Soups & Salads

Summery Vegetable Soup with Chicken

Summery Vegetable Soup with Chicken

 

Early summer is a perfect time to utilize fresh from the garden produce for light soups that are as lively and colorful as they are delicious. Freshly made soups are ideal for easy summer meals that celebrate the season’s ever evolving bounty. A beautiful soup accompanied with a crusty loaf along with a freshly made pesto (see recipe here) is a perfect summer meal in and of itself!

 

Summery Vegetable Soup with Chicken       Serves 4

  • 2 ears sweet corn
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • handful of celery leaves
  • 1 cup diced onions, divided
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup celery diced
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
  •  sprig of Italian basil leaves, finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • whole basil leaves as a garnish

First thing you want to do is cut the corn kernels off of the cobs and set them aside to use later. Then holding the cobs vertically in a small bowl, scrape the cobs with the back of a knife to extract the corn milk and set the milk aside to use later. Reserve the scraped cobs.

Fill a large pot with 2 quarts of water and add the bay leaves, celery leaves, ½ cup diced onions, peppercorns, the scraped corn cobs, and the reserved corn milk scrapings. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the whole chicken breasts to the pot and simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and set the pot side, covered, for about 30 minutes. Then using tongs remove the chicken breasts and set them aside in a bowl to cool.

Remove the corn cobs from the pot and discard them. Then pour the contents of the pot into a fine mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Press all the liquid out of the solids. Discard the solids and set the broth aside.

Rinse out the pot and return it to the stove top, add the olive oil, and set over a medium flame. When the oil is hot add the remaining half cup of onions, the diced yellow and red bell peppers, diced jalapeno, and saute until they soften about 5 minutes. Then add the carrots, celery, and potatoes, and continue to saute for another 5 minutes. Then add the reserved broth to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, but still holding their shape. Then add the reserved corn kernels.

Gently pull the chicken breasts apart and into bit size pieces and add to the both. Stir in the sliced basil and season to taste with salt. Add the saffron threads and stir to combine and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Just before serving stir in the lemon juice.

Serving

Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls and garnish with whole basil leaves and lemon slices.

French Tarragon Vinaigrette

French Tarragon Vinaigrette

At last, with the arrival of spring crops coming to market, it is time to let green produce be the star attraction. By that I mean salads composed using the freshest greens along with some early baby green beans, freshly picked herbs, and crisp sliced radishes tossed with an herb vinaigrette to really savor the fresh flavors of spring. I always gravitate towards the subtle anise like flavor of fresh French tarragon accented with a hint of lemon in a vinaigrette that pairs beautifully with freshly picked garden greens.

For this salad I have used a combination of leafy greens as well as a deep green curly leaf kale, but use any fresh greens that are available.

 

For the vinaigrette, use fresh French Tarragon leaves if available. Tarragon has been loved by French cooks for centuries for its fresh clean subtle flavor and aroma. The small yellow flowers are edible by the way so do include them in the salad . Otherwise a good quality dried French tarragon will be just fine.

 

I like to make the vinaigrette a day in advance so that the flavors have a chance to coalesce.

Fresh Tarragon Vinaigrette:  makes 6 oz/ ¾ cup

  • 1 ½ teaspoon grated (microplaned) shallot
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder 
  • 1½ teaspoons minced fresh French tarragon leaves; or ¾ teaspoon dried
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup light olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon minced lemon zest
  • pinch of sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Alternately, You can combine the shallots, mustard powder, tarragon, salt, pepper, and vinegar in a non reactive bowl and whisk to combine. Then begin adding the olive oils in a slow steady stream while whisking vigorously until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Then add the lemon zest and sugar and whisk until combined.

Ideally, cover and refrigerate the vinaigrette for 24 hours before using.

For the salad:

  • assorted leafy greens
  • curly leaf kale
  • baby green beans (haricot vert)
  • radishes, thinly sliced
  • fresh herbs; marjoram, oregano, or lemon thyme
  • freshly grated Parmesan
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper

If you are using kale, remove the center rib from the leaves and discard. Tear the leaves and place them in a steamer basket.

Trim the green beans and place them in the steamer basket along with the kale. Set the steamer basket over simmering water and steam until the kale is tender, but al dente. The beans may take a few minutes longer, but should also be al dente. Set both the kale and the beans out on a kitchen towel and cool. Once cool refrigerate both until you are ready to assemble the salad.

Assembling the salad:

Place the greens, including the chilled kale leaves, in a large bowl and toss to combine. Then add the green beans on top. Spoon a few teaspoons of the vinaigrette over all and toss to combine.

Transfer the mixed greens and beans to individual salad plates. Tuck the radish slices randomly into the greens. Spoon more vinaigrette over all sparingly. Lightly grate the Parmesan over the salads and serve.

Place a small bowl of additional dressing on the table along with the crystallized sea salt and a pepper mill.

Mediterranean Mussels Stew

Mediterranean Mussels Stew

 

I was in my kitchen the other day admiring a gorgeous pile of succulent New Zealand green lipped mussels and some plump shrimp that I had purchased earlier in the day. As I gazed, an ad hok seafood stew was formulating in my mind using some Mediterranean ingredients that I already had on hand. Some pancetta to saute along with some onions, garlic, carrots and celery would beautifully flavor a sofrito  base for the broth. Adding to that the water reserved after steaming the mussels to the stew broth would introduce the briny flavors of the sea. A flourish of  chile flakes and Spanish smoked paprika would add a nice spicy heat and a rustic earthy flavor to the stew.  A final splash of a fruity Italian olive oil and a spritz of crisp lemon juice just before serving would really bring this robust mussel stew to life.

New Zealand green lipped mussels are more available than other varieties of mussels here in Thailand. They are the largest mussels available and perfect for a mixed seafood soup or stew. Their flesh is plump, succulent, and juicy. The shells are quite large so usually not included in the dish like the smaller mussel shells you would find in a French bouillabaisse, an Italian zuppa de cozze , or a Catalan zaruela de mariscos. New Zealand green lipped mussels are shipped across the globe. That said, shells or no shells in the stew, any variety of mussels available to you are suitable for this recipe.

This is an easy seafood stew to prepare, it looks spectacular, and is sure to WOW a crowd!

 

New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels

New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels

 

Mediterranean Mussel Stew     serves 6

  • 1 kilo/2.2 pounds New Zealand green lipped mussels, or another available variety
  • 500g / 1 pound medium size shrimp, shells removed, deveined, tails attached 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 4 thin slices pancetta, finely chopped
  • 2 onions, peeled and finely diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 3 stalks celery with leaves, finely diced, leaves thinly sliced, and whole leaves reserved for garnish
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
  • 1 1/2   liters/ 1 1/4    quarts fish or chicken stock, preheated
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon chile flakes
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
  • 6 medium sized yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾ inch chunks
  • finishing quality olive oil
  •  fresh lemon wedges

Soak the mussels in cold water and then scrub the shells to remove any dirt or seaweed that may be attached.

Place a steaming rack in a stock pot and add about 2 cups of water  below the rack. Place the mussels on the rack and bring the water to a boil. Lower to a simmer and place a lid on the pot. Steam the mussels for about 6 minutes or until the mussels have opened. Remove the mussels from the pot and set aside in a bowl to cool. Any mussels that have not opened should be discarded.. Transfer the steaming water left in the pot to a container and set aside to use later.

Place the same pot over medium low heat. When hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the pancetta and saute while stirring continuously until the fat has melted. Then add the onions, stir to coat with the oil, and saute until the onions are translucent, about 6 or 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute or two. Then add the wine and cook until the wine has been completely absorbed.

Stir in the carrots and celery and saute until  soft, about 6 minutes. Add the bay leaves and marjoram and stir to combine.. Add the reserved broth from steaming the mussels and the preheated stock. Stir until all the ingredients are combined.

Once the stew is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Then stir in salt, pepper, chile flakes, and smoked paprika and stir until combined. Then stir in the potatoes and continue to simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the stew is simmering, if you are using New Zealand mussels you will want to remove the mussels from their shells and discard the shells. If you are using other smaller mussels you can leave them in tact.

Once the potatoes are fully cooked you can add the mussels and shrimp to the broth. Simmer for about 3 to 5 minutes. Taste the broth and season with more salt to taste.

Serving:

Serve the stew in shallow individual soup plates with 4 or 5 mussels per portion and plenty of broth. Sparingly drizzle each serving with a finishing olive oil and garnish with a few celery leaves and a slice of fresh lemon.

Smoky Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Smoky Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup

As a follow up to my last post on Roasted Kabocha Squash, here is a quick and easy Mexican calabaza (pumpkin) soup you can make from scratch or with any remaining roasted squash you may have on hand.

The smoky sweet flavor and deep rounded heat of dried chipotle chiles pairs beautifully with roasted squash and gives this robust rustic soup an authenticity you might find in a villages in northern Mexico, the central highlands, Veracruz on the Gulf coast, or in Oaxaca in the south eastern Mexico.

Chipotle Chiles

Chipotle Chiles

Chipotle chiles are made with fully ripened red jalapeno chiles that are then smoked and dried over smoldering pecan wood embers. The pecan tree is indigenous to Mexico and is the wood of choice for drying chipotles. Chipotle varieties are readily available all over Mexico, and in Mexican or Latin markets north of the border. Canned chipotles packed in red adobo sauce are more readily available both in the US and abroad and they can be substituted in the following recipe if rinsed before using.

 

Smoky Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup     Serves 6

  • 1 small pumpkin or squash roasted
  • 1 dried chipotle chile, re hydrated, seeded, and finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, peeled, and finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic peeled and finely minced
  • 1 ½ cups finely minced celery with leaves
  • 1 ½ quarts hot stock or water plus more as needed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt+ more to taste 
  • corn tortilla chips of choice (Garden of Eten’ is my favorite store bought brand)
  • Mexican cotija cheese or feta as a substitute.

Follow the recipe instructions for roasting squash including  optional seasonings. (click here for recipe)

To rehydrate the chipotle chile place it in a small pan with just enough water to cover. Simmer over very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the chipotle and set aside to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid to use later. When the chipotle is cool, slit it open lengthwise and remove the seeds and discard them. Mince the chile and set aside.

Place a soup pot over a medium low flame and when hot add the oil. Once the oil is hot add the onions and saute, stirring from time to time, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add the minced chipotle and stir to combine. Then stir in the celery and saute for another 5 minutes.

Once the celery is very soft add the roasted pumpkin, the hot stock or water, and the reserved chipotle cooking water to the pot and stir. Once the soup returns to a boil lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Top up with additional stock or water as needed.

Remove the pot from the heat and using an immersion blender, or blender, blend until the soup is very smooth. Add salt and blend again. Taste and adjust the salt to your own taste. The soup should be quite thick, but you can thin it down with addition hot stock or water if you wish.

Serving:
Cotija is a hard cows milk cheese from Michoacan in the central highlands of Mexico. Available in some Mexican markets or online. Otherwise I find Feta is an excellent substitute.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls, Push 6 or 8 corn tortilla chips in the center of the soup and scatter crumbled cotija (or feta) over the soup and serve.

Buen provecho!

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