The New Hunter Gatherer has been in a sort of Winter's hibernation. I apologize for the absence, but somehow the rhythms of my life took over and forced a narrowing of focus. Winter has been about family and it's many demands: holiday celebrations (we do Hanukkah and Christmas), illnesses--including two trips to the hospital, and my sister's gala wedding that my children and I got to take part in many ways.
We are just now emerging into our South Florida Spring, which is making it's appearance with a vengeance. We have 80 degree weather almost daily and the mango trees are in full bloomy dress, calling all insects and troubling all allergy sufferers. Even the avocados are blooming--it seems very early. So I suppose I am talking about the seasonality of things today--that our activities and our food can and should be informed by the flow of the natural world around us.
Here, that can be a bit more difficult or subtle, depending on our orientation and sensitivities. The calendar and my ancestry may say that I should be eating heavy stews, as mid-February is serious winter in most places, but when I walk outside the ground is steaming and the air is full of avian courting. This presents a dilemma. My mind wants braises. My body wants to go lighter. This is where my old Macrobiotic training kind of kicks in unbidden: look to the local environment. And interpret it with a heavy dose of modern sensibilities (Macrobiotic teaching was actually a latter day invention based on older traditions--therefore a blueprint of sorts for our own process). I look at traditional foods in similar climates for inspiration during this odd season.
When it rains, I make soup. Never mind that the rain is as warm as my shower. Rain calls for soup, a cup of tea, a book. When I can get away with it while respecting family tastes, I make those soups and stews with an Asian spin. I pull out the coconut milk and Thai curry paste. I use as much seafood as I can get away with (picky kids again). Or I make Indian curries and Mexican posoles. These foods are stews adapted to the heat, perfect for our sunny Winter and steamy Spring. If I am really pressed for time, or if I have a bunch of odds and ends in the fridge that want using, I improvise. I experiment, and some of these experiments have turned into old standby recipes over time.
My friend J. loves my Thai-inspired seafood stew. It took a while to convince her that it is ridiculously easy to make, as long as you have a few things on hand. Actually, it even fits my idea of a "shelf-supper"--one I can make when I don't have much of anything fresh on hand--because it uses the few canned and frozen staples I keep around.
This is what I do (and get ready, because it goes fast): I set some chicken or fish stock to thawing in warm water. I saute an onion, some garlic, some ginger if I have it. I might add other veggies if I have or want them--or want to use them up. Red peppers are pretty, carrots and celery add bulk, greens or frozen peas I add at the end. There are many possibilities. Next I add the stock and a can of coconut milk. I use full-fat coconut milk with no preservatives, and I try to use a brand that has no thickeners as well (hard to find--there is one brand availably locally). If I have no coconut milk, which is rare, I use thinned coconut cream, sometimes marketed as coconut butter. This is NOT the product sold for pina coladas--instead it is made like most nut butters, grinding the meat of the slightly dried coconut with no added ingredients (the other stuff is loaded with sugar).
Ok, so now you have a broth with veggies. Almost done. Set the table, or get someone else to do it--you have to pay attention and throw a salad together too . . . Now you add some frozen seafood. I sometimes use a mix that has no additives--it has shrimp, scallops, octopus, and squid, or I use wild shrimp, which I don't bother to peel, but you might. I actually eat the shells and find the shrimp stays more moist this way--less risk of turning them to leather. All that's left is seasoning while the seafood cooks, which happens very quickly, in mere minutes. Seasonings: some Thai curry paste (red or green, your choice), fish sauce, lemon or lime juice and maybe a smidge of honey. If you have basil or mint (dried or fresh) that lends an authentic air, but I rarely bother. Same with chopped cilantro, scallions or crisply friend shallots--nice additions, but this is supposed to be a painless shelf supper.
That's it. Taste it. Does the balance of salty, spicy, sour and sweet work for you? If not, play with it. Go open a bottle of wine or a an unpasteurized beer, if that's your thing. Or pour a glass of kombucha. Then, sit down to a simple supper with not-so-simple flavors.
I hear you asking about amounts. Sigh. I can't really say exactly, but I will try--for you. For my family, which is usually 5 or 6 at dinner these days, I might use two jars of stock (4-6 cups?), an onion, a cup or more of other veg, a bag of whatever seafood (around a pound) and season to taste. The latter means start with a little an add till you like it. There is no rule about that--it's what you like. If you can't stand fish sauce, use a bit of tamari (but do try the fish sauce at least once, as it is very mild and gives a subtle flavor that soy sauces can't). If you are not fond of spice, go easy on it. And so on.
So today it looks like we're in for rain again. And I am going to visit J. And maybe we'll make soup. Because that's living with the seasons in our neighborhood. And to you I have this suggestion: go enjoy the season, whichever one it happens to be in your neck of the woods! And send me the recipes that come from your kitchen improvisations . . .