I have this funny habit of cooking a ton when it gets cold outside, and then neglecting to post here. Let’s call it my blogging hibernation…for lack of anything else creative coming to mind. And this is a frivolous excuse considering we have had a very mild winter. SO to compensate for my truancy, I’ll share two dishes in this post involving one of my favorite food groups: potatoes! Potatoes make for an exceptional comfort food in the cold weather…when it’s properly winter. Read on to learn more about these two lovely dishes: Rosemary Smashed Potatoes with Dill & Yogurt Sauce and a Coconut & Peanut Red Lentil Stew.
From a historical perspective, the potato carries a lot of weight. It was first cultivated in modern-day Peru between 8000 and 5000 BC. The name as we know it today was a result of the Spain conquering the region, at which time the “conquistadores” named it patata. After introducing the crop to Europe through the Columbian exchange, the potato would grow to become a (if not the) worldwide staple. Yet the Spanish introduced only a handful of varieties from the Americas, which – when blight struck in the late 19th century – led to the Great Irish Famine….oof. Another fun fact is that the potato and sweet potato, albeit similar in appearance, are distant relatives. The former belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) while the latter to the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). You don’t actually need to know any of this to cook these two dishes – I just think it’s super cool.
SO let’s come back up for air after that little tangent. These smashed potatoes are actually quite simple to make. The keys to success are to find potatoes that are small enough and to be patient with the smashing process. Why? Because a few will shatter or break cleanly in half (not pictured…though there were plenty). One thing I can guarantee is that the broken ones will be just as tasty, so go crazy and embrace the imperfect. You can go with or without the yogurt sauce – but the dill and yogurt combo is irresistible in its own right. Click HERE for the recipe to these salty pillows of joy.
Winter and stew are like mornings and coffee – it’s impossible to make it through the first without the second (I’m aware I just confessed to loving coffee a little bit too much…moving on). What I love about this stew is you can prep most of the ingredients in advance – from the mirepoix to measuring out the spices. I prepped most the ingredients the morning of the dinner party, storing them in the fridge until half an hour before I started to cook. It made the preparation so so easy (and hassle-free).
Another thing I like about this stew is its “heartiness” as a vegan dish. You purée half of the ingredients at the end, to create a thicker consistency. There is an optional spicy quotient – I used two dried chilies, with the seeds, reconstituted and minced. You can use less (or more if you are a little crazy). This stew also keeps very well, and is more flavorful on day #2 – thanks to sitting with those lovely spices overnight. Whether this is for a dinner party or a week of lunch prep, this one is a keeper. Click HERE for the recipe to this hearty and healthy winter comfort.
Given the centrality of the potato’s “staple” status for this post, I wanted to pair these dishes with a work that could convey their colorful depth while staying true to this concept. That brought me to the iconic lied (or lieder, for plural): which is German for “song”, and came to represent a musical style that embraced poetry and voice.
The lied was (and still is) a staple for many composers. The style dates back to the 12th century, where the majority of the writing was monophonic. Yet as the the art form evolved, polyphony prevailed as voice plus piano (or orchestra) became the prevalent structure. The lied truly flourished in the 18th and early-19th centuries with the advent of Romanticism. Beethoven, Strauss, Brahms and other great composers produced some of their most epochal works as lieder; specifically as song cycles (where a theme or story ties together all the lieder within a set). Perhaps my favorite example of a song cycle is Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love). Schumann wrote the work in 1840, impressively within the span of a week. The music is set to a series poems by Heinrich Heine: painting the tale of a man enraptured by love, only to hopelessly discover it is an unrequited passion. The below recording features the tenor Fritz Wunderlich, whose performance of Dichterliebe is still held as the gold standard. The songs arequite short, and perhaps the two most famous in the series are the opening, “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” and “Ich grolle nicht” at 7:17. Enjoy!
“Sweet Potato,” Wikipedia.com
“Lied: GERMAN SONG,” Encyclopaedia Britannica
“Schumann’s Dichterliebe,” Hampstead Arts Festival
“The Schumann Chamber Series: Year Four,” Emmanuel Music Program Notes