Soups & Stews

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!

Borlotti Beans with Sausage

Borlotti Beans with Sausage

 

I just love beans, any which way, and I’m always trying out new variations just to keep the dialogue evolving. And, of course, it is fall and a perfect time for cooking beans for some hearty cool weather meals.

Borlotti beans may not be as popular as many other bean varieties, but why not try something new. Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, originate from Mesoamerica and first cultivated in Colombia. The Colombian caramauto beans eventually found their way to Italy where they are favored for their thicker skin, creamier texture, and nutty flavor when cooked. Fresh borlotti beans have a pale buff background color streaked with red. Dried borlotti beans vary in color and are popular in Portuguese, Turkish, and Greek, as well as Italian cooking.

Like all common dried beans, Borlotti beans are cooked in a seasoned broth until soft. A flavorful meat is often added to the beans to give them an enticing aroma as well as a tantalizing note to what would otherwise be a pot of rather bland earthy boiled legumes.

All common beans (phaseolus vulgaris) originate from the Americas and were brought from the new world to the old world by European explorers in the 1400’s. Like many other new world indigenous foods, beans were then traded eastward into Asia, and the rest is history.

For this recipe I have used a well seasoned local sausage, but an Italian, Portuguese, Mexican chorizo, or your favorite local well seasoned sausage will do nicely.

When fall rolls around there is nothing quite like a hearty piping hot bowl of well seasoned beans to satisfy the appetite.

 

Borlotti Beans with Sausage   serves 4

A cooks note: I like to make this recipe a day in advance which allows the flavors to develop and meld together.

  • 1 pound well spiced sausage, cut into 6 inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil + additional for finishing
  • 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onions
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly slice
  • 3 fresh jalapeno chilies seeded and diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 quart cooked borlotti beans For cooking beans (click here)  or 3  400 g canned Borlotti
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • a pinch of ground clove
  • 2 quarts stock or water as needed
  • 1 bunch collard greens, leaves only with center ribs removed and leaves chopped
  • sea salt to taste
  • ¾ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (optional)

 

Place a medium sized stock pot on the stove top over medium flame. When hot add the oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the sausage and deeply brown on all sides. Transfer the browned sausage to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions to the pot and saute, stirring continuously, until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute 1 minute. Then add the jalapenos and red peppers and saute, stirring continuously, until the peppers are wilted, about 4 minutes.

Clear a well in the center of the pot, add the tomato paste and press it against the bottom of the pot to caramelize it, about 2 minutes. Then stir in the beans and add the bay leaves, oregano, cumin seeds, and the clove and stir all the ingredients until well combined.

Promptly add enough stock or water to cover the contents with an inch to spare and stir well. Bring the contents to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Meanwhile cut the browned sausage into ½ inch rounds and set aside.

Add the chopped collard greens, the sausage, and additional stock or water if needed. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Taste and add salt to your liking as well as the paprika if using and stir to combine.

At this point the beans and sausage are ready to serve. That said, as mentioned, you may want to transfer the beans to several containers and refrigerate overnight. Be sure to reserve stock for reheating.

Serving:

slowly reheat the beans and sausage and simmer for several minutes, adding some stock or water if needed. Be sure the beans and sausage are piping hot just before serving.

Ladle the beans, sausage, and broth into individual shallow bowls, stirring in a drizzle of olive oil into each just before serving.

Serve with crusty warmed bread or focaccia.

Vietnamese Pho Bo

Vietnamese Pho Bo

Pho is Vietnam’s famous noodle soup that has garnered a legion of devotees around the globe. Traditionally Pho is served first thing in the morning in Vietnam, but there are Pho stalls and shops that are open 24/7 across the country. Making Pho at home does require a lot of ingredients as well as time, so most Vietnamese frequent their local Pho shop for a quick meal on the go. This is a country on the move and in perpetual motion! The energy in the air is mind boggling at first, but then your realize there is an order in this symphony of chaos that envelopes you. Welcome to Vietnam!

Pho became popular during the French colonial period in the mid eighteen hundreds. The French colonists introduced beef into the Vietnamese diet as well as French cooking methods. Some speculate, myself included, that the French beef stew called pot- ou- feu was the likely source for the name Pho, pronounced “fuh”, which is very similar in sound to the French pot-ou-feu.

Vietnamese Pho Bo

Vietnamese Pho Bo

Fortunately, these days Vietnamese restaurants serving Pho can be found in almost any city in the world. Of course you could use a Knorr Oxo beef broth sachet for a quick Pho, but taking the time to make a traditional Pho at home affords you the luxury of a well tended slow cooked broth that reflects the refined essence of this soups mystique. Hand selecting the other fresh ingredients that are added to the piping hot broth insures that the alluring aromas of this sublime Vietnamese soup fills the air as it arrives at the table.

I have to say Vietnamese food is the perfect cuisine for life in the tropics. It’s light, refreshing, cooling in the steamy hot months, and warming in the bracing monsoon and brief cool winter months.

Getting to it then, developing a perfect broth is the first step in mastering an authentic Pho. Traditional broths are poultry, meat, or seafood based, but a vegetarian broth is doable with thoughful seasoning. The Pho Bo I have made here uses a beef based broth, but feel free to substitute a chicken, pork, or vegetable broth if you like. With a well developed broth you are free to create endless variations of this Vietnamese classic.

 

Vietnamese Pho Bo:    serves 6 to 8

Nuoc Dung Bo ( beef broth)  : makes 3 liters

I like to make the broth in advance. You can then cool it, cover, and refrigerate until needed, or freeze it for later use.

  • 6 liters water
  • 3 pounds beef bones
  • 1 hand of ginger root, (unpeeled)
  • 3 medium onions, unpeeled
  • 6 whole star anise 
  • 4  four inch cinnamon sticks (Vietnamese if available)
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon white peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • a pinch or more of ground Saigon cinnamon (click here) to taste

Place the beef bones on a grill or under the broiler in your oven and brown the bones on all sides. Transfer the bones to a large stock pot and set aside.

Fire up a grill or place a rack directly over an open flame on the stove top. Flame roast the hand of ginger with skin on until it is well charred on all sides. Brush off excess charred bits, break the hand apart into fingers and add them to the stock pot.

Remove excess papery skin from the onions and cut them in half. Grill or flame roast the onions, unpeeled, until they are charred on all sides. Brush off excess charred bits and add them to the stock pot.

Fill the stock pot with the water and add the star anise, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, fennel seeds, peppercorns, sugar, and salt. Partially cover with a lid and bring the water to a boil. Uncover and stir. Then reduce the heat until the liquid is just gently simmering. Simmer for 2 ½ hours or until the liquid has reduced by half. Turn off the heat and set aside for an hour or so to cool. Then strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Discard all the solids and set the broth aside until you are ready to assemble the Pho, or transfer to containers with lids and refrigerate. As you will probably have more broth than you will need you may want to freeze the rest of the broth.

Beef:

preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c

  • 1 pound good quality beef round or filet
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • fish sauce

Salt and pepper the beef on all sides. Gently rub the beef with fish sauce and place it in a preheated sizzling hot skillet. Quickly sear the beef on all sides and transfer to a roasting pan.

Put the beef in the oven and roast for no more than 12 minutes. You want the beef to be very rare in the center. Promptly remove ifrom the oven, cover lightly with foil, and cool to room temperature.

Just before you are ready to serve the Pho  slice the beef as thinly as possible across the grain. Place the slices on a plate and set aside. The beef slices will be slipped into the Pho right before serving.

Noodles:

  • 1 pound dried rice vermicelli or 1 pound thin Chinese egg noodles, fresh or dried.

If you are using rice noddles soak them in cold water for 20 minutes. When you are ready to assemble the soup place the soaked vermicelli in a wire mesh basket and lower them into the simmering broth for about 30 seconds and then transfer them to individual bowls, add broth and other ingredients, and serve.

If you are using Chinese egg noodles boil them in a generous pot of salted water as you would pasta, cooked al dente. Transfer to bowls and add broth and other accompanying ingredients, and serve.

Fresh garnishes for Pho Bo: pickled mustars greens, ngo gai(saw tooth coriander), chilies, scallions, coriander and lime wedges,

Fresh garnishes for Pho Bo: pickled mustars greens, ngo gai(saw tooth coriander), chilies, scallions, coriander and lime wedges,

Accompaniments:

The following ingredients should be available in Asian markets. Gather all of the following accompaniments together,  lined up, and ready to add to the bowls of steaming hot Pho just before serving.

  • mung bean sprouts
  • coriander leaves
  • ngo gai (saw tooth coriander, if available), thinly sliced
  • Vietnamese/Thai sweet basil leaves
  • green scallions, thinly sliced
  • finely sliced fresh red chilies, to taste Best to remove the seeds before chopping.
  • pickled mustard greens (du chua)
  • Saigon cinnamon (if available)
  • Lime wedges
  • fish sauce (nuoc mam/nam pla

Serving:

Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning, adding fish sauce and/ or salt, and a pinch or 2 of Saigon cinnamon to your liking. Then bring the broth to a full boil.

Place warmed noodles into individual bowls and ladle broth over the noodles to cover generously. Garnish with bean sprouts, sliced ngo gai (if using), basil leaves, sliced scallions, and some finely sliced red chilies. 

Slip 4 or 5 slices of the thinly sliced beef into each bowl and serve.

Place bowls of sliced pickled mustard greens, grated ginger, finely sliced red chilies, and lime wedges on the table along with a platter or bowl laden with all the leafy garnishes on the table for adding to each individuals tastes. Be sure to have a dispenser of the ubiquitous nuoc mam/ nam pla  (fish sauce) on the table as well.

Bon appetite!

Braised Summer Vegetables

Braised Summer Vegetables

 

The dilemma for gardeners and cooks this time of year is “ what am I ever going to do with all these vegetables?” Don’t panic trying to come up with three or four recipes that accommodate various vegetables. Why not take the simplest route and braise them all together? I find what emerges from the oven is a deeply flavorful melange of vegetables that are substantial enough to serve as a main course along with rice, couscous, bulgar wheat, or try tossing them with a pasta.

The other obvious beauty of this approach is a quick easy meal that almost makes itself. A short saute on the stove top and then into the oven to braise for an hour, and that’s all there is to it!

You hardly even need a recipe for this other than a few words about the cooking sequence and timing. Use any combination of seasonal vegetables available.

 

Braised Summer Vegetables:  serves 4

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large brown onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, cut into thin strips lengthwise, and halved
  • 1 red bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, cut into thin strips lengthwise, and halved
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 5 oz/142 g shiitake (or other mushrooms) brushed clean and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup dry white wine, dry sherry, or water
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 small pumpkin (or squash) peeled and diced
  • 1 cauliflower, separated into florets
  • a bunch of kale leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram leaves
  • ½ teaspoon lemon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • vegetable stock or water
  • harissa (optional)

preheat the oven to 350f/ 180c

Best to use a Dutch oven if you have one or a pot with a tight fitting lid. Place the pot on the stove top over medium heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot add the onions and saute 4 or 5 minutes until soft without browning.

Add the bell peppers and turn up the heat a bit. Toss along with the onions for several minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute and then throw in the mushrooms. Saute, while tossing, 4 or 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft and aromatic.

Make a well in the center and add the tomato paste. Compress the paste against the bottom of the pot to caramelize before stirring into the sauteed vegetables. Continue to saute another couple of minutes. Then stir in the white wine, sherry, or water. Saute until the liquid has mostly evaporated.

Add the carrots, pumpkin, cauliflower, kale leaves, marjoram, thyme, salt, and pepper and toss everything together until well combined. Level out the contents of the pot and add stock or water to nearly reach the surface of the vegetables. Cover the pot with the lid and transfer to the oven and roast about 1 hour.

Check after 45 minutes and add a little stock or water only if needed, tasting and adding more salt to taste.

Serving suggestions: As a main dish serve with rice, couscous, or bulgar wheat, or toss with pasta.

I like serving these vegetables with a spicy Moroccan harissa. (see recipe here)

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