What does your signature dish say about you?
One of the key aspects of Kitchen Therapy is that the way we eat, how we cook, reflects something significant about who we are, how we feel and what we might need. One way in to this conversation with ourselves, is to think of a favourite meal, or a signature dish. Remembering where you first had it, what’s special about it and so on. Recently, I invited a dear friend for lunch, to tell me about her signature dish. Arriving in a breeze of bohemian chic and easy laughter, I’m reminded what a good idea this is! I had made the wild garlic, mushroom miso soup that is my current favourite dish, as I know she’s gluten, dairy and mainly meat free. (For recipe, see end of interview.)
Amanda is off to work (laughter yoga session today, which she often combines with chocolate making workshops - perfect combination), so we get straight into lunch and interview: “Have we started recording already?”
yes, not to worry, this won’t be a podcast of our spoon clinking lunch conversation!
“Well, I found it really hard to think of what my signature dish would be, even if I’m following a recipe, I change it each time depending on my mood, what’s inspiring me or what’s in the cupboards.”
so I guess creative ‘of the moment’ would be your signature dish?
“Absolutely, but as life is so busy, my head’s often full of work, sales, accounting… so many facets to life, that my brain is often too full to be creative.”
ah, so what happens when there’s no time to cook?
“Well yesterday lunch was an onion baji with tofu, red pesto and tuna.. was delicious! - I just have to be creative with the time and things I have! what I like to do, is choose things that appeal to me during the day, little ideas and turn those into a meal”
I wonder if she ever finds, as I do, that sometimes I can spend so much time thinking about what I fancy and maybe ought to eat, that when it comes round to cooking, I’m over it, and have to start all over again…?!
“Oh god yes (rather long, poignant pause) - like when I was getting married… having gone into all the gorgeous romantic ideas, saw people arriving, lay awake listening to speeches… Well, I’d been there, and I felt like I’d done it…”
So, she began again, and decided to spend the money on a new kitchen instead! Amanda never fails in her ability to spring delightful moments of hilarity on me, but then I find for us all, as we delve into our relationship with food and cooking, all sorts of treasures are unveiled.
When our composure returned, I asked what her dish of the moment would be. She went off to grab photos of the recipe that her rather lovely man had recently cooked for her, to her great pleasure (and that of her teenage lad). Cod with prawns and fennel in a white wine sauce, unbelievably good. She, like me, adores fennel, and I have that sense of connection, as I think about adding the fresh fennel I found waiting in the fridge to today’s soup. (I use fennel seeds in nearly everything these days, great for digestion and a sweet hint of aniseed, which I love.)
Whilst cooking is satisfying, being cooked for is sublime. The feeling of being looked after with a meal, speaks a thousand words. But the key is the feeling works beautifully both ways, to give is to receive.
Thoughts of being cared for led us to think about the past, and how she used to find cooking a “full on nutritious meal” for her son, an essential and rewarding daily task. A vital and easy way to feel like a good parent. However, when a long distance relationship came along, life became disrupted. Now settled out of town, with the space to breathe, she’s once again enjoying both cooking and being cooked for. The difference this time, is in being able to receive this maternal nurture for herself, as well as needing to give this to others. A lesson learned. A new phase of life.
As we talked through what it meant to be able (or not) to cook for her son, Amanda realised that in spending time ‘just’ cooking for herself, she seemed to feel guilty. As we put our various musings together that lunch time, we realised how easy it is to move away from oneself, in the pursuit of ‘other’ aims. That cooking does provide a quick gateway to self care, but that we often seem to require someone else to justify using the key.
I read somewhere that we should look after ourselves like a small child - fresh air, plenty of rest, good food, time to play… as ever, our children can show us the way, if we listen and then take heed… Remembering that inside us all, there’s a precious part of ourselves that never can, will or needs to grow up.
How to make Wild Garlic, Mushroom and Miso Soup (today, with added fennel):
- Collect wild garlic (out of season use garlic cloves and peas instead)
- Chop ginger, mushrooms, and if time allows, an onion and celery stick too.
- Sizzle gently black or green ground pepper with some fennel seeds and a bay leaf, to seal in their spicy notes, laying a gently exotic flavour foundation.
- Saute the celery and onion if using (as the wild garlic is of the onion family, you can do without).
- Boil a kettle
- Add the mushrooms to the pan, sauté for a minute or so, I also added the fresh fennel at this point, you can maybe use up a courgette or another patiently waiting vegetable from the bottom draw!
- Add boiling water and spoonful or so of the following flavours - stock, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sweet chilli sauce, zest and juice of a lime or lemon - taste check your way through! (I sometimes add frozen peas for their sweet green protein ‘high five’.)
- Take it off the heat, stir in your miso paste, about a spoonful per bowl full
- Chop in your wild garlic, final taste check, and if you need, super quick blast of extra heat (not too much as you will weaken the miso and garlic raw power blast)
- Serve to self and or friend with sigh of content - life is good.