Category Archives: soup

Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup

not especially summery, but when you're living in AC all the time anyway, who cares? 

This is a new favorite. I improvised something like it a few weeks ago while staying at a stranger’s house with some friends. We were wandering around an unfamiliar supermarket trying to figure out how to make dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen, and someone grabbed some sweet potatoes because yams are a man’s crop. I decided they should become soup, and found some red lentils, coconut milk, smoked pork neck bones, and a cheap bottle of “Jerk Seasoning” (with cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, and chilis).

Back at the house, I simmered the smoked pork neck bones in water to start breaking them down while I prepped the “duh, soup” ingredients like onion and garlic. I also found a knob of ginger, so I minced that and threw it in, too. I added the lentils and sweet potatoes and Jerk Seasoning once the onions had started to caramelize and then added the pork bones with their broth and simmered it all until everything had melted into a thick stew and the meat was ready to fall off the bones. Coconut milk for creaminess, lemon for brightness, and a little salt. It turned out pretty tasty—smoky, sweet, spicy, and rich with the pork and coconut fat. We ate it with a super fast loaf of crusty no-knead bread (made with a full package of of rapid-rise yeast, 2 hour first rise, 30 min second rise, still damn tasty). It would be just as good with long-grain rice or flatbread or crackers or just all by itself.

after about 45 min of simmering, by the time you're ready to add it to the rest of the ingredients, the water should be cloudy and fat should be pooling on the surface chilis, turmeric, cloves, and cumin in the coffee grinder

It occurred to me later that it could have used a little cilantro, so I added some when I made it again at home, and I think that did improve it. In my own kitchen, I like to toast and grind the spices myself rather than using a prepared blend. You might not be able to taste the difference, but the smell of spices toasting in a pan is one of my favorite parts of cooking.

Variations

In this vegetarian version, I left out the sweet potatoes and used 8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, 2 cans of diced tomatoes, and mushroom bouillon in place of the pork bone broth. Still tasty. Like most soups, especially ones you make up on the fly, this recipe is very flexible. You could use another kind of lentil or dried peas, adjust the spices based on what you’ve got or use another kind of prepared blend, substitute cream or yogurt for the coconut milk (or skip that part entirely). If you want bigger, more distinct chunks of potato, leave them out until the last 30-40 minutes of cooking. If you keep kosher, you could substitute smoked turkey necks for the pork. Or leave the meat out entirely for a vegan version and use bouillon or vegetable broth instead, in which case you can reduce the cooking time to 1-2 hours or however long it takes for the lentils to be tender. To make up for the smokiness and umami you get from the bones, you can add some mushrooms, canned or fresh tomatoes, MSG, nutritional yeast, and/or liquid smoke.

Recipe: Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup

lentils, onions, garlic, ginger--the base of so many tasty mealsIngredients:

  • 2 onions 
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic
  • 2” piece of ginger
  • 2-3 Tablespoons butter, lard, or oil
  • 1-2 lbs smoked meat/bones (like ham hocks or turkey necks) OR 1-2 Tablespoons bouillon/MSG/nutritional yeast/liquid smoke
  • 8-12 cups of water or stock
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice, or 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 lb red lentils (about 2 cups) or split peas
  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • spice blend below, or about 2 Tablespoons of curry powder or jerk seasoning or any other spice blend you like, preferably cumin-centric with a little heat
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, plus more to garnish (or parsley if you’re cilantro-averse)
  • yay for toasting spicessalt and black pepper to taste

Spice blend (adapted from Post Punk Kitchen)

  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seed 
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon whole fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 4-6 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 dried red chili peppers (omit or remove the seeds if you don’t like heat)

1. If using smoked meat, put it in a large pot along with 8 cups of water and vinegar or wine and let simmer while you prep the other ingredients. The acid helps leach minerals from the bones.

2. Peel and dice the onions and mince the garlic and ginger. Heat your cooking fat of choice in another large pot for a couple of minutes and then add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook until the onions are translucent and beginning to turn gold.

3. Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potatoes into roughly 1” cubes. Add them to the onion mixture and toss to coat in the fat.

chunking up some sweet potatoes

4. If using the homemade spice blend, toast the coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, and cloves in a small pan for about 5 minutes or until fragrant and beginning to darken. Pulverize them along with the turmeric and chili peppers in a coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

5. Add the spice blend to the onions and potatoes and stir to coat well. Add the red lentils, and the smoked meat & the liquid they’re simmering in OR 8 cups of water or broth and the bouillon.

6. Simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if it gets too thick. About an hour before you want to eat, remove the bones/meat (if using) and let cool for 30 minutes. Pick the meat off the bones and add it back into the soup.

7. Add the coconut milk, lemon or lime juice, and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste and adjust other seasonings as desired. Serve, garnished with more cilantro.

porky and veg versions working side by side, pork bones just transferred from the metal to black pot and about to be followed by the broth; the veg version in the blue pot in back had yellow split peas instead of red lentils, tomato instead of sweet potato, and mushroom bouillon + water instead of pork bone broth

Hello, Fall! Smoky Black Bean Soup

am i just confused about what a "hock" is? i thought it was a foot. there is no way this is a foot, unless the big is the size of an elephant.. Nearly 3 pounds of smoked ham hock!

Soup Swap, Hunter’s Widow Edition

I went to another gathering of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers last weekend. Mother’s Kitchen had a half-empty house because her menfolk were off hunting, so she invited us over for a third annual MLFB soup swap, which is just like a cookie swap: everyone brings a pot of soup and some containers and takes a little bit of each kind home. Perfect timing—my freezer is now full of diverse, delicious meals ready to be reheated on a moment’s notice, which will definitely come in handy on busy, chilly nights this Fall when there’s too much going on to cook. Including a flavorful, creamy Roasted Tomato Soup from Fruitcake or Nuts and nourishing, zesty White Chicken Chili from Mother’s Kitchen.

that's 2.81 lbs.My contribution was a smoky black bean soup, inspired by the gigantic ham hocks I got from Ernst  Farms. I bought two of them sight-unseen through Lunasa, a bimonthly Market Day-style order & pickup system for Ann Arbor-area farms, expecting them to be roughly the size of my fist like the ones I typically see at the grocery store. Instead, they’re the size of my head. And then, remembering that TeacherPatti doesn’t eat pork, I picked up some smoked turkey necks to make a pig-free version (and she didn’t even show up! The nerve!). The pork and turkey versions turned out remarkably similar. I imagine any smoked meat product would work. You could probably even do a passable vegan version with pimenton and/or liquid smoke.

Bean Basics I: Taming the Magical Fruit

Some people claim that the foam that rises to the top of a pot of simmering beans is connected to the gas many people get after eating them, and that skimming it off will prevent or reduce that effect. Not true. The reason beans make people fart is because of the indigestible carbohydrates—mostly oligosaccharides—that pass through most of the human GI system intact and then get devoured by bacteria in our lower intestine, causing a sudden spike in gas production. The foam in the pot, on the other hand, is produced by water-soluble proteins that trap air bubbles as they rise to the surface of the water. You can skim it if it bothers you, but it won’t affect how flatulent the soup is, or how it tastes or looks.

that foam, it is non-flatulent.

Hock shoved mostly beneath the surface, this batch got one turkey neck too.

So how do you make beans less flatulent? There are basically two options: 1) soak them overnight and throw out the soaking liquid (along with lots of nutrients and flavor) or 2) cook them a long time, which breaks the oligosaccharides down into easier-to-digest sugars and starches. Various folk traditions also claim that adding a slice of ginger, a bay leaf, a piece of kombu seaweed, epazote, cumin, and/or fennel seeds to a pot of beans helps reduce gassiness too. I’ve also seen a few recipes that claim adding baking soda helps, but according to Harold McGee, all that does is decrease the cooking time, which works against flatulence-reduction (McGee 2004 [1984] : 486-9). Since it’s basic, it can also make the soup taste alkalai or soapy.

Bean Basics II: Keeping It Together

If you’re okay with your beans basically dissolving into mush, a long cooking time is no problem. But if you like your beans to retain a little structural integrity, you should add a little acid, sugar, and/or calcium. Again, McGee: 

Acids make the cell-wall hemicelluloses more stable and less dissolvable; sugar helps reinforce cell-wall structure and slows the swelling of the starch granules; and calcium cross-links and reinforces cell-wall pectins. So such ingredients as molasses—somewhat acid and rich in both sugar and and calcium—and acidic tomatoes can preserve bean structure during long cooking or reheating, as for example in baked beans (ibid., 488).

What you definitely shouldn’t add, at least before the beans are done cooking, is salt. Salt increases the cooking speed by reducing how much the starch in the beans swells as it cooks, which not only works against the slow-cooking flatulence-reduction strategy, it can also make the beans mealy instead of creamy. For most bean dishes, water, alcohol, or unsalted homemade stock make better cooking liquids than canned broth or bouillon. If you really want to use bouillon in a bean recipe, stir it in at the end.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Like most soups, this is less a recipe anyone should follow exactly than a set of general guidelines you can adapt based on what you have on hand. In general, for every pound of dried beans, you’ll probably want about one large onion, a half dozen cloves of garlic, a can or two of tomatoes (or the equivalent in fresh), a carrot or two, a bunch of hearty greens, a pound of smoked meat, and about 5 cups of cooking liquid.

not-quite mirepoix. how many great soups start off this way?

I might have added celery, too, if I’d had any.

As McGee notes, molasses is good for flavor and bean texture—at least a tablespoon per pound of beans. I’ll almost always throw in a few bay leaves. I don’t even know what kind of flavor they add, I just reflexively add them to long-simmering soups. Additionally, this time, I added oregano, allspice, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Plus a splash of dry sherry and a squish of lemon. Fresh cilantro at the very end, salt and pepper to taste.

I bet orange juice, ginger, and allspice would be a pretty tasty combination. Sweet potatoes or winter squash would work instead of (or in addition to) the carrots. A beer in place of some of the broth would have been good in place of the sherry. Fresh or frozen corn and/or bell peppers might be nice if you wanted more veggies. Some hot peppers if you like things really spicy. Leave out the meat if that’s not your thing (in which case, a little MSG or nutritional yeast and additional oil would make up for some of the umami flavor you get from the bones & fat & cartilage).

Serve it with sour cream or shredded/crumbled cheese, green onions, more cilantro or parsley, lemon or lime wedges, corn bread, tortilla chips, a hunk of crusty sourdough, or just by itself. 

This is what I ate while I watched SDSU completely fail to capitalize on Michigan's 3rd quarter meltdown Also a good nacho topping.

Recipe: Smoky Black Bean Soup (adapted kinda sorta from allrecipes and simplyrecipes)

Makes 6-8 servings, doubles or triples well

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Tablespoons neutral cooking oil or rendered bacon fat
  • 1 large onion
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes or 2-3 large raw tomatoes, diced
  • about one bunch of hearty cooking greens or 1/2 lb frozen spinach
  • 1 lb black beans, soaked for at least 6 hours
  • 5 cups of the soaking water, beer, wine, and/or low-salt stock
  • 1-2 lbs smoked bones with some meat on them—ham hocks, turkey neck, etc. OR 1 Tablespoon pimenton or liquid smoke to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons molasses
  • a hearty glug of dry sherry (2-3 Tablespoons?)
  • juice of one lemon (or lime, or a little vinegar, or a lot of orange juice)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • a handful of chopped cilantro, chopped
  • salt, pepper, and more lemon juice or vinegar to taste
  • optional garnishes: cheese, sour cream, chives, cilantro, hot sauce, lemon or lime wedges

Method:

1.  Heat the oil or bacon fat in a large pot while you dice the onion, mince the garlic, and slice the carrots, adding each one to the pot as you finish cutting.

2. Cook until the onions begin to take on some color, and then add everything except the cilantro, salt, pepper, and garnishes.

3. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat until the soup is just simmering and cook for 2-3 hours, or until the beans are cooked through and the meat is falling off the bones.

4. Remove the bones from the pot and let them cool for about 30 minutes (let the soup keep simmering). Remove the meat and chop it into bite-sized pieces or shred it between your fingers. Discard the skin and bone.

5. Add the cilantro, salt, pepper, and more lemon juice to taste.

meat removed, cooling; the other turkey necks from the kosher batch were on a separate cutting board--i take food avoidances seriously!That’s the hock on the right, totally falling apart after about 3 hours of simmering.

shredded turkey neck meat added back to the pot The meat from the turkey neck, shredded back into the pot

cilantro--obviously optional if you're a soap person The turkey neck version after seasoning to taste and adding the cilantro: ready to serve!

Pho Ga with Cilantro or Anise Stock

The bottom left is the lighter cilantro broth; the upper right has the more heavily-spiced anise & clove broth

If I had to pick just one of the international varieties of chicken soup to eat for the rest of my life, I’d probably pick phở  (pronounced “fuh”). Phở doesn’t always involve chicken; in fact, phở bò, with beef, is probably the most popular version. But phở gà is the one I crave when I’m feeling sick or sad or anxious. I think the reason I like phở better than all the other cure-for-what-ails-you chicken soups out there is its tangy, spicy edge. It has all the familiar comforts of chicken noodle soup plus the sweet heat of charred ginger and bite of lime and freshness of basil and kick from hot chilis and crunch of bean sprouts, all in perfect balance.

I’m sure dissertation stress is probably the main reason I’m on such a chicken stock kick lately. But another part of it is that although stock is time-consuming, it’s not too labor intensive. With just five minutes of work here and ten minutes of work there, I end up with the something that feels like really nourishing homemade food.

Plus, once you’ve got the stock made, phở is an almost-instant meal. All you have to do is soften some rice noodles in hot water and put them in a bowl with some cooked meat (or a substitute) and greens. Heat the stock to a simmer and pour it on top. Garnish with bean sprouts, lime, basil or cilantro, green onions, and as much rooster sauce as you like. If you combine the garnishes into a little salad, you can keep it in the fridge along with separate containers of chopped, cooked meat and greens, and then each serving of phở takes less time to prepare than a bowl of instant ramen.

noodles, chicken, shredded bok choy & a few thin slices of onion

add stock, garnish as desired; voila: pho

Do the prep on a weekend and you can feast on rich, spicy, tangy, steamy phở at a moment’s notice anytime that week. If you make two batches of stock at once, which only takes a tiny bit more effort than making one batch, you can freeze anything you won’t eat immediately in pint jars or 2-cup tupperware containers, which are perfect single-serving sizes for any future phở needs.

Another fun thing you can do if you make two versions of the stock at once is play with the flavor profiles. Last weekend, I made one batch with cilantro and coriander and one with anise, cloves, and cinnamon. Both were great. The cilantro version was grassy and bright, and the anise one had rich, elusive layers of spice. In addition to using a whole chicken for each batch of stock, I also used turkey necks and chicken feet—about a pound  of each in each batch. That dramatically increases the collagen content, so after 8 hours of simmering, it was rich enough to become a solid gel in the refrigerator. 

anise stock, just after adding all the spices

Chicken and Star Anise Jell-O!

If you’re not quite up to making the stock from scratch, you can improve a canned stock or even diluted bouillon by simmering it for an hour or so with a big piece of smashed ginger and the same spices or herbs (anise/cloves/cinnamon or coriander/cilantro).

Pro tip: A friend of mine tells me that Tsingtao is an excellent pairing for pho. Although he was talking about phở bò, the chicken version has same kind of spicy, savory, multi-layered flavor thing going on, which I think would certainly complement a pilsner in that addictive refreshing light beer + spicy food way.

Also, I am totally proud of myself that I refrained from making in any stupid phonetic jokes (okay, groan, but even that’s a homonym not homophone!). Recipe below.

At least it doesnt's start with "Mother" new head asplode text! "PPPPPPHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOO..."

 

Recipe: Phở Gà (adapted from Viet World Kitchen)
(serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • One batch whole chicken stock (either the traditional pho or lighter pho variations) or 3-4 quarts canned stock or bouillon, simmered with ginger and either 2 T. toasted coriander and a bunch of cilantro or 5-7 star anise, a cinnamon stick, and 1 t. whole cloves for an hour
  • 4-5 cups cooked chicken meat
  • 2 lbs rice stick noodles
  • 4 cups baby bok choy, or other greens juiced limes, jalapeno because the market was out of serranos, the rest of the garnishes arleady in the bowl
  • 1 yellow onion

Garnishes:

  • 3 cups mung bean sprouts
  • 2 limes
  • 2 serrano chilis
  • 1 bunch green onions, green part only
  • 1/4 cup basil or cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • rooster sauce (optional)

Method:

1. Slice the onion paper thin and soak in warm water for 10-15 minutes (to take away the bite).

safety glove works better for me than the mandoline guard; I think of it as my kitchen chain-mail

2. Roughly chop the bok choy (I used a mandoline for this, too, to get thin slices of the tough parts & shred the green tops)

3. Juice the limes, dice the chilis, dice the green part of the green onions (reserve the whites for another use or poach gently in the stock and serve with the soup), and roughly chop the basil or cilantro. Combine with the bean sprouts and sesame oil and toss to combine. Alternatively, quarter the limes and put all the garnishes out in separate bowls for people to add as desired.

4. Boil a few cups of water and submerge the rice stick noodles for 15 seconds to a minute—just until softened.

5. Heat 2 cups of stock per serving until it’s steaming and prepare the bowls: place individual portions of noodles, chicken, and bok choy in each bowl. Rinse the onion and add just a few thin slices to each bowl.

6. Pour the steaming stock into the bowl, and garnish with the bean sprout salad and rooster sauce.

steam condensing on the sides of the bowl

Whole Chicken Stock Photo Tutorial

Do you really need a recipe or a photo tutorial for something this simple? Probably not. Simmer some chicken and vegetables and after a while, voila: stock. But I appreciated the images and time guidelines provided by the recipe I used

I usually just use leftover bones to make stock. But last weekend, I wanted to make a big batch of congee, and I wanted a whole chicken’s worth of meat in it. Roasting the bird first just to pull all the meat off and throw the bones in a pot seemed like it couldn’t possibly be the most efficient method. Plus, I kept reading (most recently here) that stock made with raw meat and bones beats the pants off the stuff made from a leftover, cooked carcass. So I decided to try the technique described in this recipe for pho ga.

Basically, you poach a whole chicken in 5 quarts of water for about a half an hour, and then remove most of the meat and reserve it so it doesn’t get over-cooked. The rest of the chicken goes back in the pot and gets simmered long and slow to draw all the flavor out of the bones and whatever vegetables and spices you want to use. Pretty simple, even with a few additional steps like charring some of the vegetables and parboiling the chicken. It takes a long time, but it’s mostly not active time—a good project for a weekend day when you’ll be around the house, but have other things you need to get done (like, for example, a dissertation).

Since I wasn’t looking for that distinctive pho flavor, I used leek tops instead of the cilantro and added a head of garlic, a few carrots, and a small celery heart—going for more of a typical European chicken soup flavor profile. The pho recipe also calls for 3 pounds of chicken neck and back bones, but I didn’t feel like making a special trip to a butcher and figured one whole chicken would provide plenty of flavor. I did crack the largest bones before adding the carcass back to the pot to expose the marrow, and I also added a little vinegar because supposedly that helps leach out the minerals. Trying to make the most out of those bones.

I think you could serve this like a consomme, super hot and poured over some diced vegetables and herbs. The flavor was so robust, I just kind of wanted to drink it.

The result was glorious: stunningly rich, almost like a consommé. Much cleaner-tasting and less cloudy than the stock I usually make. The flavor was heady and slightly sweet from the charred ginger and onion and semi-roasted garlic. Plus, the chicken meat turned out succulent, flavorful, and tender. Just what I was looking for. Click for detailed instructions & photos:

Step 1: Char the onion, ginger, and/or garlic. For traditional pho, this would be done on a grill, and there’s no garlic involved. I used my oven broiler set at 500F. If you have a gas range, you can also char the vegetables by placing them directly on the burners over a medium flame. Peel the onions, but leave the ginger just as it is. If using garlic, wrap the whole head in foil.

For the broiler method: quarter the onions and place all the aromatic vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet 1-2” from the heat. Cook for 10-15 minutes, turning every 3-5 minutes until they’re just beginning to soften and some of the edges are blistered and black. If using a fennel bulb, give it the same treatment.

On the grill, you can leave the onions whole; I quartered them so they'd fit under the broiler

I pulled off the darkest blisters, but leaving some of the charred bits will add to the flavor of the stock

Broil (or grill) the aromatic vegetables until they look like this:

The onions don't need to be cooked through, but just that little bit of softness and caramelization enhances the flavor a lot If the flat side of the knife doesn't work, the base of the handle should Flat side of a knife works great for this Peel and crush the ginger and garlic, if using

Step 2: Parboil the chicken. This step is supposed to “remove impurities” that cloud the broth. First, you remove the chicken wings—the bones will pop out if you twist them back, and then you can just cut through the flesh. Then put the chicken, wings, and any other bones you’re using in a pot and add just enough water to cover them. Bring it to a boil over high heat and boil for 2-3 minutes. Then, dump it all out into the sink, rinse the chicken parts, and give the pot a quick scrub to remove any residue.

give the wing a hard twist and the bone should separate from the socket and pop through the skin

then you can just slice through the skin and flesh with a sharp knife; no cleaver requiredRemove the wings

I guess this is the stuff that normally clouds my stock? Who knew you could get rid of it with 2-3 minutes of boiling and a quick rinse

scrub all that residue out of the pot

Boil for 2-3 minutes and then rinse

If you don’t care about “impurities” or cloudiness, you can skip this step, but you might want to add 10 minutes or so to the chicken cooking time. Parboiling isn’t as effective at clarifying stock as a consommé "raft”, but it does get rid of some of the scummy particles. Instructions below for how to turn this stock into a true consommé.

Step 3: Poach the chicken with the vegetables. Return the chicken and wings to the pot, and add 5 quarts of cold water, 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, the charred onions and any other vegetables you’re using. Add any other spices and herbs at this point too—peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander seed, cilantro, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, carrot greens, leek tops, etc. Bring to a simmer, not a full boil (turn the heat down if it’s bubbling too vigorously) and cook for 25 minutes.

This recipe fills my 8 qt pot about to its maximum capacity; I'll probably use the 12 qt pot next time

a gentle simmer means small bubbles like these, not big or constant bubbling

Simmer the chicken and vegetables

Step 4: Remove the meat. Take the chicken out of the pot and let it rest on a cutting board for 20-25 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Keep the vegetables simmering. When the chicken is cool, cut the breast meat off and remove the legs from the body. If you pull the thigh & drumstick together, they should separate from the body pretty easily, and you should be able to slice through any connective skin & tissue easily with a normal chef’s knife, just like with the wings. Pull the leg meat off in large pieces, and cover all the meat and refrigerate it until you want to use it (keeping it in larger pieces preserves the moistness). Cut the leg bones in half with a cleaver or score them with a knife you don’t care about and snap them to expose the marrow. Return the bones to the pot and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar or a hefty glug of white wine (~4 oz).

I threw the skin back in the pot so all the fat would render out and I could scrape it off the top to use for cooking

Remove the breast and leg meat

Don't do this with a good knife, unless you have a good cleaver designed to cut bones. If you don't have a cleaver, use a knife you don't care about to score the bones and make them easier to snap in two

whole chicken stock 032

Break the large bones to expose the marrow

Step 5: Simmer the bones. Cover the pot and cook for 3-8 hours. Some people claim that 3 hours is sufficient to get most of the flavor out of the bones, but it takes at least 6 hours to get all the collagen out. For some people, that’s the difference between “broth” and “stock”: the latter is richer because it contains more gelatin, so much so that it may set like Jell-O when chilled if you use enough bones. If you want that kind of richness, you will need the extra bones called for in the pho recipe—use a large package of wings if you can’t get your hands on chicken necks and backs.At the start, pale gold After six hours, much richer. Even though I kept it covered, it still reduced significantly. If the liquid ever gets too low to cover the carcass and vegetables, add enough water to cover

 Cover and simmer for 3-8 hours

Step 6: Strain, chill, and skim. I remove the large bones and vegetable chunks to a colander suspended over a bowl, and then return the liquid that drains into the bowl to the pot while I line the colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Then, I strain all the liquid through the cheesecloth and gather the ends together and squeeze it as dry as possible with a pair of kitchen tongs, kind of like a giant bag of chicken tea. Let the stock sit on the counter for at least 2 hours or up to overnight—if you refrigerate it immediately, it may heat up the interior of your refrigerator too much. I’m sure people who are fussy about food safety will blanche at the idea of leaving it out for 8+ hours, but I do it routinely without anyone ever getting sick. If you’re concerned or need it to be cool faster, immerse the bowl or pot in a sink full of cold water until barely warm to the touch.

Tongs or a slotted spoon are good for removing most of the large solids

You could probably also use paper towel, although it might break and

 Strain out the large parts in a colander, return collected liquid to pot,
then strain all the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth

This was more like 2.5 quarts because it reduced, but it was super flavorful and could be watered down to 3-4 quarts easily

I soaked some dried mushrooms in the stock while it was hot, and they probably absorbed some of the fat too; normally there would be more. Still, if you want to have a covering of fat to preserve it for longer fridge storage, put it in a jar or something with a narrow top.

 The fat will float to the surface, and solidify when chilled.

Some people claim you should use stock within 3 days or freeze it; other people claim that you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 months. If doing the latter, it supposedly helps to leave the layer of fat on top to “seal” it and prevent spoilage. You can leave the fat in the stock if you like; however, it may make simple recipes like brothy soups taste greasy. Once chilled, the fat will solidify and can be skimmed off easily with a slotted spoon. In recipes that include emulsifiers or stabilizers like egg yolk or starch, the fat should incorporate easily and add richness without an oily mouth-feel. You can also cook with the fat—I skimmed it off and used it to sweat the mirepoix for my congee.

Bonus: In addition to 2.5-4 quarts of stock, this method yields 4-5 cups of perfectly-cooked chicken.

I know you can't tell how moist and succulent this meat was, but seriously: with a little salt, this was good enough to devour on its own. It would not be out of place in any soup, salad, omelet, etc. Or just douse it in buffalo sauce and go to town.

Recipe: Whole Chicken Stock (adapted from Viet World Kitchen)
makes 2.5-4 quarts stock plus 4-5 cups of cooked chicken meat

Essentials:

  • One whole chicken, ~4 lbs
  • 5 quarts water, plus more for par-boiling the bird
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice or 4-6 ounces white wine or dry vermouth (Noilly Prat preferred to avoid a peculiar aftertaste)a few big carrots or celery ribs would probably be sufficient

Optional stuff I used in this batch:

  • 1 head garlic
  • fresh ginger, about 4”
  • 4 carrots
  • a small celery heart (about 2 cups roughly chopped, with leaves)
  • green tops from 3 leeks

Other optional additions:

  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • a few sprigs of parsley, thyme, rosemary, dill, or tarragon
  • a large handful of sage, parsley, or cilantro
  • a bulb of fennel, also better lightly-charred
  • a few shallots or green onions, charred or not
  • a tablespoon of any kind of whole spice you want, toasted in a dry skillet if desired

Variations/Serving Ideas:

For traditional pho: use the ginger but none of the other optional vegetables for the stock, and add 4-5 star anise, a half a dozen cloves, a cinnamon stick, about 1 oz raw cane sugar, and 1/4 cup fish sauce. Skim the fat. To serve, place the following in large bowls: a handful of rice stick noodles that have been softened by a quick dunk in hot tap water, 2-3 tablespoons very thinly-sliced onions, a few ounces of meat or tofu (like shredded cooked chicken or thinly-sliced raw beef). Cover with steaming hot broth just before serving, or serve in small pitchers or jars and let people pour it into the bowls themselves at the table. Garnish with mung bean sprouts, thai basil leaves, lime wedges, and thinly sliced serrano chilis.

For lighter pho: use the ginger but none of the other optional vegetables for the stock, and add a large bunch of cilantro, 2 tablespoons toasted coriander seed, 1 oz raw cane sugar, and 1/4 cup fish sauce. Serve just like the traditional pho, with more cilantro to garnish. This lighter broth is more often served with chicken than beef.

For consommé: use the carrots and celery, but no ginger or garlic in the stock. Chill completely and skim off the fat. Dice 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk and half an onion or a whole leek and combine with 1 cup tomato puree, 3 lightly-beaten egg whites, and 1 lb. raw ground chicken meat (the extra meat enriches the stock and replaces some of the flavor you’re “clarifying” out). Put the broth in a large pot and spoon the mixture into it (still cool), and place over medium heat. Stir until it comes to a simmer. The solids will rise to the surface and begin to form a solid “raft” held together by the egg whites. Stop stirring and simmer for 30-45 minutes, letting the stock bubble up through the raft. Remove from the heat and gently remove the raft—in one piece if possible. Strain the stock through several layers of cheesecloth to remove any remaining egg white particles. The resulting liquid should be as clear as glass. Serve as a starter or between courses in a fancy plated meal, garnished simply with julienned fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, or a delicate, poached meat. Similar to pho broth, you can serve consommé in little pitchers or covered pots or jars to keep it hot and let people pour it themselves into a bowl filled with vegetables, meat, herbs, noodles or other garnishes at the table.

Spicy Ginger Peanut Stew and a Soup Swap: Take That, Michigan Winter!

Actually, that's sunflower butter b/c I ran out of peanut butter. Same idea, though. Incidentally vegan (which is not incidentally my favorite kind of vegan)

Soup Season is ON

I think the worst thing about January in Michigan is knowing even after we survive it, we still have to deal with February. Would you like some soup? I would like some soup.

I first discovered this recipe sometime during the year or two I ate (mostly) vegan. In many ways, it’s just a standard vegetable soup. It starts with garlic & onion, and then you add some vegetables—it doesn’t really matter what kind. Top with canned tomatoes and enough broth to cover, cook until the veggies are done, season with salt & pepper to taste, and that should be pretty tasty, even if you don’t add anything else. But it’s probably nothing to write home the internet about.

You can add more nut butter if you want something really peanutty. I like it better with just a little.It’s the three elements in the name that make this something worth sharing—a hefty scoop of cayenne pepper, a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh ginger, and a few heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter. Together, they transform this from just your average vegetable soup into a spicy, hearty, creamy stew. A hint of coconut, which you can get either by sweating the veggies in coconut oil, adding some coconut milk with the nut butter, or garnishing the soup with a sprinkle of unsweetened dried coconut curls adds another layer of flavor and richness, but it’s also great without the coconut.

To make it more filling, I sometimes add potatoes or rice. In this batch, I used sweet potatoes because I think they’re especially nice with ginger, cayenne, and coconut. Sometimes I throw in a bell pepper or some hearty greens. Carrots would be a welcome addition, too. I actually have a hard time thinking of anything that wouldn’t be good in this—cabbage, peas, corn, winter squash, white potatoes. And although I’ve never tried it, I imagine it would also be good with some beans, shredded cooked chicken, or diced ham if you wanted to add more protein or had leftovers hanging around that you wanted to use up. 

Apparently 2 big onions, a whole head of cauliflower, two heads of broccoli, 4 sweet potatoes, and 5 cans of diced tomatoes is kind of a lot of vegetable matter. Filled 3/4 of my biggest pot, and took over 10 cups of liquid, in addition to the tomato can juice, to cover.This is a 12-qt pot so as written below it makes ~8 quarts of soup?
Easily scaled down—the original recipe makes 4-6 servings.

Swapping Soup

I usually make a giant batch of this once a year and then freeze it in pint jars or 2-cup screw-top tupperware containers, which usually last me through the winter. However, thanks to the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers—especially Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts who hosted the swap—this batch got magically transformed into six different kinds of soup: 

It's like a Michigan winter survival kit!

Clockwise from the top left, that’s Cheddar and Potato with Canadian Bacon (by Bee of Good Food Michigan), Curried Red Lentil Soup (by Mary of A Million Grandmas), a Potato & Sausage soup with lots of fresh dill (by Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts), my Spicy Ginger Peanut soup, a Corn Chowder with Red and Green Bell Peppers (by Sarah of Una Buona Forchetta), and a Winter Stew with Pork, Beans, & Greens (by Yvonne of Wool and Water).

We tasted them all, along with drinks & bread provided by Shayne and mint chocolate chip cookies from Bee—all of which were delicious—and then filled the containers we’d brought with the leftovers. Kudos to whoever came up with this idea. It would be a great thing to do on a regular basis with a group of friends with similar food preferences/restrictions.

I’ll link to their recipes when/if they post them. Here’s mine:

Recipe: Ginger Peanut Stew (adapted from VegWeb)
makes enough for a crowd, halve or see VegWeb for a smaller amount

  • 4 T. coconut oil (or any neutral cooking oil)How many great recipes start just like this: mince some garlic and/or ginger, dice an onion...
  • 1 head garlic
  • a 2” piece of ginger (about 2 T. minced or grated)
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 head cauliflower*
  • 2 heads broccoli*
  • 4 sweet potatoes*
  • 5 14-oz cans of diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 6-10 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 t. cayenne (depending on your heat tolerance, you might want to start with 1/2 t. and add more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter**
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or unsweetened shredded coconut to garnish (optional)

*can substitute any diced vegetable for the cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet potatoes; add slow-cooking things like root vegetables and winter squash first; hold back on anything you want to remain tender-crisp

**I prefer crunchy, but creamy will work too; you can also substitute any other nut or seed butter you like.

1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat.

2. Peel and mince or grate the garlic and ginger finely and add them to the oil.

3. Dice the onion and add it to the pot. Stir to coat and let cook while you chop the other vegetables (or, if using pre-chopped or bite sized things, just let them cook for 5-10 minutes until they’re soft). The heat was on a little to high when I started so by the time I got done dicing the onions, some of the garlic & ginger had browned. But at least it didn't burn. Starting something over becasue you burned the garlic is so depressing.Potato cubes need not be perfect, just as long as they're all roughly the same size they should all cook through in the same amount of time

4. Peel and dice the potatoes, if using, and any other root vegetables or winter squash into 1/2”  cubes and add to the onions. Repeat with the cauliflower and broccoli, or whatever else you’re putting in the soup.

Everything chopped and in the pot--it takes me about 40 minutes to throw it together and is ready to eat in just over an hour.5. Sprinkle the veggies with cayenne, stir well, and let cook 3-5 minutes. The onions should be turning golden, if not continue cooking, stirring occasionally until they are.

6. Add the canned tomatoes with their liquid and the water or stock, using more water or stock if necessary to cover the vegetables.

7. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are all cooked to your liking. 

8. Stir in the peanut butter and the coconut milk (if using), and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coconut oil, but no coconut milk in this batch.

A Cure for Whatever Ails You: Chicken and Rice Porridge (aka Congee, aka Jook)

This is not really a traditional congee, which wouldn't have a mirepoix base. It's more like a cross between congee and a Euro-American chicken soup.

And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him.
The lore has not died out of the world, and you will
still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness 
and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.
                              —East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Grandmothers of the World Unite

I’ve always been intrigued by parallels in culinary traditions from far-removed places. For example, almost every cuisine seems to include some kind of dough filled with seasoned meat or vegetables—gyoza, pierogi, samosas, wontons, empanadas, bao, knishes, ravioli, pasties, shishbarak, and manti are all just variations on the same basic theme. Ditto for griddled batter-based breads, i.e. pancakes—there are Euro-American flapjacks, French crepes, Italian farinata, Indian dosas, Eastern European blintzes, Ethiopian injera, Chinese moo shu wrappers, Korean jeon, etc. Commonalities like those seem to point to universal imperatives or desires that form a sort of core or essence of the uniquely human act of cooking, like, for instance, the reliance of large, settled populations on grains and starchy vegetables as their dietary staples.

this soup wants you to feel betterChicken broth-based soup is another one of those near-universal foods, and what makes it unique is that not only is the soup itself basically the same wherever you go, but its use as a folk remedy is also seemingly universal. All over the world, whenever people are feeling under the weather, tradition dictates that the best thing to feed them is rice or pasta or potato simmered until very soft in a broth made from chicken bones, often flavored with some kind of alliums and aromatic herbs.

In Greece, it goes by the name avgolemno, for the egg and lemon that are traditionally included, and it’s prescribed as a remedy for colds and hangovers. In Korea, a chicken broth soup including ginger, ginseng, and rice called samgyetang is not just supposed to cure minor illnesses, but also to prevent them—a bit like the American “apple a day.” Chicken soup, often prepared with matzoh balls, is so often prescribed as a cure in Jewish families that it’s been referred to as “the Jewish penicillin.”

And soup’s reputation for healing and restorative powers may be best represented by its metaphorical invocation in the title of the bestselling series of collected “inspirational” writings whose many iterations also serve as a catalog of demographics that marketers see as “easy prey”:

1) Women

  there is no "grandpa's" version nor is there a new dad's version no love for christian menI wholly expected this to be targeted at black women, but the cover definitely suggests otherwiseNourish your "soul" while you starve your body!

2) People who identify as “animal lovers”:

it occurs to me that there may be an entire small industry devoted to feline glamour shotsI have never seen a dog wearing clothes look this happy IRL  Way to improve all of these titles #1: replace any of the nouns with "FERRETS!" i.e. "101 stories about life, love, and FERRETS!"   Way to improve all of these titles #2: add "(not like that, you pervert)" wherever "love" or "loving" appears, i.e. "Loving Our Dogs (not like that, you pervert)" FERRET! Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul (not like that, you pervert): Inspirational Stories About Horses and the People Who Love Them (not like that, you pervert).

3) People who are especially enthused about capitalism & mass entertainment, or captive audiences:

Chicken soup for those who have no souls? This confuses me a little, because isn't shopping the chicken soup for the FERRET!...shopper's soul? I think this makes the same fundamental error as the BWW commericals based on the idea that someone might just be a fan of sports, rather than the fan of a particular team, and thus have a very specific rooting interest that has nothing to do with the game going into overtime just so they can stay at BWW longer and everything to do with their team winning the damn game. I hope this has an excerpt by William Hung. Hell, I hope the whole thing is by William HungAccording to Amazon, this is the 5th most popular title in the series and #13,101 for all books

I think animal lovers win the “Biggest Sucker” prize because of the amazing co-branding that brings us Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul Cat Food and Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul Dog Food. 

I don't know if this makes me feel cynical or delighted ...or if my delight is inherently cynical anyway.

Chicken Soup Science

However, as the global omnipresence of the chicken soup-as-remedy suggests, it’s not just an old wives’ tale co-opted by the self-help industry. Clear broths may actually be one of the best ways to get water and nutrients into a sick body, and bone broths seem to be especially stomach-soothing and nutrient-rich because of their gelatin, collagen, and mineral content. Adding some kind of acid like wine, lemon, or vinegar to the water as the broth cooks, as many traditional home recipes do, increases the mineral content of the final product even more. Many of the classic starches, especially rice and potatoes, are generally tolerated well by distressed gastrointestinal systems that might struggle with or reject meat, beans, corn or dairy fat. And most versions of the soup are enhanced by other nutrient-rich foods like onions and garlic and carrots and ginger and mushrooms, which are all also generally easy to digest once they’ve been cooked thoroughly, .

In 2000, some researchers at the University of Nebraska set out to test whether or not chicken soup could actually alleviate symptoms associated with the common cold and flu—particularly those in the respiratory tract—or if the oft-touted restorative effects were just the result of hydration and placebo. They studied the effects of one kind of homemade chicken soup, using a recipe from the lead researcher’s Lithuanian grandmother, and 13 commercial brands on neutrophil chemotaxis, which is probably one of the main causes of the inflammatory response that causes sputum production and coughing. They found that chicken soup inhibited neutrophil chemotaxis, and that it did so in a concentration-dependent manner, i.e. the more watered down the soup, the less of an effect it had. The commercial soups varied in their effectiveness—some showed no effect on the neutrophils at all, and others out-performed grandma’s, although they don’t say what the distinguishing feature might have been.

More chemotaxis = more inflammation, sputum, coughing. the homemade soup is the BOR They weren’t testing the soup on human subjects, but the in vitro effects at least suggest a mechanism by which chicken soup might actually make cold sufferers feel better (full published study available here).

Chicken Soup for the Congested, Nauseous, Aching, Hungover, Chronically Fatigued, Demoralized, Where Did September Go and Why Is It All So Hard Soul

Congee can be as simple as plain rice simmered in lots of water (usually at a 1:8 or 1:10 ratio of uncooked rice : water) until it’s basically the consistency of oatmeal. Like most grain porridges the world over, it’s typically flavored with either savory or sweet toppings and eaten for breakfast. However, the version made with chicken broth is nearly as common as the plain version, and is vastly more substantial and comforting. The rice is cooked until the grains begin to break down and release a lot of their starch, which makes the broth thick and creamy, almost like a loose risotto but without all the butter and cheese. If you’re ever in too bad a shape to do anything else, but you can manage to throw a half a cup of rice in a pot with 6-8 cups of broth and stir it from time to time, a couple of hours later, it’ll be a meal fit for an invalid. If you have a fuzzy logic-enabled rice cooker, it’s even easier—just put the rice and broth in the bowl and select the “porridge” option and then you don’t even have to stir.

I decided I wanted to make the most spectacularly healing soup I could possibly concoct, so I started with a basic mirepoix with some garlic and ginger, which also helps soothe nausea. If I’d been nursing a head cold I probably would have added a hot pepper, too. Once the onions were translucent, I added a splash of rice wine and then a big handful of finely diced shitake mushrooms. Then I added the rice—about 2 cups of leftover cooked short-grain rice that was 1/2 brown and 1/2 white—and 6 cups of chicken broth that had been hanging out in the freezer from the last time I had chicken bones. And then I threw in about 2 dozen knots of dried seaweed, which is also mineral-rich and supposedly helps boost immunity, and a bunch of chopped green onion to layer a brighter onion flavor on top of the cooked-onion base.

A couple of hours later, it was as thick as a cream soup and all the vegetables were completely soft. The mushrooms and seaweed make it richly umami and the ginger+garlic combination is as delicious as it is therapeutic. This is not some bland, insipid noodle broth, and really the only way to describe it is nourishing. Not a bad thing to have in your arsenal as the seasons change and winter approaches.

Recipe: Chicken and Rice Porridge drumstick bones and aromatic vegetables, the base of a stock; adding a little wine and/or vinegear will increase the calcium content of the broth

  • 1-2 T. cooking oil
  • 1 medium to large onion (or 2-3 leeks, white parts only, or 2 shallots)
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 large celery ribs
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 oz. fresh mushrooms (or dried mushrooms soaked in hot water for 15+ minutes)
  • 2-3 T. rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 cups leftover steamed rice or 1/2 cup uncooked rice, white or brown)
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or substitute any kind of broth)
  • 1/2 cup dried seaweed (or substitute any other cooking greens)
  • 3-4 green onions
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cups shredded cooked chicken (optional)
  • fresh cilantro or basil (optional)
  • chopped peanuts (optional)

mirepoix + ginger and garlicall the aromatics minced and sweating

1. Dice the onion, carrots, and celery ribs, mince the garlic cloves, and peel the ginger and cut it into 5-6 coin-shaped slices.

2. Heat the oil in a large pot until it shimmers, and sweat the vegetables until the onion is translucent (8-10 minutes). Meanwhile, mince the mushrooms.

3. Add a generous glug of the rice wine or sherry and let it cook off for 2-3 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the mushrooms and cook for another minute or two. I used about 2 cups of cooked brown and white short-grain ricegreen onions go in raw to add a brighter, grassier onion flavor on top of the sauteed onion

4. Add the rice, broth, seaweed, and green onions. If using leftover cooked rice, take a minute to break up any large clumps before adding the broth.

5. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours, stirring occasionally, until it’s the consistency of a thin oatmeal or porridge. You don’t need to stir much in the first hour, but as the rice begins to release it’s starch, you should give it a good stir it every 10-15 minutes to prevent it from adhering to the bottom of the pan and burning. You can add more water or broth or cover the pot if it starts to get too thick or stick to the bottom too much.

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken, if using, and cook just until heated through. Garnish with cilantro or basil and chopped peanuts, if desired.

at first, it will be brothy, much like chicken noodle soup after a couple of hours, thickened with starch and reduced liquid

Fresh Tomato Soup Two Ways: Clean and spicy or Creamy and comforting

no grilled cheese required 

Not Your Famous Pop Arist’s Tomato Soup

I love Campbell’s classic condensed tomato soup. I know, me and half the rest of the Western world, right? There’s a reason it’s an icon. I’m not saying it makes me special or anything. But I really, really love it. My freshman year of high school, I made a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can costume for Halloween out of two giant macramé rings and some red, white, and mustard-yellow felt. That was before everyone had cell phones and all cell phones were cameras, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was a decent facsimile. I wore it again on Halloween my sophomore year of college, and my roommate went as Andy Warhol. No one got it. We didn’t care.

I’ve mostly abandoned the other processed foods I loved as a kid, like Kraft Mac & Cheese, Nissin Cup O’Noodles, and the generic versions of Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks. But I always have tomato soup in my cupboard. I had never even thought about making fresh tomato soup before, because why bother? Campbell’s is so good.

And then, this summer, I just kept finding myself stuck with mountains of too-ripe tomatoes (and a lot of rotting ones that ended up in the trash bin). I did the fresh tomato pasta sauce thing. I did the fresh salsa thing. But eventually, all I could think about when I looked at the endlessly-refilling pile was the tomato juice I made a couple weeks ago for the tomato bars. There were a few ounces left over, and as I drank them, I regretted the fact that I didn’t have gallons of it. It reminded me of a velvety, chilled version of Campbell’s soup.

You Can Never Go Home Again

Looking back, I feel like that juice was my first tentative bite of a forbidden apple. Now that I’ve fallen to temptation and made fresh tomato soup not once, but twice, I’m a little afraid that I won’t be able to go back my old canned stand-by. What if I don’t like it as much anymore? What if I’ve spoiled myself?

this version is rich enough to be a satisfying dinner with a salad and some breadIt would be one thing if it was entirely different—the way baked macaroni and cheese is so unlike Kraft, the two don’t even really compete. Apples and oranges. But it turns out that if you cut up some really ripe tomatoes and then simmer them for 15-20 minutes, maybe with some sautéed onion and a dash of sugar and salt, maybe with some jalapeno and/or ginger, and then you strain out all the solids…it’s almost exactly like Campbell’s, except better. Transcendent. It’s the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted, permeated by sweet onion and spice. It feels like a warm hug in a bowl, like a last gift from Summer delivering you gently into the Fall.

I didn’t even want to put crackers in it because they just would have diluted it. I might eat it alongside a grilled cheese sandwich someday, perhaps something snooty like port salut with mango chutney, or raclette with ham and pickle slices…but there will be no dipping. This soup is the platonic ideal of cooked tomato all by itself. 

However, I guess since I figured I’d already ruined myself for Campbell’s, I decided: why not make a creamy version? Same process, but I cooked the tomato down a little more before straining it and then made a quick roux to thicken the milk before whisking the tomato back in. This time, I garnished it with a few parmesan curls and some chopped fresh parsley. As I was eating it, I got to thinking that what would really put it over the top is some grilled cheese croutons: sharp cheddar or gruyere melted between two thin slices of bread and then cut into bite-sized pieces, tossed in a little oil or melted butter and sprinkled with dried parsley, garlic powder, and maybe some grated parmesan and then toasted for 10-15 minutes in a hot oven until golden brown and crisp all over. Of course, that’s really just gilding the lily

Both ways, it’s fantastic and deceptively comforting, given that it may be robbing you of one of your most enduring childhood pleasures. I just hope I don’t find myself tomato soup-less when the first cold front hits and I’m out of fresh tomatoes. When I have to go running sheepishly back to Campbell’s, which I inevitably will, I hope its familiarity will overwhelm the inevitable disappointment. And maybe that will be the time to break out the grilled cheese croutons.

just over 2 lbsRecipe: Fresh Tomato Soup
makes approximately 16 oz, or 2 bowls and 4 small cups

  • 4-5 large tomatoes (~3”+ diameter) or 6-10 medium ones (~2”); 2 to 2 1/2 lbs total 
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, including seeds (optional)
  • 1” piece of fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1 t. regular)

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan while you dice the shallot or onion. Slice the jalapeno (seeds and all if you like) and the ginger, and add them, too. Sweat them until the onion is cooked through and golden.

I didn't have any fresh ginger, and can't even imagine how awesome it would have been with it will look nothing like soup to start off

2. Meanwhile, core and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to the pan with all their juice.

3. Add the sugar and salt and cook over medium to medium high heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the tomatoes are entirely broken down.

a little hard to tell because of all the steam, but it looks kind of like a very soupy pasta sauceI ended up with about 1/2 cup solids to discard

4. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Don’t forget to scrape the solids off the bottom of the sieve. Stir well, taste and adjust seasoning.

about 2 1/2 lbs--it looks like a lot more, but these were much smallerRecipe: Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup (adapted from Allrecipes)
makes approximately 30 oz—2-3 big servings or 5-6 small ones

  • 4-5 large tomatoes (~3”+ diameter) or 6-10 medium ones (~2”); 2 to 2 1/2 lbs total
  • 1 T. cooking oil (olive, peanut, canola, etc.)
  • 1 small onion, or half of a large one
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2-3 T. fresh or 2-3 t. dried herbs like parsley, oregano, basil, sage, tarragon, and/or rosemary
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • more salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan while you dice the shallot or onion and crush the garlic. Sweat them in the hot oil until the onion is cooked through and golden.

2. Meanwhile, core and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to the pan with all their juice.

3. Add the sugar, salt, and herbs and cook over medium to medium high heat for 30-40 minutes, or until the tomatoes are entirely broken down and beginning to get thick and saucy.

everything in the pot after 30 minutes of simmering

4. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a separate bowl.

5. Melt the butter in an empty saucepan. Whisk in the flour until no lumps remain and then gradually add the milk, whisking after each addition until smooth—add just a few tablespoons at a time for about the first cup, and then add the rest in a steady stream. Heat until steaming, and beginning to bubble gently at the edges but not yet boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat.

flour whisked into the butter a few additions of milk, roux will be very thick

6. Whisk the strained tomato into the milk, taste and adjust seasoning.

still swirling together

Cream of Nettle Soup: Introducing the 2010 CSA Files

about 1/2 lb; perhaps 3-4 cups of leaves

CSA 2010: Needle Lane Farms

For the uninitiated, Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) are like subscription plans for local food—usually vegetables, but in some regions, you can get CSAs for meat, seafood, dairy, frozen produce, or even prepared foods. Generally, you pay for the whole year or growing season before it begins and then every week, you pick up a pre-packed box that contains a selection of whatever’s in season. After an extraordinarily helpful consultation with Kim Bayer of The Farmer’s Marketer (which I highly recommended to anyone in the Ann Arbor area who’s interested in exploring their options for buying locally-produced food; for $25, she will distill her vast knowledge about the dizzying number of options and all their idiosyncrasies into an hour-long “matchmaking” session tailored to your wants and needs—it probably saved me 15+ hours of research), I decided to get a “single” share from Needle Lane Farms for the 2010 growing season.

The evidence about the environmental impact and health benefits of local, organic agriculture vs. industrial-scale conventional is mixed, so I’m not subscribing to a CSA because it’s morally or nutritionally superior. And I’m not convinced the stuff tastes better either—I’m still learning how to get all the grit out of the lettuce and acclimate myself to the occasional worms and bugs that are inevitable in unsprayed produce. My main motives are 1) to try things I can’t get from a normal grocery store and 2) to be forced to eat a lot of fresh vegetables while they’re in season, which improves my well-being whether or not the veggies are healthier than their conventional analogs. Kim recommended Needle Lane because they grow a lot of novel things, unlike farms that focus more on producing mostly familiar, popular crops. True to form, the first box of the season included the package of stinging nettles and handy warning/info sheet pictured above.  a simpler preparation would be to simply shock them in an ice bath after blanching and then dress them with a simple vinaigrette or some soy sauce or tamari and sesame seeds or butter and parmesan cheese

Plant Bigotry

Nettles are often considered a “weed,” but that’s a troublesome term. Like “dirt,’” it refers less to any inherent properties of the object than to the context where it appears. If dirt is “matter out of place,” meaning what might be dirt in one context (sand in your clothes) is totally appropriate in another (sand on the beach), weeds are essentially plants out of place—e.g. grass may be the only thing many people want growing in their lawns, but when it shows up in their flower beds, it’s a weed, and often an especially tricky one to remove. But there are also things—like soil—that count as “dirt”  no matter where they are, and nettles are that kind of weed, along with plants like thistles and dandelions. Even when the New York Botanical Garden deliberately grew dandelions for their recent tribute to Emily Dickinson, NPR reported that they had to “keep the staff gardeners from uprooting the tiny yellow flowering weeds.”

It’s not an issue of the usefulness or prettiness of the plant—many “weeds” are edible and beautiful, like the flowering “invasive species” that park services staff and volunteers do battle with. And it can’t just be an issue of thorniness, because obviously: roses. The main thing that seems to make something inherently weedy rather than contingently weedy seems to be whether it’s cultivated. Not the specific plant—many people welcome volunteer plants in their yards or gardens as long as they’re a species someone cultivates somewhere, but if the plan qua plant—i.e. not a nettle, but Nettle—isn’t deliberately grown anywhere, it seems to be a “weed” even if you eat it or sell it just like a “crop.” Nettles have been harvested for human consumption for centuries, but as far as I can tell, it’s almost always foraged instead of farmed. People don’t plant it or encourage it, it just grows… well, “like a weed.”

Sour Salty Bitter Sweet is brought to you today by Needle Lane Farms and the letter Q.  

According to an article in the Telegraph about last year’s Stinging Nettle Eating competition in Dorset, where people eat the leaves raw, even people who consider the plants edible tend think of them as an “infestation”:

The contest began more than 20 years ago when two customers at Marshwood’s 16th century Bottle Inn argued over who had the worst infestation of stinging nettles. "One of them said, ‘I’ll eat any nettle of yours that’s longer than mine"’ said Rory Macleod, 34, the pub landlord. "And so they had a competition. They’re both dead now.”

Making Them Edible

The Telegraph article goes on to explain why eating them raw has turned into such a big macho contest:

The plant properly known as urtica docia is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in iron, potassium, calcium and abundant vitamins. They have been used in traditional English stews, teas and beers for centuries, while the Italians cherish them for pesto and the Scandinavians make a knockout nettle soup called Nasselsoppa. The complications come with eating the things raw. Urtica is covered in thousands of microscopic hypodermic needles each filled with boric acid. On contact the needles break, causing the acid to flood over and burn the skin.

Wikipedia contests that explanation, claiming the nature of the toxins is still a matter of debate and may vary between species, but likely includes formic acid, serotonin, and histamines. So the “stinging” effect is either an acid burn, serotonin-induced dermatitis, an allergic reaction, or some combination of the three. Whatever the cause, cooking eliminates it. Most of the I think I let this steep a little too long--the part I drained immediately was pleasant, but I combined that with the part that sat for hours and it was sort of bitter and weirdly buttery. But initially, it was sort of reminiscent of barley tea.recipes I encountered called for blanching them in boiling water for a minute or two and then removing the leaves from the stems. At that point, they’re basically like any other hearty cooking green. The blanching liquid can be reserved and used in soup, consumed on its own as a hot or cold tea, or used to water plants. Some people even harvest nettles specifically to make tea and throw out the greens.

I decided to make a soup, and the first few recipes I found were all basically starch-thickened pureed cream soups—one using potato, one using oats, and one using rice. I didn’t have any potatoes or oats and didn’t feel like waiting for rice to cook, so I decided to improvise a flour-thickened version starting with a basic roux infused with a couple of shallots and a bunch of spring onions that also came in that week’s share. I also added a parcel of cooking greens because 1/2 lb nettles doesn’t actually yield all that much edible material (according to the CSA newsletter, the greens were a mix of Kale, Tat Soi, Bok Choy, Swiss Chard, Chinese Cabbage, and Lambsquarter). You could use more nettles, or substitute spinach, or use any combination of cooking greens. The recipe also works with other vegetables. I’ve made similar soups with a few cups of shredded zucchini or broccoli florets with great results, and I bet it would also be good with cauliflower or mushrooms or corn or maybe even root vegetables. It’s basically a nice way to turn a vegetable into something hearty and satisfying enough to serve as a meal, and the precise amount of vegetable matter—and most of the other ingredients—isn’t that important.

The msg and nutmeg are both optional. I tasted it without them, and it was good, but I felt like it needed a little extra boost. If you’re wary about msg (though I explain here why there’s no real reason to be), you could substitute nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese, or just leave it out.

Recipe: Cream of Nettle Soup

Ingredients:

  • a couple quarts of water or stock for blanching nettles (reserve the liquid)
  • 4-6 T. butter
  • 4-6 T. flour
  • a few handfuls of chopped alliums—shallots, onion, garlic, whatever you like
  • 1/2 lb stinging nettles (weight includes the stems)
  • an additional ~3 cups of hearty greens (kale, chard, spinach, mustard greens, or more nettles)
  • 4 cups reserved nettle-blanching liquid
  • if using water instead of stock for nettles, 4 t. bouillon
  • 1 cup milk (or cream)
  • a pinch of msg (optional, or sub. 1 T.+ nutritional yeast or 1 oz finely grated parmesan instead)
  • 1/2 t. grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the nettles, using gloves or tongs or the container they came in to protect yourself from the needles. Blanche for 1-2 minutes, and then drain and remove to a cutting board (no need to shock them with ice water since they’re just going in a soup). Filter the blanching liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel and reserve.

like most cooking greens, they cook down considerably I initially used a knife but then found it was easier just to pull the leaves off by hand

2. Remove the leaves from the stems, which are tough and fibrous.

two shallots and a bunch of spring onions the blanched nettels and chopped mixed cooking greens

3. Melt the butter and sweat the shallots/onions/garlic until they’re golden. Add the flour, stir well to make a thick paste and cook until it begins to brown slightly. This should smell pretty amazing.

the onion roux after the first addition of the blanching liquid; it will get paler

4. Gradually add about 4 cups of the nettle-blanching water, which should still be pretty hot, stirring continuously. At first, the liquid will incorporate into the roux as the starches expand, creating growing mass of paste, but after about a cup, it should start to loosen into a creamy broth.

5. Add the greens, or whatever vegetable you’re using and simmer until tender (10 minutes for spinach, 15 minutes for heartier greens, up to 20-25 minutes for broccoli florets).

the broth, before adding the greens: just butter, flour, onions, and nettle water at this point after adding the greens 

6. Puree—I used an immersion blender, but a regular blender or food processor would work just as well.

pureeing; again if just using a softer green like the nettles or spinach, you might not have flecks of darker green left after pureeing stirring in the milk

7. Stir in the milk and season, heat for another minute or two or just until almost boiling, and then remove from heat. Season to taste.

Alain’s Winter Squash Soup with Homemade Croutons

both garnishes totally optional; croutons obviously also good for other applications, and yeah, i know: clean those plates!  

How I discovered squash soup…twice

The first time I had butternut squash soup—at a restaurant outside of DC c. 2001—it was a minor revelation. Up until that point, I’d only had winter squash in sweet things, mostly custardy pies and spiced quick breads or snack cakes. Even after eating the whole bowl, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I liked it, but I definitely liked the idea of it.

penguin dude back there still needs a name. I'm thinking "Geoffrey"I found a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that involves roasting the whole butternut squash, halved and with the seeds scooped out, along with a whole head of garlic and a couple of onions wrapped in foil, until all the vegetables are tender and slightly caramelized and then pureeing them with just enough broth to make the mixture smooth. That still sounds incredible to me—roasted garlic! caramelized onion! no squash peeling required! But honestly, I never really liked the soup it produced. It was okay, I guess, but I never really wanted to eat very much of it. I’d usually make a fresh loaf of bread to go along with it and that also sounded like the perfect combination, but once I’d consumed as much of the soup as the bread could absorb, I never really wanted to finish the bowl.

So Alain’s soup was another revelation. It was the starter course at an annual Thanksgiving-season dinner party/potluck where the hosts make so much amazing food that everything the guests bring is basically unnecessary and redundant, but it’s all so damn good that the only reasonable course of action is to eat yourself into a Coma of Delicious Regret. And I knew this—I had just watched John pan-fry these giant mashed potato dumplings filled with pulled pork until they were golden and crisp on the outside and Niki had just brought a big pot full of slow-braised red cabbage down from her apartment on the 2nd floor and they had also made all the classic holiday fare—a glistening turkey and fresh cranberry relish perfumed with orange zest and this gravy that involves simmering a whole lemon in the turkey’s juices, which gets served in a teapot because gravy boats aren’t big enough (and which actually had to be refilled before people came back for seconds because everyone just wanted to pour it over everything on their plates). And then there was everything the dozen or so guests had brought on top of that. But I couldn’t help myself—I had a second helping of the soup. 

just after stirring the milk inIt is somehow both velvety rich and ethereally light. Even though I’ve been making it all winter and Brian knows exactly what’s in it, the recent rutabaga incident has made him sort of suspicious, so last night after he tasted a spoonful, he immediately asked how much butter I’d put in it. When I said “None,” he looked more suspicious and said, “Okay, how much oil?”

None. The only fat in the soup is what’s in the milk and the stock—so you could, using a fat-free broth or bouillon and fat-free milk, make it without any fat at all. Alain says that the best milk to use is soy milk, both because the slight nuttiness is a welcome complement to the squash and it makes the soup creamy but even more ethereal. I usually use regular milk because that’s what I have on hand and it’s also delicious. If you wanted something more substantial or decadent-tasting, you could substitute cream or half and half. The only other ingredients are squash, salt and pepper.

And it’s really easy. You do have to peel the squash, but as it turns out, that’s not any more difficult than scooping the flesh out of the peel once it’s cooked—at least for butternut, peeling acorn squash is kind of a pain. To make the peeling easier, you can cut the squash in half and steam it in the microwave it for a couple of minutes with a little bit of water and then let it cool until you can just pull the tough rind away.

garlic, parmesan, and berb croutons

A Swan Song for Stale Bread

I learned to make croutons when I worked at a Baker’s Square during one of my summer breaks in college. Serving house-made croutons wasn’t restaurant policy or anything; we did stock packaged croutons provided by the company and used those some of the time. But we’d also save all the ends of the bread we used for sandwiches and whenever we had a little extra time, we’d make them into croutons. It’s still my go-to recipe for stale bread when I have it, and the croutons it makes are so much better than store-bought croutons that I occasionally pick up a discounted day-old loaf from the store just for the purpose of crouton-making. 

This hardly merits the name “recipe”—it’s more a list of general guidelines: cube the bread, add some fat and flavor, bake until crisp and lightly browned. I always use at least one kind of dried and powdered allium (garlic, onion, and/or shallot), something umami-rich (parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, and/or msg), and some herbs (usually parsley, thyme, rosemary and/or dill). Paprika or pimentón and buttermilk powder also make nice additions. If you want “Ranch” flavored croutons, use buttermilk powder, garlic powder, minced green onion, dill, and msg. Bake in a hot oven (400-450F) for 12-20 minutes, stirring midway through and rotating the pans to promote even browning.

Recipe: Alain’s Winter Squash Soup peeled

  • 1 1/2-2 lbs winter squash (butternut, acorn, sugar pumpkin, carnival, etc.)
  • 4 cups water or broth (I usually eyeball this by filling the pot to just below the steamer)
  • 1 cup milk (soy recommended, but anything goes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of ground sage, nutmeg, or cinnamon (optional)
  • diced green onion to garnish (optional)

1. Heat the water or broth in a large pot while you peel and cube the squash. I put a steamer tray in the pot—that’s not necessary, but I think it makes it easier to get it out to puree it.

halved, mid-way through seed removal and diced into ~1" cubes

2. Steam or boil the squash for 15-25 minutes or until very tender—you should be able to pierce the flesh with a fork without any resistance.

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3. Remove the solids to a blender or food processor and puree, adding broth as necessary to make it blend smoothly.

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4. Return to the pot. You could strain it if you wanted to, but that’s kind of a pain and if the squash is tender enough and you blend it well enough, it should be completely silky without straining.

5. Return to a gentle simmer, cover, and let cook another 15-20 minutes. While not strictly necessary, this seems to make the flavor richer, sweeter, and somehow…deeper.

6. Stir in the milk, remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe: Croutons sometimes the loaves are as cheap ast $.50, which makes these So Much Cheaper than store-bought croutons. the ketchup bottle was a temporary olive oil container that failed because it seemed to sort of...seep? it was really oily and gross to the touch.

  • ~6 cups stale bread, cut into 1/2”-1” cubes (that’s about how much one big loaf yields, obviously  sometimes you’ll have less—I usually just eyeball everything anyway but the following amounts offer some general guidelines)
  • 4 T. liquid fat—oil or melted lard or clarified butter
  • 2 t. salt—I don’t use kosher for this because, like with popcorn, you want finer grains that get better distributed and stick better
  • 1 t. ground pepper
  • 2 t. garlic powder or onion powder
  • 1 T. dried parsley
  • 1 t. thyme, rosemary, dill, or a combination
  • 3 T. finely grated parmesan cheese and/or 2 T. nutritional yeast flakes and/or 1 t. msg
  • 1 t. paprika or pimentón (optional)
  • 2 T. buttermilk powder (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400F and line two baking sheets with foil. Spray foil lightly with cooking spray if seasoneddesired—that will help prevent the croutons from sticking to it.

2. Drizzle bread cubes with oil and toss to coat lightly.

3. Add the seasonings and toss to coat evenly. Spread on the prepared sheets in a single layer.

4. Bake for 15-20 minutes. After 7 or 8 minutes, remove the pans and stir the croutons and rotate the pans so the croutons get evenly toasted and browned.

5. Let cool completely before placing in an airtight container, like a zip-top bag. Will keep almost indefinitely, but best within 4-6 weeks.

 before bakingafter baking