As much as I dread winter, I tend to do my best cooking then, when the warmth of the oven is welcoming, and work keeps my fingers warm and occupied in the long months before spring arrives and frees me from the cold. When a snowstorm hits, and all the town is back from scavenging like madmen for food to sustain them through the long hours before the streets are cleared, I tend to choose something warm and spicy and new to spend an afternoon making. On such days, I don’t mind grinding a thousand spices by hand, or trying out something that just might work, if only I give it a try.
These afternoons are more fun when I don’t have everything I think I need. When I’m missing a few ingredients, I’m forced to improvise, to think about what each ingredient does to the dish, and to figure out how to achieve the same effect with what I have at hand. I get to have taste tests, and run around the kitchen, searching for some forgotten spice or obscure ingredient that all of a sudden seems essential to the finished dish. These eureka moments are quick and satisfying, unlike science, and that, perhaps, is why such experiments are so frequent in our household. James and I both come home after a long struggle with some obscure problem or another, and create new ones: ones we can discard or change as we see fit, with only the judgement of our tastebuds to concern ourselves with.
This meal is the outcome of one such experiment, and was my first attempt at cooking Ethiopian food at home. An impending snowstorm cut my shopping trip short, so I made do with the ingredients I had at hand, and was mostly happy with the results. My mock injera was a semi-disaster (though edible enough), so I won’t share the recipe here, but the chicken stew (doro wett) was spicy and complex, without being overwhelming, and the cabbage dish was sweet and subtle. The pair complemented each other surprisingly well, balancing sweet and spicy, rich and wholesome. Both are worth trying out, especially if you’re craving hearty winter fare like I am. And yes, you can skip the berbere. It won’t be quite the same, but I think the stew and cabbage will be satisfying nonetheless.
Recipes after the jump.
Filed under cabbage, chicken, chili, comfort, Ethiopian, lentils, main, onions, soup, squash, stew, Uncategorized
For those chilly nights
Yesterday, snow arrived before dawn and traced the barren trees with wintry light, taunting us until we put on our running clothes, trekked out into the frigid air, and left only our footsteps behind. We arrived home pink-cheeked and slightly hoarse from the chilly wind, giddy from snowball fights and snowmen and the feeling that everything had been scrubbed clean and restored to its proper order.
Don't make me cry
The first snowfall is always the best. The trees have been barren just long enough to make fall seem distant, and the cold hasn’t had a chance to settle into one’s bones just yet. It’s the perfect excuse to do all those cliched things one does at the start of winter: drink hot chocolate with marshmallows, go sledding with all the neighborhood kids, and make hearty winter fare.
There’s something so soothing and cheerful about a warm, wintry soup, and the one I want to share with you today is a perfect dinner or post-run snack for warding off winter’s chill. And topped with golden melted muenster and slices of toasted sourdough bread, it feels almost luxurious.
Wintry onion soup
The sky flickers momentarily, illuminating the shadows for just long enough to show you that yes, you are about to step in a rather large puddle. A moat, if you will. When it rains here in the summer, nature spares no expense at creating a scene. Not that I mind, as long as I can seek refuge indoors when the lightning’s at its worst.
In truth, the rain makes running exhilarating, as the heavy air becomes cool — if only for a moment. When I was growing up, it was a thing to long for, to keep our ground moist and our water supplies above disaster levels. Here, it’s taken for granted, and in some parts of the country at the moment, it is feared. For good reason, too. What nourishes the ground one day may wash away carefully planted seeds the next.
What exactly does this have to do with garlic soup? Nothing, unless you happen to find it’s a comforting thing to have in the house on days like these. Especially when your officemates are coming down with colds. This version is adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1 (which I got for a whole $4 — best purchase ever), and if you’ve never had garlic soup, you’re in for a surprise. Think subtle, tasty broth, not garlicky, spicy mess. In fact, if I had to substitute stock with anything, this soup base would be my first choice.
Serve it with a bit of bread toasted in olive oil, and you have a delicious starter. Or add some protein in the form of red kidney beans and a bit of whole wheat pasta, for your own minestrone-like dish. Whatever you do: Don’t skimp on the garlic. I promise, you won’t regret a single clove.
Inspiration comes from the oddest places sometimes. A flicker of memory, a random happenstance, or the simple fact that you have something that needs to be used up in the fridge. This soup is a confluence of all three events, spaced over a few procrastinatory days. A half head of cabbage, begging to be finished, beautiful pictures of red lentils spotted in various corners of the web, and a random “One year ago” reminder from Smitten Kitchen all came together to bring me dinner.
This recipe tastes like a somewhat more substantial version of my favorite Indian restaurant’s lentil soup. I call it Comfort Soup because its smooth, slightly spicy temperament perfectly accompanies a hot mug of tea, a warm blanket, and some good company—all of which were part of my grand plan tonight.
This soup is simple enough for a weeknight dinner, even if it does take a little time to stew. You’re well rewarded in the end with the consistency of a pureed soup without all the fuss involved in rummaging through the cupboards for the blender.
What’s your favorite comfort food?