Mark was invited to give a talk at a conference in South Carolina so I've been enjoying being on my own these past few days. I love making dinner with/for Mark but sometimes ... I miss cooking just for me. Cooking for 2 or more usually means compromise: I love roasted broccoli but Mark is lukewarm about it. He loves bread; I prefer rice. I could eat soup every day, while he tires of it after a day. One of my favorite things in life is cooking with Mark and cooking for others -- but, still, there is something nice, even indulgent, about cooking/eating only to please your own tastes.
When I'm out of town, Mark invariably turns to pasta: a jumble of spaghetti tossed with olive oil+garlic+chiles, showered with good parmesan and cracked black pepper, and topped with a glistening fried egg. When Mark is gone, I go crazy for soups. This week I made a chunky Puy lentil soup; potato and leek soup; a spicy shrimp broth with julienned zucchini, cilantro, and scallion; and a hearty, warming, vegetarian harira, using a recipe from our friends Robin and Ilan.
(Also perfectly fine: those nights when dinner is a hunk of baguette, eaten over the sink -- saving a plate and catching the crumbs!-- and whatever knob of cheese is hanging out in the refrigerator. Then, parking yourself on the couch. Olympics! I'm obsessed!)
And a final note is that we decided to go pescetarian during Lent this year. We love our burgers, porky dim sum, chicken broth, and Marcella Hazan's insanely delicious beef ragu but don't intend to touch meat until Easter. I've been busily making a list of vegetarian/pescetarian meal ideas but would be grateful for more! Also, I'm totally curious about everyone else's "alone" meals so please indulge my curiosity and share. My sister told me about a great book called Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant on this subject. Must read.
Harira (Moroccan-inspired vegetable/chickpea/lentil soup)
Harira is traditionally eaten during Ramadan to break the fast. I first tried harira at a Moroccan restaurant in Paris, and their version was rich with lamb, tomato, chickpeas, and egg noodles. This version is quite a bit lighter, though it still has nice flavor. I especially recommend swirling in some harissa for extra heat.
To get 1 cup of cooked lentils: in a pot, add 1/2 cup of lentils + enough water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil and simmer 20-25 minutes, or until tender. Drain.
1 cup chopped onions
4 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup peeled and diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup undrained canned tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups diced potatoes
pinch of saffron
1 cup cooked lentils
1 cup drained chickpeas
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and ground black pepper to taste
In a soup pot, simmer the onions in 1 cup of the stock for 10 minutes. Combine the cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and cayenne in a small bowl and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the hot liquid to form a paste. Stir this paste into the hot pot along with the carrots, celery, and the remaining stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and potatoes and continue to cook, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Crumble in the saffron. Stir in the lentils, chickpeas, lemon juice. Add a fat pinch or two of kosher salt and a few grinds of ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve with lemon wedges and cayenne pepper or harissa for an extra kick.