every failed experiment was called “perevod productov” – a waste of ingredients, in Russian. My parents had good intentions, it was important for them to teach their curious (and hungry) child not to waste food, I got that. I was more than welcome to participate in making normal food, but the beakers and test tubes were to be tucked away. I guess it stayed with me, as I am now obsessive when it comes to making sure that no good food goes to waste, and can turn the most random ingredients, at questionable stages of life, into a mighty fine meal. But I still turn a blind eye to the whole wasting thing when its for a good cause. Whenever a failed experiment gets tossed into the garbage, my mind speaks the two Russian words, “perevod productov”, followed by two other words – “Oh” and “Well”.
Even really great recipes often pass through our kitchen only once. I need to change things around and stubbornly try to fix what ain’t broken. It keeps me happy. When my husband and I first moved in together, he had no choice but to accept the fate of my culinary whims and challenge his (at that time) unadventurous palette to embrace the unknown. The occasional time when something turned out well and he wanted to have it again – tough luck, my love. It’s been done, it’s over, moving on.
These days, my parents appreciate it when I introduce them to something new or bring over samples of unusual things that they can enjoy without having to witness the process (or clean up the mess). My husband learned to welcome the variety and is grateful of the fact that we actually do often get home cooked meals, even if nothing is ever the same as it was last time.
I have also come to embrace a small collection of recipes that I will willingly and lovingly make on a regular basis, with only minor tweaking. This hummus is definitely a winner, we almost always have the same lemon/honey/evoo garden salad dressing, and following soup has been made about 15 or so times in the past few years.
The recipe, originally from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark, came to me via Orangette. Molly, the author of the blog, has a very special talent of making me want to cook everything that she writes about. I have cooked more recipes from her blog and book than any other, and they don’t even have the big, bright, and shiny pictures we have all come to expect these days when choosing recipes to try. She does it with words and Polaroids.
You wouldn’t be surprised when I say that as much as I loved Molly’s version, the recipe below has gradually “evolved”. Molly called the soup “a quiet soup”, but I think I inadvertently made it loud.
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 2 large yellow onions, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 L of water, veggie, or chicken stock
- 2 cups red lentils, picked through for stones and debris
- 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 tsp. ground ancho chile pepper, or to taste
- salt, to taste
- extra virgin olive oil, chile flakes, and cilantro leaves for garnish
- On medium heat, melt the coconut oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven.
- Sautee the chopped onions for a few minutes, until soft, then add chopped garlic and cumin and sautee a few minutes more.
- Add the tomato paste, mix well, and cook with the onions/garlic for a few minutes.
- Add the water, lentils, and carrots, and increase the heat to bring to a simmer.
- Lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover pot, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until carrots and lentils are cooked.
- Add cilantro and use an immersion blender to blend the soup a little bit, leaving some of it chunky, or blend half of it in a regular blender.
- Season with lemon juice, salt, and ancho chiles, to taste.
- Garnish with cilantro leaves, chile flakes, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.