When I was little, I was obsessed with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and the romanticized life of a settler: learning how to live off the land, to make do with what you had, and to be self-sufficient. It was a far cry from the concrete-laden cityscape that I traversed in my red-and-white Keds sneakers, whose only markings of a hard life were grass stains and the squished earwig that had crawled into the right shoe and met its demise under my pediatric phalanges (they had decided to infest our basement one year, a rather vexing period).
As an impressionable 8-year-old, one of Ingalls’ books, The Long Winter, really stuck with me. In it she described the challenges of surviving one of the longest winters they experienced in Wisconsin, and eating only one potato a day. I recall her talking about how she became sick of eating potatoes, and while this may be my memory playing tricks on me, I think she also found comfort in getting to eat at least something (because they did run out of food). Well, I can say that I think I would find it comforting to get to eat something if there was almost nothing left to eat.
Luckily my situation has never been so dire, but the psychology of survival and coping and trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel has remained. The thermometer might have read warmer temperatures this year, but it felt like a long winter anyhow. Relationships, deaths, personal struggles…these things play a role in the climate of our lives, and it has been a difficult spell.
So as always, I turn to food. Cooking and serving food to others has always been a great comfort – and it hasn’t failed me yet. I particularly like the phrase “serving food” and the idea of serving, as opposed to helping. In my food-addled brain, “serving” means helping others with no expectation of getting anything in return, whereas “helping” has a more egotistical tinge to it (“Look at me, I’m so great to be helping others” – that sort of thing). So I like relating this idea of serving to cooking for others and sharing my table with them.
So: here we have some curry coconut dal soup.
Soup is one of the greatest comfort foods, a warm and nourishing poultice of sorts for the heart. The way Ingalls described living off the land to feed and heal her family and friends has an earthy and wholesome quality to it, that I find present in every and all soups. Make a big batch: some for you, and some to give away.
Curry coconut dal soup
makes 6-8 servings, or about 2 x 1 L Mason jars
1 yellow onion, finely diced
a large fistful of carrots, chopped
a slightly smaller fistful of celery stalks, chopped
about 1 cup of split mung beans (dal)
1 small handful of dried lime leaves
1-2″ knob of fresh ginger, sliced
a handful of button mushrooms, sliced
a small fistful of green beans, sliced into 0.5″-long pieces
1-2 tsp each of cumin, coriander, cardamom (all ground), garam masala, turmeric
1 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper
In a large stockpot, heat a good splosh of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until translucent and a little brown on the edges. Stir in all the spices. Add the carrots, celery, and split mung beans. Stir for a minute or two, and then cover it all with water (about 1.5 L). Stir in the lime leaves and ginger. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and cover. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the mung beans are cooked. Remove the lime leaves and ginger (if you are handy with chopsticks, they are a most excellent tool for this job). Remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to slightly break down the vegetables to achieve a softer texture. Return the pot to the heat. Add the mushrooms and green beans, and continue to let it simmer until the vegetables are cooked (about 5 minutes). Stir in the coconut milk and adjust the taste with the salt, pepper and lemon juice.
This soup is vegan and gluten-free. Serve some soup for yourself, and give some away; best not to expect getting the jar back.