Heidi Krahling is one of those people who other people want to be around. The chef-owner of Insalata’s and Marinita’s, two long-running restaurants in Marin County, California, is persistently upbeat. It’s the kind of energy that underplays the mule-like stamina (her words) that you need to run a restaurant successfully.
I helped Heidi write her second book, Insalata’s and Marinita’s: A Tale of Two Restaurants, released this past November. In the book, she provides the backstory of her restaurant through recipes divided among kitchen workstations. In 1996, she and her husband, Mark Krahling, opened Insalata’s in a vacant space off of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in San Anselmo. She wanted to have a large takeout counter with a little restaurant and a coffee bar, but the restaurant became super popular, encroaching on the coffee bar and takeout counter. Within a year, she had a big restaurant, a little takeout counter, and no coffee bar.
Every six months or so, Heidi would get a call from San Francisco restaurant veteran Pat Coll. He wanted to partner with her on another restaurant, but Heidi always said no. Insalata’s was definitely enough. When a space opened up down the street from Insalata’s in 2008, however, she changed her tune. In 2009, Heidi and Pat opened Marinita’s, a restaurant serving Latin American (mostly Mexican) fare.
Heidi’s restaurants embody her two food loves—Mediterranean and Mexican. What I didn’t expect to find when working with Heidi was discovering the common ground between the two different regions. For instance, Sikil pak, a Mayan dip of crushed pepitas and seasonings, is similar to Turkish tarator, and both work as a dip or as a topping for fish.
While Insalata’s certainly became more than a big takeout counter with a little restaurant, its takeout counter is still a key part of the restaurant—and it sells buckets of soup. Butternut is a perennial favorite, and through the years, Heidi has made countless variations. Most winter squash soup is creamy and slightly on the sweet side, but it doesn’t have to be. In her new book, Heidi offers a recipe with yellow split peas for a savory depth of flavor.
To free myself from a post-Thanksgiving stupor with some wholesome cooking, I made her soup. I cut back a bit on the original quantity of split peas to reduce the yield, but I could have bumped up the quantity of ginger to counter the sweetness of the squash. [click to continue…]