From Theory Soup to Pièce de Résistance

 

042814_1030_FromTheoryS1.jpg A colleague remarked that a student’s PhD abstract read like theory soup. I thought immediately of minestrone, thick and hearty, bright and colourful, tasty and wholesome. I know exactly what he meant though, and see it often in articles I am asked to review for journals. Usually the authors claim to draw on one or two key theories that underpin their conceptual approach, then throw in a handful of this, that and the other for effect, hoping perhaps to enhance the culinary delight of the concoction. As most chefs will tell you, Minestrone has a tomato base to which complementary ingredients add piquancy, spiciness and aroma, then cooked gently to allow flavours to infuse. In the best minestrone the texture and flavour of each ingredient is preserved within a wonderfully blended flavour that is the broth. Its taste and aroma will live in your memory forever. Get it wrong, it is just soup, and potentially unpleasant like the version in a local, since gone out of business, restaurant in which the most memorable flavour in their minestrone was turnip. It should come as no surprise then that “theory blending” is the name of the game. A few months later my student submitted his PhD. I am happy to report that the final version was blended to perfection, the theories infused throughout, but each retaining its own piquancy. On the day of the defence the critics did their best, but his courses were impeccably presented. It ended with the sweet; anticipated with excitement, as this was where it could all come to a sticky end. But he handled it with a flourish as the maître d’ handles a flambé for the top table, with quiet confidence and understatement, delivering the crêpe with a burst of flame and quick flick of the wrist.

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Then the twit forgot to register for graduation! What can I say? Is this a case of early-onset, absent-minded professorism?
Karl, I despair.

Congratulations Dr Warner.
Paula, you did a grand job.

Winter Warmer – Nutty Turnip Soup

Inspired by traditional Scottish, and Zimbabwean everyday cooking, this soup blends the flavours of turnip (orange swede) with crunchy peanut butter (dovi). For a more authentic African flavour, substitute pumpkin or butternut squash for the turnip. Served very hot, thick and roughly mashed for texture and crunch. This is a tasty and filling dish – perfect for cold winter days.

1 medium turnip (or pumpkin, or butternut squash) cubed

1 bunch fresh celery, finely chopped

1 quarter small white cabbage, finely chopped

1 handful of golden lentils

1 chunk (about 3cm square) of fresh stem ginger, finely chopped

Fresh herbs to taste (coriander or basil work well)

Optional – enough stock (minimise the salt), or water to make it soupy but thick

3 large tablespoons of unsweetened crunchy peanut butter

Lots of roughly ground black pepper

Sweat the vegetables and ginger in a large heavy based pot until starting to soften. Add water or stock depending on your taste (vegetables have a naturally sweet taste which changes when you add salt or salty stock). Cook gently until the turnip is cooked but is still slightly firm then add the lentils. Cook for around 20 minutes more until the lentils are soft then mash roughly with a potato masher. Stir in the peanut butter, heat through then stir in the chopped fresh herbs. Add black pepper to taste. Serve with a swirl of fresh unsweetened cream.