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Archive for the ‘soup’ Category

On Labor Day, a bunch of us from the restaurant went to Sycamore Farms.

Sycamore Farms

We toured the land on a tractor.

Sycamore Farms

Our guide, Kevin, let me drive the tractor. Everyone on board survived.

Sycamore Farms - another tractor

Just barely.

Sycamore Farms

We picked corn.

corn at Sycamore Farms

That’s Chef Carmen*.

Chef Carmen picking corn at Sycamore Farms

We picked tomatoes.

Sycamore Farms - tomatoes!

Lots of tomatoes.

tomatoes at Sycamore Farms

We cooked together.

We ate together.

Then I went home and turned our torn-from-the-stalk corn into soup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

* A special thank you to Krishna Kinsey, Union Square cook and one of the best pasta makers I know, for the photo of Chef.

Farm-fresh corn soup

Improvised after consulting David Lebovitz’s recipe for fresh corn soup and Dorie Greenspan’s for summer corn soup in Bon Appétit. 

Makes 8 cups

- 6 ears of really fresh corn, shucked (I like the microwave method)

- 6 C water

- 2 T olive oil

- 1 large onion, chopped (approximately 1 C)

- 2 cloves garlic, minced

- 1 red poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped (approximately 1/2 C)

- 2 t hot paprika, plus extra for garnish

- 1 C cream

- 1 T salt

- 1/4 C chopped parsley for garnish

Slice. Slice the corn off the cob into a large bowl. This should yield about 6 cups total. Reserve the naked cobs.

Boil. Cut the reserved cobs into 3 – 4 pieces. Bring water and cobs to a boil in a pot. Lower heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes to extract the flavor from the cobs. Remove the cobs. Some of the liquid will evaporate, so you should be left with about 4 cups of corn stock.

Saute. In the meantime, in a larger pot (the one you plan to make the soup in), heat the oil and saute the onion over medium heat until soft and translucent, but not browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper, and paprika, continuing to saute for another 5 minutes until the pepper starts to soften. Stir in 4 cups of corn kernels, reserving the remaining 2 cups.

Simmer. Pour the corn stock over the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the cream.

Puree. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is as smooth as possible. If you want the soup to be perfectly smooth, strain it, pressing hard on the solids, but it will be a bit on the thin side. I didn’t bother straining.

Serve. Divide the soup among bowls, garnishing with corn kernels, parsley, and a sprinkle of paprika.

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Well. Where were we? Oh yeah, so after I met Dorie (!), my sister and I went to Norway and Spain, and then I moved from Boston.

Wait, you say. What? you think. Didn’t you just move? you shake your head. Well, yes. Yes, I did just move. But it’s been a complicated multi-stage move and I’ve had a hard time cutting the cord. I sublet a place in Brooklyn for three weeks and then went back to Boston. I returned to Brooklyn to another apartment, for 5 weeks this time. Then I took over a friend’s lease in my old Upper West Side neighborhood, happily living mere blocks from my support system of friends. That lasted four months. The apartment, not the friends. And finally I moved to my current place. And earlier this month, I let go of my lease in Boston and transported the remainder of my belongings – furniture, books, pots and pans, scuba gear, and all – into my place in New York.

In case you’re counting, it’s been a year since I made those first tentative steps away from one career towards the uncertainty of another.

For most of my life, I’ve known what I was going to do next. There was always another school. A better job. A promotion. And now, I’m starting from scratch and for the first time ever, I don’t know what’s coming next. Will I eventually open a cafe? Write a cookbook? Work on the corporate side in a large restaurant group? Teach the principles of hospitality to other industries (healthcare, I’m looking at you!)? Cook for my family? There are all things I’m considering. And in the end, it will probably be a combination of several of these options. Which ones? I have no idea.

I met with a colleague and mentor the other day and we spoke about uncertainty. She encouraged me to just be. Or, in her words, to “grow where you’re planted.” I find myself repeating this phrase to myself multiple times a day. When I question what I’m doing. When other people question what I’m doing.

So, I’m going to make a deal with you. For a little while, I’m going to just be. To grow where I’m planted. To be OK with it. To be happy with it. Now here’s where you come in. Please believe me when I say that I’m happy being where I am right now. Please trust me when I say that I don’t yet have a clear vision for where I’m headed but that everything will work out. Please gently push me out of my comfort zone. And with your help, I’ll continue to believe in myself and trust my instincts and push my own limits.

And in return, I will give you the gazpacho recipe I picked up in Barcelona. How’s that for a win-win?

gazpacho

In Barcelona, my sister was in charge of directions and getting us where we wanted to go, and I was in charge of food. We saw a lot of Gaudí, ate ice cream at least once a day, and took a cable car across the port. We took the elevator to the top of Sagrada Família and wound our way down a narrow seashell staircase. We spent a day at a beach just a half hour outside Barcelona by train. We spent evenings by the pool on the roof of the hotel that we splurged on.

The only traditional tapas bar I went to was on a food tour the first night. The tour was enjoyable if unremarkable until I asked our guide for his favorite place to eat gazpacho. With this question, his eyes lit up. I make the best gazpacho, he said. Before I could ask him for his recipe, he started enumerating on his fingers. Take four tomatoes – make sure they’re really ripe. And then one cucumber. Remove the peel and the seeds. One pepper. Red. Or green. But red is best for the color. Use red. Then one onion, about this size, holding up a clenched fist. And garlic. One or two cloves. Maybe three. Yes, three. And one-third of a baguette. Or half of a small one. It should be the size of the cucumber. Put it all in a blender. Add olive oil and vinegar. Sherry vinegar, of course. But the secret, he leaned in for effect. The secret, he beckoned, is cumin.

Just two days after returning from Spain, I gathered gazpacho ingredients, threw them in a blender, measured and tweaked and substituted. I stuck a pitcher in the fridge, and then I left to pack up the apartment in Boston that I had called home for five years. When I returned to New York, furniture and books and pots and pans and scuba gear in tow, the gazpacho was waiting for me.

Gazpacho

This recipe is based on the one given to me by my tapas tour guide in Barcelona. Here I use cucumbers with thick waxy skin as he recommended. You can use “seedless” Persian or English cucumbers if you prefer. The raw onion and garlic give the soup quite a bite, but it does mellow out after a day or two. Make sure to serve the soup with some chopped vegetables and croutons for garnish and crunch. 

Makes approximately 2 quarts

- 3 lbs ripe tomatoes

- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed

- 1 1/2 red pepper, seeds removed

- 1 small yellow or red onion

- 3 cloves garlic

- 1/2 stale baguette (approximately the same length as the cucumbers laid end to end)

- 1/4 C olive oil, preferably arbequina

- 2 T sherry vinegar

- 1 T cumin

- salt

- Optional garnish: diced tomato, cucumber, and pepper; small croutons

Chop. Roughly chop all the vegetables.

Soak. Tear the baguette in small pieces and cover with warm water until very soggy.

Blend. Add all of the vegetables to your blender and go to town until very smooth. Drain the water from the bread, reserving it for later. Add the bread and continue to blend until very smooth. Add oil, vinegar, cumin. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then keep adding it by the teaspoonful until the gazpacho tastes good to you. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with the reserved bread water.

Strain. If you want your gazpacho to be silky smooth, do like most restaurants and push it through a cheesecloth lined strainer. I don’t bother.

Chill. Let the gazpacho chill for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Serve. Serve in wide bowls with small plates of diced tomato, cucumber, pepper, and croutons. Drizzle with olive oil.

***

Here are some of the restaurants that my sister and I enjoyed in Barcelona. I tried gazpacho at nearly every single one of them.

Bar Mut
Sam (the General Manager at USC and my boss) sent me here, referring to it as Balthazar meets tapas bar and recommending we show up in the late afternoon after the lunch rush. Beneath a  an unassuming corner in what can only be described as the urban equivalent of the middle of nowhere (particularly in comparison to the bustle of las Ramblas), Bar Mut is truly a hidden gem. There are no menu. The website is little more than an address, a phone number, and a 17 minute video called Intereses Mundanos (Mundane Interests) that gives the restaurant an air of mystery. Daily specials are scrawled on a blackboard above the bar,  but the best way to order is to engage your server in a dialogue about your hunger, mood, likes and dislikes, and let him guide you. Some of the fish entrees can get quite pricey.
Address: Carrer de Pau Claris, 192 (at Diagonal)
Area: Eixample

Cornelia and Co.
Cornelia and Co is part restaurant, part gourmet take-away.
Address: Carrer de València, 225
Area: Eixample

Els Quartre Gats (4 Gats)
Go here for the art work and history as a modernist salon of sorts. The food is decent enough, but overpriced. That said, I had amazing pan con tomato.
Address: Carrer de Montsió, 3
Area: Barri Gòtic

Teresa Carles
Just a few blocks from La Rambla and on a quiet pedestrian street, this vegetarian restaurant is a nice break from meat-heavy menus. You can design your own salads and get a juice fix. My sister particularly enjoyed the seitan and tofu sliders.
Address: Jovellanos, 2
Area: Las Ramblas

Torre d’Alta Mar
This restaurant can be a bit confusing to find. It’s located at the top of the tower from which the Telefèric del Port cable car launches. While quite pricey, we had some of the best and most interesting food of our trip here and the view of the port is spectacular. 
Address: Passeig Joan de Borbó, 88 (take the elevator up)
Area: Barceloneta

 

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I have a quick little soup for you today and it’ll take me longer to tell you about it than it will for  you to make it. So gather round for a brief chat and then grab your blender and a handful of ingredients and get going.

cucumber avocado soup

It’s a chilled soup – you might even be tempted to call it a gazpacho, but I’d advise against it because it’s unbelievable creamy. While I haven’t (yet) posted a true tomato and cucumber gazpacho on the site, you might want to check out salmorejo, a Spanish tomato soup I first tried in Seville, or cucumber mint gazpacho adapted from Ten Tables in Provincetown.

But back to today’s recipe. I came across the it when Rivka mentioned that it was time for  one of her oft-repeated cold summer soups. As I’ve been forced to close my window shades from dusk until dawn when I’m not home and crank up the air conditioning while I sleep, it’s a welcome reprieve with a some jalapeño heat – but not enough to get you sweating again – requiring the same amount of effort as cleaning your blender when you’re done.

It does greatly benefit from a little bit of crunch to balance out the creaminess, so I toasted up some lavash chips. The  lavash itself has a little story, one that left me and my colleagues in a fit of giggles. Friday morning, I was greeted in the restaurant office by the following note perched upon a 4-inch stack of wraps, tortillas, and lavash.

A guest last night left this for you: endless possibilities… Some guests palm a hundred for a table. Others shower you in flatbread, I guess.

The prior evening, a bakery owner had stopped in for dinner and when we were chatting about his work, he said he’d leave me a few samples from his bakery. I schlepped the bread home, toasted it up with a spray of olive oil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, and served it next to the soup. Luckily I have enough lavash to for an entire summer’s worth of chilled soup.

cucumber avocado soup

Cucumber Avocado Soup

Adapted from Not Derby Pie’s recipe. This is one of those recipes where you barely chop the ingredients, throw them into a blender, and press a button. One minute later, maybe two, you have soup. It is quite thick and creamy – if you’d like, add additional cucumbers and extra water to thin it out a bit. Top with something crunchy for a little texture – I used toasted lavash, but pita or tortilla chips would be great too. 

Update 6/23/14: To thin the soup out a bit, I doubled the cucumbers, and then added a bit extra salt. Excellent!

Makes approximately 6 cups

- 3 avocados, preferably Hass, halved and roughly chopped

- 3/4 lb seedless cucumbers (I used 5 large Persian cucumbers), roughly chopped

- 2 pickled jarred jalapeño peppers, chopped (with seeds), more to taste

- 1 1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek; if you use regular yogurt, the soup might be a little bit thinner – not necessarily a bad thing in my book)

- 20 fresh chives, roughly chopped

- 20 mint leaves

- 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

- salt and pepper to taste

Blend. Combine all ingredients in a blender, starting with half of the jalapeño and reserving 4-5 sprigs chives. Add 1/4 cup water to get the blending started, then blend on medium until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and more jalapeno to taste. Thin out with extra water to get the texture that you want.

Chill. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Ladle. Fill bowls and garnish with chives, minced jalapeño,  and/or mint. Serve with something crunchy.

 

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I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I’ve never made matzah ball soup. I don’t need. Because my mom’s is the best.

One of the tricks is that she starts with a whole chicken and a ton of bones that she gets from our butcher. Then she throws in some mirepoix and enough dill to send me to heaven and lets everything simmer for hours and hours. The broth chills in the refrigerator until it gels in the best possible way. My mom even picks out the white meat chicken and saves it for my bowl because she knows that’s how I like it.

As for the matzah balls, well, they’re from a box. My mom prefers Streit’s or Manischewitz, essentially whatever she can find on the shelves in the pre-Passover frenzy. You won’t find her adding any schmaltz or seltzer either. Her secret is a very large pot. The largest pot you can find. And making the balls in several small batches to avoid over-crowding that pot. (In biological terms, consider the pot’s carrying capacity before dropping in that extra ball to avoid stunting the growth of all its neighbors. Am I the only nerd reading this blog?)

My mom has another secret weapon: my dad. In his own words, “Annie did the wonderful delicious magical details. I was only a simple assistant taking down Passover pots, buying ingredients, cutting chicken pieces in half, and cleaning the pots after some final tasting.” Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I’d love to give someone pot washing duty!

my mom's matzah ball soup

ps – A big thanks to will.i.am. for the title of this post.

pps – You have to love living in a city where the local paper’s dining section on the day after Passover is “The Bread Issue.” We’ve got artisanal bakers, including Uri Scheft whose Bread Bakery Jerusalem baguettes are delivered daily to our restaurant. Also, nostalgia for the bread service that’s slowly disappearing. Then, rules for bread baking from Tartine Chef Chad Robertson – it all starts with patience – and a condensed version of his 38-page country bread recipe. (When I went to San Francisco a few years ago, Tartine sold out of bread by 10 am). And in case you want to bake some more, there are three additional bread recipes. After you make bread, you have to master the art of making toast. And then, figure out what to do with any leftover crumbs.

ppps – Today also marks the opening of Black Seed Bagels where Noah Bernamoff of Mile End Deli will introduce a New York-Montreal hybrid bagel.  After a decadent lunch, I swung by the shop and picked up a baker’s dozen. The thirteenth bagel is for eating on the way home, right?

Enough post-scripts. Let’s get to my mom’s soup.

Annie’s matzah ball soup

Adapted from this recipe. My mom uses soup mix or bouillon instead of salt in her recipe to enhance the chicken-y flavor – add it to taste, conservatively at first. Or use salt to taste. This is a huge batch, but it freezes well, so go ahead and make the whole thing. 

Makes at least eight quarts 

- 7 quarts water

- 1 5-lb chicken, cut into 8 (or more) pieces

- 2 lbs chicken bones from the butcher

- 1 large onion, chopped

- 1 entire head celery, chopped

- 1 lb carrots, chopped

- 1 large bunch rest dill, cut up roughly

- several tablespoons of Osem chicken soup mix (without MSG) or bouillon, or salt to taste

- 2 boxes Streit’s or Manischewitz matzah ball mix (for about 40 matzah balls) and whatever other ingredients they call for

Boil. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add in the chicken and bones. Skim off some fat and “scum” that rises to the top several times until no more accumulates.

Simmer. After the skimming, add in all of the vegetables, dill, and the soup mix powder to the pot. (Again, be conservative with soup mix/bouillon at first until you see how salty the broth is). Lower the temperature to a simmer and cover the pot.  Simmer for about 3 1/2 hours.  Check on the soup every half-hour and stir. When done, the vegetables should be softened and the chicken falling off the bone.

Strain. Remove all chicken pieces, bones, and most of the vegetables and let cool. Discard any dill stems. Refrigerate the soup, chicken, and vegetables overnight. The next morning, skim the fat off the top of the soup. Remove the bones from the chicken by hand, shred the chicken and put it back into the soup along with the vegetables.

Make matzah balls. Follow the package directions, along with my mom’s tips. With wet hands, roll the dough into balls about one-inch in diameter. This is important: cook the matzah balls in small batches. Use a very large pot and only add enough matzah balls to form a single layer with a fair amount of wiggle room – you don’t want to crowd the pot when they expand. Cover the pot and simmer each batch of matzah balls for at least half an hour. They’re ready when you can stick a knife into the center without hitting any resistance. Remove the balls with a slotted spoon and place them in a single layer in a flat pan and refrigerate. We like our matzah balls fluffy but firm enough that they don’t fall apart. Make sure to store the balls separately from the soup, otherwise they’ll absorb too much soup and fall apart.

Serve. Reheat the soup with snips of fresh dill, and add the matzah balls carefully with a large spoon.

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Today, we’re taking a short trip back in time. And forward in time.

When I made my first tentative steps towards moving back to New York, I spent a lot of time feeling around. Where did I want to live? Two short Brooklyn sublets and I decided to return to my trusty old Upper West Side neighborhood. (Exploring Park Slope and the neighborhood was fun, but I just felt too far from my posse of friends). Where did I want to work? What did I want to do? Those questions are much harder and I’m still working them out.

But one of the best experiences I’m having is working with Einat Admony, chef and owner of Balaboosta and Taïm. I first saw Einat on Chopped years ago and a few months later found myself spending a lot of time in the West Village just a few blocks from her first falafel bar. Aside from the crispy green falafel repeatedly voted as best of New York, Taïm’s fries with saffron aioli are divine. Fast forward to last year, right around this time, when I finally met Einat at a cooking class up in Boston. When she asked for volunteers, I (of course) jumped in to help grill and dress and plate. We chatted after class and a few months later she invited me to her birthday party.

Not surprisingly, when I moved to New York, she was one of the first people I called as I was getting my bearings. I started working alongside her, writing and photographing recipes (like this grilled eggplant with Asian tahini sauce) and completing other special projects.

Einat typically works out of the restaurant, riding in from Brooklyn on her pink Vespa. A white helmet parked on the windowsill is a sure sign that she or her husband and business partner Stefan is inside. The round table in the back is where we set up camp. It’s typically scattered with Macs, papers, and menus. Guy, Balaboosta’s Executive Chef and Einat’s close friend, might bring out 3 spoons and a small bowl filled with sauce, the spoons superfluous as we each stick in a pinky to taste. It needs something – more anchovy? a squeeze of lemon? And then we improve it until it’s just right.

I love spending full days observing and sometimes participating in the lifecycle of a day in a restaurant from pre-service to post-service and everything in between. My favorite part of those days is seeing the goings on behind the scenes.

Bala chairs in the morning

Bala Einat phone tryptich

Taim Mobile 2

On Mondays, someone climbs up the ladder to write the weekly specials in chalk on the blackboard. Then the team, forks in hands, gathers around that table in the back and we’re introduced to these seasonal dishes developed in the kitchen only hours earlier. Chef presents each dish and explains its ingredients and preparation. We dig in, some scooping up a bit of everything in one bite, others dissecting piece by piece to better understand how everything fits together. We discuss how it tastes, what drinks would pair well, how to describe it to diners.

I treasure these restaurant days and I think this is the direction my new life might be headed.

So, it’s fitting that the first real thing I cooked when I came to New York was a soup from Einat’s cookbook Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love, released late last year. I cherish this cookbook – you can read more about it here – and have been cooking my way through it, recreate some of my restaurant favorites. When a particularly cold spell drifted through the air in mid-October, I made soup.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

No surprise that it’s a butternut squash soup – I tend to make a new one each winter (well, except for the winter of 2010/2011 which had a lot of travel and only one soup, mushroom). This one starts with a classic mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery and is flavored with saffron and thyme. What really makes it special though is a dollop of thickened yogurt sprinkled with za’atar, a spice mix containing hyssop, wild relative of thyme. These finishing touches really bring everything together.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

Before we get to the recipe, here are a few articles that I’ve recently read that I think you might enjoy.

Artisanal toast? Yes, according to this article. Less about food, more about people.

From the first of the year, Jacques Pépin’s recipe for onion soup without beef stock, a sure hangover cure.

For once, the hospital industry may be a model for Wall Street as companies start to limit working hours. But the “I worked that many hours, so you should work that many hours” mentality is hard to break down no matter where you are.

Also, here’s a glimpse of the area between my bed and the window that I use for photo shoots. So you can have a behind-the-scene glimpse at my work too.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta) - taking a step back

Butternut Squash and Saffron Soup with Za’atar

Adapted from Einat Admon’s Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love. Einat calls this soup “marak ketumim,” orange soup. Don’s skip the Greek yogurt (though you can use sour cream instead) and za’atar which contains hyssop and complements the thyme in the soup.

Serves 8 – 10

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 1 large leek

- 8 cloves garlic

- 5 pounds butternut squash

- 5 large carrots

- 5 celery ribs

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 1/4 C sugar

- 1 T kosher salt

- 2 t freshly ground pepper

- 8-10 C water

- 3 fresh thyme sprigs

- 1 fresh rosemary sprig

- pinch of saffron threads

- Greek yogurt

- Za’atar seasoning

Prep. Finely chop the onion, leek, garlic. Peel the squash and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Peel the carrots and cut them and the celery into 1/4-inch pieces.

Saute. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 7 minutes. If the edges of the onion turn deep brown, no worries  – it will give the soup even more flavor. Add the leek and garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the squash, carrots, and celery. Place a lid on the pot and allow the vegetables to cook for 20 minutes.

Stir. Add the sugar, salt, pepper, 8 cups of water, thyme, rosemary, and saffron. Stir to combine all the seasonings and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer until all the vegetables are so soft that you can press down on them with a spoon, about 30 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add up to 2 more cups of water as it cooks.

Puree. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the soup to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the stems from the thyme and rosemary. Puree the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender or in small batches in a blender.

Serve. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then transfer the soup to another pot and reheat slowly before serving. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and add a dollop of Greek yogurt on top and a generous sprinkling of za’atar.

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Finally. The weekend. The end of a long terrifying week in my home town.

Friday was 70 degrees, overcast, and humid, but you barely knew it through closed windows and drawn shades. Several miles from the Watertown epicenter where I used to work, my own Cambridge neighborhood was eerily quiet. Once I turned off the barrage of breaking news reports on the TV in the background while I edited contracts, the only thing I could hear were the chirping bird sounds of spring. And an occasional siren. Stepping onto my tiny balcony for a breath or two of fresh air, I saw no one. No cars driving. No people walking. Nothing.

Yesterday was sunny, cooler. The city seemed to be waking from a deep slumber. I sat outside on that same balcony, writing this. Soothed by the slow but steady flow of traffic, joggers, and dog walkers.

Earlier in the week, after Monday’s marathon tragedy, I received an email from my friend Sarah: “I know from living in Israel through the 1990’s it isn’t easy. There were terror attacks almost every week and it took its toll.”

On Tuesday, I attended the Israeli Consulate of New England’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. Like celebrations of Israel’s independence that I’ve attended in previous years, I knew to expect security and policemen standing out front, bag checks and metal detectors inside. But as I drove to the back parking lot, past men and women in yellow vests and bright orange wands as if directing planes on a tarmac, I was struck to see camouflage-clad military holding rifles and leaning against humvees. To me, these men and women were oddly reassuring. They made me feel safe in the face of a bittersweet celebration. Normally bittersweet because the Israeli national holiday always follows Yom Hazikaron, memorial day, a remembrance of the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism who have given their lives for the ongoing existence and flourishing of the Israeli state. This year, palpably bittersweet.

On Thursday night, I made udon miso soup. I felt in need of comfort and the only place I could turn to was my kitchen. The soup was warm and salty, the noodles soft and slippery and slurpy. Little did I know how the next twenty-four hours would pan out and how welcome that soup would be.

The Friday night capture brought swoops and cheers and an impromptu party on Boston Common. I was relieved but couldn’t rejoice. It feels safer here but I can’t bring myself to celebrate.

It’s now the weekend. The sun is out, the air fresh, the windows open, the breeze chilly. I just finished the last of the soup and am heading out for a walk. Life is back to normal. But it’s not the same.

PS. For a powerful first-person account of this past week’s events, read this article written by a friend of a friend.

Udon miso soup

Udon miso soup

Adapted from Steamy Kitchen.

Before you add the miso, the soup will taste bland, but don’t worry because the miso is salty.  Make sure to add it to the soup after you’ve removed it from the heat. If miso gets too hot, it gets gritty.

It’s worth looking for fresh udon. You can find the most authentic of these fat white noodles in the refrigerated section of an Asian grocery store. Nasoya also makes a pretty good version and I’ve found it near the tofu. In a pinch, I’ve also have good luck with Eden dried noodles  that I frequently see  in the Asian or Japanese section of many grocery stores. Both the Nasoya and Eden noodles are certified kosher. I used Miso Master brand white miso (and you can use any extra to make one of these two slaws). Next time I make this soup, I’m going to add some small cubes of firm tofu.

Serves 4

- 3/4 pound pre-cooked (or, in a pinch, dried) wheat udon noodles

- 4 C vegetable or chicken stock (I used vegetable)

- 1 baby bok choy

- 5-7 cremini mushrooms

- 2 medium-sized carrots

- 1 large handful sugar snap peas or snow peas

- 3 T white miso

- 3 scallions

- sesame oil and hot chili sesame oil (optional)

Cook. Make the noodles according to the package instructions.

Boil. Bring the stock to a boil.

Cut. While the noodles are cooking and the stock is boiling, get to cutting. Thinly slice the bok choy, mushrooms, and carrots. I used a mandoline for the carrots. Cut the peas into 1/2-inch pieces or keep whole.

Simmer. Add the bok choy stems (not leaves) and cook for 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the mushrooms, carrots, and peas and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Stir in the bok choy leaves and remove from heat.

Assemble. Scoop miso into a bowl and whisk with a ladle-full of broth until completely dissolved. Then stir the miso mixture back into the soup, making sure not to boil or the miso will get gritty. Distribute the noodles evenly into four bowls and then add the soup. Slice the scallions and sprinkle over the soups. Drizzle with the oils to taste.

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Hey there! Today we’re having soup.

tomato couscous soup

It’s a simple tomato soup thickened with couscous, spiked with spices, dolloped with yogurt.

I’m going to level with you – the first bowl didn’t wow me. It was too thin. The couscous seemed like an afterthought. The cumin and thyme competed with one another. So I left the pot on the counter to cool and went out to work on breaking in my new hiking boots (Machu Picchu, here I come!).

But a few hours later, I stuck a spoon in the now cold soup to see if maybe I had missed something. Wow! While it sat, the couscous did its thing. As it absorbed the liquid, it thickened the broth, it united the spices.

I should have known it would all come together. Yotam Ottolenghi wrote the recipe.

And, no, I didn’t forget that it’s the fourth night of Hanukkah. I have two brand new recipes for you to open as you light candles five and six. Here’s a hint – neither of them is fried. (If, however, you can’t wait and do want to fry, check out last year’s sufganiyot.)

Tomato couscous soup

Adapted from Yotam Ottolengi’s Plenty. I replaced the semolina with  cooked couscous because I had some left over after making a tagine. If you don’t want to make couscous separately, I suspect that you can add uncooked couscous during the last ten minutes of cooking (which is how the recipe directs you to add semolina). 

Makes about 3 quarts

- 1 1/2 C cooked couscous (about 3/4 C uncooked)

- 1 medium onion

- 2 stalks celery

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 T cumin

- 2 t coriander

- 1 t thyme

- 1 1/2 t sweet paprika

- 2 T tomato paste

- 1 28-oz canned whole peeled tomatoes

- salt and pepper

- 7 C water

- 1 1/2 t sugar

- 1 lemon for juice

- Greek yogurt (optional)

Make couscous. I’ve had good luck with this method, or just follow the directions on the package. Or add uncooked couscous later.

Chop. Finely chop the onion and celery.

Sauté. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot (I used a 4-quart). Add the onion and celery, and sauté over medium heat until the onion is golden and soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in spices and tomato paste until incorporated.

Crush. Crush the tomatoes between your fingers into bite sized pieces and add to the pot. Stir and season with salt and pepper.

Simmer. Add the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Stir in the cooked (or uncooked) couscous and simmer for another 10 minutes. Cover the pot at this point if you opted for the uncooked couscous. The couscous will absorb some of the liquid, so don’t worry if it starts out looking thin. If the soup gets too thick (more likely if you added uncooked couscous), add water until you get the right consistency.

Serve. Squeeze in the lemon juice and taste for salt and pepper again (I found the soup needed quite a bit of salt). Ladle into bowls and spoon some Greek yogurt on top. Sprinkle with cumin.

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Soup is back, and with a vengeance, people. If you include the batch that I took out of my freezer earlier in the month, I’ve eaten four different soups (well, one is officially a stew) in fewer than four weeks. And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

Also, butternut squash is back, at least in my kitchen, and probably in yours.

So, it might seem that a butternut squash soup would be on the agenda. And, that would seem to be correct.

Normally around this time of year, I turn to my tried-and-true spicy butternut squash soup. I’ve been making it since grad school and this is the one I pull out of my back pocket any time someone asks for an simple soup recommendation, the one that I know by heart. My sister asks for it, my mother makes it, my new friends learn it, my old friends get tired of it. When Meira asked me for a soup recommendation a few weeks back, she audibly yawned when I suggested my old standby: I know that soup. I make it all the time. I need something new. I offered her last year’s Thanksgiving soup instead.

I guess after ten years of old standby, it was time to come up with a new simple squash soup. Different enough from the first, but just as easy. Throw together in minutes, slurp in less than an hour. And spicy, it had to be spicy; I don’t do sweet squash. When a friend and her husband mumbled something about a soup made with squash and apples and curry and stuff, I went home and got to work. I peeled and chopped and stirred and sniffed. The basic formula is one squash, one onion, two apples, loads of spice. Pour an inch of stock over the vegetables, simmer for 20 minutes, whiz with a blender and you’re done.

I recommend making this soup on the thinner side so you can pour it in a mug, wrap your hands around the warm vessel, inhale the steam, and let the soup coat your mouth with no interfering spoon. The spice will catch you by surprise. It will start in the back of your throat and slowly inch forward. By the time you’re tipping the mug to get the last drops, your lips will be tingling.

Spicy butternut squash and apple soup with cumin and curry

This is a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of recipe that I based off of these three recipesUse whatever spices you like, and if you don’t have time to experiment, just use curry powder- I’d start with 2 tablespoons and then adjust as needed. If you accidentally over-spice the soup, add 1-2  halved potatoes and then remove them before blending/serving — they’ll absorb some of the excess spice.  After a day or two in the fridge, the soup will thicken slightly and the spice will intensify. If you’d like, swirl in a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

Makes about 4 quarts (16 cups)

Heat 3-4 T olive oil in a large pot (I used a 7 1/4 dutch oven) until shimmering (medium heat). Rough chop 2 onions and sauté for 8-10 minutes until the onions soften and become transparent, stirring every once in a while. Mince 4 garlic cloves into the pot and keep stirring for another 2 minutes. At this point, add whatever spices you’d like and mix with the onions and garlic. Here’s what I used: 1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon coriander, 2 tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon curry powder, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. The mix should quickly turn a mustard-y yellow (from the turmeric in the curry). Add 1 cup water and scrape the bottom to free up all the spices.

Peel and seed 2 large or 3 medium butternut squash (about 4 pounds) or 3 pounds pre-peeled/seeded squash. Rough chop the squash and add it to the pot, stirring  to distribute the spices. While the squash is starting to cook, peel and rough chop 4 medium apples, add to the pot and stir. Then add about 8 cups of vegetable (or chicken) stock. You want the liquid to reach about 1 inch above the level of the squash. Add more stock (or water) if you need it. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash and apples are soft. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. You can also do this in a regular blender in several batches. Taste for seasoning, and make sure to add enough salt. If the soup seems too thick, add a bit of water; too thin, simmer for a few more minutes.

Serve in mugs with a sprinkle of cinnamon or other spice.

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I promised you soup yesterday. And pictures too. I do want to warn you that there’s also a favor I need to ask, but we’ll get to that later.

First, let’s eat.

Timing’s a bit off because this is a soup for a cold night when the first wafts of fireplace fill the brisk air. Instead, today was sunny and nearly 70 degrees here in Boston. One of those open-all-the-doors-and-windows kind of days. But soup I wanted, and soup I made.

This whole thing started with a mushroom wheat berry soup at a favorite cafe. The soup was dark-colored and light-flavored, rich with mushroom-y earthiness.  The wheat berries, surpassing barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum, gave the soup enough heft to be filling  but not so much as to be heavy. And a sprinkle of dill brightened the whole thing up. I was determined to recreate the soup while its aroma and texture and flavor was still fresh in my memory, weather be damned. Which is how we got to where we are today.

I realize that this soup might sound like a certain other soup I made last week, what with the mushrooms and ancient grains and all. But that one was barley soup with mushroom. This one is mushroom soup with wheat berries. (Barley and farro would work well here too.)

Here’s what makes this a soup with grains rather than a grain soup: I cooked the grains and the soup separately. If you cook the grains in the soup, you get a starch soup. If you cook the grains in advance (or in parallel) and then drain them of their starchy water, you get a broth with chunks of vegetables, slices of mushrooms, and nuggets of wheat berries.

I’m sure you’re probably thinking that it’s a pain to pre-cook the wheat berries, but hear me out. Wheat berries take a bit of time to cook, generally at least an hour and often with an overnight soak first (though the brand I used was parboiled and only took about 15 minutes), so it’s great to have them on hand when you have a craving. Cook up a big batch and keep some in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for many weeks. (This works particularly well if you recently made some extra space in your freezer by using up those blueberries that you tucked away over the summer). Pull the grains out in the next few days or weeks to top a salad, throw in a soup, or bolster up some vegetables.

While we’re on the subject of cooking grains, here’s where the favor comes in. I know you were searching for it, skipping past the pictures, scrolling down the text. So I’ll repeat it: here’s where favor comes in.

Click on the picture of the wheat berries and take a close look. See how they’re split? The same thing happens whenever I make barley and farro. I can’t seem to figure out how to get those beautiful, smooth little kernels that everyone else seems to achieve with ease. Mine always end up popped open, their fluffy little insides spilling out.

Can anyone tell me the secret to cooking up perfect grains? I have a pantry full of wheat berries, farro, and barley waiting.

Mushroom soup with wheat berries

This soup is adapted from Smitten Kitchen who made it with farro and who adapted it from the New York Times‘s Marian Burros who made it with barley. Rather than cooking the grains in the soup, I cooked them in advance. As for the best way to cook the wheat berries, well, that’s where I need your help. For now, I’m just following the directions on the bag I bought, but hopefully I’ll figure this out soon (hint hint).

A few notes on ingredients that you may not have lying around. I used one tablespoon of tomato paste which gives the soup a richer flavor. If you don’t feel like opening a can, you can skip it. I keep in my freezer a bag of tablespoon-sized cubes of tomato paste that I froze in an ice cube tray way back when. If you don’t have sherry, I’ve heard that you can replace it with half the amount of cider vinegar. Try it and let me know how it works out. If you don’t have a bunch of fresh herbs sitting around, add a few pinches of dry dill. It will be almost as good. Or add your favorite herbs – thyme would work great here. 

Makes about 6 cups

- 1/2 C dried or 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries (or farro, pearled barley, or spelt)

- 1/2 cup dried mushrooms like porcini

- 1 medium onion

- 1 medium carrot

- 2 stalks celery

- 2 cloves garlic

- 1 lb mushrooms (I used 1/2 white button and 1/2 cremini)

- 2 T olive oil

- 1 T tomato paste

- 4 C vegetable (or other) stock

- 1/4 C dry sherry

- Salt and pepper to taste

- handful of parsley (~1/4 C chopped)

- handful of dill (~1/4 C chopped)

Make grains. Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make. Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour. I’ll get back to you once I get a good method down.

Soak. Boil 1 1/2 cups of water. Cover dried mushrooms with the water, and set aside for 20 minutes. When the mushrooms have softened, drain them and reserve the liquid (you’ll be straining it and then  adding it to the soup later). Finely chop the mushrooms.

Chop. Finely chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Slice the fresh mushrooms.

Sauté. Heat the oil in heavy-bottomed deep pot. Sauté onion, celery, and carrot over medium heat until onions begin to color, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add the fresh mushrooms and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until they begin to release liquid. Keep sautéing until the mushrooms reabsorb their liquid. Add the re-hydrated chopped mushrooms and  the tomato paste.  Strain the reserved mushroom liquid to remove any grit and add it to the pot. I used a coffee filter in a manual drip coffee cone for this. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any browned bits that are stuck.

Simmer. Add the vegetable stock and sherry and adjust the heat so the soup comes to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the cooked wheat berries, simmering for just a few more minutes until the grains warm up.

Sprinkle. Chop up the parsley and dill and stir into the soup, reserving a few pinches to garnish each bowl.  

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Enough chit-chat. Let’s cook, shall we?

See that up there? The New York Times calls it barley soup with mushrooms and kale. Barley soup with mushrooms.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re thinking: why isn’t it called mushroom barley soup with kale?

Is it barley-er than the classic soup? Is it less mushroom-y? No and no. The mushroom and barley get equal billing here (and share very nicely with supporting actor kale). Which really should make it mushroom barley soup with kale.

If I had to compare it to what I know of mushroom barley soup, I’d say it’s, well, soupier.

Maybe we should call it soup with barley, mushrooms, and kale.

But that just sounds odd, don’t you think?

Barley soup with mushrooms and kale

I adapted this recipe from the New York Times, skipping the dried mushrooms and upping the garlic. I’m still working up the guts to use regular kale, but for now I’m dipping my toe in with the more tender baby kale. Be patient with me, people, be patient. I’m getting there. 

So here’s the thing: I’ve never been a fan of mushroom  barley soup – it always seemed thick and slimy. But this one is, as I said before, soupier. And it’s good. Good enough that I ate it for lunch four days in a row. As it sits in the fridge, the barley will absorb more of the liquid, so you’ll have to add some liquid (I just used water) to thin the soup a bit. To keep it bright, I squeezed some lemon and chopped some parsley after re-heating. Admittedly, by day four, I was happy to see the bottom of the pot.

Serves 4-6

- 1-2 T olive oil

- 1 large onion

- 1/2 lb cremini mushrooms (sometimes called baby portabellas)

- 4 cloves garlic

- 2 qt (8 C) water

- 3/4 C pearl barley

- a handful of fresh parsley, divided

- a few sprigs thyme

- parmesan rind

- 5 oz baby kale

- lemon for juice

- kosher salt and black pepper

Chop, cook, and stir. Cover the bottom of a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven with the olive oil and heat over medium until shimmering. While the oil is heating, chop the onion and thickly slice the mushrooms. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring frequently until just tender (don’t let it brown), about 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, continuing to stir for another 3 minutes or so until they start to soften and release their moisture. Mince the garlic and add it to the pot with a good pinch of salt. Cook and stir for another 5 minutes until the mushrooms start to reabsorb their moisture and the whole mix dries out.

Simmer. Add the water, barley, a few sprigs each of parsley and thyme, and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes. The barley won’t yet be cooked through.

Slice. Stack the kale leaves in bunches and slice crosswise into slivers.

Keep simmering. Add the kale to the simmering soup and continue to simmer, covered,  for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve. Remove the parsley and thyme sprigs, taste for salt and pepper, and stir in a few squeezes of lemon. Chop the remaining parsley and sprinkle a pinch over each bowl.

Store. The soup should keep in the fridge for a few days, but the barley will absorb liquid. Just add a bit more water before you reheat to get the right consistency. Don’t forget the lemon and parsley. I suspect that the soup also freezes well.

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