Cream of Broccoli Soup

I usually set aside broccoli stems. I sometimes make cream of broccoli soup. I sometimes slice the stems into matchsticks and use them in stir-fry or fried rice. I sometimes end up putting the stems in the compost bin. When I do get around to making soup, there is usually a large amount of raw stems and a small amount of leftover cooked flowerets left. I peel the stems and chop them into dice, cook them, then chop up the flowerets finely and add them at the end.

The first time I made this for Michael, it was the height of summer, and he was living on North 4th Rd. in Arlington. I believe that this took place in that brief period before we officially moved in together. I had the ingredients for it and so I made it, though I think it was 95 degrees outside. Since Michael did not have a dining room table, we sat on the floor in the bedroom (as close to the air conditioner as we could bear) and had Cream of Broccoli soup and popovers and pretended it was winter. I made popovers when I made this soup this week, too, in fact. It’s a good accompaniment.

This is a good blueprint for “Cream of” soup – you could use cauliflower, potatoes, asparagus, carrots, peas – it’s pretty flexible. The white wine gives it a nice tartness and keeps it from being too Campbell’s-y.

This is adapted from the new Joy of Cooking – they put too much water in it, (as I did the first time I made it) so I’ve reduced it, along with a couple other small changes.

Heat in a soup pot over medium heat until the butter is melted:

¼ c. water or stock
1 T. unsalted butter (optional – you can use oil instead)

Add and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, 5-10 minutes:
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

Stir in:
2 c. vegetable stock
1 c. white wine
1 ½ lbs. trimmed broccoli stems, diced

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the broccoli stems are tender, 15-20 minutes. If they aren’t tender after 20 minutes, continuing to cook them until they are tender is fine. Overcooking them a little will be easier on your blender than undercooking them a little. Once the stems are tender, puree the soup – a standard blender will handle it in two batches. Return the soup to the pot and stir in:

the reserved chopped broccoli flowerets
1/3 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
¼ t. paprika

Simmer briefly and serve (in warm bowls, if you’re that coordinated). Garnish with chives, if you have ‘em, a dash of paprika, or a swirl of cream.

Frijoles Peruano

This little recipe was printed on the back of a bag of El Mexicano brand Peruano beans I bought recently. They were small and kind of cream-colored – kind of like a pinto but flatter. I thought I’d give this a shot – it’s different than what I ordinarily do with beans, but I was in the mood for a nice light-flavored soup, and this delivered quite well on that. If I made it again, I’d add more hot stuff to make Michael happy.

This originally had ham in it, but of course, I’ve used a chipotle to stand in for the smoky flavor. I couldn’t find the banana squash, which is ordinarily omnipresent in supermarkets out here – we seem to be between crops – I used some carrots instead. Banana squash would be better.

½ lb. peruano beans
6 c. water
1 chipotle chili, minced
½ lb. cubed boiling potatoes
1 bayleaf
½ lb. banana squash
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. oregano
1 ½ t. salt
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 medium bell pepper, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 T. oil

Pressure-cook the beans in the water for about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and bring down pressure under running water. Add the remaining ingredients, close the cooker, and cook under pressure for another 5 minutes. Bring down pressure under running water. If vegetables are not tender, simmer until done.

The original called for the beans to be cooked (regular pot, here) for 30 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and cook for another 30 minutes.

Red Curry with Butternut Squash

I just want to emphasize that this is awesome and you all should make it.

I have tons of Indian cookbooks, recipes, spices, and enough experience with all of those things that I feel comfortable improvising. When we get into Thai food, though, I admit, I’m out of my depth. It’s something I’d like to get better at – I only have one Thai cookbook, and do not keep lemongrass or lime leaves around – so this recipe is a baby step in that direction. I had chunks of roasted squash in the fridge, which I had roasted intending to use them in some sort of tomato-squash curry, but then my co-worker Angelina and I happened to go to a market near our work on Friday and I picked up a couple bags of California chilies. Then Michael and I took advantage of another co-worker’s advice to take a look at the Asian supermarket at the corner of Herndon and Cedar, and lo and behold! I came out with a bottle of awesome chili-garlic paste. Then when I went to start cooking this evening, I went to get out the sugar, knowing that the homemade Chili-Tomato Sauce would need sugar, and hooray! Back there behind the sugar was a can of coconut milk! I could actually make something pretty Thai. I could hardly have done better if I had tried to coordinate this recipe.

All that said, it’s really an Indian recipe – Thai food ‘not so much’ with the tomatoes (as Debbie would say.) So this is living in the borderland. I know the chili-tomato sauce is kind of a pain to make, but guess what? You can use the extra for other things besides this recipe. It works great as a base for chili, and it could be used for other curries and soups too. You could even season it in a Mexican direction and use it as an enchilada sauce.

Chili-Tomato Sauce

3 oz. dried California Chilies

3/4 of a 28 oz. can of Muir Glen Roasted Tomatoes, drained

Place the chilies in a large bowl and cover with water, then weight down with a plate that fits well within the bowl. Place the bowl in the microwave and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the microwave and let the chilies soak for at least a half hour. When they are soaked, remove them from the water, reserving it, and pull the stems off of them, taking as much of the seeds with them as you can. Place the chilies in a blender and add about 3/4 c. of the soaking water. Puree thoroughly (this may take a few minutes), then force through a wire sieve with a rubber/silicone spatula (this is important so as not to get recalcitrant chili bits in your finished sauce) into a bowl. Rinse out the blender. Place the tomatoes in the blender and puree thoroughly. Add to the chili paste already in the bowl.

Butternut Squash (can be done in advance)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Split the squash lengthwise. Careful with that knife. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Set them aside if you want to roast them later. They make awesome snacks and are super good for you. Peel the squash (I suggest cutting the skin off with a knife, as it is a beast of a job – again, careful with that knife), and cut the peeled squash into rough 3/4 in. cubes. Roast on a baking sheet, turning occasionally, until tender and browned around the edges. Takes an hour or less. Set aside.

Curry Sauce:

oil for sautéing

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 T. ginger, minced

1/2 c. cilantro, minced

2 T. ground coriander

1 T. ground cumin

1 c. Chili-Tomato paste

1 can coconut milk (stir well after opening)

3 T. prepared chili-garlic paste (mine is Chinese)

grated rind of one lemon (organic, if you can find it, is best for this)

2 T. sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, cilantro, coriander, and cumin and sauté until the spices darken a few shades and the garlic and ginger have lost their raw smell. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until blended. Add the butternut squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Serve over rice.

Cabbage Dal

When you see that the main ingredients are cabbage and yellow split peas, you may be tempted to bypass this dish. Don’t! It’s much tastier than it sounds.

This recipe is one I put together on the basis of a cabbage sambal that came along with meals at the Gulshan Indian restaurant in New York City that I used to go to when I was at NYU. Gulshan was on 2nd Ave., just off of Indian Restaurant Row, the strip of 6th St. down from St. Mark’s Place that houses an entire block of almost nothing but Indian restaurants. Much to my dismay, Gulshan was gone when Michael and I went to NYC for our honeymoon – a convenience store (run by Indians) had replaced it. Yillah lamented that now she had to find somewhere else for her wedding reception.

Gulshan had an early bird special that included soup, a choice of entrees, and dessert. The soup was always a phenomenal sweet-sour soup that I have never successfully replicated. They called it mulligatawny, but there’s a vast variety of different recipes parading around under that name. It had chilies and tomatoes, I’m sure, but there may have also been carrots, and there was always a whole cilantro leaf or two floating in it as a garnish. Even the cilantro I use somehow never tastes as bright and aromatic as it did at Gulshan. Some soups I’ve made that have included apple have gotten close to the right balance, but for now I’ve given up on that recipe. The dessert was the best kheer I’ve ever had – very simple milky rice pudding – and again, though I’ve made numerous attempts and eaten lots of kheer other places, I’ve never found one I liked as well.

Anyway, back to the cabbage. It came as a relish along with meals at Gulshan, and I often ate it late in the meal, after everything else. It’s not at all a flashy dish – no bright colors, chunks of panir, or creamy sauces to make it stand out – but it’s very satisfying, especially if you love cabbage like I do. The Gulshan version didn’t have quite as much dal in it as this does, but the dal makes it less of a relish and more of something to serve over rice or dip pieces of buttery flatbread into.

1 T. oil
3 T. butter (I know that’s a lot, but this makes a big potful, so it’s spread out over quite a ways – and it’s essential to the flavor of the dish.)

1 large onion, chopped
1 t. cumin seeds
1 t. brown mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf
4 whole cloves
1 1-in stick cinnamon (trust me on this – I know cinnamon + cabbage does not sound = delicious)
4 whole small dried chilies (I used Indian ones – no variety specified on the package – that are slender and about 4 inches long.)

2 c. yellow split peas (toovar dal), soaked overnight if you have the chance (it’ll speed things up)
1 medium head cabbage, washed, core removed, cut into about 1-in. by 1-in. pieces
salt to taste

Heat the oil and butter together in a large, deep stew or stockpot. When they are hot and the butter is beginning to smell a little toasty, drop in the onion and fry for a minute or two. Push the onion aside, move most of the fat to the empty end of the pan by tilting it, and add the cumin seeds and brown mustard seeds. Fry them without disturbing the onion until the mustard seeds start to pop and turn gray. Stir the onion and seeds together and fry until the onion is translucent and beginning to pick up a few brown spots. Add the garlic and cook briefly, then add the bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon, chilies, drained split peas, and cabbage. Season with salt to taste. You may have to add the cabbage in batches if your pot is not big enough to hold it all in its uncooked state. If so, pour enough water almost to cover over the cabbage and cook, stirring for a few minutes until it is reduced in volume, then add more cabbage to the salted water and cook down until all the cabbage is added. Cook the dal until it is tender and falling apart, 45 minutes to 2 hours (sorry, folks, I’ve seen it on both ends of that spectrum). Remove from the heat. Add:

1 t. garam masala
1/2 t. cayenne or other powdered chili
freshly ground pepper

Serve over rice or with toasted naan and a salad – maybe some cucumbers & radishes with a raita-style yogurt dressing.

Secondary Bean Soup

One of the side effects of a pressure cooker is bean cooking liquid. I have only recently learned that it makes a great basis for simple soups. If you drain pressure-cooked beans after cooking them, you can just catch the liquid in a large bowl, pour it in a container and pop it in the fridge. I admit, I always used to throw away bean liquid after seasoning my bean dishes (I would reserve it because sometimes beans absorb a lot of liquid as they sit, and it’s better to add their cooking liquid than water), but I am ready to tell you now, I was a fool. When I had that awful, awful flu recently, I saved some bean liquid from some black beans, thinking I’d need it to add to them later. I didn’t, and the next day I had a lunchtime inspiration – black bean liquid + leftover chopped canned tomatoes from the fridge + half a bag of frozen corn – so off I went. And it was shockingly good. I have since made another bean liquid soup with white bean liquid, adding a little dill, olive oil, salt and pepper, and lemon juice, and got an equally pleasant result. You can always add some of the cooked beans back to it as well.

Arichokes Stewed with Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Mint

What did I learn from this? It’s better the second day, like many stews. It’s astonishing how much the flavor of potatoes changes in 24 hours. This was only passable on the first day, but on the second it was enjoyable. This originally called for fresh baby artichokes, and you can get those in California (or at least in my Whole Foods you can) but I know that nobody but me would ever even bother with them in their raw state. I used canned artichoke hearts in this, which changes the dish somewhat, but it’s still good.

1/4 c. olive oil (hey, the original calls for 1/2 c.)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 bunch (8 –10) scallions, trimmed and cut into thin rounds, including as much of the green as possible
8 artichoke hearts
8 – 12 small red potatoes, washed and halved
1 c. peeled, chopped plum tomatoes (canned is fine, says the original recipe – that’s what I did)
1 bay leaf
2/3 c. packed, chopped fresh dill
1/2 c. packed chopped fresh mint leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
strained fresh juice of 1/2 a lemon

Heat the olive oil in a large stewing pot and sauté the garlic and scallions over medium heat for a few minutes, until soft. Add the artichokes and the potatoes (if using hearts you may want to add them later so they disintegrate less) to the pot, toss gently with a wooden spoon to coat with oil, lower the heat, and cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, and enough water to barely cover the vegetables. Season with salt and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. About halfway through cooking, add the herbs. Just before removing from heat, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and add a little lemon juice, if desired.

Lima Bean & Tomato Stew

Last night it got to be dinnertime and I still was in no presentable condition. I didn’t want to start putting on makeup at that point just to drag myself out to the grocery store (since I have a thing about being seen in public without makeup – some people think this is excessive, but if you’d had as many people ask about how you got those two black eyes as I have, you’d have a thing about it too.) So off to the kitchen I go, to nose around and see what can be made out of what’s there. Someone (maybe Peter) once said that my definition of nothing in the house was everyone else’s definition of having just gone to the store. I didn’t have nothing in the house, but I had no onions and not much fresh produce, since we had done a very good job of cleaning out the fridge before we left for the holidays. We still had some frozen stuff, though, and canned tomatoes (always a lifesaver) and whole-wheat couscous in the pantry – so here is my improvised dinner. Michael came in and said something about McGyver while I was cooking.

2 T. olive oil
5 large cloves garlic, minced (hey, without onions, you have to compensate.)
2 long hot peppers, seeds & membranes removed, minced (I had some that a co-worker gave me – long skinny red ones – no idea what kind they were)
1 10 oz. package frozen lima beans
2 c. frozen spinach (yes, still frozen)
1 28 oz. can Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes (crushed – or whole ones, run through the processor briefly)

1 2/3 c. whole-wheat couscous
2 c. water
dollop of olive oil
fresh pepper & salt to taste

Sauté the garlic and peppers in the olive oil until fragrant. Dump in the tomatoes. Dump in the lima beans. Run the frozen spinach through the food processor until breadcrumb-like in texture. I know, this is a mean thing to do to your food processor, but that’s what it’s there for, right? To take abuse? Dump in the spinach. Add a little water & a little salt & pepper (remember, there’s already plenty of salt in those tomatoes) and simmer for a good 30 minutes. In the last 10 minutes or so, heat the 2 c. water in a medium saucepan until boiling. Add the couscous, olive oil, some fresh pepper & salt. Remove from the heat immediately, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve lima beans over couscous and congratulate yourself on escaping certain death using only a paper clip and your wits.