Setting: Two new friends in a small, bright kitchen cooking for the first time together.
In the half hour before she was supposed to arrive, I ran around like a crazy person hoping to get things in tip top shape for my cooking date. The kitchen had to be cleaner than it usually is, since I couldn’t allow a new friend to open my corner cabinet and find a bowl of sprouting potatoes amidst a haphazard pile of pots and pans. And my beat up, oversized toaster oven and bulky (but very well-used) slow cooker had to come off the countertops. Being cramped just wasn’t an option on a first cooking date. My new cooking friend was just what the doctor ordered to get my kitchen organized.
With the cabinets clean, dishwasher empty, counters glistening and hip music creating a background beat, I was ready-to-cook as her car pulled up to my house. As I watched her lug a 26-quart soup pot, half filled with a homemade veggie stock (her nanny was a vegetarian), I was duly impressed with my thoughtful friend before she even stepped into my house. The 16 cups of beautiful roasted pumpkin puree that I had just made humbly took a back seat.
We started talking without cooking, spending some moments getting to know one another. Upon realizing that we could spend the whole time talking and not getting a thing done, we soon began chopping onions for our curried pumpkin and black bean soup. While we efficiently hummed along, there were more than a few simple moments of thoughtfulness and sharing. As she struggled with my serrated knife, I offered my coveted Global chef’s knife, which she was used to using at home. And when my eyes began tearing from some unusually strong onions, aware of a sure fire remedy, she gallantly lit my gas stove. In seconds, my watery eyes were dry. I reminisced about my childhood, cooking with my Dad and how he used to say that it was ok to nip your finger here and there with a knife. That’s how I’d learn to be a good chopper, he explained. (There was a good amount of blood in my kitchen growing up though, and I have many scars on my fingertips to prove it!)
She told me how she hit the “husband lottery” when she found her man, while I shared how washing my face reminded me of my grandmother. Needless to say, a lot happened in the two hours that we cooked together. Not unimportantly, we made twelve quarts of soup and cleaned everything up, but we also got to know one another in a way that wouldn’t have been possible, over coffee or lunch. Cooking together triggered memories that would not have arisen had we simply been sitting across from each other in a coffee shop. We’re good cooking partners, but we also have a lot in common— two committed moms, trying to do it all.
There’s something about the intimacy of a kitchen, two people chopping, cooking and seasoning together as an ideal background to getting to know one another.
Here’s our recipe for Vegetarian Black Bean Soup:
1/8 cup olive oil
6 cups chopped onions
8 garlic cloves, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
4 large 1 pound cans Goya black beans (un-drained)
1 green pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 or 3 teaspoons cumin
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
juice of one lime
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1 large can drained petit diced tomatoes, drained
3 quarts veggie stock
Saute onion, garlic and celery in a few tablespoons olive oil. Add the beans, seasoning, bay leaves and stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. In a separately skillet, cook the diced green pepper and jalapeno in a bit of olive oil. Set aside. Take some of the soup out and puree until smooth. Put the pureed soup back into the pot. Add the peppers, fresh cilantro and diced tomatoes. Serve with cheese, sour cream and tortillas.