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Mily – Mom. I. Love. You. Cream of Brussel Sprouts Soup

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mom, i love you.

mom, i love you.

 The Soup:

Brussels, a city that I have long associated with my beloved french fries happens to be the namesake of another food that has rapidly climbed to my top-three-favorite-veggies chart – brussel sprouts. Although the exact origin of brussel sprouts is unknown, I am very grateful to the French who settled in Louisiana and introduced them to American cuisine. I am even more grateful to my Goodman who is doing his best to harvest our own, so I don’t have to spend so much money at the store constantly buying them.

Brussel Sprouts, have always had an unjustified bad reputation among vegetables, but I think they can be equally as enjoyable as a plate of fries. If prepared correctly, preferably roasted or caramelized with some salt, pepper, lemon juice and perhaps a dash of red pepper, I can eat them with all the pleasure in the world. To really appreciate good brussel sprouts one should preferably get them fresh and not frozen. And even when getting them fresh, one should avoid brussel sprouts that are a bit discolored, which could indicate that they are dated and perhaps the flavor will be a bit off.

Like the other members of the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohl rabi – to name a few), brussel sprouts are incredibly strong in the “good-for-you” category. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, supporting the body’s immune system as well as vitamin A, with its concentration of beta carotene. In addition to boosting ones general immune system, they fight off carcinogens. For vegetarians, brussel sprouts, rich in protein, are a particularly good choice and when combined with a whole grain, create a complete protein.

Given my love for brussel sprouts, it’s no wonder that I wanted to somehow create a soup out of it. My inspiration for the soup was the cream of celery soup my mother made when I was a child. Although, I use mostly brussel sprouts, I add some celery as the two blend well together. I should say that the celery itself is quite a reputable vegetable, also chocked full of health benefits. Together, these ingredients with the mint, parsley, and lemon juice make for a joyfully delicious combination.

Obviously, it is easy to romanticize memories of our past, making any attempted replication of my mother’s soup hard to live up to my memory of what it tasted like when I was child. I will have to say, however, in playing with the recipe several times, it’s inching its way closer.

What you will need:

  • Soup pot
  • Baking Sheet
  • Knives
  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cup
  • Pan (optional for caramelizing onions – can easily been done in the soup pot).
  • Juicer for lemon
  • Blender

Ingredients:

  • 2lbs of brussels sprouts
  • 1 onion
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 4 stalks of celery
  • Quart of Broth (either vegetable or chicken)
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh or dried parsley
  • Few springs of fresh mint or teaspoon of dried mint.
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1/2 cup of milk or cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Wash brussel sprouts, slice off the bottom and cut into to halves.
  3. Peel garlic Brussel Sprouts and Garlic to Roast
  4. On a baking sheet roast the brussel sprout halves and garlic cloves for 15-20 minutes.Roasted Brussel Sprouts & Garlic
  5. Dice onions and celery, placing into separate bowls.
  6. Heat a pan or cooking pot with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  7. Add the diced onions and caramelize, adding in the tablespoon of turmeric, with a teaspoon of salt and dash of pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent.Caramelized Onions
  1. On a low heat, add the roasted brussel and garlic to the onions, the diced celery and mix in the tablespoon of parsley.Mixture before broth
  2. Add in the broth and cook on medium heat for 15-20 until the brussel sprouts and celery are al dente. It is optimal to keep the nutritional value of the vegetables.
  3. Ladle the soup mixture into your blender, adding more or less fluid depending on how thick you like your soup.
  4. Blend your soup according to preference. You can blend it until it is completely smooth or with smaller chunks.
  5. Add the sprigs of mint and the squeezed juice of half of the lemon.
  6. Add the cream or milk, depending on your preference or for vegans, omit.
  7. Blend, adding more lemon juice, salt and pepper according to preference.
  8. Ladle soup into bowl or cup, garnish with more mint on top.Cream of Brussel Sprouts Soup
  9. Serve with some nice bread for dipping and a glass of white wine.

(This soup can be made and stored in advance. Soup will stay fresh refrigerated up to one week. This soups also freezes well.)

 

The Story:

Campbell’s canned soup was one of the most memorable eating experiences of my childhood. It was not just any kind of Campbell’s soup, but cream of celery soup in particular that I loved. Each time my mother pulled those cans out of the pantry, I knew that a special occasion was upon us. From the minute she started to make the soup until it hit my palate, I anticipated its taste with mouth-watering salivation.

Turns out those glorious cans were a major anomaly in our kitchen. Aside from the soup, it was rare that we would ever eat something that came from a can or a box in the freezer. It was nearly forbidden and to this day I wonder how that can of soup made the cut. Our nightly meals were elaborate homemade Persian dishes complete with salad, stews, meat or fish served with rice. The rice would never be Uncle Ben’s rice but a long-grain basmati that my parents would soak for a couple hours before preparing it with either herbs, dried fruits, legumes or vegetables. As children we never appreciated such meals. In fact my brother and I experienced major food envy. While our neighbors got to eat Hamburger Helper and Sloppy Joe’s, we were trying to find a way to avoid eating the sauteed chicken liver with mushrooms and lemon powder, or the lamb roast, on the plates in front of us. During lunch at school, my envy intensified as my friends would tote their lunch boxes filled with goodies like Wonder Bread with Jiffy peanut butter and a Twinkee or Ding Dong for dessert. My parents always packed us whole wheat bread, always toasted and hard by the time we unwrapped it. The peanut butter had to be the all-natural kind with a layer of oil on the top. We never got grape jelly, but some sort of marmalade, like orange or fig, that my father had made himself. The only kind of dessert that we would ever see was a piece of fruit, in particular a banana, that was often brown and bruised by the time we got to lunch. Breakfast cereals were forever a sore spot, as we longed for bowls of Lucky Charms or Frosted Flakes, but all we ever got were cereals low in sugar and high in bran. My brother learned quickly to become an expert reader of ingredients and lobbied hard to get us something other than Bran Flakes for breakfast. It was no wonder that as soon as we were old enough, we would stealthily make a run for the corner store with all our pennies, dimes and nickels weighing us down to buy packs of all the Hostess goodies we were never allowed to eat. Hiding behind the store, we inhaled them ravenously.

My mother Mily, which is the name she adopted when she moved to the United States, never had an inherent passion for cooking. She never made any pretense about enjoying or wanting to cook. She has always been a reluctant cook who would rather that someone cooks for her. Yet for all her complaints about cooking, she learned to cook quite well under the tutelage of my father, a Persian cooking wizard in his own right.  He grew up in the kitchen alongside his mother and five other siblings. Cooking elaborate meals filled my father with joy. Being the dutiful Persian wife who wanted to nourish her family well and in following my father’s direction, Mily learned to create masterpieces.

Unlike my father, my mother spent very little time in her own kitchen growing up, not because she wasn’t invited but rather she flat out refused. She wanted nothing to do with food preparation, least of all meat. Currently a vegetarian, I always wondered how much her experiences  in Iran had to do with her aversion to meat. Making a chicken or lamb roast, wasn’t as easy as going to the store or the butcher and having the meat prepared and ready to cook. It meant going to the food bazaars where fowl or meat would be hanging upside down and still needed to be plucked, skinned and deboned. My mother’s family would buy their own live chickens that her father would take into the courtyard, just behind the kitchen and slaughter himself. Getting to the point of being able to actually cook the chicken was a two-day process. In her youth, my mother vowed that she would never pluck a chicken in order to prepare and eat it. My grandmother laughed at her daughter’s reveries, yet in coming to the United States later in life, my mother was able to live out that promise.

In addition to meats, most Persian dishes are very elaborate, involving a lot of washing, chopping and sauteeing, even before assembling the ingredients. Women would sit for hours if not all day, washing their greens: parsley, dill, cilantro, spinach, etc. plucking the leaves and then chopping them very finely.  These days, Persian supermarkets make life a lot easier for those of us who want to make sabsi polo – herbed rice, khoresht – a Persian stew or aash – soup, as all the herbs come packaged for easy preparation. Although, I still rely heavily on my Cuisinart when in it comes to chopping, I admittedly like to stock up on pre-packaged herbs. On some days, it helps my sanity and with the little time I have to prepare dinner.

While I was growing up, my parents enjoyed entertaining others. We would often have family and friends come over for social gatherings, that had either been planned for weeks or an spontaneously thrown together an hour in advance. Hosting others gave my parents great joy, and in the case of my mother also a great deal of stress, because hosting others really meant to feed them. It wasn’t as easy as setting out a fruit and cheese platter, with crackers and nuts on the sides. All the meals, even simple summer barbecues, were elaborate and involved. We didn’t have one fridge in our house. We had three of them. The extra two fridges were in the garage, where we kept all the herbs, fruits, meats and countless jars of my father’s homemade preserves. When hosting others, my parents, in a whirlwind of activity, would empty the fridges and pantries of all the ingredients they needed to start production of their meal. The meat needed to be marinated, the herbs to be chopped, the rice to be washed and the onions to be sauteed. As children I remember, when guests were set to arrive, we would enter the kitchen at our own risk knowing that my mother was getting just as heated as the roast in the oven. She took no prisoners and would start barking at us to make ourselves useful or get out. But in the end, the food was not only delicious but beyond abundant. I have never been to a Persian gathering where wasn’t food for ten armies. Persians feel infinitely more shame in not having enough food to feed others rather than the possibility of the food going to waste.

Given the time and effort put into creating meals, it’s no wonder my mother stumbled on some shortcuts that made cooking so much easier. Making her cream of celery soup wasn’t as easy as opening the can, heating and serving it. She would doctor the soup up with herbs, spices, fresh celery and of course lemon juice. Once it was done, she transferred it into one of her finest China bowls and ladled it out to guests when they arrived. Like me, most others would marvel over how delicious the soup was and often ask for the recipe. Never revealing her secret, she would graciously thank them and give a humble smile, as if to acknowledge the amount of time she slaved over the soup.  I recall one Christmas Eve when she served the soup guests, who were singing her culinary praises, when my brother announced “ Oh no she didn’t make this soup, it came from a can. It’s Campbell’s.” From across the table I could feel how mortified she was and how desperately she wanted to shrink beneath the table. Fortunately for her, she had platters of food yet to come, that were so elaborate and so clearly not from a can, that she could redeem herself as a cook worthy of some approval.

Now spending so much time in the kitchen myself, I can certainly understand how it felt for my mother in all those years of reluctant cooking.Putting fresh, home-cooked meals on the table each night is exhausting. On many nights I desperately want to give into the path of least resistance. There is so much effort involved in preparing a meal, negotiating with the kids over the amount of food they need to actually finish, and having to scrub the pots and pans. I wish I could just resort to pasta or pizza. Mealtime would transform itself into an easier and more serene experience. But much like my mother, I feel a sense of duty to nourish my family properly. I also have a thing for hosting brunches, barbecues and dinner parties.  I have admittedly inherited some of the stressed-out qualities she possesses when preparing meals for others, as there is an element of pressure in wanting to get it right. When we are having guests I sense my own children, much like my brother and I, walking on eggshells in the kitchen knowing that at any moment I will explode in a raging fury. Fortunately, I’ve learned that there is nothing a glass of good pinot noir won’t cure when I feel an eruption coming on. As much as I would love to emulate the calm aura of June Cleaver, having everything prepared in advanced with an immaculate kitchen to top it off, I have had to embrace time and time again that, in the kitchen, I am my mother’s daughter. And quite frankly, I completely identify with her disenchantment in spending hours chopping vegetables. As much as I love preparing soups, I wish I could wash, chop and prep ingredients with the twitch of my nose as it is the most time-consuming part. I am often tempted just to open a can of beans  instead of spending the time and counter space to soak them overnight. Yet for health reasons, I try to resist the urge.  Ultimately, the appreciation others have for a homemade bowl of soup made from scratch, is worth the strain and effort. I feel such gratification that I quickly forget how anxious I was just hours before. I always willingly and whole-heartedly return to make more.

My mother has now retired from Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup, if not semi-retired from preparing elaborate meals all together. Yet, on the occasions that she musters up the inspiration, she will never let any of her guests go hungry. She pulls out her artillery and fires away, preparing meals made to wow and placate. Interestingly enough, although she is a vegetarian, on Thanksgiving I look to her for help in preparing my lamb roast, which I believe she prepares like no other. I also have learned a great deal about vegetarian substitutes in the khoresht and aash recipes that I love and appreciate but want to modify with more vegetables.

It’s been years, if not decades, since I have eaten her cream of celery soup, but the memory of how divine it tasted is never far from my memory. I have only started trying to recreate it from scratch recently. I don’t particularly like to add cream to soups, but given this is a creamy soup, it calls for the dairy. I have also modified the soup to include a new vegetable obsession of mine, brussel sprouts. In the hopes of creating something similar to her soup, I have been playing with multiple recipes. I have been working with all the goodies, including the celery, that she used to make her soup.

Just this Mother’s Day Kiko came home with a list of what makes his mother so special to him. To my amazement, he mentioned that I always make him his favorite soup. In his writing I found a true reflection of my own childhood feelings. Like him, I found such delectable pleasure and infinite comfort whenever my mom made my favorite soup. I experienced a sweet, happiness-is moment that only a mother can magically create.

 

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New Hope – Mushroom Barley Soup

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                Honey Hollow Farm  

The soup:

Mushrooms have long been associated with medicine and magic. Referenced by the Romans as “food of the gods” and “plants of immortality” by the Ancient Egyptians, mushrooms were fit for consumption by royalty. In fact commoners were forbidden from eating them. Eastern cultures, such as in China and Japan, have been using mushrooms for medicinal purposes dating back two thousand years. The health benefits of the ingredients include:  Selenium (good for bones, nails, hair and teeth as well as being an antioxidant), Calcium, Vitamin D, Copper (antibacterial), Potassium, Fiber, and Zinc — to name only a few.

One of my favorite soups is wild mushroom soup. Although I typically go dairy free with my soups, there is something about the combination of the mushrooms, herbs and cream that make my tastebuds soar. Anytime I see it on a restaurant menu, my eyes light up and  I am compelled to try it. On the other hand, I haven’t always appreciated mushroom barley soup. Perhaps it was barley, but I would typically skip right over it without a second thought.

A few years ago, I was invited for dinner where mushroom barley soup was being served. During that experience, I had a mushroom barley soup awakening and really liked it. In fact, I appreciated the graininess of the barley, as it gives the soup a filling and hearty dimension. Not only did I like the way it tastes but I knew that it was doing wonders for my digestive tract, inviting the kinds of bacteria my intestines needs to stay healthy. Fortunately, I have never had cholesterol issues, but another bonus is that barley has been proven to demonstrate multiple benefits for those battling high cholesterol as well. Gluten-free eaters don’t need to shy away from this soup as the barley can easily be replaced with brown or wild rice which is also rice in nutrients.

I quickly took to making it in my own kitchen, playing with ingredients. I learned that although I like barley in the soup, there has to be just the right ratio of ingredients, my preference heavy on the mushrooms and light on the barley, avoiding a grain overkill. I add other vegetables such as carrots and celery as a base, but I also like to include a bit of fresh chopped spinach for an extra superfood boost.

It has become a soup that I make often for my family and is one of my best sellers when preparing it for others.

What you will need:

  • Soup pot
  • Sautee pan (optional can also use the soup pot)
  • Strainer (s) to clean mushrooms and barley.
  • Chopping knives
  • Chopping board
  • Bowls for ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 30 ounces of mixed mushrooms:

        My preference: 10 ounces of cremini mushrooms, 10 ounces of button mushroom, 4 ounces portabella mushrooms, 4 ounces of shitake mushrooms

  • 1/4 – 1/2 half cup pearl barley (depending on personal preference of barley); for gluten-free users 1/2 cup of brown or wild rice
  • 1/2 half cup of diced carrots
  • 1/2 half cup of diced celery
  • 1 medium to large chopped onion
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 cup fresh chopped spinach
  • 1 cup of wine (red or white)
  • 8 cups of vegetable broth (meat eaters can use beef broth).
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaf leaves
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

 Instructions:

  1. Heat pan/pot with with a tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. Add the chopped onions and garlic and mix on low heat.Onions & Garlic
  3. Mix in turmeric and thyme.
  4. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
  5. Caramelize the onions and garlic until a golden color. Then turn off.
  6. Wash and slice mushrooms.
  7. Rinse the barley in a strainer.
  8. If the onions & garlic are in the pan, transfer to soup pot.
  9. Mix the onions, garlic, carrots, celery and mushrooms together. First start with heat at off then turn to low to medium heat.
  10. Add broth, barley (or rice), wine and bay leaves to the mix.mushroom mix
  11. Leave on medium heat to low heat.
  12. Will typically take an hour to cook. I don’t like the barley too mushy, so I typically check the barley around 45 minutes later.
  13. Since the barley and rice absorb water, you may need to add more water.
  14. When you are ready to completely turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves, add the cup of spinach and stir together.Adding spinach
  15. Salt and pepper to taste.
  16. Serve with bread and a glass of wine.the soup.

The Story:

My blood and breath rely heavily on a lifeline vein connected to a source of polluted air, noise and movement of the city. When I feel lifeless I look its fumes for resuscitation. When I am overwhelmed I take refuge in the comfort of its womb and the chaotic commotion lulls me. No matter how dirty or worn out, like a security blanket, just having it there makes everything ok.

I am an urban junkie. So how did I ever become a farmer’s wife?

I am naturally drawn to metropolitan cities. I thrive on new places and faces. I revel in unfamiliar tongues and cultures. While most people avoid moving, preferring a constant familiar environment, I have always appreciated jumping from one spot to another. Frankly over the last twenty years of my life I have developed a codependent relationship with moving. With each move I look for whatever is lacking in my current surroundings. I have always maintained that I could live anywhere. Yet I have never clearly qualified where and what anywhere would be.  And I have learned that making sweeping statements, like boomerangs, will not only come back to me, but sometimes knock me straight over. This case is not an exception.  After years of effortless movement, I stumbled on move that was not only highly taxing but would take me somewhere beyond my comfort zone.

It was almost two years ago that my husband, who I call Goodman, abandoned the tumultuous finance industry. After a dozen-year stint he had become burned out with the roller coaster that is the world of stocks, bonds and options. For his own sanity, he wanted off the ride. Most people comb the newspaper and the Web for homes or property for sale, Goodman spent days and nights looking for a business. After months of searching, he stumbled on something green, an organic soil amendment company that produces and sells a range of products for growers of all kinds. When I met my husband, it became immediately clear that he is a quirky man, who consumes himself with a healthy lifestyle, reflected in the way he eats. And as the years have passed he has become increasingly obsessed with organic and non-GMO foods. What became extremely magnified, however, is his obsession with living off the grid and his dream to produce anything he would ever need to live. Like a beacon, this business beckoned him home.

Although the business could be run from anywhere, in buying it came the understanding that we would be relocating  to his parents’ farm in New Hope/ Solebury, Pennsylvania, where he would have the agricultural land and facilities to grow the business.

Although we had been out to visit his farm in New Hope many times before, the thought of living and raising a family there, never crossed my mind. It was a great place for a long-weekend, country-life getaway while visiting his parents in Philadelphia, but I was as happy to leave it as I was to arrive.

With a defeated and heavy heart I packed up, sold and/or donated all of our belongings.  Although I physically made the move, I emotionally and mentally refused to leave. I had come to depend on the circle of family, friends and the outspoken Persian community for support. New Hope felt like a world away. In all my years of watching Green Acres reruns, I never would have imagined that I could identify with Eva Gabor’s character. Alas, I was being dragged out of my beloved city living so that my husband could live out his farming fantasies. There I was a modern-day Persian Lisa Douglas, soon-to-be farmer’s wife. We had just six weeks to pack up our lives and move from California to Pennsylvania with two babes in tow.

Set in Bucks County, New Hope is a picturesque little town located on the Delaware River dividing Pennsylvania from New Jersey. I remember the first time Goodman brought me to New Hope while we were dating. I was instantly charmed by the cobble-stoned streets lined with quaint restaurants, roaring bars and kitschy shops. Stumbling on the town library, I fell in love with the delightful little structure that looks like an old church, complete with a steeple. It became clear why it is such a popular tourist destination. It has a certain small-town sweetness to it, making it a nice weekend getaway.  After moving to New Hope, however, I made greater discoveries  that became more appealing. It is a liberal and progressive town with a high level of culture, a bastion of artists – literary, visual and performing. I also developed an affinity for Lambertville which is just over the bridge in New Jersey. It’s less touristy and slightly more edgy reminding me a bit of neighborhoods I love in Brooklyn.

We live just a couple miles out of the town of New Hope on Honey Hollow Farm.

The first time we drove up the quarter-mile driveway  leading to the farm, I felt I had landed in a pastoral paradise. Built in the 1700s, Goodman’s grandparents bought the property back in fifties. His grandfather was among a handful of pioneers who lobbied to preserve the surrounding land and watershed, which is now a Historical National Landmark. Once they passed away, Goodman’s parents who I refer to as Father and Mother Blueblood transformed it into a bed and breakfast until a year before we moved in.

Walking around for the first time, I was captivated, as are most others, by the magnificence of the property. The scene of the stone house, barn, stables, and old creamery surrounded by the majestic sycamore trees was breathtaking. It is the kind of setting that artists dream of painting or photographing. There were stretches of corn fields. Just beyond the fields were the swelling pastures of green, where horses graze, that were sprinkled with a sea of yellow dandelions.

It is also home to the countless other creatures, like the dozens of deer that prance around. In fact, as a major animal activist, Mother Blueblood has rescued a whole slew of furry and feathered friends: horses; goats; pigs; a ram and sheep; a handful of gorgeously-plumed guinea hens to get rid of the ticks, about twenty chickens and two barn cats.

Pulling up to the farm years later, this time with the intention of living there, I was overcome with a sobering shot of reality. This idyllic setting didn’t care for itself. There weren’t little fairies who would feed the animals or extra farm hands to tend to the property. Mother and Father Blueblood had been handling the upkeep of the farm and animals for years. Once we moved in, they continued to make weekly trips out  to help, but the day-to-day chores of caring and cleaning up after the animals would fall to us.  No matter how oppressively hot or bone-chillingly cold, the animals need to be given fresh water and food daily.

Growing up I never had any pets. Being located in a secluded rural setting has taken some serious acclimation, without the animals. Having the animals has set the bar at a whole different level. My personal learning curve moved to a sharp and occasionally insurmountable incline.

It starts with the chickens who rule the roost. They are as free range as it comes, and strut around the property with a sense of entitlement. They will walk straight up to our front door or surround the car as we are trying to pull out of our driveway creating a racket. When the guinea hens chime in with their alarmist cries, it is absolute pandemonium. Here I am in my in-laws home, who are so mindful of our personal space, yet its the chickens who completely overstep all boundaries. They are as dirty as they are loud, leaving watery-brown poop everywhere. It is an odious chore of cleaning out the chicken coop several times a week. I recall one sweltering hot and humid summer day, dragging myself out to feed the animals and clean up the coop. Drenched in sweat and overcome by the gag-inducing scent of overheated animals and fecal matter, I was squatting to the ground, using all my elbow grease to scrape up the poop that had been caked onto the floor. In that moment, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry, wondering when in my previous life would I have ever been caught dead or alive cleaning up after farm animals.  I desperately wanted to click my heels and just be home. The reality was that this had become home.

As for the chickens, the only redeeming quality to having them around are the fresh farm eggs.  We do need to be wary of potentially fertilized eggs. As a farming neophyte, I have unknowingly boiled a few. When I cracked the shell, I discovered a solidified and bloodied baby chick’s embryo. I am sure my ear-piercing shrills of horror carried as far as California.

There are a handful of roosters who inherently fight. They engage in a violent pecking war where the feathers around their necks stand up, reminding me of the collars women wore in the Elizabethan Era. They fight until death or until one is balding and so badly hurt that they find a hiding spot in which to heal and live in banishment. In the dead of winter, when we have been stuck at home for days on end, I feel like a banished chicken, unable to roam where and with whom I want to.

In the first year here I drifted into a state of mental, emotional and physical paralysis, sometimes struggling to get out of bed.  Unlike any other move I experienced, I wasn’t able to adapt to my environment with my usual adventurous and open-minded spirit. It was all I could do to get through my days and weeks tending to the chores of the farm, helping Goodman with the business, as well as running a household. I had completely lost my footing. Before we moved, I had set out to start a soup business, but that all fell by the wayside. It was almost as if my life was the soup and I was an ingredient in it, that just didn’t belong. I felt an overwhelming experience of isolation. The winter months only exacerbate the situation. The cold was never a deterrent in moving back East, but suddenly the winter weather became intolerably bleak.

Yet as a mother, I could ask for nothing better than raising my children on a farm. Compared to life in Los Angeles, childhood on Honey Hollow Farm is magical. Just behind our house and down the grassy lane, lined with the sweetest smelling honeysuckle, are the woods. My daughter has labeled them the fairy woods. It is where the fairies come out of their stout mushroom-capped homes to dance and play under the towering canopies of the trees. Running around outdoors freely, they collect sticks, make forts, climb trees, tromp through the stream and scavenge through the woods looking for treasures.  I recall a playdate that my son had with one of his friends, who is a treasure seeker extraordinaire. Rummaging through the pole barn where the tractors are kept, they discovered a mummified corpse of groundhog and with such pride, as if they had struck gold, carted it out on a big shovel to show me. Of course I squealed and refused to go within 100 feet of it. They, on the other hand, marveled over it with keen fascination and even Lulu, my three year-old daughter, joined in without a trace of fear or disgust. Albeit far from my idea of Eden, they have found themselves in hog heaven. In these moments,  I remind myself of how much healthier it is for them to be experiencing nature and the love of animals in their upbringing, something completely foreign to me.

As the saying goes, you can take the girl out of the city, but never the city out of the girl. Footwear remains my weakness and I have bought a collection of wellington boots of various colors and styles since heels and ballet flats aren’t ideal for walking through the muck. I joke that the animals appreciate my sense of fashion and it gives them something to look forward to each day.

In all fairness, it would be dishonest not mention the respect that I have developed for some, but certainly not all, of the animals. I now have a fondness for pigs. Our much-loved pig Boris died just days after Hurricane Sandy hit.  I shocked myself with an uncharacteristic courage, nursing and spoon feeding him in the weeks before. When he finally died, I made the discovery on my own without the protection of Goodman or the kids. Instead of reacting with fear and disgust, I felt peace and relief that he was set free. Pigs, which I always think get a bad rap as filthy animals, are in my humble opinion endearing and intelligent.

The main place that has brought me a great deal of solace, especially through the colder months, is the kitchen. It is my personal quadrant where I experience the familiarity and consolation of what it means to be home. Admittedly,  as far as making soups, I stumbled on the perfect spot. There is no better setting for a bowl of pipping hot soup.  Living on a farm with so much land, Goodman has gone a little grow happy and is producing all kinds of fruits and vegetables. His chest never swells as intensely as when he brings in his own harvest of produce that he managed to germinate from seed, like a bonafide agronomist. Being able to put meals on the table and demonstrate to our kids that we can grow what we eat has been a priceless lesson. Even Kiko, our little food racist, has been dabbling in new things. Farm-to-table cooking has admittedly taken our eating experience not only a more delectable but integrated and organic level. It’s my little silver lining that glimmers at the end of the darker days.

We are in the midst of our second winter – a year and a half after our move. At times, I am still in disbelief. Of all people and places, I would have never connected myself with the life I am living. I no longer ask how I got here. I have come to understand that humor is the answer. It is the protective shield that guards me from feeling broken and displaced like I have never felt before. I always joked that I could live anywhere and it seems that anywhere has found me, leaving me to an unimaginable adventure.

When I think about what soup I identify with my time here at Honey Hollow Farm, I think of mushroom barley with spinach. It may not be the most intuitive choice. Others joke about a soup with chicken, ham, or even venison but in this case I can’t help but to think about soil and all the elements that go into creating it. It isn’t much different than good soup. As elements to a whole experience, mushroom barley soup with spinach says it all for me. It is about the transition from old to new, the soil in all of its wondrous ways and of course the green. The individual ingredients of soup blend together to create a complete living and eating experience rich flavor and texture. I didn’t always like that combination but recently, I have come to long for it.

Mushrooms are undoubtedly one of my top-three favorite vegetables. I can add mushrooms to just about anything: sauces, salads, eggs, pizza or just on its own caramelized with garlic and salt. I typically never tire of consuming fungi, the non-poisoning kind of course, and will eat it in just about all varieties. Although we haven’t mastered growing mushrooms, I am hopeful that one day we can harvest them ourselves. Ironically in this experience, I feel I identify with the way mushrooms grow in the dark, as I do the most growing in the darker months. When spring arrives, the inertia that consumes my spirit and my stride begins to let up and I begin to pop up. It’s no wonder the Persian New Year is the first day of spring, as it is truly a time of regeneration in more ways than one. It is when I discover the beauty that  this life transition has ushered in with it.

Incidentally, the key ingredient in Goodman’s products is mycorrhizae, a fungus – just like the mushrooms in my soup. They are as good in soil as they are in soup. The barley in the soup is like the changes we are making in our lives and on the farm. In farming cover crops are key to good soil. Barley is a kind of cover crop used to transition from one year’s harvest to the next. Not only has moving to the farm been a major rotation in our lives, we also happen to be literally rotating from a conventional farm to an organic one.

Persians can never get enough of eating greens sabsi and typically will eat most of it, raw or cooked. I like to add a little green to the soup as well. Mushroom barley soup does not typically call for greens. But again the soup is a little bit like me. Here I am a Persian woman in New Hope, not a typical ingredient, but one that adds a new dimension to the taste and texture.  The green is also relative to this transition we have made coming to Honey Hollow Farm. The greener life that we discovered and the greener pastures on which we aspire to grow our New Hope.

So my life as not-the-farmer’s wife continues, forcing me to shift my perspective and look at life through different colored-lenses. Albeit out of my noise-polluted comfort zone that is in the midst of the action, I have found a sweet and refreshing spot to raise my family and, for however long, call home.

Ma Petite Choufleur (Cauliflower Soup)

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The Soup:

The cauliflower has had a long and involved history, making its way through various cultures and numerous eras. Once considered a delicacy, today the cruciferous vegetable has settled into a more humble status and is highly understated in its nutritional might. Although it is best known for its creamy white color, the cauliflower can also be purple, green or even orange. Fortunately for cauliflower devotees, this versatile vegetable is typically available all year round. It boast nutrients such as vitamin C, K, Folate (excellent for pre & postnatal moms or anyone who struggles with high blood pressure or anemia), Fiber, and Omega 3. It acts as an anticarcinogen, provides anti-inflammatory nutrients, as well as cardiovascular and digestive support.   Not only is the beloved cauliflower nutritious, it is low in calories.

For many years the cauliflower bored me . Yet, I have discovered that the beauty and taste of the cauliflower lies in the way it is prepared and the ingredients added to it. I usually saute cauliflower.  One of my favorite ways to prepare it is with garlic, turmeric, cumin, cayenne and fresh ginger, making it spicy. Recently, however, I have made a couple of visits to the Lazy Ox Canteen in Los Angeles where I discovered a fantastic cauliflower dish that I was determined to turn into a soup. The dish combines caramelized cauliflowers with fresh mint, green chiles, lime juice and pine nuts. After creating the soup I discovered a new love at first bite. It is a dairy free soup, but with a creamy taste that is accented by a flavorful and savory kick. The best part about it: it’s so easy to make.

Vegan Soup/Gluten Free Soup (Chicken Broth optional for meat eaters)

Serving: 6 small bowls, 4 large bowls

What you will need:

  • Pot
  • Vegetable Chopping Knife
  • Bowls for ingredients
  • Blender
  • Juicer for lime
  • Small pan for the pine nuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 Large cauliflower head
  • 1 Onion
  • 6 Garlic cloves
  • 1 Lime
  • Generous handful of fresh mint
  • 1-2 green chiles ( I use what I can find – jalapeno, serano)
  • 32 oz. of Broth (vegetable or chicken for meat eaters who want a deeper flavor)
  • Tablespoon of oil (I prefer olive, grapeseed or coconut oil – here I use grapeseed or olive oil).
  • Salt & Pepper (to liking)

For Serving:

  • Pine nuts
  • More Fresh Chopped Mint

Preparing:

  1. Chop the onion and garlic cloves. Saute in the pot with tablespoon of oil of your choice (see above).
  2. Cut the the cauliflower into small florets, discarding the leaves and the base of the stem. The stem is nutritious so I don’t throw it all away.
  3. I usually let the cauliflower sit after it is cut up for about 5 minutes after I have cut it up, which is said to promote the health benefits of the cauliflower.
  4. Saute the cauliflower at a medium heat with the onions, garlic, adding salt and pepper to your liking until the flavors blend together (approximately 3-5 minutes – it is important NOT TO OVERCOOK THE CAULIFLOWER).
  5. Chop up the chiles.
  6. Add chiles to the cauliflower blending in its flavor to the saute (1-2 minutes).
  7. Add the broth.
  8. Cook at a medium heat until the cauliflower is soft – not mushy. (15-20 minutes) Typically I frequently check by putting a fork into a cauliflower floret.  Making the cauliflower mushy kills its nutritional value.
  9. Ladle the soup mixture into a blender, leaving extra broth in case the soup is too thick and you need more liquid.
  10. Add handful of mint leaves
  11. Blend the soup – I usually don’t make it totally smooth as it is nice to have chunks of the cauliflower. If you prefer to have it smooth, blend it completely. Add more broth/water if it is too thick.
  12. Return soup to the pot, adding the lime juice (add more or less depending on your liking).
  13. Salt and pepper to liking.

Serving:

  1. Saute the pine nuts in a pan for a minute or two to give them a roasted flavor.
  2. Sprinkle freshly chopped mint to each bowl/cup
  3. Add teaspoon of pine nuts to each bowl/cup
  4. Break out the loaves of crusty bread and maybe add a glass of white wine to your setting.
  • I usually find that by putting the soup in the fridge for a day or two, it tones down the taste of the peppers.

The Story:

Cats – they have never really been my pet of choice.

Without hesitation, I will always pick a dog over cat. My fondness for canines goes unrivaled, as they are such engaging and loyal animals. The only exception to my puppy  love were my two prized, pet parakeets that I was gifted for my 8th birthday. Mysteriously, they disappeared from their cage one summer day when it was perched outside on our back porch. I always believed that they flew away freely, as they were meant to be. Years later I learned that they were eaten by my neighbor’s cat. Amazingly enough, I got over it and I have never consciously harbored any negative feelings towards cats based on that incident.

I actually consider cats to be enigmatically enchanting and beautiful creatures. They move with such nobility, have incredibly penetrating stares and behave so surreptitiously.  Yet, as fascinating as they are, their energies emit something that I have never been able to be fully comfortable with. Try as I might to bond with them, I feel they sense my unease in their presence. This would explain why while cat sitting for a dear friend, as I tried to stroke little pumpkin, she clawed at me drawing blood from my hand. It was a minor scratch, but majorly indicative of my relationship with cats. We made fine acquaintances, but certainly not bosom buddies.

As my lifelong companion irony would have it, I would have to face my cat issues, as I gave birth to a daughter who is undoubtedly feline. Lulu is a true dichotomy –  one half feisty alley cat and the other a bewitching lap cat. She is our updated version of Bastet – the ancient egyptian goddess whose body was that of a woman with the head of a cat.

Lulu entered our lives with an inherently frisky spirit.  She will not hesitate to attack, even those she loves most. Look at her the wrong way, touch her when she wants to be left alone, do something she doesn’t like or tell her something she doesn’t want to hear – she will pounce and strike. She has a remarkably piercing gaze and will engage in a showdown with her eyes only. She is certainly no stranger to biting. We are constantly having to be mindful of “declawing” her as she will scratch and leave her mark. It is as if we have taken in a feral street cat and are futilely trying to domesticate her.

Her main victim, incidentally, is also the one she person she will defend fiercely, her older brother, who has dubbed her “the tiger”.  Although we have all endured some sort of casualty of Lulu’s wrath, Kiko bears the the brunt. There have been a number of times that he has gone to school with her scratch marks on his face. The first time it happened, his teacher, who was slightly confused, gently confronted me about “the tiger” who scratched his face. Needless to say, she was relieved to learn of his amusingly apt moniker.

We are doing our best to redirect her aggressiveness in positive ways lest she hurt a undeserving kid in the sandbox. And in spite of the challenges that lie ahead in mothering Lulu, as I am no cat whisperer, I hope to preserve her fiery character so that she will always be able to hold and protect her own.

All things being even, however, Lulu is truly one of the most delightful beings I have ever encountered. She gives affection like no other and oozes with sweetness. She will curl up on my lap whenever I sit down, nestle in bed with me while I sleep, and cling her body next to mine when I am in the bathroom in the morning or at any other time of the day. She loves to be embraced. Much like a cat, she will knead her feet into my body and will make a humming sound that is suggestive of a purr.

With no surprise, for halloween she chose to be a kitty and insisted on wearing her purple, felted ears and tail for weeks on afterwards. Tidiness is also important to Lulu and she will often be found cleaning herself. Curiously enough, she is fastidious about hygiene between her toes.

In true cat form when someone wants to play with her when she isn’t yet at ease, she quickly will scamper off until she is gradually ready to come out. She invariably determines what she will and won’t do and who she will and won’t engage with.

Interestingly enough, Lulu will typically choose an animal over a doll any day of the week. She adores stuffed animals, whereas I have always cringed at the sight of them. In her baby stroller, she will often push around her most precious and extremely tattered sleep sheep, who has transformed from being soft and creamy colored to brown and slightly crusted in texture because he’s toted around everywhere.  When spotting a dog, she will race to catch up with it and no matter the size she fawns over it as one would over a small infant. She fantasizes over horses and sports an ear-to-ear permagrin when she actually gets to ride one.

For Lulu, however, the most beguiling creature is the cat. She is absolutely captivated by them and lives for an opportunity to play with one. For her, sighting a live cat is like sighting a celebrity. She gushes with excitement and hardly knows what to do with herself. Comically whenever she sees one she chases it down and the cat, completely overwhelmed, will scurry away from her. One would think she’d know better and give it space. Yet she pursues her goal of hugging the cat with such joyful determination. She will camp out on our front porch endlessly just to spot the neighborhood cats and her fondness for the strays is heartwarming. Being a nurturing soul, she  keeps a watchful eye over them and dutifully leaves them food.

Incidentally food is something for which Lulu has the utmost appreciation.

Mon petit choufleur is known among the French as a term of endearment that they use to refer to their beloveds. Taking some literary liberties, I have given Lulu the pet name of ma petite choufleur, as it fits her so well.

In literal translation, choufleur is a cauliflower. Turns out the cauliflower is one of Lulu’s favorite vegetables. Unlike her brother’s severe aversion to vegetables, Lulu will eat most of them with pleasure. Somehow they are all her self-proclaimed favorites. Recently, in all my soup making, Lulu has become my little muse. Her eagerness to try new things inspires me. She is always open to the experience of soup. There are very few bowls of soups that she won’t greet with wide eyes and a big smile. The highest form of approval is to find her with her head back and the soup bowl tipped over covering her face, catching every last drop.

The sweetest sight, however, is that of Lulu propped over the table, face first in the bowl, lapping the soup with her tongue, just as a kitten would.

It has been said that children choose their parents. How incredibly fitting. Although I would not choose a cat for a pet, somehow ma petite choufleur, my little kitty has found her way to me.

Hearty Choke (Artichoke Soup)

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The Hearty Choke Soup

The Soup:

The artichoke has been the subject of mythological legend and medicine for millennia. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered it to be a delicacy. During the 16th century in Europe, when it achieved high gourmet status, it was said to be denied to women and reserved only for men due to its aphrodisiac powers.  Thanks to early European immigrants, the artichoke made its way to North America, the best ones grown in California’s lush central coast.

Today, the artichoke’s reputation has been somewhat humbled due to its prickly thistle formation, although it has gained new and mightier ground as a nutritional multi-tasker. Known for being a major antioxidant, it is rich in vitamins A and C, fiber, folate, magnesium and potassium, among other vitamins and minerals. Studies indicate that it can assist with cholesterol reduction, IBS, and healthy liver function, not to mention it is low in calories and fat.

Although one is able to buy fresh artichokes in the store all year round, the best seasons for artichokes are spring, summer and fall. For those individuals who aren’t able to buy good artichokes in the winter months, I recommend making extra soup in the fall to freeze and enjoy over the winter months.

Every rose has its thorn (literally) and there is no easy way of making fresh artichoke soup—it is somewhat labor intensive, requiring one to pluck out all of its leaves to get to the heart, which is the main ingredient of the soup.  Fortunately, from there on out it is smoother sailing.

**One can use frozen or canned artichokes. Although it is not as fresh – it is much less labor intensive and quicker to prepare.

Things you will need:

  • Pot
  • Blender
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Peeler
  • Chopper (optional for onions and garlic – can also use good knife)
  • Microplane zester/grater
  • a few bowls for ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 3 large artichokes, 6 smaller artichokes (fresh).
  • 2 medium organic potatoes ( I use russet or golden potatoes)
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 lemons
  • Bowl of Water
  • 32 oz. of broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Optional:

  • Italian Parsley for Garnishing
  • Freshly shaven/grated cheese such as Asiago or Parmesan Cheese
Preparing:
  1. Wash and cut of tip of the artichoke, removing the prickles.
  2. Pluck all the leaves from the artichoke. Place the artichoke leaves into a side bowl.
  3. When you get to the heart submerge the heart, I usually cut them into quarters then submerge them in a bowl of water with a squeeze or two of lemon juice – this will prevent discoloration of the artichoke due to oxidization.
  4. Side Note — I usually take all the artichoke leaves and steam and eat them separately. No need to waste a perfectly good artichoke. I also use the water of the steamed artichoke as part of the broth. (if using canned or frozen artichokes, skip steps 1 -4)
  5. Chop up onion and garlic cloves.
  6. Saute the onion and garlic with salt and pepper until they are a translucent golden color. (Salt and pepper should be added according to ones taste)
  7. Peel and cut the potatoes into cubes. (For those of you who don’t want starch in your soup, you can omit the potato. I find that it helps to thicken the soup. It will be much more watery without it.)
  8. ** Optional step – if you like the taste of roasted vegetables, I would recommend putting the artichoke hearts (drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper) in the oven, set at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
  9. Add the artichoke hearts and potatoes to the onion and garlic. Give it a good stir or two to blend together the ingredients and flavor.
  10. Add the broth
  11. Cook at a medium heat until the artichokes hearts and potatoes are soft (not mushy). Should not be longer than 25 minutes.
  12. Use the microplane to zest the lemons, add to the soup.
  13. Ladle the soup’s ingredients into the blender.  ( I usually ration in extra broth later, if it is too thick.)
  14. Blend the soup until smooth.
  15. Add extra lemon juice from the zested lemons ( to liking).
  16. Salt and pepper to liking.
  17. If it has cooled down, simply reheat and serve.

Serving:

A bowl of artichoke soup is like eating a regular artichoke. I usually enjoy my artichokes with a simple olive oil and lemon juice sauce. However, one might like it with some shavings of asiago or parmesan cheese, topped with some fresh herbs.

Although there is no dedicated accompaniment – as is a grilled cheese for tomato soup – having a nice chunk of crusty rustic bread or even sourdough baguette for dipping is all it takes to enhance the eating experience. A spoonful of olive tapenade to go along with the bread, is also might tasty.

**Vegans omit the cheese.

The artichoke is a relatively lighter soup, which makes it a great first course for lunch or dinner. Although there is no dedicated accompaniment – as is a grilled cheese for tomato soup – having a nice chunk of crusty rustic bread or even sourdough baguette for dipping is all it takes to enhance the eating experience.

The Story:

“My son is a food racist.” Making random mom chit chat at the park, a woman was talking about her son’s eating habits. Of course, I chuckled at her comment. Detached, if not naive, I was unfamiliar with her plight to nourish her son with a well-balanced diet, if not, one day soon, my own. Kiko, who at the time was hardly a year old, ate relatively well. He would occasionally throw his food to the ground, which I perceived to be a mischievous infant antic rather than an opinionated assertion of a food critic.

As mothers, we do our best to set sail in the right direction with our young. Some of us choose to map things out and some flow with the current.  Regardless of the approach, the intention is to navigate towards in a positive, productive and life-enhancing direction in terms of sleeping and eating habits, human interaction, verbal communication, mental stimulation and socialization…all the while championing the individual personality. We come up against wave after wave, some bigger than others, learning to brace ourselves in the squally sea of child-rearing. Navigation can sometimes get a little complicated, despite how well the waters have been charted and researched by our foremothers.

As a baby, Kiko was a healthy eater. I have always made my children’s food. One of my “sailing rules” is that I don’t feed them anything I wouldn’t want to eat myself. Sadly, that is most of what comes in jars on the baby food shelves. I experimented with an array of foods and was proud of the simple and kid-friendly concoctions I created. For a while he appreciated and ate most of what I prepared. Slowly he started to become a pickier eater, always leaving his peas behind, or eating around the tomatoes in the spaghetti sauce, avoiding the mushrooms in his scrambled eggs. Unconcerned, I overlooked and accepted it as normal childhood eating behavior. But suddenly he gave way to refusing specific food outright. He established definite likes and dislikes, but in peculiar way, which is reminiscent of Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally. He can be described as a meat and potatoes kid, just make sure to hold the potatoes. It doesn’t matter if the potatoes are fried, mashed or baked, he wants nothing to do with them, ever. He loves spaghetti and meatballs, but without a trace of sauce and the pasta has to be on the side. Not only did it have to be on the side, but only a certain kind of pasta. He usually passes on all variations of noodles and prefers shells or elbows. He lives for his grilled cheese sandwiches, but only with a certain kind of yellow cheese and preferably made on the processed-white hamburger bun.  He’ll never turn down a chicken or cheese quesadilla, but if he finds a smidgen of avocado, tomato, or bean of any sort he will shove his plate away in disgust.

Recalling the prophetic moment years earlier with the mother in the park, it dawned on me that my son, too, had become a food racist.  Not only was he biased towards the kind of food he ate, he heavily discriminated against color, specifically green. Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, green beans or salad of any sort did not have a fighting chance.

As irony would have it, green was his favorite color. Almost everything he self-selected and owned was green: his crocs; his froggy rain boots that he adamantly wore all summer through the sweltering heat, hiking up mountains or playing in the sand; his hat, sunglasses, bathing suits, shirts, and blanket. He surrounded himself with the color green but, like the main character of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham, Kiko did not want to eat green things “here or there or anywhere”.

In our family we live to eat, but Kiko clearly just eats to survive.

It is said that we must pick our battles. Never has this mantra resonated so loudly as when I became a mother. Many things I vowed to never let happen occur frequently without the bat of an eye. Many concessions have been made in the name of what a dear friend refers to as CBA- cost benefit analysis. It is a simple financial term that incidentally works well with managing children. If the costs don’t outweigh the benefits, let it go.  It’s best to preserve the peace and one’s own sense of sanity. In this case I couldn’t justify the costs. Thus, my personal war on food racism ensued.

I called upon reinforcements. It quickly became very clear from other blogs and cookbooks that this was not a battle I fought alone, as I found copious experimentations and recipes for struggles like mine. It was a war laced with pure deceit. Regressing to the baby food making days, I headed back to the food processor where I would steam and puree just about every vegetable known to man, stealthily augmenting Kiko’s severely downsized meal selection. Initially, he detected nothing.  But soon my little Sherlock Holmes was on to me. The older he got, the more thwarted were my efforts were with his highly discerning palate.

There was one light at the end of the tunnel.  Albeit infrequent, Kiko would occasionally try things he saw us eating.  At such moments, he would silently observe us savoring something and, his curiosity getting the better of him, would sheepishly ask if he could try it too. So it was not entirely shocking when were plucking away at an artichoke one night, that the small, sheepish voice announced it wanted in. Most times, he would spit whatever it was out, reaching for the water to rid himself of the poison that he almost ingested.  In this case, it took him a few tries to figure out how to eat it, and,  once he finally did, he proudly announced “yum, I like it!” and continued to finish the entire artichoke. Ah, the taste of victory. And to think, it tasted of artichokes.

It was with my endeavors of soup making that I experienced another breakthrough. Kiko would never eat soup – ever. Try as I might to make something that would appeal to him, he wouldn’t touch it. Last spring when I was fulfilling orders of my artichoke soup, I made enough to spare and did my best to entice him to have a small spoonful. Much to my delight and to his, he ate it and the rest of the bowl.

On a few occasions since then he has asked, unsolicited, when I would make him the artichoke soup again. “It’s my favorite soup”. I didn’t have the heart to remind him it was the only soup he ate. Regardless, mission accomplished. There was a light at the end of the tunnel with a green hue. Thus, it is with joy and triumph that I dedicate my Hearty Choke soup to Kiko, my “king” – whose throne forever rests soundly on my heart.

Ash-e Anar (Pomegranate Soup)

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Ash-e Anar – Pomegranate Soup.

The Soup:

Every year with the arrival of spring, Persian celebrate the biggest holiday of the year – Nowruz (it literally means new day, but it refers to a new year). With tribute to the recent celebration of Nowruz, I am featuring a Persian soup. Typically for Nowruz, Persians feast on a soup called Ash-e Reshteh (Persian Noodle Soup). Eating the noodle soup in the new year is said to bring good fortune and success. Yet, I have a particular fondness for Ash-e Anar (Pomegranate Soup), as it is one of my favorite dishes of all time. Persian food is vibrantly colored and has many layers of flavor. The cuisine makes use of a lot of different spices, herbs and fruits (both dried and fresh) including dates, cherries, persimmons, raisins, quince, prunes and plums. The pomegranate is also used widely in Persian cuisine for different types dishes such as Khoresht Fesenjaan (Pomegranate and Walnut Stew).

Ash-e Anar brings together garlic, onion, yellow split peas, beets, pomegranates, pomegranate molasses, oil, herbs, spices and for those meat eaters ground meat (in my house we use ground turkey). It is not only hearty but very warming. The flavors are of sweetness and sour all in one bite.

All ingredients combined make for an extremely healthy soup. On its own, the innumerable offerings of the pomegranate include vitamins A, C, E and folic acid. It is best known for its benefits related to promoting heart health, dental care, and blood circulation. It also combats digestive problems, anemia, cancer, and diabetes.

Making this soup can be somewhat labor intensive, but like many other soups, the divine taste is worth all the effort.

What you will need:

  • A pot ( I prefer cast iron pots, but I find stainless steel works well too).
  • A strainer to clean rice and to clean the split peas.
  • A chopper or a very good vegetable chopping knife.
  • A glass bowl to mix ingredients for the meat.
  • Measuring cups.
  • Measuring spoons.

Ingredients:

  • 3 onions (2 chopped) (1 grated and left to the side)
  • 6 cloves of garlic ( depending on how much garlic you like – add more or less)
  • 1/2 cup yellow split peas
  • 2 cups chopped fresh parsley (or 1/2 cup dried)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cilantro (or 1/2 cup dried)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mint (or 1/4 cup dried)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh chives/scallions/leeks (or 1/2 cup dried)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach (or 1 cup frozen)
  • 2 medium beets, peeled and cubed (depending on how much you like beets – add more or less)
  • 1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, lamb)
  • 1 cup dry rice (white or brown)
  • 2/3 cups pomegranate paste diluted in 2 cups of water or 4 cups pomegranate juice
  • 2 tablespoons angelica seeds or powder (available at specialty stores)
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey (optional)
  • 10-12 cups water

Garnish:

  • Pomegranate seeds (if in season)
  • Fresh Chopped Herbs (cilantro, mint, chives).

Instructions:

  1. Saute the 3 chopped onions and garlic with olive oil, a teaspoon of turmeric, as well as salt and pepper( to your liking).
  2. Add 10 cups of water and yellow split peas. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let it simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
  3. Add all the chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint and chives), the cubed beets and continue to cook for 20 more minutes. Make sure heat is not too high. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking to the pot.
  4. In a separate bowl prepare your meat. Add the extra grated onion to the meat with some salt and pepper(to your liking). I usually add an extra clove or two of mincedgarlic as well.Mix the ingredients well and make chestnut-sizedmeatballs. Add the meatballs, one by oneto the pot.
  5. (It is important to check on the split peas before taking the step. Often if the peas haven’t cooked properly it is best to let them cook longer as adding rice deters the cooking of the split peas).  Add rice and cook for 30 minutes longer.
  6. Stir in the pomegranate paste, angelica powder and simmer over LOW HEAT for 30 minutes. (If you find that the taste is too sour, it is possible to ration in some sugar or honey- although I usually like the sour).
  7. Check the meatball and peas to make sure they are cooked. You can adjust the flavor of the seasoning. The taste should be sweet and sour.
  8. I usually add the fresh spinach last since I don’t like for spinach to overcook and lose it’s nutrients. You can also add frozen spinach. Spinach doesn’t need more than a couple minutes.
  9. Add water if the soup is too thick.
  10. When serving one can garnish the top with fresh pomegranate seeds and the chopped fresh herbs.

Soup Serving 6 -8

** Soup tastes equally as good if not better, a day later. If you are going to use pomegranate juice, it is probably less likely you will need to add extra water.

The Story:

The City of Angels is a place that I have always loved to hate.

It is the city of my birth and my childhood, yet I have always struggled to call it home. Of all the places I have lived, I always favored it the least. In reality, Los Angeles has never done me any real harm. Despite having repeatedly abandoned it for somewhere better, it has always warmly welcomed me back. Ultimately, it’s been nothing more than a backdrop, although not entirely idealistic, for my long-lasting challenge to bridge the gap between the country of my birth and the blood of my ancestry.

Like many Angelenos, I belong to one of the many sizable ethnic contingents inhabiting the Southland. Los Angeles is better known to me as Tehrangeles, a locale where an overwhelmingly large community of Persians landed after the Iranian Revolution. There are enclaves located throughout Southern California, yet they are headquartered in Beverly Hills/West Los Angeles. Despite a mass exodus of Persians from Iran, Iran will never be taken out of the people. They have taken the town by storm and have created a formidable subculture. Whether they need to shop, visit the doctor, take a driving test or become a US citizen, the Iranians in Los Angeles are able to do so in their native Farsi.

Like an episode of National Geographic, last spring I witnessed thousands of bee swarm a tree in front of our house. It was awe-inspiring. As they took over our front yard for the next few days,  I was partly fearful, as I am allergic to bee stings, but mostly amazed of how tightly they clung together and formed their community.

As marveled over bees, I couldn’t help to think of the Persians in Los Angeles. They are oddly reminiscent of a large colony of bees that have swarmed a tree and cluster tightly together to form their hive, generating a stir to the environment around them. Like the worker bees, some keep very busy buzzing about town and much like the drones, others do nothing at all. They also move about with their stingers in tow and aren’t opposed to sticking it to someone, even their own kind. Of course, at the center, is not one but multiple “queen bees”. The others defer to the queens and strive to emulate them. Unlike the swarm of bees, however, the Persians will not be relocating elsewhere anytime soon.

Life inside the hive was always somewhat unsettling for me. Although I looked like a “bee”, as well as shared the same history, traditions and experiences as the others, I certainly didn’t feel like a devoted member. I often felt as if I had been misplaced in the wrong habitat and dreamed of fleeing. To me, life within the community was clamorous and shambolic.

The local Persian grocery market – Elat Market – is a slice of the culture. When going into the store its important to have a pair of boxing gloves on hand, as it can be each man for himself. It can also be somewhat deceiving, at first glance, as a large portion of the shoppers are elderly. Yet, they are often the deadliest, especially the women, who take no prisoners. After claiming a shopping cart, one needs to weave through the store dodging others, who disregard anyone who wants to come in their direction. Shopping carts are usually lined up to one side the aisles because there is not enough room to navigate with them. People gather around the mounds of fruits and vegetables, picking through the produce where it’s possible for a quarrel or two to break out over something as simple as a cucumber. Then again, it is very much a social center, with Persian music blasting out of one corner of the store, and where shoppers will stop dead center of an already-cramped aisle to joyfully embrace and get into a lively conversation. It’s no place to go in a hurry, as Persians tend to move to the tick tock of their own clock. Their clock is usually set 2-3 hours behind Pacific Standard Time.

Whether it is in or out of the market, the concept of “boundaries”, both physical and emotional, is completely foreign. Persians do not have much of a filter. They will say what they think or feel with little regard for how it might affect or upset others. They have an opinion for everything and will give it, solicited or not. They are masters of giving guilt. It’s like crossing an emotional minefield with explosives that constantly detonate. Persians are typically an animated bunch, who are no strangers to demonstrating a range of intense emotions with very little volume control. It is also a community based on competition and appearances, giving the Jones’ a run for their money. Unforgivingly, at the center, is the rumor mill, that never seems to be out of order but always cranking out new gossip.

Fortunately,  for many years, my immediate family had the opportunity to live outside of the hive, in a suburban city just 25 miles east of Los Angeles, with little to no Persians. It was much more quiet and orderly.

It was like a breath of fresh air.

Living in the community, albeit welcoming, was like sitting next to a fantastically inviting swimming pool, where I was only able to dangle my feet in the water but not able to full submerge myself and swim. Growing up there I always longed to blend in and just be the girl next door — someone I could never ultimately be. My skin was always too dark, my hair too thick and curly, my parents’ accents too thick and our culture too different.

I would frequently be asked about my background. I usually say Persian, although it’s common for people use Persian and Iranian interchangeably. A recurrent reply to telling someone I am Persian was, “oh Persia, I would love to visit that country one day”. While talking to others about Iran, for their lack of better knowledge of the culture or other things to discuss, conversation would inevitably steer towards the Iranian Revolution, the oppression of women and Anti-Americanism. In all my frustration, I began to reject my heritage rather than embrace and illuminate it, for what it is.

My sense of orientation improved immensely when I entered high school, as I was surrounded by many others who were also trying to level the differences between their ethnic cultures and American upbringing. Yet, I was never able to fully gain my balance and my self-prescribed antidote was to leave for college. It was with great haste and resolution that I boarded a plane headed cross country and vowed never to come back.

Ironically, the further I strayed, the greater my appreciation for the Persian culture grew.  After a lengthy absence, I was beckoned back by the City of Angels and unexpectedly started my family here, near the hive. I would have never predicted such a return.  Gradually I have made peace with my experiences and surroundings.

I now do my best to illustrate, to my children, the beauty of being Persian.

Much like my beloved Ash-e Anar, the culture is full of color, texture and dynamic flavors. It has a vibrant aesthetic and is fascinating to experience. It is among the richest of ethnicities: the history, the literature, the philosophers, the food, the architecture, the antiques, and of course the people.

The people are undeniably fiery. They are kaleidoscopic, covering all the colors of the rainbow, including the hues in between. They love and live to gather together for any occasion or for none at all. They constantly celebrate life: eating, dancing, socializing, laughing, story telling, and building families. They are incredibly hospitable and will never let anyone leave their homes on an empty belly. They are impassioned in all they do, not the least of which is how they love. They unabashedly wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are generous with their devotion, perhaps, to a fault. In the name of love, they often project their own hopes and wishes onto others. They are prepared to defend that which they hold dear and do so fiercely. They don’t abandon those they truly care for, especially in real moments of need. They will go to any and all lengths to help with such dedication, forgoing their own needs. It is when they are at their best and demonstrate such overwhelming magnificence as a solid phalanx.

The bevy of boisterous bees – they are always there, with or without an invitation, typically late, usually with food and an earful of opinions to give, but never without their overflowing hearts.

It is a sweet reminder of what it means to be home, no matter where I am.

Ash-e Aroosi (Wedding Soup)

Growing up I never had any grand illusions about marriage or how I would become a mother, I just knew that I wanted children. I never was much of a girly girl. By that I mean, I didn’t spend countless hours of my youth acting out fantasies, with Barbie dolls, of being swept away by a prince on a white horse (or in a red Corvette–which may have been a Ken doll accessory) and then riding off into the sunset to have an extravagant wedding and, soon after, babies. Of course, much like the childhood tune “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage”, were ingrained the presumptions of my cultural heritage. Persians place a great deal of importance on marriage and family. From an early age, young girls are reared for one of their most important roles, to be a wife and a mother.  The wedding day is a day of supreme importance not only for the bride and the groom, but more importantly, for the parents to be able to share their ultimate pride with family members and friends. Most women might envision, for years in advance, every detail of their wedding day. I, on the other hand, have always recoiled from the very thought. I always imagined adopting my children, maybe from India or even Iran, with or without a husband.  Not that I didn’t want to marry, but being single would not deter me from becoming a mother. My aspirations may have been partly revolt against the customs of my cultural background or partly a means to manage my own expectations of how life might unfold. Of course each time I shared this with my parents, they would cringe, as it flew in the face of all their hopes for me. Adopting with or without a husband? No wedding? That I wanted to adopt a child without a husband, baffled them. That I didn’t want to have a wedding which could include approximately three to five hundred of their guests, insulted them.

In hindsight, how I stumbled upon marriage should not have been shocking, as a person who was determined to defy the formalities of her heritage. Yet, speaking truthfully, my self-portrayal of a recalcitrant character is nothing more than my own reverie.  My bark has always been louder than my bite. Although I like to march to the beat of my own drum, I have no intrinsic ability to upset any apple carts while doing so.

I met my “Golden Boy” serendipitously when I moved back to Los Angeles. We hit the ground running. For various reasons, months later we transitioned into a nebulous and very intolerable state of “friendship”. I was in love with him and couldn’t accept just being friends. Crestfallen, I walked away. After having sorted through his own unresolved issues, he came back and we gradually made our way to a steadier ground.

While on a holiday trip to meet my Golden Boy’s family, for the first time, I realized that something was amiss with my otherwise like-clockwork cycle. Yet, I dismissed any implications until the nausea was overwhelmingly undeniable. My hands were shaking and a thick fog settled over my eyes as I took the pregnancy test. It wasn’t even a minute later that the plus sign showed up. There had to be some mistake.

I might also interject, as a somewhat crucial side note, that four years earlier he was diagnosed with cancer. He had gone through all sorts of treatments, as well as surgery. After the cancer was cleared, he was tested and a few of his doctors concurred that it was improbable that he could have children naturally. As a person who had always wanted children, he became disillusioned by the prognosis and thus convinced himself he wasn’t destined to become a father. Regardless, my love for him was unwavering.  Indeed there were moments when I grappled with an ominous concern over our blind faith in the doctors’ pronouncements. He would humorously try to assuage my worries by recreating the nativity scene with me as the head-veiled Virgin Mother with Child and he as the haloed Saint Joseph.  Incidentally, he grossly underestimated fate as we had seemingly created our own blessed christmas phenomenon.

Completely bewildered, I found myself not only knocked up, but knocked off my feet. His denial was greater and more dramatic. He questioned if I had any other relations to confess to. I only had two words for him – “immaculate conception”. If anyone should have felt bamboozled, it was me.

My family quickly entered my mind. The community would certainly find this scandalous. I had nightmare visions of myself shopping at Elat Market, a local Persian grocery store, as an shameful outcast with a scarlet letter emblazoned on my belly. My thoughts turned to his family. They are the epitome of well-mannered and reserved East Coasters. I also thought back to our whimsical romance which, without warning, had transformed into a life-altering gravitas of decision-making, commitments,  and sacrifices for the future.

In the end we took the plunge.  Eloped actually.  On a majestic bluff.  In Big Sur.  Yes, with almost no planning, I had my own version of the classic Barbie fantasy. Yet, we still had to reveal our good news to our assorted family members, who had no notion of what we had done or the circumstances that precipitated it.

My mother initially elated, drifted into her own state of denial for a month afterwards. My father had flown in to meet my Golden Boy and I eased into the news. The first night was the meet and greet and the following day, while we walked by the beach, we told him the rest. He turned dead silent. Although he seemingly liked my Golden Boy, this was a tough pill to swallow. Nevertheless, my family rejoiced for our union and unborn child. To stave off the gossip, that would spread like wildfire, I was to keep my pregnancy quiet, as it is unbecoming of a nice Persian girl to find herself knocked up in such a fashion. So according them, I was 3 months pregnant when really I was really 6. In jest, my sister-in-law got us a cake that read shotgun wedding. I was completely amused but absolutely oblivious to its exact implications. One would think that I am fresh-off-the-boat, rather than a born and raised Persian American, based on the number of commonly used expressions that I don’t know the meanings of. Admittedly, I can be slightly clueless. So when sending out a mass email to family and friends with photos, I found no harm in including a photo of the cake.  My brother, who knew I was trying to keep my pregnancy under wraps, privately replied to my mass email with a single link to Wikapedia’s definition of shotgun wedding. Irony had struck again, as I wasn’t intentionally trying to foil my parents’ plans.

Some would comment on how great it was getting married and having a baby in one fell swoop. Honestly, although it was all so quick, it wasn’t always easy. The reality of our situation was very sobering at times. We found ourselves in fast forward mode of finding a new home, mentally and physically preparing for a baby, as well as acclimating to life as newlyweds. I found myself saying “my husband” only to turn around and check that it wasn’t coming out of someone else’s mouth.

It was with great rapture, however, that we welcomed our son Kiko into the world.  He is a reminder that, even at the most unexpected of times, magic will lead the way.

Coincidentally, this month we celebrate our 5th year wedding anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, I have made a special soup that I call Ash-e Aroosi (wedding soup). Actually, Persians do not have a traditional wedding soup, there are other dishes such as shirin polo (sweet rice) that are typically served. I have taken the liberty of making a soup that is a hybrid of a Persian recipe, Ash-e Saak (Spinach Soup) and Italian Wedding Soup. Incidentally,  the origin of Italian Wedding Soup has nothing to do with the ritual of marriage but everything to do with the soup’s ingredients. Minestra Mariata aka “Married Soup” combines together a meat-based broth with a variety of vegetables. The ingredients, as it is said, marry well together. Ash-e Aroosi, is also made with a poultry broth and is chock full of green vegetables.

This soup is not only a hearty and warming winter soup, but offers protein, fiber,  as well as a whole host of nutritional value from the leafy greens  – spinach and swiss chard. Although the spinach is called for in the original recipe, I also add swiss chard to bolster the sustenance of the soup. Both of these vegetables top the charts in their richness of nutrients including: vitamins A, C & K, magnesium and iron, just to name a few. Their benefits boast anti-oxidants, contain compounds that are known to fight inflammation as well as a host of anti-carcinogenic properties.

Turns out my Golden Boy does not eat red meat nor does he eat pork, so I typically prepare the soup with ground turkey meat, although one could also use ground chicken or beef.  After marinating the meat with onion, garlic, salt, peppers as well as spices and herbs such as turmeric and mint, I make chestnut-sized meatballs which I allow to simmer in the broth. I add caramelized onions and garlic to the soup, as well, to enhance the flavor of the broth. Typically the recipe calls for rice flour, which is a gluten-free way of making the soup thicker, but I prefer to add a 1/2 cup of brown rice which I finds not only helps to thicken it, but also makes the soup into more of a meal. Typically the Persian recipe calls for eggs to be added to the soup, enhancing the flavor and the texture of the soup, but personally I prefer it without. I add the spinach and swiss chard towards the end in order not to over cook them and retain as much of their nutrients. Something that Persians, namely myself, have a strong penchant for is a tangy or sour flavor. There are very few soups that I don’t add lemon or lime juice to. This soup is not one of them. As far as I am concerned, it is one of the best ingredients, therefore, it is typically the last ingredient I add.

With a soup bowl in hand, I make a toast to my Golden Boy, for our distinctive ingredients of diverse heritages and the unexpected yet wondrously rich way we have created our own “married soup”.

La Cubana

Birthdays – the quintessence of a love-hate relationship.

We spend the earlier years of our lives anticipating them with such keen enthusiasm, if not impatience, only to reach a certain age when we recoil from the very thought of them and possibly “forget” they are drawing near. In fact, over the past few years I have literally lost count of how many annual laps I’ve taken. It takes a few minutes, if not longer, to do the subtraction in my head and then to confirm with someone else that I haven’t made a mistake.  I watch how Kiko gleefully counts the months, weeks, days until he will be a year older. Only days after his 4th birthday, he set his sights towards turning 5, as if time couldn’t fly fast enough. His endearing enthusiasm triggers tears of sorrow through my laughter, as motherhood has taken the fast forward mode I’ve been living in and kicked it up to double speed.

I can’t remember the last time when my birthday did not induce a state of panic, if not a mild case of anaphylactic shock complete with dizziness, labored breathing and low blood pressure.  This annual psychosomatic attack was notably pronounced during the months before my 30th birthday. The dread intensified as I hurtled towards the completion of another decade. I swelled with feelings of disgrace as I examined my life achievements and choices.  What did I really have to show for myself? Where was I headed in life, if anywhere?  I laid there, ailing, as self-criticism prepared to swallow me whole. Immediately, I sought refuge with my greatest consolation in life — escape, preferably with a passport in hand.

Needless to say, it was with fate that I stumbled on an invitation to attend an International Education conference in Cuba – a destination which had been on my top 3 list for years. The stars were fortuitously aligned as I was granted permission to make the trip with my father, who would be visiting as a medical doctor. Flying directly from Florida to Havana, there would be no need for a below-the-radar/illicit stop over in Mexico or Canada where we would beg or even bribe officials not to stamp our passports.  It was a dream realized just weeks before my birthday. With a reanimated spirit, I turned my back to the looming number 30 and boarded the plane to Cuba.

In Havana, I felt as if I had landed on a run-down movie set that lit up with the most vibrant of colors …the band of men, who have honed their auto-mechanics skills, repairing the sea-green Chevy Pick-up right in the middle of town; the constant flow of music from all corners and alley ways, where, when night fell, the Cuban people could always be found dancing with infectiously carefree passion; stained glass windows; shrines of Che Guevara on every wall; propaganda of the revolution; El Malecón;  trips to the local elementary schools, where we were met by the wide smiles of pupils, whose eagerness to chat was heart-warming; and, of course, the splendid mojitos made with fresh sugarcane. We also traveled by taxi a couple hours west, where we spent some days in the province of Pinar del Río -a lushly green landscape of tobacco fields and mountain ranges. The rural life was a stark contrast to that of the city, but equally intriguing – thatch-roofed houses with oxen and cows standing out front, captivating expressions on fascinating faces bronzed by the sun, horse-drawn carts, sugarcane and baseball fields side by side, and breadlines. Even in the countryside setting, the villagers, in classic Cuban style, gathered after sunset to dance into the dawn.

Not the least of Cuba’s draw would be the fetching, blue-eyed and staunch Communist who became a friend and my tour guide in Havana. Sitting on the back of his motorbike my last night there, he drove me through the streets as I absorbed the energy of the enchanting city in all its hauntingly tainted beauty. It was all so sobering and uplifting in one breath. Any angst I harbored for my age or nebulous life accomplishments drifted out into the Straights of Florida, as la vida cubana surrounded me with a good dose of perspective.

Within days of my return from Cuba, I was able to usher in my 4th decade with a renewed sense of joie de vivre and gratitude.

Yet, for all the appreciation of the culture, personally the Cuban cuisine left something to be desired. I had higher expectations since one of my favorite go-to eateries in NYC was Café Habana as well as Versailles Restaurant in Los Angeles. Café Habana is a Cuban/Mexican diner known for its delicious sandwiches, among other dishes, made with tender and juicy meats that are well-seasoned and spiced to perfection. They are well complimented by the side dishes, that sublimely blend together smooth, spicy and tangy flavors to create a delectable feast. As for Versailles in LA, they have the most mouth-watering plate of arroz con pollo that I have tried in town, the chicken is prepared with the perfect combination of citrus and garlic flavors. Perhaps we missed all the right spots in Cuba, but I found very little to rave about in the epicurean vein. Normally, one of my greatest pleasures, when traveling, is eating. But while I was there, I ate out of necessity. In many cases the foods in the restaurants were overpriced and lacking in flavor. I was especially excited to try out some of the paladares (family-run restaurants out of their own homes) that serve up rustic Cuban cooking. Yet, I remained mostly unimpressed, save for the fresh and divinely flavorful tropical fruit that I lived on daily: mango, pineapple, guava and papaya (which normally I am not an avid fan of, but in Cuba I couldn’t get enough of). Another noteworthy mention was a scrumptious plate of arroz con pollo accompanied with plantains and a delightful bowl of sopa de frijoles negros (black bean soup) at a paladar we stumbled on, down one of the small streets in Havana. At that moment, I was reminded of my appreciation for Cuban cooking, specifically for one of my favorite bowls of soup.

    La Cubana – Black Bean Soup

The sacred black bean is said to have been domesticated over 7,000 years ago in Central and South America, becoming a staple of the Latin cultures. Today the black bean is ubiquitous, crediting the Spanish discoverers who returned from their travels to the New World and exchanged them in their international trades.

The black bean – a legume – is reverent in the nutrition it provides the body, yet it can play a formidable role in modern diets and nutritional guidelines.  For those vegetarians, it creates a complete protein when combined with rice. In addition, it offers folate and fiber (known for reducing cholesterol), promotes heart health, acts as a powerful antioxidant and has been suggested to protect against cancer.

One of the many beauties of black bean soup is its suitability for almost any day of the year, be it in the dead of winter or in the sweltering heat of summer . Fortunately, for black bean lovers – it is easily accessible all year long.  Moreover it is a meal in and of itself.

My preferred ingredients to include in the soup are: homemade veggie broth, black beans which I have soaked overnight, caramelized onions and garlic, peppers (both bell and jalapeno, although serrano peppers work well too), diced tomatoes, a splash of red wine, lime juice, as well as a mix of herbs such as cilantro and spices like cumin. I like to let this soup cook slowly so that all the flavors really meld together. The soup has a vibrant taste and texture with a bit of a punch thanks to the fresh jalapeno peppers. There are plenty of additions that can top off your pipping hot dish- sliced avocados; shredded cheese or sour cream – although a dollop of yogurt is a perfectly delicious as well as less caloric substitute; more lime juice; a handful of fresh cilantro and salsa – possibly a mango or papaya salsa, which for me will always bring to mind the tropical flavors and colors of Cuba in all of its evocative splendor.