It all started out gloriously. A beautiful Fourth of July brunch on the deck. Husband cooking one of my egg “recipe” favorites. Big ol’ hot sun in the true blue sky. Coffee in the tall mug, thanks. Unleaded Bloody Mary in the frosty pint glass. Dog next to us and a whole New York Times to read with all the time in the world to do it. Dinner, and making what would come to be known here as “Grilled Broccoli Potato Salad,” was light years away.
I thought it was time for a new pasta salad for summer not because I needed one but because Sylvie did. Sylvie’s graduating from high school, you see, and of course she’s having a graduation party. Since Sylvie, a stellar singer and dancer, has cooked and baked with me since she was a wee girl, I’m thrilled to work out something fun and luscious to go with her dad’s great pulled pork tacos and bring it along to fete one of my favorite students and people.
This time of year, there are pumpkin spice jokes ad nauseam and while I don’t particularly love the idea of pumpkin spices unless they’re in a pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, I do, do, do love me some pumpkin. From one year to the next, one shelf in my garage storage pantry is smack full of pumpkin. I’m not afraid there’ll be a shortfall, though that almost happened in recent memory, I just know year-old pumpkin in the can tastes better than this year’s pumpkin — especially for pie, but really for anything. This often repeated tidbit is one of many my father-in-law Gene Morgan (longtime Jewel-Eisner grocery merchandiser) passed on to me early in my marriage. (There’s also that I might want a loaf or two of pumpkin bread mid-July when a can of pumpkin might be a tad difficult to locate at the store. Just look next year and see if I’m not right.) When Gene, not a big talker per se, gives you a little grocery tip, you’d best file it away and not forget it. At 19, for instance, I learned to rinse off the top of any can I was about to cook with or drink out of. His graphic description of certain sorts of insects running across the floors of grocery warehouses wasn’t something easily forgotten. And why hadn’t my mother told me this? (She might’ve and I might not have heard her, too.) Thank goodness Gene filled me in and kept us from whatever diseases roaches impart. By the way, they include things like listeriosis, plague, and dysentery, to name but a few. Ewwww.
The beauty of a vegetable soup is manifold. It’s mouthwatering, colorful, done in a snap, affordable, versatile, full of vitamins and fiber, accessible, easily vegan/gluten-free, and pantry-friendly. Wow! The beauty of a vegetable soup with legumes, or in this case both lentils and chickpeas, is even greater as there’s the addition of plant-based protein (and lots more fiber) which makes the soup increasingly healthful — to say nothing of filling. Now all those things are true, real, and make me feel happy about putting a pot of this goodness on the table anytime. But I mostly want to make vegetable soup because I like to eat it (especially right after Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day!) and before that, I like to smell it cooking in my house. Is there anything better?
Sometimes I know a couple of weeks ahead what’s coming up on the blog. Occasionally I even cook, write a recipe, take photos, and keep a post for the next season. For the last year, however, I have mostly begun working on the next week’s food within a day or two of the last post, photographing, writing, editing, and rewriting right up until my usual, but occasionally fluctuating deadline. In this case, the “Frozen Bailey’s Mochaccino” (Did you make it?!) wasn’t dry on the page before I was making this soup. I was interested in and then thoroughly inspired by a post of Nigella Lawson’s, “Broccoli and Stilton Soup” on twitter. (I’ve just looked back at it and see she’s even encouraged readers to use whatever cheeses they have on hand — just as I do here! Great minds think alike 😉 ) There was literally and figuratively a bunch of broccoli in the fridge and broccoli cheese soup of some sort, if not totally blue-cheesy, was sounding good for Meatless Monday. Well, the soup was grand if I do say so myself. I even had the recipe written and some decent photos in the can. I did, however, forget to note a couple of key elements like the weight of the broccoli, for instance. Hello, honey!! No choice: I re-ordered the ingredients, made the soup a second time (now as a first course before mushroom pork chops on date night), followed my own recipe weighing everything, and got it all straight for you.
Every year about this time, there’s a flurry of interest in fresh and easy meals — which translates to, “Let’s just have a salad.” (It happens on January 2, too!) I’m all for that, but I’d skip the word, “just,” and shout out, “SALAD!” Out of all the cooking classes I’ve taught over the last 12 years, there are the most questions about salads: what goes in them, how to make a vinaigrette, what kind of oil to buy, the sort of salt I like, and how to make salad a meal. In fact, I taught a two-hour class about making salad a couple of years ago and the fun we had together still resonates whenever I think about it. Folks want a great salad; they want easy and fresh, healthful meals, but they’re often a bit stuck in their I-buy-this-every-week greens and goodies. This summer, I decided it’s time to organize an online lesson on salad savvy and give you the skinny on how to bring it all together. As the information I wanted to sharewas entirely too much for one blog post, I’ve divided it into three (simultaneously published) posts so that you can read them all in a row if you like–or not– and then it’s off to the farmer’s market, the deck, the store, or backyard garden for you to get started! Click on the red links below and come chopping with me to make your newest stellar salad!
SUBSTANCE — Part 1 (This post–all about ingredients.)
When our country’s collective heart feels as if it’s breaking in two and violence appears out of everywhere and nowhere for reasons we know but don’t always understand well, I don’t know where to turn. We have no family in the town in which we live, though we’ve a long run of perfect friends — all distanced at this point. MISS YOU!!!
Those of us raised by southern mothers might have grown up with Green Beans and Potatoes on the table come hot, dripping summertime evenings. Add a plate of heavy sliced tomatoes (well-salted, thank you) and a pan of cornbread with lots of butter, please, and that was dinner. Who needed meat? For the past few years, warm weather brings on the need to re-create that dish with my own twists and turns. Those often include tossing in whatever other vegetables I have on hand, turning it all into a salad, and whipping up a frisky vinaigrette I doubt my mom would ever have added. She might have thrown in a piece of chopped bacon or a tablespoon or two of bacon grease into the pot for flavor, though, now that I think about it. Oh, and that bacon grease never saw the inside of a refrigerator either. (We all lived.)
I don’t remember eating lentils as a kid. Even lentil soup — on many tables this week as it’s such a pantry-friendly meal — came to me in adulthood, albeit from a much-loved friend and oddly enough during a hot week at the beach on the Outer Banks. If I ate it earlier, I have no memory of the meal and more’s the pity. The “Lentil” I knew was the Lentil of Caldecott Award- winning author Robert McCloskey (MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS) fame since I’m a lifelong avid reader and also trained and worked as a school librarian at one time in my life.
Each week this summer, I’ve made a vegetable-based soup to have for lunches or to round out a salad dinner that uses up leftovers. In order to increase my INSTANT POT (IP) skills and to see how many of my soup book’s recipes transfer well to this medium, I’ve mostly made them in the IP or multicooker–-the real name for the electric pressure cooker that’s also a sauté pot and a slow cooker. Like folks call all tissue “Kleenex,” we tend to call most multi cookers “Instant Pots.” (Note: I like my regular slow cooker much better than the IP version.) To get food cooked in a flash is the main idea with IP recipes and while I’m rarely in a hurry (in fact, it’s just the opposite in my kitchen), I get the idea. In fact, I do enjoy throwing things in a pot, turning it on, and then being able to disappear to the treadmill or a good book. Magic! Another excellent reason to cook soup this way is there’s much less heat in the kitchen with the stove off.