OUR MOTHER DIDN’T cook. To be more specific, our mother was something of a spectacle in the kitchen, cooking a few things, always as dramatically a possible. The simple stuff eluded her: a chop, a steak, a baked potato. Instead, we got such offerings as Beef Wellington and once, memorably, reindeer meatballs.
And so I have no collection of her recipes. Instead I’ve collected the recipe boxes of women I have loved who have gone on to what I hope is the great big (clean) kitchen in the sky. Unique bequests, these files reveal a culinary laying on of hands that reaches back generations, though reading through their stained index cards, I not only see who fed what to whom, and which of these dishes I’ve delivered to my own family’s table, but also what I’d like to pass along. There is no word in English for the uniquely delightful emotion cooked up by plucking a recipe from my preacher-wife-mother-in-law’s modest South Dakota kitchen and digitally hotpadding it (with a tweak and a cinch) to another person’s table. Keeping this food on our tables is a form of tribute.
While most of my contemporaries-in-the-kitchen relay their recipes online, some few continue to write out their recipes by hand and deliver them to me on the proverbial index card. Any way is fine by me, as long as we keep the food coming and—for me, at least—that I have the provisions in the house, or at least don’t have to travel by tramp steamer to get them. Despite that second proviso, I do read the recipes of The New York Times religiously, and am delighted to be on the receiving end of pretty much any kitchen utensil, (at which moment my husband will invariably quip, “How is it that you do not already own that?”).
My most recent kitchen update is a slow cooker. My sister, Margaret, gave it to me, and while it is mostly used for cooking for the dog, at odd moments it is available for the rest of us. And it was during one of these that I adapted a recipe passed along to me by a woman I love, converted for the slow cooker, using only what I already had on hand. I call it Busy Sisters Curry Lentil Soup. It’s adapted to the Crock-Pot from a recipe in the 1975 cookbook Vegeterian Feast by Martha Rose Schulman.
Busy Sisters’ Curry Lentil Soup (for 4-quart slow cooker)
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves minced or put through press
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
4 cups dried lentils, rinsed
2 teaspoons salt, preferably sea salt
3 quarts water, vegetable stock or chicken stock or some combo of those
In frying pan, sautee onions, garlic and spices until onions are tender
Transfer to slow cooker
Add lentils and water
Put on high for one hour, then lower to simmer for however many hours you have
Remove half the lentils and blenderize
Return to soup
9-10 large servings