Chorizo and Chestnut Soup
Oof, it's been a while, hasn't it? I mean, the new year has been around long enough by now that I don't even catch myself scrawling a 7 where there should be an 8. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have left you with a tale of food poisoning before going AWOL, but worry not, the two have nothing to do with each other. What I should have done was hang a 'closed for maintenance' sign up here for the first couple weeks of January - not site maintenance, mind you, but self maintenance. Yes, it's true: as much as I loathe the whole if-it's-January-it-must-be-time-to-suffer bandwagon, it seems I never can resist buying a ticket and hopping on. I mean, every yin has its yang, right? And to counter our holiday yin, whose highlights this year included meter-long bratwursts, zwiebelkuchen, glühwein, raclette, fondue, daily breakfasts of croissants piled high with every kind of meat, cheese and jam under the sun, mid-afternoon trysts with coffee and cake, and near-nightly 'snacks' of Turkish lahmacun and döner kebabs in the early hours after yet another alcohol-fueled reunion with long-lost friends, there now exists a drastic need for some yang. I haven't even mustered the courage to step on the scale yet, though in light of the howls of despair that emanated from the bathroom when Manuel did, I think that's probably for the best.
But as dire as the situation may be, there's a certain four-letter word beginning with 'D' you'll never hear uttered around here. For one thing, it makes my palms all sweaty. For another, I've tried plenty of those 'D's and have come to the conclusion that they're all designed to function as endless vicious cycles: deny, suffer, relent, panic, deny, suffer, relent. Instead, what I try to do in January is clean up my lifestyle a little bit, you know in a less-of-the-bad-stuff and more-of-the-good kind of way, and most importantly, do it in a way that doesn't leave me entirely miserable. After all, January is cold and miserable enough without having to contemplate things like Equal®-speckled grapefruit halves and fat-free salad dressing (though let's face it, I would rather gouge my eyes out with a spork than find either of those on my plate at any time of year!), so I know if that if the new, healthier me is going to stand a chance of making it past February, what I eat had better be satisfying. And preferably, hot and filling. And that's where soup comes in.
Since soup, at its purest, need be nothing more than a simple, well-seasoned puree of vegetables, it is perfect self-improvement fare. Slurp down a bowl at the start of every meal and I swear, no matter what else you're eating you'll never feel deprived. Of course I'm also happy making soup the main event, but for this role I prefer something a bit heartier. Some meat perhaps, and something starchy, and of course it needs to be full of strong, punchy flavors. Pretty much exactly what you'll find in this soup, a fantastic recipe from one of my treasured Moro cookbooks. An inspired (and quite likely invented, but don't quote me on that) juxtaposition of Spanish ingredients, the flavors work together beautifully; the chorizo gives it just the right smoky depth, the chestnuts add body and a gentle sweetness, and saffron and chili tickle your tastebuds and warm you from the inside out. It was filling, scrumptious, and remarkably healthy too, particularly after I impulsively chucked in a few handfuls of chopped leafy greens. You know, anything to make myself believe that I'm really taking this whole clean-living thing seriously. Which, on days when there's soup like this on the menu, isn't actually all that hard to do.
p.s. For more easy-peasy soup ideas, check out this ancient post of mine. I still swear by the method!
p.p.s. Hooray for us - we raised $91,188.00 in December's Menu for Hope!!! Thanks to each and every one of you who helped make it success, and congratulations to Shuna, lucky winner of the Moro Cookbook trilogy!
Chorizo and Chestnut Soup
Did you know chestnuts have the least fat of any nut at only 10%, and that nutritionally they resemble brown rice? Yup, who knew they were perfect January food? Around here, January is actually a great time to buy chestnuts because they're often marked down post-Christmas; I often buy several packages of the vacuum-packed kind to use in all kinds of things over the coming months. If you can only find fresh chestnuts, however, and don't mind going through the whole cooking and peeling rigamarole, by all means feel free, but in all honesty, I don't know if I would bother. Instead I might substitute a mixture of, say, cubed sweet potato and butter beans. It wouldn't be quite the same, of course, but I daresay it would capture the spirit pretty well. Oh, and I suppose you're wondering what's up with the quantities for the chorizo. Well, the original recipe calls for only a quarter-pound, but in a moment of reckless abandon (and 'cause I luuuvz it so much) I threw in twice that amount. Living dangerously, don't I know it!
Source: Adapted from The Moro Cookbook, by Sam and Sam Clark
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stick, chopped
4-8 oz (120-250g) Spanish cooking chorizo (Portuguese choriço would also be fine, or in a pinch substitute any garlicky smoked sausage), cut into 1/2-inch (1cm) cubes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes or cayenne pepper (or to taste)
2-3 canned plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
1 lb (500g) shelled chestnuts, fresh or vacuum-packed, roughly chopped
pinch (about 20) saffron threads, crumbled
4 cups (1l) water
about 1 lb. (450g) fresh chard or kale, tough stalks removed, washed and cut into ribbons (optional)
salt and black pepper
In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chorizo and a generous pinch of salt and fry gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the whole thing caramelizes and turns a fragrant golden brown.
Now, add the garlic, cumin, thyme and chilli and cook for a minute more, then add the tomato and, after a couple more minutes, the chestnuts. Give everything a good stir and then add the saffron, water, and chard or kale if using, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until everything is soft.
Remove the pot from the heat and with a potato masher, gently mash until the chestnuts have broken down and the soup seems quite thick. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with whole-grain bread.