I am suffering from my third stomach ailment this year. After two days of being laid up, my fever had broken and my energy was back. But a ten-hour workday, punctuated by kale salad, farro, beets and Brussels sprouts put me in my place. I woke out of a dead sleep at 4am and went to retrieve the recycling bin that had been my constant companion earlier in the week.
Somehow I managed to dress for work and get as far as my subway stop before giving up and returning home. On the way I stopped off at the grocery store for an array of easily digestible (mainly white) foods. Breakfast was plain white toast. For lunch, I moved on to a small banana and a can of Coke (a concession to my caffeine addiction). By 7:00pm, I was actually experiencing something that resembled hunger, but suspected I still needed to tread lightly.
I’ve made this soup before in various forms. The ginger is great for stomach ailments and clearing the sinuses. It cooks up in under half an hour and, if you’re feeling a little less peaked than I am at the moment, you can doctor it in all kinds of ways. Even the most basic version is a welcome flavor boost after white bread and bananas.
Gingered Chicken Soup with Rice
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 knob ginger about the size of your last thumb joint, peeled and sliced into very thin matchsticks
- 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
- freshly ground black and white pepper
- 1 boneless skinless chicken breast
- 1/4 cup Jasmine or other long-grain white rice
- Optional additional ingredients: rice noodles, egg noodles, spinach, egg, scallions, chives, Sriracha, sesame oil, cilantro
- Add the first four ingredients to a small pot, bring to a boil and reduce to a very low simmer. Add the chicken and simmer gently until just cooked through (7-10 minutes). Remove chicken.
- Add the rice and continue to simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, shred your chicken using two forks. When the rice is cooked, slide the chicken back in and simmer another minute or two.
- The above makes a lovely, restorative soup. If you want to take it a step or two further, at this point you could do any or all of the following 1) swap rice noodles or egg noodles for the rice (and adjust the cooking time accordingly), 2) add spinach leaves and simmer until just wilted, 3) stir in a lightly mixed egg, 4) garnish with thinly sliced scallions or chives, 5) stir in a shot of Sriracha, 6) drizzle with a little toasted sesame oil, 7) sprinkle with cilantro leaves before serving.
UPDATE: The chicken breasts came three to a pack, so I continued the theme throughout the week. Here’s a version with daikon radish, turnip, parsley and sesame oil that I made the next day, once my stomach had started to recover. The parsley was a sorry substitute for cilantro, but this iteration was otherwise delicious.
A few days later, when the craving for fiber and complex carbohydrates had kicked in, I swapped the rice for a thinly sliced sweet potato and stirred a bunch of baby spinach and a lightly whisked egg in at the last minute. This was a very nice reentry into my normal food patterns.
I just returned from a truly epic road trip down South. It’s going to take me a minute to put the whole thing down in writing, but suffice it to say that one of the many highlights was consuming five different specimens of pulled/chopped pork in 24 hours. Of all the fine swine that we consumed, the winner by unanimous decision was the unsuspecting plastic-wrapped BBQ sandwich from Cooper’s Country Store in Salter, South Carolina.
Cooper’s is a classic combination gas station and country store that I suspect hasn’t changed much since it was built at a country crossroads in 1937. Mercifully, they do take credit cards, so we were free to stock up on Blenheim’s ginger ale, locally ground grits, field peas, and all manners of pork. My traveling companions couldn’t resist the lure of the country hams that were curing behind screens. Being a single gal who lives in 600 square feet, I limited myself to several pounds of bacon and smoked ham ends, which would make excellent seasoning meat.
But back to that sandwich. It came on an ordinary enough white hamburger bun. No slaw. No dripping sauce. Just pulled pork meat (whole-hog, as is de rigueur in South Carolina) that was smoky but not overpoweringly so, assertively vinegary, a good bit spicy, and just the tiniest bit sweet. This was the barbecue of our collective dreams.
Three days later, I found myself back in Brooklyn, catching up on real life. After 36 hours of kale salad, haricot vert and sushi, I was feeling recovered and even a bit nostalgic. The field peas that had made it out of my backpack but not into the cupboard were calling out to me. And, of course, there was that seasoning meat.
Smoky Creamy Field Peas
- 1 pound dried field peas, soaked overnight and drained
- 1 large hunk seasoning meat (approximately the size of a deck of cards), sliced – bacon ends, ham trimmings, salt pork, or what have you
- 2 medium onions, quartered
- 2 carrots, cut into large chunks
- 2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
- 3 peeled and halved garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- dried chilis, fresh chilis and/or red pepper flakes
- 2 or more tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 red bell pepper, minced
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
- salt and pepper
- hot sauce (optional)
- Fill a large dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot up halfway with water. Add the seasoning meat, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay, thyme and chilis. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add your peas and let simmer partly covered for approximately 45 minutes or until tender but not falling apart.
- Remove and discard the veggies and herbs. Pull out the seasoning meat and dice into small pieces. Unless you are feeding a crowd, remove a pint of the peas and most of the cooking liquid, reserving for future use. (Beans freeze brilliantly.) Scoop another pint into your food processor with a bit of the liquid and let run until they form a paste.
- Add 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Taste your beans and adjust seasoning with salt, black pepper, more vinegar, and a little hot sauce of your choice. (If you used country ham ends like I did, you may even be able to forgo any additional salt.) If needed, add back a bit of your cooking liquid.
- Add butter to a small skillet over medium heat and sauté the bell pepper until just soft. Stir this into your beans along with the parsley and remove from heat.
Field peas are traditionally served over long-grain Carolina rice. But, if you happen to have a pot of kale and mustard greens slow cooked with some more of that seasoning meat, that would do fine too.
I’m coming off of back-to-back 60-hour workweeks. In the middle of it all, I threw my back out necessitating a trip to urgent care and a cocktail of controlled substances that I’ve had to meter our carefully so as to remain functional for Tuesday’s fundraising gala and its aftermath.
By Saturday I was off duty and officially on Spring Break. I celebrated by purchasing a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon for my train ride down to Baltimore. That plus some Percocet and a little Zeppelin momentarily had me pain-free for the first time in over a week.
The plan was (and, I think, still is) a road trip down to Nahunta, Georgia to pick up a grill (well, technically a smoker cooker) that the good folk at Lang BBQ Smokers are building to spec for my friend Don. Between my back problems, a death in Don’s family, and a freak mid-March snowstorm over the mid-Atlantic, we’re getting a slow start.
Don flew home from Wisconsin last night via Atlanta (which, incidentally, put him within a four-hour drive of his new grill). His father-in-law had passed away in the wee hours of the morning and he’d had an arduous daylong journey, so I had resolved to cook him a nice meal. My instructions were to make something low in cholesterol and high in fiber, as Don had to swing by the lab for some blood work before we left town.
Rooting through the pantry, I found some black lentils and long-grain pecan rice. The hanging basket under the stairs held an onion and a large sweet potato. In the back of the fridge were parsley and a knob of fresh ginger. This plus an ample spice cabinet would make for a warm, flavorful meal and provide us both with enough fiber to kick off five days of barbeque for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Curried Black Lentils and Sweet Potato
- 1 cup black lentils
- 4 cups water and/or chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral cooking oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
- 2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 African bird chilis (or cayenne paper to taste)
- 1 whole black cardamom pod (optional)
- 1 teaspoon asafetida (optional, but recommended if you are making the vegan version, as it will lend the dish a richness)
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley and/or cilantro
- salt and pepper
- Bring the lentils and water/stock to boil in a medium pot, reduce heat, and let simmer for 25 minutes or until tender but still toothsome, seasoning with salt as needed. If you’re making rice to accompany the dish, now is a good time to start that process.
- Strain the lentils, reserving the cooking liquid. Add oil to your pot and bring up to medium heat. Add the onions and stir frequently until softened and starting to brown. Add ginger and stir constantly for one minute. Add all of the spices, stirring constantly for another minute. Add the reserved cooking liquid and the sweet potato. Simmer until potato has softened, adding water if the mixture gets too thick.
- Pour the lentils back into the pan along with the vinegar and a good dose of freshly ground pepper. Let simmer for a few more minutes, taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Add fresh herbs off the heat.
This recipe makes about four servings. I reheated the leftovers for breakfast. Don had his with rice. I simmered an egg in mine. Imagine this should get us through the first few hours of our snowy spring break road trip.
It’s 55 degrees in Brooklyn this afternoon. After a week in which we dipped back into the single digits, there is a giddiness in the air. By noon people were spilling out of the ice cream shop around the corner and the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket was full of eager shoppers. The farmers seemed happy to be standing in the sunshine, even as they answered endless questions about what was on offer besides root vegetables and apples. (Not much.) It seems that our appetite for spring isn’t quite in step with the realities of the growing season.
The good folks at Evolutionary Organics in New Paltz had fresh pea shoots and some wickedly spicy, not to mention beautiful, radishes on offer. I selected a medium watermelon radish and a long thin one that had a rich purple skin.
Pea Shoot & Radish Spring Salad
- 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
- salt and pepper
- 2 handfuls pea shoots, rinsed and dried thoroughly
- 2 medium radishes (the prettier, the better)
- 2 scallions
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- Whisk the first four ingredients in a medium bowl along with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.
- Thinly slice your scallions and then your radishes. If you’ve got a mandoline gathering dust in the cupboard, this is the time to bust it out. Or, if your radishes are narrow enough, a vegetable peeler can work wonders.
- Add your vegetables and the sesame seeds to your bowl and toss gently so as not to bruise the tender shoots. Grab a fork and dig in to the taste of spring.
Today is Mardi Gras. While my heart is in New Orleans, my stomach and my workload call for something a little more austere. I got home around 8:00pm after a long day of work followed by school, By 8:30, I was sitting down to a healthy, tasty meal and a couple of episodes of Treme.
The Drunken Fig in more celebratory times
Vegan Smothered Cabbage
- Crack open a good quality dark beer. Bring 2 tablespoons of olive oil up to medium heat in a large cast iron skillet. Add a medium red onion sliced poll to poll and cook until starting to brown. Add a good pinch of red pepper flakes.
- Stir in one thinly-sliced tofurky andouille sausage (or, if you’re looking for something a little more indulgent, go for the pork) and cook until it begins to crisp. Then add half a head of green cabbage, shredded as if you were making a slaw, along with a healthy dose of salt and pepper.
- When the cabbage is wilted but still a bit crisp, add as much beer as you’re willing to sacrifice to deglaze your pan. Cook for another minute or two and then empty the contents of your pan into a low bowl. Serve with Zatarain’s Creole Mustard. (In a pinch, you could substitute any nice whole grain mustard.)