soup

Red Cabbage Soup: Accentuating Festivity

The berries on my overgrown holly bush sparkle against the snow, bringing in an intense red color as relief on cold grey days. Wanting some good cheer and festivity for the holidays, I looked to color to inspire and warm up this year’s traditional dishes.

My regular green cabbage soup is a hardy winter soup. Made with earthy turnip and drippings from bacon fat, the soup is both filling and rich. On the other hand, a soup made with red cabbage and tomatoes is much lighter. The cabbage picks up both the color and tartness of tomatoes, and lends the season’s ruby-red jewel tones to the soup.

Red Cabbage Soup

Red cabbage – 1

Oil – 3 tbsp

Onion – 1, roughly chopped

Garlic cloves – 8-10, roughly chopped

Chicken stock – 8-10 cups (enough to cover cabbage)

San Marzano (or any good quality) tomatoes – 28oz can

Salt and Pepper – to taste

Sour cream – ½ cup (optional)

  • Remove the outer old or tired looking leaves from the cabbage. Cut the base, and with a sharp knife pull apart the leaves. Remove the hard spine on the older leaves. Chop roughly. Wash the leaves and keep aside.
  • Heat a large pan with oil.
  • Add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the cabbage and sauté them with the onions and garlic.
  • Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
  • Add the tomatoes. Cook for 40 minutes.
  • Cool and blend in a blender or food processor which gives the soup thick consistency.
  • Decorate with a small dollop of sour cream, if desired.

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Enjoy the holidays. Wishing you a Happy New Year!

I look forward to your comments and suggestions in 2017.

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Quinoa Soup

Summer isn’t typically the time for a warm, hearty soup, but inspired by a trip to Peru, I couldn’t wait to recreate my experience of eating quinoa as soup! Quinoa has been known as a superfood from Incan times, and is enjoying a resurgence both as a salad and as a filling main dish. As sopa de quinua, the cooked grain imperceptibly blends with vegetables to give the soup its rich and creamy consistency.

The texture of the soup immediately reminded me of another favorite, leek and potato soup. Quinoa cooks just as easily as a potato, and also absorbs the onion-flavor of leeks. The soup has a porridge-like consistency when processed in a blender, and can be thinned out by adding more stock. Peruvian cooks add other vegetables, such as squash and carrots, along with leeks.

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, is noted for its abundant nutritional benefits and as a source of gluten-free, dietary fiber. Quinoa is actually a seed and not a grain. In Peru, where it grows in the Andean mountains, quinoa is referred to as the “mother of all grains” due to its versatility. Quinoa is available in red, white, or black varieties.

Quinoa Soup

Quinoa – 1 cup, rinsed under cool water

Leeks – 2, cleaned and chopped

Olive oil – 1 tbsp

Butter – 1 tbsp

Stock (vegetable or chicken) – 2½ cups

  • Heat the oil and butter together in a large pan.
  • Add the chopped leeks to the melted butter.
  • Sauté the leeks for about five minutes, until they are soft.
  • Add the quinoa. Stir-fry for a minute, until well coated with the butter-oil mixture and leeks.
  • Add the stock to the quinoa. Bring the liquid to a boil
  • Turn down the heat, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the quinoa is cooked and soft.
  • Blend the quinoa-leek mixture in a blender until smooth.
  • Add more stock to thin out the soup. Serve hot.

Note: Add a dash of Peruvian Madre Selva or your favorite hot sauce.

 

 

 

Wild Mushroom Soup

Last week, three planets aligned closely with one another in a rare astronomical event. However, due to heavy rains, I missed the show. But on the other hand, everything lined up for the makings of a hardy soup — the cold winds, a heavy downpour, which caused one large wild mushroom to appear at a farmer’s market produce stall, and Ruth Reichl’s response to what would one find in her freezer (homemade stock) all served as an inspiration.

The wild sheepshead mushroom, also called hen-of-the-woods, looks like it could have come from the depths of the ocean. As the name suggests, the mushroom looks like the head of a sheep. Unlike a regular mushroom with one stalk and cap, sheepshead mushrooms grow in a clump with several stems and bracket-shaped layers of caps. They sprout quickly with the rains, and grow under old oak trees. Sheepshead’s moisture-rich stalks break down and thicken stock, which gives the resulting soup an unmistakable earthy taste.

I bought a pound from a four-pound monster mushroom at the farmer’s market, and thawed out the good stock. Excited to cook my first wild mushroom, I was unprepared for an ancient looking creature that crawled out from under the layers of the mushroom’s caps. I did have to remind myself that flavors are nurtured through the good, bad, and ugly facets of nature!

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Wild Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms – 1 lb, cleaned and chopped roughly

Butter or oil – 4 tbsp

Onion – 1, diced

Garlic – 6 cloves, chopped

Stock – 1½ pints

Parsley – 1 bunch

Salt and pepper – to taste

Truffle oil – 1-2 tbsp (optional)

  • Heat a pan and add the butter or oil.
  • Add the chopped onions and sauté, until they are transparent.
  • Add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the chopped mushrooms and stir-fry for a minute.
  • Add the stock. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer.
  • Simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the mushroom stalks are tender.
  • Strain the mushroom chunks out and put them through a food processor. Combine the pureed mushroom with the liquid stock.
  • Serve the soup with a drizzle of truffle oil and a few parsley stalks.

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Note: A mix of cultivated mushrooms works just as well for this easy to make soup.

In A Soup and In A Pickle – Pearl Onions

When the weather report called for blizzard conditions and snow began to amass on patio tables like coconut icing, I decided that it was a good time to make soup. I’ve learned from past snow shoveling seasons to always keep good stock ready at hand and/ ready to thaw. In previous years as A. and N. would layer up in preparation to begin shoveling, I would start cooking a soup before joining them outside.

A soup recipe for a snowstorm should be as easy as combining and simmering roughly chopped vegetables and herbs with stock. The reward upon returning from shoveling is twofold, a cleared path and the warmth of rejuvenating aromatic soup. Before I head out to shovel, I combine chicken stock and red pearl onions to make onion soup.

Pearl (cocktail) onions are walnut-sized purple or white onions that are innately sweet. Pearl onions cook quickly and retain their shape, making them a good substitute for regular onions in soup. One of my pet peeves with onion soup is that if the onion slices aren’t cooked down and caramelized, they retain a slimy texture – one that you can taste in every bite. Caramelizing onions take time and constant attention. The miniature pearl onions sweat (lose moisture) and brown rapidly. A resultant soup has both a pleasing textural crunch as well as the desired caramelized flavor.

Due to the petite size of pearl onions, you need a large quantity for making the onion soup. Peeling 25 onions comes with the perennial problem – tears. I was happy to come across a clever trick to cope with this arduous task. Place the pearl onions in a bowl and heat them in the microwave for 20-25 seconds. Remove them immediately (or sooner if they start to pop), as you don’t want the onions to cook. Cut off the ends of the onions and pull away the outer skin, which should come off very easily. The pearl onions are now ready to be substituted in the classic French Onion soup, which combines onions and garlic in wine and stock. A deliciously simple soup with lots of flavor!

 

Pearl Onion Soup

Pearl onions – 25, peeled

Butter – 2 tbsp

Olive oil – 3 tbsp

Garlic cloves – 4, peeled and sliced

Stock – 4 cups

White wine – 5 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Bread/cheese

 

  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a pot.
  • Add the whole peeled onions. Lower the heat, and sauté the onions for about 10 minutes. The onions will sweat and brown.
  • Add the garlic. Sauté for a minute
  • Add the stock and wine. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the onions are soft but yet hold their shape.
  • Just before serving, pour the soup into four ramekins. Place a slice of bread with grated cheese (I used goat cheese) on top of the soup. Broil for less than a minute, just until the cheese has melted.

 

 

Pearl onions are sharply vinegary in taste, and served in North Indian restaurants as cocktail onions and (when spiced) in South Indian homes as ulli thiyal, a relish. Alternatively called button onions and Silverskin onions, they are usually pickled and used throughout Europe with spring peas, as part of a smorgasbord of pickled herrings and beets, or as a garnish in the gin and vermouth cocktail, Gibson.

Pickled Pearl Onions

Pearl onions –10-12, peeled

Distilled (or any pale-colored) vinegar – ¼ cup

Sugar – 8 tbsp

Water – 2/3 cup

  • Peel the onions as above.
  • Fill a mason jar with the distilled vinegar, sugar and water. Mix until sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the pearl onions.
  • Cover and keep for 12 hours or overnight. The pickled onions keep fresh for 3-4 days.

 

Gibson Cocktail

Pickled onions are used as garnish in a Gibson cocktail. One or three pickled onions (always in odd numbers) replace olives in a Gibson cocktail, which is a Gin Martini served shaken or stirred. The onions add a vinegary twist instead of briny hint to the traditional mix of gin (6 parts) and vermouth (1 part).

 

Stock to Soup

When A. and N. visit, I always make their favorite foods – a continued legacy from my mother’s practice that signaled my welcome home. Their choice of meals is always the same, but I surprised them this week when I made Pho, the Vietnamese soup, from one of their favorite restaurants. Like all nourishing soups, Pho (pronounced fuh), begins with a flavorful stock.

Stock or broth, a term used interchangeably, is the foundation of a wholesome soup. Making stock is as simple as adding meat, or vegetables and peelings, or fish bones to a liquid (usually water) and letting everything simmer for an extended period. Some recipes add spices, herbs, or sauces during the cooking time to deepen the flavor, but making stock usually requires very little attention. The long-simmered liquid is called a stock if the solid contents are discarded or a broth if some of the meat or vegetables are left in the dish. The stock and broth then become the base for soup. Both stocks and broths can be made ahead — a time-saving options for busy holiday-cooking days. The stock can be bulked up with cooked grains or protein and garnished with fresh aromatics for a substantial soup.

Preparing Stock

  • Add the ingredients (meat or vegetables) to a pan. Fill and cover them with cold water. Bring it to a boil and immediately lower the heat. Simmer between 2-3 hours for meat, 30-40 minutes for fish and vegetables, or until tender (vegetables) or falling off the bone (meat).
  • Skim the scum off the surface. The “scum” is the protein content that is released from meat, lentils, and a few vegetables that float to the surface as dirty-brown foam. Add water back if some liquid is lost in the skimming process.
  • Do not salt. Add salt only when the stock is made into soup.
  • Once cooled, the fat from the meat stock floats on the surface. This can be removed for a lower calorie soup.
  • The cooled stock can be frozen for 3-4 months. In a refrigerator, a stock remains fresh for 3-4 days.

 

I was thinking about recipes to make ahead of time, when I ran into a Vietnamese acquaintance at a grocery store. I didn’t need a recipe when I heard the list of ingredients for pho – a whole chicken, onion, fresh ginger, and star anise spice – a fail-proof, nutritious stock that could be made in advance.

Chicken Pho

Chicken – 1 whole

Onion – 1 large, chopped

Ginger – 3-4, ½-inch slices

Star anise – 3, whole

Fish sauce – 3 tbsp

Dried rice noodles –1 packet

Bean sprouts –1/2 cup

Green onion – 1-2, roughly chopped

Cilantro – ½ bunch roughly chopped

Basil – a few leaves

Lime – 1, cut into wedges

Hot sauce (Sriracha) – to taste

Salt – to taste

  • Add the chicken, onion, ginger and star anise to a pan with enough cold water to completely immerse the chicken.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down and cook for 2½ -3 hours on simmer.
  • As the chicken starts to cook, a foamy bubble scum forms on the surface. Skim the scum off with a spoon or ladle.
  • Once the liquid is clear, add the fish sauce.
  • When the chicken is tender, (the bones separate), strain the liquid through a colander. Reserve the stock and keep the chicken pieces. Add salt to the stock.
  • Meanwhile, soak the rice noodles in a pan filled with cold water for an hour. Then cook in boiling water for a minute.

To assemble:

  • Fill a bowl with rice noodles. Ladle the hot stock over it.
  • Top it with chicken, a few bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, basil, and a wedge of lime. Add the hot sauce.

 

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Warm Corn Soup on a Cool Summer’s Day

One of A. and N.’s summer favorites is corn on the cob, grilled with a little chili powder, salt, oil, and rubbed with fresh lime – a popular Mumbai street cart fare. When I came across corn soup drizzled with a trail of chili oil at Legume, a restaurant in Pittsburgh, the flavor was reminiscent of the familiar charcoal-roasted spicy corn on the cob that I was so used to eating.

Our knowledgeable waiter detailed the cooking process: blanching the corn quickly, removing the kernels and pureeing them, blending the stock made with corn cobs with heavy cream, and finally drizzling chili oil.

I enjoyed the texture and flavor of the corn soup, and so I planned on reinterpreting their soup to create my own version. As I was experimenting with the stock, I realized that I could easily make two other kinds of corn soup using the same base — a popular Indian-fusion version (Chicken Corn Soup) and a Mexican version with green chilies (Sopa de Elote con Chile).

It is the peak season for corn, and I decided to freeze some in order to extend the season and enjoy the vegetable for a little longer. Checking the National Center for Home Food Preservation site for tips on properly freezing corn, I learned that blanching corn (for four minutes), cooling immediately (preferably in ice cold water), draining, and freezing with enough space around the storage container would prevent the pasty taste associated with corn that has absorbed too much water. Quickly blanching or plunging the corn into boiling water stops the enzyme action that would otherwise degrade the color, flavor, and vitamins in the corn. Blanching corn is an important step, and it pays to watch the cooking time closely.

Corn Soup Base:

Corn – 7-8 ears of corn

Water – 6 cups

 

  • Strip the outer husks of the corn cob, starting from the top and working down to the base. Remove any silky tendrils. Check that the kernels are firm. Remove any soft kernels by scooping them out with a knife.
  • Heat the water to a rolling boil in a pan that will hold the cobs (cut them in half if you don’t have a large enough pan).
  • Plunge the corncobs into the water. Blanch them for four minutes precisely.
  • Remove and drain (save the liquid, as this will be the stock) the cobs immediately and plunge them in ice-cold water.
  • Using a sharp knife, and starting from the stalk side, cut the kernels off the cob in one smooth action. Turn the cob and repeat until all the sides are done.
  • Puree the kernels in a blender.
  • Add the cobs back to the liquid and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the cobs.
  • Use the stock as a base for the following variants:

 

For Corn Soup with Cream: Add 1 tbsp. heavy cream to the hot stock and add back the pureed kernels. Drizzle with chili oil.

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For Chicken Corn Soup: Add 1 ½ tbsp cornmeal to the stock and add back the pureed kernels. Decorate with cooked chicken pieces and spring onion slices.

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For Sopa de Elote con Chile: Add 1 cup of milk and 2 chicken cubes to the hot stock and add back the pureed kernels. Add sautéed green chili and onion mixture to the soup.

 

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Summer Soups: Gazpacho and Cucumber Yogurt Soup

When I know that A. and N. have a busy week ahead, I share with them easy recipes that require little preparation. While checking out the farmer’s market this week, I noticed piles of long, earthy-green cucumbers, and varying shades of red, misshapen heirloom tomatoes – the intensity of colors would add up to flavorful summer soups.

Apart from Sangria, gazpacho, the cold tomato soup, was my favorite of the dishes that I encountered in Spain. I’ve eaten gazpacho before (and not much cared for it), as it had either mushy vegetables or a tart flavor that was all the more startling in a cold soup. However, in Spain, the gazpacho that I had was a smooth soup with hints of green peppers and cucumber and subtle garlic and onion flavor. Bread, traditionally added to bulk up the soup, was present as croutons, served on top for a much lighter garnish. More importantly, the soup had a perfectly balanced finish; the acidic flavors were absent from the deliciously-sweet tomatoes.

Cucumber, the other summer vegetable that is now in abundance, blends well with yogurt (see last week’s blog: Yogurt: Food for Longevity). In Lebanon and Bulgaria the two are combined to make a refreshing soup. Cucumber yogurt soup, like gazpacho, requires no cooking. Both soups should be made ahead as they need to be served chilled; this makes them both great options for a no-fuss summer meal.

Cucumber Yogurt Soup

Cucumber – 2 peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks

Scallion (spring onion) –1 large or 2 small, sliced

Olive oil – 1tbsp

Lemon juice – 1½ tbsp (about ½ a lemon)

Garlic clove – 2, crushed

Plain Yogurt – 2 cups

Salt – to taste

Garnish – Sprig of mint and dill

  • Put all of the ingredients, except the yogurt, into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
  • Add yogurt and mix for about 30 seconds.
  • Store chilled until ready to use.
  • Serve in chilled glasses or fun soup bowls, topped with thin slice of cucumber, dill, and mint.

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Gazpacho

Large Heirloom (or sweet) tomatoes – 3, chopped

Red pepper – 1, deseeded and chopped

Cucumber – 1, peeled and deseeded

Onion – 1, chopped

Garlic – 2

Red wine vinegar – 4-5 tbsp

Sugar – ½ tsp

Salt – to taste

Garnish – croutons, scallion, and cubed cucumber

  • Add the first five ingredients into a food processor. If you want a smooth soup, blend the vegetables in smaller, separate batches.
  • Strain the vegetables through a colander to collect the liquid. Using the back of a large spoon, press the vegetables into the colander to extract and collect as much of the liquid as possible. Add a glass of chilled water to the vegetables and continue to squeeze out as much liquid from the vegetables, until you have just the skin and fibrous tissue left behind.
  • Add the red wine vinegar.
  • Add sugar and salt, and adjust them to balance out any acidity in the tomatoes.
  • Chill overnight.
  • Garnish just before serving.