Tuesday, September 15, 2009

thyme for tarragon

Isa rocked my world again tonight. In fact, I'm trying to think of a time she's let me down and I cannot think of a single recipe I have made from any of her books that has sucked. Even the esoteric and pleasantly bland Chickpea-Broccoli Casserole from Vegan with a Vengeance was subtly delicious as she promised it would be!

Despite the mid-September "heat wave" persisting through dinnertime tonight, Mister let me make French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme from Veganomicon since I had picked up fresh, crusty, whole-grain bread at the farmer's market across the street today.
I've mentioned before that I love the way Isa relates some funny story at the beginning of each recipe and this is no different - once again, her appraisal is spot-on:
This is the last lentil soup recipe you will ever need. Tarragon adds a wonderful peppery, licorice flavor that complements this soup like nobody's business. Just try to keep leftovers of this soup stored in the fridge - you will find yourself going back for more all night. After three helpings, keep the lid on it to retain some sense of dignity.
She's right - this soup is sooo good. She thinks it serves 8, and as a soup course it very well may, but for my hungry husband and I, it turned into about half that. I had never cooked with tarragon or french lentils before - it was a pleasure. I have already assigned Mister the task of returning to the Spice Corner tomorrow (it's right down the street from his job) to buy the last bag of french lentils. The tarragon had a very strong smell when I opened the jar, but it ended up blending into the rest of the flavors very well. I think that is what I liked most about this soup: like a talented vocal ensemble, no single "voice" stood out, but rather all the parts wove seamlessly together for a delicious result. As an added bonus, the part of the cooking when the carrots, tomatoes, garlic, tarragon, thyme, and paprika were all saute-ing together smelled amazing.

I looked in my Vegetarian Bible, hoping to find something extolling the multi-talented little legumes that are lentils (like the huge amount of protein they provide: 14 grams in just 1/4 cup) or learn something fascinating about my new found love, Tarragon. However, Ms. Crocker's discussion of lentils was less than illuminating and she completely ignored tarragon. I did, however, find some fun facts on thyme. Sometimes I wonder if I'm late for the bus and everyone else already knows this stuff, but somehow I doubt it: "Thyme is ideal for deep-seated chest infections such as chronic coughs and bronchitis. It is also used to sinusitis, laryngitis, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome." This would have been very helpful to know in high school and college, when I was plagued with sinus infections and acute bronchitis, as if the devil was inside my body trying to steal the only thing that meant anything to me at that time: my voice. Oh well, live and learn.

For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of cooking with thyme, let me finish up tonight with this excerpt from my new favorite reference book:
The taste of thyme is peppery, pungent, slightly sweet and clove-like. It is extremely versatile and can be added to most dishes. It stands up to long cooking in soups, stews, tomato sauces, gumbos, and chowders. Used daily, thyme's antioxidant effect is beneficial. Use thyme in canning and preserving because of its antibacterial, antifungal activity.

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