A girl does have to eat, after all, and Sunday seems to be a good day for cooking, especially after a visit to the local market. Our market is small as is befitting: we are a very small town. There are larger markets in the two towns on either side of us --Chiché to the west and Zacualpa to the east. There is also a market in Santa Cruz every day, with larger market days on Sunday and Thursday. Where I shop depends upon what I am doing on which day and what I need. I have to be strategic as there is not a wide variety of fresh produce available in my town at a decent price except on market days, and a lot of stores close early, and especially if it is raining. Since I am in Santa Cruz several times during the week at the radio, I will sometimes stop and pick up a few things. But most of the vendors are closed up by late afternoon, and so if I leave the radio at 6, there are not that many produce vendors around. If it is raining, I don't usually stop. Chiché's main market is on Saturday, with a smaller market on Wednesday; Zacualpa's is on Sunday. Chiché is also closer, so I rarely go to Zacualpa just for purchases, but if I am in Zacualpa for some other reason I will make some purchases. It's like Cuba, in some ways: it pays to keep a shopping bag with you, and to keep your eyes open, because you might see something you need that is not available elsewhere, or at a much better price.
I do shop at my local market on the theory that one should support local economies. Of course, all the other markets are also local economies, but this is the local economy of where I live, and then there's the convenience factor (I don't have to take out my car and deal with parking).
As I've mentioned in earlier blogs, globalized agriculture and production for export have affected even hyperlocal markets like ours, where almost no one is in export-oriented vegetable production. I'm not sure where the "farm raised" (which means large-scale farm) chickens come from; they are all over local markets and much more widely available, and also cheaper, than gallinas criollas (the leaner, more muscular ones that have been allowed to run around and are not pumped up with hormones). So some non-native vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are available pretty much year round.
I am planning to have some friends over to celebrate Rosh Hashonah on Wednesday, but I have a small and not very powerful fridge, so I didn't want to buy everything today, especially not chicken for the main dish. I'll have to get that on Tuesday somewhere. But I got some carrots and beets (I'm planning to make a carrot salad and a beet salad, or I might combine them into one) -- the beet greens will be for tonight -- cilantro, potatoes, limes, a cucumber, and then for only the second time since I've been here, a cauliflower. I've kind of resisted this, not quite sure why. I love cauliflower, and I'm not under any illusion that I am supporting local agriculture more by not buying cauliflower.
So I bought it, without being quite sure what I would do with it. But then I thought about the wonderfully airy and light focaccia I brought back from Xela with me, and decided to make a cauliflower soup. I don't have any vegetable stock or access to any kind of packaged broth or broth mix that is not mostly MSG and chemicals, so I made it just with water. I thought about adding some milk to make it more creamy, but I decided against it, and added a bit of cream of wheat (I had some leftover lying around). I think it's quite tasty. I use a home-made curry powder -- I use Madhur Jaffrey's recipe in World Vegetarian Cooking as a guide, although I don't measure anything. Below is a rough recipe:
Curried cauliflower soup a la chapin
1 head cauliflower, washed and broken into florets (I use the stem and cut it into chunks)
2 medium potatoes, washed and cut into coarse chunks
2-3 scallions cut into small pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 bay leaves (optional: I forgot them)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
several stalks of fresh coriander, washed and coarsely chopped
salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons, maybe more)
1 tablespoon cream of wheat (optional)
water (or good vegetable stock if you have it; I don't)
Heat oil in a decent sized pot with a lid. Saute scallions over medium heat, lower and add garlic, stir for a bit. Sprinkle dry spices and stir for about a minute, then add potatoes and cauliflower pieces, stir to blend with the spices. Then add the fresh cilantro and enough water just to cover (maybe 5 cups? I told you, I don't measure anything). Bring to the boil, then turn heat down, add about 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, cover and simmer until cauliflower and potatoes are just tender (poke with a fork or knife). Remove from heat, and then remove the bay leaves if you remember to put them in, and puree in a blender or food processor in batches (you will need a second pot to put the puree in). If it seems too thick, you can add some more water (or milk or cream if you like).
If soup is too thin (mine was): In a small bowl, blend the cream of wheat with about 2 tablespoons of water, and then add several tablespoons of the soup, blending until you have a smooth paste, and then add more soup until it is more liquid than paste. Add back into the soup, whisking lightly.
In either case, reheat the soup, taste for salt and seasonings. You can serve as is, or with some yogurt or what have you.
Curry powder (proportions are just a rough guide)
1 tablespoon whole cumin seed
2 tablespoons whole coriander seed
1-2 dried red peppers (depending upon size and heat; I'd start with 1 and add a second if it seems too bland)
1 stick cinnamon
6 whole cloves
1-1.2 teaspoons whole black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon whole cardamom (removed from pods)
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon brown mustard seed
In a small heavy skillet, roast the WHOLE spices (i.e. not the turmeric) over a low flame just until they are fragrant, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, add the turmeric and stir. Let cool slightly. Grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder (I use an old coffee grinder), or you can use a blender or a mini-processor. Store in a glass jar. Keeps for months. This is a good all purpose curry powder, much better than most of what you can buy commercially, and you can make it hotter if you like. If you only have 1 of the last three ingredients (mustard seed, fenungreek, or cardamom) you will be fine! If you decide to add another dried pepper, you should roast it as well and then regrind the whole thing so that it is evenly mixed in. Oh, and all of these spices are available in Guatemala, although I didn't know that when I came here and so I brought curry powder that I had made back in Brooklyn. It's still good, many months later.