Potage of quinoa w/ 4 kinds of lentils & 8 kinds of basil

Potage with quinoa and lentils

We visited Monticello last week. It’s so full of beauty, light, and grace that it made me weepy. Less than a mile away, in the visitor’s center, is a recreation of one of Jefferson’s slaves’ dwellings. It’s dark, gloomy, and cramped. That made me weepy, too. Jefferson designed the house with all of the “dependencies” – where the work was done – hidden beneath the building in catacomb-like tunnels. The word “dependencies” struck me as a funny one, in this situation. As you walk through the house and grounds you realize that Jefferson and his family had a complete and childlike dependence on their slaves. Their slaves dressed them, raised their children, grew their food, cooked their food, made their furniture, dug their graves. The man who dug Jefferson’s grave was named Wormley Hughes. He worked in the garden. The garden at Monticello is a thing of wonder. Beautiful, useful, inspiring – a perfect spot to sit and ponder questions of liberty and independence. Wormley Hughes was freed after Jefferson’s death, and shortly thereafter, his wife and 8 of his children were divided and sold.

It’s a discombobulating experience, visiting Monticello. So much beauty, and cleverness – so many good ideas being exchanged, and important work being done. And literally hidden beneath all of it, so much pain and suffering.

Sorry to go on about it! It’s on my mind. I did buy some seeds in the gift shop, to plant in our garden. I’m very excited about our garden this year. We have about 8 kinds of basil, and that’s what I used to make this dish! Back in the Ye Olde Days, they used to have “potage gardens,” and the fruits and vegetables grown there would be used to make potage, a thick stew or porridge. The potage combined all of the different elements of a meal in one bowl, and was a staple in the diet of peasants. This particular potage contains 4 kinds of lentils – beluga, french, red, and split moong. The beauty of this, is that when they’re all cooked together, the quick-cooking varieties (I’m talking to you, moong & red!) melt into a creamy background, while the slower-cooking types (french and beluga) remain a bit al dente. So you have a nice mix of textures. If you can’t find beluga lentils or split moong dal, you could make this with french and red, which are both fairly easy to locate. I roasted the cauliflower separately, because I like that smoky flavor, and then pureed half with broth, and added half whole. This is quite a thick, satisfying dish, and it’s flavorful as well – seasoned with ginger, smoked paprika and tons of fresh basil. It’s funny, though – lentils are so pretty when they’re raw, and so drab when cooked. They make up for it with supreme tastiness, though!

Here’s Blind Willie McTell with Amazing Grace. He doesn’t sing, but it’s almost as if the guitar is speaking the words.
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Spring stew with white beans and asparagus

Spring vegetable stew

I was thinking the other day that I probably talk about the weather too much. I know it’s a dull subject, and one that people resort to when they have nothing else to say. But weather matters! It’s fundamentally, life-alteringly, earth shakingly important. Of course what I’m really talking about, when I talk about the weather too much, is how it changes my mood. A crazy amount. I was feeling mildly discouraged, for a while. And then we had a few beautiful, sunny days in a row, and the light started to have that hopeful springtime slant, and the air had little pockets of warmth and flower-smells. And I felt hopeful! And happy! And full of energy and spirit! I felt good. And nothing had changed but the weather. And when the weather was nice, I wanted to make a dinner that was green and bright and glowing! Plus, I wanted to eat my lovely pencil thin asparagus, but in some form that wasn’t just steamed with butter and lemon (although that really is the best!) So I made this stew, with bright green vegetables and white beans, and a light broth of white wine and lemon. And I wanted only a few herbs and spices, but fresh, bright ones. So I added fresh thyme and fresh ginger, and a little parsley, with its green clean taste. Lovely! The boys ate it over gemelli, as a nice light pasta sauce.

Here’s Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. One of my favorite songs ever, and the best description of how alive a spring day can make you feel.
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Coconut-lime-vegetable soup

cocnut lime soup

The elegance of this light, bright soup belies its humble origins. In point of fact, this soup is the result of a very nearly empty vegetable drawer and a half-used can of coconut milk! I tend to save the white, hearty, wintery vegetables till the end of the week, and use the more brightly-colored, more easily-spoiled veg earlier. But I had carrots and peas, man! I could have added those! I made a choice to use only white vegetables! A conscious choice! I think they look nice with the silky tart-sweet coconut lime broth. As it happens, you could really use any vegetables you like in this soup – it’s eminently adaptable. Carrots and peas would have been pretty, actually. So would broccoli, or spinach, or sweet potatoes… You could also add basmati rice, if you wanted a heartier dish, or you could serve it over long, thin pasta, or you could add nuts – cashews or pistachios would be good, here. Or you could add red lentils. Or lots of cilantro. Go crazy, baby! I liked it in this simple manifestation, though – just what I was in the mood for. Sometimes vegetables and broth are all that are needed.

Here’s Louis Armstrong singing about being stranded on a Coconut Island. Now doesn’t that sound nice?
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Parsnip and ginger pakoras

Parsnip pakoras

Parsnips and ginger taste so wonderful together. So bright and sweet and fresh! Here they find themselves grated, thrown together in a sea of chickpea batter, and dunked unceremoniously in hot olive oil till they crisp up nicely. I was once again plagued by indecision on how exactly to spice the batter. Coriander, obviously, because it has it’s own distinctive bright sweetness. And I’d thought of adding cardamom, which I also think of as sweet, but I decided to add things that balance the sweetness rather than add to it. So a tiny bit of cumin and tumeric, earthy and pretty, a very small, very finely diced garlic clove, and a pinch of cayenne for heat. In the end a nice combination, with all the flavors blending to a harmonious whole, just as they should. This isn’t a traditional pakora batter – I added some white flour, and I used beer rather than water, to make it nice and bubbly. The pakoras turned out perfectly crispy on the outside, light and crunchy. The inside was a little denser and softer than it tends to be in restaurants, but it seemed like a nice contrast. I wanted the batter to be vegan, but I think if I’d added an egg, the inside would have been less dense. I’ll try it sometime and let you know!

Of course you have to have a dipping sauce with pakoras! I wanted something sweet/spicy/savory/tart, (don’t I always!) So I made a kind of smooth chutney of apricots, raisins, tamarind, shallots and garlic.

Here’s MF DOOM with Coriander.
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Daikon braised with ginger & honey

Or… What to do with that strange vegetable you got from your CSA

A daikon is a long white radish. It’s milder than a regular radish, I think, but it still has a bite. I braised it with some little red radishes, and it made a beautiful dish of translucent amber and amber tinged with pink. I added honey and ginger, to temper the slightly bitter after taste. Very easy. And don’t you love the radish spirit from Spirited Away? Surely he’s a daikon!

Here’s Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass with Taste of Honey. I love this video!
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Parsnip, pumpkin, & ginger soup

This soup is like autumn in a bowl! A little bit sweet, a little bit spicy – smooth and comforting on a cold dreary day. I made a broth first, and let it sit on the stove most of the afternoon, warming the kitchen and making everybody hungry!

Here’s MF Doom’s Ginger to listen to while you cook.

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