Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The humble onion and the mighty ‘pain barrier’.

So, the soup, that, ‘oh so adored’ chicken soup recipe pictured in my last blog entry, was not so adored by yours truly or her husband. Yes, that lovely old Jewish lady who announced the recipe as one of her own special treasures, and me, gullible me, so earnestly believed and made in faith. Oh the feeling of creating a recipe that has been around for centuries, the tradition I felt run through my veins, (I’m so totally NOT Jewish by the way, but for a moment, I believed I was. I really did.) then after two hours on at a simmer and only an hour and half before serving, (to a table full of guests I might add) I dipped in my spoon singing, “lai-lai-lai-lai”, and thus the steaming broth filled my spoon, and I lifted thy spoon to mine mouth and behold, (please insert a screeching record for dramatic effect) it was; TASTELESS! Desperately I added salt, but alas, one can not serve salted water to ones guests. My husband shook his head, “you should have listened to me”, and it’s true, I should have. I assumed his comment, “Jewish food is tasteless”, to be too general, why almost racist! So I ignored my genius of a husband and listened to the sweet little old Jewish lady. Let the record show, my husband DOES know more than a little old Jewish lady who lost all her taste buds 27 years ago.
Desperate, I turned to a little novel I read several years ago and two of the most wonderful flavors I have ever known. “Pomegranate Soup”, by Marsha Mehran, cumin and the humble onion.
It was not the most glorious soup that I served that evening, but let me tell you, it was a far cry from the salty water I was faced with and hour earlier. Actually I met ‘red lentil soup’ half way, not having any lentils or more than 2 spare onions at the time. However I will pass the ‘red lentil soup’ recipe onto you, because really, it is my very favorite soup ever and is so totally worth sharing.
I would like to for a moment, if you don’t mind, revert back to my early teens and reminisce. More specifically to sports class, actually I wasn’t fantastic at many sports bar one, long distance running. For some reason, despite the fact the I genuinely despised the sport itself, I was very good at it, and with no prior training, seemed to be more than often, able to leg my way over the finish line in first place. I will say that my gift from God was legs the same length as Japan and that really my ability to do so well had more to do with these gigantic bean poles than my actual sporting ability. There is one thing that I would like to highlight about long distance running though; I call it the ‘pain barrier’.
There is a point when you are running where every muscle cries out in pain, your will power is lost to the wind and collapsing on the ground beneath you is a real risk. What I did know, was that when I hit this point, I only had to run about a minute more (the most painful and drawn out 60 seconds of the entire race and occasionally ones entire life too) and I would cross my beloved ‘pain barrier’. Then a strange thing would happen; I would almost loose feeling in my legs, it was like my legs had fallen off and someone else’s legs would pull in underneath me as mine fell out, and low and behold I would look down at these strange legs, that were most obviously not mine,  running entirely of their own accord. Earnestly, it is the oddest feeling. They just kept running almost completely out of my control. Sometimes I believed if someone didn’t tackle me at the finish line, these legs would never release me and keep on running forever. But the main thing was (ah the genius of adrenaline) all the pain would float away.
Bringing this all back to food, I was eating or more battling a chicken laska one day, tears and snot running down my face, and I discovered an amazing thing…..food has a ‘pain barrier’!!
What a discovery!
This weekend’s BBQ was the perfect time to try it out on chopping onions. Armed with six, yes, SIX kilo’s of onions, an open window and a sink of water, I proceeded to the chopping board, knife in hand. Ladies and gentlemen of the blog reading world, the scene that followed was not pretty. There were tears, lots of tears. Tears, snot, screaming, (though mostly by my husband who despite being two rooms away watching a DVD, ran into the kitchen about 3 kilo’s in yelling “what are you doing??!!”. Apparently the odor of onions had floated through to the lounge and made it “impossible” to sit in peace without being tortured. “I’m going outside to work in the garden”, he huffed…Ladies take note) there was gnashing of teeth and tearing out of hair, but finally 6 kilo’s of onions were chopped, fried and boxed up. Uh, did I mention there was going to be about eighty people at the BBQ? Believe me if I could have done less, I would have. That pain threshold I was hoping for? Well, lets just say, my eyeballs don’t count.
There were a few left over onions this evening which I pounced upon and threw into a tart for tea. A glass of white and an onion tart, a terrific ending to a very stinky story.

Red Lentil Soup
  • 2 cups of dry red lentils
  • 7 large onions, chopped
  • 7 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 4 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • Olive oil
  • 7 cups of chicken broth
  • 3 cups of water
  • Salt and pepper (or nigella seeds instead of pepper if you have them)

Place lentils in saucepan with the water, cover and bring to the boil. Cook then uncovered for 9 minutes, drain, and then set aside. In a large stock pot fry in oil 6 of the onions, garlic, turmeric and cumin till golden.
Transfer lentils to stock pot; add salt, pepper and chicken broth. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes.
Serve and garnish with the last onion fried.

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