Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Anthropologist Dines

Last night Valerie and I stayed in for a quiet meal at home. We had a few episodes of Big Love left to catch up on so I made us a little supper before we tucked into the couch. The menu consisted of Boston lettuce salad with feta vinaigrette and carrot soup with cilantro. This delicious soup and salad combo was mighty fine eats if I may say and the creamy dressing of pureed Greek feta, sherry vinegar, and olive oil was out of this world. Besides cooking and feeding others I am fascinated by anything related to agriculture and food provisioning. One of my favorite things to do is peruse the farmer’s market and talk to local participants. In my foyers into food anthropology, my academic passion, the organic movement and farmer’s markets have taken center stage in my research. In the spring of 2007 while living in Santa Cruz, I conducted a short-term ethnographic project among a small group of local farmers at the local Saturday market. Over a twelve-week period I hung out and interviewed farmers in hopes of understanding the multiple meanings of and motivations behind organics. I participated as consumer, casually walking through the market; vendor, packaging produce and talking with customers; and researcher, taking photographs and conducting interviews. During my time I witnessed firsthand the fusion of farming, rebellion, and identity driving organic farmers. At the heart of my research was the dynamic between farmer and consumer coupling food safety with cultural identity established, celebrated, and propagated in the interactive space of the market. Anyway without running the risk of sounding too jargony, it is safe to say that I am a big proponent of organics, sustainability, and high quality fresh food.

In the spirit of sustainability I have recently gotten way into using every bit of foods whether scraps, trimmings, or leftovers. I have been keeping my cooking fats, reusing sauces or unused raw ingredients, and bits of otherwise wasted materials like vegetable stems or peels. There is a bag in my crisper where I toss all my reject pieces of organic matter and produce byproducts from the preparation of meals to make stock with. The bag reached full capacity recently; a mix of carrot peels and tops, herb bottoms of nearly six different types, and tons of ramp greens. I threw everything into a pot with a couple of onions, garlic cloves, and bay leaves, covered it with cold water, and simmered the whole thing for about two hours. I strained the aromatic amber broth and used it in the carrot soup that imparted a lovely onion and herb flavor to the dish; a superbly flavorful substitute to canned stock or water. I recommend making this light and simple yet intensely flavored soup at home for your friends on a cold rainy day or as a starter for a dinner party. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Carrot Soup With Cilantro
Serves 4

1 Small Yellow Onion, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
8 Large Carrots, cut into 1/2” rounds
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Cup Cilantro
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk, plus more for garnish
1 Tsp. Curry Powder
Salt & Pepper

1. Heat a bit of olive oil in a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium high and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and cook about a minute until fragrant. Add the carrots and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a steady simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until the carrots are tender.
2. While the soup is simmering, throw the cilantro and 1/2 cup of olive oil into a high-speed blender or food processor. Blend until completely emulsified and strain through a fine chinois or cheesecloth. Set the cilantro oil aside.
3. After the soup is done cooking, puree it in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour into a saucepan over low heat. Add a 1/2 of a cup of coconut milk along with the curry powder, salt, and pepper. Heat through, stirring often.
4. Serve in individual bowls with a swirl of cilantro oil, coconut milk, and a cilantro leaf for garnish. Enjoy.

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