The first few clusters of crocus flowers have appeared. The geese are back. So are the overly-eager short-wearers. Which, by default, means that it’s officially spring around here. Eschewing the cautionary proverb, “En avril ne te découvre pas d’un fil“, the population of this town have started to appear in droves on outdoor terrasses – drinking beer, eating brunch, or whatever else they can get their hands on, so long as it’s outside, tabarnak. Some wear tank tops, others wear jackets. At this time of year, it’s a bit of a free-for-all. Vestimentary choices are varied and incongruous, providing a reliable source of entertainment for onlookers. I might still have the heat on in my apartment, but there was a girl at the bus stop this morning in booty shorts.
Oui, un vrai free-for-all.
As annual tradition dictates, we might be a bit early in peeling off the layers, but having been deprived of heat and daylight for an infernally long winter, we’ve gotten antsy. Pants-on-fire antsy. Everyone wants to lay claim to spring (it’s mine, it’s mine…and you can’t take it awaaaay!) and for some of us, that means wearing booty shorts the first day the mercury hits the double digits. For others, it means kicking back on a patio, despite frosty extremities. And for the rest of us boring people, it means that it’s time for some serious spring cleaning – that kind of no-turning-back deep clean that requires gloves, scrub brushes, elbow grease and dogged commitment.
It might not sound like fun to you, but I’m actually really into spring cleaning. It gives me a chance to start from scratch and shed the winter cocoon. Of specific interest to me is (surprise, surprise) the kitchen, where I’m liable to tear apart the fridge, freezer and pantry in one fell swoop. It’s a full-day endeavour that I usually tackle in the (ultra-sexy) uniform of baggy leggings and an old t-shirt, with some Harry Belafonte playing in the background. The part I most look forward to – aside from the Belafonte – is going through my pantry: cleaning it out, doing the triage, making a list of new things to buy, and re-stocking it. I’ve always been a sucker for a well-stocked pantry, which is why I relish opportunities like these. Spending a breezy Sunday drinking coffee, listening to some tunes, all while excavating and reorganizing the contents of my cupboard like a game of dried-goods Tetris? Sign me up.
It’s amazing (er, terrifying?) how much this seemingly mundane activity brings me so much joy. In rediscovering the items I have stowed away (I have tamarind paste??) and in anticipating the new things I’ll soon acquire (miso! buckwheat flour! Valrhona chocolate!), I get really, really, stupidly excited. (For this – and, other reasons – I’m fairly certain I have an octogenarian living inside me. But that’s ok, because at least we both like marmalade. And I’ve usually got a jar hanging out at the back of the pantry.)
When it’s all said and done, I think the most important offshoot of re-stocking the pantry is that it renews my interest in cooking. This is especially true when things seem to have fallen in a slump (a failed attempt at a “healthy” banana bread and a tasteless celeriac soup are two of the latest hapless items to come out of my kitchen. Just be glad you weren’t around for those). Refreshing the spice rack is a central part of the pantry renaissance, as most dried herbs and spices tend to lose their potency within 6 months of purchase, if not before. If you’re into cooking, it’s crucial to keep things moving in your spice rack by switching out the old for the new every few months. Because, let’s be honest, the last thing you want is to spend all that time prepping an elaborate curry, only to discover that tastes like sawdust.
I’m partial to buying spices in bulk, rather than the stuff in the little bags or jars at the supermarket, because a) the spices are usually fresher; b) they’re usually cheaper; c) it allows me to buy the quantity I want, which in turn means I can buy in small quantities, often; and d) I get to peruse the Middle-Eastern shop around the corner and talk to my Iraqi spice guy, who is a total pro when it comes to this kind of stuff.
Below you’ll find two recipes made with a recently acquired batch of spices – cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne and ground ginger. They might seem like wintery recipes, but given that I’m less optimistic about the weather than my fellow booty-shorts-wearing commuter, I’m banking on a few more cool, rainy days ahead. Days for when sweet potato soup and cumin-spiced salad might just fit the bill.
Happy spring to you all.
Sweet Potato Soup with Curried Chickpeas (4-5 servings) – inspired from My New Roots
For the soup:
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 1 large yellow onion
- 8 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp. coconut oil, plus olive oil for garnish
- 1 tsp. both sea salt and cracked black pepper
- 3-4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 tsp. ground turmeric
- leaves of a couple sprigs of thyme, chopped
1) Preheat oven to 400°F.
2) Peel and cube the sweet potatoes and place on a baking sheet. Peel and cut onions into quarters, add to baking sheet. Peel whole cloves of garlic and add to baking sheet. Drizzle with melted coconut oil and toss well to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in oven and roast for approximately 30 minutes until the sweet potato is tender and the garlic is golden.
3) Put the roasted vegetables in a large soup pot. Add the vegetable broth, turmeric and add the finely chopped thyme. Carefully add the roasted vegetables and blend on high until completely smooth (let blender run for a minute or so). If the soup is too thick, add more broth to thin to desired consistency. Season to taste.
4) Pour soup into bowls and serve with a sprinkling of chickpea croutons and a drizzle of olive oil. If necessary, pour into a large pot to reheat if necessary. Keeps for 3 days in the fridge. Freezes well.
For the Chickpeas:
- 3 cups (2 cans) cooked chickpeas – drained and rinsed
- 3 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1 tsp. coarse sea salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. smoked paprika
1) Preheat oven to 400°F
2) Spread chickpeas out on a clean tea towel and rub them dry, discarding any loose skins. Place the chickpeas in a medium bowl and toss with coconut oil, seasoning and spices until coated.
3) Spread the chickpeas on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp. This takes about 25-35 minutes. Please note that the chickpeas will crisp up outside of the oven quite a bit, so if they are still a little soft when you take them out of the oven, that is okay.
4) Remove from the oven. Let cool, and serve at room temperature. Store in an airtight glass container for up to one week.
Cumin-Spiced Carrot Salad with Black Beluga Lentils (serves 4) – adapted from Sarah Britton on Whole Living
- 1 cup black (beluga) lentils
- 2-3 large carrots
- 1 shallot, minced
- 6 prunes, chopped
- ½ cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
- ¼ tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. ground ginger
- ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp. ground coriander
- pinch of cayenne or chili flakes
- 1 Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp. honey
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- pinch of sea salt
- 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
- pinch of salt
- bay leaf (optional)
- smashed clove of garlic
1) Whisk the carrot marinade together in large bowl. Wash the carrots and using a peeler, peel long strips and place in the bowl with the marinade. Set aside and allow to marinate while preparing the other ingredients for the salad.
2) Since lentils don’t require soaking, you can cook them straight away. First, rinse the lentils in a colander, swishing them around with your fingers, then put them in a pot and cover with 2 cups of water (you may want to add more water, just check in from time to time as they cook). Add the bay leaf and garlic. Add a pinch of salt (this will slow the cooking process, but they’ll be more flavourful).
3) Cover the lentils and bring them to a simmer. Continue to cook them over low heat, stirring occasionally just until al dente (about 20 minutes). Drain and lightly rinse.
4) While the lentils are cooking, make the dressing: toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant. Remove from heat and using a mortar and pestle, give the seeds a rough grind. Add all remaining dressing ingredients and whisk together.
5) Add the warm lentils and marinated carrots, including any leftover marinade. Add the sliced prunes, shallot and cilantro. Season to taste and serve.