IMG_9553

Squash-leaf Soup with Flowers and Corn Dumplings in a Lemony Pork-Rib Broth. Meals evolving, like dancing on graves, creating a new cuisine. I saw this supper as a kind of exploration and experiment, which I guess is really my favourite way to cook and share food, learning as I go….

A few weeks ago, contemplating the courgette plants soldiering on with flowers and new leaves in the autumnal rain and assault of hail, I recalled a forgotten conversation. Years before, I’d been standing at a party in Oxford, chatting about food with a woman from somewhere in Central Africa, I’m thinking Zambia. She told me at home they grew pumpkins for the leaves rather than for reward of the fruit.

IMG_9546

And so I asked Google, which offered up the gifts of other internet users eager to teach:

With flowers and stems and tendrils and leaves, everything was looking just so beautiful.

IMG_9550

IMG_9560

How meals come together is both random and based on economical use of ingredients and creative inspiration.  This is the gift that experience gives to cooks.

More background:

I haven’t spoken much about the pig we bought last year.  Mixed feelings and guilt have overcome my culinary enthusiasm.   We bought the meat, slaughtered at a relatively local abbatoir and butchered locally, from friends on a small holding who are working to build a mixed agriculture based on principles of permaculture, agro-ecology, and compassionate animal rearing.  They are inspired by Joel Salatin. They fed their pigs real food and healthy waste, and the pigs lived mostly outdoors with lots of happy time routing in mud.  We visited them with our children. The idea was to only eat meat for which we knew the origin; we were willing to pay extra cost (which was not that much extra but was up-front in two lumps) and the meat has been truly delicious.

(Speaking of which, if you eat pork and ham, do you know about The Pig Pledge  and the Pig Idea?)

Though we are trying to radically reduce, for climate reasons, the amount of meat we eat, “sustainable” meat might still be in the picture for special occasions. The fact is, we still have some pork in our freezer that needs to be eaten. This is a “less but better” approach to meat that is advocated by a new UK organisation, Eating Better.

The evening before, my hubby had made ribs in his special barbeque sauce, smoking them in some contraption of upcycled rubbish with our son,and having lots of fun.  They were very tasty indeed, yet very fatty.  (I asked a my friend Girevik Chef why locally bred meat was often so fatty.  “It seems to be a combination of two things,” he answered. “Firstly the less commercial breeds chosen as a backlash against overly lean mass-reared breeds seem to now be bred to be too fatty. Secondly, small holders, including me, don’t monitor their pigs’ growth and feed accordingly. We just feed and normally over-feed the blighters.”  Rings true to me.)

After supping,  there was a LOT of  fat on our plates, greasy, intense, inedible on its own.  We didn’t want to waste it– it’s a substantial weight and cost — and when you consider the idea of fats and oils in a global system, you want to make use of local fats as much as possible. It’s quite obvious for ecological and ethical reasons, if you are going to eat animals you need to eat as much of them as possible.  In fact it feels like a kind of sin to not make use of the fat. Another reason to eat organic meat, raised without antibiotics for example: if nasties concentrate up the food-chain and in fat, you want to be able to use uncontaminated fat (and organs). The more sustainable the meat, the better for us as well.

It is easy enough to render fat, along with the bones, in a large pan in a low oven, and when liquid , to strain it of debris–charred bits, herbs, etc– and pour it in a jar.  Here’s a tutorial from Zero-Waste-Chef.

The bones went into a stock with the usual array of vegetable scraps that abound in an active kitchen– onions, leeks, carrots, squash peelings, etc.  Oh and a little vinegar (to help release minerals from the bones) and an eggshell for purposes of magic. And bones of course are often the basis of stock which is often the true backbone (ha!) of a good soup.

Searching around for  recipes for squash leaves, I found this interesting recipe for Oaxaca squash vine soup with corn dumplings; and this soup has lovely squash flowers.  (There’s a cornucopia of recipes from all over Africa too, waiting now for us until next summer.)

Here is a link with lots of inspiring ways to use squash leaves; and this one’s an Italian approach to using them. I for one will be returning to these links, because it’s info that seems really new, and useful.  I became a little fascinated that though there’s much knowledge of managing our squash plants through careful, edible prunings, within the British tradition of growing various squash, eating leaves and flowers feels extraordinary not every-day.

I found myself longing for a sense of novelty, and decided to make a version of that Oaxacan soup, with the stock I’d made from the week’s scraps and the pork ribs; when I cut the courgette plant, I cut some of those thick ribs and added them to the stock pot as well. Straining everything out, there was a flavourful broth, into which I added the squash leaves, small stems, sliced fresh courgette and watercress and generous squeezes of lemon.

Without Masa Harina, I decided to serve the soup with a more familiar corn dumpling, thanks to Martha Stewart, substituting the butter with a little of the rendered fat (with a mild redolence of the barbeque sauce) and kefir for the buttermilk.  WOW, did that batter froth at first!

And on the side, to honour an aspiration towards veganism, here’s the tempeh I simmered first in water, then sealed with a brief sautee in coconut oil, then simmered again in the leftover barbecue sauce.

IMG_9558

So good, and an artifact of our strange transition to Flexitarianism which seems to involve rather much remnant of our carnivorism.  Like dancing on graves, we’re creating a new cuisine based on resourcefulness and the seasons and always honouring the richness of  local traditions around the world. I saw this meal as a kind of exploration and experiment, which I guess is really my favourite way to cook and share food, learning as I go.

IMG_9555

PS The soup was garnished with watercress grown by my wonderful, beautiful friend Vicky in a salvaged bathtub reserved for just this water-hungy purpose.  One of life’s luxuries she grows abundantly…

IMG_9379

Advertisements