Me: Come find me.
Hank: (unenthusiastic) Coming.
Me: (scrubbing veg in the kitchen sink)
Hank: What is it, mama?
Me: Summer Session: Soup Making 101
Hank: But I…
Me: Haven’t done anything worth wile today being stuck home because of the rain?
Hank: No, that isn’t true. I organized my school cabinet.
Me: That you did and now you will help me organize these vegtables into a soup.
Hank: (annoyed) What do I have to do?
Me: Come here and observe first. A basic Portuguese Sopa de Legumes (Vegetable Soup) to be healthy it is believed needs at least ten different kinds of veg. We don’t have ten today, we have about six if we count the garlic, so this will be only a moderately healthy soup. We have 5 potatoes, one turnip, a handful of carrots, 4 small onions, three cloves of garlic and I have purslane, which is called beldroega in Portuguese, from our veranda which we will add after we make the caldo (broth).
Hank: (already bored)
Me: What veg do you want to peel?
Hank: Carrots, I guess. (miffed)
Me: We need to peel and rough chop all of this and add it to the pressure cooker.
Hank: (annoyed body language)
Me: What’s wrong? Am I tearing you away from something important?
Me: Then what is wrong?
Hank: (full of sass) What makes you think that something is wrong?
Me: Your body language, your tone of voice and your lack of enthusiasm. You would have thought I asked you to scrub a toilet, not peel a carrot. What is it?
Hank: I haven’t said anything.
Me: You can say a lot without words, young man.
Me: (deep breath)
Hank: (deep breath)
Me: Soup takes five minutes of work to make and is the most important culinary skill I can teach you. I want you to be independent. In a few years I want to call you and say, “Hank, I will be home in 30 minutes. Make a soup for dinner please and have Molly make the salad.” And if you can do that when you are 12 then I won’t ever need to worry about you when you leave home. Basic cooking skills: Soup, omelet, quiche, pancakes…
Hank: (cracking a smile) Chili and tacos.
Me: Totally. Once I know you can make those things, do laundry without turning a whole load of clothes blue or pink and scrub a toilet then my work is done. You already are a master of cleaning floors, organizing and making your bed.
Hank: (tone of voice brightens, shoulders lifted, attitude adjusted) I like to do those things and I like to cook. I don’t know what was wrong with me a minute ago. I wasn’t thinking strait.
Me: You have the ultimate power over your attitude and your attitude makes any job easier or harder.
Hank: I feel better. Before I felt tired and terrible and annoyed, but then I listened and soup only takes five minutes.
Me: (having peeled all my veg like a pro) Two minutes down. Are your carrots all peeled?
Me: Cut off the ends and hand them over. (moving the pressure cooker to the sink) Now, do you see here where the top of the veg sits in the pot?
Me: Mark that spot with your smallest finger and you will know you have enough water when the height of the water reaches your fourth finger.
Hank: Four fingers of water. I have heard this before but didn’t ever understand it.
Me: It’s a Portuguese thing. This measurement will never fail you when it comes to soup. (resting my pinkie-finger against the outside of the pressure cooker and adding water until it reaches my pointer finger)
Hank: That is easy.
Me: (lifting the pot to the stove) Now, I know this will be your favorite part.
Me: (fetch olive oil, bouillon and sea salt from the cupboard) Sopa de Legumes requires two bouillon cubes, a tablespoon of salt and a ton of olive oil.
Hank: (excited) I want to do the olive oil.
Me: You can do it all, my dove. Put enough olive oil that you have a slick of it on the service of the soup about the size of um carcaça (bread roll, hamburger size). I wouldn’t recommend this amount of olive oil in American or abroad.
Hank: (still pouring olive oil from our cruet in a long thin stream) Why?
Me: Because the olive oil in Portugal is so good we add it for flavor as much as for necessity. You don’t get this level of quality outside Portugal and olive oil is often bitter and very expensive.
Hank: Really? That is so sad.
Me: Chega, ja chega (Enough, that’s enough)! Now boullion…
Hank: Two cubes. (plopping them in one by one)
Me: You can use which ever flavor you like and then salt.
Hank: Can I use a spoon?
Me: Let me teach your muscles the right amount of salt to use. Cooking is as much muscle memory as it is recipe. (taking his hand and placing a tablespoon of sea salt into his palm) Take a moment to feel the weight of this salt. Learn to cook with your whole body and you will learn to cook faster and with better instincts.
Hank: (bouncing the salt in his hand) Can I put it in now?
Hank: Now what?
Me: Last but not least, we seal up the pressure cooker and once it starts singing…
Hank: It sings?
Me: What one person might consider the sound of steam spitting angrily from the pressure cooker valve I consider singing. You want your pressure cooker to sing for about 15 minutes, 20 if you are making a bean based soup, before you turn off the heat, release the pressure valve, wait for all of the pressure to be released and the pot to go quiet before you open the pot, purée the vegetables to make the caldo (broth) before you add the purslane and let it simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
Hank: So now we wait?
Me: Yup. You can go back to whatever you were so grieved to be pulled away from before.
Hank: Okay, but mama, don’t forget to call me for the next step. I want to help finish the soup.
Me: You will hear when it is time for sure. Once I release the pressure valve the singing turns to screaming.
Hank: (on his way out the door, turns back) Mama, Monica (Hank’s cousin) said when she tasted Dalia’s (Hank’s grandmother) soup it tasted exactly like Aldina’s (Hank’s great grandmother, Dalia’s mother) soup, so does that mean I will learn to make your soup and that my soup will always taste like yours?
Me: That tends to be what happens. (lighting the gas under the pressure cooker)
Hank: I love that.
Me: (gathering vegetable peels) Love is the best ingredient in food.
Hank: (coming back into the kitchen to help clean up)