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"Memory … is the diary that we all carry about with us." (Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900)

These days, it seems that thoughts of food are never far from my mind. Whether it’s the long subway ride to work and back, a quiet  moment or two during the the work day, or those still moments just before I fall asleep, food always seems to be there. What has surprised me is how often those thoughts of food trigger memories, as though the two are inextricably linked. I’m often not sure which comes first … the memory of something food-related, or something food-related that sparks a memory.

These days, even the smell of food will bring back powerful memories. Take my maternal grandparents’ house, for example. Located in Toronto’s Little Italy, it was the centre of my family’s universe for many years. And it was rare that you would enter that house and not be greeted by the aroma of something cooking. The smell that I remember most and the one that I associate most with that house, is the smell of chicken stock.

My grandmother would make her stock with a whole chicken. THE WHOLE CHICKEN. Today we may turn our noses up at the sight of a chicken neck or the lovely layer of fat floating at the top of the stock pot, but to my grandmother, that was all flavour.

While we would occasionally have meat stock, usually made with veal bones, for the most part we were (and still are) a chicken stock family. So it was with mild surprise that I turned to A Beautiful Bowl of Soup, the Flavour of the Month for March 2006, and saw that the first recipe for stock, in fact the only recipe for stock in the cookbook, was one for vegetable stock. As strange as it may sound, I have never made vegetable stock. That is to say I’ve never made a proper vegetable stock to be used as an ingredient in other dishes.

I was intrigued … and a bit skeptical. Is it possible to make a flavourful stock, that can be used to enhance other dishes, with only vegetables?

Mitchell’s recipe called for onion, leeks, carrots, parsnips, garlic, tomato, and aromatics herbs including parsley and thyme. I was initially pleased that this vegetable stock required ingredients, like carrots and parsnips, that often end up wasting away, forgotten, in the back of my refrigerator. While it’s not tomato season, I liked that Mitchell included tomato in her recipe because we use it all the time when making chicken stock. Tomato adds a lovely colour to the stock. I was able to substitute the whole tomato with my mother’s jarred tomato pieces, which she makes at the end of summer with the last of our garden’s bounty.

And I must be honest. The smell in the house from the herbs and the cooking vegetables was intoxicating. But the final test would definitely be how well the stock tasted and how well it supported the recipe I used it for.

On the taste front, the stock scored high marks. It was sweet and flavourful with the essence of all the ingredients. It was warm and filling and beautiful in colour.

As for the recipe I tried, the stock served me well. I decide to make the Black Bean Soup with Mango Salsa for two reasons:  I had canned black beans in my pantry and I had some ripe mango, waiting to be used. While the black beans packed a nutritious punch, the flavour of the soup was vibrant and spicy. And the mango salsa was just the right touch as it cut through the thickness of the black beans.

I was impressed and happy with my first attempt at vegetable stock, and even more impressed with the first recipe I tried from A Beautiful Bowl of Soup. And interestingly enough, as the soup bubbled away on a quiet Saturday afternoon, I almost felt like I was back at my grandmother’s house.

Sweet memory.

Ciao!

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Black Bean Soup with Mango Salsa

Adapted from A Beautiful Bowl of Soup by Paulette Mitchell.

For the vegetable stock:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion or 2 to 3 shallots, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 large tomato, quartered (omit if you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes or really good canned tomatoes)
  • 2 or 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 celery stalks (preferably with leaves), cut into large pieces
  • 2 leeks (white parts only), well rinsed and cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 or 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 8 cups water
  • a handful of flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 or 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves (I used dried)
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  1. Dscn1251 In a stockpot, heat the oil and add the onion or shallots, tomato, carrots, celery, leeks, parsnip and garlic. Saute for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil.
  3. Once the stock is boiling, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for one hour.
  4. After an hour, remove the stock from the heat and let it come to room temperature.
  5. Once the stock has cooled, pour the stock through a fine-meshed sieve. With a spoon, press down on the solids in the sieve to remove as much stock as possible. Discard the solids.
  6. You can keep the stock in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or you can freeze it for up to 6 months.

For the mango salsa:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 ripe mango, diced
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno
  • salt, to taste
  1. Whisk together the lime juice and the brown sugar, until the brown sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  3. Taste the salsa and add salt according to your own tastes.
  4. Set the mango salsa aside while you make the soup. The mango salsa should be at room temperature.

For the black bean soup:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • Dscn1253 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon, red chili flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon, freshly ground pepper
  • salt to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Saute for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.
  2. Add the coriander and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the salt. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Once the soup has come to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes (if the soup reduces too much, add a bit of water).
  4. Transfer one cup of the beans and soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Return to the soup and mix well. Add salt to taste.
  5. Serve the soup with the mango salsa.
  6. Enjoy!