For a recent dinner: an ersatz pho, mostly following this recipe, using a boatload of shiitake, some soy-marinated tofu, spinach, and soba noodles on the bottom of the bowl. Avocado garnish because avocado is mandatory.
I used some broiler-charred onions to make the stock, which was a lovely touch.
Seriously, though, let’s never speak of the weather again.
Here are some phrases you won’t see me using on this site (and if I do, you are please requested to reprimand me):
1. “nip in the air”
2. “crunch of leaves” (that goes double if used in conjunction with the word “underfoot”)
3. “days getting shorter”
Am I cynical? Probably. Mostly, I’m just bored with seeing the same themes and phrases pop up over and over on food blogs across the nation. It’s Fall, and it’s happening to everyone. We get it. Talk about the food already.
My corner market had some “homegrown” cauliflower, and I had no reason to doubt the claim because the leaves were still on the heads. I’m talking huge heads of cauliflower, with all the leaves. The two of us ate one head for an entire week, no joke.
So, oh my god, what does one do with cauliflower when one has had it nine hundred ways already, and even saved the leaves because they’re edible and one can’t bear to throw out anything edible?
The answer is always soup.
Clean out the freezer, find that amazing sausage that your Old Kentucky Grandmother sent you, and the crawfish tails that you really should’ve used by now. Let it all simmer on the stove until your eyes fall out from using the computer too much. Soup!
Serve this with beer and the requisite crusty bread. And ignore what’s happening outside.
For the sausage, I used some incredible breakfast-type sausage that my grandmother sent me. I think just about any kind would work here, as long as it would go well with crawfish. Or heck, omit the crawfish and use whatever sausage you darn well please.
My cauliflower was of the homegrown sort, so it had a ton of leaves still on it. If yours doesn't have any leaves, don't sweat it. Omit it, or use some other hardy green like chard or kale instead.
8 ounces sausage of choice
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 bay leaves
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, to taste
A few sprigs fresh thyme, or about 1/2 teaspoon dried
8 cups stock or water
1 small head cauliflower, about 1 pound, with leaves if possible ( see headnote )
8 ounces cooked crawfish tails
Salt and pepper, as needed
1. In a large pot over medium heat, cook the sausage until browned. If there isn't much fat that has rendered out, add a splash of olive oil or a knob of butter. You should have a tablespoon or two of fat in the bottom of the pot.
2. Stir in the onion, celery, and bell pepper. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook until just translucent, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the garlic, bay leaves, cayenne, thyme, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until fragrant, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the stock (or water), increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.
5. Optional step: if you have the leaves from your cauliflower, strip the center ribs out (leave them on the smaller, more tender leaves), and slice the leaves crosswise into very thin ribbons. If using chard or another green, you can leave the center ribs in; slice crosswise into very thin ribbons. Add to the pot.
6. Stir in the cauliflower, and return to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes.
7. Add the crawfish, and simmer for another minute or two, just enough to warm them without overcooking.
If you're firmly against using canned pumpkin (why, I have no idea), feel free to use any sort of winter squash, sweet potato, or what-have-you. Me, I'm just trying to get dinner together.
2 tablespoons bacon fat (or butter or olive oil)
1 large onion (or 2 small), diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin (ground or whole seeds)
1 large bay leaf
5 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Serrano chile, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 can pumpkin
12 ounces red lentils, rinsed
8 cups stock or water
1 cup tahini (about 5 ounces)
1 cup buttermilk
1. Heat the bacon fat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven, over medium to medium-high heat.
2. Add the diced onion, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and stir to coat with the fat. While the onion cooks, dice the celery. Add the celery to the pot. Stirring occasionally, cook until just beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare or gather the remaining ingredients.
3. Stir in the curry paste, oregano, cumin, bay leaf, garlic, Serrano, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Take care to not let the spices burn (decrease heat or add a splash of water if necessary to prevent scorching).
4. Add the pumpkin, lentils, and stock, stirring to combine. Increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook uncovered until the lentils have completely fallen apart, anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.
5. Remove the bay leaf, and add the tahini. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup in the pot until completely smooth. (Alternatively, purée the soup in a blender, being extremely careful when blending any hot liquid.)
6. Stir in the buttermilk. Taste, and correct the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Serve at once, drizzled with a little olive oil if you like.
Pretty much everywhere, it’s gonna be hot. For now, at least.
How about some gazpacho while the heat lasts?
But let’s do it properly. Please, please, please, do not just cram some tomatoes, red onion, and bell pepper in a blender and hit “go”. You might as well blend up a jar of salsa.
(Lest you think that is a brilliant shortcut, oh my goodness do not blend up a jar of salsa to make gazpacho. No. No, no, no no no. No.)
One issue with cold food is that cold mutes flavors. Something that tastes subtle and sophisticated when warm will often taste flat and muted served cold. To boot, raw tomatoes lose a crucial flavor compound when chilled.
You see why a chilled purée of raw tomato will basically taste like the most boring salsa of all time. Yet most gazpacho recipes — from reputable sources! — direct you to produce just that. This is unacceptable.
A recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated featured an interesting method for maximizing the tomato flavor in a chilled tomato soup: roasting half the tomatoes to deepen the flavor, and using a wodge of tomato paste in the mix.
Using concentrated flavors like that, along with the brightness of raw flavors, is brilliant. Requiring gazpacho, I added cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, breadcrumbs, and certain spices. You could add some parsley, cilantro, or basil, but for once I didn’t find it necessary.
Personally, I like soups with bits of things in them. So this recipe calls for some of the ingredients to be reserved, diced small, and stirred in after blending. If you don’t care about that, feel free to blend everything up together. It’s also faster that way, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Avocado made a fantastic, if non-traditional, garnish. If you want some protein, a chopped hard-boiled egg works well; and please don’t tell anyone in Spain but I liked it with diced firm tofu too.
This surprisingly filling soup begs for a piece of quality crusty bread for dunking, and a simply-dressed arugula salad on the side is a no-brainer. For wine, nearly anything with higher acidity will work well, but a crisp white seems most appropriate. Spanish wines are a good choice (um, obviously).
And please, save the salsa for the tortilla chips.
1 cucumber (preferably English/hothouse), peeled, seeded, and halved
1 bell pepper (any color), seeded and halved
1 small red onion, halved
1 small jalapeño or Serrano, seeds removed for less heat
1/2 cup panko
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, or more as needed
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup olive oil, or more as needed
1. Preheat oven to 375º F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and coat lightly with olive oil.
2. Cut 1 pound (about 3) of the tomatoes in half horizontally, and remove the core. Place cut-side up on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place unpeeled garlic cloves on one corner of the baking sheet.
3. Roast tomatoes and garlic for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tomatoes are softened but not browned. Remove from the oven and let cool for 30 minutes, to approximately room temperature.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients. Core the remaining tomatoes. Cut 1 pound of them (about 3) into eighths, and place in a blender. Chop the other 1/2 pound (about 2) into very small dice, and set aside in a medium bowl.
5. Prepare the cucumber, bell pepper, and red onion as directed. Chop half of each into 1-inch chunks and add to blender. Cut the other halves into very small dice, and add to the reserved diced tomato.
6. Chop the jalapeño or Serrano roughly, and add to the blender, along with the panko, tomato paste, cumin, paprika, cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, sherry vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce.
7. When roasted tomatoes have cooled, add to the blender, along with the roasted garlic (squeezed from the papery peel). Blend until smooth, stopping and scraping the sides down if necessary. With the blender running, drizzle in the olive oil. Stop the blender (I really hope I don't have to tell you that, but hey hey). Taste, and correct seasoning if needed with salt, pepper, olive oil, and/or sherry vinegar.
8. Pour gazpacho into a suitable storage container (a gallon zip-top bag works well in a pinch). Stir in reserved diced tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, and red onion (reserve some for a garnish, if desired). Chill for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Serve cold, with a drizzle of olive oil on top, any garnishes, and a generous piece of crusty bread. Best eaten outside on a sultry day, around sunset, with good company.
And in such dire times, there are many foods that simply will not compute: things crunchy, chewy, sticky, crumbly, grainy, seedy, with skins, or anything that requires the generally under-appreciated act of chewing. With teeth.
One’s usual diet is immediately pitched off the rails, replaced by, essentially, anything that can be poured.
So I made soup, because one can only eat so much yogurt.
This was a completely off-the-cuff recipe, centered around the desire for something to do with eggplant and tahini. I picked up some onion, celery, and green pepper, because the trinity is mandatory for soup in my house.
The eggplant got roasted, for a richness that you just can’t get in a pot. Spices happened. Wine got splashed in. It smelled almost as incredible as it tasted. And it only tasted better the next day, as these things often do.
I served it with tofu for extra protein, and because my little corner market started carrying the awesome local tofu that I used to have to make a special trip for. It’s not necessary, but it was nice to have something to chew on.
I served this with diced extra-firm tofu at the bottom of the bowl, ladling the hot soup over the top to warm it. The tofu would've been more flavorful if it had simmered with the soup for 10 to 15 minutes, but ain't nobody got time for that after waiting an hour and a half for soup.
For the hot sauce, I used a reasonably hot verde-style sauce (unfortunately, a limited edition flavor), because I cannot seem to get enough green foods in my life these days. I'm sure whatever hot sauce -- red, green, yellow, whatever -- you have on hand would be lovely. Heck, try a blend of two or three.
1 large eggplant (1 1/2 pounds)
Olive oil, as needed
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 bay leaves, more or less
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 leek, halved, washed well, then sliced thinly
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste, or 2 fillets anchovy (optional if you insist)
1/4 cup white wine, dry vermouth, or even beer
8 cups chicken stock (or water)
1/2 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lime (optional, but nice if you've got it)
Green hot sauce of choice, as needed
Salt and black pepper, as needed
1. Preheat the oven to 400º F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Roughly chop the eggplant into 2-inch chunks. Spread in an even layer on the prepared pan. Drizzle lightly with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with cumin, cayenne pepper, a few pinches of salt, and some grinds of black pepper. Don't bother tossing it; it'll be just fine. Tuck the bay leaves around the eggplant.
3. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the flesh has softened.
4. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the diced onion, and stir to coat. While the onion softens, dice the remaining vegetables and add to the pot in the order listed (celery, green bell pepper, leek, and then garlic). Salt lightly. Stirring occasionally, cook until vegetables have softened (do not let them brown much).
5. Push the vegetables to one side, and add the anchovy (if using) to the bottom of the pan. Let it melt a little, then add the wine/vermouth/beer, and cook until nearly evaporated.
6. Add the stock, and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.
7. When the eggplant is finished roasting, add to the soup. This is easily done by lifting the parchment and sliding the whole business into the pot, including the bay leaves.
8. Cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the eggplant skin has thoroughly softened. Remove the bay leaves.
9. Purée the mixture in a blender (and for gosh sake, be careful blending hot liquids), or with an immersion blender (which is much easier).
10. Whisk in the tahini, lemon juice, lime juice (if using), and a few shakes of hot sauce. Be conservative at first with the hot sauce; you can always add more later. Taste, and correct the seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. The flavor should be a little tangy from the lemon juice, a little nutty from the tahini, and just hot enough to make you notice.
11. Serve hot, with a drizzle of olive oil on top and some grainy bread on the side.
For dinner: a bowl of shiitake-stem broth with homemade noodles, chestnuts, fresh sage, and shavings of ricotta salata. I couldn’t get over the color of the broth, that robust, whiskey-hued amber. So fragrant, and so fitting for a cold early Spring night.
Originally, I intended to make this a Five Minute Photo Shoot, which explains the lack of “in progress” pictures. But this dish was so fantastic, I simply had to share the recipe.
This thick Greek soup is quite simple, and shockingly good from a very few ingredients. This, for better or worse, is one of those soups that really should be made with a homemade stock. Sure, you can make it with store-bought; but with homemade, it becomes eye-rollingly, lick-the-bowl good. (Ask me how I know this.)
Luckily for me, I needed to make some space in the freezer yesterday, so I had a pot of stock bubbling away on the stove. There were also a few pitiful sacks of bulk-bin white rice knocking about in the pantry, loose ends of no more than 1/4 cup each. Two stalks of celery, two lemons, some egg yolk, and 7 ounces of shredded chicken from the freezer didn’t seem like much of an arsenal to call on, but it all came together in one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve made in recent memory.
I think that’s the most delightful part of this recipe: it seems cobbled together from loose bits hanging around the kitchen, but the rapid metamorphosis into fine cuisine is stunning. It was so good, I even forgot to grind black pepper over my dish (usually one of the first things I do at dinner) until it was almost gone, and the addition put it over the top for me.
I made this without measuring anything, and using bits and bobs found in the kitchen, but I’ve done my best to be as accurate as possible. You can use any kind of rice or grain here, and I’m sure a mixture would be fantastic, but white rice is traditional, and that’s what I had. Adjust the cooking time as necessary to cook brown rice or whole grains; add those in first if using a combination with white rice. Toss in some lemon zest, mix up the herbs, add chicken or don’t; this soup lends itself very well to adjustments, so have fun.
If you don’t have homemade stock on hand, dice 1 small onion and the celery called for in the recipe. Simmer them, along with 1 bay leaf, in store-bought stock for 30 to 60 minutes before proceeding with the recipe. Discard the bay leaf before serving. Also omit (or at least greatly reduce) the salt listed in the recipe, as most store-bought stocks will be plenty salty enough for this use.
1 quart homemade chicken stock, more or less
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 to 1 cup white long grain rice (such as jasmine)
2 stalks celery, diced
2 to 3 egg yolks
7 ounces shredded cooked chicken (about 1 cup, optional)
2 whole scallions, sliced thinly
A few tender fennel fronds from the center of a fennel bulb, chopped (1 to 2 tablespoons, optional; parsley would also be good)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons), more or less depending on the tartness
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1. Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt (if using), rice, and celery, and stir to combine. Return to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a moderate simmer. Cover the pot with a lid slightly askew, to allow some steam to escape. Cook without stirring for 10 minutes, or until the rice is at least al dente.
2. If the rice has absorbed most of the stock, add some additional warm stock to thin the mixture a little. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl just to combine. Slowly drizzle in a bit of the hot soup, whisking constantly. Continue adding the soup slowly, whisking all the while, until about a cup of soup has been tempered in. Add this back into the pot, along with the chicken. Cook over medium-low heat until heated through and thickened a bit, taking care not to let it boil (which will curdle the eggs), just a few minutes.
3. Stir in the scallions and fennel fronds. Add 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Taste, and add extra as needed to get a lemony flavor that isn’t overwhelmingly sour. Correct seasoning to taste with salt and plenty of black pepper. Serve immediately with crusty bread, and maybe a luxurious drizzle of olive oil on top. A glass of crisp and dry white wine is never out of place with this.
I’m not a big fan of cold weather, or Winter in general. It’s endless months of frozen toes, fingers stiff with cold, the shock of crawling reluctantly from a warm bed, bright red noses that won’t stop running. But despite the physical discomforts, I can find spots of cheer: tiny sparkling holiday lights everywhere, the rush of warmth from a cup of tea and a thick blanket, watching fat snowflakes flutter past my window.
Soup, in my house, is most decidedly a cold-weather affair. You can make your gazpachos, and corn bisques, and chilled cucumber things all summer long; and they are certainly fine and well. But for my money, I’d rather have a proper meal of soup, a filling bowl of hot and deeply flavored stuff, far more than some thin, cold liquid that’s halfway to being a beverage.
So soups are reserved for the cold, and I can scarcely think of a better way to warm both you and your house than with a big, bubbling pot of broth. I made this particular soup the other day, when a craving for mushrooms struck me hard, and the chill creeping in through the windows demanded a bowl of something hot.
Browsing through my bookmarked recipes, I came across a recipe for Buttermilk Squash Soup, from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks. And, as luck would have it, I just so happened to have a bit of good-quality leftover buttermilk knocking about in my fridge, threatening to go South if I didn’t use it post-haste.
Knowing mushrooms’ affinity for things creamy and tangy, I decided that buttermilk-enriched recipe was the perfect starting point. Using the loose framework of “make soup” and “add buttermilk at the end”, I patched a recipe together starting with a base of plenty of onion and garlic, with a potato thrown in for some body.
When making soup, after sweating the vegetables together I like to deglaze the pan (whether it needs it or not) with a spot of wine, or some other liquor, or even beer, depending on the primary flavor of the soup. Alcohol, scientifically speaking, opens up different and more complex flavors than can be achieved without it, especially in slow-simmered things. And, you know, if some happens to accidentally spill into a nearby glass, it would surely be a crime to let it go to waste. Purely on accident, of course.
In this soup, I used a combination of white wine (since I had some) and only a splash of brandy, as brandy and mushrooms are great friends, but I didn’t want the other flavors to get overwhelmed with its strong caramel and vanilla nature. A generous dose of thyme added a light, herbaceous note to complement the earthy mushrooms.
I personally prefer soups with a few bits of items in them, so a few handfuls of mushrooms were set aside to be added in later, after cooking and blending the other ingredients to a smooth purée. Soups are simply more interesting if you have things in them to chew on.
To prevent the buttermilk from possibly separating or curdling, the soup was cooked and puréed first, and the buttermilk added at the last minute, along with some fresh parsley for a little brightness. A quenelle of pesto on top was a welcome garnish, but if you have none on hand, a swirl of good olive oil is just as lovely.
Thick and full-flavored, robust and so slightly tangy, this soup was exactly what I wanted on that cold evening. Despite its drab hue, it was the prettiest thing I’d seen all day. It warmed, and comforted; and if there’s more soups like this in store for me this Winter, I say bring on the cold.
Buttermilk Mushroom Soup
Makes 6 to 8 servings
This is a fairly thick soup, one with a bit of heft to it. If you prefer a thinner soup, just add additional water or stock to thin it to the desired consistency.
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 large potato (about 12 ounces), diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
5 ounces oyster mushrooms
5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
1 pound crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup white wine (or dry vermouth, or a splash of brandy)
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons dried thyme (or several sprigs of fresh thyme)
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
Salt and pepper, as needed
Olive oil, for garnish
1. In a large pot, heat the butter and olive oil together over medium-high heat. Add the onions, and cook until just translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the celery, potato, and garlic, and cook until softened, another 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms into 1 inch pieces as needed. Reserve about 2 cups, to be added in later. Add the remaining mushrooms to the pot, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the white wine or vermouth, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any browned bits. Cook until nearly dry, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and stock. Add enough water to cover all vegetables with liquid; you may not need much. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for at least 15 minutes, or until all vegetables are very soft.
4. Purée soup in the pot with an immersion blender, or by transferring in batches to a blender, taking care to hold the lid securely on when puréeing the hot soup. The blended soup will be very thick. Return soup to the pot, and add the reserved mushrooms. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until mushrooms have softened. Add the chopped parsley and buttermilk. Taste, and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top and some crusty bread.