One consequence of writing a cookbook is that now when I eat out, I find myself taking mental notes and/or critiquing the food. These are two dishes from the Marriott I was staying at in Walnut Creek. The clam chowder was delicious, but the best part was how they served it in a little individual bread bowl, that they had buttered and crisped up before filling it with soup. Great contrasts of crispy bread exterior with soft, soup-soaked interior. Would make a fabulous autumn / winter appetizer or light meal.
I also liked this watermelon salad appetizer — so pretty! But the raspberry dressing was too sweet; it needed to be more citrus, to contrast with the candied nuts. And while the long cucumber slices are pretty, they required pulling out a knife, which none of the rest of the salad did, which was sort of annoying. I’d do it on a bed of round cucumber slices instead.
(30 minutes, serves 4)
Creamy, tangy, richly-spiced, with just a little heat; I was aiming for something my daughter would love. Of course, feel free to amp up the chili powder or toss in some chopped Thai green chilies for a spicier version! Use whatever seafood you have on hand — I pulled some frozen tilapia and shrimp out to toss into this.
1 onion, chopped
1/4 c. oil or ghee
1 T ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1/2 t. fennel seed
1/2 t. methi seed
3 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 stalk curry leaves
2 pounds seafood, cleaned
1 can coconut milk
1 T lime juice
coriander for garnish
1. Saute onions in oil or ghee with ginger, garlic, spices, and curry leaves until onions are golden-translucent, about ten minutes.
2. Add seafood and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, stirring, then turn down heat to medium and cook another ten minutes or so, until seafood is cooked through.
3. Continue cooking until stew is desired thickness. Add lime juice and stir in, then cook a minute or two more. Serve hot with fresh rice and chopped coriander.
“But why are you making stock?”
It was a fair question — Kevin had asked what I planned to do today, on New Year’s Eve, and I said, ‘make stock,’ and that was confusing because while we cook with stock all the time, we generally just buy it ready-made.
But it made sense to me — I was recovering from a winter sickness, craving soup, and supposedly making stock the old-fashioned way, with all the bones in, actually was good for your immune system, or so I’d read somewhere, at some point. And more than that, it felt right for New Year’s Eve, to head into the next year using up the bones of the old, making something good and fresh and strong for going on with.
It was going to be a slightly unusual stock, because our grocery delivery had failed to materialize, so no celery, and no wings I’d ordered to supplement the chicken breast I had on hand in the freezer. But it turned out that a friend had stored a turkey neck in our freezer (long story), so once she gave us her blessing, that joined the chicken breasts in the pot. I never liked celery anyway, so even though it’s classic for stock, I was pretty sure I could get along without it.
I cleaned the kitchen too, with Kevin lending me a hand when I got tired, because in my family, it’s traditional to start the New Year with a clean house. I didn’t quite manage the clean house (sorry, Amma), but a clean kitchen is the most important part, I think. Heart of the home.
And now the stock is simmering, and Kevin and I have poured out glasses of the 25-year-old vintage port that he got us for our 25th anniversary — which was several months ago, but we were having a party then, and it was a little busy, so we’ve only gotten around to opening it now. It is tasty.
He’s putting the children to bed, and then we will curl up in bed ourselves and watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with our port and chocolate cupcakes. In an hour and a half or so, the stock will be simmered sufficiently; I’ll chill it overnight in the fridge, and then skim off the fat and scum from the top in the morning, so it’ll be all ready for soup experiments, or whatever else the new year brings us.
Wishing you a good skimmer for ridding yourself of last year’s scum.
More importantly, wishing you plenty of rich, hearty soup — or whatever else you find nutritious and sustaining and delicious — to carry you through the new year.
That feeling when you have an upset stomach and nothing sounds good except maybe something tangy, and you remember that your mother used to make and drink rasam, a spicy-sour tamarind soup, that was actually supposed to be good for an upset (sour) stomach, and as a kid you didn’t like it, but your tastes have evolved and now it sounds really good.
So you somewhat pathetically ask your husband if he can make you some, and he looks startled because he’s never heard of or tasted this before, but dubiously says okay, if you give him the recipe, so you message him a recipe you found online, and then there’s some back and forth because the recipe isn’t actually that clear, but you get to what you think it is eventually, and he heads back down to start it simmering
And a friend sends her kid across the alley with tamarind because you’re inexplicably out (although it turns out that there was some, hiding behind the lentils), and then the husband brings it to you, along with the rice (because some people like to sip it straight up and some people like it with rice and you aren’t sure which kind of people you are), and it is delicious and you finish it all.
I am not sure whether it will actually make my tummy feel better, but it is very nice to be cosseted once in a while.
(And extra thanks to Anand for putting off his promised Terraria game so that Daddy could make Mommy soup.)