Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Best Lentil Soup in the World

What I consider one of the best soups in the world and not just the Mediterranean is shurba al-'adas, lentil soup. This is a soup made by countless cooks in the Levant. My recipe came from my former wife Najwa and I first published it in A MEDITERRANEAN FEAST. It was there that Fran McCullough and Molly Steven discovered it to put in there book The 150 Best American recipes: Indispensable Dishes from Legendary Chefs and Undiscovered Cooks (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). It is a soup that I simply could not leave out of my newest book due to come out in December THE BEST SOUPS IN THE WORLD. It's a popular soup in what used to be known as Greater Syria (Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, and parts of Jordan). It's based on brown lentils of course and homemade chicken broth (preferably). Try making shurba al-'adas, you'll be pleased all around.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Soup from Corsica

For the next few months I'll be focusing on soups. My newest book to be published by John Wiley & Sons, THE BEST SOUPS IN THE WORLD, will be coming out in December. I had enormous fun writing that book and my appreciation for soups grew. There are so many, just from the Mediterranean alone, that people don't know. Take for instance the soups from the island of Corsica. Although a department of France, Corsica has its own culture and language, related more to Italian than French. The food of Corsica is rustic. For instance, many cheeses on the island don't have names, they're simply called "cheese." This goes for soups too, many simply called "soup" (minestra). A good example of a rustic Corsican minestra is also known as soupe paysanne (country soup). There's a recipe here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Soups of Morocco

Harīra (ﺣﺮﻳﺮﺔ)is a traditional soup made in Morocco to observe the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim calendar that celebrates the first revelation of the Quran. The soup itself is originally a Berber dish, also known in Algeria. In fact, in tenth-century Tunisia the soup known as samāsāhiyya was a synonym for harīra.

There are many variations of this soup, not only because there are many families, and many different families of different economic classes, but also because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and Ramadan falls during different months of the year so the seasonality of ingredients changes. A summer Ramadan soup will be different from a winter Ramadan soup. Moroccans make this particular harīra when Ramadan falls between October and December. The first decision you have to make is if you want a version with meat or not. Both the meatless and the meat version are traditional. The cooking should be slow and long.

Harīra exists throughout the Maghrib, but it is this Moroccan version that seems to be the most famous.
Traditionally one eats dates and elaborate honey cakes called shabā’k (or shabā’kiyya) or mahalkra with the soup. Some cooks add pasta or rice, chicken liver or gizzards, dried fava beans, or yeast (in which case the flour mixture in Step 4 is not used) in addition to the elements below. Or rare spices such boldo (Peumus boldus syn. Boldea fragrans, Peumus fragrans) called balduh al-faghiya in Arabic, the berry of a slow-growing evergreen in Morocco that is used in place of caraway. The tomato mixture in Step 2 and the flour and water mixture used in Step 4 is known as the tadawīra in Morocco. Great souvenirs to bring back from Morocco are the little earthenware soup bowls used to eat harīra.

Soups in Morocco tend to be supper dishes, heavy and filling, and not as a first course. In Morocco, when one encounters a soup served as a first course that is most likely a French influence.

You can read more about Ḥarīra and find the recipe in my new book THE BEST SOUPS IN THE WORLD to be published in December by Wiley.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Learn to Cook

My colleague and good friend Martha Rose Shulman and I have started a cooking school in Venice, California. Here's what we're trying to do (it comes from the web site of the cooking school):

Have you ever exclaimed “I just don’t have time to cook?” Are you one of the many people who never learned to cook because your mother (or father) didn’t cook? Is buying prepared food or eating out no longer a viable alternative for you? You’re not alone.

Our mission at Venice Cooking School is to teach you how to make dinner and how to enjoy doing it. Our three unique cooking class series – LEARN TO COOK, RECIPES FOR HEALTH, and MEDITERRANEAN CUISINES – will empower you to put delicious food on the table every day. You’ll learn the simple techniques, cooking methods and foods that we love, and build a repertoire of dishes that you’ll be proud to make for your family and friends.

Venice Cooking School at St. Joseph Center in Venice, California is the creation of two prolific, award-winning cookbook authors and cooking teachers, Clifford A. Wright and Martha Rose Shulman. Between them they have published close to fifty cookbooks, and they have taught cooking classes to sold-out crowds all over the United States. Shulman and Wright are emphatically home cooks with years of experience. They test their recipes in their own kitchens and are themselves parents feeding children of different ages.