Indian Pickle

This is an Indian pickle. It involves taking a fruit (mango, lime, lemon; in this case, lemon and green almonds), preserving it in salt, and then adding spices, oil, and dried red chiles. At a typical South Indian meal, you'll see a combination of raw vegetables (cucumber, tomato, onion, etc), stewed or steamed vegetables (with or without spices), rice, and Indian pickle.

Because you're often eating with your hand, picking up a salt shaker to season your food isn't an option. Instead, you take a bit of the spicy, salty, sour pickle, and eat it along with your food. It allows the adults to adjust the spiciness of the food to their liking, and when made without the chiles, for the youngsters to bump up the salt, as desired.

Unlike a European or American pickle, where you're meant to eat it in large pieces, the Indian pickle is used strictly as a condiment. The kind that my mother would make would often be with these tiny green mangoes that she'd get during mango season. They're hard, unripe, and very sour. Since we couldn't find those same green mangoes here, we substituted green almonds, which have the exact same flavour as the mangoes, to excellent results.

Each home will have its own mix of spices, chiles, and salt that they use for their pickles. At the end of the cooking of the spices and chiles, you grind the chile and spices together with heated oil, and mix it into the preserved fruit. The oil helps preserve the pickle (and makes for a delicious addition to plain rice, when eaten as a snack).

I remember making huge batches of pickles with my mother during the summer. We'd sit down, and prepare piles of mangoes, salt them, and make the spice blend after the mangoes had leaked out all their juices with the salt to make a salty, sour brine. My mother would switch up the spices each time, constantly tweaking the recipe in the search for perfection. It's been years since she made pickles, because there hasn't been enough green mango to make it with in her home in Arizona.

This is my nod to my mother. I've tweaked the recipe from her version, to suit what I had access to. Instead of using the dried Indian chiles, I used a bunch of dried Guajillo and Pasilla chiles. Lemon is easy enough to find, but they don't have the same flavour as the tiny little mangoes. The green almonds, when I tasted them raw, took me back to those long summer afternoons in India with the first bite. After finely chopping the pickled lemons and almonds, I tossed them in the spices, oil, and chiles. The taste is quite divine.


Trying something different.

I'm in the process of planning for a certain person's lunch thing, and I'm in the process of trying to find a place to go. The good part is that there are multiple websites that tell you multiple things. Whether you use Google, Yelp, Supervegan, Happycow, or word-of-mouth, you're going to find a variety of different suggestions. Some of the sites even have "featured" restaurants, which will move up to the top of the list, regardless of whether it suits your needs or not. Yes, I realise that in Manhattan, it's relatively easy to get around. However, when I put my zip code as an address in Washington Heights, and the results are all showing places way the hell downtown, I'm going to get annoyed and go somewhere else for my search.

No I'm not. I'm going to actually just get frustrated, and default to those same places that I've managed to find on my own over the years. I understand that companies need to make money. I get that. However, I like the model that Google has used all this time. Yes, they have sponsored links, but there are a maximum of like three at the top of the search results. If it does indeed apply to me, I'll click it. If it doesn't, I'm not bothered, because it's not that much to scroll past. I've seen certain sites that have like five or more featured links up above my search results I'm looking for. This doesn't make me want to visit that site again. Instead, it makes me want to give up my search, and default to what I know will be a good choice, even if the other choices being presented are unique and exciting.

That's my barrier to trying something new: if I get annoyed enough in a short period, I'll throw up my hands in frustration at the whole thing, and go back to what I know. There's a reason that I've more or less given up on most cookbooks and the like. Trying to search through all these pages for something that I'm not 100% sure will even work is an exercise in annoying myself. Instead, I heat up some oil, throw in some mustard, cumin, and coriander seeds, add some aromatics (garlic, onion, or ginger; sometimes all three), some turmeric, some dried red chiles, and add whatever vegetable I'm making for dinner that night. Everythings cooks until it's my desired tenderness, and then gets a hit of salt.

Depending on my mood, I'll vary things up, by switching the spices, or aromatics, or the heat (whether it be black pepper, fresh chiles, dried chiles, ground chiles, etc). Sometimes I'll finish with an acid (cider vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, kimichi water, etc). Other times I'll leave it be. Whenever I end up cooking though, it's the same 100 or so (per bean, grain, or vegetable) recipes in some vague rotation. Yes, I could very well go out and hunt through books for more varied techniques, but like most people, I end up getting annoyed, and just go back to what I know.

Until, that is, I get brought to something new and interesting. That's a completely different scenario. In those cases, I'll try that thing, and end up loving it. The only times that happens is when someone physically drags me to a place that I haven't been to.


Stuck, but not trapped?

There are times that I despair of ever being able to step away from work for longer than a couple of days with my friend. Yes, I work with Cliff, and have done for years. Over those years, the two of us have become good friends. He's met my family, I know his son, we talk about each other to our other family and friends, and we genuinely enjoy our time together. This is why it's so sad to think that I can't take him, his son, and my husband along for a nice vacation.

Whenever one of us (usually me) goes off to vacation, or some other trip, the other has to stay behind to hold down the fort. Why? Because something invariably goes straight to hell in some way when both of us are not around. Then, the phone calls start. Our staff is wonderful, but there are some things that can only be handled by a manager who has all the keys, who has all the bank account information, who has the authorisation to make decisions, etc. As of now, there's two of us: Cliff, and me. Yes, he is technically the mastermind behind the business, and started the place from a seed of an idea years ago. However, he doesn't like me to call him my boss. I can call him my friend, I can call him my business partner, I can call him Cliff, but not my boss. "You are as much a part of this as I am, Dino!"

And it's true. Neither of us makes decisions alone; we talk things through, and come to an acceptable compromise, or through the collaboration of our brains, we come up with something better than either of us would have alone. On the one hand, it's wonderful to be teamed up with someone who's so creative and excited about work. On the other hand, I wish that some day, we really will all be able to go off on a trip together (preferably out of the country if we can swing it!), and rest without being nervous that everything back home is falling apart.

This morning, I got a call from Cliff saying that the bank account is overdrawn. We're never overdrawn. We're extremely careful about writing out cheques, and keeping track of the bank balance, so that everyone who needs to get paid does get paid in a timely fashion, without the drama of bounced cheques. Unfortunately, one of the large cheques that we deposited last week some time bounced, because there was insufficient funds. Which meant that we got hit with overdraft fees, and all kind of other fees. And, of course, just for fun, it dropped us to a negative balance, which meant that any cheques from us that anyone would have tried to cash over the Sunday would have been returned for insufficient funds. ARGH!

Four hours later, the situation is sorted out, but it involved phone calls, running around lower Manhattan to find our bank, and then talking to all different people to figure our mess out. Although it wasn't necessarily hard work, it was all things that could not have been done by anyone other than Cliff or me. There's only so much you can do over the phone. Many things require getting there in person to sort out. And now, it really is sorted out, but I'm really grateful that I was here to deal with it. Same things happen when I go off on a trip for any reason. Something dumb will happen, and Cliff tells me about it (because we tell each other everything; we've been working together too long to have any secrets), and we have a moment of gratefulness that he was here to sort that mess out.

It's why I despair of not being able to spend off time with my friend. The responsibilities are much greater, but the rewards when the plans you've been making all that time actually materialise are pretty amazing too. And, if we keep working at it, we'll get to the point where things will begin to more or less run themselves, and we'll be able to focus on building the brand, and growing the business. From there, we'll be able to look into opening more locations, or franchising, or any number of other ways to get our food out to more people more easily.

It will happen! I know it will. We're both intelligent, talented, and creative. We just need to work through it, and I know we'll get there.


Is it just me?

There are times when I forget that the whole world isn't vegan. I live in a vegan bubble. My husband is vegan, and we keep a vegan home. We don't own any leather, feathers, wool, silk, or any other animal clothing or furniture. The fridge is all vegan. Our lifestyles are vegan, insofar as we are concerned about the welfare of all animals, whether they human or nonhuman. For us, being vegan is an affirmation of life. It means that we hold life in high regard, and that we believe in dignity for that life. Again, this means that both of us are deeply concerned about the rights of people, whether they have the same genetic makeup as us, or whether they're a totally different species. All those creatures are beings, and deserve to have their bodily integrity respected.

When I come to work, the waitstaff are vegan. My business partner is vegan. He's raising his son to be mindful of other beings too. And the message is sticking! Mini Preefer won't eat at the school cafeteria, because they don't let him just get the vegetable sides. If you're getting a school lunch, you have to get the meat on your plate, and his objection is so strong that he prefers to bring his own lunch from home. I wish I had that kind of courage at his age!

Most of my friends are vegan. Even those who aren't are very comfortable with coming to my home, and having the entire meal be vegan (and enjoy it, of course). Even when I go to their house, and I'm cooking, they'll make a supreme effort to let everything be fully vegan. Even when it's a party that I'm attending at a friend's house, and they have omnivores at the table, they'll make sure that at least 75% of the meal is vegan, and will sometimes go so far as to double check about whether I'm comfortable with the provenance of the sugar, or the alcohol. Nobody has to go to that level to make me a huge spread of food that's safe for me to eat. I'd be happy to eat a bowl of noodles with some vegetables. I'm quite content with a bowl of beans and rice. But then, I see the effort that my friends will go to so that they ensure that my husband and I are not only well fed, but fed elaborately.

That is such a blessing that I make sure that my friends know how much I appreciate it. It's not every day that you meet people who consider you such a friend that they care for you like you're their family. In a way, my friends are my family, and I love them dearly.

And then, I'll open up a magazine. I'll walk into a grocery store. I'll see body parts being displayed up for sale, and shudder violently. I'll see a beautiful recipe on a certain New York newspaper's food section, and think "Ohhhh, that looks so good! DAMNIT. Why did they have to throw ham into that? Was that even necessary!? If you wanted something salty, there's a million options out there. If you want something smoky, there's even more options.

There's other times, at the grocery store, where I'll absent-mindedly drop a jar of mayonnaise into my basket, thinking, "Wow, that's really cheap for vegan mayo." But, as a vegan, I have this reflex that has been ingrained for years: the second I pick up a packaged product, I immediately flip around to the back to skim the ingredients list. You can immagine my disappointment at seeing mayonnaise made with eggs. "Mayo doesn't need eggs! What's wrong with people!?" This reflex has saved me on more occasions than I can count. "Non dairy creamer" is often full of dairy byproducts. Strange, that. Who decided that everything in the world has to have whey in it? The worst was when I picked up a sausage container to read the ingredients, and only realised after picking it up that it was animal meat in there, not veggie meat. I'm standing there thinking, "How did they manage to make a gluten free sausage. I want to know how it's done. Oh. They made it gluten free by grinding up an animal's body. Boo."

I sometimes forget how it felt to be a vegan in a smaller city. I felt like I was crazy, and that I didn't fit in anywhere. Everyone around me was unabashedly eating animals, their body parts, their secretions, and the products made from them. I've burned myself in the kitchen a couple of times. The smell of my flesh burning is the same as the smell of an animal's flesh burning. It turns my stomach to have to smell that smell ever again. You feel like you're all alone, and nobody else understands what's going on in your head. With that isolation comes depression. With that depression comes more withdrawing from the people around you. And onwards it goes until you find yourself in self-destructive behaviours. It's a horrible self-feeding cycle.

Fortunately, I found a group of people online who are also vegan. I met my husband through that group. Although that particular website is no longer around, there are plenty of others out there. We have blogs, we have websites, we have forums. They all have spaces for us to find each other. And find each other we must, or we let the rest of the world dictate how we see ourselves, which can get damaging. If you don't live in a huge city like New York, with an active and vibrant vegan scene, find your own vegan scene. Make your own vegan bubble.

And if you do have loving family and friends who make an effort on your behalf, never let them forget that you love them, and appreciate the effort. Even when the results aren't perfect, I'm still thrilled that someone tried, and is willing to share such an intimate act with me as making something with their hands, and having it become a part of me. Even those friends who buy something in get my gratitude. To think that they stood there in the store, and walked a mile in my shoes, turning everything over to read the ingredients carefully. Checking an unnamed popular search engine to see if a certain weird ingredient is animal, vegetable, or mineral. And then to go through the effort to bring it home, and lay it out nicely for me.

Either way, you're not crazy. You're not alone. People do understand you. You're amongst friends. Come to the table, relax a bit, and bond over something delicious.


Clean space, clean mind.

At home, and at work, I've noticed that we've all been getting a little antsy about the clutter that inevitably builds up when busy people don't have time to cull it all. At home, it was a huge stack of old bills that were long past paid and settled (some from accounts that are no longer open!), which neither of us really wanted to throw in the trash, because we're nervous about someone fishing that stuff out of the trash and using it to wreak havoc on our identity. Identity theft is serious, and neither of us wanted to suffer the consequences. However, I saw that we had a paper cutter at work, and asked Cliff if I could borrow it to shred those piles of documents that needed to be gone from our lives. He agreed, and we started on the pile.

At work, it's a little more ongoing, as there are office items that no longer work (and can't be repaired), old papers that we don't need to keep around, and foods that are past their prime. We've been fairly aggressive with it over the summer, as the hours are not as busy as the regular year. I've seen the office go from piles upon piles of stuff to becoming much more clear, and easy to see everything.

More than that, however, is the feeling of freedom that comes from having all that excess stuff gone. Mind you, it's a process. It's not like we've gone and did a major overhaul in one night, and ended up with an awesome space all of a sudden. If only, right? It's more of a gradual process that you have to make yourself do, because otherwise, things get out of control really fast. I remember helping a former friend of mine clean her storage unit. I swear there were broken things, garbage, random papers that had no relation to anything, and random building material lying about. All of them had some kind of story, and some kind of memory. My thinking was, "If all this crap is so special, what the heck is it doing in an unheated, uncooled storage unit, mouldering away?"

It the question I had to ask myself as I started ruthlessly going through my belongings to pare down. There were clothes that haven't fit me in years that had to go. Costumes that I paid a fortune for, but would never wear again (either because my tastes have changed, or my waist has changed). Books that I have on my kindle, but also in paperback and hardcover. I've got backups for all my data, so that if I lose my kindle, I can re-download the lot of it. I have redundant backups (one in the cloud, one in my hard drive, one in the back up hard drive, one in google drive, one in sky drive, the list goes on...). What was I holding on to the paper copies for? It's not even like they had sentimental value. These were books that I managed to get for free or very cheap, and held on to, because I did re-read them. However, once I had the opportunity to get them on e-book, I did, with the view of getting rid of the physical copies.

Unfortunately, having a plan to do something, and actually executing that plan are two different things. It took me looking at my bookshelf, looking at my kindle, and looking at my apartment. I have the books in a format that's comfortable for me to read from. In fact, the kindle is better than the paper, because it doesn't take up space in my bag. When I travel, I have hundreds of books to choose from, rather than the one or two that I remembered to pack. In one fell swoop, I gave away the entire lot of paper books, because I didn't need them anymore. It would do someone else good by introducing them to that story, rather than collecting dust on my shelves at home.

I'm still fiercely holding on to my pots and pans, even though I do periodically get new ones that I like. Same goes for the knives. I need to go through and purge those items too. There are knives that I haven't reached for in ages, and some that I use every day. There's no discernible reason for me to hold on to the tools I'm no longer using. Better to set them (and myself!) free and let it go to a new home. As for the pots, there is a small meagre chance that I might need more than three or four at a time, in case lots of people come over, but that's not a good enough reason to hold on to them. In that off chance, I can make cold dishes that don't involve cooking on the stove, I can use my baking sheets to do some dishes in the oven, I can use tupperware to store some of the stuff I've made the night before, and the list goes on.

Seeing all the clean spaces at work has really inspired me to go home, and continue the massive overhaul. My mother gave me two pots that her mother had bought ages ago. I feel a stronger connection to those than some of the fancier pots that I have, so I end up using them more frequently. (Seriously, the best way to thank someone for giving you a piece of kitchen equipment is to use it as often as possible, so that you think of them when you use it; otherwise, set it free, and let someone else think fondly of you when they use it). I've reached a stage where I do need two pressure cookers (because I love the little beasts for doing pretty near everything but my taxes), but not three small sauce pans. I need one large nonstick skillet, in which I make stir fries, curries, dosas, pancakes, etc. I actually don't end up using the cast iron skillet, or the other flat skillet, so they can both go. Same goes for the wok. Ever since I got the huge nonstick high sided skillet, I end up doing my stir-fry there, because it doesn't require so much oil.

Somehow, it's also made me feel much more productive. Being able to sit at my desk, and get right to work, rather than moving aside piles of clutter, make things go much more smoothly. I imagine once I get my kitchen streamlined, I'll be able to do the same there. It's like the surroundings I work in really do reflect the state of my well-being.


Don't follow blindly; follow mindfully.

This applies to life, but also to recipes. There are times when the instructions that you're given don't make sense, and there is no way to quickly get into contact with the author of those instructions. In cases like those, I ask that you follow mindfully, not blindly.

There was a recipe that I'd seen for a certain tofu dish. It read like any other: press tofu, pat dry, add spices, add 2 tablespoon of salt, 2 tsp of pepper, and 1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes. At that moment, I put the brakes on my train of thought. It was like hearing loud, screaming claxons, warning me away from disaster. How is it possible that you have almost equal amounts of salt and heat? That seemed way excessive. I assumed that it was a typo, and scaled the red pepper flakes back to a much more reasonable 1 tsp. The dish turned out delicious at the end. It was a tiny bit on the spicy side, but still quite tasty. If I had gone with that full tablespoon of chile flakes, I shudder to think of the pain that would result from that level of heat.

Years ago, when I was visiting Quito, Ecuador on a class field trip, one of the people there knew the directions to a specific place we all wanted to go check out. For the sake of this story, we'll say it was a ... library. Yes. A library. Stop looking at me like that!

Anyway. On the way to the library, we had to cross multiple intersections. I was able to follow along, because the street signs for stop, go, and walk/don't walk are pretty universal. Unfortunately, the guy who was leading the way wasn't paying close enough attention, and wandered into traffic. My friend yanked me back before I was about to do the same. "That's the DON'T WALK sign, Dino. What are you, nuts!? Just because that idiot is walking into oncoming traffic doesn't mean that you need to be a lemming and follow him off the cliff!"

Whether it be adding entirely too much heat to a recipe, or walking into oncoming traffic, both are situations where a bit of mindfulness, and careful attention would prevent some pretty horrible disasters. It's the reason why when I make a recipe for the first time, I'll go through and read it thoroughly. I'll make sure I understand the instructions. If there's a technique that I'm not familiar with, I'll go onto a popular video posting website, and look it up. Why? Because when I'm on unfamiliar ground, I want to make sure that the path is going to be as smooth as possible. Even with all that preparation work, there are times when I'll miss a step completely, and slap myself on the forehead for being such a dunce.

Similarly, when I'm in a new city, or following directions for the first time, I'm extra careful about looking all around, making note of the road that I'm on (and the road I need to be on), checking frequently with the GPS (sorry, but printed maps confuse me, since they don't have a giant arrow pointing me to where I need to go) to ensure that I'm not going the wrong way. Even then, I still manage to get myself lost with hilarious frequency.

Think what would happen if I were to take a recipe or a new city without all those precautions!

The point is that by being careful, I'm not guaranteeing that I'll be perfect. There's no such thing. What I'm doing is stacking the odds in my favour that I will end up successful in my ventures. When I'm reading or making a recipe for the first time, I don't like distractions (TV turned on, someone chatting to me casually, my MP3 player in my ear), because I find myself losing my spot as I follow along the recipe. Similarly, when I'm trying to navigate a tricky set of directions (or even a simple one; I really am pretty hopeless at getting to the right place the first time), I pull my earphones off, and clear my brain of erroneous thoughts. In the car, I'll ask that the radio be turned down, and that any conversation not involved in getting us there in one piece be put on hold (I don't drive, so I'm frequently assigned the role of navigator).

There are memorable flubs in both cooking and life that I could tell you about, but that's for another day.


Don't expect things to turn out exactly.

I've said this before a bunch of times when it comes to life, but it also applies to cooking: don't expect things to be exactly the way you've wanted them to be; life has a way of throwing you a surprise from time to time, and it helps to be open to it.

A couple of months back, I went down to Virginia to visit my brother (and his wife, and their two kids). It just happened to be the same weekend that my 2nd brother was able to get his son for the week, and had flown up from Florida. Also the same week that my dad had flown up from Florida too. At that point, my mother and nephew (sister's son, for the record) had already been in Virginia for a couple of months, and were nearing the end of their stay. Because everyone else was coming down to VA, my sister made the flight out from Arizona (her husband was working, and couldn't get the time off). For that reason, I and my husband made the trip down (since everyone else was there).

My mom mentioned that she got her wish (a large family reunion; we haven't all been together under one roof in over 20 years), but not quite the way she expected it to happen. In her mind, she had just casually put out to the Universe (or G-d, or the Powers That Be, or whatever you choose to call it) that as she hit her sixtieth year on this planet, she'd like all her children to be together under one roof, over there in Arizona, where my sister has an extremely large house (for the record, my eldest brother's house is also enormous). The reason being that my mother would be in her comfort zone, while still having everyone together. My sister's house has a pool, a large back yard, and pretty much all the amenities you could hope for.

But, as life goes, things don't always turn out just so. With the majority of the family living on the East coast (me, my husband, brother, his wife, their two kids, my 2nd brother, his kid), it would have been a logistical nightmare to coordinate everyone's time off and flights to get out to Arizona. A trip down to Virginia, however, is a short bus ride for my husband and me (also, one that doesn't require much planning; the bus I take lets me book up to the night before, and still costs the same).

Somehow, what started off as a visit to her son and daughter-in-law became a massive family reunion, without her realising it. We still had a good time. We still all got to be together. I didn't have to take time off from work.

But it didn't quite end up how my mother thought it "should" be. Rather, it ended up like it was.

This applies to food. I was at the grocery store, shopping for vegetables and the rest. I was going to be cooking for a friend, and wanted to make him some of the South Indian dishes that my mother would cook when I was a kid. Lemon rice is one of those dishes that pretty much everyone loves, and is fairly simple to make. Unfortunately, the store's lemons looked awful. They were hard, and unripe, and didn't smell of citrus. Also, they were 2 for $1. Ouch! The limes, on the other hand, were plump, thin skinned, fragrant, and half the price.

If I had been one of those folks who's careful about following a recipe to the letter, I'd have ignored those beautiful limes, and opted for the bottled lemon juice. Instead, I decided to try the lemon rice recipe (which is one of those dishes that my mother gets asked to make pretty much universally) using limes instead of lemons. The flavour was divine! Who knew that you could change a fundamental component of a recipe that much, and still have it be delicious?

There have been times when I'm at a friend's house, and making hummus, and we don't have any lemon juice. I've managed to substitute the lemon with cider vinegar to excellent results. My friend who is allergic to soy was coming over for lunch. Instead of using the soy sauce that a particular recipe called for, I used a mix of chickpea miso dissolved in the broth from soaking shiitake mushrooms and kombu. It didn't taste like the original recipe, but it tasted better.

Whatever your challenge is, whether it be in life, or in cooking, face it with an open mind, and find a different solution. Or, in some cases, expect the odd turns and twists that life has sent your way, and enjoy them.


Reducing (not removing) fat

There are times when you want to give your soup or stew a bit more of a creamy consistency, without adding screaming amounts of fat to it. The "easy" way is to dump a bunch of coconut cream onto the whole thing, or creamed cashews/almonds (lightly roast the nuts, add them to a blender, add water until they're just covered, then blend on high until smooth; strain through a sieve for a finer consistency). Even though these are healthy fats, at the end of the day they're still fats. If you're trying to be sensible about your fat consumption, there are other ways to add some creaminess. I'm not suggesting that you skip the soy/almond/cashew/coconut milk all together. Instead, it's best if you use those ingredients in moderation, towards the end of cooking, while still building a creamy base. This is very easy to do, with a few simple ingredients.

Cauliflower 1 tsp canola, vegetable, or olive oil 1 large onion, diced 3 potatoes, peeled and diced 1 head cauliflower, chopped (stems and all) Water, to cover the vegetables 1/4 cup coconut milk/cashew cream Salt & Pepper to taste 3 scrapes of nutmeg Start in a stock pot, and add your onions. Crank up the heat to high, and let the onions sizzle. Add the oil at this point. The reason that you get the onions going in a dry pan is because you want the onion liquid to come out quickly, which lets you reduce the amount of oil that you'll need. If you added the oil first, some of it will evaporate, and the onions will tend to absorb them. This way, you're still going to get them cooked through, while adding the least amount of oil possible. Once the onions are softened and translucent, add the potatoes. Add enough water to cover the potatoes. Let the potatoes boil at a rapid pace, until they're half cooked. Then, add the cauliflower. Don't stir. Don't worry if there isn't enough water to cover the cauliflower. It's OK. They have plenty of water in them. Cover the lid, and let the whole thing cook until the cauliflower is tender, and the potatoes are cooked through. Then, with a blender or immersion blender, puree the soup until it's smooth and creamy. Stir through the coconut milk, and season to taste. At the end, scrape in a touch of nutmeg. If you only have ground nutmeg, add a couple of scant pinches. For some reason, nutmeg makes creamy things taste more creamy. Stir, and taste. The soup should be creamy and smooth. If it's not quite creamy enough for your liking, keep reading.

Tofu Soft tofu is a wonderful ingredient to have around. When you puree it with a bit of soup base, it lends a very creamy texture and taste to the soup, without adding much fat, and boosting the protein content. Take a ladle of soup, and puree it with about 6 oz of soft tofu. Stir through the soup, and taste for seasoning. You shouldn't be able to taste the tofu at all, as it's a small amount that gets incorporated into the soup. In fact, if you want a sort of tofu sour cream, just blend that same amount of tofu 1/4 cup soymilk, and 1/2 tsp of lemon. Puree in a blender until completely smooth. If it's not getting blended enough, add more soy milk as needed. You want the smallest amount of soy milk possible while still being able to blend the mixture. Taste for sourness. If it's too sour, add a bit more tofu, and blend again. If it's not sour enough, add a few squeezes more of lemon. When your soup is ready to serve, throw a dollop of the sour cream on top, and let each person blend it into their own portion.

I have a soy allergy. I'm sorry to hear that. Living with allergies can be tough, but it doesn't mean you can't eat healthy! If you can't have tofu, feel free to substitute some canned white beans (cannelini works great) with the same way I mentioned tofu above. You won't get that same thickness, but you will definitely get a lot of creaminess. In fact, there's no reason why you couldn't add some cooked white beans directly to the cooked soup base, and puree it directly there.

It's creamy. Now what? The reason I gave you this simple base is not to eat it as-is (although that would be extremely delicious). It's so that you have a creamy base with which to work into other recipes. For example, if you want a gravy, add a bit of nutritional yeast (about 3 TB per 1 cup of soup), 1 1/2 TB potato starch (or cornstarch works too), dissolved in 2 TB cold water, and whisk well. Heat over medium high heat until thickened. Let it cool. If you want it a bit thinner, whisk in a bit of water. It'll be an awesome, gluten free, low fat gravy that you can use over mashed potatoes, as a dipping sauce for cooked vegetables, or anything else that suits your fancy. To make a more substantial soup, feel free to add any additions you have lying around. I like a few handfuls of baby spinach in the bottom of the bowl with the piping hot soup ladled over it. It also works great with roasted vegetables, frozen peas, frozen corn (for a delicious tasting corn chowder, add frozen corn, and leftover diced roasted or baked potatoes), chopped green beans, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, or whatever else your imagination can come up with. The point is that you have a starting point, from where you can expand and reach out further, until you find something that you enjoy, and is your own creation.