Nava’s Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Bread Stew
February 3, 2009
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Now is the discontent of our winter.
The dozen or so of you who were reading my blog last year at this time probably remember how much I hate the snowy season. (How much, you ask? As much as Gepetto hates dishonesty. As much as Ellen loves Portia. As much as the calories in a deep-fried Mars Bar (with whipped cream on top). As much as union disagrees with management. As much as my eternal incredulity at the popularity of Julia Roberts.) This morning, when I emitted a plaintive little lament about the fact that we’ve already surpassed last year’s (record-breaking) snowfall for this date, the HH helpfully piped up, “Yeah, and we’ve still got over a month more of this to go!” Gee, thanks, sweetheart.
So, what to do about a wall of pelting snow every time you leave the house, ice crystals forming on your eyebrows, the grey rime that coats your glasses like vaseline on a camera lens?
Make soup, that’s what.
When I was a carefree singleton* back in the early 90s, I developed a Friday evening cooking ritual. After arriving home from work, I’d change into sweats and a T-shirt, then spend most of the evening cooking food for the following week. By the end of the week, I was usually too pooped to socialize anyway, and I found cooking to be incredibly meditative. (Besides, if anything better male intellectually stimulating came up instead, I wasn’t irrevocably tied to my plan; I’d just cook the following day). I’d pack the prepared dishes into plastic containers, then freeze them for consumption later on. A relaxing evening plus seven days of healthy, homemade food–a pretty good arrangement, I thought.
In those days, I tended to cook a lot of soups. Perhaps I was subconsciously emulating my mom, whose chicken soup graced our stovetop every Friday evening as far back as I can remember. In fact, the very first recipe I cooked in my very first apartment was soup–split pea and ham, as I recall (which is odd, since even then I didn’t really like meat, and I’d never tasted ham at all before that–or since). In the interim, I’ve expanded my repertoire a bit, enjoying a variety of traditional or exotic or unusual soups over the years. With its ability to embrace any and all stray vegetables, then bathe them in a warm, soothing broth, vitamin and mineral-rich soup is an ideal meal-in-a-bowl.
Strangely, once the HH and I began seeing each other, I all but stopped making soups on Friday nights (he seemed to think our courtship should take place alongside a wine bottle rather than a stockpot). Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received a copy of Nava Atlas’s newly released Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons (this is a 4th edition of her earlier Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons) as part of the book’s virtual tour. Suddenly, soup was back on my radar. And I must tell you, I think this book has singlehandedly renewed my zeal for soup making.
The book is divided by season, so it made sense that the fall and winter offerings would appeal most right now, with innovative and interesting combinations like Broccoli, Apple and Peanut Soup or Almond-Brussels Sprouts Soup (which I just enjoyed for lunch today–splendid!), and classics like Hearty Barley-Bean Soup or Minestrone. But the spring and summer were equally tantalizing, with recipes for Creole Eggplant Soup and Gingery Miso-Spinach Soup and Strawberry Colada Soup. (Now I have yet another reason to wish winter would end soon.)
With our seemingly irrepressible mountains of snow (now taller than the HH, who is over 6 feet/1.8 meters) outside, a hearty winter stew seemed just the right antidote. This Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Bread Stew is a perfectly warming, filling, tasty combination, with a substantial broth, in which you simmer a variety of winter veggies, all imbued with a subtle sweet and piquant tang. Initially, the HH was a bit reluctant to try it (paradoxically, the guy will eat anything and everything if it’s derived from an animal, but is entirely unadventurous when it comes to vegetable dishes). After the first few spoonfuls, however, he pronounced it “a keeper” and was content to have nothing more than this for dinner.
I’m happy to say that I’m even looking forward to getting back in the swing of Friday evening soup-a-thons. And these days, I won’t be cooking alone (hear that, HH?).
“Mum, you know that we’d love to help you cook, too, if we could. There’s just this little matter of the ‘no opposable thumbs’ thing. But we’re still more than happy to help clean up the leftovers.”
* Okay, I was never “carefree,” but more like “unattached, at loose ends, having no weekend plans.” The closest I’ve ever gotten to “carefree” was probably during that time before I embraced all the responsibilities and anxieties of adulthood–like, maybe, when I was three.
Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Bread Stew
by Nava Atlas
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