The original title of this post was going to be: “How To Turn Leftover Collard Greens Into Soup.” It was going to be a joke–you’ll see why in a moment–with only two words in the body of the post itself. But then I realized that many of you don’t have leftover collard greens sitting around in your refrigerator because many of you don’t know how to cook them. Which is a shame because collard greens aren’t only strangely delicious–deep, dark, almost musky–but they’re good for you too. They’re also prevalent, cheap, and versatile. Which is why you should be cooking collard greens more often!
The idea of a secret ingredient is a funny one. I think it’s based on a modern American notion of shortcuts; the idea that instead of working hard to be successful, you can win the lottery or appear on a reality show or read the Cliff’s Notes and still pass your A.P. English exam (I did that actually: sorry, Hester Prynne). This American obsession with getting everywhere as quickly as possible, to FastPass your way to accomplishment, doesn’t translate well to cooking. Which is why, I think, so many Americans don’t cook. They’d rather fast food it, or frozen dinner it, than stand over a stove. And when they do stand over the stove, they want “quick tips” and “30 minute meals” and the magical, secret ingredient that’ll propel their dinner to greatness. But the truth is no one ingredient can propel your dinner to greatness; greatness comes with patience and practice, over time.
My proudest culinary achievements aren’t the ones where I followed a recipe really well or repeated a specific technique demonstrated by a chef, they’re the ones where on a freezing cold night, instead of ordering a pizza or Thai food (side-note: we still haven’t found good take-out in the West Village; anyone?) I whip up something delicious with what I have on hand.
A splash of this, a pinch of that: that’s the kind of cooking I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve never been very good at it. Sure, I’ll sprinkle some cinnamon into my oatmeal and, yes, I’ll sex up a plate of pasta with some red chile flakes, but the ability to cook impulsively, to grab ingredients out of the fridge and make something scrumptious, has always eluded me. That is until I discovered soup.
The scene: our living room. Craig is sneezing, coughing, blowing his nose. He’s not happy. He’s feeling unwell. Me? I’m ok, I’ve avoided the cold so far. But I am sympathetic, I am suggesting he buy cold medicine, and then I suggest what my mother and grandmother would undoubtedly suggest if they were in the room too: “Chicken Soup.”
As it happens, Craig is reading New York Magazine and stumbles across an article about the best soups in New York and a big full-page spread about The 2nd Ave. Deli’s chicken soup. For years, I’ve declared that chicken soup my favorite in the city; when it was close to NYU (before it was relocated), I would go there religiously if I ever felt unwell. And this article, called “Deliverence,” was all about how the 2nd Ave. Deli will now deliver a tub of chicken soup to your door in 30 minutes. It would cost $22.95 plus delivery charges, a ridiculous price to pay for any other soup; but this is the 2nd Ave. Deli chicken soup we’re talking about, a cold-killing elixir stronger than any medicine a doctor would prescribe. I lifted the phone, I dialed the numbers, and 30 minutes later…
At the end of yesterday’s video podcast with Michael Symon, you may have heard me sheepishly express doubt about adding blue cheese to tomato soup. For some reason, I thought the result would be grainy and gloppy and just kind of gross. Instead, this tomato soup was absolutely the best tomato soup I’ve ever had–and the best part about it is you’d never know that blue cheese was what was making it taste so good. It adds depth and creaminess but it doesn’t taste funky and you don’t notice the texture.
Hillary Clinton says “it takes a village,” but I think it takes a recipe.
What I mean is sometimes you think you don’t like a certain dish because you’ve had so many bad versions of that dish, but then suddenly you encounter a recipe for that dish that takes you by surprise and you find yourself–against your best instincts–loving that dish. And that’s exactly what happened last week, on a frigid, freezing day, when I made Heidi’s lentil soup.
Veselka in the East Village is a New York institution; NYU students stumble in there late at night to sober up. During the day, it’s an eclectic mix of East Village hipsters and older Eastern Europeans. I first went with my graduate class at NYU and stuck to standard diner fare–a burger, a salad, something eggy, a waffle. Only recently, though, did I consume the fare that Veselka is known for: “Ukranian soul food” (and that’s according to their website.)