In food, like in writing, everyone has a distinct voice. I find it especially delightful when they make up the recipe as they go along like my mother does.
The reason you didn’t hear from me for a little while is that the baby and I were visiting my family. It’s wonderful to have four generations together – a very special and unique time.
Safta (Hebrew for grandma) and Vida played “boomba boomba” (a game invented on the spot), they visited the African exhibit (my mother’s collection of masks in the entrance to her apartment), and sang Twinkle Twinkle in English and Spanish.
At eight months old, my daughter is taking it all in with delight and a new sound akin to waaw – she doesn’t care that every sentence contains three languages, if not four. For my part, I don’t think there’s a sight sweeter than my daughter playing with her grandmother and cuddling with her great-grandmother.
The other day, I was reading with the baby on the floor when my mother started making her sopa de frijoles. Though I now have a daughter of my own and so am officially an adult, the smell that filled the apartment, reminded me of my childhood where onions sautéing always meant dinner.
My mother has a unique way of speaking, and so too is her cooking: this is not white linen napkin, seven-course dining. Instead, the food is simple, colourful and fresh. In fact I’m pretty sure that my love of all things veg comes directly from the food I ate growing up.
Have you ever heard my mother tell a story? She recounts events as if you missed the first part. Like the time she told me about “the man let me into the door even though he said they were closed because I said to him where else will I get the ice cream!” – Which man? Who was closed? Ice cream? On the plate, this translates to whimsical, comforting food that tastes like an afternoon spent surrounded by loving family members. They may drive you insane at times but nevertheless these are the people you love most in the world.
I couldn’t get enough of the soup. Best served in a mug, it was light yet hearty and warming. Rather than being a meal in and of itself as is often the case with legume-based dishes, it was a perfect accompaniment to bread and cheese and salad.
My mother has kindly permitted me to share her recipe here, and I happily do so in her unique voice.
Safta’s Sopa De Frijoles
Red beans (“I bought 500 grams, but used not all of it.”)
Baking soda (“less than an envelope”*)
Onion, chopped up (does the movement with her hand)
Cousbara** (“a little little bit”)
(more ingredients to follow)
“First you soak the beans for a looong time, more than overnight, with baking soda – I put less than an envelope. Then you wash them really well, you throw away the water.”
“You put the onion in the pot and fry it a little bit, then I added the beans, and the cousbara – just a little little bit. And the water. I covered the beans by a lot because I wanted it to be not so thick.”
“Then you cook it for a while until the beans are soft on a low flame (the beans cooked for about six hours). Add a little salt*** some smoked chile (Spanish smoked paprika) and some comino (cumin).”
Note: I later asked how much “chile” and cumin she had used, to which my mother replied “not too much.” When I pressed her for more precise information, she told me she hadn’t measured the exact amount, but could say “maybe a teaspoon, maybe more, or maybe less.”
“And then you mash them with the pasador.” (an immersion blender)
*an envelope is about a teaspoon
**otherwise known as coriander – in this case, fresh leaves
*** I watched with shock and horror as my mother poured salt straight from the kg bag of Sel de Guerande. Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t use a lot of it, never has, which is probably why there isn’t a dish for it.