Kale soup with soy and lime (plus some general cooking thoughts)

Made two days back, chilled, and then served up with a fresh cilantro garnish (the lime is just off camera, on the plate with the jalapeño to the right). Add in a good salad, a couple of warmed rolls and a beer and that’s a fine Friday night dinner to relax with…

Now, at this point I would normally post the recipe, but I got this from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (page 54) and it behooves you to get the book, as I’ve said a few times. However, friend and very good cook Remy, in talking about that the other day, happened to mention another book he recommends should be read in conjunction with it, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking — so to quote him:

I love Mark Bittman for the same reason Ned and others do: he is no-nonsense, he offers simplified preparations of global cuisine from available ingredients (‘simplified’ without condescension) and generally for a low cost. The food his recipes make is good, honest, plain, and lends itself to adaptation. And experimentation. It is definitely a biblical text for most good-to-great home cooks I know, and it fills a real niche, splitting the difference between Betty Crocker and Julia Child.

There is, however, one hesitation I have regarding it as ‘the only cookbook you’ll ever need’ (this seems to be a popular line amongst amazon reviewers): it is pretty light on the science/history/theory behind the recipes.

I think a lot of home cooks assume they do not care about these omissions, that they are irrelevant to the process of making macaroni and cheese or almond macaroons. But Bittman tends to say, for instance, ‘mix three cups of milk, four tablespoons of butter blended with four tablespoons of flour … and spread it on bottom of the pan’ instead of ‘make a simple Bechamel’

This is useful and unintimidating, but at the same time it can be — just a little bit — of a cramp to the style of a learning cook, who might not ever learn (because HTCE doesn’t say) that a béchamel is a roux in scalding milk, or that they have just learned how to make the base of a soubise or a veloute or, hell, cheddar fondue.

In other words: a new chef working only from Bittman might learn a step-by-step recipe, and well, and how to repeat it flawlessly, but there is a sense in which they will lose the adaptability and generalizability of the steps or components that comprise the procedure of the recipe.

I am in no way criticizing Bittman. He is actually sort of a hero of mine. But I recommend reading On Food and Cooking (or similar) alongside him.

Wise words — and it does tie in with something I’ve always believed, namely that the Bittman book is good as a launching pad but not as an end result. Having tried this recipe, I plan on doing something different with it next time — I actually used fish sauce over soy in the broth, suggested in the recipe as an option, but there are other possibilities as well, and possibly other additions to the ingredients.

Experiment, read up, learn and apply. And try it again!


One Response to “Kale soup with soy and lime (plus some general cooking thoughts)”

  1. Randomness Soupage « Sweet Potato Pie Says:

    […] It seems like a pretty interesting soup to try out (the blogger doesn’t post the recipe as far as I can find but you can find out what book it’s from by clicking on the post). […]

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