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taco soup (and more) for the soul

Liz Kellar
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

When I realized my food column would be published on Sept. 11, I was faced with a quandary: Should I acknowledge the date or ignore it?

I was working for a daily newspaper at this time last year, and I did not have a choice then. Like every other member of the media, I was saturated by the events, covering every memorial service, interviewing every grieving local, unable to set aside any time for myself to process emotions. Soon after, I left that job, no longer able to muster up the detachment and adrenaline-fueled zeal necessary to cover car accidents and plane crashes and missing children.

Now I spend more time with my son; I am self-employed and very happy with my new life. Last week, though, I woke up sweating from a dream of terrorists and realized there was much I had not put behind me. Like many others, I view the media onslaught today with a mixture of revulsion and need. I want to memorialize the events of last year without demeaning them with sensationalism, a difficult task at best.



One lesson I learned from last year was the need for comfort when your defenses are down. The late great food writer Laurie Colwin put it best when she wrote that, when people are tired and hungry, they want to be consoled. She defines comfort food as “something that makes one feel, if even for only a minute, that one is safe.”

Colwin calls this nursery food, since the kinds of food that make people feel safe tend to be those they ate as children. When I asked my son what he liked to eat when he was sad, he told me it was bacon, preferably on a rainy day. My husband volunteered that his comfort food of choice would be mashed potatoes. When I responded that I was surprised, since he never asks me to make him any, he smiled and said, “I don’t need much comfort.” I took that as a compliment.




In the normal course of events, my dinners are spicy and quick. But when I want to nurture or be nurtured, I haul out my biggest soup pot and start simmering. There is something so soul-satisfying about a hearty stew or soup that goes beyond the simple mix of ingredients. Maybe it is the way you have every element mixed together in a steaming bowl. When you scrape that last spoonful up, you feel full in every sense of the word. And comforted.

So here is my memorial to Sept. 11: a trio of soups and stews to comfort you when you are down. These also seemed particularly appropriate for the onset of cooler weather. I can say I’ve made each of these recipes many times over the last 10 years and have never grown tired of them.

One is a Moroccan soup, harira, traditionally served to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. One is an absurdly easy taco soup that often makes the rounds at churches. The last is a vegetarian stew from Greens in San Francisco that is perfectly suited to early fall. You will not miss the meat, I promise you.

Liz Kellar, a resident of Union Hill, has cooked at brew pubs, four star bed-and-breakfast inns and university dining halls. She has catered intimate dinners for 20 and barbecues for 2,000. You can write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

Harira Ramadan

(Chickpea, Lentil

and Rice Soup)

11Ž2 cups dried chickpeas (I often used canned)

1Ž4 pound lamb, cubed

2 onions, minced

3Ž4 teaspoon pepper

1Ž2 teaspoon crumbled saffron

1 cup lentils

1Ž2 cup rice

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup minced cilantro

5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and pureed (again, I use canned puree)

If you are using dry chickpeas, soak in cold water for 24 hours. Drain and cook in a pan with water to cover for one hour. Drain and combine them in large pot with lamb, onions, pepper, saffron and two quarts water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Stir in lentils, rice, tomato paste, cilantro and tomato puree. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Taco Soup

1 pound ground beef or turkey

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon oil

1 can each corn, tomatoes, pinto beans, tomato paste, sliced olives

2 beef bouillon cubes

3 cups water

1Ž2 teaspoon each cayenne pepper and chili powder

1Ž4 teaspoon cumin

Brown the ground beef, vegetables and garlic in the oil in a large pot; drain. Dissolve the bouillon in the water and add it to the pot. Add the spices and the contents of the cans, which you do not drain. Heat to boiling and serve.

Zuni Stew

11Ž4 cups pinto beans, soaked overnight

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon oregano

1 pound tomatoes, chopped

2 ancho chili peppers

1 pound squash

4 ears corn

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1Ž2 teaspoon coriander seed

2 tablespoons oil

2 onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoon chili powder

8 ounces green beans

4 ounces grated jack cheese

Cilantro

Cook beans with salt, bay leaf and oregano in enough water to cover for two hours. Drain, saving the broth. Slice the squash and chili peppers and cut the kernels off the ears of corn. Saute onion and garlic in oil. Add cumin, coriander seed and chili powder, along with a little bean broth. Add tomatoes, squash, corn, green beans and chili peppers along with cooked beans and more broth. Cook 20 minutes. Garnish with cheese and chopped cilantro.


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