Category Archives: spice

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

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.

Another DIY Gift Idea: Spice Bundles for Mulled Cider or Wine

Previously in DIY gift ideas: Chocolate buttercreams

I. The end of semester/holiday season is a busy time, so here’s a photo essay:

I used the softer, Ceylon or "true" cinnamon, primarily because it's easier to break into piecesFour smaller, one or two-serving satchets on the right, two larger whole-bottle packages on the leftunwaxed dental floss to tie--you could also tie a ribbon around each one, with instructions to remove the ribbon before usinga larger satchel + a bottle or two of wine (cheap, because it's meant to be spiced & sugared anyway) = a Mulled Wine Kita pint jar will hold four smaller satchels. I like to tape instructions to the lid with packing tape to sort of laminate them.

II. Briefly: what, why, and how

Mulled cider and wine is popular all over Europe and North America during the winter holiday season—in the Nordic countries it’s called glögg, in Germany it’s glühwein (glow wine), in France vin chaud (hot wine), in Poland grzane wino (heated wine), in Italy vin brulé (boiled wine) (Wikipedia can tell you all about these and more). In English, we also have “wassail,” which usually refers to mulled cider. However, the word is contraction of the Middle English wæs hæil, meaning “good health” or literally “be you healthy,” a toast and a testament to the inherently celebratory and social nature of drinking warm, spiced fruit juice (Wikipedia can tell you all about that, too).

The basic formula is fermented grape or apple juice + sugar or honey + cinnamon and/or peppercorns, feuerzangenbowlesimmered and served hot. There are lots of variations—the earliest versions of wassail were probably made with beer or mead instead of cider, glögg is sometimes made with pear juice, some versions involve adding some rum or a liqueur, spices vary from country to country and probably pot to pot. Other common additions are citrus fruits, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. 

The most spectacular version I’ve ever had was called feuerzangenbowle, and involved suspending a cone of sugar over a pot of hot spiced wine on a piece of slotted metal vaguely like a cheese grater. You douse the sugar with rum and set it on fire, so the sugar caramelizes as it drips into the bowl. As you ladle out cups, the alcohol in the bowl of the ladle catches fire from the burning sugar, so you literally end up handing people little cups of flame.

If I could capture that in a little cheesecloth satchet to give to people for Christmas, I would. I guess this is like the next best thing:

Photo by Kore Nordmann

Recipe: Mulling Spice Bundles

For each 1-2 serving pouch:you can use storebought zest--I smelled the jar at the store and was disappointed, so I decided to dry my own

  • a quadruple-layer of cheesecloth about 6” square* 
  • a 8-10” piece of un-waxed dental floss
  • 1 t. whole cloves
  • 2 1” pieces of cinnamon stick
  • 1 t. dried orange or lemon zest
  • 1 T. brown sugar (optional, dark is better—more molasses flavor)
  • 1 t. whole all-spice berries (optional)
  • 1” piece of candied ginger (optional)
  • 1” piece of vanilla bean (optional—I used my spent beans, which I keep in a jar of sugar) 
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 1/2 t. whole peppercorns (optional)
  • 4-6 whole cardamom pods (optional)

For each 6-8 serving pouch (which will flavor 1-2 bottles of wine)fishing the spent vanilla beans out of the sugar, which is now also strongly perfumed with vanilla. this is what a year's worth of vanilla bean use in my kitchen looks like. a little extravagant.:

  • a quadruple-layer of cheesecloth about 9” square*
  • a 10-12” piece of un-waxed dental floss
  • 1 T. whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into 1” pieces
  • 1 T. dried orange or lemon zest
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar (optional, dark is better—more molasses flavor)
  • 1 T. whole all-spice berries (optional)
  • 3-4 1” pieces of candied ginger (optional)
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional—I used my spent beans, which I keep in a jar of sugar) 
  • 2 whole nutmegs, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 2 t. whole peppercorns (optional)
  • a dozen or so whole cardamom pods (optional)

I used cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange zest, brown sugar, all-spice berries, candied ginger, and spent vanilla beans. I think cloves, cinnamon sticks, and citrus zest are the only essential things (and would be sufficient on their own) but you can use whatever else you like or can afford.

*A 2-yard package of cheesecloth makes about 8 small bundles or 6 large bundles, or 4 small ones and 2 large ones.

Instructions:

1. If you’re zesting your own oranges, do that at least 12 hrs in advance and let the zest air dry on baking sheets lined with waxed paper.

2. Cut the cheesecloth into pieces and fold into squares.

3. Add the stuff, gather the ends together, and tie it up with the floss.

4. Package with instructions for use, like:

Mulling Spices

Instructions: Place one pouch in a mug of hot cider or wine and let steep for 3-5 minutes. Press to strain and remove. Add sugar to taste, if desired. May be used multiple times—press to remove liquid, let air dry, and store in an airtight container.

For an entire bottle of wine, empty the bottle into a saucepan, add two spice pouches, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add ¼-½ cup sugar per bottle if desired.

Or, if you’re just giving someone one of the big pouches, perhaps along with a bottle of wine:

Mulling Spices

Instructions: Place pouch in a saucepan with one or two bottles of wine. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add ¼-½ cup sugar per bottle if desired. Serve warm.

Spiced Tomato Jam: Celebrating the sweetness of the tomato

these three largish tomatoes produced about a cup and a half of jam

The Official Verdict in the Fruit v. Vegetable Debate

In 1883, the U.S. Congress passed a Tariff Act imposing a 10% tax on imported vegetables to protect American farmers from foreign competition. Although that may sound like a fairly straightforward piece of legislation, one New York family took issue with a single word in the law: “vegetable.” The Nixes—John, John, George and Frank—imported a shipment of tomatoes from the West Indies in 1886, and were outraged to have to pay a “vegetable” tax on what scientists had for years agreed was technically a fruit. They forked over the 10%, but then they turned around and sued Edward Hedden, the Collector of the Port of New York, to recover the duties they thought they had been made to pay unfairly.

Somehow, none of the lower courts managed to satisfactorily sort out this semantic debate, so by 1893, the case had made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawyer for the plaintiff read definitions from Webster’s and Worcester’s for potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrot to prove that the tomato was of an entirely different ilk than those edible roots, leaves, and flowers. The defendant parried back with Webster’s definition of “vegetable”: “cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, and the like,” and called in multiple witnesses to testify that tomatoes were commonly understood to be covered by those crucial last three words.

The court sided unanimously with the defendant. As Justice Horace Gray wrote in the decision:

The passages cited from the dictionaries define the word “fruit” as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed. These definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are “fruit,” as distinguished from “vegetables,” in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff act.

Gray went on to explain that regardless of the scientific definition, in “common parlance” tomatoes were considered a vegetable and most commonly eaten as part of the main course, as opposed to fruits, which the court agreed were more commonly eaten for dessert. And so, to this day, the tomato is legally considered a vegetable even though, as even the court acknowledged, it is botanically classified as a fruit.

the tomato's no more alone in there than pears and apricots are the only fruits; image from the Wikipedia article on "Fruit" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit

More Than a Technicality

I suspect that the reason the debate about whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable lives on while other culinary “vegetables” that contain the seeds of flowering plants (like cucumbers, peppers, squash, peas, and beans) remain relatively uncontroversial is because tomatoes walk the line between savory and sweet. As the Supreme Court noted, they’re too savory—and in particular, contain too much glutamate, which makes them rich or even “meaty”—to be routinely eaten for dessert, but at the peak of their season, they can be almost as sweet as strawberries and far sweeter than other berries that do regularly appear in desserts, like cranberries or currants.

paired with aged gouda on whole wheat baguetteWhile I’m a big fan of tomato-flavored desserts, too—more on that later this week when I post about my tomato curd shortbread squares—what’s great about the tomato jam that Mark Bittman wrote about two years ago is that it reflects the tomato’s ambivalent nature. A cup of sugar enhances the natural sweetness of late summer tomatoes and gives it the thick, gooey consistency of any other fruit jam, but an hour or more of simmering also intensifies the savory umami flavor imparted by tomatoes’ high glutamate content. It also gets a spicy kick from the jalapeno and tartness from both the natural acidity of the tomatoes and the addition of some lime juice. Cloves and cinnamon give it just a hint of bitterness, so it actually hits basically all the major taste categories. Pair it with something fatty like cheese or softly-scrambled eggs, and you activate all the taste sensations typically associated with food (missing only metallic and alkaline, which are generally far less appetizing).  

Bittman says it’s great on tuna, meat, or white fish. Given its similarity to ketchup or tomato chutney, I can also imagine it being served with any form of fried potato—from French fries to samosas. It would also make sense as a burger topping or sandwich spread with any number of fillings—grilled eggplant, ham, or a thick slice of cheddar or a smear of goat cheese. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you could exploit and enhance its sweetness by using it the way you might use strawberry or raspberry preserves—as a filling for a cookie or cake, a topping for cheesecake or ice cream, or a mix-in for cake batter, icing, or a custard base. With this jam, you could make anything from tomato rugelach to tomato cupcakes with tomato cream cheese frosting or tomato ice cream.

The possibilities are basically endless, but the window of opportunity is probably limited—I can’t imagine getting satisfactory results with the kind of supermarket tomatoes that are picked and shipped when they’re green and stay hard and relatively flavorless even after ripened with ethylene gas. I suppose it’s possible that canned tomatoes could work, since they’re generally preserved at their peak ripeness, but no guarantees. If I get a hankering for it in February, maybe I’ll try it and let you know.

Recipe: Tomato Jam (from Mark Bittman)

housewarming 148Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs very ripe tomatoes  
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 T. lime juice (from about 1/2 a large lime)
  • 1 T. minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeno (or other hot pepper) or a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • a pinch of ground cloves

1. Core and dice the tomatoes. If you don’t want the skins in the final product, blanche them before chopping in boiling water for 60 seconds and then dunk them in an ice bath or run them under cool water—the skins will slip right off.

2. Stem the jalapeno, and remove the seeds if you’re wary of the heat—you can always add the seeds back in later if you want more of a bite.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

housewarming 149 housewarming 164

4. Turn the heat down until the mixture is just simmering gently, and cook for at least an hour until the texture is thick and jammy, stirring occasionally (it took me about an hour and a half). You’ll have to stir it more frequently towards the end of the cooking time to prevent it from burning to the bottom of the pan. It will thicken more after it cools, but it should be thicker than a sauce before you take it off the heat.

5. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Then, cool completely and refrigerate until ready to serve.