The longest, although perhaps not coldest, night of the year has passed. And tonight, as my daughter and I prepare our fête de Noël, we’ll be supping on soup and salad. As Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila points out (borrowing from Shakespeare’s perfect Christmas-tide play, Twelfth Night) “Soup sought is good, but given unsought better.”
Long ago, when I was stranded in a village in Central Africa, a construction manager from France made what I have since called Soupe de Monsieur Espellac, a simple vegetable soup of onions, potatoes, turnips, and carrots, sautéed with plenty of butter and then cooked in plain salted water. Add another dollop of butter when serving, along with a scraping of pepper, and there you have it. When I moved to NYC in the mid-1970s, my neighbors dubbed it Root Soup. And now, thanks to Brother Victor-Antoine, I can also call it St. Nicholas Soup. The good Brother adds cabbage, purées the cooked vegetables, and tops with croutons, but it is essentially the same. For M Espellac’s sake, I made two versions, as you can see from the photos. Both delicious, both without croutons (I’m feeling lazy these days).
St. Nicholas Soup was the only obviously holiday-ish recipe in this chapter. Plenty of soups with beans or heavy doses of garlic, several from Italy, even a Beer Soup, but I skipped them all, choosing Acorn Squash Soup (below) for my second featured recipe. I’ll say it now — not worth the effort of peeling and chopping this very hard gourd (go with butternut or, better still, honeynut squash). Simmer the chopped squash with onions, celery and rice, blend when squash is soft enough, add milk and seasonings, then garnish with parsley.
As with the soups, nothing in this chapter seemed to shout “HOLIDAY DISH”. Honestly, very little shouted “TRY ME” either. There was a bean salad from South America, but the recipe included hard-boiled eggs, which have already made several appearances this year. A Stuffed Avocado Salad looked appealing, but I didn’t have all the ingredients at hand so will mark it for later. I finally settled on the Indian Curried Lentil Salad and the Orange and Avocado Salad, the latter almost festive with its heavy dose of citrus.
Avocados and oranges actually work well together, especially with a spicy vinaigrette (this one was spiked with Tobasco sauce). The greens are endives, whose bitterness are balanced by the sweet oranges and oh-so-satisfying avocados.
Marinate the oranges in the dressing for at least 2 hours, then mix in the avocados, endives and scallions (the last of which, I must confess, I omitted — still not liking anything more than a hint of raw onion), and serve immediately.
Add toast, and this Orange and Avocado Salad could be a lovely light lunch, any time of the year.
The Indian Curried Lentil Salad is quite simple: cooked lentils, mixed with chopped cucumbers, celery, and onion (the merest suggestion of red onion, in my case). I had half a tomato, so added that for some color.
The “curry” is in the dressing: curry powder, cumin, and chili — although if I make this again, I’ll be much more serious about the heat, upping everything to intensify that flavor. And, because I had no cilantro (too lazy again to go out), I used parsley. Cilantro would improve the flavor. I shall have to try this recipe again.
And that brings an end to this year of cooking by the month. Thanks for joining me on this adventure.
I wish each of you a wonderful holiday season, full of joy and laughter, with lovely memories to think back on and much to look forward to in the coming year.