Friday, March 7, 2014

Learning to improv with soup, how not to follow the recipe

Dedicated to my friends in the Northeast, where it persists in staying chilly, here's one more of my favorite, fast and easy soups.

This is the recipe for Curry Cauliflower and Beans Soup as it was written- not that I've ever followed it exactly.

This February I began a jazz appreciation course.  I used to play in a lot of jazz bands during my days training as a classical musician.  I knew almost nothing about jazz, except that in order to be a good jazz musician, at some point I needed to move beyond playing the notes written on the page and learn to improvise.  Our jazz appreciation instructor defines improvisation as the immediate creation of a melody.  I call it making up music real time.

I never mastered the art of jazz improvisation, but I like to think I'm a very capable improv artist in the kitchen.  I invent quite a few of my dishes, and when using a recipe rarely follow it as written.  I see a recipe much the way a jazz musician sees a "chart," or the written music to a jazz tune.  It's a suggestion, not a rule.

If the idea of culinary improvisation seems as overwhelming to you as jazz improvisation always seemed to me, this is a great recipe to practice not following.

To start, the recipe calls for chicken broth, and I make it vegetarian using veggie broth.  It calls for red onions, I use yellow onions all the time.  Why not try shallots?  Or scallions?  Try swapping out cauliflower for different vegetables.  Brussels sprouts?  Sounds intriguing!  Last night I used cannellini beans instead of chick peas.  And instead of generic curry powder, try a more authentic Indian spice blend, or masala, such as sambar powder.  Maybe you could make your own blend using cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne.  The recipe calls for French Fried onions on top.  What could you top your creation with?  A splash of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, cayenne-infused olive oil?  Do you have any intriguing crunchies in your kitchen that would make your take on the recipe more fun?  The version pictured above is topped with garlic-infused olive oil and tamari-seasoned pumpkin seeds.

Get creative, but know that for best results it's wise to change only one or two ingredients at a time.  If you blend a bunch of random ingredients together, all you'll get is noise.

If you're already an experienced kitchen improv artist this will seem like pretty basic stuff.  But just as when learning musical improv, when you're a newbie, start simple, stay open to ideas, and practice, practice, practice!

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