Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cream of Tomato Soup with Popcorn

AKA Camelot Soup.

Apparently the alternate title needed some explanation. Here's the logic train:

Whereas we were going to see Camelot at the Cincinnati Ballet tonight, and whereas the JFK White House was known as "Camelot," we should eat whatever soup they ate at the January 20, 1961 JFK inaugural luncheon.

I guess my friends don't automatically think of the Kennedys when they think Camelot. It's like they didn't grow up obsessed with JFK for the morbidly narcissistic reason that he died on their birthdays or something. Pffft, some people!

Childhood fascination aside, the last few years have done a lot to solidify this link in my mind. First there was this gorgeous show at the Newseum, Creating Camelot, a photography exhibit featuring the works of the Kennedy family's personal photographer, Jacques Lowe. It was so intimate and full of light, I was wholly sucked into the glamour that took over the country at that time. The Kennedys were totally Instagram before Instagram. Impressive. (Also, J-Lowe, hit me up I need that filter.)

Then of course there was the James Franco-helmed Hulu series 11.22.63, based on the superfun Stephen King read of the same name - and I may have previously established my feelings about Franconian delights.

Forgot how cute I looked in that red suit.

And there's still-haunting-me performance by Natalie Portman in Jackie, which featured the Camelot original cast recording prominently when not playing that best-ever original score.

So, to my dear friends, there's the defense of my logic. THERE'S SO MUCH JFK I SWEAR MY BRAIN IS NORMAL! Still, sorry about the lack of Medieval Times style giant meat on bones. At least the soup tasted good. (Or at least they smiled about it.)

After the ballet, Nick (bottom right) asked me: "What was the soup, again?"
Me: "Cream of tomato."
Nick: "What was special about it?"
Me: "Nothing, really."

The normalest ingredients.

And I'd say that was accurate. Not really a head-turner, not causing any traffic accidents -- just a solid, standard, nothing-wrong-with-it cream of tomato soup. It was better than a can of Campbell's, and I am starting to trust my slow-cooker instincts finally.

8am: Soup begins.

Here's the special part though: Tyler made French bread from scratch for the first time and it was fabulous. Perfect accompaniment for the soup. The popcorn really made for fun croutons (new revelation for any pureed soup, I would say), but you can't really beat fresh, homemade bread.

Nothing wrong with any of that at all. Not pictured: Molly's snickerdoodle brownie's for dessert. BRB drooling again.

Anyway, yeah! Are you hungry for tomato soup with basil and a good dose of cheese, but that isn't so creamy you forget there were tomatoes? This works! Dip some stuff in it, then (optionally) go watch a nice young man in eyeliner dance the part of Lancelot and definitely don't text weird things to your friends for like 24 hours following about how hard he was working that necklace -- I mean, LanceHOT amirite?

The best thing, though, was just having friends filling my apartment with talk and laughter. I haven't had many people over since I moved in last year. Never really celebrated or felt like celebrating. But maybe that's starting to change. Thanks, friends; and thanks, soup. Soupelot.

Oh wait, I forgot the other best thing. Cowbobby:

Cream of Tomato Soup with Popcorn

Serves 8-10

For soup:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup carrot, diced
1/4 cup fennel, diced
1/4 cup leek (white and light green parts), diced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
3 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
Piece of Parmigiano Reggiano rind

To finish:
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano
1 cup heavy cream
Salted popcorn
Small sprigs of basil

Melt butter in a pan over medium and add red onion, carrot, fennel, leek and garlic, and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes if desired. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft.

Add to slow cooker along with basil, thyme, tomatoes, broth, bay leaf and Parm rind. Cook on low for 8 hours (or high for a few hours I guess? I'm still not great at slow cookers).

Remove bay leave and Parm rind from soup, add cheeses and cream, and puree with an immersion blender. Check for seasoning (you should be fine after all that cheese) and serve, topped with basil and popcorn.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Guacamole Soup

Ever come across the phrase "hot avocado" and thought "I need some of that in my life"? No? Well then you, my friend, are probably in the majority; and, believe it or not, the majority gets it right once in a while. 

But that is so not the point of Soupruary. The point is ably and succinctly demonstrated above by my lovely assistant (who just happened to be wearing a shirt reading "lovely" - COINCIDENCE??): get together, share an experience, accept help, maximize quality time every day, and bonus points for making the soup match the walls. 

Go back up to that first pic and check out Maya's postmodern plating. Her talent with a spoon is undeniable and she managed to keep everything pretty clean as she went, drizzling the soup with lime-cilantro cream and then popping in a little fresh tomato salad. She completed her tableside presentation by stirring my bowl for me, making sure the cream was incorporated and the tomatoes well distributed. What a pro.

If you said the title of this post to yourself, you probably pronounced it wrong. I'll have my lovely assistant demonstrate:


If you said it, though, with a skeptical hike of the eyebrow and a question mark at the end, you were also correct. This all started sometime last month when my dearest friend (and Maya-mum) Priya let me know that her precocious 3-year-old had requested "guacamole soup." Said request came with a full list of ingredients, even: guacamole, avocado, apple juice and powder. I stayed pretty close to that list, I must say, if you're willing to accept apple cider vinegar as an apple juice substitute. One thing I should have clarified with the author prior to attempting the recipe, though, whether this was meant to be served chilled. I'm not sure what the answer would have been, but I know what it should have been. 

I did find a recipe for guacamole soup online, a slow cooker jam that made sense for trying out on a weeknight. I was still iffy, but the post was so positive that I thought, hey - this probably human blogger would never lie to me! Not to say the soup was bad enough that I'm now questioning her species, just saying it was markedly odd enough that I'm suspicious said blogger might be less concerned with accuracy than appearances. Hey, A Spicy Perspective: 

Okay, let's focus on the positives for a while. This soup really is just a pile of everything that would go into guacamole, thrown in a crock pot. I came home at lunch to get it started, and it took all of five minutes. If you know me, that's not necessarily a positive on the enjoyment scale, but it definitely worked on the busy-day scale. 

Mmm, sludgeamole.
I doctored up the recipe I started with in a few ways. Before I pureed, I added in a big handful of cilantro and another one of spinach. I wanted the cilantro flavor (one of the best parts of gwock, IMHO), and the color of slow cooked avocado was turning less summer fresh than fresh diaper. 

Green it up a bit, and boom - no longer disturbing! I also blended sour cream with lime, lime zest, cilantro and a bit of salt that that to that satisfying swirl, as well as a delicious accompaniment for the brussels sprout/kale enchiladas I made (and a great dip for raw veggies at my desk the next day). For texture, I halved grape tomatoes and tossed them with cilantro, scallions, lime, honey and apple cider vinegar. Also pretty tasty. And guess what: So was the soup, once we sat at the table long enough for it to get cold. Good to dip chips in, tonally salsa-verde-ish, probably a decently satisfying enchilada sauce itself. But in the end, perhaps I should have stuck with Maya's recipe. 

Since I don't necessarily recommend trying this one out, I'm not going to include the recipe here. When Priya dropped me off after dinner, she called after me "the soup was good" in a way that meant "don't worry; the soup was technically edible and no one died." And that was plenty for us - the thing I remember from this night won't be failed-ish soup; it'll be girl-time with Priya, talking Ryan Adams for the millionth time with Dave, holding baby Leena and squishing her soft calves, and having black-bean-based counting lessons with Maya Grace. It's quality time with my Cincinnati family and I loved it. Plus, I got to steal a few extra bites of lemon bundt cake while Priya nibbled on some dessert-Leena.

And if you want some adorable continuity, check out Priya's dessert back in Soupruary 2014. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Miso Polenta Breakfast Soup

No joke I would (and might) eat this ev uh ree mor ning. If I saw this on a menu I would be like “yup gotta,” but the reality is better than the description. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then this baby right here is what I would choose to set me up for the most important day of my life. Hyperbolic? Maybe, but I’m going through my mind-rolodex of past brekkies and I can’t think of one I’d prefer. So have fun with your crepes, your omelets, your McGriddles; I’ll have the soup, thanks.

More simply: Dear Miso Polenta Breakfast Soup,

This new obsession would never have happened had I not assessed my carb holdings on the night I made Cat Soup. At that time, I was like “would polenta soup even work?” The thought popped into my head again yesterday, which drove me to some light late-night (AKA 7pm) Ggoogling. Guess what is totally a thing? POLENTA SOUP.

With that question answered within a few nanoseconds, I was about to close ye olde browser window and get to work on dreaming up my version, but a shiny purdy thing caught my magpie-eye. Polenta soup with miso? I’m nowhere near confident enough to have thought of such a thing and yet I had to have it. Plus it was from Serious Eats, a website that has yet to steer me wrong? Welp, that tears it.

Therefore, we have my first adapted recipe of the year. I altered some ingredients, knocked the serving size down to uno, and unveganed it by adding that uovo – but it stays pretty true to the inspiration. Obviously, you can reveganize it by not using an egg, easy-peasy (eggsy-peggsy).

But look at that yolk though.

As Stefon would say, this soup has everything. Soybeans. Fermented Soybeans. Green stuff. A poached egg. Ground up corn that sounds fancier than grits. The ability to make you think you're living the right life and you can and will achieve all your dreams. 

Another super fun thing about this recipe: As promised by Serious Eats, the miso does an incredible trick in making you think there's Parmesan cheese in here. I don't know why I didn't think of this before, particularly since I'm well aware that David Chang uses this trick at Momofuku Nishi, but now that I've tried it I'm really excited for the pastabilities.

You could certainly make this at any point in the day, but it works so well in the morning. Despite having everything, there aren't really many ingredients, and the ingredients it does have take little to no preparation.

As soon as you dump the polenta in, you have 20 minutes of down-time, which - and this is probably obvious a.k.a. PROBVIOUS - is a perfect time to leave the pot on the stove and hop in the shower. It's all so easy and you'll feel so good, I promise. And it keeps you satisfied all the way until lunch!

Be sure to allow at least 10 minutes to sit down and enjoy your soup while thinking about how far you've clearly come in your journey of self love, to have made such a pretty thing just for you before work.

Don't read this part: This morning I was singing "Egg, you'll be a poached egg soon" to the tune of "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon" okay bye forever!

Miso Polenta Breakfast Soup

Serves 1

½ tablespoon coconut oil
White part from ½ of a small leek, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup vegetable broth of Better Than Bouillon No-Chicken Base (what I used)
1 cup water
¼ cup polenta
1 big handful baby kale leaves (a heaping cup, not packed)
2 teaspoons white miso paste
½ teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
1 scallion, thinly sliced, separated into green and white parts
1 egg
1 tablespoon frozen edamame (just the beans, not in shells), thawed
Black sesame seeds
Toasted sesame oil

Heat coconut oil in a small pot over medium low and add leeks, seasoning with a bit of salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring so it doesn’t start to stick, then add pepper flakes and garlic and cook for another minute. Add broth, water and polenta and turn up heat to bring to a boil. Cover and turn heat to low, then cook for about 20 minutes until polenta is cooked through (time to take a shower!).

Poach the egg: Bring a lil pot of water to a low boil (with a splash of rice vinegar or white vinegar if you’d like to). Crack egg into a small cup or bowl. Stir water to form a whirlpool and dump the egg in the center. Let cook for 90 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on how you like it. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on a plate.

Add kale to polenta pot and stir to wilt. Stir in white miso paste, soy sauce and white portion of sliced scallion, making sure there are no clumps of miso left intact to umami-bomb your morning. Pour into a bowl, and top with poached egg, edamame, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Light Coconut Curry Cod Soup with Jalapeño Garlic Rice

I'd call this Triple-C Soup, but that sounds overwhelmingly Fierian. Why did you have to take triple letters from us, Guy?!? Maybe I could get away with "C-Cubed"? Curried Captain Hook? C&C Cod Factory? CC Cool S? Okay, we'll stick with the more informative post title.

As you can tell from the above photo, by the time this soup was complete we were much too deep in conversation to properly stage it. But at least this gives you a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Where My Dishtowel Was. Congrats on your all-access pass to my pathological inability to clean as I go. [Note to self: Write a one-woman stage play entitled Where My Dishtowel Was. Subtitle to follow.]

Another behind-the-scenes look: As evidenced by legs/torsos - we were all taking the same picture at the same time. This soup is heavily documented, if poorly so. I mean, how else do you kill time while the scents of curry and ginger waft gently toward your nose and I'm playing interference with my iPhone like "not yet!"?

There's something I love so much about looking at a jumble of ingredients and considering what it could turn into. Every soup lately has started like my own personal Mystery Box Challenge, and I'm dangerously into it. In this case, I wasn't the most stoked I've ever been when sussing out what I had to work with, but that makes it even more rewarding when I'm happy with the results.

In this case, I'd originally thought I wanted to use potatoes rather than rice, making a sort of chowder (I would have used a larger can of coconut milk and less broth). I also wanted prawns in it, as I'm afraid I formed a slight shrimp dependence during my recent foray in Africa (sorry or whatever, Cholesterol). Here's the thing: I stayed at work later than I'd thought I would, so those ideas turned into nopes. But with rice taken from bland to bright enough to be in the Miss Universe National Costumes parade combined with cod so supple you'd swear it was fed only whatever Gwyneth Paltrow is currently putting on her preternaturally young skin, I was happy to have worked with what I had. Welcome to 2017: a kinder, gentler Soupruary.

Did you see those golden, crispy-fried jalapeño slices on top of the soup? I was informed they were dope, and I'm inclined to corroborate said dopeness. This pepper had clearly been putting in some gym time to increase its Scoville rating (the little 'peño that could), but adding some cumin and cayenne to its dusting of rice flour before popping it into hot coconut oil was not the worst idea I had today.

If you're curious what the worst idea I had today was, it was typing the word "could" in the above paragraph as "cood." Is 6:31pm bedtime? Asking for a me.

This is definitely a soup that works as a full meal, with lots of chunky vegetables and a hearty dose of flavor-packed brown rice. With the cod, heated by the soup until just cooked through and tender like a kiss on your gramma's forehead, you'll have everything you need in one bowl - as demonstrated by the snacktermath still on the table.

Just a few snacks leftover.

Okay, side note: IT'S A VERY EXCITING DAY TODAY! All hail Greta Gerwig, mumblecore is finally a word! It and more than 1,000 other words were birthed into the world of official American English via the social media masterminds lexicographers over at Merriam-Webster (but seriously, follow them on Twitter). They put out a very helpful official release, but my coworker Molly sent over this also informative Buzzfeed article with 100% more gifs. 

And a final note on the soup because this is definitely a blog about soup for sure: This is gluten-free, if that’s a thing that your body vibes on, and if you wanted it to be vegan all you’d have to do would be not use the cod and it would still be mighty satisfying. Tofu would taste quite proper here, if you want some pro- to the -tein. (What? I’m going to bed.)

Light Coconut Curry Cod Soup with Jalapeño Garlic Rice

Serves 4

For rice:
1 teaspoon coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ of a jalapeño, diced
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon (or more!) chopped cilantro
Zest of one lemon (or lime!)

For soup:
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
1 small can of coconut milk (mine was a little under 6 oz. – you could use more if you want the soup to be thicker though)
3 cups vegetable broth
2 medium zucchini, halved and cut into ¼” thick slices
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
12 oz. cod, cut into bite-size pieces

For garnish:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
½ jalapeño, sliced thin
¼ of a small red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
½ cup rice flower
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne (or less/none if you don’t want to add heat or have a particularly spicy pepper)
Cilantro leaves

Make the rice:

Heat oil over medium in a small pot and add garlic and jalapeño and cook for about 60 seconds, stirring to make sure garlic doesn’t burn. Add rice and cook for another minute or so, stirring to toast up a bit. Add broth and water along with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and turn down to simmer, then let it cook until all liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes (or more depending on your particular rice – probably easiest to check cooking instructions on package).

Make the soup:

Heat oil in a pot over medium, add onions and ginger and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent but not browning. Stir in curry powder and cook about 1 minute. Add coconut milk, stirring to dissolve all the thick white cream. Add broth and zucchini and bring to a low boil. Cook until zucchini is soft, about 7 minutes. Add peas and cod and cook until peas are heated and cod is cooked through – which only takes 2 or 3 minutes.

Make the garnish and finish the rice:

On a small plate, mix up rice flour, cumin, cayenne (if using) and a good pinch of salt. Heat coconut oil over medium high in a small pan. Toss jalapeño slices with flour mixture and throw into the oil. Fry until golden and crispy on one side, then flip and do the same on the other. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and repeat process with red onion.

Just before serving, add cilantro and citrus zest to rice and stir with a fork. Place about half a cup of rice in each bowl and top or surround with soup. Top with cilantro leaves, fried jalapeño and red onion. Serve with a wedge of lemon or lime if you feel like it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Garam Masala-Spiced Acorn Squash Soup

Sometimes you think you're putting lipstick on a pig when you're actually gilding the lily acorn squash.

See, the acorn squash is full of subtlety. It's not as in your face flavor-wise as a butternut or a pumpkin, as gimmicky as spaghetti squash (GET OVER YOURSELF, YOU AREN'T NOODLES), or as trendy-yet-annoying-to-find-in-Ohio as the kabocha. Its flesh is tender and sweet, it's a snap to prepare, and it's such a beautiful dark green with those big bold ridges that it looks great sitting in a bowl on your counter for multiple weeks before you decide to finally cook it.

Because the word acorn has now been rolling around in my brain like an acorn (WHOA) for the past half hour or so, here's the classic meme equivalent of this super cute-curbit:

Also shout-out to anyone who got my extremely hilarious cute-curbit joke.

 Just a bit garam masala is the perfect spice blend to turn it into the soup equivalent of that cozy oversize sweatshirt you slip into after being caught in the rain. And here I was roasting seeds and making quick pickles to try to add some texture, crunch and acid, when none of those nouns have any business being near your cozy oversize sweatshirt. So here are all the ingredients actually needed to make this soup (with a caveat that I'm going to recommend something else in a minute):

Uhh, wait a minute, Corrie. You didn't say nothin' about no tofu. Calm down, bruh. I'm just tryna get jacked on some clean protein while adding creaminess and body to this soup without adding a lot of extra fat and calories. Thought you were about that life! It's right there in the name: silken tofu. Now tell me "silken soup" isn't the right word combo to finally make soup sound like luh-zhuh-ree.

Silken tofu is actually a great trick for smoothing out and beefing up (in a vegetarian manner of speaking) a pureed soup without changing the flavor. It will, however, mute the color. Which is why if/when I remake this, I'll use equal parts shallot and diced carrot as the base (and will write the recipe to reflect that course correction). The soup doesn't need more sweetness, really, but it could use some help maintaining the lovely light orange of the squash in it's pre-tofu'd state.

And now for a word about garam masala, in case you're unfamiliar. It's a blend that can be made with different proportions of different spices, but in general it'll have savory notes of cumin, coriander and black pepper along with warming flavors like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and clove. In fact, as Wikipedia tells me, "the word garam refers to heating the body in the Ayurvedic sense." If this sounds a bit too exotic for you, just think of it as a South-Asian Pumpkin Spice Latte minus the espresso, and you pretty much have it.

A word about the unnecessary accoutrements: I'm not saying they weren't good. In fact, I'm munching on some of these spicy, tangy radish and carrot pickles as I type. And I already finished off all the roasted seeds. Just because they weren't necessary in this bowl doesn't mean they weren't necessary in my mouth.

Pre-brine Pinteresty-pretty.

Honestly it would be a waste to not make these roasted acorn squash seeds, so don't you dare throw them in the trash. They just didn't quite hold their crunch long enough in the soup to be worth throwing on top.

After you scoop out the seeds, just rinse them to get rid of their clingy pulp, toss them with a bit of coconut oil (or whatever oil you like), sprinkle on some salt and garam masala and let them roast alongside the acorn squash for about 10-12 minutes or until they're just as crispy and brown as you like 'em, then get full on 'em while you're waiting for the squash to finish.


In conclusion: My friend Katie has a thing for squirrels. Not in a tacky way where there's a big sign on her door reading "I'm nuts about squirrels!", or a weird way where she wears taxidermy squirrel foot earrings, or even in a lonely way where her only hobby is watching through the window for a furryfluffycutie to come snack it up in a unicorn squirrel feeder (although I'm getting so many ideas for future gifts right now). She just has a few very tasteful, mostly monochromatic squirrel-themed items around her charming house -- and does a killer squirrel impression, of course. So when I was doing some post-Christmas shopping at Fountain Square Booksellers and ran into a muted gold frosted-glass acorn filled with a warm vanilla-scented candle on the holiday clearance table, I knew it had to be Katie's. That's the kind of friend I am: The kind who will totally buy you a used-to-be-$20 candle for $1.99 and then tell you the whole story. And the moral of the story is: Henceforth this is the only acceptable type of acorn to gild.

Garam Masala-Spiced Acorn Squash Soup (Vegan, btw!)

Serves 4

1 acorn squash
4 teaspoons coconut oil
Approx. 2 teaspoons garam masala
1 medium shallot, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable broth
6 oz. silken tofu (any firmness will do)

Heat oven to 350 F. Slice acorn squash in half and scoop out seeds, reserving to roast. Rub the flesh of each squash half with about a teaspoon of coconut oil, then sprinkle each with a generous pinch of salt and garam masala. Roast for 1 hour, then remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Heat 2 teaspoons coconut oil in medium pot over medium heat. Add shallots and carrots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (8 minutes or so). Remove squash flesh from skins - you can do this by peeling the skin off, scooping out with a spoon, or even squeezing it out. Whatever floats your boat.

Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garam masala (depending on your taste) to pot and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add broth, water, acorn squash and silken tofu, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender until completely smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Maybe you have better ideas for accompaniments - I'm sure some nice little croutons would be fun, and most likely just the right herb is out there. My chief concern with this soup is not getting in the way of that subtle squash flavor. Let me know if you think of the perfect topping!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Fetri Detsi: Ghanaian Okro Soup

Every bit of this soup was made from scratch over hot coals by a class of 11-13 year-olds in an underprivileged public school in the Jamestown neighborhood of Accra, and it is staggeringly beautiful. 


The smells in this classroom were as vibrant, fresh and fearless as Ghana itself, and so were the kids Tyler and I were lucky enough to spend about an hour with. But we'll get to that later. My story of fetri detsi starts the night before, at a restaurant called Buka in the Osu district of Ghana. We got off to a promising start with a greeting from a rather fat and friendly frog.

Once upstairs, we were seated at a patio table with a perfect breeze in the 80-degree evening, and whiled away the wait for dinner watching the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations and sipping on palm wine and coconut water right-out-the-coconut. The menu featured Ghanaian and Nigerian specialties, and I settled on okro (same as okra, they just make it more manly I guess) soup with its traditional accompaniment, banku.

Banku is that mound on the left, and it's one of the bajillion Ghanaian staples made from cassava. In this case, it's cassava and corn flours fermented and pounded into this slightly sour, sticky dough. You grab bits with your fingers and use it to soup-scoop. Sounds easy, right? It's a bit more challenging than you might think because the soup itself has certain qualities not unlike pizza cheese in an early-90s Little Caesars commercial. To all my friends who say they don't like okra because of the slime, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Slime in this dish is a point of pride. The word mucilaginous comes to mind but, honestly, doesn't do it justice.

Ghanaians probably watched You Can't Do That on Television and were like "pffft, amateurs." Seriously, whether I was using my spoon or my banku-caked fingers, I would pull and pull, thinking that at some point the slime would break. And time and time again I was proven wrong. The slime is persistent, and the slime is delicious.

I've been a fan of okra since I first had it, which admittedly wasn't until after college when I moved to South Carolina and they were like "this is a vegetable" and I was like "oh cool give me some." I know I'd been previously aware of its existence, but growing up in central California it wasn't exactly part of our everyday (or any day) diet. But since then I've considered myself all-in in any preparation I've had (particularly bhindi masala though - oh man, I want it now). This preparation, I can't lie, was a little challenging. I've never considered myself to be an "I don't like the texture person" but this texture coats your tongue in something you've only previously seen secreted by aliens in horror films and dares you to change your taste paradigm and keep going. The second challenge is the spice level, which is high. This isn't a "what spice level 1-6?" situation, this is a "we make it this way" situation. Even as a big fan of hot things, I had to take a few breathers.

I must reiterate here: okro soup is DELICIOUS. It just takes a bit of reconfiguration.

But it became so much more than delicious the next day. I gained a new appreciation for it when Tyler and I were welcomed by Dominic, the teacher of the cooking class at Accra Sempe 1 Primary School. He gave us time to introduce ourselves and let the kids figure out if they liked us (they were v. cool), and then it was time for us to be simply amazed.

We were shown how the kids start from raw cassava, peeling and hacking it up with a sharp knife incredibly deftly before putting it out in the sun to dry in order to be ground and milled into flour. Seriously, he only looked at the cassava maybe once every 4 or 5 slashes. I was so jealous of his ease.

Eat your heart out, MasterChef Junior.
We were shown the mashing of okro, onions and garden eggs (which do not as I assumed hatch pets for the Cabbage Patch Kids; they're just eggplants) to compose the soup base. 

We were shown the pounding and pressing through a sieve of kpakpo shito, the super spicy peppers that lend their fiery juices to the soup (and also are made into the ubiquitous and addictive red and green pepper condiments served with every meal). And the tough physical labor involved in working the banku dough and forming it into dense, flavorful and uniform little packages.

At the same time, kids at two other stations were busy whipping up other local dishes like total pros. This shouldn't be a total surprise, as Dominic told us most of these kids starting helping cook at their parents' sides when they were 5 or 6 years old. The confidence these kids had in the kitchen - which to remind, was some school room tables, pots and pans, and bowls of coals with grates set over them - left me feeling both inspired and inadequate.

But it wasn't just the skills, it was the fun, too. They were working hard, but one boy whose name was Wele (not sure on spelling there) asked if he could take my phone for a photo shoot, which of course led to some of my favorite photos of the day:

And I got some cute ones of the kids goofing off, as well:

Samuel, who Dominic told us was the best student in class and who told us many times that God would bless our families, took some time to tell Tyler about his favorite footballers (all the while incredulous that Tyler herself had been a goalkeeper):

But overall, with warmth and kindness and joy, in a spare kitchen with no air conditioning when it was over 90 outside and hotter with bare feet literally hovering over hot coals - it was all about the soup.

When everything was completed, the kids proudly showed us what they had made and asked us if we were coming back again on Monday. Nothing made me want to stay as much as this did.

In my life of spending way too much time eating and cooking and thinking about food, this hour will stay with me as one of my all-time favorites. And so will these faces.

Bonus: The wall of this kindergarten we visited depicts both okro and garden eggs - and there are some more cute kids so YOU'RE WELCOME.