So, I’ve taken a little vacation. The post-vacation-vacation. Because after tanning and resting and consuming a block’s worth of New York goodies ala cupcakes, cookies and custard, you need a little break. I mean, really.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned quite a lot, most of it relatively useless, albeit amusing. At the top of the list—spice is good. Phenomenal in fact. There have to be a couple cogs loose up in the noggin, not to mention a few wacky taste buds if a plate of heat is somewhere less than appealing. Sure, it may hurt a little, but who doesn’t like a side of challenge along with their meal?
But while spice is good, hot, peppery, fiery, good, it’s part of a balance. Unfortunately, oftentimes a blast of heat can be used to cover up otherwise lackluster flavor. Since heat, whether straight up or concealed in a flavored oil, a peppery bite or a tart little burst, can easily cross the line into overpowering, the trick is use just enough heat to break a sweat, but not enough so the freshness and quality of the actual food is disguised. Granted, the amount of heat depends on the tolerance of your loyal diners, with the absolute babies tapping out after just a slice of seed-free pepper, and the more hearty iron-tongued begging to pop a whole red chili.
In Dal Shorba, essentially a blended lentil soup, a substantial amount of heat is balanced out by a velvety broth, bright citrus and fresh herbs. The trick it seems, is to layer any number of flavors in with the slow burn. Starting with a vegetable base, flavor after flavor is added, cilantro, parsley, dill, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, etc. Simmered together with a sliced, unseeded jalapeño, the base goes from just plain fresh to straight up heated deliciousness. A strain, a boil and a blend later, and you’ll have bowls of spiced, thick soup.
Less relevant to a pot of shorba, but perhaps equally important to overall life (….) are a few other lessons I’ve picked up; 1. Cold drinks are extremely underappreciated, when all your water has to be boiled, ice is your number one crush 2. Butter is multicultural, it’s the bridge between cultures. If you think buttered toast is good, just slather some freshly churned fatty goodness on a round of hot, blistering naan. 3. Imodium, although disturbingly small and chalky, is your friend in the dire of times. True life, I may have been addicted to Imodium, but I’m over that little venture. And while it may seem important to stay away from the heated and curried to avoid ever having to indulge in those little cleft pills again, I can’t. I’m addicted to the heat. It makes a meal more interesting after all, if you have to dive across the table for drink.
Recipe on the following page.