Sometimes I cook just to eat.
Sometimes I cook as a creative expression, with new food combinations.
Sometimes I cook for self-nurturing and head for the chocolate.
Sometimes I cook to give; to celebrate the community of family and friendship.
But sometimes I cook for sanity.
Monday started with being shot from a cannon. Before I’d gotten fully out of bed, I was alerted to a problem with a project I’ve been working on. I pulled on baggy sweatpants, shrugged into an old sweatshirt softened by hundreds of washings, flipped on the heat, and plunged in to work on the issues.
Mid-morning, we got the pricing for our new kitchen remodel. After I picked myself off the floor, I realized I didn’t just feel sick from being jerked into a Monday. I really didn’t feel good. My throat hurt, my body was achy, and I felt a little warm.
But I had another writing project due that I needed to complete. And I still needed to do my homework for an Italian class I’m taking. Mamma mia!
Finally towards the end of the afternoon, I saw a recipe on Heidi’s 101 Cookbooks for a Persian Yogurt Soup. I was drawn in by her bright photos, who wouldn’t be?, but what sealed the deal was that a yogurt soup requires a lot of tending to ensure it doesn’t break. Now you might think that after a day that took way more from me than gave back, I might just want take-out from the Indian restaurant down the street. But what I really needed was the solace of a cooking meditation.
A cooking mediation is something that requires careful attention to a repeated action. The rhythm of kneading bread with one hand and moving the dough scraper with the other comes to mind. It lulls like deep,even, yogic-breathing. Stirring a yogurt soup does that for me. As I stirred it, keeping it to just barely a simmer, testing the rice now and then for doneness, I could feel my shoulders relax from the tight hunch they’d been in all day.
The beauty of this soup is its subtlety. Assertive onion softens in the yogurt broth and blends with golden lentils and chickpeas. The colors of the finished soup is a winter scene of white and cream, everything a whisper.
A word of warning. Slow down. Yogurt warmed up too fast and too hot will break. And I recommend full fat yogurt to help prevent this from happening.
Stir the soup, then wash some baby kale for a salad. Stir again, and slice an avocado to go with the kale. Stir, test the rice and lentils, then stir some more. Make a mustard vinaigrette to dress the salad. Stir as you watch the soup thicken from the egg and cornstarch. At the end, sauté some garlic and mint in butter and stir into the soup. The result is a rich, quiet soup somehow full of flavor.
Use a heavy bottom pot like a Le Creuset that maintains an even heat across the bottom surface. This will help prevent the yogurt from breaking too.
Prep everything ahead so you can focus on the soup.
Mix together some yogurt, minced garlic, cardamom, coriander, turmeric, and salt. Rub it all over a couple of chicken breasts (or a whole chicken). Pull the skin away from the meat and spoon some yogurt marinade in the pocket. Marinate for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Roast for the meat-eaters at the table.
Before we launch into the recipe, I wanted to check in with another poll. As a recap, this is for my cookbook proposal I’m wrapping up over the next week or so. I want to make sure I’m focusing the book in a way that makes the most sense to you! Thanks to everyone who voted in the first poll. If you haven’t voted on the poll relating to how much time you spend cooking dinner during the week, you still can vote.
Persian Yogurt Soup (Ashe Mast)
- 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, grated on box grater (about 1 cup grated)
- 2 Tbsp grated fennel bulb (using the same box grater)
- 1/2 cup brown basmati rice, well rinsed
- 1/2 cup yellow lentils, well rinsed
- 4 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 large egg
- 4 cups FULL FAT plain yogurt (I used Brown Cow with cream top)
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 cup chopped green onions
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped fennel fronds
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas, or more to your liking
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp chopped mint
- Heat the oil over medium high heat and add the grated onion and fennel. Sauté until fragrant and softened, about ten minutes. Add the rice and lentils and continue to cook for five minutes, occasionally stirring.
- Lower the heat to medium-low heat and stir in the broth. Whisk the egg and stir it in, along with the yogurt, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Stir until well combined and uniform.
- The liquid should be only luke warm. Slowly bring the mixture just a hint shy of a simmer - this should take at least 15 minutes. It should thicken a bit at this point. Maintain this level of very low simmer until the rice and beans are cooked, about 30 minutes.
- When the rice and lentils are cooked through, add ½ cup of the green onions, parsley, fennel fronds, and chickpeas, and continue to stir. You want the chickpeas to heat through completely.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, add the garlic, remaining green onions, and mint, and sauté until the garlic begins to toast a bit, about two minutes. Stir into the soup.
- Serve with crusty bread and a baby kale salad dressed in a mustard vinaigrette.