I’m cooking late after sunset, in the dark, almost - chopping onions that cast tiny shadows on the cutting board. Tonight I’m making soups – cold soups they’ll be ready for the next days.
It’s only in this night kitchen that I can bear to fire up the burners and my thoughts are less dull from the swamp-heat of summer. Outside the air hangs heavy like a sticky fever and smells like cut grass and burnt meat, garlic and skunk and I’m still sweating. But it’s different in front of the stove’s blue flames than under the garish heat and humidity of a long summer’s day.
This bout of night cooking is a comfort to me. It’s peaceful in my own space and full of relief. I’m slowly and quietly getting the work done ahead of time, I like that. These soups are inspired from faraway places like North Africa and Turkey, places I’ve never traveled. They’ll be cups of sustenence here and there, easy meals, helping to help clear my head and scratchy throat over the next few days.
The first is intricate and complex - peppery-hot, mixed with sweet smoke and tang. The base is onions, cooked dry and speckled with fragrant cumin, cinnamon, paprika and dried ginger. Then I add the tomatoes, chicken stock and a couple spoonfuls of solid honey to melt in. All of this is brought up to a fast boil after adding cilantro and parsley and then taken off the heat just as quickly to start cooling down. It seems like this scalds it and seals the flavors in because I’m not diluting it or boiling it away. The next day when it’s thoroughly chilled, the honey laces the soup with sweetness kind of like a golden thread in an embroidered pillow. Its color is opaque pink, like a moon shell or a crab’s claw.
When I make the last soup of the night and the moon is bright and high but thunder is rolling across it anyway and this soup is just as strange. Its base is rice, a beaten egg, salt, four cups of yougurt, three cups of water and a stainless steel spoon. That’s right – a stainless steel spoon dropped into the pot while it’s cooking keeps the rice from sticking. It works! Once the rice is done, I add unreasonable amounts of fresh, minced herbs. Things like basil and cilantro, parsley and mint. And then soup is done. After a night in the fridge, the soups thickens like a sauce and maybe it is. It’d be good over cucumbers or strawberries. But for just a cup of soup, I’ll add a little cold water to my bowl and serve it with a thick line of cinnamon on top.
I leave the soup pot and its spoon left to soak in the sink, they can wait for the morning. I rinse off and fall into bed comforted by the unwavering sound of a foghorn.
Moroccan-Inspired Cold Tomato Soup
(Adapted from Gourmet, June 2003)
Makes 4 servings or about 5 cups.
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Scant 1/4teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (26 oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Garnish: lemon slices, cilantro
Cook onion in oil with all the spices in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and begins to brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
Coarsely chop tomatoes and add to onion mixture with reserved juices, stock, honey, parsley, and cilantro, then bring to a boil.
At this point you can either take it off the heat to cool down and store in the refrigerator. Or if you’re in a hurry then transfer soup to a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and cold water. Cool soup, stirring occasionally, until cold, 15 to 20 minutes.
Before serving, stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste and garnish with lemon slice and cilantro.
An Adaptation of Herbed Yogurt Soup (Dovga)
from Naomi Duguid’s Taste of Persia – a fabulous cookbook!
1 fresh egg
½ cup short grained rice like Arborio, washed and drained
Optional: 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour or 2 tablespoons rice flour
4 cups of plain yogurt, full fat
3 cups of water
2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
4 cups of fresh, finely minced herbs like basil, parsely, mint, cilantro/coriander. Dill would be good too, or instead of one of the above. Experiment!
One stainless steel spoon
Note: This recipe makes 6-8 hefty servings and keeps well in the fridge. It thickens into almost a sauce overnight. That’s why I think the flour is optional.
Instructions: In a heavy, wide soup pot, whisk together the egg, rice, and the flour if you’re using it, until it’s smooth. Add the yogurt, water and salt and whisk again. Add the stainless steel spoon. Slowly bring the temperature up from low to medium. The spoon helps keep the mixture from sticking. It works!
Whever I cook eggs, I add heat slowly and am watchful to stir. Bring these ingredients to a gentle simmer, whisking every once in a while, until the rice is cooked. It’s like making a porridge.
Then stir in the herbs. Let them cook for just a minute, then take off the heat, store in the fridge, if you want it cold. Because this soup can be served warm, room temp or chilled. Add a thick line of cinnamon on top before serving. It does something like magic.
Adapted from Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid published by Artisan, 2016.