Last month I participated in the first round of the Cook's Book Club, a monthly blogging event started by Meena at Hooked on Heat. Each month we read the chosen book and then cook a dish inspired by the story or it's characters. (You can read about it here) Last month the book was Serving Crazy With Curry (the post and recipe for that one is here), book I had read before and really enjoyed. This month it is Kahaled Hosseini's second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns. I read his first book The Kite Runner, a couple of years ago and found it to be a beautifully written, thought-provoking and somewhat depressing book so I had some concerns when a couple of friends told me this book was even more bleak. In all honesty, I really struggled through this book all month, reading a bit, putting it down and switching to something lighter, picking it up again, putting it down again, etc. Hosseini is a incredible and poetic storyteller and the book is I think, even better than his first in terms of the writing but as I was reading, I found myself constantly thinking "Oh no--what now? Can things possibly get any worse?!" with every page I turned.
The story this time is centered primarily on two women, Mariam and Laila, through three decades of war and basically hell in Afghanistan. Opposites in most ways--age, background, appearance, etc., they are brought together reluctantly by their circumstances and they forge a relationship and friendship over chai tea and their shared experiences. We hear their stories and their combined story alternating from both of their points of view. The story is harsh and unrelenting and I found myself sobbing throughout the book. Lest you think, based on my review, "Why would I want to even read this book?", know that it is VERY good and that I am pretty much a wimp with sad things. I remember when Oprah first started her book club, I would gamely buy the books and try to read them but ended up finding most of them to be way too depressing for my taste. (I used to want to write to her and say "Yo, Oprah--what's up? You are rich and famous--cheer up!!! Why not pick the occasional "happy " book to see what it feels like?!) I don't live in a fantasy land and I don't always pick books that are totally fluffy and perky, but sometimes I do like to read for fun and to escape from reality a bit and this book didn't do that for me. As tough as it was for me to get through it, however, I am not sorry I read it because we need books like this to make us aware of what is going on in the world.
When trying to decide on a recipe, I knew I wanted to make a recipe from Afghanistan. I first thought about making an ice cream because it correlated to some of the more pleasant moments in the story. Instead I ended up deciding on soup--something warm, comforting and nourishing, which is what I wanted for these two wonderful women. I wanted them to be comforted, nourished and happy which is what soup represents to me. I saw the name Aush Soup in the book and looked it up, finding out that it is a soup dish usually made with noodles and different vegetables and topped with yogurt or sour cream and dried mint. I found a few recipes for it on the Internet and I ended up with this recipe from a recipe posted on a website (here) from a book called "Afghan Cuisine: Cooking for Life A collection of Afghan Recipes (and Other Favorites) for the Novice Afghan and Non-Afghan Cook", by Nafisa Sekandari. Although Aush soup often has ground meat or lamb, this is the vegetarian version which sounder a bit better to me.
Aush Soup (Vegetarian)
Afghan Cuisine: Cooking for Life A collection of Afghan Recipes (and other favorites) for the Novice Afghan and non-Afghan cook by Nafisa Sekandari
1/2 package of egg noodles (Fresh Chinese noodles preferred)
2 quarts of water
1/4 cup of oil
1/4 cup of tomato sauce
2 clove of garlic (minced)
3 cups of plain yogurt
1 can of kidney beans (rinse)
1 can of Garbanzo beans (rinse)
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoons of crushed dry mint
In a deep pot, slice onions and sauté in oil until golden brown. Cut potato in quarters and add to onions with 2 cups of water and boil for 5-7 minutes. Add noodles, tomato puree, salt, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, pepper, minced garlic, coriander, turmeric, and ginger, along with 5-6 cups of water and let boil for 20 minutes. Once it's ready (noodles tender, and water soupy) take Aush out and place in a bowl and add yogurt and mix. Sprinkle dry mint over the Aush and serve.
I copied the recipe as listed--the out of order ingredients and all (does that drive you nuts too?!) The recipe is a bit vague, I had to make some guesses and take some liberties--I don't know what noodles would have been used in Afghanistan. The recipe called for "Chinese Noodles--preferably fresh" and not knowing what kind and having only the option of fresh chow mein or chow fun at my local store, I went for the thicker chow fun noodle. I added more tomato sauce than it called for as the recipe asks for 1/4 cup and I had a small 8 oz can and I didn't want to waste it so I just plopped it in. It also said to quarter the potatoes and I cubed them instead---thinking quarters would be too big. I am not sure how authentic the recipe is but it is interesting and (surprisingly), pretty good--I liked the flavors and the tang from the yogurt.
Next month's book is The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. I read this book a couple of years ago when it came out and really loved it. I look forward to getting reacquainted with it.
I am also so excited that this is my 50th post! It may seem like a small thing to most but it is a milestone to me. I toyed with the thought of starting a blog for so long that it feels like a huge accomplishment to have actually done it! In the couple of months and a bit of change since I started blogging, I have really had fun, challenged myself and my cooking skills, "met" some great people and (I think anyway) improved my photography skills. I have kept it pretty under the radar so far--I have 3 people (and one cat) in my life that know I am blogging, not sure when or if I'll change that. It is just nice to have a realized passion for something and the creative outlet I was missing. Here's to another 50 and beyond!