Let me begin with this warning: I am not a food blogger, and this is not a cooking blog. Also, I’m lucky to have no food allergies or restrictions.
That said, I give you the results of my reading of d’Avila’s January recipes in Twelve Months of Monastery Salads and Twelve Months of Monastery Soups: two soups and two salads. I’ve cooked from his books before, so I already know a few adjustments — for instance, his soups are sometimes watery, and nearly all of his recipes could use more spice.
So, shall we?
I started with Saint Basil Soup, the first recipe in d’Avila’s book. Its combination of mushrooms, carrots, celery and onions builds a mild but satisfying broth full of perfectly cooked vegetables. I cut back on the water, added a dash of lemon juice and chili flakes, and was quite satisfied with the result. A bowl of this soup, with toast, made a perfect breakfast for a chilly morning. Chopped parsley for garnish gave a dash of bright color.
This recipe made enough to last for several days — it could easily serve six, with perhaps a bit remaining for leftovers. And don’t forget the rustic bread.
Next, I bypassed several recipes, including Artichoke and Potato Soup and a Cauliflower Velouté, and found Spicy English Parsnip Soup. It was lovely, and I have several servings stashed away in my freezer. I’ve marked this as a recipe to make often.
Onions, parsnips, potatoes and garlic, seasoned with curry, fresh ginger and chili flakes. d’Avila’s recipe calls only for 1 tsp of curry and 1/2 tsp ginger powder — I tripled the curry amount and used fresh ginger instead, and tossed in a small amount of chili flakes.
Purée in a blender, add some cream and there you are. Piping hot, it’s another excellent dish for a cold day. I made mine with chicken broth, but vegetable broth or plain water will work, and you can easily omit the cream.
Again, perfect the next morning for breakfast — easy to reheat (don’t let it boil!), and easily supplemented with buttered toast.
This being the traditional season for citrus, I decided to go with Baby Spinach and Orange Salad. Combine spinach and fresh orange segments with a few thin slices of cucumber, chopped red onion, toasted walnuts and a honey-mustard dressing (easy to make). A good accompaniment to any main dish.
A former neighbor who now lives on the West Coast makes a similar salad — fresh orange slices, sliced red onion, greens — so I knew the orange and onion complimented each other. Because I’ve never been a fan of raw onions, I chopped them very fine and used much less than the recipe calls for. Clearly, salad recipes are infinitely adjustable, depending on one’s preferences. (I had toasted the walnuts but then forgot about them — found them the next day, still in their bowl, waiting for their cue. So I just ate them plain.)
My final recipe this month is for Pear, Endive, and Brie Salad. I’ve often had pears with stilton and walnuts, so I was curious how the salad would work with the milder brie and with pecans instead of walnuts. The endives, pear and brie are all rather quiet, but the toasted pecans added crunch and spark. Topped with a fresh vinaigrette, it was delightful — and it paired well with the cucumber sandwiches I made.
I suspect it’s the pear that makes this a winter salad. In a normal world, pears would be available only in the fall, ripening into sweetness just in time for the holidays. These days, you can get them year-round in grocery stores here in the US. Query for my international readers: do you also have year-round accessibility to all fruits and vegetables?
I don’t like to think about where all these always-in-season items are coming from — South America? Africa? Central America? Florida or California? What’s the carbon footprint for on-demand fresh veg? I buy local as much as I can, but sometimes I really need a couple of lemons. (Please don’t make me buy lemon juice!)
I’m reminded of a shopping expedition I made to a farmers’ market in Oxford, way back in the 1980s. I looked and looked but couldn’t find any turnips. So I asked one of the sellers where they were kept. “Isn’t their season, is it, dearie?” she said. “Come back in the fall.”
More to come in February. And if you’d like any of the recipes, email me.