Let’s Eat — A Writer’s Guide to Cooking
With the onset of cooler weather here in the Pacific Northwest, soups and stews are making a comeback at our house. We do eat them occasionally during the summer, but now we can actually enjoy them without having to sweat through the meal. Besides tasting good, one thing I like about a good hearty soup or stew is that with bread it makes a full meal. It is also comforting to lean over a just-served bowl and inhale the aromatic steam. You know you’re at home.
My wife and I both make soup. Hers tend to be a bit more refined in flavor and appearance, while mine are somewhat crude and overwhelming, unless you have been walking behind a plow all day or are an Armenian lumberjack. She makes a tasty, colorful vegetable soup based on a recipe handed down by her mother, and also a fine minestrone that improves each time you reheat it. Both soups are a little lighter, though, and more suitable as a warm-up to a bigger meal. My soups, on the other hand, are far more likely to set you back physically and emotionally. In some cases, they even lead to paralysis.
Oddly enough, this brings to mind the soup I made yesterday, and from which we are still recovering. Enter gululig. This is an Armenian meatball soup made with ground beef mixed with onions, rice, and parsley, and cooked with pearled barley. A pound and a half of meat will easily serve six. Gululig smells great. If you make it, you will know exactly what our house often smelled like when I was growing up — especially on those days when my father finished his cigar before coming in to wash his hands.
Here are the particulars. Put the meat in a bowl that’s wide enough for mixing by hand. Sprinkle on a healthy layer of salt and pepper, and then grind up some dry basil over that. I always use purple basil, otherwise known as rehan. Scatter about a quarter-cup of white long-grained rice over that. Finely chop a small clove of garlic and throw that in. Chop about an eighth of a green bell pepper and add that. Chop half to two-thirds of a medium-sized yellow or red onion and add that. Sprinkle a little salt over the onion. Chop a good-sized handful of parsley and add that. Next, add about a third of an eight-ounce can of tomato sauce.
To begin mixing, you can use a wooden spoon. I start by pushing the ingredients into the meat with the edge of the spoon. Then I turn the meat over, exposing what was at the bottom of the bowl. To the newly exposed surfaces, add another healthy layer of salt, pepper, and basil. Then add another quarter-cup of rice. Add just a little more tomato sauce, but not so much that the mixture becomes juicy. If you make it too wet, the meat will have difficulty holding together. Finish mixing with your hand. Don’t be shy — use your fingers like the meat hooks they were meant to be. When everything is completely mixed together, pat the meat into a single solid mound.
If you’re like me, at this point you will be tempted to make one giant meatball and leave it at that. I have threatened to do this many times, but that would be too crude, even by my standards. Instead, fill a large pan about halfway with water and heat. Then sprinkle a generous amount of flour onto a dinner plate. While the water is heating, form the meatballs (I make mine about an inch and a half in diameter) and roll them in the flour so they are thoroughly coated. When the water is close to boiling, add a little tomato sauce for color. Then drop in the meatballs.
After you’ve washed the meat-goo from your hands, slice in the rest of your onion, then add several handfuls of pearled barley. The more you use, the thicker the soup will be, especially when it’s reheated. For a short time after the soup comes to a boil, there will be a white foamy layer on top. That’s normal, due to the flour. Simmer for about fifty minutes with the lid at an angle. I prefer making the soup well ahead of time so it has a chance to sit.
Also by William Michaelian
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