[ vegetarian improvisational peasant fusion cuisine for the 22nd century ]

Thursday, September 21, 2006

cooking can be god through Nash's Farmshare Recipes, September 22nd 2006

The border regions are, Naturally, the most interesting. Here we find ourselves (with any luck) a scant week into the pacific fall, the ears of summer on our doorstep and fog hanging wet in the air. Tomatoes and woolen underwear. Strawberries and shivering at the dying Wednesday markets.

-- a light corn soup --

And by light, mind you, we mean for the soul, not the belly: Add as much cheese as your girth desires. A typical corn chowder starts with a strong stock (bacon, mirepoix, herbs, corncobs), thickens with cream and potato, and finishes with the flashy protagonist. Since we still have summer captured in our cells, I'll focus on the warm instead of the thick:

equal parts carrot, celery, and onion (1/2 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup)
a couple bay leaves and dried red chili peppers
3-4 ears of corn, kernels on one side and cobs on the other
milk or cream or water
one potato or other Thickening Agent
a friendly pair of tomatoes

First, prepare the stock. Saute the onions in butter or olive oil on medium heat until they lose their edge and relax into the pan -- you can tell by eye (translucency) or ear (the tail end of the hiss). Add the mirepoix's other thirds (carrot and celery) and saute together for a few minutes, until everybody is soft. Toss in the corncobs, bay leaves, and chili peppers for a slow warm infusion in a liter of water. Keep the dance to a simmer and feel free to replace as much water with milk. It's a private issue between you and the dairy industry and the public has no right to know.

Let the stock simmer down for half an hour, or however long it takes to manage Everything Else you've got going on. If you're bored, celebrate. There's no reason not to.

All the while, chop the potato and tomatoes. A typical recipe might have some red or green bell peppers but I know you didn't get them from us, and with so much food so near, there's no reason to go a-looking. Similarly with the onions and celery -- I'm assuming you have some celery from last-time or a couple of onions sitting around. If not, change the title to "Corn vs. Carrot: the rivalry continues" and forget the forgetables.

If you'd prefer to polish off last week's bread, cut it and soak it in milk or water and add to the soup in lieu (or companionship) of the potato. Thickening is a broad target and, as I suggested above, what's really important is to prepare a loving hot bath for the corn. When the stock has sufficiently simmered, remove the flavorpills (corncobs, bay leaves, red chilies) and add the thickeners. The changing of the guard, as it were.

A short 10-15 minutes later, after everything has cooked, stir vigorously. Focus your light and attention on the soup. Grind rocksalt and whole peppercorns and season. Taste. Only when it's a perfect broth, with streaks of red tomato and white potato, are we ready to add the corn. Heighten the heat and add the corn with whatever final hints of green -- marjoram or rosemary if you can see it from the kitchen window, or finely chopped Italian parsley from the box -- you need.

The bowls should be full of a piping hot painter's palette, green and red and yellow and white guiding us across the equinox and into the gray unity of our collective future.

-- tender green garnish --

After the first course -- minutes or days, one can't be sure -- you're going to need something more substantial. Whatever you choose, be it an animal or vegetable that sacrificed it's life for you, a tranche of imported eggplant or a heaping mound of barley risotto, you can cover it with this flash-fried relish of dark nutrition.

lacinato kale
napa cabbage
tat soi

While you're waiting for the stock to simmer (above), you can wash and shred these fine green vegetables. It may seem less sexy than opening that bottle of lost mountain red, but in the end, say the sages, the joys are infinite. Do the kale first and salt it well. The kale will rest while you chop equal quantities of tat soil and the cabbage. The thinner you cut them the less they will need to be cooked. Mince or puree a few cloves of garlic. Do some dishes. When the stock's ready for the potatoes, squeeze any bad humors from the kale, rinse it, toss with a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice, and get back to your soup.

Eat. When the soup's done and the belly's warm, heat your wok with a little bit of sesame or oil olive. Add the garlic and the kale and saute together on high heat until the kale shrinks. The mass of green will prevent the garlic from burning -- when the kale has wilted noticeably add the other greens and flash fry with gusto, gumption, and pizazz, and ushar for less than a minute. When it feels like somebody has turned the Brightness Up on the world, retire from fire and kitchen and serve your powerful green garnish atop whatever main course the family has ordained.

A well-intentioned and enjoyed meal is, itself, a prayer.