Carrot and Tomato Soup

Sometimes I have an idea of a recipe and must adjust partway through. This was one of those. I thought I’d make this soup with a strong hit of fresh ginger, but it turned out we’d just finished up the ginger on the tofu and green beans we made tonight. Instead, I started the soup with chopped garlic and powdered ginger, which contributes a less aggressive, darker note than fresh ginger’s brash brightness.

I made this because there were tomatoes that needed to be used; a container of cream in the fridge is such a boon when there are random vegetables to be productively dispensed with. All you need are cooked vegetables seasoned with one or two distinctive seasonings, then buzzed through the blender, back into the pan, cream in, and maybe a fresh herb or some juice stirred in if you have it.

Frozen vegetables, also, can be quickly turned into something wonderful with a good dollop of cream. A bag of frozen peas, a sautéed onion, cream, salt to taste and a generous grinding of pepper at the end make something that will surely bring up memories of spring. A little chopped spinach or briefly heated lettuce added to that adds to the vernal mood.

For tonight, this didn’t go exactly as planned, since I didn’t have the ginger I was thinking I’d use, but it came out nicely anyway; bright carnival orange with a mild citrus flavor, and background notes of ginger and garlic.

1/2 T. butter
1/2 T. canola oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 t. powdered ginger
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
1 c. grape tomatoes
7 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
salt to taste
1 c. water
1/2 c. cream
1/4 t. paprika
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. orange juice

Heat the butter and oil together in a large saucepan. (I use part oil to allow for sautéing, and to cut the saturated fat a little bit because cream will be added later.) When hot, add the garlic and sauté briefly, until fragrant but not browned. Add the ginger and stir briefly until incorporated into the fat, then add the carrots and tomatoes. Crush the grape tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pan. (Be careful, they squirt like crazy.) Add salt to taste (you’ll need less if you add it at this point). Cover the pan, reduce the heat to just below medium, and cook until the carrots are tender. Remove from the heat.

Place the contents of the pan into the blender or food processor, and cover. Puree, adding up to 1 c. of liquid as necessary to process. Return the puree to the pan and add the cream and paprika, and stir to combine. Add the lemon and orange juices, and stir again to combine. Check seasoning and reheat as necessary, without allowing to boil.

Cream soups benefit from decoration: dust with paprika or minced herbs or drizzle with additional cream before serving.

Roasted Tofu and Mushrooms

Oh yeah, doesn’t that sound awesome?

Really, if you’ve never liked tofu, this is a good place to start. The time in the oven does away with the squishy cloudlike blandness, reducing the tofu to crispy-edged little hunks of protein and the mushrooms to an intensely flavored chewy adjunct. It really is good.

As a bonus, once the initial chopping is done, this dish requires very little tending – it goes in the oven and requires only an occasional stir.

This is a fine thing to toss with just about any stir-fry. The reason for doing it in the oven is that browning tofu in a pan takes a lot of time, attention, and oil, and adds enormously to the time it takes to get a stir-fry together. If you can do the tofu part in the oven, where it can tend itself, everything else goes much easier. At the end, serve yourself your rice, stir-fry, and then some tofu and mushrooms on top.

There is garlic powder in this recipe, which I hardly ever use – I have it on hand for garlic bread. Sure, I love bruschetta with fresh garlic rubbed across its surface, but I also like the more pedestrian butter and garlic salt broiled until bubbling. The reason it’s here is because fresh garlic would scorch, and the idea of the dish is really more in line with that broiled garlic bread. You could make this without the garlic powder and then toss in a couple cloves of fresh garlic at or near the end, which I’m sure would be wonderful as well, but the idea was for this to be easy.

Now you know I’m a garlic powder apologist. (That phrase does not currently appear on Google…am I the first?)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained and thoroughly patted dry (I’ve used Nasoya and White Wave in this recipe with equal success), then cut into 1/2” squares.
1-6 oz. package cremini mushrooms (look for “baby bellas” if they’re not labeled as cremini), stems removed, cleaned, and finely chopped

1 T. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. paprika
2 T. tamari
2 t. sesame oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt to taste

Place the tofu and mushrooms in a 13×9 glass baking dish. Combine the seasoning ingredients and pour over the tofu. Toss all ingredients to combine. Place in the oven on the middle rack, and roast, stirring every ten minutes or so, until the tofu is well-colored, the mushrooms have reduced in volume, and the whole mixture is more dry. This will take 30-40 minutes. The tofu will continue to firm up and shrink after it is removed from the oven, so it does not need to be completely dry when removed from the heat.

This method is also quite nice when the mushrooms are replaced with red peppers.