Archive for the ‘Soups’ Category

OK, truth be told, this is probably more accurately described as “vegetable soup with some beets thrown in”.  It doesn’t have that full-blown, beet-topia experience that one gets at Veselka.  It’s still pretty tasty, and when it’s 30 degrees and sleeting, it’s a nice thing to warm up to.

serves 4

  • 3 medium golden beets, scrubbed and trimmed, with the greens separated, washed thoroughly and reserved
  • about 4 c of Vegetable Stock
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 1 large celery stalk, washed and trimmed
  • 2 c crimini mushrooms, washed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the beets in half, place in a baking dish and cover; roast in the oven until tender, about 1 hour.  Meanwhile, prepare the Vegetable Stock.

When the beets are done, remove them from the oven to cool (keep them covered, though, so that the skin comes off easily).  In a medium-sized pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic clove.  Roughly chop the carrots, onion and celery and add with several pinches of salt to the garlic.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Slice the mushrooms into 1/2-inch thick slices and add to the vegetables.  Saute until tender, another 10 minutes.

Peel the beets and roughly chop.  Add the cooked beets to the other vegetables; stir to incorporate.  Stir in the Vegetable Stock and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook until the soup comes together (you’ll know it when you see it), about 20 minutes.  Serve piping hot with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives.


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I used to take it as dogma that chili, real chili, must contain beef—cubes of beef, not ground beef—and only beef:  no beans, no chicken, no nuthin’.  The very idea of vegetarian chili was ludicrous (and don’t get me started on that Cincinnati stuff that they serve on spaghetti).  Indeed, this is the kind of chili that’s prepared on the competitive chili circuit.  This, I believed, was the authentic chili.

But then I got to thinking:  One, I really needed to lighten up.  Two, a combination of beef and beans (or chicken and beans, or beans by themselves) in a tomato-y spicy broth is a fantastic meal, whatever it’s called.  Three, I happen to write a blog called The Militant Carnivore Cooks for his Vegetarian Wife, so I should probably be open to the idea of less meat-centric chilis.

The final straw was an article in a recent Cook’s Illustrated that discussed that “authentic” chili that is prepared on the competitive chili circuit.  In addition to being bean-free, that chili may not contain any visible traces of tomato or onion.  It consists of nothing more than beef and heaps and heaps of ground spice, added in layer after layer over several hours of stewing.


So, I’m a convert.  I’m a born-again chili-head.  Beef, beans, chicken, turkey, mushrooms—whatever you want to use in your chili is fine by me.  (Well, OK, I draw the line at TVP.  Again, eew.)  The only ingredient that should be common to all chilis, in my opinion, is some form of chile.  (Call me crazy.)

So it was that I decided to turn a batch of pinto beans into an all-bean, vegan chili.  The recipe is very similar to the Soupy Lentils from last week, but the spices give it a very different flavor profile.  I was out of dried chiles and couldn’t find chipotles en adobo at the supermarket, so I turned to the one smoked chile that I always have on hand:  pimenton.  It worked like a charm.  I couldn’t decide how to cut the onions for the chili (did I want big chunks?  thin slices?); being lazy, I went for the path of least possible work and tossed the onion in the food processor and pulsed it into a coarse puree.  A fortuitous and felicitous phenomenon resulted:  The tiny pieces of onion in the finished chili gave it a coarse texture that resembled that of ground beef.  Voila!  Vegan chili with beefy, hearty texture, and no TVP in sight.

  • 1 large onion, peeled, cut into rough 2-inch chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • 1 T dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 T pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
  • 1 28-oz. can of tomatoes
  • 1 12-0z. can of PBR (or another appropriately cheap and hipster-worthy beer)
  • 4 c cooked or canned pinto beans

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Toss the onion and garlic into the food processor.   Keeping your face well back, pulse until the onion is coarsely pureed.  Add to the Dutch oven with a generous pinch of salt and saute over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, pound the cumin seeds and oregano in a mortar and pestle until roughly ground; add to the onion mixture along with the pimenton and cook for about 2 minutes.

Drain the liquid from the can of tomatoes into a bowl; reserve.  Using scisscors, roughly chop the tomatoes inside the can, then stir into the onion mixture.  Turn the heat up to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato juice and beer, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until most of the alcohol has evaporated off.  Stir in the beans.  Add water to cover and stir to combine.  Simmer until the mixture comes together, about 10-20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and spice; if desired, add a few dashes of hot sauce or cayenne pepper.  Serve with grated cotija or Monterey Jack and/or a dollop of sour cream and any other garnishes you wish (particularly chopped green onions).  Definitely add some cornbread on the side.

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Soupy Lentils

This was supposed to be lentil soup, but the bast laid plans of mice and Militant Carnivores…

That’s OK, though:  I think I like lentils this way even better.

First, cook your lentils.  Actually, first buy your lentils:  French green lentils (lentilles du Puy) are what you want here, and for all other lentil applications.  They hold their shape well and seem less dingy and sludgy when cooked then traditional brown lentils.  Next, sort through the lentils to make sure there are no stones or clods of dirt hiding in there.  So now you have:

  • 2 c dried lentilles du Puy
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf

Dump everything in a  pot and cover with water by an inch.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain the lentils, reserving cooking liquid, and discard garlic and bay leaf.  You could eat the lentils at this point (with a little salt), but just wait.  You’ll want to eat these soupy lentils all winter long.

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks, trimmed, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large can (28 oz.) of tomatoes (Whole tomatoes, please.  I always buy whole tomatoes.  Diced tomatoes are treated with calcium chloride or some such chemical that keeps them from ever fully breaking down in a sauce, and tomato puree tastes precooked.  Stick with the whole tomatoes.  I don’t care if you use chi chi San Marzano tomatoes flown all the way from Italy or if you use Costco brand tomatoes.  Whole tomatoes are the way to go.)
  • cooked lentils from recipe above (this probably yields about 6 c of cooked lentils)
  • 1 c of reserved lentil cooking liquid (see above)
  • 1 big handful of parsley, thoroughly washed

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to use mirepoix more often.  Mirepoix is a traditional French combination of carrots, celery and onion that is sauteed as the foundation for a soup, sauce, stew or other recipe.  (I know, I know:  I have weird New Year’s resolutions.)   In the past, I rarely used carrots and celery in my cooking, but now I understand that they function the way that bitters and sugar function in a cocktail:  The carrots, like the sugar, add sweetness while the celery (and the bitters) provides bitterness, thus ramping up the amplitude of a dish (or a cocktail) and creating a fuller flavor profile.  So, mirepoix it is:

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bay leaf and a generous pinch of salt.  Saute, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Add the *liquid* from the can of tomatoes to the pot.  Stir into the vegetables with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot to deglaze.  Stick a pair of kitchen shears into the tomato can and cut up the tomatoes (this is much faster and neater than trying to chop them on a board).  Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot and stir to combine.  Cook until the tomatoes break down and become integrated with the other vegetables, about 10 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils and a few generous pinches of salt; stir to combine.  Add the lentil cooking liquid and about 3 c water (or stock, if you have it) to cover.  Turn heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  When the liquid boils, reduce to a simmer and cook until the mixture comes together, about 10-15 minutes.  (You’ll know it when you see it.)

There you have it:  soupy lentils.  Ladle into bowls.  Roughly chop the parsley and scatter over top.  Drizzle with the best extra virgin olive oil that you have and sprinkle some flaky sea salt on top.  Serve with bread (or even better, bruschetta) on the side.

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I understand that it’s been a little on the warm side over on the East Coast.  For those who are sweltering and suffering, I offer this cold soup, based on one in The Minimalist Cooks at Home.  (I added some garlic and sherry vinegar to make this soup more like a gazpacho and less like a smoothie.)

Warning:  This dish does involve about 15 minutes of sauteing.  If that sounds intolerable, I would recommend making the soup at night when the kitchen has cooled down, refrigerating it overnight and enjoying a cooking-free meal the following day.  (Or, if you’re grilling outside, throw the tomatoes and melon on the grill until they get some nice color, then proceed with the recipe.)

  • olive oil, as needed (Maybe I should stop including this in my list of ingredients, since every recipe features “olive oil, as needed”.)
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 4-6 plum tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut into eighths
  • 1 splash of sherry vinegar (say, 1 T)
  • 1 handful of herbs for a garnish (I used a combination of mint and chives, but darn near anything would work:  cilantro, basil, thyme, tarragon…)

Heat up the largest skillet you have over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and the garlic clove.  When the oil is hot, add the tomatoes, cut side down, and the melon wedges.  Saute over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until the melon starts to brown.

Flip over the melon wedges (and the tomatoes, if they’re starting to get too dark) and saute for another 5-7 minutes until the second side is brown.  Remove the skillet from the heat.

Transfer the entire contents of the skillet to a blender (olive oil, garlic and all).  Add the sherry vinegar.

Let everything cool down for a few minutes, then blend:  Start at low speed to get everything moving, then crank it up to high.  Blend the dickens out of it, then taste for seasoning:  Add salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper, a little more vinegar if it’s a little flat, or even a pinch of sugar if the melon could be a little sweeter.

Refrigerate for several hours, then serve cold with a drizzle of the best olive oil that you have and a handful of minced herbs.  Enjoy the refreshing coldness and try to cast your mind back to just a few months ago when you were buried under three feet of snow.

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Corn Chowder

This was pretty darn good with supermarket corn.  I can’t wait to try it with farm-fresh corn, come August.

I wanted to make a chowder that really highlighted the flavor of the corn; the trick turned out to be roasting the cobs (along with a few other vegetables) to make a highly flavorful stock.  I thought about making this a completely vegan chowder, but the combination of corn and butter proved too magnificent to resist.  (Feel free to substitute olive oil, though, if you prefer.)  I finished the chowder with a little skim milk, which, to be frank, didn’t really contribute much to the soup.  I think next time I will either omit the dairy entirely and sacrifice the richness that it contributes in exchange for keeping the corn flavor in the spotlight, or I will add whole milk (or maybe even some cream!) for its decadent lushness.

  • 4 ears of corn
  • the contents of the Vegetable Stock bag, especially carrots and celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 T butter
  • 3 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, washed and scrubbed
  • 2 medium shallots or 1 small red onion, peeled
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1 c milk or cream (optional)

Garnishes (optional):

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Shuck the corn.  Holding the ears over a bowl, cut the kernels off with a sharp knife.  Set the kernels aside.

Trim the ends off the corn cobs and put them in a roasting pan or Dutch oven along with some vegetable trimmings from the vegetable stock bag:  Carrot and celery pieces are ideal here, as are onion and leek trimmings.  You want the corn cob flavor to predominate, though; a 1-to-1 ratio of corn cobs to other stuff is ideal.  Put the roasting pan in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes, turning the vegetables and deglazing the pan with water occasionally, until they are golden brown.

Transfer the contents of the roasting pan into a stockpot; make sure to deglaze the pan thoroughly.  (If you used a Dutch oven, you can just put it right on the stove.)  Cover the vegetables with water, salt liberally, add the garlic, peppercorns and bay leaf, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Strain the stock, pressing on the vegetables to extract as much flavor as possible, and discard the solids.  Reserve the stock.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Cut the potatoes into 3/4-inch cubes and add to the butter with a pinch of salt.  Stir to coat with the butter and cook until they start to brown, about 10 minutes.  Dice the shallots and stir into the potatoes.

Cook until the shallots are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the reserved corn kernels and stir in with the potatoes and shallots.  Add the cayenne and several grinds of black pepper.  Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the reserved corn stock.  Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.  Cook at a boil until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat, add the milk or cream, if using, and stir to incorporate.  Taste for seasoning.

Serve hot, garnished with red pepper purée and diced avocado.

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OK, so this is one of those dishes that use every other pot and pan in your kitchen.  It requires a few different component parts, but much of the dish can be made in advance.  The result looks like one of those architectural creations that your nearest upscale Japanese fusion restaurant would sell for $29 a pop, but you can feed four people with this for the price of a block of tofu and a head of cabbage.  (That’s assuming you already have some star anise in your spice cabinet, which you should.  It adds a warm, vaguely licorice-y note to braised Chinese dishes, Mexican pork stews, poached fruit…)

And if you’ve never sauteed cabbage before, it will be a revelation.  Why, why haven’t I been sauteing cabbage for the last ten years?

  • 1 recipe Ginger-Star Anise Broth (below)
  • 1 head of cabbage
  • olive or peanut oil, as needed
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • 1/4 c flour
  • handful of herbs (cilantro, chives and/or mint)
  • Toasted Quinoa (optional)

Ginger-Star Anise Broth:

  • olive or peanut oil, as needed
  • the usual suspects from the Vegetable Stock bag (except Parmesan rinds)
  • 10 cloves of garlic (don’t bother to peel them)
  • 1 3-inch piece of ginger, cut into slices
  • 3 star anise (stars of anise??)
  • 2 T soy sauce, or more to taste
  • pinch of sugar
  • dash of rice or sherry vinegar
  • small pinch of cayenne

Put a small stockpot over medium heat and add a good glug of oil.  (Peanut oil would probably be keeping with the east Asian flavors of this dish, but I tend to use olive oil for everything.)  When the oil is hot, add the contents of your vegetables stock bag and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the onions and carrots (if any) start to brown.  Add the garlic, ginger and star anise; add water to cover and turn the heat to high.  When the water comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.  Strain the broth into a saucepan, add the remaining broth ingredients and taste for seasoning.  Set over low heat to keep warm.

Core and quarter the cabbage, then slice into thin strips.  Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when the oil is hot, add the garlic and red pepper.  Add the cabbage and a generous pinch of salt.  Saute over medium-high heat until the cabbage is wilted and nicely browned, about 15 minutes.  Add black pepper to taste.  Set aside.

In a medium skillet (I told you this dish would use every pan), heat a 1/2-inch depth of oil over medium heat.  Cut the tofu into 4 pieces, about 3/4-inch thick; pat the tofu dry.  Put the flour in a bowl and dredge the tofu in the flour, turning to coat completely.  Shake off any excess flour.  When the oil is hot, add the tofu and fry over medium heat, turning the tofu over carefully when the bottom is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.  Cook the second side until it is also golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.  (If you’re ambitious, you can carefully stand the tofu up in the oil, holding it with tongs, to brown the sides.)  Drain the tofu on paper towels and season with salt.

Put a mound of sauteed cabbage in a soup bowl.  Put a piece of tofu on top of the cabbage.  Pour a ladleful or two of broth around the tofu until it covers the cabbage.  Mince the herbs and sprinkle over the tofu and broth.  Garnish the tofu with toasted quinoa, if desired.  Serve immediately.

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The more I learn about Spain, the more I’m struck by two themes that seem to run concurrently through its cuisine:  The first is the idea that food can and should be built from the humblest of ingredients.  Spain, after all, has historically been one of the poorer nations of Europe; this poverty led to frugality and making the utmost use of every scrap of food.  Ajo blanco (literally, “white garlic”) is a classic example of such thrift:  a filling, nourishing soup made out of garlic, oil, vinegar, stale bread, almonds and water.

The second trend in Spanish cuisine, however, seems to carom away at oblique angles from these peasant roots.  Contemporary Spanish chefs seem to thrive on contrast, on unexpected twists, on tweaking simple rustic food to make it urbane, postmodern, jarring, surreal.  (I’ve noticed that food writers can’t resist calling the work of Ferran Adrià and his fellow culinary explorers “Dali-esque“.)   Juxtaposing sweet and savory ingredients?  Topping foods with gelées, foams, dehydrated powders?  Cooking with liquid nitrogen and sous-vide poachers?  The avant-garde of contemporary cooking is in Spain.

This recipe is a perfectly simple, rustic soup which can easily and quickly be transformed into a sophisticated, urbane, even pretentious dish if one gets carried away—all without the use of liquid nitrogen or soy lecithin.  The basic ajo blanco is wonderful straight up in a soup bowl or a glass, but with a few simple garnishes, it can be dressed up for the fanciest of company.  I garnished a bowl with halved grapes, toasted red quinoa (since I happened to have some on hand) and thyme flowers (since the thyme plant outside was blooming).  This was pretty as a painting and fantastic-tasting to boot, but since I wasn’t willing to leave well enough alone, I decided to go for baroque:  I made a second bowl with all of the above garnishes plus a scoop of… (wait for it)… pistachio gelato.

“Ice cream in soup?” I hear you cry.  “Ice cream with garlic??”  Yes, and yes.  The almonds are the pivot, the hinge around which the dish turns.  It connects the sweetness of the grapes and the ice cream to the savoriness of the garlic and the olive oil.  In other words, it just tastes good.  Serve ajo blanco with pistachio gelato as a first course to your guests and they’ll think you’re a mad genius.

Well, mad at least, anyway.

This recipe is based on ones in The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen and Tapas:  A Taste of Spain in America by José Andrés.  Please note that the almonds need to soak overnight, so plan ahead.  (I’m not sure if this soaking step is strictly necessary; if you have any luck with skipping it, please let me know!)

  • 1 c blanched slivered almonds, covered with water and soaked overnight in the refrigerator
  • 2 c stale bread cubes, crust removed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 1/2 T sherry vinegar
  • 1/3 c olive oil

Drain the almonds, reserving the soaking water.  Grind the almonds as finely as possible in a food processor.  Set aside.

Put the bread cubes in a bowl and add the almond-soaking water; add additional water to cover, then soak the bread for 5 to 10 minutes.

Roughly chop the garlic and pound with a mortar-and-pestle and a pinch of salt.  Pound the garlic until it becomes a smooth purée.  Set aside.

Drain the bread, discarding the soaking water, and squeeze it as dry as possible.  Add the almonds, bread, garlic, sherry vinegar and 1 c of water to a blender.  Process over low speed, scraping the sides with a spatula occasionally, until you end up with a broken mess like this:

Add another 1/2 c of water and blend on high speed, scraping the sides as needed.  You should end up with a perfectly smooth mixture with the consistency of a thin vanilla milkshake.

With the blender on high, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.  It should be incorporated completely into the soup.  Taste the soup and add additional salt (or oil or vinegar) if necessary.

If you are so inclined, you can strain the soup through some cheesecloth to render it completely silky and smooth.  I don’t happen to have any cheesecloth, and the soup is fine without the straining, if a little coarser than you might prefer.

Serve with a drizzle of the best olive oil you have and any garnishes that you like, including:

  • fresh figs cut into quarters
  • green or red grapes
  • salted roasted Marcona almonds
  • edible flowers
  • herbs
  • toasted quinoa
  • gelato or sorbet

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