Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thai Cucumber Soup

Hello, fellow herbivores. Long time, no blog.

At some point in time, I'll probably write a rambling muse on the therapy of cooking here in this journal--because, quite frankly, cooking is one of the few activities that I've found that truly relax me and can help cure a bad mood.

And I've had a lot of those lately--bad moods, that is. To sum it up, less than four months ago, I escaped nearly three years of an abusive relationship. And upon being on my own, I found myself more concerned with my favorite alcoholic recipes and constantly being around other people, rather than the joys of cooking for myself. So, several weeks, countless hangovers, and about ten added pounds of body weight later, I gave myself a kick in the ass. Well, a very gentle one--more like a pat. Simply put, I decided to stay in one night and cook for myself. After relishing in a capri salad and cheese ravioli, I remembered the peacefulness in cooking. The quietness of the kitchen, the ability to be alone but not left with thoughts of stress, just thoughts of...flavor. Relishing. As I'm writing this, two pop culture images come to mind. One, the 1999 romantic comedy Simply Irresistible and one of my favorite newer works of fiction, Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. In both, the female protagonist eventually realizes that whatever emotion she is experiencing ends up being "tastable" in her cooking product. In Simply Irresistible, the chef cries a tear and her customers all cry tears of joy when they eat her entree; in Lemon Cake, the main character has a repulsion to eating because she always experiences the emotions of the chef, until she learns to cathartically release her own troubles by becoming a chef herself. Indeed, just as artists experience emotion in their creativity, so does a chef, even an amateur like myself. There is an enjoyable solitude, a creative outlet, and a sense of playful fun in preparing food for myself--all feelings I have not been able to find, in any other activity, in the midst of my personal troubles.

So through the past couple of weeks, I have played with new recipes (which I will soon be sharing) and old favorites, modifying even standards like vegetarian chili. Also, yesterday I decided to take my health into better concern. For several weeks, I have been toying with the idea of leading a more vegan lifestyle. I'm sure I will post more on this in coming weeks. I don't have, necessarily, a more opposition to dairy or egg products, but I do wish to cut out as many unnecessary animal products in my life, such as gelatin. As I've mentioned this to my friends, I've been continuously cautioned about the health risks in becoming 100% vegan, which I don't think is ever going to be my goal. I see myself being halfway between vegetarian and vegan, hopefully, at some point. Still, it has made me reflect on my health. While in the cycle of an abusive relationship, my weight fluctuated from quite slender to quite plump--up fifteen pounds, down fifteen pounds, repeatedly. As my emotions plummeted when my self-rescue didn't prove to be quite as revolutionary as it could have been, my weight seemed to maintain at, well, plump. Not fat, but not in shape, not fit. I lived on greasy bar food like onion rings and jumbo pretzels, Taco Bell, delivery pizzas, and these irresistible walnut brownies I kept finding at the E.W. James bakery. So don't be surprised if you start seeing calorie-conscious entries in this blog, which formerly was focused on fattening comfort foods and sinful desserts!

So, now, let me share with you what I'm actually eating now while I'm writing this blog, because it's pretty damn tasty. Whoever said that vegetarian food is bland has evidently never tried any variation of Thai cucumber soup, because this is one of the most overwhelmingly flavorful dishes I've ever prepared. (Or is it just all of that emotion I'm finally allowing myself to experience, pouring itself out into the pot around the flakes of parsley?)

I grew my own tomatoes and cucumbers this year, a venture that has been overwhelming. Who could've guessed the amount of produce five vegetable plants would provide? Overloaded with cucumbers, I went to the trusty All Recipes looking for something besides a salad or hors d'oeuvre to create with them, and stumbled onto this tasty dish.

As always, I tweaked the original recipe somewhat. Rather than using two tablespoons of sliced green onion, I added a half of white onion (chopped) and one stalk of celery (chopped), which I think was a good decision--it added quite a bit of zest. I also added in chopped red peppers to add some sweetness, which is quite appropriate for a Thai-inspired soup. I more than doubled the amount of parsley, because it tends to balance out an extra-spicy dish. The biggest change I made to the recipe is that, before adding the sour cream, I put the entire mix into a food processor, just to make the chopped veggies a little less prominent, and the soup smoother. I didn't completely puree it, though, wanting to keep a little chunkiness to it. I added more sour cream than the recipe asked for, then let the soup thicken for about fifteen minutes before pouring my first bowl.

The chile peppers I used, by the way, were also homegrown, given to me by a favorite customer of mine from bartending. If you ever have a chance to grow your own vegetables, do so; it's quite rewarding and relaxing, much like cooking. If you just don't have the time or capability, at least seek out fresh produce from friends who garden, or at the very least, a farmer's market. Without any additives, fruits and vegetables have more flavor. And honestly, there's few things in life that smell quite as wonderful as a fresh tomato, just picked off the vine. My homegrown cucumbers made this recipe.

While certainly hot, this isn't an overwhelmingly spicy dish, although you could certainly make it so. You could also tone it down, as I did with the added red peppers and parsley. This is an excellent soup to whip up for a seasoned vegetarian, who's sure to appreciate the flavor, or to shut up a mouthy meat-eater who likes to complain that vegetarian food is gross and bland.