Sometimes, inspiration strikes… from the most unlikely places. I needed to make soup, and I was wandering around the various parts of the kitchen looking for things to use. In dry storage I ran across some apple wood chips that we use to smoke things sometimes. Then in the cooler I saw a bunch of yellow tomatoes that we needed to use really soon. So, I started thinking, “What if I smoked the tomatoes?”
When I started making this soup that was really all I had for an idea. I had no idea how long it would take to get a decent smoke flavor into the tomatoes, and no idea how I was going to season it once I was ready to put the whole thing together. It all worked out quite nicely, through a series of accidents, and correcting them!
Step one, deal with the tomatoes. There are a couple of things that you will have to do with this, but none of them are particularly difficult. First, quarter the tomatoes, and cut out the little place where the stem attached. Then squeeze the quarters to get rid of the seeds. All of the flesh parts of the tomatoes are going to get smoked. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and a little olive oil. Get your smoker set up. At work I use a deep hotel pan to hold the soaked wood chips and a perforated hotel pan to hold the smokee. Then I just cover the whole thing with foil. Simple, and having an exhaust fan keeps it from getting smoky inside! I have a stovetop smoker I use frequently at home, and it works well. I think I had the tomatoes on for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, I just tasted a piece of a tomato to see if I had enough of a smoke flavor. I didn’t want it to be super strong, but I wanted to be able to taste it. Once I had it where I wanted it I pureed it in a food processor, and left it to cool. (This doesn’t make a lot of puree, but you’ll be adding more liquid to get it to a soup consistency, so don’t worry. I nearly doubled what I had to start with,)
Next I roughly chopped some onion and tossed it with a little salt, pepper, cumin, corriander, and oregano, and a couple of cloves of garlic and olive oil. This all got roasted under the salamander (broiler) until lightly browned, and tender. Then I pureed it, and let it cool over night.
When I was ready to start the soup I started adding the onion mixture to the tomatoes, and added some lemon juice to brighten it up, and water to get the consistency I was looking for. I added more than I thought I wanted. Oops! So, to balance out the lemon juice I added a little bit of honey. Now, it was too sweet. Salt helped bring things together a bit better, but although it tasted good, it was kind of one dimensional. I started looking for things that would help accent the smoke flavor, and balance out the sweetness a bit more. With the cumin, corriander and oregano I realized that I could go with sort of a Southwestern thing, and grabbed the container of ground ancho chili powder, and the black pepper. Ancho is not hot, but has a nice earthy flavor. Turns out the ancho was EXACTLY what was needed in the soup! I had no idea how much I needed so I added a little and tasted, and added more, until I liked it. This soup was all about tasting. There was no recipe, and no plan. Just a bunch of tasting spoons, a container of soup, and me, playing!
Sometimes, this is the most fun kind of cooking. Start with something simple, and see what you can do with it. In this case, a very tasty cold soup!
I will often garnish soups, just because it is nice for presentation and if you can make something that goes nicely flavor-wise that is always a good thing. In this case I made a little bit of pico de gallo.
With the hot weather we have been having lately a nice cold soup is a great lunch, or part of your lunch.
Anyway, my point here is we should give ourselves time to really play with our food. We need to eat, but it doesn’t have to be boring, and it should really taste good and be fun to get it on the table! Right?
As you’re probably aware the middle of the US is currently in a heat wave… in July we had 15 days over 100F! I’ve been trying to come up with light cold soups for the summer. I decided to skip Vichyssoise because it just seemed a little heavy with all of the cream and potatoes. I might make it once it cools off a little though. I’ve made gazpacho, and a very nice cold roasted pepper soup. The other day I decided to make a melon soup. Served chilled it is sweet, light and refreshing. Frequently in soups like this the addition of some herbs will add some complexity to a rather plain, but very tasty soup. I’ve used mint and basil before, but after thinking about a cocktail I had at my brother’s wedding I decided to take a shot with rosemary. (In that case it was lemonade and vodka with a sprig of fresh rosemary, very tasty, and the rosemary balanced the sweetness of the lemonade very nicely.) This soup will be very easy, and also vegan!
The only real equipment you will need is a blender/food processor and a bowl.
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
juice and zest of one lime
splash of white wine (optional)
sprig fresh rosemary
The first thing you will want to do is combine the water, sugar and lime in a small pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, and set aside.
While the liquid is cooling peel your melons, and cut them into pieces that are small enough to fit into your blender. The easiest way to peel a melon is to cut off the stem end and the blossom end. This will give you flat spots to steady the melon while you peel it. Using your chef’s knife slice down the side of the melon following the curve. You want to make sure you get all of the peel. In this case it is pretty easy to know you have it right when you cut off all of the green.
Once you’ve peeled the melons split them in half. Scoop out the seeds, and then cut the melon into pieces. Place the half of the melon in the blender with some of the water mixture, and puree. You’re going to have to taste this to decide if it is too sweet, or not sweet enough. When you blend the second half you can adjust the sweetness of the soup by adding more or less of the sugar syrup. Hold a little bit back just in case you need to adjust. Transfer the soup to a bowl, and taste it again. (Add the wine now if you are using it, the acid will brighten up the flavors a bit.) Once you have the soup as sweet as you would like you can turn your attention to the rosemary. Set the whole sprig on your cutting board and use the back of a skillet to gently smash it. This will leave it intact, but release more of the oil into the soup. Then simply place the rosemary in the bowl with the soup, and make sure it is submerged. Allow the soup to cool in the fridge and serve in chilled bowls. Maybe top it with a dollop of sour cream for garnish? Eat it just like it is.
This is a very simple soup, but it is very tasty, and very refreshing for a hot summer day.
The other night Amy and I were trying to figure out what to have for dinner. Neither of us had anything thawed, and didn’t really feel like a big meal, but we both wanted something tasty. What we did have was a can of chickpeas(for some reason we thought they were actually cannelini beans until she actually got them out of her pantry), some pasta, a couple of roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, half of a red onion, some garlic, a bottle of Pinot Grigio that we only needed part of. This is actually a really simple thing to put together, and will get you a really quick and tasty dinner in under a half hour.
The first thing is to cook the pasta. Obviously, you need to follow the recommendations on the package since gluten-free pastas vary in cooking times. Once it is cooked drain it, and rinse it in cold water to cool it. Toss it in a little olive oil, and set it aside for now.
Next, we’ll make our “sauce.” Dice the tomato. Half inch cubes should be fine. Mince a few cloves of garlic. We used about four, but if you really like garlic use as much as you want. Dice half of a red onion. To that add white wine and olive oil to just cover everything. A fifty-fifty mix will work well, but it doesn’t need to be exact.
Open the can of chickpeas, drain, and rinse them. Get a medium sized skillet hot over medium heat, and add a small amount of oil. When the oil is hot add the chickpeas. Saute them for a minute or so to get them hot. Next, add the tomato mixture (There is no rule saying how much to add so go with what looks good to you.), and keep things moving in the pan. Add the spinach to the pan, and cook until it has wilted. You may be surprised at how little spinach it looks like once it is wilted! You’ll eventually get it up to a boil. Once the liquid comes up to a boil add the pasta, and saute everything until everything is hot.
Obviously, this kind of thing gives you lots of room to improvise, and make it your own. In this case, it was vegan as well as being gluten-free. Whatever it little category you want to cram it into, it was very tasty, very quick, and very easy!
Today my extended family is celebrating Christmas. Which means we’re having a potluck dinner. There won’t be a lot for my sister and I to eat, but that’s ok. My sister, in addition to having celiac also has to watch her carbohydrate intake, so I decided I would make a pot of lentil soup, because in addition to being highly nutritious, and tasty ends up being something she can eat about as much as she wants to. I found this in a book that the sous chef brought in to work a while back, and I made it there a few days ago. It was a hit there, so it should be a hit today as well. It is called Faki, and it is a fairly traditional Greek lentil soup.
I’m making a pretty good sized batch so you may want to scale down the ingredients a bit.
1 pound onions roughly chopped
1 pound carrots roughly chopped (I like carrots)
several cloves of garlic, minced (how much garlic do you like?)
2 pounds of lentils, sorted for extraneous crap, and rinsed well
2 cans diced tomatoes
4 bay leaves
2 tsp marjoram
1 tsp herbes de provence (I love this stuff, and it goes so well in lots of things)
salt and black pepper
water to cover, and more as needed.
red wine vinegar 1 cup (to taste)
This soup is a very easy one to get together. Start by sweating the onions and carrots with a dash of salt in a little vegetable oil until the onions are translucent. Then add the lentils, and mix them in. Next add the tomatoes, bay leaves, all the herbs,and water. Bring it up to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer. It will need to simmer for roughly 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
That is it, then about five minutes before you serve the soup, add the vinegar. You don’t want it to be overpowering, but you do want to taste it. It will bring a nice balance to the earthiness of the lentils. Serve with some crumbled feta, and enjoy.
This really is a fantastic soup for a cold day, the omnivores will never miss the meat, and your vegetarian friends will be happy too!
Hope everybody had a safe, and happy holiday!
I guess my past with lentils is a little strange. I first heard of them watching The Young Ones on MTV when I was a kid. Of course I had no idea what they were. It was still funny to see Neil try to serve them in the episodes with all of the crazy things that went on in the show. Tea kettles exploding, atom bombs, and then add in bands like Madness, Motörhead, and the Damned, and you’ve got a show that any 13 year old in 1986 would enjoy.
I first actually ate them at work, when I made lentil soup for the first time. I had a recipe, and everything in it sounded pretty tasty together, and so I figured the lentils wouldn’t hurt anything. One of the people I follow on Twitter is Eric Ripert, and from time to time he tweets recipes. One day I saw this:
ericripert Lentil soup: lentils+onion+ carrot+bacon +water+
seasoning.when tender remove meat.Blend +butter to soup consistency.Chix stock even better.
9:04 PM Oct 19th via Twitter for iPhone
That sounded like as good a recipe as any, and maybe better than a lot of them. Tonight for dinner, I’m making it. Obviously, this recipe leaves plenty of room for improvisation, so I’ll do just that.
I could just leave you with Chef Ripert’s tweet, but I won’t.
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 stick celery, diced
8 oz lentils (weight, half of a one pound bag)
1 quart chicken broth (I use Progresso, low sodium) I didn’t use the whole thing
salt, pepper, bay leaves, herbes de provence
3 TBSP butter (divided 1 and 2)
Sort and rinse your lentils. Always sort and rinse your lentils and beans. This is important because they are small, and about the same size as a piece of gravel or rock. Chomping down on a rock in the middle of your lentil soup would be “heavy, man.”
Melt one tablespoon of butter in a medium sized pot. Turns out I didn’t have any bacon, but I would have put it in once the butter had melted. Add the veggies and a pinch of salt, and sweat until the onions are clear. Add the lentils, broth, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer. You may need to add a little more broth or water as the lentils cook. Once they are tender, remove from the heat, and puree the solids. I strained the soup, pulled out the bay leaves, and used my little Cuisinart to do the job, but an immersion blender would do just as well. (Just a quick note, my sister knitted what I am using as a trivet in the above picture. )
Then I put the soup back together in the pot, and turned the heat back on, and added the final two tablespoons of butter. This just added a nice bit of richness. I always like to bring my soups back up to a boil before I serve them. This soup could easily be made vegan by leaving out the bacon, subbing olive oil for the butter, and veggie broth for the chicken broth. You’d still have a great tasting soup. “Lentils are really good, you know? No matter how many times you have them, they never get boring.” — Niel
After a second attempt. Well, several attempts actually using the original recipe I have concluded that for farinata to work you need to have a level oven. After a change of venue, using my oven, a skillet that has a nice flat thin bottom, and a pizza stone we got better results that the previous night. They were still not 100% satisfactory though.
For the sake of padding the word count here, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what I tried. As I have researched this I have found a wide variety of recipes, and they all call for the same ingredients, but in wildly differing quantities. All of them seem like they would make a rather thin batter.
2 cups of chickpea flour
4 cups cold water
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Whisk the water into the chickpea flour. I poured part of the water in, mixed it, added more, and incorporated the water and flour as I went. Once all of the water is incorporated, whisk in the salt, cover, and allow to sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Longer might be better. When you are ready to go, skim off the white foam on top, and whisk in the oil.
Preheat your (hopefully level) oven to 450F, and oil a 12 inch pan, and ladle or pour a thin layer of the batter into the bottom. The thinner the crisper you will end up with. Bake for 10-12 minutes. You should, at least in theory, end up with a crispy on the outsides, and soft inside flatbread. Some of the descriptions call it almost pancake-like. It never quite managed that for me, except for one tiny edge bit. I put a little bit of herbs, and sliced onions on before I baked mine. It didn’t taste bad to me, but the texture could be a little weird for some people. (That was what put Amy off!) I even tried one on the stovetop, but since I have an electric stove I have less even heat. This caused one spot to burn and stick, before most of it had really browned.
Once I get my oven level I will certainly try this again, although I must admit I was more than a little frustrated with having this much difficulty getting a recipe to work. I may also look at a few other recipes to see if one looks like it might end up with a thicker batter.
Farinata is still promising to me, but I think I will be taking a break from it for now. I have a few technical issues to work out before I try again.
A bit of serendipity led to the recipe that I am working on. I ran across a mix for cinque e’ cinque on the Lucini website. At about the same time Amy ran across a recipe for farinata. When I Googled cinque e’ cinque I found the Lucini website, and a couple of recipes for farinata. Neither of us had heard of farinata, but based on the descriptions it sounded like a really tasty thing, and worth trying. From the number of different descriptions I have seen it seems like it could be a very versatile dish. It can range from a flatbread, to a savory pancake, to something like a fritata. I was more interested in the flatbread end of things.
What’s in it? Chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil. Simple. Right, well that is where things got a little fuzzy. After searching for a but we decided to try the recipe Amy had. For one reason or another it didn’t work out. I think I have this figured out now. Lets just say that dinner was not quite what we had in mind for tonight! It was tasty all right, but we’ll just kind of skip that. I think that the biggest problem we actually had was simply trying to get too much in the pan at one time. The recipe was a little unclear about some of the details, and although we did what we thought was right, we ended up with something that looked like we baked some hummus. It smelled fantastic though!
My hope was that this would be something that I would be able to use as a really tasty pizza crust, or as a base for an appetizer. Maybe a little thicker and I could use it almost like a pita or tortilla, folded in half and filled.
We’re going to take another crack at it tomorrow, I think, and I’ll take some pictures and let you know how it turns out.
Obviously I’m going to be writing about soup, again. Remember what I said last time about leftovers? Well, this one is exactly what you need to get rid of all those random bits of leftover veggies. Seriously, it almost makes no difference what it is. What I’m talking about is minestrone. Its a classic Italian soup. Minestrone means big soup, and it is certainly big on flavor. There is no standard recipe, and varies from family to family. Traditionally, it will have beans, but they are not a requirement. Today I made a lot of minestrone. This soup can very easily be made vegetarian or even vegan, depending on what you have around the house, and what you want to put in. This is a vegetable soup, but it doesn’t have to be a vegetarian soup. Through history meat wasn’t eaten as much as it is now, but it was eaten, and probably by almost everyone. In a soup like this pancetta is used to flavor the soup, but it is a minor component in the actual ingredients of the soup. If you don’t eat meat, leave it out.
2 TBSP olive oil
1/4 inch thick slice pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, medium dice
1 carrot medium dice
1 stick of celery, medium dice
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TBSP crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
1 TBSP herbes de provence
Now, once you get to this point you’ll want to just eat it, but don’t! This is kind of the base of the soup, so stick with it!
So, what do you have in the fridge?
Green beans? Corn? Gluten-free pasta? Kohlrabi? Broccoli? Cauliflower? Kale? Spinach? Zucchini? Squash? A can of canellini beans?
You’re also going to need some chicken stock or vegetable stock.
Ok, so lets get started. You have everything cut up? In a large pot, heat your oil, and then add the pancetta if you’re using it. With the pancetta you just want to render it over medium heat, until it is browned but not crisp. Next, add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Add a little salt, and sweat this over medium heat until the onions have started to turn clear.
Add the tomatoes, mix them in, and add the wine, and herbs. Add the stock, bring it up to a boil, and then depending on what veggies you have to put in the soup start adding them. You’ll want to make sure that you add things that will take longest to cook earliest. As you simmer the soup add things, keeping in mind how long they will take to cook. The last thing I would add would be something like beans or pasta. Beans and pasta taste great, but they tend to soak up liquid, and swell up. They can very easily take over a pot of soup so add way less than you think you should!
That is really all it takes to make great minestrone. No recipe at all, just go, and cook it. Now, for the funny part… I actually adapted this from a cookbook! Henry Hill wrote a cookbook based on his life, and its called the Wiseguy’s Cookbook. If you are a fan of Italian food, as well as the movie Goodfellas you’ll want to get a copy of this book. There are lots of recipes, and its got some pretty interesting stories as well. Not all of them are gluten-free, but a lot of them can be made gluten-free with a little playing around.
Several years ago my ex- kept wanting to eat healthier, at least until it came time to actually eat, and then she wanted crap. She gave me an idea for a cooking challenge. Tofu. Find ways to make it taste good. I’m not talking about home-made Tofurkey or anything like that. It will still be tofu, and it will probably still look like what it is, but it will taste better! At one point I had several ideas, but that was before I went gluten-free. In the interest of full disclosure, it was also quite a few years ago, and I really don’t remember most of the ideas.
Keep an eye out for these posts in the future. There is no cooking here, just an introduction to an idea that I had. One thing I was thinking is to try to make something like a Korean BBQ tofu. This could be used in a number of dishes. Happy pancakes come to mind here. Ok, so there it is , the first idea! Give me a little time to research, and I’ll perform some experiments for you!
One of the great things about tofu is its infinite flexibility. Of course, the downside is that it really doesn’t taste like anything at all, and most of us would prefer to not mess with it. Can I change that perception? Tune in next time, for the continuation of the Tofu Challenge!