Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spring is finally here

Spring chose a good time to come back to New York. After a week of unseasonably cold weather, Friday was sunny and Saturday, today, is downright hot. Everyone is radiant. Erin, my roommate from San Francisco, is in town, and we walked all the way to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden today to look at the cherry blossoms. Even though I have been on a spending freeze, and virtuously resisted the adorable little herbs at the farmers' market, I couldn't stop myself from buying a big potted dahlia.

Spring also means sorrel is back at the farmers' markets. The first time I tasted sorrel, at the Alemany market in San Francisco, I almost couldn't believe it. It seemed so unreal, this bright, green leaf that tastes so intensely lemony. I'm always looking for new ways to cook with it, to see what strange and delicious things it can do.

Deborah Madison's "The Savory Way" is definitely one of my best cookbook buys this year. I snatched it for $5 during the madhouse of the James Beard Foundation's biennial cookbook tag sale, which makes it even more precious. Whenever I use her recipes, I end up with food that is fresh, delicious, and healthy without being self-consciously so. For example, the tomato, fennel, potato with saffron stew calls for a big blob of garlic mayonnaise, and this lovely sorrel and lentil soup happily incorporates a tablespoon or more of heavy cream. And with every added ingredient, you can really taste the change, the added dimension. It's funny, the recipes feel only incidentally vegetarian--the word "vegetarian" is nowhere on the cover, and the first mention of it in the inside flap is to proclaim, "These brilliant recipes are not just for vegetarians." Heh, heh, apologetic vegetarianism is my kind of vegetarianism.

Deborah Madison is right to warn you that the soup isn't pretty, because it isn't. But she's also right in saying that it's absurdly simple, and the more I ate it, the more I loved it. It's almost miraculous how flavorful a handful of lentils and water can be, and the sorrel, as it turned olive green and murky, kept its sharp, citrus tone. I would probably reduce the amount of water to 1 quart next time, but that's the only modification I would make. The recipe is so easy that the summary that follows is from memory:

1/2 cup of lentils
1 small red onion, diced small
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. salt
1.5 quarts of water
3 handfuls of sorrel, shredded
1-2 T. of heavy cream

Combine lentils, onion, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are completely soft. Puree half the lentils. Add the sorrel and cook for 10 more minutes. Stir in the cream, add salt to taste, and serve with freshly ground pepper.

That's it, a great Saturday spring lunch.

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