When I started this blog, I was making a ton of lentil and bean type soups by creating a mirepoix in a pan, sauteeing, and then, later, adding lentils, water, and simmering until done.  Bittman has done it again by generalizing the process. Especially interesting to me are his mushroom and tomato soup recipes, which seem little different in character from the older lentil soups I’d make. These new soups have the advantage that they are considerably more diabetic friendly.

This base (or similar) can begin plenty of soups.

People cook in ways they know and trust. A recipe once learned may be modified or adapted to create another method of cooking. Sometimes the techniques transferred are vestigial. While working fine in their original context, they may not be optimal in another context.

One such place where this kind of non optimal transfer may be occurring are in dishes like curried lamb and lentil stew. I’ve made this, and when I did, I initially followed the directions exactly. One of the things this recipe wanted the cook to do was stir the curry spices in with the lamb and toast them for a minute or two. After doing this, the lamb was transferred into water and cooked for some 45 minutes more.

This approach, toasting the spices, makes a great deal of sense if you’re starting with cumin and mustard seeds and wanting to add the toasty flavor to the food. In other words, it’s a cooking technique, or pattern, derived from the cooking of curries. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in a watery stew where the long period of simmering will deprive the spices of their low molecular weight aromatics over time. In a stew or soup, you want to put the most flavorful spices in last.

I had seen this done a number of times in Indian cooking, where their love of dals is an influence on the various lentil recipes I’ve posted over time. I used this “last in” approach on a urid dal soup I made, but I never had a name for the technique. I just picked it up by reading recipes.

But Mark Bittman has just published an article in the New York Times and it puts a name to this technique. Mark calls it a tarka, and Mark talks about the use of a tarka (along with some advice on cooking with lentils). I haven’t looked closely at the recipes, but I’ll note that Mark’s advice runs contrary to the normal practice of Indian cooks with the tougher dals. Indian cooks soak them. For whole urid dals, I’d recommend an overnight soak and a good three hours cooking. The additional time changes the texture of these tough lentils, becoming less a soup and more a “dal”.

Garlic, chiles, and baby bok choy were cooked in olive oil and added at the last minute to this lamb and lentil stew.

I’ve done this “last minute cooking” with ‘oils’ other than clarified butter (ghee). I find that olive oil works well enough. In this stage, things like spinach or baby bok choy can also be prepped and added to these soups. Techniques like these not only work well in Indian influenced cooking, but you see related last minute additions in things like this Irish beef stew recipe as well. The tarka “pattern” is not only for Indian cooks, but for anyone wanting fresh leaf vegetables and fresh spice flavors in their soups and stews.

Sweet Tomatoes (also Souplantation; evidently there has been some kind of merger) is perhaps the most successful chain restaurant in Atlanta focusing on the soups and salads market. These are restaurants where people line up to get a plate full of lettuce, carrots, celery, and other sliced vegetables, plus dressing perhaps, as the focus of the meal. There are a few Sweet Tomatoes in Atlanta, but not too many. Unlike McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, they seem to expand slowly and selectively. The closest one to Snellville that I know of is the Duluth restaurant, close to Gwinnett Place. This review will largely focus on that location.

Over the years Sweet Tomatoes has expanded their repetoire to include prepared salads.   These will be at the front of the line, before any other vegetable choices can be made. At the end they now have chicken strips you can add, for a small fee. We tend to ignore these, because one of the staple soups of Sweet Tomatoes is their chicken soup, which has much the same meats for free.

I’ve eaten here so often that I’m liable to forget something in my familiarity with this place. If it happens please forgive me. But once you’re through the line you have an abundance of other foods at your disposal. There are usually 5 or 6 soups, of which chicken soup and a chili are staples and the rest rotate. There are muffins, small cornbreads, foccacia, whole grain breads of various kinds, and usually a sourdough bread. There are slices of melons available, usually watermelon, cantelope, and honey dew melon. There is frozen yogurt, with sparkles. There are usually three different pastas served, usually in rich alfredo style sauces.  There was also a bowl of chocolate chip cookies this last time I went.

Some things to note about the Duluth location: the fancy flavored lemonades are available, but you have to ask waitstaff to get some of those. Otherwise it’s mostly soft drinks in the main drink island. Seating: there are a lot of booths, and some tables in the middle. The restaurant can easily handle dozens of patrons.

Verdict: The best and closest of the soup and salad chains, and highly recommended.

Sweet Tomatoes
3505 Mall Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 418-1148

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A coworker, Thomas, recommended I try the place. He was high enough on Gimza he gave me a menu and circled the leek salad. I had never tried Polish cuisine before, so I thought I’d give it a shot on a weekend. Another coworker, Veronica, told me that it was “very good”.

It’s not that hard to get to. Head north on Peachtree Industrial from 285 or Jimmy Carter, turn left on Medlock Bridge Road, and at the intersection of Medlock and Spalding, the restaurant will be on the left hand size of the road. The restaurant has a web site which contains a menu.  Before I went to Gimza, I looked for reviews and found one by the Blissful Glutton. I marked down on my menu items that looked good, so we had some hints before going in.

Once inside, the restaurant is very pretty. There is a bar on  one side, with drinks in cubbyholes all the way to the roof. The chairs have a mahogany cast, the tables a pleasant dark brown. The menu is normally printed, and placed in sleeves, but this day they didn’t have time. It was a little awkward reading the new menu.

I ordered the leek salad that Thomas recommended and the cucumber salad that the Blissful Glutton recommended. My daughter ordered the apple and mint drink. My wife took a long time before settling on the pork cutlet. I had pierogis, the cheese and onion ones that were recommended, and my wife also ordered the mushroom pierogis. My daughter said she didn’t want an entree of her own and got herself a dessert (a sorbet, as I recall).

Both the salads were good. The leek salad had some pickles in it, and the flavor reminded me of one of my mother’s older salad recipes, just this one was a little darker in flavor and had hints of egg in it. The cucumber salad was light and tasty. The hit of the meal were the mushroom pierogis, which everyone tried and then went for seconds. The pork cutlet was, my wife decided, just okay.

I ordered some soup at the end, a vegetable and barley soup. When it came, it was a light broth, with chunks of potato and carrot, and cracked barley. I like the “mouth feel” of grains and I’ve been growing fond of barley. The soup was no exception. I recommend it.

The waiter was exceptionally good. He was soft spoken and aware we were new. He explained everything as best he good and encouraged us to take the remainder of our food home. The service was a strong suit in our visit.

In summary, Gimza is a good restaurant and they serve good food.  It is not, however, eye catching, flamboyant stuff. Other cuisines, such as Japanese, are very aware of color and texture and the food is both art and a meal. But if you have a taste for original European recipes, Gimza will provide that.

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