Friday, March 31, 2017

In the Soup

I just read a lovely article written by a woman from Pakistan who now lives in the U.S.  She was raised Sindhi Hindu, and wrote about her faith, and the traditional food that was so important to her. She focused on a sweet rice dish called tahri, rich with the flavors of cardamom, saffron and fennel seed. Cooking tahri has been a way for her to celebrate her culture, and keep memory alive. 

I’m often frustrated by my blah culinary heritage. What is the point of writing about Swanson's TV dinners, my childhood suppertime staple? To say the Salisbury steak tasted OK as long as there weren’t ice crystals? Now THERE's a delightful reminiscence! Thoroughly Irish as we were, we never once ate Irish stew or even cabbage. Steve had a different background (German), but even he was limited to German potato salad and springerle Christmas cookies. 

So I am entranced by Foods of the World. And I hit the jackpot (or rather, soup pot) when I learned about fanesca. Fanesca is a time-consuming, labor intensive soup that is hugely important in Ecuador, especially during Lent. Families make fanesca together, prepping the multitude of ingredients over several days. As it just happens to be Lent, when our church offers weekly potluck soup suppers, I hatched my ambitious plan. We would make fanesca!! It would be a festive family affair!!

My fanesca! With traditional toppings (red peppers and fried plantains)! Whew!!

The more I learned about this soup, the more intrigued I became. Legend has it that the early Christians met in secret, each bringing a different ingredient for this communal dish. There’s religious symbolism attached to the various items in fanesca too. Salt cod, the fish a symbol of Jesus. Twelve different veggies and grains for the twelve apostles, including corn, rice, leeks, roasted garlic. lupini, peanuts. Everything is cooked in milk. 

As I brought my haul home from several markets, I began to feel a bit daunted. My happy family plan was going bust, because everyone is too busy right now to pitch in (both Sheridan and Ya-Jhu work at churches and, as noted, it IS Lent). Wednesday morning, I left a note on the dining room table next to a big bowl filled with dried fava beans that had soaked overnight and needed to be individually peeled: "Can someone please do me a 'fava' and peel the beans while I'm at work?" Evan came to the rescue and peeled a pound of beans (and they don't peel easily). 

The fruits (beans) of Evan's labor

Final cooking took three hours. Wednesday night I brought the finished product down to church, where it handily served 13 people with leftovers. The verdict? It really was delicious. Worth the work? Not sure. But it was a fun challenge.

Food is far, far more than fuel…it is a window on the way we live our lives. Nowadays, when so many seem to be circling the wagons, let’s instead share a pot of soup, and some love, with our brothers and sisters of ALL nations,  on this planet we all call home.

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