Be a Star and Save the Bucks — Breakfast Egg Bites [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Mmmmm. Eggy.

Even if you don’t follow my formula, you simply have to make these. They are so simple, so satisfying, so tasty, and so (at least potentially) wholesome that they tick off every box I could hope for in a recipe.

Here’s the backstory: A little over a year ago, the bride and I were driving from Northern California to our Los Angeles-area home. It’s about a five hour ride, punctuated by the standard gas and potty breaks, and we often fit in a snack somewhere during a pit stop. Independently, we concluded that fast food, while convenient, was just plain sad, and probably not all that good for us. So we left it behind and began to pack our own road chow. On one trip, though, our planning (read MY planning) was severely deficient, and we were left to the mercy of Interstate 5’s culinary jungle. To make matters more challenging, the bride was on a gluten-free kick, which diminished our already circumscribed choices by about 87.3%. As luck would have it, Starbucks (a popular American coffee-and-snack chain, for all you international readers) offered sous vide eggs with cheese and some sort of meat (Gruyere and bacon, as I recall, though there are several variants available now) on their menu. They were — are — delicious. And while I’m not gonna hate on Starbucks for their pricing strategy, let’s just say they were a tad more expensive than a McGutbomb.

Let them eat eggs: $4.45 USD. Less than Beluga, more than filet mignon.

But I digress. I came to praise Starbucks, not to bury it.

Even without a sous vide machine, you can make a very acceptable substitute in your Instant Pot®, and it’s so easy, it’s actually more work to write this down — and probably more even to read it — than to make the recipe.

One thing you’ll likely want is a silicone tray variously described as an egg bites mold or a baby food storage tray or some such. I purchased this pair of molds at Amazon, both because I wasn’t sure what would fit my cooker and because I wasn’t sure how big the finished eggs should be. In retrospect, given that I have an 8-qt. Instant Pot®, I probably should have gotten a pair of the larger trays. Live and learn. There’s nothing wrong in theory with mini-bites, even if I haven’t made them yet. While some folks recommend making these in tiny Mason jars, I think it’s a huge pain in the patootie, cleanup-wise. Egg just loves to weld itself to glass.

Here’s a down-and-dirty roadmap for the eggs I generally prepare for the bride to take to work. It’s super easy, endlessly modifiable, and produces a taste treat which, while not vegan, slides under the ovo-lacto vegetarian bar with ease. If that’s not a dealbreaker for you, the sky’s the limit. Anything you could put in an omelet you can put in these, from oysters to tortilla strips, so let your fancy run amok a bit. Pulled pork with BBQ sauce? Hot dog bites with Dijon mustard? Water chestnuts, scallions, and ginger? Why not? It probably goes without saying (except that I’m saying it now) that if you are concerned about cholesterol, you can modify this “recipe” by substituting egg whites for whole eggs.


Starbucks-style Egg Bites

Makes 7 egg-ish size servings

Cheese and cilantro and tomatoes, oh my.

INGREDIENTS
4 eggs
2 tbsp. / 30 g sour cream (or crema Mexicana, Salvadoreña, Hondureña, or Centroamericana)
1 cup / 125 g grated cheese (I used Monterey Jack) (and remember, this is not a packed cup)
3/4 cup / 40 g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup / 25 g fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon / 2 g pimentón de la Vera
pinch salt
olive oil or canola oil spray to coat the molds
2 cups / 500 ml tap water for the Instant Pot®
aluminum foil

Covered egg tray ready for the steam bath.

DIRECTIONS
Oil egg bite tray and set aside. Chop tomatoes and cilantro, grate cheese, and set aside. In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream, pimentón de la Vera, and salt together until smooth. Fold in the cilantro, tomatoes, and cheese. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Add the water to the Instant Pot® container. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, place it on the Instant Pot® steaming trivet, and lower it into the Instant Pot®. Set to “Steam” for 8 minutes at high pressure, making sure that the vent is set to “Sealing” rather than “Venting.”

Looks like this? You did it right.

When the timer beeps, you can either let the pressure release naturally or carefully move the vent from “Sealing” to “Venting,” making sure to keep your hands clear of the steam. Allow the bites to cool for a few minutes before eating, or put them in the fridge for future use.

Reheat one or two at a time in the microwave for 30 seconds on high and serve.

Incidentally, if you want to make multiple trays at a time, just stack them slightly offset to one another and go for it. I’m guessing you could fit a three-tray stack in the 8-qt. Instant Pot®, which would use up a dozen eggs. Because the bride and I are a duprass, we don’t really have much use for 21 egg bites at one go. Your mileage may vary.

Pro tip: My chef pal Stefhan Gordon turned me on to Vital Farms eggs, which are ethically raised. Of all the horror stories that my anti-omnivore friends trot out, few can compare with the way most commercial/industrial chickens are treated. To make matters worse, egg producers employ a dazzling variety of unregulated terms designed to fool consumers into thinking chickens are being treated better than they actually are. In Southern California, Vital Farms eggs are widely available at supermarkets, and they conform to the highest standards. Yeah, they are maybe a couple bucks more per dozen. But I’m willing — no, make that happy — to spend a quarter per egg to inject a little humanity into my breakfast. Do yourself and your avian friends a good deed, and have a care about sourcing your eggs.

Soupe de la Semaine: Sopa de Fideo… sin fideo [Gluten-Free & Vegan] [Instant Pot® recipe]

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¿Dónde está el fideo?

Because I’m not Mexican, I hesitate to call sopa de fideo the ultimate Mexican comfort food soup — probably sopa de tortilla or caldo Mexicano de albóndigas gets the nod there — but it’s certainly in the running for the propreantepenultimate Mexican comfort food soup. For those of you unfamiliar with fideo noodles, they’re like a thin vermicelli (itself the Kate Moss of the spaghetti world), and usually cut in short pieces (generally somewhere between an inch and 4 cm).

Given that the bride is currently on a carb-cutting crusade, I thought spaghetti squash might suitably supplant the original fideo. Nestled in broth, it doesn’t need to bear the weight of being the dish’s focal point, which it does when being substituted, rather unsatisfactorily, for actual spaghetti under a blanket of Bolognese. The Instant Pot® pulls double duty here, both cooking the squash and making the soup. All you need to do between steps is to remove the steamer insert and squash, then dump out the remaining water. No need for cleaning along the way, since the squash that just came out is going right back in.

[This recipe, of course, can be made on the stovetop as well; the spaghetti squash can either be roasted or microwaved beforehand (fire up the Internet Machine and ask the Google for advice on that). Once that’s done, you can pretty much follow the general directions under the “For the soup” section; allow about 30 minutes for simmering after all ingredients are added.]

As with many classic soups, recipes for this vary widely. While mine hews fairly closely to the down-the-middle basic version, I did add one exotic ingredient as a nod to the soup’s probable Spanish heritage: pimentón de la Vera, the Spanish smoked paprika whose mere scent sends me off dreaming Gallego dreams. If you want to keep it more anchored to the New World, you could sub chipotle chile powder, regular chile powder, or even a diced jalapeño or two. Look, some people put cayenne, cinnamon, and allspice(!) in this soup, so feel free to follow your tastebuds.

Sin fideo, incidentally, means “without fideo.”

Sopa de Fideo… sin fideo
(makes about 3.5 liters / 15 cups)

Spring onion, sometimes known as Mexican onion.

INGREDIENTS

1 spaghetti squash (approx. 3 lb. / 1½ kg.)
2 spring onions (or 5-6 scallions), sliced thin
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. / 30 ml olive oil
½ teaspoon / 1.5 g cumin
1 teaspoon / 1 g oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
½ tbsp. / 4 g pimentón de la Vera (or smoked paprika)
½ tbsp. / 9 g salt
1 can (28 oz. / 794 g) diced tomatoes
6 cups / 1½ liters vegetable broth
chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
slice of lime for garnish (optional)
thinly sliced radish for garnish (optional)
slice (or chunk) of avocado for garnish (optional)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

The Instant Pot® fits like a glove… if your hand is cylindrical and about seven inches deep. Or a spaghetti squash.

DIRECTIONS

For the spaghetti squash:

Take off store sticker, rinse squash and pat dry. Insert steamer trivet into Instant Pot® inner pot. Add 1 cup / 250 ml water. Place squash in Instant Pot®. Close and lock lid, making sure that release vent is set to “Sealing.” Press button for Bean/Chili (set pressure to “high”) and adjust timer to 18 minutes. When squash is finished, you can allow natural pressure release or use quick release; either works fine. Remove squash from pot, remove steamer insert, and discard steaming water when sufficiently cool. Cut squash in half, remove seeds and stringy debris. Scrape out “spaghetti” with fork, chop strands into short, fideo-like length (between an inch and 4 cm) and set aside in bowl.

All star alliums: garlic and spring onions prepare for what chef José Andrés calls “a dance” with olive oil.

For the soup:

Set Instant Pot® to “Sauté.” Add olive oil to inner pot insert and allow to warm, then add garlic and spring onions. Sweat the onions and garlic until soft, stirring occasionally, for maybe 4-5 minutes. [No big deal if they begin to brown, but don’t let them burn or stick to the pot.] Add spaghetti squash and spices, stir to mix. Add tomatoes (with juice) and vegetable broth (you can use the tomato can for measuring the broth if you wish; add two cans). Secure lid, making sure vent is set to “sealing.” Press the “Keep Warm/Cancel” button once to stop the sauté function. The press the “Soup” button, adjust pressure to “high” (if necessary) and time to 10 minutes. When soup is finished, either natural pressure release or quick release work fine. Adjust seasonings and ladle into bowls. Garnish with cilantro leaves and the optional avocado, radish, and lime.

Soupe de la Semaine: Bowl of Sunshine — Vegan Yellow Squash & Corn Soup [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Last night, I re-watched most of High Fidelity for millionth time. It’s one of those movies that resonates with my inner record geek and reminds me what, but for the grace of my bride, I might easily have become. In this scene, Jack Black starts his shift at Championship Vinyl by subjecting the rest of the store to the almost oppressively upbeat ’80s hit “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves. It got me to thinking: could I build a bowl of sunshine?

Short answer: yes.

A few days ago, I visited the “we’re selling this produce cheap” bin at the market and picked up half a dozen yellow squash — a kilo and a half — for 99¢. Coulda wound up in lasagna. Coulda wound up in cornbread. But I’ve been on a bit of a soup kick lately.

Yellow squash by themselves are not particularly assertive, taste-wise, so I knew they’d need a little help. A little spice. A little sweetness. And nothing that would detract from the yellow. The spice comes from white pepper and a jalapeño pepper (which is green, but tiny in volume compared to the rest of the soup). Coconut milk and corn provide the sweetness. And because my vegetable stock base is the colour of Vegemite™, the main bulk of liquid in the soup is water. For a moment, I considered making it a curry-based soup (the Flavor the Moments blog has an excellent vegan take on that here), but ultimately this recipe from the Love & Olive Oil blog resonated with me most.

Like many Instant Pot® recipes, this adapts easily to the stovetop; just add enough time to soften the squash. And boy freakin’ howdy, is this easy. The entire soup is made in the Instant Pot®, so no other pots and pans to clean up. [It’s even done in a single pot on the stovetop.] Prep is not at all demanding, because everything’s getting blitzed at the end (even the cook, should you so choose).

Unsquashed squash.

Vegan Bowl of Sunshine
(makes about 3.5 liters / 15 cups)

INGREDIENTS

6 yellow squash, roughly chopped (approx. 3 lb./ 1½ kg.)
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
10 oz. / 300 g frozen, fresh, or canned corn kernels (drained if using latter)
1 jalapeño pepper, minced (optional, but recommended)
2 teaspoons / 12 g sea salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups / 750 ml vegetable broth or water
1 can (13½ oz. / 400 ml) coconut milk (preferably the “fat” kind)
2 tbsp. / 30 ml olive (or neutral) oil for sweating veggies
1 teaspoon / 2½ g white pepper
2 tbsp. / 30 ml olive oil to finish (optional)
zest of one lemon (optional)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Sweating the small stuff.

DIRECTIONS

Chop onion and jalapeño and add them to the Instant Pot®’s inner cooking pot; set to “Sauté” function. Sweat the onions and pepper until somewhat softened, then add the chopped squash and continue to sauté for another three or four minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing adheres to the pot. Add salt, water (or stock), coconut milk, thyme sprigs, corn, and white pepper; stir together. Hit the red “Keep Warm/Cancel” button on the control panel.

Ready for pressure.

Cover pot and lock lid (making sure the vent is set to “Sealing”), select “Soup,” set pressure to “High,” and time to 15 minutes. When finished, you may allow pressure to release naturally before unlocking lid, or you can do a “quick release” by turning the vent to “Venting.” [Be careful not to steam your hand.]

Make me smooth, chef.

Remove thyme sprigs, add lemon zest if desired, then process soup with immersion blender or in batches with a blender/food processor. [If you’re using either of the latter, drape a towel over the input tube or lid to allow the steam to vent.] Stir and allow soup to sit for a couple of minutes before tasting and adjusting spices. [NOTE: The immersion blender won’t make the soup silky smooth, so if that is your aim, use a Vita-Mixer and strain through a china cap.

Ladle soup into bowls, drizzle in a teaspoon (5 ml) or so of olive oil if desired, then garnish with a few grains of black pepper and bit of chopped parsley, basil, chives, or green onion.

Back to the Present — A Birthday Carrot Cake

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A million years ago, when I was in high school, I used to make carrot cakes and zucchini bread all the time. It was the Seventies, and one simple way to gain hippie cred as a baker (not to mention impress the opposite sex) was to reproduce these down-to-earth desserts whose defining ingredients are, somewhat counterintuitively, vegetables. Most of the carrot cakes I’ve ever consumed have been pretty decent, so I’ve long inferred that it’s not exactly rocket surgery to make one. It seems, though, that the cake can veer off a fairly forgiving path at one of two main forks: 1) it can be too dry; and 2) the frosting can be too sweet.

Overcoming the dry part is easy. Make sure you have enough liquid, and don’t overbake the cake. Duh. The frosting is a bit trickier, but not much, really. Have a care when adding sugar, and taste it along the way. A little lemon juice can ameliorate a heavy hand with the sweetener, but it’s better to get it right on the first go.

This past weekend, one of my high school pals was celebrating her 60th birthday, and I volunteered to make her a pair of birthday desserts. One was the internationally famous Tarta de Santiago (although I chose not to adorn it with the St. James cross stencil). The other was the old standby carrot cake, the likes of which I had pumped out with some regularity when I was far more hirsute and far less corpulent. Back in the Internets-free day, I relied upon a recipe from Joy of Cooking, or maybe the Betty Crocker cookbook that my mom gave me when I moved out. While Betty Crocker’s tome has long since disappeared, some edition of Joy of Cooking is usually close to hand, and I suppose I could have gone back to that, but I wondered if, in the last 40-ish years, there might have been another, more captivating recipe turned loose on the public.

Dorie Greenspan is a brilliant writer, an excellent cook, and a lovely person, so when I saw her recipe, I knew I had a foundation from which I could work. To be sure, the muscle memory of having made dozens and dozens of carrot cakes had not been entirely lost, but I wanted a starting point. The roadmap I ultimately followed deviated from hers but slightly; I used gluten-free flour because one of the dinner guests expressed a preference. To my delight, the flour didn’t diminish the cake’s moist finish. And while Dorie’s recipe (and, in fact, many other recipes) called for 1.5 cups of oil, I used a combination of olive oil and buttermilk to give the finished product a bit more tang. Olea Farm’s Lemon Blush olive oil is a house favourite; it’s a blend of EVOO and oil from lemon zest. [You should check out all their infused oils.]

Also, Dorie’s cake is a multi-tiered affair, but I opted for the simpler single-layer cake of my youth. You have to cook it a fair amount longer, but it’s pretty forgiving. Don’t stress.

Because my friend is a big fan of peacock feathers, I topped the cake with a sheet of printed icing in addition to the cream cheese frosting. It seemed to be a hit, and it didn’t detract from the flavour of the cream cheese frosting, so rock on. It’s a bit on the pricey side, so you can feel free to omit this step, but it looked really cool.

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
2 cups/240g Bob’s Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour
2 teaspoons/10g baking powder
2 teaspoons/14g baking soda
2 teaspoons/12g ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon/4.25g salt
3 cups/150g grated carrots (you can grate the carrots with a box grater, in a food processor fitted with a shredding blade, or just be lazy and buy them pre-shredded, as I did this time)
1 cup/125g coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
½ cup/75g moist, plump golden raisins (or dark)
12 oz./340g/1.5 cups sugar (I used turbinado)
1 cup/250ml Olea Farm Lemon Blush olive oil
½ cup/125ml buttermilk
4 large eggs

Frosting:
8 oz./225g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick/8 tablespoons/113g unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ pound/350g (2¾ cups) confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon/15ml lemon juice
1½ tablespoon/25ml vanilla extract
1 or 2 peacock feather frosting sheets, optional

PREPARATION

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 10-inch by 14-inch by 2-inch cake pan; flour the insides and tap out the excess if you plan on serving the cake on a platter rather than from the pan.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.

In a third bowl, combine and beat the sugar and oil until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. If you are working with a mixer, reduce the speed to low; if you’re working by hand, switch to a large rubber spatula, and gently stir in the flour mixture — mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Then gently mix in the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.

Slide the pan into the oven. Bake the cake for 60 to 75 minutes, rotating the pan front to back at the midway point. The cake is ready when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean; the cake should just have started to pull away from the edges of the pan. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack, cool for 10-15 minutes. If serving on a platter, turn out onto rack to cool to room temperature. (At this point, the cake can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; thaw before frosting.)

For the frosting: Working with an electric hand mixer, beat the room-temperature cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth.

Frost the cake. Should you decide to use the peacock frosting sheets, follow the instructions in their packaging. [Basically, you lift the printed frosting sheet(s) off a non-stick page and place it/them on the cake.] Pop it all into the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so to give the icing a chance to set.

Serve to your delighted guests. Or hog it all to yourself, no matter to me. But be aware: due to the oil, buttermilk, cream cheese, butter, sugar, et al, it’s got a fairly robust caloric count, so this should be an occasional treat, not a standby for the weekly dinner menu.

Soupe de la Semaine: Vegan Hot and Sour Soup

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M-m-m-m-m m-m-m-m-m good.

M-m-m-m-m m-m-m-m-m good.

It all started with a bag marked Dried Black Fungus (Whole).

p1050184

Okay, I’m a geek. I admit it. Some people go to the beach, others go to art museums. I go to ethnic and foreign grocery stores. I’m happy to wax poetic about my experience at Carrefour in Galicia, but this one was much closer to home. It’s a market called LAX-C, and while it’s nowhere near LAX (a/k/a Los Angeles International Airport), it (like the airport) encompasses several of Los Angeles’ communities quite vibrantly. While strolling the aisles, I saw this bag of dried black fungus and just had to have it. Somebody out there clearly used this stuff, so it wouldn’t kill me, I figured. Into the shopping cart it went. I could figure out later what it really was and how it might be used.

When I got home, I discovered that it was nothing more exotic than dried wood ear mushrooms. I felt like kind of a naïf, but as luck would have it, I knew exactly how they might be deployed in a recipe.

I’ve been eating hot and sour soup for as long as I’ve been dining at Chinese restaurants, which is more than half a century. And yet, I never tried to make it myself until last night. Idiot me. Wow, this is simple. If you can operate a spoon, a knife, a pot, and a flame, you can do this. And if you have a cold, as I did when I made it, this soup beats the living tar out of chicken soup in terms of restorative powers.

NOTE: It’s easy to convert this soup to the trad non-vegan version, too. First, substitute chicken stock for vegetable stock. Then, add some shredded cooked chicken (or shredded cooked pork) at the same time you add the mushrooms, and right at the very end, beat a couple of eggs in a small bowl, and drizzle them into the soup as you stir it (that keeps them from lumping up).

If you want to keep this gluten-free, use tamari sauce rather than soy, and have a care if you are buying commercial vegetable broth that it doesn’t contain any grains that have gluten. Chances are, if it’s gluten-free, it will say so somewhere on the package.

INGREDIENTS

    2.5 oz. / 70 g package dried Chinese fungi, such as wood ears or cloud ears
    6 oz. / 170 g sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
    8 oz. / 225 g canned bamboo shoots, sliced
    1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
    1 tablespoon / 20 g red chile paste, such as sambal oelek
    1/4 cup / 60 ml soy sauce (or tamari sauce if you want to keep it gluten free)
    1/4 cup / 60 ml rice vinegar
    1 teaspoon / 6 g salt
    1.5 teaspoons / 3 g ground white pepper
    1/2 teaspoon / 2.5 ml sesame oil
    8 cups / 1.89 liters vegetable stock
    8 oz. / 225 g firm tofu, drained and sliced in 1/2-inch cubes
    2 tablespoons / 16 g potato starch mixed with 1/4 cup / 60 ml water (you may also use cornstarch)
    4-6 green onions, chopped, for garnish
Soaking your fungi.

Soaking your fungi.

DIRECTIONS

Place the dried fungus into a bowl and cover with 4 cups / 1 liter boiling water. They should soften in about 20 minutes to half an hour. Squeeze them out into the bowl and place them on a chopping board. Reserve the liquid (it goes in the pot later).

Toss out the nasty tough bits.

Toss out the nasty tough bits.

Slice up the fungus into spoon-size bits. You will find that the “stem” (pictured above) is particularly tough, so cut it out and discard it. It may be white, or it may not, but you will be able to tell with your fingers that it’s not been rehydrated. (It was only the very center of those two mushrooms that I tossed; there was still a fair amount of useable fungus.)

Strain the remaining juice into a heavy soup pot or dutch oven (don’t want any mushroom grit). I had 3 cups / 700 ml mushroom water, so the remaining 5 cups / 1.1 liters of liquid came from vegetable stock, and I put that on a fairly high heat to bring it to a boil. You can add the mushrooms (both kinds) at this time.

Drain the sliced bamboo shoots and slice to matchstick width (I cut mine in thirds lengthwise), and add to broth. Grate the ginger into the pot (a microplane works well for this if you have one), or grate over cutting board with box grater and add to pot.

Add chili paste, soy/tamari sauce, sesame oil, salt, and rice vinegar to soup. Stir. Add white pepper 1/2 tsp. / 1 g at a time, and taste; I like it hot, but you may want to stop at 1 tsp. 2 g if you are not a heat freak. If soup is boiling, back it off to a simmer. At the 15 minute mark of so, add the drained and cubed tofu.

In a separate bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons / 16 g potato starch with 1/4 cup / 60 ml cold water to make a slurry. Transfer slurry to pot, stirring soup with whisk as you do to prevent clumps from forming. Cook a further 10 minutes and allow to thicken. Add chopped green onions and serve. Serves 4-6.

NOTE: The process can be speeded up dramatically if you do your mise en place ahead of time. Basically, you need to have the mushrooms and the bamboo shoots in the hot broth for about 10 minutes to sofeten them up, and you need a further few minutes to allow the potato starch slurry to thicken the soup. If you use a cornstarch slurry to thicken the broth, it needs a little time to cook off the pasty taste. That’s why I like potato starch.

Also, the “hot” is coming from the white pepper and the “sour” is coming from the vinegar, so those are the two variables you’ll want to control most carefully to achieve the balance you want. You may want to add each of those a bit at a time, tasting as you go.

Soupe de la Semaine: Turkish Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup -or- Közlenmiş Kırmızı Biberli ve Domatesli Çorba [Gluten-Free and Vegan]

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I was tempted to call it the “Istanbowl.” Shame on me.

Yeah, the title is a mouthful. Happily, though, so is the soup.

I didn’t sample this when I visited Istanbul back in the ’80s, but I think I have some general sense of the Turkish flavour palate, and since this dish is reputed to be much like chicken soup is in America (which is to say that there are a quadzillion variations), this should be on pretty safe ground. I consulted with my Turkish pal Nil ex post facto (sending her the picture you see above), and she confirmed that I was in the ball park, and that I had nailed the spelling. I’d hate to give y’all a recipe for Turkish Roasted Red Bat Turd Soup thanks to a typo.

Many recipes call for bulgur wheat as the thickening agent and starchy backbone, but I opted for quinoa, since it’s gluten-free and generally considered safe for celiac patients, depending on whose article you read. If that’s not an issue for you, help yourself to bulgur wheat, rice, or even Israeli couscous (which is actually a pasta) in its stead. The smokiness comes not only from the roasted peppers, but also from the fire-roasted tomatoes and the pimentón de la Vera (or smoked paprika). You may add a pinch of smoked salt to finish before serving if you wish. Lots of bass notes to be had here. You can always add the zest of 1/2 lemon or a teaspoon (5 ml) of vinegar if you feel it needs to be brightened up, but I don’t think you’ll need it, as the acid in the tomatoes should balance it nicely. Some recipes also call for cornstarch as a thickening agent; I would deploy a tablespoon / 10 g of potato starch in a slurry if I thought it needed it. You be the judge.

The biggest downside of this soup is that it requires some time to bring together, unless you happen already to have roasted red peppers (not the marinated kind) and cooked quinoa in your fridge. In that case, it’s a snap. But it will take somewhere between 30-40 minutes-ish to cook the quinoa, and maybe 35 minutes to groom your peppers to soup-readiness. Your patience and dedication will be rewarded!

INGREDIENTS

    3 red bell peppers, halved, de-seeded, and roasted, with skins removed
    3/4 cup / 135 g dry quinoa, cooked (use package instructions) [will yield 2 1/4 cups / 415 g]
    2 tablespoons / 30 ml olive oil
    1 onion, diced
    3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
    2 tablespoons / 5 g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (or red pepper paste or tomato paste)
    1 teaspoon / 2.5 g smoked paprika (I prefer Spanish pimentón de la Vera, and I used picante/hot rather than dulce/sweet)
    1/2 teaspoon / 1.5 g red pepper flakes, to taste
    1 teaspoon / 2.5 g dried mint (maybe double that if using fresh)
    28 oz. / 793 g can fire-roasted tomatoes (or 10-12 fresh tomatoes, roasted and chopped)
    8 oz. / 227 g tomato sauce
    4 cups / 950 ml vegetable broth
    Salt & coarsely ground black pepper
    OPTIONAL: 1 tablespoon / 10 g potato starch for thickening
    OPTIONAL: Fresh mint for garnish
    OPTIONAL: Sour cream (or vegan alternative) as garnish
Simmerin' away.

Simmerin’ away.

DIRECTIONS

Roast the peppers: Turn on broiler. Spread peppers on an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet, skin side up, in a single layer (you may need to repeat this step to roast all your peppers). Place cookie sheet about 3″ / 8 cm below broiler element. Roast until peppers are blackened across the top, around 10-15 minutes.

Transfer roasted peppers to a medium-sized bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing them to steam for 15 minutes minimum. Using your fingers, peel off the charred top layer of skin and discard. Give peeled pepper slices a rough chop, small enough to fit easily on a soup spoon, because they will not be puréed. Return to steaming bowl and reserve, along with any juices they shed, for later.

Cook the quinoa according to instructions on the label. I find that the stove-top method, while longer, produces superior results to the microwave method. YMMV. Set aside cooked quinoa for later use.

Cook the soup: In a 3½ quart or larger Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, warm olive oil and onion on fairly low heat. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened and turning translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the roasted peppers (with any liquid they’ve thrown off), sun-dried tomatoes (or tomato or pepper paste), and garlic; cook a further 3-4 minutes until garlic is slightly less aggressive. Add smoked paprika/pimentón de la Vera, pepper flakes, amd mint; cook for about 30 seconds to release aromas. Add the can of tomatoes, the tomato sauce, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa. Cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. After the first 5 minutes or so, add salt and pepper to taste, but not too heavily; you will adjust the seasonings just before serving. Taste periodically along the way (clean spoons each time!). If you think the consistency is too thin, whisk in 1 tablespoon / 10 g of potato starch with a little of the soup broth in a bowl, and add to the pot. Soup should thicken noticeably within five minutes. Taste at 30 minute mark, adjust seasonings (and thickness, if necessary), and allow to thicken if need be. Remove from heat and ladle into bowls. Garnish with mint sprigs and/or sour cream (or vegan alternative) if so desired. Serves 6 to 8 as an opening course, 4 as a main.

Soupe de la Semaine: Celeriac, Fennel, & Apple Chowder (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

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Chowdah!

Chowdah!

It would seem that the most likely derivation of the word chowder comes from the French chaudière, meaning “boiler” (and is also an archaic French word for cauldron or kettle, from the Latin calderia). The Brits, though, not wanting to be left out of the linguistic fun, claim that the word springs from their jowter, or fishmonger. To be sure, many of the best known chowders do contain fish, but this one is a vegetable and fruit chowder that’ll stick to your ribs on a chilly night.

The original recipe was published in the excellent Cook’s Illustrated All Time Best Soups volume, and this variation was also influenced by a post on the terrific Big Girls, Small Kitchen blog and Ina Garten’s recipe for Celery Root and Apple Purée (which is very much like this soup without the vegetable broth).

I took two significant detours: I omitted the heavy cream (thus keeping the soup vegan), and substituted potato starch for wheat flour (which makes it gluten-free). Trust me, you won’t miss the cream a bit; if you process in a Vita-Mix, it will be plenty creamy, but even if you just use an immersion blender the soup will emerge a tiny bit more rustic, while still maintaining that silky mouthfeel.

When it comes to the wine, you don’t really need to use a $38 bottle of Roche 2014 Carneros Chardonnay French Oak Reserve, but damn, it was good (and you only need half a cup (or 120ml).

Special note for celiac patients: Be extra-sure that your vegetable broth is free of wheat or barley or malt products. These often show up in commercial vegetable broths and broth bases.

INGREDIENTS

    2 tablespoons / 30g Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks (or unsalted butter, for non-Vegan version)
    1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    1 fennel bulb, halved, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus 1 tablespoon minced fronds
    Salt and pepper
    6 garlic cloves, minced
    2 teaspoons / 1.6g minced fresh thyme (or 3/4 teaspoon / .75g dried)
    2 tablespoons / 20g potato starch
    1/2 cup / 120ml dry white wine
    5 1/2 cups / 1.3 liters vegetable broth
    1 celeriac (also known as celery root) (14 ounces / 400g), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    12 ounces / 350g red potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    2 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    zest of 1 lemon or orange
    1 bay leaf
Soup on the boil.

Soup on the boil.

DIRECTIONS

Put butter, onion, fennel, and a couple of pinches of salt in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and thyme, cook for 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Raise heat to high and add potato starch, stirring continuously, and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Add the wine to deglaze the pot, making sure to scrape up all the bits on the bottom; let most of the wine boil off.

Stir in the vegetable broth, celeriac, potatoes, and apples. Add bay leaf and zest your citrus over the pot. Bring to a boil and then back the heat off to a high simmer. Cover pot and cook for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are all tender.

Remove from heat. Discard the bay leaf. Process 2/3 soup in batches; if you are using a blender or Vita-Mix, making sure to cover feed tube loosely with tea towel (do not plug it up, because steam needs to escape). Return processed soup to pot. [Alternatively, use an immersion blender to process soup, making sure to leave at least 1/3 chunky.] Season with salt and pepper to taste, and ladle into bowls. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Soupe de la Semaine: Sweet & Sour Cabbage Soup — Vegan-style

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sweet-and-sour-cabbage-soup

As you might have guessed from the headline, I’m going to try to post a soup recipe every week. We’ll see how that goes. But if I am to hold the throne of “Le Roi de Potage,” awarded me in Paris a few years back (another story for another time), it’s time to step up.

They say it never rains in southern California, but that’s not quite true. This evening was one of those rare and welcomed occasions, and soup is the ideal antidote for a dark and stormy night. As I trawled the Internets, looking for something to suit my fancy, I unearthed a couple of Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup recipes, which I melded to make this one. The first was modified from the NY Times by ofallytasty.com, who adapted it from The National. The second came from cookforyourlife.org, who wisely noted that the pimentón helps to make up for the smokiness that ham would ordinarily bring to this soup in its non-vegan state. Alternatively (or even better, additionally), you could finish it with a tiny pinch of smoked salt (I heartily recommend Hepp’s 7-Fire Smoked Sea Salt — it’s not cheap, but a little goes quite some distance, and it’s sooooo good). Some of the recipes I read called for an immersion blender to purée a portion of the soup, but I found it unnecessary. Dealer’s choice.

Idiot me, I didn’t measure how much the recipe made, but it will easily serve 10-12 as an opener and 6 as a main, especially if augmented with a baguette.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons / 30ml neutral oil
2 large yellow onions, diced
2 teaspoons / 4g caraway seeds
2 bay leaves
1 large can (28-ounce / 793g) diced tomatoes — fire-roasted if you can get them
1 fairly large cabbage, cored and shredded (approximately 2.5 lbs / 1.1 kg)
8 cups / 1.8 liters vegetable stock or water
4 tablespoons / 50g brown sugar
2-3 teaspoons / 4-6g smoked paprika (pimentón de la Vera is preferred if you can get it)
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons (45-60ml) fresh lemon juice or vinegar (apple cider vinegar is what I used, but white wine vinegar would be fine)
Pinch of smoked salt for finishing, optional
Sour cream or vegan sour cream substitute, if desired, for garnish
Baguettes or rolls to serve alongside, optional

Preparation

1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the caraway seeds and cook for 1 more minute.

2. Add the diced tomatoes (along with their juice), the stock (or water), and the bay leaves. Cook for about 10 minutes or so, to warm the liquid.

3. Add the shredded cabbage, brown sugar, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour (but two is better, especially if you want your cabbage a little less crunchy).

4. Stir in vinegar or lemon juice right before serving (start with 2 tbsp. stir, and add more to taste), then cook for about 1-2 minutes to allow flavours to blend; serve with a baguette. If desired, sour cream or vegan sour cream substitute may be dolloped on top, and a tiny(!) pinch of smoked salt may be added per portion for finishing.

NOTE: When reheating, add a small amount of your acid (lemon or vinegar) to refresh taste.

Torta or Tarta de Santiago (or maybe not)

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On the road to Santiago... specifically, Triacastela.

On the road to Santiago… specifically, Triacastela.

In May of 2015, my bride and I took a journey along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Catholic pilgrim route (more specifically, we traveled along a portion of the so-called Camino Francés, which is one of a number of Camino routes that all end up in Santiago de Compostela, Spain). It’s an excellent thing to do, as evidenced by the motion picture The Way, and by the still-incomplete blog chronicling our trip, Two Roads to Santiago.

Complexo Xacobeo. Food, lodging, taxi, you name it, you got it.

Complexo Xacobeo. Food, lodging, taxi, you name it, you got it.

Triacastela is a small (pop. 721) town in the province of Lugo, in the Galician region of Spain; it’s about 135 km east of Santiago de Compostela. It got its name from three castles that once stood there (though none of them do now). We stayed there the evening of 24 May, Bob Dylan’s birthday, apropos of nothing. After disgorging our luggage, we wandered into the center of town for dinner, and had an excellent meal at the Complexo Xacobeo.

We didn't have just wine and water, but it was a good start.

We didn’t have just wine and water, but it was a good start.

At dinner’s close, the bride and I had a minor disagreement that would change my life — our lives — for the better. I wanted a cool, refreshing ice cream for dessert, and she preferred to try a local delicacy called tarta de Santiago (in Spanish, anyway; in the local Gallego, it was torta de Santiago). It’s an almond cake whose recipe will follow later in this post.

I like almonds and I like sugar, but most almond confections have generally left me unimpressed; marzipan actually engages my gag reflex. But the bride had walked 20-odd kilometres that day over steep terrain, so she won. Wow, am I glad she did. It was so delicious that I dedicated the balance of our time in Spain to sampling as many versions of it as I could reasonably consume, and no fewer than eight bakers’ interpretations of the ancient recipe passed my lips.

1835? 1838? Galicia? Elsewhere? You decide.

1835? 1838? Galicia? Elsewhere? You decide.

How ancient is the recipe? It certainly goes back as far as the Cuaderno de confitería, which was compiled by Luis Bartolomé de Leyba circa 1838. It’s actually based upon this publication that the tarta/torta obtained its Indicación Geográfica Protegida, which protects its status and authenticity the same way that Champagne does for certain French sparkling wines and Parmigiano Reggiano does for certain Italian regional cheeses. That’s all good as far as it goes, but Spanish culinary historian Jorge Guitián discovered that the Cuaderno de confiteria was largely a rehash of recipes that had previously been published elsewhere, including one cookbook, Art Cozinha, that was published in Lisbon in 1752, not to mention Juan de la Mata’s Arte de Repostería, published in 1747. One source sets its first publication date at 1577, as “torta real,” claiming it was brought to Spain by the Moors. And on top of that, some culinary historians have suggested that the recipe came originally from Sephardic Jews settled in the area, and its original use was as a Passover cake, as it’s unleavened.

Because of their generous and welcoming nature, I’m inclined to give the Gallegos a mulligan on this one. Whether or not the tarta de Santiago actually originated in Galicia, it flourished there, and they have embraced it as part of their cultural and culinary heritage. One thing is for certain: the habit of dusting the top of the cake with powdered sugar, save for a stencil of a cruz Xacobeo (Saint James’ cross) dates to 1924, when José Mora Soto, a baker in Santiago de Compostela, decorated his cakes with the mark to distinguish his from competitors’. In the intervening 90+ years, the tradition has been almost universally embraced.

The ancestral home of the modern tarta.

The ancestral home of the modern tarta.

His bakery, rechristened Pastelería Mercedes Mora (for his granddaughter, pictured below), still makes the cakes today.

The real deal.

The real deal.

Good as they may be, it’s inconvenient to travel to Santiago de Compostela every time you care to have one of these cakes. So here’s a step-by-step version of the shockingly simple — and, if it makes a difference to you or your dining companions, gluten-free — recipe.

The finished item.

The finished item.

TARTA DE SANTIAGO

Ingredients

• 250 grams / 2.5 cups of almond flour (I use ½ blanched and ½ unblanched)
• 250 grams / 1.25 cups of sugar, preferably superfine/baker’s sugar
• 6 eggs
• Zest of two citrus fruits (lemon is traditional)
• Powdered sugar to sprinkle on the top
• 1 chunk of unsalted butter to spread on the springform pan
• You can use a variety of essences, extracts, or other scent enhancers to give the cake a nice aroma, such as brandy, cinnamon, etc. Use sparingly, though, so as not to overpower the simple and delicate flavours of the almond flour and citrus zest.
• 1 round detachable mold/springform pan / 22 to 25 cm or 9 to 10 in. diameter
• Lemon juice or other liquid for moistening top of cake
• a paper (or plastic) St. James cross for stencil

Two different almond flours are optional.

Two different almond flours are optional.

Batter will be fairly loose when you pour it into the pan; don't worry.

Batter will be fairly loose when you pour it into the pan; don’t worry.

Out of the oven and ready for stenciling.  I use a spray bottle to apply the liquid, but a dish and pastry brush works fine too.

Out of the oven and ready for stenciling. I use a spray bottle to apply the liquid, but a dish and pastry brush works fine too.

Preparation

• Preheat the oven to 175º C (350º F)
• In a large bowl, combine the sugar, almond flour, and lemon zest or other essence. Mix ingredients well with a fork.
• In separate bowl, mix eggs with fork until blended.
• Add the eggs and mix well with a spoon or rubber spatula, but do not whisk, only make sure all the ingredients are moistened.
• Spread the butter on the mold (or spray with PAM) and pour the mix in it.
• Bake at 175º C (350º F) for 40-45 minutes until the surface is toasted and golden; when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s done.
• When the cake is done, remove from the oven and let it cool before unmolding. You may want to run a knife or spatula around the edge to make sure the tarta hasn’t stuck to the pan, but do be careful not to scratch the pan when you do it.
• When the cake has cooled, place the paper/plastic cross on top of the surface, moisten the entire top of the cake (including the stencil) with citrus juice or other liquid (brandy, etc.), then sprinkle powdered sugar evenly over the entire surface, using a mesh strainer.
• Remove the stencil carefully, as to avoid dropping sugar from the stencil onto the cake.

Maybe not quite Mora, but pretty darn close and a whole lot easier.

Maybe not quite Mora, but pretty darn close and a whole lot easier.

We Be Jammin’ (Specifically, Strawberry Balsamic Jam with Black Pepper)

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Itty bitty jars of sweet and savory goodness.

Itty bitty jars of sweet and savory goodness.

Ah, the joys of ADHD. I had planned on making a strawberry-cherry pie, then strawberry-rhubarb tarts, but when the steam had settled, my two pounds of luscious Driscoll strawberries found their way into a jam. Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of strawberry jam, because it tends to be both a little sweet and a little insipid for my taste, but I came across several recipes for a strawberry balsamic jam, and then the vision of serving it with an aged white Canadian Cheddar kicked in — no, wait; goat cheese! or maybe a stinky Roquefort! (see what I mean about the ADHD?) — so I committed to making a small batch.

Six ingredients. Six. No added pectin. Comparatively speaking, a fair amount of work for six four-ounce (118 ml) jars, but highly satisfying, especially when you give them away as gifts to a grateful palate (even if it’s your own).

STRAWBERRY BALSAMIC JAM (makes six 4 oz./118 ml jars)
Ingredients
2 lb./1 kg fresh strawberries
3 tbsp/45 ml lemon juice (fresh-squeezed, if you can get it)
1.5 cups/300 g granulated white sugar
4 tbsp/60 ml balsamic vinegar
1 tsp/5 g sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 tsp/1-2 g freshly ground black pepper

Berries and sugar, macerating nicely.

Berries and sugar, macerating nicely.

Rinse and hull strawberries. Place in a bowl with sugar and let sit for at least 1-2 hours (or overnight, if it’s convenient), mashing the strawberries after about 10-20 minutes.

Berries and sugar, all mashed up.

Berries and sugar, all mashed up.

Meanwhile, prepare jars and lids (which is to say, throw them in boiling water for a minimum of 10 minutes). [You have the option of making this a refrigerator jam if you don’t care to do the whole home canning thing; strictly up to you. I chose to preserve the preserve in the traditional manner. Otherwise, be sure to use it up within about 10 days.]

It may not be quick, but it does get thick.

It may not be quick, but it does get thick.

Place the strawberry and sugar slurry in a non-reactive saucepan, add the lemon juice, and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until jam is at the jell stage, stirring frequently and watching at least semi-observantly. [For me, this was about 45 minutes, but your pan and stove may bring about a different result, timewise; one of the recipes I read said you could get there in 30 minutes.] Add the balsamic vinegar, salt, and black pepper the last five minutes of cooking, stirring continuously. Remove the pan from heat.

Jam and a few spare jars.

Jam and a few spare jars.

Pour jam into hot, prepared jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Refrigerate immediately or seal and process jars for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. If processing in water bath, remove and let jars sit for 24 hours, ensuring a good seal. Remove bands and store for up to one year… if you think you can wait that long before finishing it all off.

Boiling, but not mad.

Boiling, but not mad.

[Thanks to my pal Susan Park for the suggestion of adding the salt; it cuts the sweetness nicely, and plays well with both the strawberries and the vinegar. And thanks to my cousin Sheryl for the gorgeous cutting board that served as a tray for the jars.]