You might think it’s kind of ironic for a blog that revolves around sharing recipes to talk about cooking outside the box. And by that, what I mean is, cooking without strictly following the directions of a specific recipe. Personally, I’ve always been someone who follows recipes, and with my limited knowledge, that’s not a bad thing to do at all. In the last couple of years or so, I’ve learned many things from the cookbooks I’ve read, and I’ve cooked many things I’ve never tried before. Little by little, I’ve gathered a practical base of knowledge and skills, and what seemed hard in the past has become something that is second nature. This is not to say there still isn’t a lot for me to learn when it comes to cooking. What I mean to say is that all this cooking has unlocked that little box in my head that has its own ideas, and that is a very good thing.
Along those lines is the book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, wonderfully written by Tamar Adler. Tamar’s intention in writing her book is to empower the home cook. Although recipes do appear throughout the book, Tamar’s focus is more on beginning with staples most of us regularly have in our kitchen. She even begins her book with the simplest thing, water, and talks about making the best use of it. To be able to consider what food you have on hand and make a fine meal of it, while also re-purposing parts of that meal for other meals to come, is the best skill of all. In Tamar’s words, “cooking is both simpler and more necessary than we imagine.”
Of course, it’s important to remember the expression “learn the rules, then break them.” Whenever you learn something new, you usually start by imitation. A child mimics its parents. A bird joins the song of another bird. A small stream of water follows the creek that carves its own path through the woods. A musician begins by cooking, and another creative world opens up.
So although this post does have a specific recipe for a certain soup I make, I’d encourage you to color outside the lines and create your own version. In other words, use what you have, and open that little box inside your head. Use your instincts, and learn from your mistakes. Sauté, simmer, purée. Keep it simple, and add some good stuff. Most of all, begin your own everlasting meal, and discover the pleasures of eating at your table.
Vegetable & Greens Soup
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or unsalted butter or a combination of both)
1/4 cup white wine (or sherry or other liquor)
1 teaspoon curry powder (or other spice or herb)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small head of cauliflower, about 1-1/2 pounds, chopped into pieces (or any other vegetable that works as a purée, just avoid vegetables that are stringy or watery)
1 bunch of chard, about 3/4 pound, roughly chopped (or any other deep green leafy greens)
3 cups chicken stock (or beef stock or vegetable stock)
Juice of half a lemon
Plain yogurt or sour cream
Sauté the onions in the olive oil in a medium deep saucepan until lightly caramelized. De-glaze with a large splash of white wine. Add curry powder and season with a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Add cauliflower and chicken stock to saucepan, and simmer until cauliflower is tender when pierced with a fork. Add greens and cook until wilted. Let cool slightly and purée in a high-powered blender until smooth. If soup is too thick, add more stock until it reaches the consistency you like. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Garnish with plain yogurt or sour cream. Serve again and again in many variations.