Soups & Salads
Who doesn’t enjoy all the indulgences of the holidays, but it is nice to get back to simpler healthier fare as the new year begins and winter sets in in earnest. Refocusing on vegetables and reinventing some tried and true soup favorites is a great place to begin.
For me, that was revisiting a favorite traditional hearty pea soup, but this time with a lighter touch. The idea of introducing Japanese flavors had been floating around in my head and from there all the ingredients fell into place. Using a traditional Japanese dashi broth in lieu of chicken stock was an obvious choice and got things rolling. Adding some Japanese mushrooms sauteed with grated ginger, a pinch of chile, and a splash of sake would surely ramp up the flavor quotient, and some Japanese rice to thicken the broth would bring the soup into its own.
This is a relatively easy recipe to make and, luckily, there are a few handy short cuts that you may find in your supermarket or Asian market. Instant Japanese dashi comes in convenient sachets as do dehydrated Japanese mushrooms packaged along with seasoning for soups. Using frozen peas is just fine for soups and also cuts down your prep time.
By all means serve this soup piping hot during the cold months, but this soup is equally delicious and refreshing served chilled during the hot months!
Japanese Inspired Pea Soup makes 2 liters
For the Dashi:
Heat approximately 2 liters of water and bring to a simmer. Add instant dashi powder as directed on the packaging for the quantity of water. Keep the dashi at a near simmer to add to the soup as needed.
If instant dashi is not available use the traditional Japanese recipe. (click here)
Prepare the dashi and set it over low heat on the stove top.
For the soup:
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 smallish onions, peeled and finely diced
- 4 celery ribs, peeled and finely diced
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons sake
- 1 ¾ liters dashi broth
- 250 g / 9 oz frozen green peas
- ½ cup Japanese rice
- 225 g/8 oz small shitaki, enoke, or shimeji (pictured) mushrooms, trimmed
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger root, peeled and very finely grated and including the juice
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
- ½ to 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- thinly sliced green onions for garnish
Select a medium size stock pot and heat it over medium flame. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of the vegetable oil and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. When the oil is hot add the onions and celery and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring from time to time. Continue to cook until the onions and celery are very soft.
Add ½ cup sake to the pot and simmer while stirring until the sake is completely absorbed into the onion mixture. Add the peas and rice to the pot and stir to combine. Then add about 1 ½ liters of hot dashi broth, bring to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time so the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
While the soup ingredients are simmering you can prepare the mushrooms.
Place a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. When the skillet is hot add the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of vegetable oil and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. When the oil is hot add the mushrooms and saute while stirring for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms begin to give up their moisture and soften a bit. Stir in the grated ginger and juice, garlic, and fish sauce and saute briefly. Then add 2 tablespoons of sake and continue to saute until the mushrooms are well glazed with the pan juices and the skillet is nearly dry. Promptly remove the skillet fro the heat and transfer about a quarter of the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside to use later to garnish the soup.
Spoon the rest of the mushrooms into the pot of soup and continue to simmer until the broth is reduced and the contents feel thick when stirred, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Then, using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.
Add the sea salt, freshly ground white pepper, and red chile and blend until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning including a dash more fish sauce if needed. Blend once again until incorporated and the soup is the consistency you prefer. Stir in a little hot dashi to thin the soup if needed.
Serve promptly or cool to room temperature before refrigerating for later use.
Ladle the hot soup into individual serving bowls and garnish with reserved sauteed mushrooms and very thinly sliced green onions scattered over the surface of the soup.
As mentioned, this soup is also lovely served cold during the hot season.
The Holidays are nearly upon us and we cooks are all no doubt busy planning parties and finalizing menus for holiday meals for our families and friends.
Every year I host a Christmas dinner for friends here in Chiang Mai, where Christmas is pretty much a non-event other than the usual retail angle. Early on I tried replicating a traditional western Christmas feast, which required a turkey imported from the US and winter root vegetables from Australia and New Zealand. It was complicated and expensive and, to be honest, rather ridiculous when it was all said and done. So from that point onward I have been creating holiday menus from various cuisines from around the world which are so much more interesting and fun for myself as well as for my friends. This year it is going to be a casual Spanish paella supper with various Spanish inspired accompaniments including this beat salad. At first glance this salad may not garner much attention. But that said, the earthiness of the beets combined with a sweet note from currants plumped in a hot Spanish sherry bath and the perfumed accent of toasted anise seeds magically reveals this salad’s hidden deliciousness.
This is an easy and deeply colorful salad that is not only a perfect addition to a holiday menu, but to serve throughout the rest of the year as well.
Roasted Beet Salad with Currants and Anise serves 4-6
- 6 medium size beets, roasted
- ¼ cup dark dried currants
- 3 tablespoon sweet sherry (Madeira, or Marsala)
1 small red onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons anise seeds, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- radicchio leaves
- flat leaf parsley sprigs
For instructions on roasting beets (click here)
You can also simply boil the beets if you prefer. Place the beets a in large sauce pan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until the beets are tender but not too soft, about 30-40 minutes. Test by slipping a sharp knife into the flesh. Drain off the water and set the beets aside to cool.
In either case, when the beets are cool enough to handle slip off the skin and discard. Cut the beets into thin slices. Stack the slices and cut into batons crosswise and place them in a large bowl.
Place the currants in a small sauce pan and add the sherry. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sherry is absorbed. Add the plumped currants to the bowl with the beets.
Add the sliced onions, 1 ½ teaspoons anise seeds, , sea salt, and pepper. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Add the vinegar and olive oil and toss until evenly coating the beets. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.
Cover the beet salad with cling film and refrigerate until well chilled.
Remove the beet salad from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Serving the salad at room temperature allows the flavors of the salad to bloom.
Arrange the radicchio leaves on a serving platter or individual plates. Nestle the beet salad over the radicchio leaves. Sprinkle the remaining anise seeds over the beets and garnish with parsley sprigs.
Delicioso . . . to the very last bite !
As all cooks know, there are those times when you just have to buckle down and get on with making do with what you happen to have on hand. This time of year that means getting creative with the heartier autumn vegetables varieties that are available in your local farmers markets. As it happens I put this salad together on the day of the November full moon so aptly named an Autumn Moon Salad.
Maybe I’m taking some artistic license here, but indulge me. The cool weather and a brilliant full moon shimmering in the crisp autumn sky somehow seemed in sync with the earthy flavors of gold potatoes tossed with deep green Brussels sprouts and kale leaves spiked with chilies and fresh herbs. There are those times in the kitchen when everything seemingly just comes together effortlessly.
Autumn Moon Salad serves 4 to 6
- 4 gold potatoes aka Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 pound young Brussels sprouts
- 2 large bunches kale or collard greens
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ cup sliced Spanish pickled red pimientos
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano ( marjoram or wild thyme)
- 2 teaspoons pepper corns, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
- ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- flaked sea salt
- Greek yogurt
- za’atar (optional) For more information about za’atar and substitutes (click here)
Peel the potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. Place them in a sauce pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not too soft. Transfer the potatoes to a colander, drain well, and set aside to cool.
Remove the outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and discard. Then snap off a few layers of leaves and place them in a steamer basket. Divide the remaining more compact sprout heads into quarters lengthwise and place them on top of the sprout leaves in the steamer.
Cut the kale (or collard) leaves off the stems. Peel and thinly slice the stems and add them to the steamer basket. Using a very sharp knife, remove the central ribs of the leaves and discard. Slice the leaves in half and place them in the steamer basket.
Cover the steamer with the lid and place over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and steam the contents until tender, but not limp. Then remove the steamer basket and set it aside to cool uncovered.
While the vegetables are steaming you can saute the onions and garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to a saute pan set over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat a little bit. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes and then set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes, steamed sprouts and kale (or collards) and toss. Add the sauteed onions and garlic and gently toss to evenly coat the potatoes and vegetables with the onions and garlic. Then fold in the pimientos.
Drizzle the vinegar and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over all and toss well. Scatter the oregano (marjoram or wild thyme), crushed pepper corns, ground red chile powder, and flaked sea salt over the surface. At this point I like to use my hands to combine the seasonings into the salad for a more even distribution without damaging the potatoes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
The salad is now ready to serve or it can be refrigerated for later use.
This salad is best served at near room temperature.
Place the salad in a shallow serving bowl or platter. Drizzle the surface with room temperature Greek yogurt and a good dusting of za.atar.
Dia de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations, albeit different, will both be in full swing next week on both sides of US Mexican border. I have many fond memories of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico as well as in the US sate of New Mexico. The custom of a gathering of family and friends to celebrate together with the spirits of the departed dates back to pre-Columbian cultures in Central America. Typically paths are lined with marigolds to guide the living and the departed to candle lit fiestas held in cemeteries where local foods abound, beer and tequila flows freely, and corridos ballads thread though the air until the wee hours of the morning.
For more on Dia de los Muertos and a recipe for a Mexican roasted Pumpkin Soup (click here).
This time of year is also chile harvest season and what better way to use freshly picked green chilies than in a hearty Sopa de Maiz y Chile Verde Con Pollo. Mexican in origin but also a classic in Northern New Mexico where the New Mexico chiles reign supreme. A perfect offering for a Dia de los Muertos supper!
In Mexico fresh green poblano chilies would be used for this soup. In New Mexico Roasted fresh green New Mexico chilies would be used. If neither are available where you live use fresh green jalapeños which, when flame roasted, have a wonderful full bodied flavor and robust heat.
If you live in the US frozen flame roasted New Mexico green chilies are an alternative, though expensive. They are available online
As tempting as canned green chilies might be, I would suggest avoiding them. They are virtually tasteless.
Sopa de Maiz y chile Verde con Pollo ( Corn and Green Chile Chicken Soup) makes 2 ½ quarts
For the chicken: Ideally, cook the chicken the day before you plan to make the soup.
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 3 celery ribs, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Rinse the chicken and place it in a large stock pot. Add enough water to the pot to generously cover the chicken. Add the onions, garlic, celery, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.
Place the pot on the stove top over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a low simmer and cook the chicken for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the pot and set both the chicken and the stock aside to cool.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the meat off the bones in generous chunks and place them in a bowl. Leaving the chicken in larger pieces will give the soup a more substantial profile and tenderer meat when reheated.
Toss all the bones into the stock pot and return the pot to the heat. Bring the contents to a low boil and cook until the stock is reduced by half.
Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool for 20 minutes or so. Then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large container and set aside to cool to room temperature. Discard the bones and solids after straining the stock.
Once the stock is cooled, cover the container with the lid and refrigerate overnight.
The following morning skim off the fat that has solidified on the surface of the stock and save for another use or discard it.
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 3 celery ribs, finely diced
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated, roasted in a dry skillet until lightly colored, skin removed, and minced
- 2 quarts prepared chicken stock
- 2 ears of corn, husks and silk removed, and grilled
- 4-5 fresh New Mexico green chilies ( or 3 large fresh green poblano chilies, or 6-8 fresh green jalapeno chilies) flame roasted, skin and seeds removed, and cut into thin strips and diced
- 2 cups home cooked white beans (or canned), drained
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
- ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves crumbled
- 1 ¾ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
Place the olive oil and butter in a stock pot set over medium heat. Swirl the pan until the butter is melted and combined with the oil. Add the onions and celery and lower the heat to medium low and cook, stirring now and again until the onions and celery are very soft and translucent, about, 20 minutes.
Add the garlic and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Then add the stock. Once the stock begins to boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, adding the beans after 15 minutes. Be sure to stir from time to time so the beans do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
While the soup is simmering, grill the whole corn cobs over an open flame until the kernels are evenly colored and a deeper yellow. Then cut the kernels off the cob and set them aside in a bowl to use later.
Scrape the cobs with the back of a pairing knife to extract the corn milk from the cobs and transfer the scrapings to the simmering stock pot.
Likewise, while the soup continues to cook flame roast the chilies until the skins are evenly blistered. Transfer them to a bowl, seal with cling film, and let them sweat until cool enough to handle. Then slip off the blistered skin. Cut the chilies in half, remove the seeds and veins, slice into strips, and cut the strips into half inch pieces and set aside.
Once the ingredients in the stock pot are cooked remove the pot from the heat and cool for a few minutes. Then blend the contents of the pot with a hand held immersion blender until the mixture is smooth.
Return the pot to to the stove top set over medium heat and add the corn kernels, green chilies, oregano, marjoram, sage, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir and cook the soup for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently as the pureed beans would otherwise settle to the bottom of the pot and scorch.
Put the pulled boiled chicken in a pot with a cup or so of water and reheat until the chicken is hot.
Taste the soup broth and in the stock pot and add salt as needed. Stir in the parsley and cook another couple of minutes. Then add the hot pulled chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a low simmer just before you are ready to serve.
- dried red chile rajas (strips)
- tostada corn chips
- sour cream
- lime wedges
To make the dried red chile rajas, place 8 dried red chilies in a dry skillet set over medium low heat. Using a metal spatula, press the chilies
against the bottom of the skillet briefly then flip them and repeat, then promptly remove them from the skillet to a cutting board.
While they are still warm and pliable, cut the chilies in to very thin strips lengthwise. Then halve the strips crosswise. Heat a little olive oil in a small pan and briefly fry the rajas and set them aside to cool.
Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls, mounding the chicken in the center. Stick several tostatda chips around the chicken. Add a dollop of sour cream in the center and scatter the red chile rajas over the sour cream. Serve with fresh lime wedges placed on the table.