I well remember the unbridled glee we all felt in grade school when, first thing in the morning, the Principal walked in to announce that we’d have a substitute teacher that day. We kids practically roared with excitement at the prospect of (a) getting a reprieve from homework (because the substitute, of course, never knew exactly what our regular teacher had assigned); (b) getting a reprieve from the usual discipline and classroom structure (we would just make up new rules that we preferred, and she never knew the difference); and (c) getting a reprieve from, basically, any learning at all (she didn’t stand a chance with a group of squealing, shrieking, squirming children who suddenly considered the day to be allotted for play).
Ah, yes, kids can be so cruel.
At least the class embraced the notion of a substitute with gusto. These days, I think, we’ve got the connotation of “substitute” all wrong. A substitute is not a lesser version of the “real thing”–no sir. It’s the brave soldier willing to stand in for his buddy on the front lines. It’s the eager understudy who may just surpass the headliner. It’s the medical resident who steps in to complete the operation when the surgeon’s hands begin to tremble. You get the idea.
Whenever the HH and I go to a restaurant and the menu proclaims “No Substitutions allowed” next to their most popular items, I’m always a little peeved and wonder how much more they’d sell of said pasta or salad if they did allow subs. In fact, I make a point of seeking out eating establishments that do permit changes to the menu–otherwise, I’d have precious few choices most of the time (oh, wait, I still have precious few choices. Damn you, ACD!).
And let’s not forget the common phrase, “poor substitute.” It’s as if those two words are fused at the hip, sort of like Eng and Chang, or coffee and cigarettes, or Simon and Paula (I know–can you believe they’re together, again, on X-Factor??).
Me, I love substitutes. I think substituting is part of the fun in cooking. When I first changed my diet, I wanted to play with every new ingredient I could find and figure out how the new could replace the old (or not). I was so fascinated with substitutes, in fact, that I devoted an entire chapter to substitutes in my cookbook.
The process of coming up with substitutes can be a truly creative endeavor in the kitchen (or, really, any facet of life). Maybe my interest is rooted in my cash-strapped twenties when, as a graduate student, I was constantly seeking cheaper alternatives for the latest fashions, buzz-worthy restaurants, first-class travel, or even a favored bubbly. After a while, it was like a game: what can I use instead of this pernod in the recipe to achieve the same result (without the same cost)? How about this cool aviator jacket from the army surplus instead of the latest runway darling? And these discarded flyers have print on one side only–they’d make great note paper–for free!
My knack for subbing one ingredient for another came back in a flash last week as I prepared a warming soup for the HH and me (sort of how the autumn weather itself decided to blast into town out of nowhere, too). With the cooler clime suddenly upon us, I found myself wanting some classic split-pea soup. After consulting my soup bible, Nava Atlas’s Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons, I settled on the “Golden Curried Pea Soup.”
Everything was going along swimmingly (except of course, no more real swimming, now that it’s turned cool outside–summer, why hast thou forsaken me?). My onion was sizzling, I was chopping up the carrots, I poured the broth into the pot and reached for my jar of split peas, and–oh, noooo! No split peas! (I had been so certain I had some, in fact, that I hadn’t even checked before beginning to cook–kids, please don’t try this at home). But the soup must go on! I scanned the cupboard for a suitable substitute, and came upon a jar of red lentils. Perfecto!
In went the lentils and the the final result worked out beautifully. This version offers up the same thick, nubby, substantial base as a split-pea version, albeit slightly less sweet. The curry provided a warming undertone to the mild flavor of the lentils, and the carrots contributed their own seasonal color and texture. This is a stick-to-your-ribs, hearty and filling bowlful, one you’ll be scraping clean with your spoon.
In this instance, I daresay my substitute was every bit as good as I expect the original would have been. I hope you’ll give it a try–and do feel free to substitute another legume of choice for the lentils.
Curried Red Lentil Soup (adapted from Golden Curried Pea Soup in Vegan Hearty Soups and Stews for All Seasons by Nava Atlas
(Suitable for ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
This is an easy-to-prepare, long-simmering soup that is warming and satisfying on a cool day. Paired with a salad and chunk of hearty bread, it makes a perfect light meal.
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups (1 liter) water
4 cups (1 liter) vegetable broth or stock
1 pound (454 g) red lentils, split yellow peas, or other quick-cooking legume
1/2 cup (120 ml) raw brown rice
2 bay leaves
2 tsp (10 ml) good-quality curry powder, more or less to taste (I used more)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly grated ginger
pinch of ground nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion and garalic and sauté until just golden.
Add remaining ingredients to the pot except for salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently until the lentils are mushy, about 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
When the soup is ready, adjust consistency with more water as needed, then season with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves and serve. Makes 8-10 servings. May be frozen.
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This is my submission to Wellness Weekend this week.
Last Year at this Time: Quick and Easy Chili Mac Casserole (GF, ACD Stage 3 and beyond)
© Ricki Heller