This evening I stepped into the kitchen not sure what to make for dinner, but I knew enough to start by chopping an onion. As I stood chopping I knew it would be a soup and I had in my brain a visit I recently paid to my upstairs neighbor's kitchen where I saw on her stove a wonderfully aromatic and beautifully bubbling soup. It looked so delicious and tempting and I was perhaps most struck by the size of her saucepan. It was small. When I usually make a soup I pull out my big dutch oven and I have leftovers on my mind and second portions and a bit for Abel to puree and so on. My big American way of doing things, I can see now. But hers looked so perfectly small and portioned. Just the right amount. So Swiss, I can see now. No worrying about how far it would stretch and how many meals I could squeeze out of it -only the task of preparing something nice for the day's last meal.
My chopped onion turned into a very adapted version of The New York Times' North African Bean Stew with Barley and Winter Squash. This is the third time I have made this dish and the second time I have severely altered it as dictated by my pantry.
Being extremely nostalgic this week adds a heavy dose of meaning and emotion to whatever task I complete, including making dinner, being a parent, and the other general duties of a functioning human being. I'm holding tightly on to this, what is it, sadness? Grief? It feels bigger and more encompassing that those two words. Whatever it is, it's all mine. It's comforting and even cozy knowing that It belongs to me and nobody else. This is a line or a thought from Michael Rosen's Sad Book which is a wonderfully satisfying read and like the recipe it's something my sister shared with me.
On Saturday my neighbors with the small batch soup, who we lived beside, or underneath rather, for four years moved away. I miss them. Our house feels so quiet without their footsteps overhead to remind us that literally we are not alone and that life is best lived in the company of others.
This week also marks the ninth year of my mother's passing. It pains me so much to admit it has been that long since our circle has been broken. I know she would be so happy with our life's work... kids, dreaming big dreams, constantly trying to lasso the moon. But acknowledging this is like giving yourself a pat on the back. Great job, Melissa. Keep it up. So completely unsatisfying. Really this kind of reassurance can only be given by a mom.
Should I apologize for bringing you into this mire? No, I'm glad you shared. Really? Yes, really. Alright, thanks. Sorry anyway.
Since you have the link to the Stew I made, I'll give you my version with all the changes I had to make. But the leeks really do make it incredible.
NYT's North African Bean Stew Editorialized
Chop an onion, enter your zen place, you are an empty bowl now, and then saute it. Add a handful of chopped cilantro stems. Saute some more. Add all your spices including a couple tablespoons of sweet paprika. A cinnamon stick. A couple of teaspoons of cumin, coriander, tumeric. One teaspoon of cardamon and freshly grated nutmeg. Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste. Stir it into a delicious sludge.
Add your vegetable broth and then some additional water until your pot is extremely full and about to spill over. Add another teaspoon or so of salt and bring to a boil. Add your barley, bring back to a boil and cook for 15 minutes uncovered. Then add your chopped winter squash and 1/2 of red lentils. Tonight I used potatoes. Cook another 15 minutes or so. Add your beans. Tonight I used chickpeas but you can use a variety of options. Taste and adjust. Serve with chopped cilantro on top and some yogurt. And if you don't have barley on hand, which I didn't tonight, serve it over rice.