15 August 2010

Ratcheting down

When I'm feeling sad, or scared, or in need of comfort, I tend to make soup. I don't know why, but the ritual itself has a calming effect, especially when I do it Properly, and chop all the ingredients really finely, and have everything in neat little bowls, arranged atop the cutting board, ready to go. No last-minute chopping for me! When I make soup in this manner, the point is not to get a pot of soup finished. The point here is to get the perfect pot of soup on, and to savour every step of the ritual, and completely lose myself in the process, so as to have it almost be a sort of meditation.

Yesterday, when my mood was particularly bad, I decided to putter into the kitchen, and make soup. See, the thing about it is that with the nicotine patch on overnight, as they suggested so that I don't get morning cravings, I ended up with pretty disgusting, violent (prolonged, not one-off), and gory dreams, and I would wake up with a sick feeling. Unfortunately, this would mean that more than a couple of hours of sleep was just not going to happen. This also meant that I would feel even more out of sorts the next day, which kind of defeats the purpose.

So anyway. I'm feeling a bit rough, and decided to go into the kitchen and make soup Properly. I started with two medium sized onions, and chopped them into a fine mince. I chopped one large jumbo horse sized carrot (you know the kind; one of them weighs a pound) into 1/4 inch dice. I diced up 2 plantains (peeled, 1/4 inch dice, please), 1 yucca (1 lb yucca, peeled, split in 4 lengthwise, middle stem removed, then 1/4 inch thick slices), 1 medium potato (1/4 inch, unpeeled waxy potato), and a medium head of cabbage (quartered lengthwise, then each 1/4 cut into 3 lengthwise pieces, then shredded with a knife of about 1/2 inch thick slices). Since my soup pot is cast aluminum, I did have to use a bit of fat to get things started, instead of doing just a couple of drops as I normally do.

Usually, what I do is that I get the stove started, throw the pot on, and throw in some oil. Then, while the oil heats, I make a mad dash for the fridge, grab the onions and carrots, and start frantically peeling. The oil is hot enough by then (and almost smoking). I then throw in the mustard seeds and run back to chopping, then in with cumin and back to chopping. It's chaotic, frenzied, and ever so much fun. It's almost like a race to beat the stove.

But today was about slow, deliberate, and thorough cooking.

The whole chopping of the vegetables took about 30 minutes solid, which gave my brain time to completely blank out. Even though I can carry on conversations with others when I'm cooking, I tend to prefer to let my brain clear completely when I cook alone.

Once the veg were chopped, I did the standard mustard seed and cumin seed thing, then threw in the carrots and onions, along with a bit of turmeric for colour. I turned the heat down to medium, covered the lid, and turned around to clean up after myself. See, usually when I'm cooking, there's a fairly big mess to be had, because I'm mainly concerned with getting all the food cranked out at the same time. This means that any spare moment is spent getting more food cooked, and clean up becomes secondary. This time, however, I had the time to putter around for a bit, and watching a pot of onions and carrots sweat slowly isn't my idea of amusement, no matter how pretty it may be.

I remembered that I should have put a pot of rice on, so I shut the lid, and quickly threw in 4 cups of brown rice, along with the needed water. That barely took a few seconds.

By the time the requisite 15 minutes had passed (for the cooking of the onions and carrots), I'd managed to clear out most of the breakfast dishes, along with the new ones I'd created while cooking. In went the plantains, potatoes, and yucca. Since they're all chopped small, they'll cook at the same speed. I tossed them around to get them evenly coated with the spices and aromatics, then increased the heat just a tiny bit, and replaced the lid. Back to cleaning! After another ten minutes, I added about 3 litres of water.

Side note: I don't use stock, because it doesn't actually add enough flavour to my soup. When I have all these spices going, only water will do, so that the spices can come through, rather than being muddled as they would be were I to use stock. Save your stock for when you're in a real rush, and don't have even the time to throw in a couple of powdered spices to the mix, and just want to dump everything into a pot, throw in some stock, throw on the lid, and set it to simmer away.

I increased the heat to high, and went back to my cleaning. I have one of those gas stoves that has the super high heat burner, which meant that it wasn't going to give me but 3 or 4 minutes to clean. Just like with Proper Cooking, I tend to let my mind wander when washing dishes or doing other cleaning. I just mentally disconnect, and let myself go for a while.

After the water came to a full, rushing boil, I went to my freezer, snagged a few stalks of curry leaves, and scattered them in. I would ordinarily throw them in with the spices, but with frozen, I wanted the taste and colour maintained, so I added it at the end. I also added a clove of garlic, and a bit of salt and black pepper to taste. As a finishing touch, I sprinkled in a bit of red chile flakes, and shut the lid again.

The water needs to now boil quite fiercely for about 15 minutes. If you chop your veg slightly larger, they'll need closer to 25 - 30 minutes. At the end of the 15 minutes, the kitchen was mostly clean, save for the cutting board atop which the cabbage rested. I opened the pot back up, threw in the cabbage, let it keep boiling, and opened up a tin of coconut milk. In that went, and on the lid went. I turned off the heat. Cabbage chopped that small doesn't need to boil. It can cook in the residual heat. I cleaned off the cutting board, and went to lie down for a bit, while the cabbage finished its cooking. I picked up Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. Very good book.

By the time I got to the chapter with Tita's wedding cake, the rice pot beeped (it had a few more minutes when I left the kitchen). The cabbage was done to a turn. Not soggy and limp, but very slightly crisp still, although cooked through.

Books read thus far as of Friday:

Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett
Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman (I didn't know what to expect from this one, but from the teachers I've spoken to, such things still go on.)
Thief of Time, Terry Pratchett

For the record, the soup was delicious.