A sweet craving satisfied is all well and good, but I find a savoury craving hardest to bear. Moods and foods go hand in hand, and I instinctively know what I am pining for when in a certain frame of mind. I just have to make it, then and there.
Anything hot with heaps of chilli does well to banish a bad mood with or without sniffling-nose-plus-foggy-brain syndrome. Mama’s dhals do well for that late supper hit, when longing envelops me. The process of tempering and the rising aroma makes me feel closer at that moment, to those I love across the seas. When The Scotsman needs a bit of moral support, I provide it in spades along with a fat bowlful of (his favourite food) velvety macaroni cheese with ham. Celebrations call for chocolate, the sun and post swimming happiness calls for fruit ice creams and lollies, biting winds drive us deep into the stained pot of a long simmering, treacly dark, body and soul warming casserole.
For calm and some vestige of balance though, I turn to soups. More precisely lentil soups, the broth kinds. There is something primitively comforting in it’s grainy, soft texture that offers some balm to whatever has been battering my mind, however insignificant. Or not as the case may be. Also, if we have been overdoing it on the meat or rich food front, a lentil soup simmering on the hob makes me feel smugly virtuous.
The Scotsman, with as much hunter-gatherer pride as a modern, city man can muster, placed a three and a half kilo of gammon on my kitchen counter. He wanted it in Coca Cola and delicious though it is, I wanted stock. Proper, lightly aromatic, golden stock. I won, of course. Not that this was a battle. So I plonked the ham into a pot, filled it with water and heaved it over to the stove. If your gammon is quite salty, then you can let the water come to the boil, chuck it out and refill with clean water. The first boil allows for some of the salt to be removed. Along with the refill, I chucked in (unpeeled) onions, carrots, garlic, black peppercorns and as I have a thing for fennel and pork, a teaspoon of fennel seeds went in as well. Cook your gammon, gently, with a soft bubble, rather than erupting spring. I consult my meat thermometer and take the gammon out when it has reached 60deg C (this is lower than the thermometer marking for pork, however, recent guidelines have changed and the recommended internal cooked temperature for pork is now 60 deg C/ 145 F. Thank goodness!) . However, if I want to delay things a bit but keep the gammon warm, I take it to 55 deg C , turn off the heat, put a lid on and let the gammon sit in its hot bath until tea time. I get by for about an hour this way.
The stock – oh I could drink it. All the flavouring ingredients, particularly the fresh and cool toned hit of fennel, gave generously to the liquid. This I used to make my lentil soup. I use a fair bit of garlic, toss in carrots, sometimes rice, maybe barley, but there are always lentils of some sort. I prefer the small red lentils, as they are faster cooking and not as greedy with liquids. Some soft sauteeing and gentle simmering produces a light yet filling meal of a broth, with generous chunks of ham.
On days like these when the relentless heat drives folk into their air conditioned homes, I serve this brothy, nourishing soup for dinner, with some rolls for mopping up. I tend to make extra and in the quiet of the afternoon, when the kids have succumbed to the heat and are sleeping, I have a bowlful of this soup, by the window, curled up in my favourite chair. This isn’t about being fancy, it’s the need for familiarity. Sustenance for the hours ahead and a calming moment in a busy day. Such a lot given, for all that it’s soup.