If I inspired you, I've done my job!

August 04, 2011

The Cook's Soul

I love proverbs and saying from different cultures and in different languages. In Russia, we have yet another saying "Вкладывать душу" that literally translates to "put {one’s} soul in {something one does}”.

An imaginative little child that I was, when I first heard this phrase I tried to imagine how a person would put a piece of his soul in his project. It would look like a little cloud, emanating from the chest area, gently descending on a man's work, growing and smoothly enveloping the new creation, illuminating it from within.

As I matured, this saying became my guide. No matter what I do, I believe that a little particle of my soul always passes on to my work. On a bad day, when I complain about my daily rut, I remember that hologram I once had in my imagination when I was a child and instantly my perspective turns around. Because when you put your soul into something, you illuminate your creation as well as the process itself. I believe that you give or rather share life with your endeavors.

I also believe that soul is a flow of energy and everything has its own energy. When we touch the surface, we pass our own liveliness, creating a ripple effect. If we touch with kindness the ripples are smooth and soothing. We have an effect on everything we touch.

Now think about how we affect the food. When we cook, we pass our energy to the dish. That’s why it is even more important to pour your soul into your cooking. The food with soul is alive and potent whereas the commercially prepared food is weak and dead for most of the part. No wonder when we eat commercially prepared food, a.k.a. processed foods we often feel tired and sluggish.

When we cook, we get to share our soul, our heart and love with our dear ones. Machine has none of the above-mentioned qualities, at least since the last time I checked!

My dad’s cooking is a perfect example. He doesn’t cook often but when he does, he gives in wholeheartedly. Ever since I was little I enjoyed watching him cook: with love and kindness, he would carefully prepare the ingredients on a chopping board, making sure that each piece is equal to another. Then he would attentively combine everything over the element, creating a delicious dinner. It looked like he was in meditative state of mind. We always liked his cooking better than my moms, however, when confronted we were hesitant to admit it! He still cooks, alas even less often then before, but approaching his task with the same significance as ever.

One of my favorite dishes my dad cooks is a ragout of nightshades. We didn’t have a name for it until one day my husband told me that in Arabic cuisine they have a similar dish and its name is … The Cook’s Soul. Isn’t it poetic?

This time of the year, the nightshades are making appearance in the local gardens and farm markets. The nightshades are tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and potatoes. The latter one’s fruits aren’t eatable, of course—but it’s a story for another blog post …

The Cook's Soul
Serves 6
½ pound eggplants (2 medium)
½ pound tomatoes (3-4 medium)
½ pound bell peppers (2 large)
1 jalapeño pepper
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 T spoon tomato paste
2 T spoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Prepare the eggplants: peel the skin if desired and dice the eggplants. I peel it with a julienne peeler (I think it’s the name of this gadget) so it is easier to cut through the skin. Put the diced eggplants in the colander and pour 1 teaspoon of coarse salt over to let the bitter juice run off.

2. Prepare the tomatoes: score a cross on the top of each tomato (the opposite pole from where the tomato is connected to the vine) and pour an entire teapot of boiling water over the tomatoes. Let cool and peel the skin starting at the incision. Put whole peeled tomatoes aside.

3. Prepare the peppers: cut the top off, remove seeds and membrane and then cut the pepper in 8 and then slice across. Slice it with the inner side up so knife goes through the pepper’s flesh effortlessly. Otherwise, the skin will be in a way. Repeat the same with jalapeño pepper, with caution, if using.

4. Chop onion and carrots and crush the garlic.

5. In a large skillet heat oil and add onion, carrot, garlic and peppers. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let it all sweat for 10 minutes. Remove the cover; add salt and freshly ground black pepper.

6. Add diced eggplants. Mix it all together, cover and let it sweat for another 10 minutes.

7. Meanwhile dice tomatoes, preserving the juice. Use a serrated knife but if you don't have one, you can use a stake knife to easily cut through tomatoes. When eggplant is almost all translucent, add diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix it, cover and let cook for another 10 minutes until all comes together and eggplants are completely cooked—they will not have any white left inside.

8. Serve with bread, rice, or another nightshade representative—boiled potatoes.

Here’s a piece of my soul in the Cook’s Soul!


  1. What a beautiful name for a beautiful dish... So hearty, fresh and full of life! I love it, Sharizat! :) And your pictures are just incredible... Thanks for sharing this recipe :)

  2. O, man,,, that reminds of me of my mom's dish... Except she roast the eggplant and red pepper. The tomatoes, onions and garlic are raw. Fresh celantro and parsley and a load of bread (the french one) and leave me alone... In a half an hour I will be a happy camper...

  3. Love this post Sharizat! I believe you put a little bit of yourself in your cooking as well. Food is such a wonderful way to express how you feel to those who eat it. My mother used to make this dish. I make a small batch for myself every once in awhile too. It truly is a fresh and hearty dish! Thanks for reminding me how special it really is :)

  4. Sharizat, you put your soul into writing this post and taking photos, too!