Soups & Salads

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!

Greek Green Goddess Salad

Greek Green Goddess Salad

 

There is nothing quite like the crisp fresh flavors that you find in a Greek salad. A classic to be sure and not to be messed with, but trying an alternative to an oil and vinegar dressing wouldn’t be construed as culinary heresy would it? Certainly not my intention.

But I have been playing around with some tried and true good old American salad dressing recipes over the summer. I have to say a green goddess dressing using fresh herbs is about as robust and tantalizing as any salad dressing you will ever make. The original recipe was created at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1923 that was inspired by a recipe created by Louis XIII chef. If that doesn’t give this dressing any pedigree, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, surely does.

Cutting to the chase, adding a salty goat’s milk feta cheese into the green goddess dressing mix really ups the flavor quotient and adds a zesty background that accentuates the freshness of the green herbs. A Greek salad dressed with this savory green sauce seemed duly apropos.

Ideally this dressing should be made a day in advance so that there is time for the flavors to meld together and bloom.

 

Greek Green Goddess Dressing:    makes 2 cups

  • 4 oz Greek goat’s milk Feta cheese ( or sheep’s milk feta), at room temperature, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh oregano leaves + whole leaves for garnishing
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk + more for thinning
  • 4 twists of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated (microplaned), about 2 teaspoons
  • ½ teaspoon anchovy paste (or ¾ teaspoon fish sauce)
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • sea salt to taste

You may question the use of fish sauce in lieu of anchovy paste in this recipe, but both the Greeks and the Romans developed and used fermented fish sauces to flavor their foods. It is that fifth taste in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter that has brought flavor to life in the Mediterranean and Asian cultures since ancient times. A staple in my kitchen!

I prefer using a food processor for combining the feta with herbs, vinegar, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of butter milk for a smoother base for the dressing. That said you may do this by hand, but be sure the herbs are very, very, finely minced.

Place the crumbled feta, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, lemon thyme, parsley, and chives in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine the ingredients, stopping from time to time to scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Continue until the mixture holds together into a very thick paste. Scrape the mixture into the bottom of the work bowl and add 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Process for a minute or two until the mixture is nearly smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the freshly ground pepper, the Greek yogurt, grated garlic, anchovy paste (or fish sauce), and the honey and stir until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

At this point the dressing will be quite thick and may require thinning with some additional buttermilk, stirred into the mixture a tablespoon at a time, until the dressing is the consistency of chilled Greek Yogurt. Keep in mind the consistency of the dressing will firm up when refrigerated as well.

Taste the dressing and add additional salt if needed and stir until completely incorporated into the dressing. Transfer the dressing to a glass jar, close tightly with lid, and refrigerate overnight. The dressing will keep for about a week refrigerated.

For the salad:

  • romaine lettuce leaves, torn
  • head lettuce (iceberg), torn
  • radicchio leaves, torn into thin strips
  • wild arugula leaves, stems removed
  • cherry tomatoes, or sliced vine ripe tomatoes, seeded
  • cucumbers, seeded and cut into bite size pieces
  • red onions, thinly sliced into rings
  • black calamata olives, pitted

Combine the leafy salad greens along with most of the tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion slices in a large salad bowl. Reserve the remaining tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion slices to garnish the salad later.

Spoon some dressing over the contents of the bowl and toss until all the contents are evenly coated with dressing.

Serving:

Transfer the dressed salad to a large platter or to individual salad bowls. Top with the remaining tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion rings. Add small dollops of dressing over the salad and top with the pitted olives. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and serve. Serve with additional dressing in a bowl on the table as well as a pepper mill.

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