When the rains return and clouds build up, Northwesterners talk about feeling cozy. The locals smile about the luminous skies. It’s time to plunge into juicy novels, go on a Netflix binge, or get back to last winter’s knitting project. Haul out the fleece and the down sweaters. Go for long walks in the rain.
For me the fall weather also signals the season for slow cooking.
On rainy weekends like the one we’ve just had, I take the time for slow-paced foodie projects that will reward us with mouth-watering flavors:
- Slow-cooked lentil stews brimming with root vegetables
- Savory lentil soups à la Française
- Roasted vegetables: carrots, potatoes, sugar pumpkin, sweet potatoes, onions and leeks
- Lamb curries, North African style
- Pot roasts and boeuf bourguignon
When you embrace slow cooking, you learn to accept delayed gratification, welcoming the tantalizing aromas that permeate your home as things simmer. From a yoga perspective it’s a practice of “mindfulness for the nose.”
Not Just for Vegetarians
Ours is not a vegetarian household. We love poultry and tasty cuts of meat.
That said, we’ve begun a deliberate quest to cut back on meat consumption, especially red meats. Despite the self-promotional denials by the meat packing industry, we’re concerned by the latest scientific reports that link increased risk of cancer to the consumption of red meats and processed meats.
As a healthier alternative to red meats, we’ve begun experimenting with savory vegetarian-inspired dishes. This in turn has driven us to go looking for exotic spices, nutritious grains and fresher ingredients that will punch up the flavors and aromas.
Slow cooking is a great way to get the tastiest results from dishes that rely on grains or dried beans. It’s also a very effective way to be satisfied with poorer cuts of meat, or smaller proportions of meat, relative to the vegetable component.
My inspiration for this season’s slow cooking comes from some cookbooks that go well beyond the simple pleasures of Joy of Cooking (listed below.)
Another catalyst was last year’s quirky Christmas gift for my husband, a spice discovery kit that has brought us yearlong joy. (He loves cooking too.)
I’ve also been motivated by the ease of sourcing ultra fresh spices and herbs thanks to local and online merchants, including Amazon for hard-to-find ingredients from other countries.
I’ve experimented with Le Puy lentils and red rice from Camargue, and have quickly used up my trial orders of these traditional French grains. So much better than dried out and boring lentils or boxed rice from the grocery store chains! Now it’s time to find local stores with bulk supplies of these upscale ingredients.
My new fave source for dried herbs and freshly ground spice blends: Seattle’s World Spice Merchants (available at Pike Place Market or online.) Thanks to Penzeys and World Spice Merchants I’ve been refreshing our spice stocks, throwing away jars with dubious ingredients that are too old or faded. I’ve finally learned to ignore my mother’s voice whispering in my ear, “Hold on to your spices until the jars are empty…”
As a result our kitchen is redolent with pungent aromas from star anise, bay leaves, kaffir lime leaves, cardamom pods, freshly ground curries, Ras el Hanout and other exotic ingredients.
These spices and ingredients lend themselves to North and East African stews, North Indian style curries, world fusion soups, and France-meets-Morocco dishes.
Some have even spiced up my baking projects. Yesterday’s dessert featured Comice pears poached in a spicy honey syrup with star anise, vanilla beans, cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks. The syrup included freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice, along with a generous quantity of citrus zests.
Next on my list of cooking experiments: Curry Bread Pudding with Cardamom Cream.
My adventurous husband is delighted to join me for the fun of exploring new spices and slow-cooked foods from distant countries.
Food for Thought
To learn how to combine these new-to-us ingredients in pleasing ways, I’ve relied on cookbooks, supplemented by online research:
- Splendid Soups by James Peterson (features recipes from around the world)
- Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan
- Patricia Wells at Home in Provence by Patricia Wells and Robert Fréson
- European Peasant Cookery by Elisabeth Luard
- Love Soup by Anna Thomas
- Mourad New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou
The Internet has been a great source of authentic recipes from coastal African countries, Afghani and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes. We’re still enjoying Thai cuisine, thanks to my husband’s childhood there, but we’re relishing this opportunity to broaden our repertoire.
We wish you the savory joys of new discoveries. Happy cooking!