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Friends, foes and French-style seafood soup

By JOHANNA GARCIA, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 10, 2021 4:00 pm

What were you doing this time last year? Having dinner at your favorite restaurant? Blowing out candles on a birthday cake? Planning where to go for Holy Week? Hugging and kissing relatives at a family gathering? Maybe talking about that new, scary virus that was going around.

A few days later, lockdown hit and we assured each other that we could wait it out until the crisis was over. A couple of weeks, a month, tops. Fast forward to today, where we find ourselves in the middle of the second Lenten season spent in lockdown. Leisure travel feels like the vaguest of memories, as do family reunions, weddings and other large gatherings.

I’m pretty reclusive (some would say misanthropic, even), but my goodness, I miss the world. I miss hugs, kisses and lipstick. I miss seeing people’s smiles and scowls and letting them see mine. My raised eyebrows and eye rolls just don’t seem to have the same impact without the rest of my face working to convey my disdain.

I also miss simpler times when we all took each other at face value. The pandemic has brought out the best in some people and the worst in others, and you just never know which side of the coin will turn up.

Just recently, people that I thought were decent and honorable exhibited greed, opportunism and stupidity so surprising I wanted to eschew all social distancing and mask rules. That way, I could smack them and have them see me smile while I did it. And yet, others amazed me with their incredible supportiveness, kindness and loving gestures.

And whether I’m reeling from the blows inflicted by the awful or wanting to show appreciation for those who were amazing, this French-style seafood soup always seems to fit the bill. It’s both light and easy, as well as rich, comforting and luxurious. It’s even perfect for the Lenten season (and pescatarians!).

It’s also infinitely adaptable. I used lapu-lapu (grouper), mussels and shrimp this time around, but play around with whatever seafood you like or is particularly fresh at the time. Cod, sea bass,  or any other white, firm-fleshed fish will work, as will other kinds of shellfish: scallops, squid, clams or even lobster, if you’re feeling flush.

Feel free to tinker with the amount of cream, as well to make this dish as light or as rich as you prefer. Half a cup works for me, but you can add more or less depending on your taste and your mood.

Make this for the people you love, including yourself. Make sure to serve it with a generous splash of lemon, as well as some hot, crusty bread, preferably slathered with garlic and good olive oil.

Soon, Lenten lockdowns, pandemic profiteers and all other awfulness will fade away as you bask in the comfort of creamy, sweet-seafood-y goodness, as well as the realization that love, life and people are still pretty darned amazing.

French-style Seafood Soup

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1/2 cup chopped leeks (optional)

1/2 cup finely chopped carrots

1 birds-eye chili, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup chopped tomatoes

200 grams potatoes, peeled and sliced into one-inch cubes ( keep in cold water to prevent discoloration)

3 cups water

250 grams white-fleshed, non-oily fish such as cod, bass or grouper

250 grams mussels

250 grams shrimp or prawns

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a pot and add the onion, garlic, green pepper, leeks and carrots. Cook over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes or until vegetables are wilted.

Add the chili, bay leaf, thyme, wine and tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Drain the potatoes and add to the soup.

Cover pot and cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.

Add water and cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until bubbling.

Add the seafood and simmer for 2-3 minutes until just cooked through (don’t overcook).

Add the cream and bring to a boil. Stir in half the parsley and add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve with lots of lemon and hot, crusty bread (preferably with garlic and olive oil).