So, what you should know about me, about how I cook, is that I am a predatory browser of recipes and cook books and food blogs. I have some vague unease in my mind, a hint of an unknown taste haunting my imagination, and I have the intertubes. So, off I go.
Yesterday, I stumbled on The Wednesday Chef and saw her recipe for Bess Feigenbaum’s cabbage soup and was immediately hit with this sense of wild intrigue. Plus, my tongue started speaking to me, telling me I should make this meal at all costs. My tongue is pretty smart about these things, so when it talks to me, I generally listen. What I liked about this dish was that it was vegetarian, which appeals to the Woman on The Verge. Which appeals to me.
Normally, what appeals to my tongue is something with animals in it, burned animals, and rendered animal fats and proteins. And garlic. And heat. And sour. Pungent. Aromatic. Greasy. Rich. Heady.
Does tofu do this? Not so much. Ditto tempeh. I start looking at the traditional vegan meal and my tongue stomps off to the living room and sits down in the easy chair and begins loudly leafing through the New York Times, snapping the pages in irritation and refusing to look over at me.
But here was something, here was something….my brain, my love, and my tongue were all in harmonious alignment.
So, I gave it a shot.
Here’s what you do:
Put your big pot on the stove under a medium flame, get the bottom wet with olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not too, throw in a few cloves of garlic, minced, and let them get golden for a minute, but don’t let them edge toward brown at all. No bitterness allowed. Now add a large diced onion, stir, and let them go translucent. About five minutes but for me it was closer to ten. A lot closer.
When the onions are sweet and see-through, add four or three or five peeled and chopped carrots. Add a 28 oz. can of whole, peeled tomatoes. Add a cup of tomato paste. (Yes!)
Add three cups of water. Add a half cup of ketchup. Yes, that’s right. Ketchup.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Okay, now add a cup of brown sugar. Put a couple of bay leaves on top. Let that simmer about fifteen minutes, then mash up the tomatoes with a fork or a potato masher or whatever. Your hands if you are a real chef and have already burned all your nerve endings out of your hands. (Okay, don’t really do that.)
Discard the bay leaves. When the carrots are tender, stick your immersion blender into the pot o’ tomato goodness and blend until coarse.
Now, I tasted this here and it was a little unbalanced toward the sweet side. It was all down the middle, with no top or bottom to it. I knew there was going to be some lemon juice coming, which would give me the top, but there was nothing on the way to give it some more low notes, so I added some cumin and some smoked paprika and a big pinch of red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper, too. All of which helped a lot.
I let this blended base go for about twenty minutes on a low flame to get incorporated and friendly with itself. Then I juiced a couple of big lemons and added the juice to the mix. Chopped a medium head of cabbage into quarter-inch strips and threw them in. Added a couple of cups of water, stirred it up, and then left it pretty much alone the rest of the day. Two or three hours later you could smell the tomatoes change over from that bright, acidic, fresh tomatoey smell to that deep, rich, umami unctuousness of a good tomato sauce. The ribbons of cabbage turn pale and soft and limpid. Now all you gotta do is leave her go until you can’t stand it any more. Ten minutes before serving, toss in a generous handful of golden raisins. When you serve, add a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt. That part is vital, so don’t skip it.
This was a bowl of wonder. Rich, warm, sweet, garlicky, with a nice, deep base of cumin and black pepper and wow was it good. It made enough to feed us and put a quart in the fridge and another quart in the freezer.
Oh, yeah. Get you the thickest, stoutest, chewiest, crunchiest loaf of bread to go with. Something dark and menacing. And sweet butter to spread on before you dunk it into the red mess.
That is all.