It was the end of summer, 1978. My friend Spanky and I left Vermont and entered New York City on a Greyhound bus, young, wide-eyed, a quarter in our pockets and an apartment promised us by a friend. We were broke, but living in style just off Central Park West, in a grand apartment decorated in eclectic male ballet dancer; as in one who had decorated with art and fabric from many cultures with a quiet, classy style.
Trying to come up with a legitimate plan for increasing our funds, Spanks and I pooled our meager coins together and decided to light a candle in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. My mother often mentioned that tithing money was a way to give from the heart and be rewarded back in times of need. I recounted this theory to Spanks and we agreed to gamble it all on the good Saints in heaven. We made our way on foot across the park and up 5th avenue to St. Patrick’s and entered the dimly lit interior of the great church. It appeared, from the crowds, that we were not the only ones tithing their final coins that morning. The side aisles of St. Patrick’s are lined with alcoves of statues of saints and martyrs, with a kneeling bench and rows of tea candles illuminating prayers the faithful leave behind. Spanks and I each chose our special Saint, though I don’t recall who picked whom or why; and slowly, painfully, I dropped my last quarter into the tin box and heard the clink of coin hit the metal. I lit the taper from someone else’s candle and put fire to the last unlit candle on the stand, as if, I thought, it was waiting there especially for me. I knelt and prayed that by tithing my last quarter I would be granted a boon of generosity from somewhere well beyond my comprehension. Then with a great sigh I gave it over into the hands of Divine compassion and together Spanks and I moved out into the sunlight and the hustling city.
Since there was no money for food we returned to the apartment in hope that the kitchen cabinets would yield up some hidden treasures, but they were bare and empty; typical of a dancers kitchen, for food is temptation and a dancer’s body a temple of deprivation. Next I turned to the refrigerator and there resting on the top shelf was a small container of plain yogurt, 2 zucchini, half a lemon, a small, slightly shriveled yellow onion, and half a stick of butter. To me the makings of something grand, to Spanks we were destined to starve through the night.
Stomach gurgling I chopped and made a quick saute with the onion and zucchini; hallelujah! there was salt and pepper I had overlooked; then all went into the blender with the yogurt and what little lemon juice I could squeeze from that pitiful half. Voila! Chilled Zucchini Yogurt Soup, eaten cross legged on the floor of a million dollar apartment. And it was so satisfying and delicious! Maybe it was because we were so hungry or perhaps we were grateful for this sudden gift of food, but we savored every bite and at the end of our meal the phone rang in the apartment. Expecting our dancer friend it was instead my brother Kevin, calling to say that he needed to tithe some money and would wire me 50 dollars overnight. I hung up and told Spanks. Neither of us had mentioned to our families our dire financial situation (after all, we had to make it on our own), and yet in the matter of a few hours came the answer to our prayers.
Now, the Chilled Zucchini recipe ended up in my first cookbook, Starting Over, Learning to Cook with Natural Foods. Really, how could I not honor the memory of this lovely soup; and recently I had the opportunity to prepare it again for a group of sixteen people at the Genesis Farm 2-week Immersion program. It required some adaptation of ingredient amounts for such a crowd, and I added a swirl of roasted red pepper coulis as a final flourish. Next morning one of the participants came into the kitchen to say she had eaten at 4 star restaurants and never had she eaten a soup this delicious. Nice to hear, and hope this version does it justice.
Chilled Zucchini Yogurt Soup
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 small yellow onion (about 1 cup), chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 medium large zucchini, sliced lengthwise, then into thin half moons
3 cups vegetable stock
juice of half a lemon
2 cups whole plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
Minced fresh chives
1. In a medium skillet heat the oil and butter and saute the onion and shallots until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini slices, toss well, add the stock, reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the zucchini is tender, about 10 minutes. This can be done the day before and left to cool until ready to serve. Otherwise, set aside and allow to cool while you prepare the red pepper coulis (recipe below).
2. When zucchini mixture is cool combine in a blender with the lemon juice, yogurt, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth, adjust seasonings and add more yogurt or stock to your tastes. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
3. Ladle soup into bowls and swirl a spoonful of red pepper coulis across the surface; finish with a sprinkle of fresh chives.
Red Pepper Coulis
1 12 ounce jar roasted red peppers, rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Will last up to one week in the refrigerator. Also great on vegetables, salmon and cooked greens.