Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Indian lentil soup with spinach, and a flatbread from my favorite food blogger

Don't you just love a party that never stops?
From one season into another, we just can't give it a rest. As that little chill pricks around your as of yet unscarved neck, summer fest is slowly shifting into fall fest. If this all keeps up, I predict we'll be searching for winter fest topics too...
"What is that green frozen cube in the back of my freezer?" week, or "Good thing citrus season is coming because I think my kids are going to get rickets soon" week, or better yet, "Let's make stew again since we can't get out of the door!" week
Ah winter. In time, in time. But, I'm happy to be celebrating the fall for now.

Happy Autumn, friends. Wrap your sweater around you and let's have a little chat about spinach.

On second thought, (as I do have my own ways of dancing around the issue) and although yes, yes, spinach is entirely conversation worthy on these crisp cuspy equinitox-ical days, really I'm just thinking about Laurie Colwin.

Oh Laurie Colwin, the voice that whispers between my heart and my belly. She's made her appearances here before of course, especially in those weeks after my heroic friend Janet handed me her beat up copy with tight lipped inhale and an excited squeak, but she's been coming back a lot lately. I'm so glad her books are little paperbacks that I can carry in my apron pocket. I'm not sure what I'd do without her.
I'd have to say that Laurie Colwin is my very favorite food blogger.

Of course, Laurie Colwin has not put hands to a keyboard since her death in 1992, and so she has no food blog nor ever has had a food blog that we can google or tweet about. There are no daily updates, no accounts of what she made for her daughter for dinner last night, and this is truly our loss. What we do have are two books, books that speak and sing and feed--her voice is so present, so real, so "come in to my kitchen and go sit at the counter with this bottle of wine while I cook a little something for us," that this...THIS...is why I write here- only so I can extend the same sort of invitation. Thank whoever might be looking out for me for these little books that never fail to remind me why I even try.

There are, I think at this point, as many food blogs out there as there are people who have both a kitchen and a computer. In my opinion, this is nothing short of wonderful. I can only imagine that most people wrote that scary and exhilarating first post that put them out there into the world out of desire to invite someone into their kitchen, and I think each one of those invitations is a move towards where we want to be. I myself like to have a bit of company in the kitchen, and unless one is relishing their (rarely found but often sought!) alone time in the kitchen, then I also think a a full kitchen is a happy one, even if the guests are eating their fill from the other side of the computer screen.
I am happy to be one of millions. I think that if we all invite each other into our kitchens, if we all talk about what we're going to make...then there might just be one hum of invitation- one open door...that's right friends, world peace through food blogging! (or at least many people with a clearer idea of what they'd like to make for dinner)

This invitation has been on my mind--this hum and whir of it all. Sometimes I forget where I fit in, and I need a little shove. I'll say it one more time, because sometimes gratitude bears repeating...Thank whoever might be looking out for me for these little books that never fail to remind me why I even try.

Today, I made Laurie Colwin's flatbread. And soup. Soup with lentils and coconut and spinach. The girls sit on that side of the table, although Rosie's not going to touch that soup. Joey's over there on that side, but there are two chairs in the corner and another over by the computer in the living room, and just bring those in. Oh, and there's a stool in the laundry room too, if you don't mind a chair without a back. Squeeze in the corner there- I'll get you a spoon.

Oh, and before I forget, (no no go ahead and eat!) I'm keeping my little giveaway open for a few more days. The conversation over there is just too lovely- I can't bear to end it. So feel free to chime in--at least go read the comments! I'll keep it open till Friday.

Look- new logo! Fall is really here. Soup and bread for everyone.

Indian Lentil Soup with Spinach
adapted from Padma Lakshmi, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet

1 cup orange lentils
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
4 cups spinach, steamed, chopped, and squeezed of excess water
2 dried ancho chiles
2 tablespoons yellow lentils (I couldn't find these and so used yellow split peas, which worked fine)
1 cup grated unsweetened coconut
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

Soak orange lentils for 3 hours in tepid water. Drain and rinse until the water runs clear. Boil the orange lentils with the salt in about 4 cups of water- then reduce heat and cook on medium low for 40 minutes, or until they are tender. Once the lentils are soft, mash them in the pot so that they become more of a sauce-like consistency.
Add the spinach, mix well, and adjust the salt to taste.
In a small skillet, dry roast the chilis with the yellow lentils. The chilis will give off some heat, so make sure that your kids aren't in the room. Toast until slightly brown, moving the skillet frequently. This will take about two minutes.
In a blender or food processor, grind the toasted chilis and yellow lentils--add the coconut and blend some more. Add this mixture to the soup and cook it all together for a few minutes.
Heat up your little skillet again. Heat the canola oil, then add the cumin and mustard seeds. When the seeds start to pop and smell good, pour the little mixture into the soup. Serve immediately, with flatbread.

Just because I want to, I'm going to give this one to you verbatim. With apologies and gratitude to Harper Perennial--you know we food bloggers are always breaking the rules. I am so so sorry, but my words just won't do here. And so, from "The Case of the Mysterious Flatbread":

(Laurie Colwin's Flatbread, from More Home Cooking)

"Here then, for anyone who wants to make a delicious, exotic, and really easy bread (or an attractive pile of biscuits) is the method for Flatbread.
Stir together 2 tablespoons of warm water with a teaspoon of yeast and 2 tablespoons of yogurt. Mix in 1/3 cup of flour and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Leave overnight, or all morning, or for 3 hours in an unlit oven. The mix will bubble nicely until you are ready for it.
In a bowl combine 2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of black onions seed (these are called kalaunji) [also Nigella! that's me chiming in]. Add the yogurt starter and 1 cup of warm water. Knead the dough on a floured board, kneading in an additional 3/4 cup flour, and leave it to rise for 2 hours.
When the dough has doubled in bulk, divide it in half. Heat the griddle until it is hot. Flatten the dough as for pizza or roll it out and turn it onto the griddle. You want the bread to toast but not to burn. When it is brown and speckled on both sides (this takes about 5 minutes), reduce the heat to low and continue to cook it for about 10 minutes. Tap it to see if it sounds hollow.
The bread is flat and spongy and goes with anything you can think of. And it takes less than a half hour of hands-on work to produce. Furthermore, flatbread proves that we are all brothers and sisters. It is a cross between a Scottish griddle scone, and English muffin, a Russian bialy, an Italian focaccia and a Navajo fry bread--a whole United Nations in one loaf, and cheap and delicious besides."

Thank you Laurie.

And we are not alone today--the spinach is flying around here. What a group to share the kitchen!

And you? I'm feeling pretty hungry if you've got an extra seat in your kitchen.

What's cooking?


  1. Wow, that's kinda staple in our home! Its so great to see you share the recipe. That's what everyone's getting for dinner today in my house :-)
    Here's something I did with spinach http://www.indiansimmer.com/2010/07/palak-paneer-for-my-birthday.html

  2. That soup looks yummy and nourishing. I'm curious to try that flatbread recipe - I have been searching for a good one. Thanks much!
    This week I made spinach pasta:

  3. Alana, the spinach soup you described is a staple in South Indian homes called 'koottu'. Infact substitite, carrots, beans for the spinach and you get carrot koottu, beans koottu. and then you have the famous mixed koottu, which is really your clean out the fridge, pantry, kind of koottu, where you put all the odd vegetables that you have leftover, like the last potato, the ripening green banana, the handful of peas that just fell to the bootom of your vegetable drawer[ we didn't have frozen peas] and that is usually made towards the end of the week. Please let me know if you try different versions of your soup. We have it with rice along with some really tart and hot chutney.
    Here is my spinach recipe, a savory buttermilk and spinach pancake.

  4. i wanted to make that...and find my cupboard is seriously lacking in its variety of ingredients. i think you need to put together a soup kit for us. or maybe organize a spice co-op!

  5. i planted spinach for the first time this fall…and posted a recipe for mixed vegetable fritters on fresh spinach tossed in a honey mustard vinaigrette. http://napafarmhouse1885.blogspot.com/2010/09/so-now-it-is-spinach-weekwhat-would.html

  6. Spinach is good with just about everything. Will be making this soon, thanks. I posted a page of spinach recipes for the reader to choose from for ‘Fall Fest’: http://dejavucook.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/spinach-spinach-and-more-spinach/

  7. What a perfect fall meal! Thank you for introducing me to Laurie Colwin -- I will be sure to look her up. And your soup will grace our dinner table soon.

    My contribution to Fall Fest this week is about how adding the simplest things can make spinach seem delicious all by itself: http://www.dollopofcream.com/2010/09/good-spinach.html

  8. That looks great!

    For my spinach Fall Fest recipe I made a spinach and artichoke pizza: http://savorymomentsblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/spinach-and-artichoke-pizza.html

  9. I know what you're thinking: baby spinach in a smoothie? Yup. You don't even know it's there, honestly! Try my Triple Berry Smoothie and you'll see what I mean: http://iamglutenfree.blogspot.com/2010/07/triple-berrry-smoothie.html

  10. The south Indian version of Dal. A delicious Twist.

    This is my contribution for the theme

  11. I love Fall Fest 2010! I love hearty soup recipes as well, especially the ones that are versatile and allow you to change up the ingredients. I made Curried Coconut, Spinach, and Mushroom Soup (gluten free, dairy, free, vegan). http://iamglutenfree.blogspot.com/2010/09/fall-fest-2010-curried-coconut-spinach.html

  12. Alana. Yes, I adore Laurie Colwin. I have a friend who knew Laurie and I try not to ask her too many questions...not to appear TOO gaga...but I too love her books. I have moved beyond her Plum Jam recipe to my new hero- Christine Ferber from France. But SO many things are staples in our house like her Black Bean Soup and what to do with left over roast chicken. I am looking for your passata blog. So, off I go! XO S

  13. Thank you for such a beautiful essay about what it means to be a food blogger. I just started my own blog this year and happened to stumble upon yours during summer fest. I love this blog of yours and I love hearing about your food and your family and your life. Thank you so much for sharing and for letting us be a part of your kitchen!

  14. Aw, now you went and made me cry. I miss Laurie Colwin so much. I have read her books over and over...You're a good successor.

  15. (blushing...) maybe someday I can hope for even a bit of that wonderfulness...glad to reach for it, though.

  16. I just started my own blog this year and happened to stumble upon yours during summer fest. I love this blog of yours and I love hearing about your food and your family and your life. Thank you so much for sharing and for letting us be a part of your kitchen!