November 2003

Let's face it, any woman (or man) who works, presuming s\he's the one in charge of the cooking duties in the house, appreciates a one-pot meal. A one-pot meal not only has to fit in one pot, but the contents of said pot should be nourishing and satisfying enough so that you do not find the people you are trying to feed looking forlornly in the refrigerator one hour after dinner.

A soup that falls into the hearty category like this one, fulfils that requirement admirably. When the weather turns cold, there is nothing like soup with legumes in it to warm your tummy as well as filling it.

Lentils are the handiest legume ever, since you don't need to soak them beforehand. You can just throw them into a pot and say, 20-30 minutes later, they are nicely cooked. Esau's potage (see Old Testament) is supposed to have been made of lentils. Lentils also have a slightly peppery flavor which perks up the flavor of the soup. For this soup I prefer to use red lentils, but the grey ones work fine too.

The other main ingredient is chestnuts. This is a bit tricky, actually. If you have time and patience, you can buy raw chestnuts and either boil them or roast them (on your open fireplace, if you have one, in a tin made for this purpose, or else wrapped in double-triple-layers of foil and places near the edge of the fire). But who has the time for that? Here in Switzerland, as well as in Austria, Germany and France, it's easy to buy bags of "heisse Marroni" (hot roasted chestnuts) on the street during the cold months. You do need to peel them but the shell does pop off easily. Try not to pop too many in your mouth while you peel them.

If you have money to burn, you can substitute chestnuts-in-honey or syrup or whatever you can find at your local gourmet store. This is what Nigella Lawson does in the original recipe from which this recipe has been freely adapted. I would not be so crazy as to use real, beautiful marron glacé though. Here we can also buy peeled frozen chestnuts at the supermarket, which do the job just fine.

If you don't have any chestnuts, I would (and have) substitute an equivalent amount of cut up sweet potatoes, or Japanese-type squash (kabocha). Butternut would be okay too. You just need a rather dense, sweetish, floury ingredient. Plain potatoes lack the sweetness factor.

For this sort of soup you don't need to get too fussy about the stock. Plain water plus a vegetable stock cube does the job, provided you start with the sauteed vegetable mix.

This is a pureed soup, so you need a stick blender. Believe me, a stick blender is well worth getting, and they are really cheap. Even if you have a food processor or blender, it's way easier to just puree a soup in the pan. I don't worry about tiny little lumps being left - it just makes it more rustic and satisfying.

One of the strangest habits of the Brits is the Fry-up. A fry-up is consumed for breakfast, is supposed to be a great hangover cure, and is a big greasy mess. Here is a rather sedate version. I've seen ones with fried kidneys, blood sausage, and more too.

I sort of wonder how the British got into the habit of consuming this lethal mixture of fat, protein, and more for breakfast while throughout the rest of Europe people settled happily for bread and coffee.

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In case this looks familiar, this is an entry that was originally posted to my main site. Since it's food related it's been moved here.

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One of the regular features I'll be putting here are some basics of Japanese cooking...since that's what I am (Japanese). Believe me, it's not as hard as you might think it is.

Fall is the season for wild mushrooms. We can get mushrooms all year round now of course, but the wild variety are at their best when the fungi can draw lots of nice nutrients from the rotting leaves and wood that is lying around.

Fungi are a strange thing. They feast on decay. All plant material draw energy to grow from their decayed ancestors, but fungi are the only things that draw all of their energy from this source. And, the more they can suck up, the more flavorful they seem to be.

Truffles for instance, are so greedy that they don't even raise their heads out of the earth, until their are sniffed out by pigs or dogs. (Allegedly, virgins can also detect truffles.) I was quite sceptical about the reputation enjoyed by the truffle, until the day I actually had one, a real one, not just truffle oil or the microscopic specks of truffle that are allegedly in some canned patés. This was a real truffle, sliced into bold chunks and baked inside a dish modestly called a galette de pommes (potato cake) on the menu of the Beurehiesel in Stransbourg. (The Buerehiesel is a 3-star Michelin establishment, and our favorite restaurant right now. It will be mentioned many times in this blog I'm sure.) The wonderful fragrance of the truffle permeated the potato cake and made it something out of this world.

While we can't afford truffles on a regular basis, we can enjoy wild mushrooms. One of our favorite ways of enjoying a delightfully smelly bag of mixed fungi is simply cooked in our trusty rice cooker with a basic dashi stock. It can be assembled in no time, and then you just wait for your kitchen to be filled with the fragrance of the 'shrooms. It's low-fat too.

Keep reading Mushroom rice →

One of my earliest conscious memories is food related.

It is of a vast sea of shiitake mushrooms, stretching out forever and ever before my eyes. I think I must have been around 2 years old when I saw this, and the bounty of shiitake caps was probably just a boxful of them.

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