Now that all the holidays are behind us – Hannukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, Orthodox Christmas – and the new year is here to stay, it is time to get back on into the daily meal routine. Enough with the extravagant feasts. No more bubbly every where you turn. The candy and cookie makers have cleaned up their kitchens and put their equipment away until another occasion calls for a treat. Some might find this disappointing but I like the simple dinners without all the fuss.
A few Christmases back we stumbled upon just such a meal. Chuck and I had met up with my father in Panama to celebrate the holiday together in a warm climate. We had a wonderful time passing through the Panama Canal, birding in the rain forest, touring the historic sites and just enjoying each other’s company. We had wonderful meals and enjoyed some nice wines and a few well-made caipirinhas out in the country…up until Christmas Day. Then, though, the country came to a standstill.
Being roughly 85% Roman Catholic, Panama shuts down for Christmas and I can totally appreciate that. I would do the same. But being a foreign visitor, we still had to find a place to have Christmas dinner. Following a local travel agent’s advice, we made sure we changed hotels the day before to be in the heart of Panama City as it was likely that the only places we would find open would be the restaurants in the large international hotels in the capital city. (What a superb piece of advice, by the way! She was totally right.)
We spent a very lazy afternoon just exploring the decorations around town and window-shopping in all the closed store fronts. Along the way, we were looking for a place to have a nice holiday feast. Our choices were very few but we did find what turned out to be a superb selection – La Galeria restaurant in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
I can no longer remember what any of us had for our main courses or for dessert. I don’t know what wine was served. But I certainly do remember the simple but delicious first course. It was a wonderfully prepared Garlic Soup.
Being fans of a well-made french onion soup, this soup – also topped with toasted bread and melted cheese but made with garlic and a poached egg – was something we all wanted to try. We ordered three bowls all around and were very glad that we did. It was a soul-warming experience!
That holiday, the Garlic Soup was just the introduction to our extravagant holiday meal. These days though, we’ve turned that simple, tasty, heartwarming dish into the little bit of the holidays that we enjoy year round. With a little home-made bread, it makes a great simple dinner and has become one of the pleasures of our daily routine.
Castilian Garlic Soup
5 whole garlic heads — separated and peeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup sherry
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch saffron threads
4 slices crusty bread
4 whole eggs
Gruyère cheese — grated
- In a heavy soup kettle or a 2-quart saucepan , gently cook the garlic in the olive oil over low heat until the cloves are thoroughly softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not let the cloves get brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the stock and sherry. Bring to a simmer while you stir in the cumin and saffron.
- Use a fork to crush the tender garlic cloves to a paste and add into the soup. Taste and add salt if necessary. Cover the soup and leave to simmer very gently for about 15 minutes.
- While the soup cooks, toast the bread slices. Add an egg to each oven-safe serving bowl. Preheat oven to 400.
- Ladle hot soup into each bowl, over the egg, and top with toast and grated cheese. Put bowls in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes to finish egg and melt cheese.