Archive for the ‘Soup’ Category

Afghan Hounds, Hepatitis, and Community   2 comments

When I was twelve years old, my neighbors, the Kiters, were locally infamous for two things: having an Afghan Hound and having hepatitis.  It is difficult to say which was the most noteworthy distinction, but the dog was certainly the most visible. At nearly three feet high, Abbie was impressive. No one else in the neighborhood had such an exotic and pedigreed animal.  She was not a pampered show dog, however. Her coat was dirty and matted because the Kiters never washed or brushed her.  Nor did they walk or play with her.  She was such a solitary creature that she seemed more like a neglected zoo animal than a family pet.

Once, my brother and I threw some cheese over the fence for Abbie, thinking that she might be hungry. Almost instantly, from inside the Kiter’s darkened house came the sound of a quiet rapping on one of the window panes, a sound that became increasingly insistent and angry. We fled to the safety of our own yard and watched while the oldest Kiter boy shuffled outside to check on the dog.

It was the first time in weeks that we had seen any member of the Kiter family.

All that Spring, we had heard about how Mrs. Kiter and her sons, Kippy and David, were suffering from an illness called hepatitis.  Partly because the Kiter family had not lived on the street for long before they became sick, hepatitis became one of only two clues to the family’s identity:  a neglected dog and a troubling illness. Neither much helped their stature.

Not the most medically sophisticated people, folks in my neighborhood believed almost anything we heard about hepatitis, whether true or not.  Apparently, the illness turned the whites of the Kiters’s eyes yellow and caused them to become sensitive to even the dimmest lights. We learned that the Kiters could not leave their house for six months, that their stomachs were too swollen for them to wear clothes, that they slept all the time, that their skin itched constantly, that they might lose their livers.

The sickness, we knew, was so contagious that a person could get it from even minimal contact. Precautions were taken. The mailman stopped collecting the Kiter’s mail. The boys’ teachers did not assign or expect makeup work.  My brother and I were under strict orders to stay away from the Kiter’s house and even the boys’ abandoned school lockers.

Fortunately, however, not even irrational fear could stop the neighborhood old ladies from bringing over their customary offerings to the sick: good, simple, comforting food. Throughout the spring, about five ladies took turns bringing the Kiters basic and delicious soups — lima bean, chicken, split pea, vegetable, potato — along with homemade bread and old fashioned desserts like vanilla pudding, tapioca, and custard pies.  The ladies overcame fear and squeamishness and nursed these people along while the rest of us shrunk away and whispered.  And, these ladies did this for people they barely knew.

One really nice thing about living in a close-knit community is the way that neighbors take care of each other and express their concern with acts of kindness both small and large.  Mowing the lawn; watering plants; picking up a child from the bus stop: these are the kinds of gestures that make a neighborhood a community. Bringing over food for those in need is my favorite, one that suggests such profound care and concern.

I think about the Kiters sometimes when I consider my current neighborhood, which is not exactly a close-knit community.  We are divided in more ways than I can count. The family on the other side of our fence has proudly erected yard signs announcing their support for Ron Paul in the 2012 election; the people across the street routinely burn garbage in the front yard; the couple down the street have bumper stickers on their cars denouncing gay marriage,“Obamacare,” and, most bizarrely, recycling.

These are not my people.

And I can’t imagine feeling any kind of joy in cooking for them in their hours of need.  In fact, a small, dark little part of me might even feel some pleasure in withholding such kindness.

So, what to do when I learn that one of them has died, unexpectedly and tragically, leaving behind grieving family members that I can sense lurking behind drawn curtains when I go to get the mail?

Clearly, a three course meal is not in the cards, but perhaps I’ll make some soup.

Curried Split Pea Soup

This recipe can be made without the sausage for a vegan version.  And, it improves with age.

2 tbs. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large white onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

2 ribs celery, diced

6 oz. sausage (anything works here: turkey,  pork, chicken, soy, hot, mild, etc.), diced and divided

1 tbs. sweet curry powder (or to taste)

1 pound of split peas, rinsed and picked over

About 4 cups of chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water


ground pepper

chopped cilantro

In a large dutch oven, saute over medium-high heat  the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and half of the sausage (if using) in the olive oil until soft and fragrant (about 4 minutes).   Add the curry powder and continue sauteing (stirring constantly) for 1 additional minute.  Add the split peas and enough stock to cover the split peas by about 2 inches.  Simmer until peas break down completely and become soft, adding liquid as needed.  Add remaining sausage and cook until just warmed through.  Add salt and pepper to taste and additional curry power, if desired.  Sprinkle cilantro over soup in bowls. Serve with crusty French bread and salad.

Posted September 19, 2011 by Admin in Soup

Verde!   1 comment

I’m interested in all things green today, even though it’s more of an orange kind of week. Ah well…here’s a photo of some tiny green Seckel pears that I bought today at the market.


The annual Opelika Dog Parade, known officially as “Howl ‘OWeen,” takes place tonight. It’s a colorful event, involving costumed pets and their ambitious owners. Lots of barking and tat–like a low-rent dog show. We love it.

If the weather holds out — it’s forecast to rain this afternoon — Mimi and I will walk into town to catch the action. Last year, we saw a Standard Poodle with day-glo-pink fur: reason enough to head over.

I’ve made dinner in advance of tonight, something colorful to match the spirit of the evening: Caldo Verde, Portuguese ‘Green Soup.’ Typically, Caldo Verde is a hearty potato soup tinted green with kale and studded with small Portuguese sausages. My version retains all of the traditional ingredients, but I usually make it using more chicken broth than potatoes. Still, it’s definitely verde.

Caldo Verde is soup for cool weather– thick, spicy, and filling. It’s easy to make and tastes even better after a good, long spell on the stove or in the refrigerator. It smells ridiculously good while cooking and is a treat for the eye.


Caldo Verde

1 tbs. olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1/4 lb. spicy pork sausage (preferably Conecah brand), cut into 1/4 inch pieces, divided

8 cups water or chicken stock

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 cup shredded cabbage (optional)

3 cups kale, preferably Lacinato kale, hard ribs removed, thinly sliced

1 oz. can of garbanzo beans (optional), drained and rinsed

1 tsp. smoked paprika

Salt & pepper

Sauté onion, garlic, and half of the sausage in the olive oil. If necessary, drain off any oil in excess of 1 tbs. Add the potatoes and water or chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Roughly mash the potatoes until soup is thick and somewhat creamy. You want some chunks of potato to remain. Add the kale, cabbage, grabanzo beans and the remainder of the sausage. Simmer until the greens are tender and the sausage is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Add smoked paprika and salt & pepper to taste. The soup can simmer on low heat almost indefinitely. Add some water if the soup looks too thick. Adjust seasonings and serve hot with some crusty, warm bread.

Posted October 26, 2009 by Admin in Everyday recipes, Holidays, Opelika, Soup

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Tools & Gadgets: The Stick Blender   5 comments

My stick blender died today and I miss it already. Here she lies.



I registered concern when it started sounding a little sluggish a few weeks ago, but not enough to do anything. I paid the price this evening when I went to puree some lentil soup.

Live and learn.

I don’t need to go on about how useful a tool it is. All cooks know the score. Its most valuable use — one that would make it worth the purchase price even if it did nothing else — is to puree hot soups right in the pot. This saves a cook from having to dirty the upright blender or food processor, both difficult to clean, but it also saves one from having to perform the frightening task of pureeing a hot liquid in those powerful machines. Horror stories abound: ruined ceilings, scalded faces, blindings. The stick blender is probaby just as dangerous, but using it is not such a production. And you get the same perfectly smooth, lovely soup.

Just not tonight. The lentil soup was pretty good anyway. Still, I’ll be purchasing a replacement blender immediately.

Tomato & Lentil Soup

Everyone should have at least one good recipe for lentil soup. This one is easy and delicious. It’s also vegan although it need not be so. You can use chicken stock if you prefer or even throw in some sausage. I use red lentils here because they’re so cheery.


2 onions, diced

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated finely

2 medium carrots, grated

2 tbs. olive oil

One 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes

1 cup of red lentils

6 cups of water

1/2 tsp. Marash pepper

1 tsp. tumeric

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. chili powder (I like Penzey’s)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Salt & Pepper to taste

Tabasco sauce to taste

Sauté the onions in the olive oil over medium-high heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and carrots and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Add spices and stir for 1 minute. Throw in the chopped tomatoes, lentils, and water. Heat until soup reaches a simmer; lower heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Add more water if necessary. Once the lentils are soft and melting, a well-supplied cook would puree the soup with a stick blender. The less fortunate should just smash the largest pieces of tomato with a fork. It’s depressing stuff, but there you are. Add salt, pepper, cilantro, and tabasco. Serve with crusty bread (preferably Seedy-Salt bread from Salt of the Earth in Fennville, MI.).


Posted October 14, 2009 by Admin in Lentils, Main Dishes, Modern Conveniences, Soup, Tools & Gadgets