Despite growing up in the Midwest, mine was a margarine house growing up. The only time we had butter in the house was during Passover, when we bought whipped butter to spread on matzah. The butter was kept in the fridge, and as a result was incredibly hard. Trying to spread it on matzah was like trying to spread a piece of cement. Mostly you ended up with many tiny pieces of matzah with butter crumbs on them.
My parents bought margarine for two reasons: it was pareve, so it could be used to make desserts for nights we were eating meat, and the conventional wisdom of the time said that it was healthier than butter.
For desserts, margarine worked just fine. I can remember my mother and her friends wondering why the local kosher bakeries couldn’t make good pareve cakes, when they were so easy to make at home using margarine. We made sugar cookies with margarine, and all manner of cakes and pies.
But sometime around grad school, I was making a recipe that called for butter. And I realized that since I was a vegetarian, and didn’t ever need to worry about dairy after a meat meal, there was no reason for me to buy margarine. So I bought butter, and I was completely blown away by how much better it was—as an ingredient it performed better, and the taste. Oh, the taste.
That’s the key argument in the butter v. margarine debate: butter has a taste, a flavor. If you use margarine instead, you’re losing that flavor. Margarine is tasteless. It may function the way you need butter to function in a recipe, but ultimately you end up with something weaker. That’s part of the reason so many kosher cooks now look for recipes that use other fats instead of butter, so that they don’t need to substitute margarine.
As for margarine being healthier than butter…it depends on the margarine. And it depends how worried you are about transfats. (Butter, like everything else, should be consumed in moderation, particularly if you are worried about your heart health.) But I’ve been converted to butter, and I’m never going back.
As I’ve mentioned before, over the past week or so I’ve been kind of obsessed with soups. On Monday I had soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the past eight days I’ve been unplugging my crock pot for no more than 12 hours before starting again with a new soup.
But with soups, unlike with almost anything else, I will do a lot of finicking around until I get it exactly right. On Sunday I started with this recipe for Curried Vegetable and Chickpea soup, but I revised as I went, and at the end spent a while seasoning and changing things up before I finally loved it.
So how do you test recipes? Are you ever faithful to the original, or do you feel free to throw other things in willy-nilly, and figure you’ll season and fix as you go?
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1-2 leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced
2 all-purpose potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno chili (or other hot chili), seeded and minced
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons bullion
2 (16 oz) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
5-8 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 oz baby spinach
1 can coconut milk
1 Tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup honey
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and leeks with one teaspoon of salt until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and another teaspoon of salt, and sauté until just translucent around the edges.
Stir in the curry, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and chili and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in 1/4 cup of water and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Pour this onion-potato mixture into the bowl of your crock pot.
To the slow-cooker, add the rest of the ingredients. The spinach will probably fill up the crock pot, but don't worry, it will cook down. Make sure the liquid comes at least halfway up the side of the bowl. If it doesn't add water 1 cup at a time. Cover and cook for 4 hours on HIGH. Taste and adjust salt and other seasonings as needed.