He said he didn't think good food could come out of wartime, or tragedy. That for food to bring pleasure -- genuine, soulful, pleasure -- it needed to start from a place of joy.
I've been chewing on this ever since, turning it over. Gnawing it like a chicken wing that's all tendon and sinew. The conversation happened in early November, but it's still bugging me.
I couldn't disagree more.
Good, authentic, nourishing food can emerge from any intense emotion, geography, or experience. War, struggle, death, discrimination -- all can roil madly, spinning whirling-dervishlike into the creation of culture in its most moving forms. It's no secret that art, music, theater, dance are more powerful, more stunning, more important, even, when born of life's extremes. And extremes must encompass both ups and downs by definition. The higher the highs, the lower the lows, the more jarring and moving the art.
Not always, of course. Sometimes a light, gentle touch, a moderate, even-keel, a delicate hand or approach can produce beautiful art. But sometimes intensity's the driver.
And what's cooking if not art?
Some cooking is purely functional. It's a tank-fill at times, I get that. But the most beautiful, lingering, significant, and memorable cooking has to come from someplace deeper. Has to come from memory, from places of warmth, nurturing, and light, or from darker places, places where feeding oneself, or one's family, may stem from fear, defiance, grief, trauma, and raw necessity.
I made this soup a few weeks ago when I didn't feel like talking to anyone.
It was brewed of sadness.
I'm fine now, I promise, but don't tell me this soup won't nurture you because of its origins.
That it won't give you comfort and pleasure in these bright January days.
Don't tell me that.
Recipe for Lentil Soup with chorizo meatballs
Red and angry-looking, this soup is savory and filling, but not particularly spicy. The parsley gives it a fresh, gentle lift. I hope it fills you up, and gives you pleasure.
Makes 2-1/2 quarts soup
3/4 pound bulk fresh chorizo
1-1/2 cups brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
4 cups stock (vegetable, beef, chicken), low-sodium if canned
4 cups cold water
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large carrots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh lemon juice and flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Form the chorizo into small meatballs, using 1 tablespoon meat for each. Set aside in the fridge, covered.
Meanwhile, combine the lentils, broth, and water in a soup pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 25 to 30 minutes.
At the same time, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds more. When the lentils have finished cooking, scrape the vegetables into the lentil pot.
Without cleaning the skillet (a thin sheen of fat should remain), brown the chorizo meatballs on all sides. This should take about five minutes. Transfer the meatballs to the soup pot. Simmer the soup over low heat until the meatballs are cooked through and the soup is hot. Serve immediately, with a sprinkling of lemon juice and fresh parsley.