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PAN-ASIAN NOODLE SOUP

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PAN-ASIAN NOODLE SOUP

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It might be hard to believe, oh children of today, but there was a time in California and many other modern places with electricity and running water (bottled water was not yet invented) and telephones (landlines only) where your choice of Asian food was Chinese or Chinese, and by that I mean chow mein or chop suey, which the American diner poured soy sauce over lavishly. (I am loathe to admit we called soy sauce “bug juice.”) If you were really living it up you could also get Chinese BBQ ribs and egg foo yong and sweet and sour pork. A few very avant garde restaurants offered rumaki, though I have never known anyone to actually order it. I was a picky child so when we went to one of the three or four Chinese restaurants in town, I stayed safe with a hot roast beef sandwich.

Then sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s woks became the rage. It was impressed upon we aspiring Chinese chefs that the wok absolutely had to be made of carbon steel, seasoned properly with heat and oil, and used frequently in order to keep up the seasoning else it would rust. It was also absolutely essential that one had the right shovel (a shovel-shaped spatula with a long handle) and that the wok had to have a round bottom, or it was not authentic and your food would likewise be not authentic. This was at a time when electric stoves were pretty standard in most kitchens; round bottomed woks rolled and tilted dangerously on the flat burner.

Also, we had to learn to chop vegetables properly, preferably with a Chinese cleaver, or they wouldn’t cook correctly.  Something about cut-half-roll-cut on an angle. (See above about not authentic.)

We bought Chinese cookbooks that listed a new-to-us array of ingredients that were likewise absolutely essential to Chinese cooking, almost none of which were available in circa-1970 Safeway and Albertsons.  The standard supermarket soy sauce was La Choy (who had a catchy television commercial with a jingle, “La Choy makes Chinese food *swing* American!”). Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts were available in cans; people bought one of each and displayed them to show off their culinary chops. (You didn’t have to actually use them; just owning the cans was enough.) Tofu was  starting to become available but viewed with suspicion.  Garlic was available but ginger less so. It took a drive to a larger city to find sesame oil, five-spice powder,  oyster sauce, rice sticks, and bok choy. (This was before the internet.)

Even around 1980 I remember being served stir-fry dishes in Chinese restaurants that included crinkle-cut frozen French fries and gherkins.  It was indeed a strange time in America.

It took Americans a long time to relax and learn to make Chinese food; from there we segued into Thai and Korean and Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian (which, I have been assured by a Lao woman, are pretty similar), Japanese and Asian fusion. I don’t know just when the tide turned and we started appreciating and making decent Asian dishes, but even small-town grocers stock hoisin sauce and cilantro now.

We have a copy of Lucky Peach Presents 101 Asian Recipes which has a less structured approach to cooking and a what-the-hell punky approach to authenticity, while not ceding anything to white bread America. It’s been helpful in loosening up and having fun while making really good tasting Asian food. I used to have a carbon steel wok but I have no idea where it is now. I use either a cast iron frying pan or a nonstick Ikea flat-bottomed wok.

I bet you thought I would never get around to the recipe, right? This started as something else and became this. But it could become something else yet again if the cook made it so. Lots of possible variations. Much of it can be made ahead. Don’t be discouraged by the long list of ingredients – it’s really simple to make.

Note: This is clearly full of meat, but I suspect a vegetarian version could be made with the spices and some miso.

ASIAN NOODLE SOUP 

The Meat Part:

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder or pork butt, beef chuck roast, beef 7-bone roast, country-style spare ribs, chicken thighs, or a whole chicken

Broth:

  • 1 head garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 fat slice onion
  • 2 quarts water (include some low-sodium broth if it’s on hand)
  • 1/2 cup low-salt soy sauce or tamari (I use Aloha soy sauce and/or San-J Tamari, both low-salt)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (I use Squid brand, available in Asian markets)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, Demarara sugar, turbinado sugar, or golden brown sugar (optional)
  • 2/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine, mirin, sake, or sherry (a generous splash of Madeira would not go amiss here as well)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, about 3″ long
  • 2 star anise
  • t teaspoon whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds or anise seeds
  • 10-12 whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1″ piece of ginger root, sliced
  • 1-4 dried hot peppers (optional)

Greens:

  • 1 large bunch collards, kale, spinach, or other sturdy greens, hard stems removed, greens sliced thinly (roll them up like a cigar and then slice across)

Optional Vegetables:

  • shredded vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, daikon – about 1/4 cup of each
  • sliced mushrooms – 2 or more, depending on your fondness for mushrooms
  • snow peas – 1/4 pound ought to do it
  • green beans, cut into 2″ lengths -like the snow peas, about 1/4 pound

Noodles:

  • 8 – 16 ounces rice noodles, glass noodles, rice sticks, or other noodles, cooked according to package directions (I used the rice vermicelli pictured above, 14 ounces)

Optional Garnishes:

  • chopped green onions
  • chopped cilantro
  • chili-garlic sauce (Huy Fong Foods makes one version, much more garlicky than Sriracha) or sambal oelek
  • finely shredded cabbage
  • a raw egg yolk for the hardcore

Directions:

Brown the meat in a little oil, flipping as necessary to brown all sides.  When the meat is almost brown enough, add the onion slice and let it get good and brown on both sides. Toss in the garlic to lightly brown for a few minutes, then the spices to lightly bloom in the oil.

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Clockwise from top: star anise, whole cloves, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, whole peppercorns, cinnamon sticks

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Pour in all liquid ingredients and scrape up any lovely browned bits from the bottom, bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover.

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Let simmer until meat is falling-apart tender – about 1 1/2 hours for chicken thighs, 2 hours for country-style ribs or a whole chicken, 3 hours for pork butt, pork shoulder, or beef chuck/7-bone roast. Remove meat from pot and let cool, then remove bones/skin/fat and shred meat. (This can all be done ahead and put in the refrigerator for another day.)

Taste the broth and adjust seasoning – I like this on the sweet side so I usually add more brown sugar, but this is subjective. (My husband doesn’t like it sweet so for him I  keep it at 1/4 cup. Or skip the sugar altogether.) Strain broth and discard solids. Skim fat from broth (this is easier if made ahead and chilled). Reheat broth, add the thinly sliced greens, and cook until tender – could be 20 to 40 minutes for collards, 20 minutes for kale, almost instantly for spinach. When greens are almost tender, add any other vegetables.

Cook noodles separately, then add to broth with greens along with shredded meat. When soup is heated through, serve with optional garnishes.

Makes a lot.

 

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THAI DUMPLING SOUP

THAI DUMPLING SOUP

Just a few days before Christmas and I am feeling like someone who has been living pretty high on the hog, I’m telling you. It’s been cold and rainy so we’ve been having large breakfasts – French toast, hash browns, ham scrambles, pancakes, etc. Not all at once, mind you, but still, a lot of breakfast every day.  While there are lots of fresh vegetables and fruit in the house, there’s also a lot of cheese and sour cream and cookies and pie. We’ve gone out to eat a few times, which is luxurious and delicious but also accumulative.

There’s been a bag of Trader Joe’s Pork Potstickers in the freezer just waiting for an opportunity to be used.  I thought a nice filling soup would be good on a rainy, chilly night, and not quite as indulgent as what we’ve been eating.

To make this vegan or gluten free, substitute frozen dumplings that are labeled as such, or skip the dumplings and substitute silken tofu (added with the spinach at the end of cooking just long enough to heat through). Also check the labels on Thai red curry paste, or make your own (there are many such recipes on the internet). I used Thai Kitchen brand.

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This can be prepped ahead for fast assembly. Cut up the vegetables to be sauteed and keep them in the refrigerator, wrapped up. Also prepare the spinach and herbs, and keep them the same way.  The veggies will stay good in the fridge a couple of days. When you’re ready to make the soup, the majority of the work is already done.

THAI DUMPLING SOUP

  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (red or green, or some of each) or a pepper with some heat like an Anaheim or Pasilla, minced
  • 1 sweet potato or yam, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1 package  (about 12 ounces to 1 pound) frozen Asian-style dumplings or potstickers
  • 1 small bunch spinach, washed and torn into small pieces (substitute other tender greens like beet greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, etc.)
  • low-sodium soy sauce, tamari, or fish sauce (optional)
  • chili-garlic sauce, sambal oelek, or Sriracha (optional)
  • 3 or 4 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup washed cilantro leaves (optional)
  • a few fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • the juice of one fresh lime

Combine oil, garlic, onion, peppers, and sweet potato in four-quart kettle over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften a bit, 5 minutes or so. Stir in red curry paste and cook another few minutes. Then add the broth, water, and coconut milk and heat, stirring occasionally.

When the sweet potatoes are almost tender, add the frozen dumplings. Stir to separate them if necessary, then let them cook another ten minutes. Don’t let it boil – the dumplings will fall apart. Taste the broth and season with chile-garlic paste, soy, tamari, or fish sauce if needed.

When the dumplings are done, add the spinach, green onions, and herbs; simmer until spinach is just cooked (maybe another 1 – 2 minutes). Squeeze in the juice from half a fresh lime and taste; add the juice from the other half if the soup needs it for a nice balance.

Serve in large bowls with additional garnishes of sliced lime, green onions, cilantro, basil, soy or fish sauce, and chile-garlic paste.

 

 

 

 

THAI SWEET POTATO SOUP

THAI SWEET POTATO SOUP

Until I moved here, I only saw two kinds of sweet potatoes in the store – the whiteish ones and the orange ones.  Last time I was in the co-op I saw Garnets, Jewel, Hannah, Japanese purple, and another one I can’t remember the name of. I looked online and saw there are many varieties that never make it into the supermarkets, at least not around here.

(Yes, I know some are yams and some are sweet potatoes but for purposes of this post I am calling them all sweet potatoes.)

I like sweet potatoes but I do not like all that marshmallow gunk that people blanket them with. Just roast them in the oven in their skins – they will be plenty sweet. If you have to do more, mash them with pineapple.

But they also make good soup. I found a similar recipe in 300 Sensational Soups and adapted it a little. This would be an elegant way to serve sweet potatoes at a formal Thanksgiving dinner, or on a cold day anytime.

THAI SWEET POTATO SOUP

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes (about two average), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small hot red pepper, minced (optional)
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, about 3 inches long, minced
  • 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (don’t use the low-fat, it has no taste)
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne to taste (you might skip the cayenne if you use the hot pepper)
  • 1 juicy lime
  • chopped cilantro and sliced green onion

Combine all ingredients except lime, cilantro, and green onion in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Puree the soup. You can use a stick blender but it takes freaking forever. Better to let the soup cool a little, then blitz it in a blender or food processor until smooth, then return soup to the pot.

Add a good squeeze of lime juice, then taste and adjust the seasoning – more salt if needed, probably more lime juice. When it’s to your taste, add the cilantro and green onions.

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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.
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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.

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