It was fall and the wind bustled softly through the trees. I hadn’t been home during the fall for 2 years and it was the first time I felt a twinge of longing for crisp and cool Northern wind. Homesickness is a funny thing, it sneaks up on you like mildew in the shower. A little by little until one day it’s covering everything and you don’t have any choice but to confront it.
We were 4 sitting around a comfortable outdoor table. Mike had dreamed up an entire scenario and was presenting a 3 course meal he had prepared himself. This was before he was a chef, before he had ever even worked in his first restaurant. I hadn’t anticipated the level of preparation that had gone into the food I was about to eat. He had spent the past few weeks smoothly mining our conversations for my favorite fall foods and had secretly created a menu of exactly what I didn’t know I was longing for. The starter was a soup, as I began to eat I was drawn into a living day dream. I was simultaneously here and there and neither as the flavors collided it was American and it was Mexican and it was neither. Something new was being born.
I was so absorbed with my dish and so happy I had fallen silent and was moving almost in slow motion as I savored the food. Mike looked at me with anticipation, “do you like it?” he asked.
I took his hand in mine, looked him directly into his eyes and said with certainty, “I love it.”
I might as well have been confessing my own love for him that hadn’t yet formed in those tender first weeks and months. My heart was transformed as I ate his meal that night.
I don’t have a longing for a place or a specific home, my homesickness is more like nostalgia. The idea of something I’ve long not had. If I was ever homesick for anything it is the comfort of grandmas house, playing airplane on her stools and eating lunch during the summer. Lunch was never a very special thing it was usually soup and a sandwich, or a salad or something fast that didn’t require heating up the whole house. My favorite meal growing up by far, hands down (after peanut butter and bananas) was tomato soup and grilled cheese. Today I don’t have a grilled cheese sandwich ready for you, but I can bring you tomato soup. Something to transport you to grandma’s house during the summer as well as Mexico in the fall.
This dish could also sum up my relationship with Mike. He understands my comfort but constantly pushes me to explore the next project, flavor, texture or combination. Since meeting Mike my basic tomato soup has never been the same, how can you go back once you have tasted inspiration?
Nik’s Basic Tomato Soup
½ onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 kg tomatoes (about 15 roma tomatoes), dices
20 g (2T) tomato paste
5 cups water or vegetable stock
1 T salt (or more to taste)
Pinch of pepper
½ t thyme
50 g cashews
14 fresh basil leaves
1 cup cooked black beans (recipe here)
Heat desired amount of olive oil in a stock pot, add the diced onions and a pinch of salt. Saute on low heat until the onion starts to change texture. Add the rest of the salt and spices and garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes until the garlic starts to brown. Add the tomato past and a splash of vegetable stock, move this around until the tomato paste is smooth and fully covers the onion. Add all the diced tomatoes and the rest of the water. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all the tomatoes are starting to break down. Add the cashews, cook another 2-5 minutes. Uncover and leave to cool.
I let the soup lower to about half it’s boiling temperature before I blend it.
Blend until completely smooth, you should blend about half of the fresh basil leaves into the soup and the rest should be cut into strips and garnished over the top. Serve with a heaping hot spoonful of black beans.
Note: you can leave out the cashews, however, they add creaminess, flavor and texture to the final dish.