I PICKED UP Nigel Slater’s “The Kitchen Diaries” last night from the shelf it’s lived on between uses here since 2006, when first released. I have all these winter squash, you see, and all these onions, and I recalled a happy marriage of them within its pages. What a serendipity to find that the book has recently been re-released after a time out of print, and that I could get a couple of copies to share with you. The latest giveaway, then, and Slater’s recipe for a soup of the moment, the one that kicks off the book’s year of in-the-moment cooking: dal and pumpkin, topped with onions sautéed with a kick of chili and garlic.
I almost went for Nigel Slater‘s baked onions with Parmesan and cream, and oh, the chickpea and sweet potato curry called out, too (it calls for pumpkin and onions both).
“The Kitchen Diaries” is a book about “right food, right place, right time,” in Slater’s words, and though the precise diary days he fills in this delicious year may not match mine, exactly—Slater is in England—they unfold in similar order. “Learning to eat with the ebb and flow of the seasons is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable,” he writes, eschewing the modern-day supermarket’s all-possibilities-all-the-time approach.
Slater’s kitchen doors open onto a small urban London garden, and as I read the recipes and other musings on the weeks and months in the year, I can imagine him moving in and out to gather springs of this and that as a recipe bubbles on the stove–the dish evolving with each such interaction. His handcrafted, informal approach to cookery encourages us to improvise and find our inspiration with the moment of the market, and the garden.
“By growing something myself, from seed or a small plant,” he writes, “I feel closer to understanding how and when a pear, a crab apple, a fava bean or a raspberry is at its best.”
And so today is the day of onions and pumpkins, and into the pan and pot they’ll go, hopefully coming out like this (in Slater’s words and a photo by Jonathan Lovekin, all from the book):
Recipe and photo excerpted from THE KITCHEN DIARIES by Nigel Slater. Copyright (c) 2012 by Nigel Slater. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking Studio, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
- a small onion
- garlic – 2 cloves
- ginger – a walnut-sized knob
- split red lentils – 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons ground turmeric – 11⁄4 teaspoons
- chili powder – 1-1/4 teaspoons
- pumpkin – 2 cups
- cilantro – a small bunch, roughly chopped
for the onion topping:
- onions – 2 medium
- peanut oil – 2 generous tablespoons
- chili peppers – 2 small hot ones
- garlic – 2 cloves
Peel the onion and chop it roughly. Peel and crush the garlic and put it with the onion into a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan. Peel the ginger, cut it into thin shreds and stir that in too. Add the lentils and pour in 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to an enthusiastic simmer. Stir in the ground turmeric and chili powder, sea- son and leave to simmer, covered, for twenty minutes.
While the soup is cooking, bring a medium-sized pan of water to a boil. Peel the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and pulp, then cut the flesh into fat chunks. Boil the pumpkin pieces for ten minutes, until they are tender enough to pierce with a skewer without much pressure. Drain them and set them aside.
To make the onion topping, peel the onions and cut them into thin rings. Cook them in the oil in a shallow pan until they start to color. Cut the chili peppers in half, scrape out the seeds and slice the flesh finely. Peel and finely slice the garlic and add it with the peppers to the onions. Continue cooking until the onions are a deep golden brown. Set aside.
Remove the lid from the lentils and turn up the heat, boiling hard for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the drained pumpkin. Puree the soup in a blender (for safety, a little at a time) until smooth, then pour it into a bowl. Stir in the roughly chopped cilantro and check the seasoning. I find this soup likes a more generous than usual amount of salt.
Serve in deep bowls with a spoonful of the spiced onions on top. Makes four good-sized bowls.
more about nigel slater
NIGEL SLATER is a prolific producer of award-winning books, exceedingly popular BBC cooking series and documentaries, and food columns for “The Observer.” His latest book, “The Kitchen Diaries II,” was released in September in the UK, and is gradually making its way here. Oh, dear, seems as if another cookbook is eventually headed to my already-sagging shelf.
how to win ‘the kitchen diaries’
ENTER TO WIN a copy of the newly reissued “The Kitchen Diaries” by Nigel Slater by commenting below, answering this question: What ingredients are “in season” for you right now–the ones you think are the “right food, right place, right time” at this very moment in your year?
I’m still working on my crop of homegrown Brussels sprouts (usually just roasted), and of course all those winter squash I mentioned.
If you are feeling shy, just say “count me in” and I will, but I’d love to hear what’s in your pantry or pot. I’ll choose two winners at random after entries close at midnight Thursday, December 20. Good luck to all!