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I know, soup again.

But it was dreary last Sunday night and when my sister came over to light Hanukkah candles, I gave her the option of a fresh batch of some sort of lentil/sweet potato concoction or onion soup that I’d made the prior week and frozen. She graciously chose onion, leaving me with more time on my hands but still a pile of sweet potatoes just begging to be used before I head out of town for the weekend yet again. (The tubers ended up in a slow cooker with a bunch of vegetables, pears, and lentils a few days ago.)

With no bowls able to withstand a little oven time, I improvised with a small gratin dish and made more than enough for the two of us to share, scooping hot soup and soaked bread and melty cheese into pretty but not oven-safe bowls, and peeling bits of charred Gruyère and Comte off the sides of the dish.

As for the recipe, my parameters were that it be vegetarian and use some port I found lying around. Because I wasn’t using chicken/beef/veal stock, I nearly tripled the amount of onions typically called for (which wilted down to almost nothing anyway) and added a little soy sauce at the end to give some umami oomph. As my sister said, the soup is still a tad on the sweet side – so you can add more soy sauce, and if I’d had some in my pantry I would have drizzled the soup with sherry vinegar to balance everything out.

And that’s it, folks. No fun story* or long discussion of etymology or romps down history lane or scientific explanation. Just soup. A plain old classic soup. And sometimes, on a cold drizzly Hanukkah evening, that’s all you need.

(*Well, the story – if you can call it one – is that a friend asked on FB about making onion soup in a crockpot which got the soup lodged in my brain.)

French onion soup (Soupe à l’oignon gratinée)

Adapted from the Washington Post, in consultation with Gourmet (RIP) and The Guardian. I more than doubled the amount of onions and amped up the flavor with onion powder (thank you, Leah Koenig) and added soy sauce for umami. Other umami options that I’ve seen include worchestire sauce, nam pla/fish sauce, miso (stir in at the end, soup can’t be boiling), nutritional yeast – a little bit goes a long way and while these may seem strange to add to a soup like this, they won’t add a fishy or miso-y flavor. If  you’re curious about those pretty thyme leaves – rather than buying a sad looking container of fresh-ish thyme, I picked up a thyme plant that was less expensive and still graces my windowsill. If you don’t have any sort of bowl or dish to put in the oven, you can melt the cheese on your bread and then float the cheese toast on top of the hot soup in each bowl.

Makes 10 cups (6-8 servings)

– 1/4 C olive oil (or 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter)
– 5 lbs (8 large) assorted onions, sliced into half-moons – I used a mix of yellow, red, and Vidalia
– 1 t fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
– 4 large dried bay leaves
– 1 T kosher salt
– freshly ground black pepper
– 1/3 C port
– 1 t onion powder
– 3 T flour
– 8 C vegetable broth
– 2-3 T soy sauce
– 1/2 loaf sourdough boule or baguette, sliced, stale or toasted, and broken into medium-sized pieces
– 5 oz Gruyère cheese, grated (2 C)
– 5 oz Comte cheese, grated (2 C)

Caramelize. Heat the oil (or oil and butter mix) in large, heavy bottomed pot (I used an 7.25-quart dutch oven) over a low flame. Mix in the onions, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan, and let sit for 10 minutes without stirring. Keep cooking for a total of 35-40 minutes, stirring periodically (every 5 minutes or so, more frequently towards the end), until the onions have turned a dark golden brown and collapsed into a heap, reduced by about a quarter. If at any time they start to burn, turn the heat down.

Deglaze. Pour in the port and scrape up all the good bits from the bottom and sides of the pot.

Make roux. Add the onion powder and flour and mix until well incorporated, still over low heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes so the flour loses its raw taste. Pour in about a half cup of broth (just eye it), and mix well until an onion-y paste forms. Pour in another cup and mix well to make sure there are no lumps. Stir in the remaining broth.

Boil. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium and let the soup cook, covered, for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to keep it at a very slow boil, adding a little water if it gets too thick and uncover it it’s too liquid-y.

Toast. While the soup is gently boiling, heat your oven to 375°F. If your bread isn’t already stale or toasted, stick it right on the racks while the oven is heating up to let it dry out – 5-7 minutes.

Serve. Divide your soup into oven-safe crocks (or any sort of deep dish), filled about 3/4 of the way up, top with a few pieces of bread, sprinkle with cheese, and slide into the oven on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbling and browning on the top. If you don’t have crocks, use a small au gratin/casserole dish instead.

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With the first snow comes the first soup, which this year was the leftover matzah ball variety (from here) if you count what I ate last night, but if you look at the first soup I made as summer drew to a close, on a rainy August evening with the slightest of chills in the air and a sniffle tickling my nose, it would be this one instead:

I saw avgolemono soup on the menu of a Greek restaurant at least three months ago by now, and it caused an immediate craving for a chicken soup with the brightness of lemon. I went home to poke around online, and made a chart, as one does, comparing recipes (here, here, here, here, and here) based on cups of broth to number of eggs to tablespoons of lemon juice to amount of rice/pasta cooked or uncooked to come up with what felt like the right ratio to me. A few decisions off the bat. I wasn’t going to make my broth from scratch (no surprise there). And I wanted to use up the ground chicken in my freezer rather than poach a breast or two or pick up a rotisserie bird. Finally, since I didn’t have any already-made leftover rice or pasta, I wanted to make it in the soup rather than dirtying another pot.

In my reading, I think it was actually this recipe, I came across the fact that avgolemono – derived from the Greek words egg (avgo) and lemon (lemono) – is thought to have Sephardic Jewish roots. So, now we’re going down a little etymology and history rabbit hole, as one does. As I love to do.

Ready?

Hold on tight.

Let’s let the late Gil Marks and his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food be our guide (with a little citrus help from Dr. Dafna Lanngut).

It all started in Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean with immature unripe grapes, stomped into juice and used to flavor dishes without the sharp acidity of vinegar. Using these unripe grapes is a lesson in economy, turning the byproduct of necessary pre-harvest thinning of the wine vines into something of value. In Spanish, the juice was called agraz, but you may know it better by its French name, verjus (vert = green, jus = juice), or Anglicized verjuice.

It was particularly popular among Jews in Spain because they used it to make agristada, a thick, creamy – but non-dairy! – sauce to be used with meat. The creaminess comes from cooking egg yolks in liquid (broth and verjuice). The acidity helps prevent the eggs from curdling. Eventually lemons replaced the verjuice, but even without its namesake ingredient, the name agristada stuck.

As for those lemons, the local Jews had a religious attachment to citrus because they needed to cultivate etrogs (citrons, also thought to be the mother of all citrus) for Sukkot, and so they cared for the neighboring lemon trees as well. In fact, only in enclaves of Mediterranean Jews could you find any citrus during the 500 or so years when the genus otherwise left Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire. (Why did citrus leave? I’m guessing it just died out because of general chaos that came with lack of organization and infrastructure. It could also be related to the fact that it was viewed as more status symbol than food with its tough thick skin and ambrosial scent. I’m not sure, but I’ve got to stop digging up facts somewhere, so it’s going to end. right. here.)

By the teens, when the Moors came to the Iberian peninsula bearing more citrus – reintroducing lemons along with oranges, pomelos, and limes – the Jewish community was poised to expand their growing and increasingly lucrative horticulture and trading business. In the face of greater supply and nearby access, the Jewish community incorporated lemons into their diet. Using it in agristada also solved the seasonality issue of agraz whose stores were typically depleted by Spring, resulting in long months of faux verjuice made from sorrel or gooseberries or crabapples until the late summer vines were again ready for pruning.

Then along came the Spanish Inquisition and Iberian Jews spread out all around the Mediterranean, bringing their agristada with them, which is how it is believed to have arrived in Greece. The Greeks called this sauce avgolemono, translating the ingredients. Eventually it morphed into soup, as the sauce was added to broth at the last minute to thicken it, and that soup somehow became synonymous with Greek cuisine.

Among Sephardic communities, the egg-lemon combo goes by many names, not all of which I’ve been able to capture here (but you can bet I tried, drawing on the pantheon of Jewish food writers whose books line my walls, a subset of which are now piled on my coffee table, sofa, desk). The sauce is still frequently called agristada, particularly among Sephardim who ended up in the Levant or the Balkans, and who serve it with fried fish on shabbat. It’s also used where hollandaise might be, especially over asparagus. In Arabic, it’s beida b’lemouneh (“egg in lemon”) and also served on shabbat at Syrian tables. In Ladino, it’s salsa blanco; in Italian, brodo brusca or bagna brusca (brusca = tart or sour); in Turkish terbiye (“seasoning”). The soup itself? The Greek avgolemono has stuck, but in Thessaloniki/Salonika where the Jewish population spoke Ladino, sopa de huevos y limòn prevails.

The dish is also associated with Yom Kippur in the Eastern Mediterranean and within families who moved from there. Poopa Dwek writes that the velvety sauce made with chicken broth is served next to the roasted bird at the Yom Kippur pre-fast meal due to the abundance of poultry after the traditional kapparot ceremony, in which one transfers sins to a chicken before it is slaughtered. And Greek and Turkish Jews break the fast with the creamy, tart, filling soup.

Call it what you will, but if you’ve made it this far with me, then you might as well make the damn soup. And if you see a sign that says EAT ME, then so you shall.

Avgolemono soup

Adapted largely from Bon Appetit – but without the work of making broth from scratch. The soup thickens overnight in the fridge because of the starch so you may need to add water when reheating any leftovers. 

Most recipes call for shredding the chicken from the broth or a rotisserie, but I sautéed ground chicken with onions and lemon peel at the beginning to give a lot of chicken-y flavor without hours of simmering. The peel trick to up the lemon ante came from Cook’s Illustrated via Girl and the Kitchen who clearly has an account with them.

Instead of more traditional orzo or rice, I used p’titim, also known as Israeli couscous, a misnomer as it’s actually little pasta bits (the name translates roughy to “little crumbles”) just like acini de pepe (“small parts of the pepper”) or Sardinian fregola (“little fragments”). If you have leftover rice or orzo or other small pasta, reduce the amount of stock by about 2 cups and add the cooked starch after you’ve tempered in the eggs, allowing everything to gently simmer for another 10 minutes or so to heat it all up. If you want to go all low-carb, I’ll bet there’s a way to sub in riced cauliflower – you won’t get the same creaminess that the starch gives the soup, but I’m sure it’ll be good nonetheless. If you try it out, let me know. 

The only remotely tricky part of the recipe is tempering the eggs to avoid scrambling them. This means whisking a hot liquid very gradually to a cool/room temperature liquid, and then whisking the resulting warm liquid very gradually back into hot liquid. But, seriously people, worst case scenario – you mess it up a little bit and find a few scrambled egg curds floating around in your soup. No one will care. Or, at least, I won’t. So you might as well invite me to dinner.

Makes 2 1/2 quarts

– 2 T olive oil
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 3-4 lemons for peel and to yield 6 T fresh juice
– 1 t kosher salt (or more, to taste)
– 1 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
– 1 C Israeli couscous (or other small pasta or rice)
– 2 quarts chicken stock (I used it straight from the box)
– 3 large eggs
– for serving: freshly-ground pepper, olive oil, and lemon wedges (dill is a traditional Greek garnish, so if you have some, snip and sprinkle a few fronds for authenticity and a dash of color)

Sweat. Cover bottom of a large Dutch oven (at least 4 quarts) with oil and heat over low. Add onions, large strips of peel from one lemon (use a vegetable peeler and count how many strips as you’ll remove them later), and half a teaspoon of salt. Stirring frequently, sweat onions without letting them brown for 10 minutes until they are yellow-tinged and translucent and the lemon peels are even brighter yellow than before and are nearly translucent as well. Remove the lemon peels and throw out.

Cook. Turn heat up to medium and add remaining half-teaspoon of salt and ground chicken, breaking the meat up with a spatula or wooden spoon into chunks no larger than marbles. Keep cooking until opaque, about 3-5 minutes.

Boil. Stir in Israeli couscous and broth, and increase heat to high. When the broth comes to a boil, lower heat to medium, partially cover, and cook the couscous for 12 minutes (or follow directions on whatever pasta/rice you are using).

Whisk. While the pasta is cooking, in a medium bowl whisk the eggs and lemon juice until foamy and no streaks remain. Place the bowl on a kitchen towel so that it won’t move while you’re tempering.

Temper – keep whisking. Reduce heat to low once couscous is done, and remove about a cup of broth from pot (it’s OK if some couscous or chicken comes along for the ride). Whisk the eggs vigorously and start adding hot broth one tablespoon at a time until the eggs start to warm, and then slowly drizzle it in a steady stream – don’t stop whisking – until fully incorporated.

Temper again – still more whisking. Now, gradually add the warm lemon-egg-broth mixture back into the hot soup – again starting with tablespoonfuls and then a slow, steady stream – whisking the soup continuiously the entire time.

Serve. Taste for salt, adding a few pinches if necessary. Ladle into bowls with a swirl of olive oil, a grind or two of pepper, and lemon wedges for those who like to pucker.

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I just got back from vacation (more on that soon, pinky swear) and while I miss having a made-to-order omelette (tomato-mushroom-cheese, thank you very much) every morning draped over a pre-split English muffin (all I had to do was lower the halves into the toaster) and sidling up to a rainbow of orange, green, and pink melon slices, it’s still good to be back in the kitchen.

Most of my meals since coming home have been no-cook affairs, essentially lots of salads. But Sunday morning felt like pancake time and I begrudgingly fired up the stove. (My apartment layout is such that even with the a/c on full blast, the kitchen is warm and stuffy, even before I start cooking.)

In an attempt to detox after snacking on fries everyday for a week, I created a higher-ish protein breakfast, replacing buttermilk with yogurt and using a bit of garbanzo flour. I dotted the pancakes with a pint of blueberries threatening to shrivel if they sat one more day on the counter.

The result was a little less fluffy than my go-to pancakes, but otherwise a great addition to my weekend breakfast repertoire. I was feeling pretty proud of myself until I realized I had eaten half the batch. I put the remainder in a bag and in the freezer. Detox schmetox, I say.

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Blueberry yogurt (higher-ish protein) pancakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. In trying to up the protein content of these, I substituted chickpea flour for rye. The batter is very thick – thicker than my normal pancake recipe – and it doesn’t bubble very much after a couple of minutes on the pan, so you’ll need to peek underneath to see when it’s time to flip. The pancakes aren’t very sweet, and I lightly sprinkle with white sugar rather than maple syrup which would hide the blueberry flavor.

Makes 12-14 4-inch pancakes

– 2 large eggs
– 1 C plain yogurt (I used 2%, a mix of regular and Greek because that’s what I had)
– 3-6 T milk
– 3T canola oil (plus extra for pan – I used a spray)
– 1/2 t vanilla extract
– 1/2 t lemon zest or 1/4 t lemon extract
– 1/2 C all-purpose flour
– 1/2 C whole wheat flour
– 1/4 C garbanzo (chickpea) flour
– 3 T sugar
– 1 T plus 1 t (i.e., 4 t) baking powder
– 1/2 t sea salt
– 1 C blueberries, rinsed and dried

Whisk. Whisk eggs and yogurt together in a medium/large bowl. If you use regular yogurt, you don’t need to add any milk; a thick Greek – add enough to thin it out to the consistency of cake batter, dripping from the whisk in a thin (not skinny) stream. Whisk in oil, vanilla, and lemon zest or extract.

Layer. Add the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a layer over the wet ingredients. Gently stir them to mix just the dry ingredients. (Or you could dirty another bowl for the dry ingredients).

Stir. With a spatula, stir the dry into the wet only until the dry ingredients are moistened. A few lumps are ok. If you over-mix, the pancakes will be dense. The batter will be thick and when you drag your spatula through it, it will leave behind a trail of bubbles, the action of the baking powder.

Cook, flip, repeat. Heat a pan (I used a cast-iron one) over medium heat and spray sparingly with canola oil (or use whatever fat you’d like). The pan is hot enough when you flick a few drops of water on the surface and they jump around and dance. Drop a scant 1/4 cup (about 3 tablespoons) of batter at a time, leaving space between each pancake. Press a small handful of berries into the top of each pancake. When the pancakes are dry around the edges and golden brown on the bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes, flip them and cook for another 3 minutes until golden underneath as well. (Start by making one small pancake at a time so you can adjust the flame to the right temperature before making the rest of the batch. Despite what they say about the pancake, I just think of it as the cook’s treat.) Continue to adjust the heat as necessary.

Serve. Pile the pancakes high and serve with plain white sugar.

 

 

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Big surprise: another soup.

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‘Tis the season, clearly.

You could call this one a lazy cook’s version of stuffed cabbage, essentially unstuffed cabbage in broth. It’s a throwback to my Eastern European roots, though it took me until my late twenties before even trying the traditional stuffed version. My reaction was mixed. The meat was dense, as if the leaves were rolled too tight, and studded with raisins. (Raisins! I plucked them out as best I could.) The sauce was on the too-sweet side but it did had a tart kick and a glossy silkiness that had me sprinkling it with salt and sopping it up with pieces of challah torn off the end of the loaf. I’ve only eaten stuffed cabbage a few more times since, and making it myself seemed a bit of a potscke.

Enter this winter when I’ve found myself eating soup for lunch or dinner at least five days a week. And ground beef in the freezer and a cabbage head rolling around the bin at the bottom of my fridge. I made the soup once. And then I made it again, tweaking and taking notes until I came up with my perfect savory-sweet-sour-spicy balance.

I played around with traditional (vinegar, paprika) and not-so-traditional (sumac, chili flakes) ingredients to get the tangy results I wanted. I also texted my Ukrainian-born sestra (Russian for sister, though we’re not officially related) Marina with questions. Do you put garlic in? NO! What do you put in your sauce? She sent a photo of a can with Cyrillic writing and a Chef Boyardee lookalike. It’s sweet, she said. Eh, I said.

Curious about the “true” taste profile of stuffed cabbage (I should have known there’s no single answer), I turned to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Jewish food historian extraordinaire, the late Gil Marks. In his multi-page entry on the subject, he traces this peasant food’s eastward path from Turkey and/or Persia and talks about differences in palates across different geographies. Seems that, like the “gefilte line” (talk to Jeff Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern about that), there is a distinct preference for sweet in Galicia (today’s southern Poland and northern Ukraine) where sugar beet factories were common – or, actually a sweet-sour combination. North of Galicia is savory stuffed cabbage, and in gefilte fish this translates to being all about the pepper.

Then I went down a rabbit hole, poking around the family tree that my sister started a few years ago to remind myself where my greats and great-greats and great-great-greats and even great-great-great-greats were born. Essentially, my father’s side of the family is from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (our last name used to be Skversky) and came to the US in the 1880s; my mother’s side is from Poland, Germany, and Hungary, coming over after WWII. So, both in and north of Galicia and that savory-sweet-sour-spicy preference makes sense.

Marina calls stuffed cabbage golubtzi. In my reading (Gil, again), I learned that the name comes from the diminutive form of the word dove – golub in Russian, holub in Ukrainian, golab in Polish – because all those cabbage rolls packed into the pot looked like cute little birds huddling together in a nest. Marina was floored when I mentioned this to her, I never thought of that, she said. Made all the funnier because she calls my sister (Robyn) ptichka – little bird.

I poked around in some of my other cookbooks to see what twists on stuffed cabbage I could find. First up, Jeff and Liz in their Gefilte Manifesto mix kimchi into their meat filling and sauce. Leah Koenig makes a soup in Modern Jewish Cooking that’s a mix of chorizo, cabbage, tomato, and potato. And my friend Meira told me about a soup she used to make that had ground beef and sauerkraut in it. Seems like there are a lot more variations to explore before Spring finally arrives.

(Thanks Inna for the great blue and white plates!)

***

This past week, I happened to go to two interesting dance performances, both of which explored identity, specifically Jewish identity. First was Ka’et Ensemble – a contemporary Israeli dance company comprised of only religious men. Their performance “Heroes” – described here – looks at different male roles and dichotomies such as secular/religious, spiritual/physical, strong/weak, and how they can influence each other, how there can be an ebb and flow. The other performance was Hadar Ahuvia‘s “Everything you have is yours?” – also discussed in the New York Times –  in which the choreographer and two other dancers show and tell and question the origins of Israeli folk dance, raising issues of cultural appropriation and looking internally into her own biases and assumptions.

I’d really love to get back to dance one of these days.

Unstuffed cabbage soup

Make sure to taste taste taste as you go. I’ve put total amounts of salt and spices as a guide, but this may not work for you, so see where I suggest you taste and adjust along the way. Use a big Dutch oven – mine was 7 quarts – because there is a lot of cabbage to add. It eventually cooks down, but it’s easier if you can put it in all at one time.

If you don’t want to add the grains, use only half a can of water or the soup will be too thin.

Makes a generous 3 quarts

– 1-2 t olive oil
– 1 lb ground beef
– 2 large onions, roughly chopped into medium-sized pieces
– 1 T kosher salt (I’m using Diamond Crystal these days, which is less salty than others)
– freshly ground pepper
– 2 t sumac
– 3-4 t hot paprika
– 1 t hot chili flakes
– 1/2 head celery (about 6 stalks), sliced into 1/2-inch chunks (about 1 1/2 C)
– 1/2 head cabbage, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces (about 8 C)
– 1/4 C brown sugar
– 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes – don’t throw out the can because you’ll use it to measure water to add
– 3 T red wine or sherry vinegar
– 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries or other grain (freekeh, barley, rice, etc.)
– Fresh parsley, chopped

Saute. Just barely cover the bottom of a big Dutch oven with olive oil – you don’t need much at all – and place over medium-high heat. Crumble ground beef into the pot and stir around, breaking up any clumps until it turns from pink to brown (but no need to really brown it until it develops a crust) and releases liquid and fat, about 7 minutes. Drain the beef and set aside, leaving the fat/liquid in the pot.

Stir. Drop the flame to medium and then cook the onion in the meat juice. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper, the sumac, 2 teaspoons hot paprika, and the chili flakes. Cover. Cook until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. The onion will, however, turn brown as it absorbs all of the meat juice. Add a little water if the pot gets too dry. Stir in the celery and cabbage. Keep stirring until the cabbage wilts. Taste a piece of cabbage to see if it needs more spice or salt and adjust accordingly. I found it needed more salt so I added another teaspoon. Stir in the brown sugar. It will taste too sweet, but the rest of the ingredients will dilute the sugar.

Simmer. Add the meat back to the pot and pour in the tomatoes followed by 2 cans of water. Bring to a boil and then a slow simmer. Add the vinegar. Taste again – at this point I added another teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons hot paprika.

Submit. Add in the cooked wheat berries and continue to simmer until the cabbage completely submits, about 30 more minutes. Taste along the way, adding salt or spice or vinegar or sugar.

Serve. Serve with parsley.

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the soupiest

Winter is soup time chez moi. Probably chez toi as well. When the temperature drops – and whew, how it’s dropped! – all I want is hot lunch or dinner in a bowl that I can warm my hands around and lift to my lips when too tired or lazy to bother with a spoon until I get to the bottom. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve pulled down a rainbow of cocottes (Dutch ovens, if you must) from the narrow space between my kitchen cabinets and the ceiling. There was a riff on Marcella’s tomato sauce, Joanne Chang’s hot and sour soup thickened with not cornstarch but egg swirled in like the egg-drop soup of my childhood, a return to my long-ago Ukrainian roots with an unstuffed cabbage soup, and a clean-out-the-fridge minestrone.

Today’s soup is tortilla — piquant with jalapeño, loaded with shredded chicken (that you sear in the pot so as not to dirty an extra pan) and black beans, scented with cilantro, doused in lime, and topped with baked stale tortillas (or crispy chips if you have them around) and avocado. It’s kept me going the past few days and I froze a quart to save me the next time I’m resigned to Rice Krispies for dinner.

On another note, since I know you check this blog every few days (ha!) and have been wondering where I’ve been (ha!), I wish I had a fun story to tell. There’s been lots of family time and a bit of travel over a bunch of holidays, an intense project that required a recovery longer than the work itself, and a good number of library books. There are a bunch of recipes that I’ve written up and just need to get out there, so stay tuned.

In the interim, here are some things that are worth checking out, while warming up with a steaming bowl in the soupiest time of year.

This article and music video.

Photos from a pencil factory.

I love flour tortillas and use them in this soup even though most recipes call for corn – this made me feel less bad about it.

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Tortilla soup

Inspired by Simply Recipes and The Pioneer Woman

This is the type of soup that’s an entire meal. I’d say a serving is about 2 cups, and then you’re good for the afternoon or evening. Kale is clearly not traditional, but I wanted to slip in some extra vegetables. Leave it in, leave it out, or add in other vegetables – corn (frozen works just fine here), bell peppers, and maybe some small diced butternut squash or other pumpkin. 

This has a nice heat, but you could definitely add another half jalapeño if you like things on the spicier side or a tablespoon or so of chipotle in adobo sauce (I always have leftovers when I make this vegetarian chili, a smooth black bean soup with a kick, or salpicon and then freeze it in ice cube trays in one-tablespoon scoops). Make sure to add a squeeze of lime before you serve, and don’t skimp on toppings either – especially fresh cilantro and, of course, the tortilla strips.

Makes just under 3 quarts (12 cups)

– 3-4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
– 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, any large pieces cut in half
– Kosher salt and pepper
– 1 – 1.5 onion, roughly chopped (1 – 1.5 C)
– 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
– 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1½ t cumin
– 1 t coriander
– 1 t chili powder
– 1/2 t garlic powder
– 1/2 t onion powder
– 10-12 stems kale, sliced into small pieces (2 cups)
– 28 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
– 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
– 4 C chicken or vegetable broth
– 1/2 bunch cilantro (10-12 stems), stems wrapped in twine so you can easily remove
– 1-2 limes, cut into quarters or sixths, depending on the size of the citrus

Toppings: tortilla strips (recipe below, or store-bought), extra shredded chicken, avocado, finely diced red onion, chopped tomatoes,

Cook. Pour enough extra-virgin olive oil, about 3 tablespoons, to cover the bottom of a medium to large heavy-bottomed pot (I used a 4-quart Staub cocotte – thanks Mom! – which was just big enough), and turn heat to medium. Once oil is hot (a drop of water should make it splatter), add 3 chicken breasts or thighs and a large pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Sear on one side until the chicken forms a crust and releases itself from the pot, about 10 minutes. Turn over and repeat, cooking until the chicken is just done on the inside. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool to the touch, shred the chicken with your fingers.

Saute. Add 1 more tablespoon olive oil to pot if too dry. Add onion and jalapeño pepper, and saute for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften but don’t brown. Stir in garlic, cumin, coriander, chili, garlic poster, and onion powder. Turn the heat down a tad if the garlic starts to burn. After a few minutes, add the kale and stir until it begins to wilt, another 3 minutes or so.

Boil and simmer. Add the black beans, tomatoes, broth, and cilantro. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then taste for salt and spice, adding salt and chili powder as necessary. Add most of the shredded chicken (set aside about a half-cup to use as a topping) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the cilantro.

Serve. Ladle into large bowls. Top with a squirt of lime, extra chicken, slices of avocado, tortilla strips, cilantro leaves, fresh tomatoes, minced red onions, or some combination thereof. But do not skip the lime and fresh cilantro.

***

Baked tortilla strips

– 2 flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) or 3 corn tortillas
– 1-2 T extra-virgin olive oil
– 1/2 t kosher salt

Preheat. Heat the oven to 350ºF.

Cut. Using a large knife or pizza wheel, cut the tortillas into strips about 1/4-inch wide and 2-inches long.

Toss. Toss the strips with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Bake. Bake for 7-10 minutes until toasted but not burnt. Allow to cool.

 

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Not much of a story today, just a recipe that is almost ridiculous in its simplicity. It’s a soup that may look familiar to some of you based on its sparse ingredient list: tomatoes, onions, and butter. Yup, it’s a riff on Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with just slightly different ratios. More vegetables, less butter, and a bit of water to thin it out. You could use fresh tomatoes, but why?

This is the savory version of hot chocolate after a romp in the snow. And if you want to up the ante, make a grilled cheese sandwich and cut into cubes (if you’re like me, they’ll be oh so raggedy, but who cares, really?) for oozy croutons.

The soup is just creamy enough to feel decadent but not New Year’s resolution breaking. So poke around your pantry and fridge and cook up a batch tonight.

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Three-ingredient Tomato Soup

Inspired by Marcella Hazan‘s tomato sauceIf you’re using whole tomatoes, snip them with scissors or squish between your fingers to break them up.

Makes approximately 6 cups

– 2 28-oz cans whole peeled or crushed tomatoes (ideally San Marzano)

– 2 onions, roughly chopped

– 1/4 C butter

– 1 t salt

– 1/2 – 1 C water

Simmer. Mix in a saucepan the tomatoes, onion, butter, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour until the onion is almost falling apart.

Puree. With an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add water and continue to puree until you get the texture that you like.

 

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We got quite a bit of the white stuff around here this weekend with a little over two feet in Central Park. It started snowing much earlier than expected (or at least much earlier than I expected), so I ended up having to struggle home from dinner Friday night in a pair of high heels. Not my best move. I’ve now swapped them out for boots, so I’m all good. My home town of Maryland was also hit pretty hard, from what I can tell, my friends are are still digging out, schools are cancelled, and government offices are closed.

In the days leading up to the storm, I’d been working from home, laid up with a case of the sniffles and a sore throat and a general achy-ness, and I made a soup that helped me muddle along and, since it’s one of those clean-out-your-pantry dishes, I figured it would be good for those of you still stuck inside with limited access to fresh anything until the stores restock. I intended to post it before the storm, but, well, sometimes life gets in the way, so you can think of this as preparation for the next snowfall.

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This red lentil soup is admittedly not dissimilar from one that I made on this blog almost 5 years ago. I even photographed it in the same bowl! You let the lentils melt in piles of onions and tomatoes and spike the whole lot with cumin, coriander, and a healthy pinch of cayenne. I amped up the tomato flavor using estratto di pomodoro – an intense tomato paste made by concentrating tomato pulp in the sun – that I toted home from Sicily. You can obviously use regular tomato paste if you didn’t have the luxury of having one of the best vacations of your life over the summer. This soup is a savior if you’re sick or holed up or just want dinner.

Red lentil tomato soup

Adapted from the New York Times. I didn’t have whole cumin and coriander seeds, so I used about half the measure of ground. 

Makes approximately 3 quarts

– 2 T vegetable oil
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 4 garlic cloves, minced
– salt to taste
– 1 1/2 t ground cumin
– 1 t ground coriander
– 1 1/2 t curry powder
– 1/2 t cayenne
– 2 T tomato paste
– 1 28-oz can chopped tomato with juice
– 1 lb red lentils, washed and picked over
– 8 C vegetable stock or water (I actually used half stock, half water)
– 1/4 – 1/2 t ground black  pepper
– juice of 1/2 lemon
For garnish:
– yogurt
– chopped parsley or cilantro
– lemons, cut into wedges

Cook. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin, coriander, curry powder, and cayenne. Stir together for about a minute, until the garlic is frangrant. Lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice.

Simmer. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Add salt to taste (I added another 1/4 teaspoon).

Simmer more. Stir in the lentils and stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, covers and simmer 30 minutes. Add salt to taste (I didn’t feel like it needed any more at this point) and continue to simmer for 15 to 30 minutes,  until the lentils have fallen apart and thickened soup.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Add the pepper, taste, and add cayenne if you want more spice. Taste and adjust salt. Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve. Top each bowl with a swirl of yogurt and a generous sprinkling of parsley or cilantro. Squeeze a lemon wedge over top.

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I received an email the other day. The subject: Made this soup and thought of you.

sweet potato chickpea stew

The message was from my friend Nachama who I met in Boston several years back. We lived just a few blocks from each other and used to go to the gym together. It’s hard for me to motivate to exercise, so it was great having a buddy. She’d run on the treadmill, I’d swoosh along on the elliptical, and we’d meet up at the end to stretch.

Nachama now lives in DC. In her email, she described the soup: “It was warm, simple but tasty, smooth and thick, and had just a pinch of kick – reminded me of the times we would bunker down in the Boston cold and watch movies at your place.”

This was all the impetus I needed to pull out a large pot and get cooking this chickpea soup that, according to recipe, hails from Madagascar. Its base is a sweet potato broth that you make from scratch (or buy in a box). Toast a handful of spices (including types of red chile) with garlic, then add the broth, a splash of coconut milk, and a big pile of spicy mustard greens, and chickpeas.

After an hour and a half, the greens wilt into the broth and the whole mess thickens to a stew. I invited over some friends and we crowded around my table to finish most of the pot. We ate it with spoons, but forks would have worked just as well.

Thanks, Nachama, for the recipe and inspiration!

Sweet potato chickpea stew

Adapted from this recipe. If  you don’t want to make the broth from scratch, either substitute with sweet potato broth, or make a semi-homemade broth by simmering 3 sweet potatoes in 8 cups of vegetable broth and then pureeing with an immersion blender. 

Makes 12 servings.

For the sweet potato broth:

– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 medium onion, sliced
– 3 celery ribs, chopped
– 3 carrots, chopped
– 3 large sweet potato, peeled and quartered
– Kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 8 cups water


For the stew:

– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 2 T olive oil
– 2 t dried crushed red pepper
– 2 t ground red pepper
– 2 t ground coriander
– 1/2 t ground turmeric
– 8 C Sweet Potato Broth (recipe above)
– 2 C unsweetened coconut milk
– 1 bunch fresh mustard greens, chopped
– 3 (15-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Make broth:
Cook. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add sweet potato, desired amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and water. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.
Simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until sweet potato is tender. Discard cloves. Let mixture stand 15 minutes.
Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately, or cool completely, and refrigerate in an airtight container up to 5 days.
Make stew:
Toast. Sauté garlic in hot oil in a large saucepan over medium heat 1 minute; add red peppers, coriander, and turmeric. Cook 1 to 2 more minutes or until fragrant.
Boil. Stir in sweet potato broth, coconut milk, and greens. Bring to a gentle boil; add chickpeas.
Simmer. Reduce heat to low, and simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until greens are soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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I just got back from that big trip I mentioned a few weeks back. I started with two days in Paris. Then, Sicily where I spent a week at Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school for a food writing course taught by Luisa Weiss and Rachel Roddy and rounded out the rest of my trip with a few beach days in Cefalu on the northern coast of the island. There’s so much to process and write about the past two weeks – in short it was vacation far dreamier than I could have imagined – but for now, you can check out my Instagram for some photos. Here’s one of my favorites.

aprons

I came home yesterday to bagels and lox. My parents had been in town while I was gone and spent their last night at my place, so when I walked into my apartment with my suitcase on its last legs, er wheels, my mom was there with a true New York welcome. There were also some take-out leftovers, including a container of rice.

Fridays are greenmarket day in my neighborhood and I went a little overboard with all the goodies that hadn’t been in season when I left: zucchini, cherries, garlic scapes! There will probably be a raw summer squash something coming out of my kitchen in the next day or two; the Short Stack that arrived before I headed out should come in handy right about now.

Until then, there’s soup. Yes, it’s summer. But while we were in Sicily at Case Vecchie (the name of the courtyard where the school is located), we ate soup several times, including a smooth fava bean concoction called macco and a more rustic minestra di tennerumi made from the tender vines of long cucuzzo squashes. So, back in my kitchen, I got my cooking sea legs back with a simple soup of rice leftovers and canned tomatoes and not much more.

No food photo today, though. One of things we discussed during the course was morning pages, a discipline of writing every morning – before coffee, before checking any technology – on paper, and for 12 minutes. We did a lot of timed writing exercises and I found I enjoyed writing in concentrated spurts. So now, as I settle back into real life, I’m committed to doing morning pages. I’ve set a notebook and pen by my bed and started this morning. As an extension of that, I’d like to do some more spontaneous writing here. That will probably mean more posts and recipes with fewer photos, but I think that’s a fair trade.

PS – I’ll probably take some photos tomorrow and post them after the recipe. Some habits are hard to break, but this way I’ll at least get things on proverbial paper rather than waiting for the right light and perfect angle.

Tomato rice soup

Adapted from Mark Bitman’s recipe in the New York Times. The wine is optional, but this soup was good enough reason to uncork a red; a big (but not huge) California cabernet worked well here. Feel free to play around with herbs (cilantro or parsley would be nice) and spices (I’m thinking cumin, or thyme). Or keep the soup as is and top with a sprinkling of parmesan. Or not. This soup is lovely in its utter simplicity. 

UPDATE 6/27: Last night, I ate the soup with shredded parmesan, but this morning I buzzed it with an immersion blender and sprinkled some fresh cilantro. Today’s version feels a bit fancier and could be served as a non-dairy cream of tomato soup. Yes, I ate it for breakfast with my coffee. The soup does thicken overnight as the rice absorbs more liquid, so I’ve modified the below recipe to increase the amount of water. 

Makes about 1o cups

– 2 T olive oil

– 1 onion, chopped

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 2 T tomato paste

– 1/3 C dry red wine

– 2 C cooked rice

– 4 C water

–  1 28-oz can (about 3 C) chopped tomatoes

– sea salt, to taste

Cook. Heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes – lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. By this point, the bottom of your pot should be nice and brown.

Pour. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all those brown bits.

Stir. Add the cooked rice and a generous pinch of salt. Stir to break up the rice. Taste, adding a bit more salt if necessary.

Simmer. Add the water and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes until the rice is heated through. Add more water to get the soup the consistency you’d like. Optional: buzz with an immersion blender.

UPDATE 6/27: a photo!

tomato rice soup

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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.

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* 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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