Soups & Salads
Once again summer has officially arrived and what always comes to mind this time of year are lemons for recipe after recipe after recipe. Be it for chicken, seafood, salads or soups, it is lemons and their juice that really bring so many dishes to life in the summertime.
This is my third recipe for a lemon soup, all inspired by Greece’s Avgolemono in one way or another.
For Greek Lemon Soup with Minted Lamb Keftedes (click here) and Lemon Soup with White Beans and Celeric (click here)
The recipe that follows is for a very simple and quick chilled lemon white bean soup that is perfect as an opener for summer meals. To save time I’ve used canned white beans and eliminated the somewhat tricky Greek custom of whisking eggs into the soup to thicken it which can be a little challenging. This soup can be pulled together with very little fuss in about 30 minutes.
Choose your lemon carefully. A thin skinned unwaxed organic lemon, such as Meyer, is ideal if available. I have used a local Chiangdao lemon here in Chiang Mai.
Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup makes 2 quarts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 5 cups chicken or fish stock
- 2 cans (400g each) white beans
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram or lemon thyme
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- sliced ciabatta or focaccio
- feta cheese (goat feta if available)
- lemon zest
Before you begin cooking zest your lemon into long strips using a vegetable peeler. Slice the zest strips very thinly lengthwise. Set aside about a quarter of the thin strips to use as garnish later. Slice the remaining strips into half inch batons and set aside. Then squeeze the lemon and set the juice aside.
Select a heavy bottomed soup pot and place it over medium heat on the stove top. Add the olive oil and when hot add the onions and saute for a minute. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook the onions for about 8 minutes or until soft, stirring from time to time. Then add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the stock, the beans including their brine, and the marjoram or lemon thyme. Add a little salt and pepper and cook at a simmer for 25 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Remove the pan from the heat and puree the contents in the pot with a hand held immersion blender ( or transfer to a blender) and blend until smooth.
Return the pot to the heat and add the lemon zest batons and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasonings adding salt and pepper as needed. Then turn off the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes and then stir in lemon juice to suit your taste; about 6 to 8 tablespoons.
Transfer the soup to containers and cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate.
Preheat the broiler
Before serving, Lightly toast the bread slices and top with thin slices of feta. Place under the broiler until the feta has melted a bit and lightly browned in spots. Remove from the oven and cut bread into bite size cubes.
Give the chilled soup a good stir and ladle into individual soup plates. Place 3 or 4 bread squares
in the center of the soup and garnish with lemon zest strips.
There are many ways to cook zucchini, but for me simply braising is by far the best way to bring zucchini’s delicate flavor to full bloom. Once braised there are so many quick and easy applications awaiting.
Zucchini, in the squash family, is native to the Americas. However the zucchini we are now familiar with is a hybrid that was developed in Italy in the 19th century and named zucchini, the diminutive of zucca. Colors range from pale to deep green as well as light yellow to a deep orange. Zucchini is usually harvested while still young, about 6 to eight inches in length, with seeds that are still soft and tender. Left to grow zucchini can reach up to a meter in length.
Anyone who has grown zucchini knows full well it is the garden’s star over achiever. The harvest can be continuous and down right overwhelming, as are the challenges for the cook who is faced with “oh no, not zucchini again.”
More often than not zucchini is cooked into other dishes like a Provencal ratatouille which is splendid, but the zucchini’s real personality is somewhat lost in translation. Be that as it may, zucchini can really shine on its very own if cooked properly.
Using this simple braising method requires only a few ingredients and a well tended low heat braising on the stove top that slowly coaxes out a nuanced flavor of summer that could only come from zucchini.
Ounce braised the zucchini can then be used as a side dish, pureed for a soup that can be served chilled in the summer or warm as fall approaches, or as a sauce for pasta along with braised zucchini and poached chicken. This is a pasta sauce that has become one of my very favorites when cooking up a summery meal .
- 2 ½ pounds 6 to 8 inch zucchini, trimmed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ cups finely diced onions
- 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
- 4 ½ cups chicken stock (or water), hot
- ½ cup cream
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano
- flaked sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Cut the trimmed zucchini into quarters lengthwise. Slice the quarters into ½ inch slices. Place in a bowl and set aside.
Place a wide heavy bottomed pan on the stove over medium low heat. Add the olive oil and when the oil slides easily in the pan add the onions and saute for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes while stirring.
Then add the sliced zucchini and fold them into the onion mixture. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir frequently and be sure to lift the onions off the bottom of the pan so they do not burn.
Stir in the marjoram after about 15 minutes of cooking time and season sparingly with salt and pepper.
After about 20 minutes you will have to stir more frequently, being sure to continuously lift the onions off the bottom of the pan. Once the zucchini is very soft, just barely colored, and looking slightly glazed remove the pan from the heat.
At this point, if you are intending to use the braised zucchini for a pasta remove about ¼ of the braised zucchini and set aside to use for the pasta later.
If you are intending to serve the braised zucchini as a side dish, add a little cream and a little hot stock and to the pan and stir to combine. Then add some grated Parmigiano, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Otherwise set the pan with the braised zucchini back onto the stove over medium heat. Add about two thirds of the hot stock (or water) and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half and the zucchini is very soft.
Remove from the heat, cool a few minutes. Then blend with an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender) and blend until smooth. If the puree seems very thick add a little more hot stock and blend.
Return the mixture to the heat and bring back up to a low simmer. Slowly stir in the cream until incorporated and then stir in the Parmigiano. Continue to stir 1 minute and then taste. Add additional salt and pepper if needed. Stir well and set aside.
Cool the puree to room temperature if you are intending to use as a soup. Then cover and refrigerate. Serve chilled or warmed slightly.
If you are intending to use the puree as a pasta sauce you may want to reduce the sauce a little bit more.
Meanwhile divide the poached chicken into bite size strips and reheat with a little chicken stock or water.
Boil your pasta until cooked al dente and drain.
Add the reserved braised zucchini and the warmed chicken to the hot reduced sauce and stir. Then fold in the cooked pasta.
Transfer the pasta to individual pasta bowls, spooning any remaining sauce over the pasta. Grate Parmigiano over the pasta and serve.
Turning left over baked potatoes into a potato salad is one thing, but I have Nigella Lawson to thank for her unfettered intuitiveness in including a recipe for purpose baked potato salad that was published in her Forever Summer cookbook years ago. I’ve been making variations of baked potato salads ever since!
Why use baked rather than the standard practice of boiled potatoes for potato salad? Well, I am not a bonafide food sleuth, but logic would have it that baking potatoes modifies the starch content of the potatoes as water is absorbed into the flesh during the baking process. The results are a fluffier, sweeter, and more flavorsome flesh.
Another tip for intensifying baked potato’s flavor, which I gleaned from my father in law long before I ever took cooking seriously, is to beard (salt) the potatoes before baking. The salt draws out additional moisture during baking, crisps the skin, and further sweetens the flesh.
Baking potatoes in the oven is the preferred method for maximum flavor, but if you are concerned about your carbon footprint or you’re just in a hurry, using the microwave is not a sin! The results are nearly indiscernible in the finished salad.
In the recipe that follows I have used Yukon gold potatoes, but by all means use your baking potato of choice. This is a potato salad I like to pair with seafood. It is decidedly lighter with a crisp flavor spike that mirrors a tarter sauce, if you will, but without being clawing and overly rich, and compliments seafood beautifully.
Ideally make this salad a day in advance. Doing so allows an exchange of flavors that are absorbed into the potatoes.
Baked Potato Salad makes 4 servings
- 4 large baking potatoes
- flaked sea salt for dredging
- 1 onion, peeled and diced, about 1 cup
- 1 cup finely diced young celery
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (or more to taste), or wasabi to taste if you are feeling adventurous
- 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced dill leaves or minced broad leaf parsley leaves
- flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Baking the potatoes:
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
Spread a good amount of flaked sea salt on a plate or in a shallow bowl.
Rinse the potatoes under cold running water. Using a skewer, poke holes in the potatoes to allow steam to escape during baking. Re moisten the potatoes, shake off excess water and promptly roll the potatoes in the salt to coat evenly. Place the salted potatoes on a baking tray.
Transfer the tray of “bearded” potatoes to the preheated oven and bake for between 1 and 1 ½ hours. The finished potatoes should be a little firmer than a baked potatoes you would intend to serve from oven to table.
For microwave baking, microwave the potatoes for about 8 to 10 minutes. Again the potatoes should be a little firmer than potatoes you intend to serve from microwave to table.
When the potatoes are baked set them aside to cool. When cool enough to handle peel off the skin by hand. No need to be too meticulous as a little skin left intact will add some flavor to the salad.
Transfer the peeled potatoes to a bowl and refrigerate until well chilled.
While the potatoes are chilling you can go ahead and make the dressing.
For the dressing:
In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, horseradish (or wasabi), and the vinegar and mix together. Then stir in the yogurt and mix vigorously until well incorporated. Stir in salt, pepper and taste, making adjustments as needed. Chill the dressing until you are ready to finish the salad.
Once the potatoes are chilled remove from the refrigerator and cut the potatoes into bite size cubes and return them to the bowl. Add the onions, celery, and minced dill or parsley and toss until well combined.
Spoon the dressing over the tossed ingredients and fold the salad together being sure the potatoes are evenly coated. Taste the salad and adjust seasonings if needed.
Cover and Refrigerate the salad until you are ready to serve.
Remove the potato salad from the fridge and give it a good stir. Transfer the salad to a serving platter or individual plates and garnish with minced dill or broad leafy parsley and serve.
As the midday temperatures soar here in Thailand more ideas for refreshing chilled soups are the order of the day. Practically speaking, it just makes sense to have meal preparations out of the way in the morning, avoiding the heat of the day, and having the evening meal nearly ready for serving as night falls and the temperature wanes enough for comfortable suppers al fresco.
The pairing of vine ripe tomatoes and Italian basil, both readily available at the moment, inspires looking towards the Mediterranean for ideas for chilled soups that that are both light and summery fresh.
Roasting the tomatoes and peppers sweetens their flesh and infuses this chilled soup with a light smokiness accented with the peppery and sweet aromatic spiciness of fresh basil. Add to that a swirl of freshly made pesto and a few dollops of Greek yogurt and you have a stellar beginning for a light summer meal.
Chilled Roasted Tomato Soup makes 2 1/2 quarts
- 4 pounds/2 kilo vine ripe tomatoes, roasted
- 2 large red bell peppers, roasted
- 1 or 2 small dried red chilies
- 2 heads garlic
- 2 onions, peeled and diced
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 quarts chicken broth (or water), hot
- ½ cup toasted bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon flaked sea salt
- 20 fresh Italian basil leaves, thinly sliced
- sweet Italian basil pesto (see recipe here)
- Greek yogurt or sour cream
- whole Italian basil leaves for garnishing
Remove the stems from the tomatoes and the red bell peppers and flame roast, grill, or broil them until well charred. Set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle remove the charred skin and discard it. You need not be too meticulous about removing every last bit of charred skin as bits left behind will add flavor to the soup.
Slice the tomatoes into quarters and remove any hard core bits and discard them. Transfer the tomatoes to a food mill or Velox Universal tomato press (see note below) and pass them through to remove the seeds and crush the tomatoes into pulp in the process. Set the pulp aside to use later.
Likewise remove the charred skin from the bell peppers and discard. Quarter the bell peppers and remove the veins and seeds. Cut the quarters into strips. Dice the strips and set aside.
Lightly toast the chilies in a dry pan. Then add a little water to the pan, bring to a simmer, and cook until the chilies are soft. Remove the chilies and cool. Then slit the chilies lengthwise, open them up, and remove the seeds and discard them. Finely chop the chilies and set aside.
Separate the garlic cloves from the head and put them in a dry skillet set over medium flame. Toast the cloves on all sides until evenly colored. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. Then peel off the skin and discard. Mince the cloves and set aside.
Place a soup pot on the stove over medium low heat and add the olive oil. When nearly smoking add the onions and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Make a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste and press it against the bottom of the pan to caramelize the tomato paste.
Add the tomato pulp, bell peppers, and chilies and cook another couple of minutes while stirring everything together. Then stir in the hot stock (or water) and stir. Raise the heat and bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer and cook 25 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface of the soup while simmering and discard. Then stir in the bread crumbs and salt and cook another 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool a couple of minutes. Then blend the soup with an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender) and blend until smooth.
Return the pot of blended soup to the heat and bring back up to a low simmer. Add the sliced basil leaves and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Transfer the hot soup to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature. Then transfer the soup to containers with lids and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Ladle the soup into individual soup bowls. Add a few dollops of pesto in the center, a few dollops of Greek yogurt or sour cream, and garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Note: The Velox tomato press is a must have tool if you are regularly processing fresh tomatoes. Passing the fresh tomatoes through the press removes the skin and seeds leaving you with a fresh tomato pulp that is ready for making red tomato sauces, soups, or fresh salsas. I’ve had my Velox tomato press for over 30 years which is a testament to its timeless design and durability. Readily available on line and well worth the small investment.