Here at Green Betty's house we’ve been cooking and baking our way through children’s literature—recent incarnations have included lemon meringue pie (ours sported a walnut/brown butter/fleur de sel crust), carrot soup, and morning cake, to name a few.
I realized recently that my five year old's delight in making the stuff of stories could be turned to my advantage. So the other day, after deciding to make a saag for dinner, I told him a gnome tale.
Rinky, Dinky, and Sly Go to Goa
Every gnome loves a mermaid-laden, white sand beach, not to mention buffets that feature vindaloos. So one day, the gnomes of Lunenburg decided to pack up and head to Goa. (That's in India, y'all.)
They couldn't afford the plane fare, so they packed themselves up in a box and had their Uncle Googly mail it to a classy resort. It took a couple weeks to arrive, but they were comfortable in their crate--Rinky'd had the foresight to stock up on historical fiction (every gnome's favorite read) for the trip, and jerky treats were abundant.
After a few days of spicy shrimp, spicy fish, spicy pork, spicy fruit, and spicy rice, the gnomes were ready for something a little milder. They sampled some north Indian saag--a delightful concotion of spinach, yogurt, broth, and tasty-but-not-incendiary spices.
As an added bonus, when gnomes eat saag it gives them a burst of Popeye-like strength! Rinky, Dinky, and Sly used theirs to pick up an elephant. (They had to ask the elephant to hold one of her feet up, since there were only three of them.) Unfortunately, the saag wore off mid-trick and the elephant came crashing down. That's the last time she does a favour for gnomes.
This incident was the first in what eventually developed into an epic tale of the gnomes' culinary adventures overseas--but the rest, as they say, is a story for another time.
There is nothing Charlie would like better than to pick up an elephant, of course, so he begged me to make saag. I modified the recipe to make a soup of it, and now he’s guaranteed to slurp it with gusto every time. If only I'd caught on sooner.
Saag Soup (aka Swamp Soup)
2 T butter
1 onion, finely minced
6 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
2 t ginger powder
2 t ground coriander
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t cayenne
1 lb baby spinach leaves
2 1/2 C chicken stock (see recipe below)
1 1/2 t salt
1 C yogurt
Heat the butter in a large saucepan on medium. Add minced onions and salt and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and spices and sauté for another two minutes.
Stir in the stock and spinach and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for ten minutes or until spinach is thoroughly cooked but still a springy shade of green (if it reminds you of the military, you've gone too far). Remove from heat and blend, either with an immersion blender (my fave) or by processing into a stand blender or food processor then returning to the pan. Simmer the pureé another couple minutes, then add yogurt, adjust seasonings if warranted, and serve.
Hint: For good quality spices at a reasonable price, try an Indian grocery store. Mine come from Indian Groceries in Halifax. Great place.
To make chicken stock, first roast a chicken (organic and local if you can get/afford it). After you've stripped the meat from the carcass, put the entire carcass in a crock pot or stock pot and fill in the empty spaces with vegetables--to make stock for this dish, I recommend keeping it simple with just roughly chopped onion (2 cups) and peeled, whole garlic cloves (2 bulbs). Throw in a healthy pinch of salt and just cover with water. Add half a cup of white vinegar (this will leach the calcium from the bones, making for a more nutritious stock.) Bring the whole mess to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 3 hours (stock pot) to 5 hours (crock pot). Remove the bones and big chunks, then strain the broth through cheesecloth (I get mine at the dollar store). Chill in the fridge for a few hours, strain off the fat that rises to the top, and you're good to go.