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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Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa? Aw, man, I was totally into quinoa back when nobody knew about it. Back before it became all popular. I used to buy it at this small store that was, like, all hardcore vegetarian stuff, and, like imports. Quinoa was so cool – it was my favorite, and it totally spoke to me. It was my perfect food, man. And then it started getting bigger, and playing the big stadiums, like shoprite, or, you know, pathmark, and suddenly everybody’s eating quinoa. And it’s in cookies, and, pancakes, and bread, and in mother-flippin statues of Mount Rushmore probably. Totally sold out. It’s so sad when that happens to a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. So sad.

That’s right, I ate quinoa in 1993! That’s got to make me one of the first wave of quinoaers, right? Old school! Except for maybe the Incas. They might have come first. When I first met David (in 1993) he made a quinoa-barley soup that his co-worker had recommended. And it was really good! I have to admit that I don’t cook with it as often as I should, and I’m ashamed to admit that it might be because it’s so popular now! It’s so earnestly vegetarian, which is a quality I admire in a food, but sometimes it makes me take a step back from it for a while. Silly, I know!!

If you’re looking for a way to introduce quinoa to somebody who hasn’t tried it, this might be it, because the quinoa is so much a harmonious part of everything going on around it. Malcolm asked what the little floating curls were, and I said, “sea monkeys!” Fortunately he’s too young to know what those are, so I revised my answer to “the ultimate Incan super-food, that made them into superheroes!” He liked the soup a lot, anyway.

I think this soup turned out really well! I’m quite proud of it! It’s got a really pleasing flavor and texture. Very savory, soft, but substantial, and comforting. I grated the zucchini, which, once cooked, gave it a perfect sort of texture. And I puréed half the spinach and chopped the other. I used the broth left over from cooking french lentils, but I think you could make a simple vegetable broth and it would be fine. It’s as close to chicken soup as I’ve come since I stopped eating chicken soup. And probably better for you! It’s simply seasoned with fresh thyme, nutmeg and cinnamon. I wasn’t sure this combination would work, but I went ahead with it on a whim, and it’s really good!

Here’s Carnaval ayacuchano from an album called Peru: Kingdom of the Sun, the Incan Heritage. I love this song!
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Guacamole soup

guacamole soup

Coriander is an interesting herb, isn’t it? It shows up in so many different cuisines throughout the world. You can use every part of the plant, and the leaves and fruits taste quite different from each other. I’ve never encountered the root, but I’ll keep an eye out for it, because it sounds intriguing. Apparently, coriander was cultivated by ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They’ve found traces it at various archeological sites. It’s hard to get my mind around that, in so many ways! Coriander is also fascinating, I think, because the leaves taste so different to different people. To some they have a lovely herby, slightly citrus-y flavor. To others they taste like soap or stink bugs. (I love stink bugs, I really do, I think they’re adorable, but I wouldn’t want to eat them. I’m a vegetarian for heaven’s sake!) It’s such distinct proof that humans experience the world differently.

This soup came about because I bought a job lot (as Thompson and Thomson would say) of avocados. Avocadoes? Avocadi? They were at that moment of perfect ripeness. The first night we had one on a salad, but I continue to be bitterly disappointed by lettuce and tomatoes this time of year. So the next day, whilst whiling away the hours at work, I had the idea to use them in a soup (the avocados, not the whiled-away hours. I wonder how whiled-away-hour soup would taste?). When I considered the various flavor combinations I could use, I kept returning to the seasonings I use for quacamole (I make a mean guacamole). Viz: Cilantro, cumin, chile, lime and honey. So that’s how we did it. I added cauliflower, because I seem to be incapable of making soup without cauliflower lately, and because I thought the puréed cauliflower would save the soup from a certain slimy texture that puréed avocados sometimes attain. (I’m sorry, avocado, but it’s true) Well, the soup came out very nice. A little of the warmth of summery flavors combined with the warmth of a wintery soup.

Here’s MF DOOM’s Coriander.
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Butternut squash/red lentil soup…

…with a berbere spice!

Roasted B-nut Squash

Berbere is a spice mix found in Ethiopian food. This isn’t the real thing, it’s a simplification and an approximation, but it is tasty and does go well with red lentils and butternut squashes.

Here’s the meltingly beautiful Tezeta, by Mulatu Astatke to listen to while you stir your soup.

Mulatu Astatke – Tezeta
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