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PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

Jeez.  The last time I posted here was December? How’d that happen?

Well, I know how it happened. I’ve mostly been in a fetal position since the election, emerging only now and then to refill my bottle with bourbon. I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. I just hope we don’t all get blown up.

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It seemed like a tomato soup kind of day, what with the rain, the Orange Dumpster Fire in the White House, the strike some of my friends are participating in, the Orange Nutjob in the White House, the cold, The Tropicana Fascist in the White House… you get my drift.

I made some tomato soup in the style of Provence. It tastes pretty good and it’s easy. It’s good for a cold wet day when you’ve lost hope but still remain optimistic that maybe we will survive. Also, a few stiff drinks don’t hurt.

PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 1 chopped celery stalk
  • 2 fresh tomatoes. chopped
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves
  • olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 large (28-ounces or so) can pureed tomatoes
  • 1 can (16-ounces or so) stewed tomatoes
  • 1 orange, zest plus all the juice
  • 1 tablespoon dry basil (fresh is better if you have it, but it’s winter right now)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • Anise liqueur and/or orange liqueur (optional)

Saute the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until they start to brown. Add 1 tablespoon fennel seed and let it cook for a few minutes. Then throw in everything else and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour or thereabouts.

Now either use a stick blender to puree the soup (don’t be too concerned about getting every veggie) or puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Pour soup back into the pot and let simmer another 10 minutes, and taste.

You may want to add more fennel, more orange juice/zest, some wine (I used white vermouth for its herbal taste), some booze (Pernod/anisette or an orange liqueur), more broth, EVOO, whatever.

If so inclined, you could also add some cooked rice and finely chopped spinach or other greens.

When it seems just right, turn the stove off and let sit for an hour or more, then reheat when ready to serve.

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KIMCHI TO THE RESCUE

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KIMCHI TO THE RESCUE

There are people who are frightened by kimchi. It’s too… too much. Too fermented, too cabbage-y, too hot, too salty. It’s like the inside of a subway car in July. It explodes when you open the jar (much like a subway car).

This is not for them.

But if you’re feeling puny, overwrought, in dire straits, in need of restorative potions, this might cure what ails you. I originally found the recipe on Epicurious and of course made some changes, partly because I could not find the gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) required. I made do with what I had. I used King brand kimchi, available in every supermarket here (it would be even better if you get some real kimchi from a Korean store, but it will cost more).

This isn’t for sissies, kittens, Lawrence Welk fans, or the fearful. If you have to have chop suey and sweet & sour pork at Chinese restaurants, if you’re the girl in the horror movie who is running from the monster and sprains her ankle – open a can of Cream of WTF instead.

HOT KIMCHI AND TOFU SOUP

  • 1 16-ounce package soft tofu, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 14-ounce jar cabbage kimchi, drained (reserve the scary orange liquid)
  • 2 tablespoons chile-garlic paste or Sriracha or sambal oelek
  • 4-6 green onions, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon  sesame oil

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, reduce heat, and carefully add the tofu.

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Under the best of circumstances, tofu doesn’t look too exciting.

Let simmer about 4 minutes, then drain and set aside. (The original recipe said to remove the tofu to a “medium” bowl and you can certainly do that if you don’t mind washing an extra “medium” bowl.)

Open the kimchi carefully – it is still fermenting, which is why the jar lid may be bulging.

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Drain the orange liquid off the kimchi and save it.

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large saucepan and add the drained kimchi plus the 2 tablespoons of whatever hot chile paste you have. If you can get the gochujang, more power to you, but don’t obsess over it if you can’t.

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Saute the kimchi and chili paste over medium-high heat until it starts to brown. (This may smell pungent, in which case open a window.) Then add the kimchi liquid and 6 cups water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer.

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Let simmer about 35-45 minutes until the kimchi cabbage gets tender.

Then add the green onions, soy sauce, and tofu.

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Let this simmer very gently for 25 minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the flavors.

Stir in the sesame oil; season (if necessary, though I don’t think it will be) with salt and pepper.

You can serve as is.

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Or you can add an egg yolk, to cook very lightly by the heat of the broth, and some toasted sesame seeds. To toast sesame seeds:

Put sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat. Shake and/or stir the seeds very frequently.

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When the seeds are lightly browned, remove them from the pan right away; otherwise they will continue to brown and burn by residual heat.

If you wanted some more body to this, some rice noodles (the silken type used in pho) would be a good addition, or some shrimp tossed in the last five minutes of simmering. Some fresh basil leaves – especially Thai basil – or mint leaves or cilantro would be nice shredded and used as garnish, though that might just be window dressing and not really required.

 

SWEET POTATO SOUP

SWEET POTATO SOUP

After many years, I finally learned which is a sweet potato and which is a yam. There are a lot of botanical differences that don’t matter much to me, but at least I know now: the orange-y fleshed ones are yams. The pale fleshed ones are sweet potatoes.

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Photo from thekitchn.com

Sweet potatoes and/or yams are wildly nutritious and are at their best in the fall and winter. My husband loves them and I have been looking for good ways to prepare them – I am not a fan of the marshmallow-gunk-topped ones.  Despite what Alton Brown says, roasting is the best way to cook them. It takes time but they turn out wonderfully sweet.

I came across a recipe for Sweet Potato Bisque in Anna Thomas’s Love Soup cookbook.  Her version included a celery root, which I did not have on hand and didn’t feel like driving to buy. I figured some regular old celery would work just fine. I made some other adaptations and simplified her recipe.  I much prefer yams over sweet potatoes but Yam Soup just doesn’t have that certain cachet, so Sweet Potato Soup it is.

SWEET POTATO SOUP

  • 2 large yams
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • broth of your choice (vegetable, chicken, mix of water and white wine, whatever)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • cayenne
  • salt and pepper

Wash the yams, stab them all over with the point of a knife, and put them on a piece of aluminum foil on the rack of the oven. Turn the oven temperature to 350 and cook the yams until they are tender (give them a squeeze with a mitt-protected hand) and oozing caramelized juices (this is why you use foil). Remove from oven and let cool until you can handle them without burning yourself.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onion is lightly browned and caramelized. After about 20 minutes, add the sage and thyme and let them cook with the onions another 10 minutes or so.

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Peel the yams and cut into slices. Put them in a large-ish pot with about 4 cups water or broth and the chopped celery. Bring to a simmer and let cook slowly about 20-30 minutes.

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Add the onions to the yams and cook them together another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let them cool a bit, then puree them in batches in a blender or food processor. You will probably need more broth to puree the yams.

Return pureed soup to soup pot. Add a good sprinkle of cayenne and more broth if needed to make it the consistency you like. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning.

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Serve as is, or stir in some cream/half and half. Garnish with some toasted sliced almonds or some salsa/Sriracha.

This makes about 2 quarts.

SWISS CHARD SOUP

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I went to the local farmer’s market the other day and snagged three fat bunches of Swiss Chard for a buck each. EACH! They’d been harvested about an hour before. It doesn’t get much better than that.

But what to do with them? Fortunately, I also recently snagged The Art of Real Food by Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny, who also wrote the fabulous Placer County Real Food Cookbook. Both books are beautifully photographed, the recipes are simple (though not always for rank beginners), and the books are arranged chronologically so that you can flip to May and see what is likely to be in the farmer’s market, and find a recipe that will showcase that ingredient. Like Swiss chard.
swiss chard by alex flickrPhoto by Alex on Flickr

I made this soup last night and it was wonderful. It was unusual in that the recipe did not include onions – odd for a vegetable soup – but when I tasted it, I understood why. Onions would have overwhelmed the other ingredients. I did include more broth than the recipe called for, but that’s a matter of taste.

The book also included a recipe to deal with those chard stems – deep fried with blue cheese dip. Next time.

This is a lovely and easy soup for this time of year when chard is springing up in home gardens and farmer’s markets.

SWISS CHARD SOUP

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mined
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 big bunch chard, leaves only, chopped
6 cups chicken broth
2 potatoes, halved lengthwise and then sliced into half-moons
1/4 pound penne pasta
salt and pepper

Heat oil in deep pot. Add garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to brown lightly. Add the chard and stir and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Pour in the broth and add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and add the penne pasta. Cook over medium-low heat until the potatoes and pasta are done.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and some crusty bread.

FAST THAI SOUP

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It started out cool this morning, then went to warm. Then it started to rain, the wind swirled around, and gradually I got cold. I wanted soup. Specifically hot and sour soup, but I am due to go grocery shopping and was out of just about everything required. What to do?

This was my fast alternative, which I am sipping as I write. It requires canned coconut milk.

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I’ll tell you right now, this is not diet food. It looks like this in the can:

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One-third cup has 10 mg saturated fat – that’s 49% of a daily allowance. An insane amount. There’s a “lite” version, but I really don’t like it, so here we are. Actually, I can’t think of much that is healthy about this soup except for the garlic, ginger, and cilantro; the sodium count is off the charts along with the saturated fat. But it’s fast and tasty and warming. Obviously if you had things like tofu, shrimp, baby corn, and so on, throw those in too, but this is the basic. This can easily be made vegan by skipping meat-based broth and the nam pla.

FAST THAI SOUP

  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk (shake can well before opening)
  • 3 cups broth (chicken, mushroom, vegetable, pork, or Tom Yom)
  • soy sauce
  • nam pla (fish sauce)
  • Sriracha or chile-garlic paste
  • black vinegar
  • chopped cilantro
  • chopped green onions

Saute garlic and ginger together in 1 teaspoon vegetable oil for one minute. Pour in coconut milk and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and season to taste with remaining ingredients.

HOT AND SOUR SOUP AT HOME

The best hot and sour soup I ever had was, weirdly, in Paris. It’s been years since I had loads of time to wander around the side streets so things may be different now, but in the early 80s it was very common to see certain restaurants place a large cutout of Mickey Mouse or Foghorn Leghorn or some similar figure out on the sidewalk with their menu taped on the front. I thought it was pretty odd at the time but I have come to think  of it as charmingly French. Anyway, the hot and sour soup was fantastic and blisteringly hot; I have no idea now where the restaurant was other than somewhere on the Left Bank in the Luxembourg arrondissement or nearby. It’s probably long gone.

I usually get won ton soup in Chinese restaurants now because that’s what my husband likes, but if I am on my own, it’s hot and sour all the way. I found a recipe that I adapted a little bit and discovered it’s easy to make at home.  I found this at the Grocery Outlet the other day and it’s great in hot and sour. It’s already fairly sour.

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But regular chicken or vegetable stock works fine. Homemade broth would rock this soup.

I also used some spicy pork sausage so I didn’t need to use as much Sriracha, but again, this is optional.

HOT AND SOUR SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) ground pork, ground turkey, or ground chicken
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger root
  • 4 chopped green onions (scallions)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or Tom Yum soup base
  • 1 pound firm tofu, cut in 1/2″ cubes
  • 5 thinly sliced mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce)
  • Sriracha to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • rice vinegar to taste
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

Heat the oil in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the garlic, ginger, and green onions.006

Then add the ground pork. Break it up with a fork as best you can, and cook & stir about 1 minute. Don’t try to cook the pork thoroughly just yet; it will finish cooking as the broth simmers.

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Add the broth, sugar, tofu, mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat quickly, simmer and taste. If you used the Tom Yum soup base, you won’t need to add much rice vinegar. If you used regular broth, add up to 2/3 cup rice vinegar. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1/2 to 1 tablespoons Sriracha. Keep tasting as you add until soup is just right for you.

Pour the beaten eggs into the soup and whisk until they form strands.

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Garnish with sesame oil, chopped cilantro, and chopped green onions. A squeeze of lime would be nice if you want an extra flavor and tartness.

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For a vegetarian or vegan version, use vegetable broth and omit the meat and eggs. Use soy sauce instead of fish sauce. Rehydrate 1 ounce wood ear mushrooms and slice thinly; add with the other mushrooms.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator. The soup may look a little different after being chilled but it will reheat and taste fine.

GREEN SOUP FOR HALLOWEEN

When I was a kidlet – that would be back in the early 1960s – the local 4-H club held a Halloween party at the IOOF Hall (that is the International Order of Odd Fellows, and before you start snickering, read about their long history here).  After kids got done trick-or-treating (which did not take long in a town with about 15 houses) they gathered at the hall for a costume contest, bobbing for apples (an activity that really isn’t as much fun as nostalgia makes it out to be), a fortune teller, various games, and a Spook House.  It was generally accepted that one aspect of the Spook House would be making little kids cry by forcing their hands into cold spaghetti and telling them it was worms. It grieves me in multiple ways that this way of observing Halloween appears to be as dead as the proverbial dodo, for reasons we won’t go into here.

But the spirit of serving ghastly-themed foods at this time of year still survives. Melted chocolate chips in cookies drawn out to look like spiders, marzipan green fingers, tombstone cookies.  If you’re an adult looking for something weird to serve at a Halloween-themed dinner, this green soup might fit the ticket. I’ll leave it to you to make up a name.

This is actually from Love Soup by Anna Thomas, the woman who brought us the best-selling series of Vegetarian Epicure cookbooks. I made a couple of adaptations. Even if it isn’t Halloween, this is a really delicious soup that is extremely nutritious, low-fat, gluten-free, vegan if you so choose, and easy to make. It could be a good way to introduce veggie-phobes to dark leafy greens.

 About Vegetable Broth:

Most people buy boxed or canned vegetable broth instead of making it, and that’s fine as long as you read the ingredients and adapt your recipe accordingly. They may contain gluten, sugar in one of its many forms, or assorted preservatives.  Almost all of them are salty. They vary wildly in taste, color, and texture. One Thanksgiving I bought three different brands to make vegan gravy/stuffing with. One was very thick and carrotty, one was brown and earthy like mushrooms and potatoes, and one was thin, green and grassy.  You might like them all – or none of them, in which case you would do well to pick up a copy of Love Soup and follow one of the recipes for vegetable broth.

From top left clockwise, cilantro (coriander leaves), curly kale, green onions (scallions), spinach.

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GREEN SOUP

  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1 bunch kale
  • small bunch green onions (scallions)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro (coriander leaves)
  • 3 tablespoons rice
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 1 chopped shallot
  • olive oil
  • cayenne
  • lemon juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • vegetable broth

In a skillet, very slowly saute the chopped onions with a sprinkle of salt in a very small amount of olive oil, stirring often, until the onions turn soft and golden. Do not hurry this – it could take 30-45 minutes. When they are very soft, add the chopped shallot and cook another five minutes, stirring the shallot into the onions now and then.

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While the onions cook, wash and chop the spinach and kale, discarding the tough stems of the kale. Leave the spinach stems on.  (The best way to wash often-sandy spinach is to fill a large bowl or sink with cold water, place the spinach in the water, and plunge it up and down several times. The sand will sink to the bottom. Repeat until no sand appears.) Put the greens along with the rice, the chopped green onions, and chopped cilantro in a large pot with three cups of water and a sprinkle of salt, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer slowly for 30 minutes. You will see that what started as a big pot of greens cooks way down.

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When both onions and greens are done, scrape the onions into the greens pot and simmer another ten minutes. Add broth as needed so the mixture pours from a ladle.

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Puree the mixture in a blender in batches until quite smooth.  Start on low, then gradually increase the blender speed. (Anna Thomas suggests that you could use a handheld blender. I did this the first time I made this soup. Only do this if you have all day and infinite patience. It takes forever and really doesn’t do a very good job.) Or use a food processor.

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Return pureed soup to the soup pot. Add freshly ground pepper, the juice of half a lemon, about 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (don’t be afraid of cayenne!), and let simmer about five minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings as you like.

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Anna Thomas says she always garnishes this with a drizzle of olive oil, and you could do this if you have really good olive oil on hand. My preference would be some crumbled blue, cotija, or feta cheese, shredded aged Cheddar, Swiss, or Gouda,  or some crisp crumbled bacon and chopped seeded tomato, or any sort of freshly made croutons or sauteed bread. A spoonful of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream with chopped green onions would be luscious too. For greens lovers, try a shot of hot pepper vinegar.

Changes and substitutions:

Use chicken broth, or a combination of vegetable broth and chicken broth. Homemade light stock would be best if you have it. Avoid Campbell’s. It’s nothing but salt.

Add milk, half-and-half, or cream.

Use olive oil and/or butter.

You can use any leafy greens you like: any kind of kale, beet greens, chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, collards, spinach, water spinach, cress, arugula, and so forth. Tougher ones like collards may need longer simmering, and stronger flavored ones will make a more assertively-flavored soup.

Substitute freshly chopped garlic for the shallot. Substitute very well-washed leeks (including the green part ) for all or part of the sauteed onions.

Cilantro haters;  you cannot taste the cilantro in the finished soup. If you must, you can substitute flat-leaf parsley.

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