I read cookbooks for fun. A good cookbook comes with recipes wrapped in the adventures of the person who wrote them. I get to read all about their travels and their memories; how their Italian grandmothers used to make this or that, or that back when they lived in Morocco with their first husband and his extended family, this was on the weekday menu. When I peruse the list of ingredients I can often imagine what the dish would taste like. Never mind whether I could recreate it myself -- usually I know better than to even try. My inexperience in the kitchen doesn't prevent me from daydreaming, however. Indeed, this is one of my favorite pastimes. I had a Persian cookbook once filled with beautiful photographs of dishes made with ingredients like rice and saffron and pistachio nuts and rose water. The recipes were completely beyond my ability. And yet I spent a lot of time hunched over this cookbook, staring at the pictures like it was a Victoria's Secret Catalog. But I never tried even one of the recipes myself. Finally I gave it to a woman whose husband was Persian. May she please him with secrets I myself was too timid to try.
I'm just really into Mediterranean food. The graphic you see here has something to do with food and a certain Middle Eastern Religion. Check out the link. Strangely appropriate, don't you think?
But I can always be tempted with less exotic fare. Last week I took my kids to the local library and pulled the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook off the shelf. I like the Moosewood stuff. Several talented cooks I know think highly of the collective's series of cookbooks, but more importantly, the recipes are generally simple enough for the likes of me. I flipped through its pages one evening as the dinner chaos was erupting around me. And I found the soup of my dreams.
Persian Yogurt Rice Soup. Page 129.
Can you imagine how creamy and delicious this soup must be? When later that night I learned about National Soup Swap Day, I knew right then that this soup would be my offering to the cause.
And OK. I'll just admit it. This soup calls for a blending of egg and yogurt, which I felt was beyond my abilities and frankly promised a terrific screw-up which I would then be able to blog about.
But that didn't happen, damn it.
Instead, the soup, which I made in the half an hour before my soup swap party began, actually turned out deliciously: Creamy and flavorful. Even my Kitchen Goddess friend Audrey uttered a little gasp and rolled her eyes back when she tried a spoonful. I was elated. Her only criticism: Just a little more salt.
Here's the recipe.
1 tablespoon olive oil. (just one? That's what I thought...but it did work out, so...)
1 cup finely chopped onions (I actually used pre-chopped from Trader Joe's to save time)
3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (I minced)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or a little more, if you want to listen to Audrey, which you should)
1/2 cup peeled and diced carrots (I chopped up baby carrots)
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste (this was the one spice I didn't have, so I forwent it)
1/4 cup raw white basmati rice (rinsed and drained)
3 cups water or vegetable stock (I used veggie stock from Trader Joe's)
4 cups stemmed chopped spinach, loosely packed (one bunch)
2/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
salt and ground black pepper to taste
Warm the oil in a non-reactive (what does that mean, anyway?) soup pot. (I used my beautiful new Le Creuset soup pot, thank you.)
Add the onions, garlic and salt and saute on medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent, stirring frequently. Add the carrots and saute for about 5 minutes. Then stir in the spices, and keep stirring.
Add the rice and the veggie stock or water. Cover and bring to a boil; then reduce the heat and simmer until the rice is tender, between 15-20 minutes. When the rice is tender, add the chopped spinach to the soup a bit at a time and stir well.
In a bowl, beat the egg into the yogurt with a wire whisk.
Add this mixture SLOWLY to the soup, stirring all the while. Stir in the cilantro and slowly reheat, taking care not to let the soup boil.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
The result was better than I could ever have hoped for. Six friends showed up with soup for National Soup Swap Day last night (Jan. 23), which also happened to be my daughter's 10th birthday. This soup was gobbled down and enjoyed by all.
I made it in my magic new Le Creuset soup pot. And the ingredients for this soup were lovingly brought to me by the Flamenco guitarist. He couldn't be at the Soup Swap because he had a student that night. But he is to be rewarded for his ongoing generosity with a new batch of this very soup tonight. And crusty bread.I still have the Moosewood cookbook. It's overdue, but I'm not done with it yet. I need to please someone with its secrets.