Is this a good place to admit that in all years I sat down at the Thanksgiving table when I didn’t eat meat, it never occurred to me that I needed an alternative meal? Because: sweet potatoes. Because: green beans. Because: stuffing and cranberries and dinner rolls and four types of pie! My plate was heavy. My face was stuffed. I mean, who’s really in it for the turkey?
Nothing against barbecue-style baked beans, all tangy sauced and full of smoky burnt end drippings — hi summer, get here quick please — but I hardly see why navy beans get to have all of the fun. Where are the baked kidney beans, black-eyed peas and gigantes? Baking is a phenomenal way to cook dried beans and a great way to make something more complex of canned ones; when you start considering flavors, the sky, nay, the globe is the limit. I want these red beans slow-baked in a big casserole, scooped with tortilla chips. I want baked black beans heaped over tostones, braised white beans over Catalan-style tomato bread and I want what we had for dinner last night for the first time all over again, because it was perfect.
I swear, this wholesome-looking meal isn’t penance for anything. It’s not a budget-friendly apology for the frenetic unplanned redecorating project or atonement for the fact that I’ve basically only wanted to eat chocolate, peanut butter, bread and pasta for the last 22 weeks. It’s not compensation for the frosting that didn’t make it onto the cake and was eaten instead with a spoon, or the impulsive meringues last weekend. It’s only ever-so-quietly a warning that the next thing coming on this site is so decadent, you might wish to advance yourself some greens, grains and beans.
In my fantasy recipe-writing league, I’d cover everything, a million questions you hadn’t even thought to ask yet. Every recipe would work on a stove, slowly braised in the oven, on a grill, in a slow-cooker, a pressure-cooker, on a train, in a car, or in a tree. You could make the vegetarian carnivorous, the carnivorous paleo, the gluten-full gluten-free, the sour cream could always be swapped yogurt which could always be swapped with buttermilk, or milk and lemon, or soy milk and vinegar. We’d find a way to put kale in everything. You could use flat-leaf parsley instead of cilantro (because cilantro is the devil’s herb, naturally) or none of the above, because green flecks = grounds for dinnertime dismissal. We’d make food that your picky spouse, your pasta-eating kid, and your pesky fad-dieting house guests would applaud at every meal, and all of those promises made by food writers greater than myself in tomes more epic than this blog of food bringing people together for the happiest part of everyone’s day would be made good on at last.
I once read that if you ask a guy what his favorite item of clothing is, he would pick the oldest thing he owns — some t-shirt he’s had since high school or nearly threadbare sweats. And if you ask a woman, she usually picks the last thing she bought. [Nobody mentioned four year-olds but obviously: fireman hat.] Gender stereotyping copy aside,* when it comes to recipes, this has me down to a T: my favorite thing to cook is usually the last thing I made. Because of this, I fail 100% of the time at “content-planning strategies” [or as it sounds in my head when I read phrases like this: blargle-blargle blargle] because while I’m supposed to be telling you about this great dish I made last week for Valentine’s, I only want to talk about what I made for dinner on Tuesday night. Because it’s my new favorite everything.
You don’t have to look at me like that. I know, I know how you and most people feel about lentils. About how they’re mealy and brown and generally lackluster, like health food putty; about how you’ll eat them, sure, but only if you must. And how if I were trying to convince you that lentils are something that you will very much love if only you could try them this way, my way, that this yellow-and-muddy-purple-brown speckled thing up top, despite the ambitious efforts of the bright green parsley chop scattered over it, is not going to be the thing to pull it off.
This soup is the very best thing I ate in December, which is saying a lot for a month that involved the purchase of at least 4 pounds of butter. And it didn’t involve any of them. I know, I know — that’s crazy talk.