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A Plum By Any Other Name has moved here, taking some of my favorite recipes and stories with it.
Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do. My mother—a Republican, teacher, and badass lady told me that.
This election has been brutal and America needs a hug. It is clear now many Americans were hurting and took their anger into the voting booths. They heard someone say we need to fix Washington, attack Wall Street, protect the working class, make America great again.
And it sounded good.
But I am making therapeutic rebuttal. I am tossing in some documented facts. And then I am making soup.
Trump has threatened our First Amendment. Remember that one? The one that protects freedom of the press. Defends freedom of religion. Safeguards freedom of speech. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
He has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country and a relaxation of libel laws that help the press safely do their job. (Trump has sued, and lost, on similar libel suits in the past.) It is questionable whether he could actually get such laws passed as president. But it is still scary.
He has bullied throughout his campaign—calling people dummies, dopes, losers, grubby, stupid, and boring. In fact, there is a list of over 280 people, places, and things he has insulted ranging from Fox News to a podium in the Oval Office to Samuel L. Jackson. (He didn’t like the actor’s golf swing—“not athletic” enough for the fast food eating golf course owner.)
He has vowed to decrease the Environmental Protection Agency (proposed by Nixon, by the way) and dismantle laws intended to ensure clean water and air. He wants to give more regulatory power to the states, because it worked so well in Flint, Michigan, presumably.
And yet, he has already started to include the special interests he campaigned against into his White House transition team. Lobbyists from the oil and gas industry. Economists from Wall Street—remember Bear Stearns?
He has threatened the foundation on which our country was built. He has said things you would scold your seven-year-old from repeating. He has bragged about sexually assaulting women. And he does not represent the workingman.
He was given a million dollars from his father to help start his empire and admits this, but records from the eighties show additional loans from him totaling 14 million. Then again, he also managed to go bankrupt and not pay his taxes—which should raise eyebrows. A self-touted entrepreneurial billionaire who has not given back to his country and now vows to make it great again? This is the stuff snake oil is made of.
But, like it or not, he will be our president. So what can we do?
As Garrison Keillor advises, we liberal democrats can go drink craft beers, grow heirloom tomatoes, and meditate. And that all sounds pretty good.
But we can also try to smile more walking down the street. Hold elevator doors open. Bake cookies for neighbors. Be better role models. Continue to read newspapers. We can support local businesses. We can increase our NPR donations. We can make soup.
The soup I am discussing today comes from watching an ex-boyfriend—a hunter and New York Times reader—make a soup he learned from some Buddhists he once cooked with on the Cape. I hope I am remembering the story correctly. I never really understood why Buddhists would include a pound of ruminant flesh, but, if I am being honest, I think the addition is important.
The soup is spicy and flavorful—owing its depth, in part, to an aromatic dose of garlic, ginger, and hot pepper. The mushrooms are just as important as the meat. And the homemade whole wheat pasta dumplings are laidback in preparation and therapeutic to make in times like these. It has remained one of my favorite recipes, despite its peculiar origins. And it seems particularly consequential to share a few days after an election that has deeply divided the country.
We can’t change that we elected a con man. But as Bill Maher said Friday night, in reference to the half of the country that did not support Trump, “we’re still here.”
And we are bringing soup.
Spicy Lamb Soup with Whole Wheat Dumplings
2 to 4 tbsp olive oil
salt, throughout the cooking process
1 pound stew meat (I prefer lamb), cut into 1-inch chunks
1 onion, diced
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 habenero, minced (see notes)
8 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 large tomato, diced
1 to 2 cups peeled and chopped daikon (about 1 large)
1 bunch bok choy, stems and leaves, diced
¾ cup whole wheat or spelt flour
½ bunch (about 2 handfuls) fresh greens (e.g. baby spinach or kale, arugula, escarole)
Heat a large dutch oven (or saucepot with a lid) on medium high heat, add a few generous glugs of olive oil. Salt and add the stew meat and let sit for a few minutes without disturbing it (like you are searing it). Once the meat has a nice brown crust on the underside, stir it briefly and cook another minute or so; take it out of the pan and place in a small bowl.
To the pot, add the onion and cook about two minutes or until it starts to soften; add the ginger, garlic, and pepper, season with salt, and cook until softened (another minute or two). Add the mushrooms and cook a minute more; add the tomato and stir.
Add nine cups of water and the meat, plus any juices left in the bowl. Season again with salt and cook on medium to medium high heat. When the liquid starts to simmer, add the daikon. When it comes to rolling boil, add the bok choy; reduce the heat to a simmer and cover mostly with a lid (leave a little space to let some steam escape); cook for about 45 minutes .
After letting the soup cook, in a small bowl combine the flour with a small amount of water (add about a tablespoon or two at a time). You want just enough water to form a stiff, somewhat dry pasta dumpling dough (it should be the texture of dry silly putty). Knead the dough with your hands like you would Play-Doh to help it come together; ultimately, it should hold together and not crumble.
Pinch off a piece of dough a little smaller than a golf ball and roll the piece into a log about ½ inch thick. Then pinch off a piece of the log about the size of a fingernail. Place the piece on the palm of your hand and press down and away from you and slightly up, so it spreads and curls into a shell shape. Do this over the soup and let the piece fall directly into the cooking pot. Proceed shaping the dough in this manner moving down the log as you go. Repeat with the remaining dough. (Throughout the process the soup should remain at a low simmer.)
Once all the dough is in the pot, simmer uncovered for 45 minutes more or until the pasta is fully cooked (it will expand), the meat softens, and the broth turns rich in color. (You may need to turn the heat up a bit if it seems to be taking too long.)
In the soup’s final moments, toss in the greens to wilt them (though if I have escarole I like to add it a bit sooner). Taste and aggressively season.
Makes about 4 quarts
-A hallmark of this stew is its spiciness, but you can tone it down by switching to a serrano pepper and removing its seeds.
-Aggressively season throughout the cooking process and again at the end. (It will taste like bland dishwater unless you add enough salt.)
-You can fish the meat out at the end, shred it into little pieces, and then return it to the soup, but I am lazy when it comes to this sort of thing and don’t mind the small chunks.
I could kill for a turkey club. I had oral surgery last week. After the initial swelling went down—and I was no longer able to do Vito Corleone imitations—my repertoire of pureed meals became tiresome.
Since then even ice cream has lost its luster.
Which brings me to custards for a slight digression. I wish someone would explain why flan is listed on so many post-dental procedure diet lists. Sure it is delicious, and soft. But I can’t imagine many people saying, “I just had skin from the roof of my mouth grafted to my front gums, and you know what I feel like doing? Making FLAN! What a craving!”
Anyway, things now look fairly normal from the outside, which means I have been at work all week trying to maintain a normal demeanor on pureed squash soup and mashed bananas.
A turkey club—with its sharp right angles and bias for incisors—is still out of the question. Unless I puree it. Which, quite frankly, I have not ruled out.
For today though, I have soup. A few weeks ago my mom and I met up in Stockbridge and spent the weekend eating, shopping, and visiting Edith Wharton’s compound, as one does in the Berkshires.
The food we ate in Western Massachusetts was shockingly good. We had roast turkey sandwiches at Widow Bingham's Tavern, a bar at The Red Lion Inn. The Friday after Thanksgiving kind with real turkey, stuffing, and cranberry mayonnaise on hearty bread. We also had pork meatballs in a smoked tomato sauce that reminded me of childhood, though I can’t remember ever having a meal like that.
We also ate at Prairie Whale. Which has all the things I look for in a restaurant. The skull of a horned animal on the wall, a very excellent beer and wine list, a menu that offers both fresh pasta and fried chicken, and a political sense of humor (see below). Great restaurant. Tremendous restaurant.
At No Six Depot we had a lovely soup that was plainly labeled “vegetarian lentil.” The cafe's mission is to “play three chords and the truth,” like a Dylan song. And our soup did just that. Which is what I am really here to talk about.
Our bowls were filled with corn, big chunks of roasted red pepper, fresh basil, and brown lentils—the kind the size of small buttons. The broth was delicate and complex, tasting faintly of tea. Nothing ordinary about any of it. Though, its sincerity made it easy to piece together most of its ingredients.
With the help of Mr. Bittman and The Times, I guessed the conscious souls at the Depot capitalized on Lapsang Souchong, a smoky and oddly savory tea—perfect for a vegetarian base. It is an ingredient that delicately makes its presence known when I open the cabinet, with a misplaced whisper of bacon or scotch.
The whole soup is incredibly easy to put together and relies upon staples you can keep in your kitchen. The only caveat is that if you are sensitive to caffeine, it might work better as a lunchtime meal.
Sadly, this pretty little soup had to be whirled in a blender this week—along with most everything else I wanted to eat. I soon hope to broaden my liquid diet to include a glass or two of wine (no pureeing necessary).
For now, a cocktail of lentils and tea will do. Hopefully, its song is strong enough to keep me from shoving a beautiful turkey club in a blender. In the meantime, if you see her say hello.
Brown Lentil and Black Tea Soup
Inspired by No. Six Depot
1 scant cup brown lentils, picked over to remove any debris
¼ cup peeled sliced fresh ginger
4 tea bags (or ¼ cup loose leaves) Lapsang souchong tea
2 to 4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ jalapeño, diced (with the seeds)
1 small head of bok choy (about 10 stalks and leaves), chopped into bite-sized pieces
½ cup tamari soy sauce
10 turns of freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces frozen sweet corn
16 ounce jar of roasted red peppers, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
salt, to taste
To cook the lentils
Place the lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with water by 2 to 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until tender. (I prefer to leave my lentils uncovered, so I can keep an eye on them—simply add more water as needed to keep the lentils submerged. Or cover them with a lid during the cooking process.) When they are cooked through and no longer crunchy, drain them; set aside.
For the broth and remaining soup
While the lentils are cooking, make the broth. In a medium saucepan, place the ginger in 8 cups of water and bring to a boil; turn off the heat and let rest for a few minutes. Add the tea and steep for 5 to 10 minutes (I steeped closer to 5 minutes).
Meanwhile, heat a large pot on medium high heat and add a glug or two of olive oil (enough to sauté the first four vegetables). Add the onion and cook for about a minute, then add the garlic and jalapeño; sauté until softened, stirring occasionally. Add in the bok choy (if using, see notes) and sauté, stirring occasionally until softened. The whole process should take about five minutes. Turn off the heat until the broth is ready.
Strain the broth into your large pot using a wire mesh strainer, leaving behind the ginger and tea. Season with soy sauce, adding ¼ cup, tasting, and adjusting from there. (I found I needed double that amount, but it will depend on your brand.) Add in black pepper.
Bring the liquid to a simmer and add the frozen corn, roasted peppers, and cooked lentils. Once the liquid returns to a simmer, turn off the heat. Add in the basil and another glug of olive oil, if desired. Salt to taste.
Makes about 10 cups
-You could probably leave out the bok choy if you don’t have it or substitute a handful of spinach instead.
-The lentils can also be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated until needed.
-I recommend looking for the Lapsang souchong tea because it provides such a unique flavor, but if you can’t find it, try another aromatic black tea.
Brett and I went to Mission Chinese on East Broadway in New York City last January, just after it opened. I suspect they have worked out the kinks since then because people seem to love it, but we had a terrible meal that night.
I had heard their mapo tofu was not to be missed. Even after a ropy lamb shank and weird coconut cocktail that was on its way to becoming pudding, the tofu was the biggest let down. Brett was skeptical on pressed soy to begin with—and still is. But I had the misplaced confidence that with enough pork and beef fat we could change all that.
Ours came so salty that it was barely edible and laced with enough Sichuan pepper that to this day it still elicits numb tongue jokes. For two people who will eat pretty much anything you put in front of them, the mapo went unfinished.
After that, I was inspired to make the dish myself. Though it took some months to revisit. It was enough time for Lucky Peach to publish a few recipes on mapo—including the Mission Chinese version with a suspiciously miniscule amount of Sichuan pepper.
I suspect their recipe is actually quite good and the kitchen was likely still finding its groove that night. But I settled on another recipe from Han Dynasty in Philly, which ended up being incredibly delicious. It has been adapted and tailored a great deal since then, mostly due to my low energy search for doubanjiang. And my contempt for chili oil made using cheap soybeans. And my habit of keeping chicken stock frozen, so it cannot lend itself to impulse or whim. And our coupled indifference towards tofu, which I am ashamed to admit as a healthcare professional, was phased out altogether.
Turns out, the dish is quite good solely with beef—I often use ground veal because I can get a quasi-local source—or pork. I may try adding back some soy in the form of edamame. But in the meantime, the recipe remains heretically tofu free.
It still feels like a fairly wholesome dish—and a fairly fast one to recreate, perfect for a Friday night supper. The healthy dose of aromatics in the form of ginger, garlic, and leek is crucial, as is the Sichuan pepper. But the amount of oil originally called for in the recipe is not. I jettisoned a half cup so we could eat it more regularly as a lighter meal.
I doubt the cooks at Han Dynasty would recognize the recipe. But to quote Lucky Peach, “the mapo tofu galaxy is one of infinite possibilities, spiraling outward from an originally spicy, oily, numbing, meaty sauce/stew of Sichuan origin.”
This is one meaty mission I can get behind, with just the right level of numb tongue.
3 to 4 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp minced fresh peeled ginger
1 leek, white and light green parts well cleaned, split lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1½ to 2 cups uncooked white rice (see notes)
¼ cup canola oil
2 tbsp chili garlic sauce (such as Huy Fong)
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
½ pound ground veal (or regular beef or pork or lamb)
1 tbsp fermented black bean paste
1 tbsp gochujang (Korean chili sauce)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp ground Sichuan pepper
Optional garnish: chopped cilantro
Make sure your garlic, ginger, and leeks are prepped and ready to go.
In a medium saucepan, add the rice and 1½ times the quantity of rice of water. (For instance, add 3 cups of water to 2 cups of rice.) Stir and bring to a boil uncovered, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the rice is fully cooked. (Turn off the burner and keep the lid on for 5 to 10 minutes after the rice has finished cooking—the rice can sit longer, if necessary, while the sauce comes together.)
While the rice is cooking, heat a large saucepan on medium high heat, add the oil and the garlic and ginger; sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chili sauce and then the hoisin.
Add in the ground meat, breaking it up with a spoon. Cook for about 30 to 60 seconds, stirring occasionally, and then add in the leeks and cook another 60 seconds or so. Stir in the black bean paste and gochujang. Add in 2 cups of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
In a small bowl, make a cornstarch slurry with 3 tablespoons of cold water. Add in the slurry and let the mixture simmer about 5 minutes, or until it thickens slightly. (It should look like a thick chili.)
Stir in the Sichuan pepper. Serve on top of rice with cilantro, if desired.
Serves 4 to 5
-I typically prefer basmati rice and this case is no exception. The rice to water ratio may vary slightly depending on the type of rice you use. (I left a range for the rice, the resultant portion should be just enough for the sauce.)
-This would also be great with noodles instead of rice.
There is an art to living with another human. It is a delicate dance of neuroses. A safari of previously hidden late night eating habits, secret cigarette stashes, and video games, exhumed. The migration of two people into one space inevitably unearths certain questions.
How many bottles of mezcal can be comfortably housed in one 500-square-foot apartment?
Does one find the practice of yoga in the living room charming or repulsive?
Is it acceptable to leave a trail of breadcrumbs in the jar of mayonnaise? (It is not.)
Can a meal of beer or ladyfingers or cheese be consumed for dinner without judgment?
Must one wear pants while doing so?
Where does our loose change go? Does it get combined into a repurposed tin? Become stacked side by side in arranged identical piles? Get tossed in the trash to avoid the discussion altogether?
The answers to such questions—minus the mayo contamination, which is unforgivable—are a barometer of insanity. Best to know if your lunacy matches up before buying bed frames together.
All this to say Brett officially moved in today. (!) While we don’t have all our personal peccadillos unpacked just yet, we typically agree on matters that matter. And we are a solid match when it comes to breakfast.
So waffles are a safe bet.
We have a semi-regular weekend routine wherein Brett cooks the softest scrambled eggs in the slowest and loveliest of ways with the care and craft one might take to build a bird’s nest. If we have cheddar cheese on hand, shreds of it get swirled into the eggs during their final moments in the pan.
Meanwhile, I press three waffles using batter prepped the previous night. The first waffle always sticks a bit—which typically causes cursing as I prod it out of the iron using a fork, with the patience of a kindergartener. (Ample greasing and preheating usually prevents this problem.)
If we are feeling fancy there is also bacon or hollandaise to be had, or maple syrup if I am too fragile or tired to deal with egg yolks or pork grease.
The waffles puff up like Belgians, offering crispy exteriors and fluffy insides with a slight tang. Like most things worth waiting for they require some forethought and, unfortunately, some sourdough starter—which necessitates tracking down a human that has some. Or, perhaps, make your own.
It is worth it. These are waffles of finest quality. And they are highly unlikely to cause any cohabitation conflicts. Unless it is about who gets the last one.
1 cup (200 grams) sourdough starter (not fed)
½ cup (55 grams) all-purpose flour
½ cup (60 grams) whole wheat flour
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
2 tbsp olive or canola oil
The night before
In a large bowl, mix the starter, flours, milk, and sugar until well combined; cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight (ideally 10 to 20 hours ahead, see note below).
The day of
To the starter mixture, add the egg, salt, baking soda, and oil; stir to combine.
To make the waffles, heat your waffle iron. (Cooking instructions may vary slightly depending on the type you are using. I have a Nordic Ware stovetop Belgian waffle maker and after greasing it with canola oil, I preheat each side a few minutes on the stovetop, flipping halfway through.)
Once the iron is preheated, pour in about 1/3 of your batter (or roughly 2/3 cup). Close the iron and cook until the waffle is golden brown on both sides. (If you are using a stovetop iron you’ll want to flip it after a few minutes to cook both sides evenly.)
Repeat with remaining batter.
Makes three 6-inch square waffles
-The whole wheat adds a nice nuttiness and I’d definitely encourage it. The milk type can be swapped depending on your preference.
-Because the sourdough mixture rests in the fridge overnight, it benefits from being left on the countertop an hour or so to let the microbes warm up; this helps the waffles rise better. (But this is a living product and may need some individual tweaking.)
-They are best eaten the day of, but leftovers will keep a day or two in the fridge and can also be frozen.