Soupe de la Semaine: Cajun White Bean, Andouille, and Collard Green Soup

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It turns out, thanks to the bride’s penchant for genealogical spelunking, I have recently discovered Acadian blood in my veins. It’s not an enormous surprise; on Prince Edward Island, the tiny Canadian province from which I hail, the populace is drawn largely from Scots, French, and Irish stock. In practise, PEI Scots didn’t tend to intermarry much back in the day, not just due to the language differences (Scots held onto their Gaelic before yielding to English), but also thanks to Catholic-Protestant interfaith snipery. It is, however, an island, so exceptions were occasionally made. Hence the occasional Arsenault or Paquet or Daigle or Cheverie among the Campbells and MacLeods and MacMillians and MacKays. And conversely.

Acadia, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, was originally a French colony that included the provinces of Canada generally known as the Maritimes, and a little of what is now Maine. [Fun fact: Prince Edward Island was originally known to its European settlers as Île Saint-Jean.] Over the years, wars and treaties with England whittled away at the territorial boundaries, and the people referred to as Acadians tended to be identified more by their language (French) than by their place of birth.

Unfortunately, things really went sideways between the Canadian Anglophones and Francophones in 1755. As a consequence of their participation in the French and Indian War, the Acadians were given the choice of swearing allegiance to the British king, or clearing the premises. You can imagine how that went. What happened next became known as the Great Upheaval, the Great Expulsion, the Great Deportation, or Le Grand Dérangement. Many Francophones, including some of my direct kin, were forcibly repatriated to France (which, incidentally, didn’t really want them). Other Acadians fled south to Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns.

While there’s a lot of intermingling between Cajun and Creole cultures, the reason this soup is more properly identified as Cajun rather than Creole is largely due to the absence of tomatoes, which is one simple signifier separating the two storied cooking traditions. By some measures, Creole cuisine tends to be “city food,” and Cajun cuisine tends to be “country food,” with simpler ingredients and less reliance on sauces. Please do note that these are generalisations, so please don’t flood my inbox with picayune (or Picayune) commentary to the contrary.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record (or, for our younger readers, digital audio stutter), but it never hurts to splurge on some of the key ingredients. I purchased fresh, uncooked andouille sausage (hotter than the quite tasty Aidells’ pre-cooked commercial version I used in an earlier iteration). The white beans in this recipe were Cassoulet heirlooms from Rancho Gordo. Because I had no homemade stock, I substituted Aneto, which is excellent, if pricey. I deglazed the pot with Croma Vera 2017 Rosé, because it was delicious, handy, and fit the bill. And while I seasoned the soup with fleur de sel from Ibiza, that was merely a pointless extravagance that gladdened me and enhanced the back story. We writers care about that stuff.

Best broth you can buy.

This soup can be made entirely on the stove top. I chose not to, partly due to convenience and partly due to shoddy time management. My Instant Pot® allowed me to bypass the overnight pre-soak for the dried beans, and it also condensed the time necessary to tenderise the celery and the collard greens’ stems. You may, of course, use canned beans and/or canned collard greens… if you must.

How much is enough? Maybe 6 cups or so, chopped. Be as green-dependent as you like.

While I favoured traditional Cajun ingredients for this recipe (although I omitted bell pepper, one-third of the Cajun “holy trinity”), my pal Inmaculada Sánchez Leira (no slouch in the cooking department herself) noted that, save for the comparative lack of root vegetables, it’s not particularly far removed from Caldo Gallego, the classic Galician soup. It’s also fairly close to many recipes involving Black Eyed Peas, traditionally served in the South for good luck on New Year’s Day. In fact, you could easily sub black eyed peas into this recipe… and yes, you can get them from Rancho Gordo (if they’re not sold out).

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. / 1/2 kg dried white beans (or four 15 oz. cans cooked beans, drained and rinsed)
30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil
2 lbs. / 1 kg Andouille sausage links
1/2 cup / 120 ml white or rosé wine (or water or stock) for deglazing
1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, chopped or sliced into coins
2 large bunches fresh collard greens
4-6 large stalks celery, finely minced
1 medium sprig fresh thyme
3 liters / 12 cups good quality chicken and/or vegetable stock (I used Aneto chicken stock)
1 liter / 4 cups water
5-10g / 1-2 tsp salt
1/3 cup / 80 ml apple cider vinegar
chopped fresh parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS
Rinse beans thoroughly, then drain (whether you’re using canned or dried beans). [This is where you would add the dried beans and two liters of stock to the Instant Pot®, if you are going that route. Add the 1/2 kilo / 1 lb. of dried beans and about 2 liters / 8 cups liquid (I used all stock). Cook according to instructions. For more recommendations on cooking times, check here and here.] My unsoaked Cassoulet beans took 48 minutes on high pressure in the Instant Pot®, with a natural release (I’m told this helps to keep the bean skins from splitting). Should you choose, you can use the stovetop method to cook beans pre-soaked overnight (or dried beans straight from the packet should you choose). When beans are soft, set cooked beans and stock aside.

Here is where the two paths diverged in the wood. First, I will lay out the stovetop version. Then, I’ll include the Instant Pot® shortcut, for those of you who care to use it.

STOVETOP VERSION
Dice onion; mince garlic and celery. Cut carrots into coin-size slices (if the “coins” get to be larger than a quarter or a 2€ coin, cut them in half). Strip collard green leaves from their tougher stems, slice (or tear) the leaves and dice the stems (skip this last bit if using canned collard greens).

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Then season the Andouille links with a little salt, leaving them whole, and brown them for about 10-12 minutes, or until cooked through and browned on all sides. Remove links from pot and let them cool.

Deglaze the browned bits with a little water, stock, or wine. Make sure to give pot a good scrape.

The liquid and browned bits will add depth to your stock base. Plus, you’ll have pre-cleaned the toughest stain in the pot.

[NOTE: If using Instant Pot® shortcut, skip to shortcut below, then come back here.]

Sauté the onion, celery, carrots, collard greens, thyme sprig, and garlic for about 7 minutes, until soft without colouring (the celery and the collard stems will take longer, so don’t wig out if they’re still a little al dente). While the vegges are in sauté mode, slice or crumble the cooled Andouille sausage. Add the beans and stock you set aside earlier, the extra liter of stock (if you’re not using the Instant Pot® shortcut), Andouille, vinegar, and water, along with a little salt. Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for about an hour or more, or until celery and collard green stems have softened to desired degree. Adjust salt and vinegar, if necessary; discard thyme sprig. Ladle into bowls and add optional shredded parsley leaves for garnish.

The Instant Pot® softens up those tough veggies real quick.

INSTANT POT® SHORTCUT
Instead of adding celery and collard green stems and thyme sprig to the main soup pot on the stove, put them into your Instant Pot® with a liter of the stock, set to high pressure for 7 minutes on the Bean/Chili setting, making sure vent is set to Sealing. When done, you can use either natural or instant release. [If you choose the latter, take care to avoid escaping steam.] Discard thyme sprig and add remaining contents to main soup pot. Continue with recipe as above

Soupe de la Semaine: Chicken Noodle Soup with Basil and Spinach

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The Warhol print was probably tastier.

I realize that I tool on Campbell’s soups a lot — probably more than they deserve, especially since I am descended from Campbells on my Mom’s side (not particularly unusual for someone of Scots heritage). And while Clan Campbell were a prolific lot, it’s likely far more Campbell has passed through my alimentary canal than was ever in my bloodline.

In my youth, their ubiquitous cans were a staple in our pantry. I was especially keen on Scotch Broth, Vegetable Beef, and Beef with Vegetables and Barley. I NEVER liked their Chicken Noodle, since it always got served to me when I was sick. The association has stuck for decades. But in a strange twist of fate, I find myself making soups for an ill friend, so I decided to revisit my childhood chicken soup trauma.

There’s nothing wrong with chicken in soup; Tom Kha Gai is an all-time favourite. And Mexican chicken soups aplenty with tomato and chili and cilantro show up happily, and not infrequently, at table. But my challenge was to attempt to concoct something that was at once chicken noodle soup and not chicken noodle soup. A Zen kōan of a soup, so to speak. In order to achieve this aim, I needed to isolate those elements of trad North American chicken noodle soup that failed to delight me, and simply Marie Kondo them away.

ISSUE #1: The Broth
Typical canned chicken noodle soup features a briny broth with no more point of view than a real estate agent trying to sell you a house. I wanted a stock that would echo our more trad notions wthout being shackled to them.

ISSUE #2: Carrots
Love me carrots, I really do. But not here. There’s a reason Billy Connolly developed a routine based around how, when you regurgitate, there’s always “diced bloody carrots in it.”

ISSUE #3: Celery
Celery in commercial canned soups frequently develops a revolting, slightly slimy texture, and it played an outsize role in the sense-memory flavour of my canned nemesis. I could have opted for celery seed, but I really didn’t want the texture or the taste.

ISSUE #4: The Noodle
Nobody wants a limp noodle. Typically, they look like tiny tapeworms, they have zero toothiness, they shame the marriage of water, flour, and egg. My noodle was going to be strong and proud.

ISSUE #5: The Chicken
This will sound like the proverbial deli diner’s complaint that the food wasn’t good and the portions were too small. But the industrially processed 6mm chicken bit cubes were virtually flavourless, and distributed very sparingly. Hey, I get it — chicken is the soup’s most expensive ingredient, and more chicken = less profit. I responded by loading the pot up with about three pounds (1.5 kilos) of hand shredded boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

But enough of what I didn’t want. Here’s what I did want: simple, healthy (after all, I’m feeding a cancer slayer here), and tasty. I don’t know how you go about planning your recipes (other than having the good fortune to land here, for which I am grateful), but I typically overthink. I read books, I go online, I consult my bride, I mentally review every version of the dish I’ve ever ingested, I engage in an internal Socratic dialogue, I ask friends about their preferences, I fuss.

While in the store buying chicken, I came across a special on fresh basil. The die was cast: green stock. I also had some spinach powder in my pantry, which I suspected would complement the basil, as well as providing an excellent source of beta-carotene and iron. Besides, spinach made Popeye strong, and the Big C is more formidable a foe than Brutus (or, if I might betray my age, Bluto), so bring it on. [You can use regular spinach if you want; I just wanted to play with my new toy. This spinach powder is nothing more than dehydrated fresh spinach ground into green dust. No additives.]

One caveat: the fewer the ingredients, the better each one has to be. Because I had no homemade chicken stock, I used the best commercial stock money can buy. Free range chicken. Wine and olive oil I would proudly serve at table, not hide in the kitchen. Durum semolina pasta from Italy (even if I will use a different shape next time). Of course you can economise (if you have the time and the freezer space, you can save plenty on the stock by making your own), but even in my extravagance this is still cheaper per serving than what you’d probably pay for a bowl at a restaurant.

INGREDIENTS
30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil (I used Olea Farm Garlic Blush)
3 lbs. / 1.5 kg boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 10)
sea salt and pepper for seasoning chicken
2/3 cup / 150 ml dry white or rosé wine for deglazing (water or chicken stock work also)
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 oz. / 115 g fresh basil, shredded or chopped (reserve about 10-15 leaves for garnish)
3 liters / 12 cups good quality chicken stock (I used Aneto Low-Sodium Chicken Stock)
1/4 cup / 60 g spinach powder (or 4 oz. / 115 g fresh spinach, shredded or chopped)
16 oz. / 454 g dried pasta, cooked separately (I used casarecci, but next time it will be gemelli, ciocchetti, or gigli)
2 tbsp. /35 ml / juice of one fresh-squeezed lemon (I plucked a fresh Meyer from our tree)
OPTIONAL: Shaved or grated Parmesan cheese for garnish.

DIRECTIONS
Cook the pasta and set aside. [You can even undercook it a bit, in fact, given that it will swim in the broth later. Dealer’s choice.] One piece of advice that has served me well is that the pasta water should be as salty as the sea. This, and seasoning the chicken well, meant the recipe required no additional salt.

♫ Brown the chicken in the pot, doo-dah, doo-dah. ♫

Season your chicken liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. In your soup pot, drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) of olive oil, and cook the chicken. Depending on the thickness of the thighs, and the heat of your range top, this should take about 15 minutes. You’re looking for a little browning on the outside, but this is not intended to be fried chicken soup. When the chicken is done (I had to do mine in two batches), remove it to a plate.

What’s left after the chicken cooks is called the fond, and not just because I’m fond of it. When you deglaze the pot, the browned bits will transform into a very tasty sauce.

While the chicken is frying, dice the onion and chop the basil (and spinach, if not using powder), reserving a few basil leaves for later garnish. Afer removing chicken from soup pot, deglaze the pot with some wine or other liquid, then sweat the onion until it turns translucent. Add chopped basil, chicken stock, spinach powder (or chopped spinach), and reserved chicken thighs (including the juices that accumulated on the plate they sat on). Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least half an hour to 45 minutes or so (plenty of room for error here without any harm).

After the first simmer, remove chicken (again! It keeps jumping in and out, doesn’t it?) and set aside. Allow chicken to cool sufficiently so it can be hand shredded (or chopped, if you must).

OPTIONAL STEP: Remove most of the solids (basil and onion) with a slotted spoon and process in a blender or food processor with a little of the cooking liquid. Alternatively, you could use an immersion blender. This will thicken the liquid slightly.

Return shredded chicken to soup and add cooked noodles. Simmer long enough to warm the noodles, at least 15 minutes. Add lemon juice a few minutes before serving, to brighten and balance the flavour. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.

Soup. Mmmm-mmmm-good.

Ladle into bowls, and garnish with chiffonaded basil leaves.

Enter The Octagon. Salad, that is.

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This is going to be a little frustrating for those of you who need precise measurements or who aren’t comfortable grilling a steak. I’m just warning you up front, so you won’t be disappointed and won’t waste your time. That said, if you are agreeable to a bit of improv, you’ll be rewarded with a tasty, carnivore-pleasing meal. It’s called the Octagon Salad, not in homage to the ridiculous 1980 film starring the ridiculous Chuck Norris, but because it has eight elements, to wit:

    INGREDIENTS
    Mixed Greens
    Grilled Steak, cut in strips [Chicken or Pork may be substituted if desired]
    Corn (fresh, canned, or frozen)
    Tomatoes (cherry or grape; chopped sun-dried tomatoes can be substituted)
    Marinated Bell Peppers (1 jar usually does it for me)
    Cashews (preferably roasted and salted)
    Tortilla Strips*
    Cilantro-Pepita Caesar Dressing
    Finishing salt

The beauty part of this salad is that, apart from the steak and the tortilla strips, it can all be assembled from pre-packaged ingredients; cherry or grape tomatoes work particularly well in that regard (you can slice them in half if you feel the need). It’s also a terrific way to use up leftover grilled meats, should you have some. While I’ve tried making this with store-bought rotisserie chicken, the texture just doesn’t work, so I advise against it. I haven’t yet tried it with grilled sausage, but I’m sceptical as to whether it would work… maybe an herbed chicken sausage could be acceptable. Or maybe not. [If you find one that fits, please let me know!]

As for the cilantro-pepita dressing, if you happen to live in California (as I do), it’s a pretty good bet that one of your local supermercados carries the El Torito brand, which is right tasty, if somewhat expensive. If you are feeling more adventurous, or are just plain thriftier, copycat recipes for a DIY version can be found here and here.

The steak, corn, tomatoes, and marinated bell peppers can be combined with the dressing ahead of time, and if you have more than one evening’s worth of those ingredients, they may be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. Don’t add the cashews or the tortilla strips until the very end, or they’ll lose their crunch (part of this salad’s attraction is its variety of textures). It is best served al fresco with a white wine (Sancerre, Albariño, and Moschofilero all work well) or a rosé (even sparkling!), but if you are watching calories, some lemon and cucumber spa water is an excellent substitute.

Be sure to sprinkle a tiny bit of coarse finishing salt over each individual plate immediately before serving. This is a place where a little Pink Himalayan salt or black “lava” salt (which is just salt mixed with charcoal, incidentally) can add some visual interest. I have a bunch of different salts from all over the world for just this purpose. Trust me, your guests will feel special when you tell them that you had your grey sea salt shipped in from the Guerande Salt Ponds on the Breton coast. Or they may just consider you a dimwitted gasbag easily fished in by the latest culinary fad. But either way, it will be entertaining for them, and that’s the point.

And yes, I realize that the finishing salt brings the ingredient total up to nine. But who would want to eat a nonagon salad?

*The way to get the tortilla strips done as in the photo is to purchase a package of taco-sized corn or flour tortillas (spinach- or tomato-enhanced tortillas add an extra colourful dimension), cut them into quarters, stack the quarter-rounds and slice off 1/4″ (6mm) strips. Heat up about 1/2″ (13mm) of canola or other high-smoke-point oil in a frying pan, and dump in the strips, stirring until browned. Remove strips from frying pan with slotted spatula and cool on paper towels. If you have extra, pop them in a Ziploc bag and save for later; they should be fine for at least a week, but they never seem to last that long.

The Tournament of Rosés

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Dan, our gracious co-host (pictured at far right below), laid out the ground rules simply in his email:

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Bring a favorite bottle of rosé to share. Heck, feel free to bring more than a bottle if you’re the magnanimous sort. We love diversity, so no bring no more than one bottle of any one rosé, unless of course it’s Tempier or Valentini. Note-taking, reviewing or rating of the wines is heartily discouraged, and anyone overtly pimping bottles they don’t make themselves will be asked to leave (but we’re happy to send a note to your boss telling them that you did an admirable job representing the brand).

For eleventeen years or so, Dan has co-hosted a pagan summer event dedicated to the celebration of that most summer-y of beverages, rosé wines. The Tournament started on the deck outside his second-storey Malibu townhome with just a dozen or two people, and has grown geometrically in the years since, relocating to his friend Françoise’s back yard in Santa Monica. At first, it seemed something of a quirky kind of wine to revere. Much like the Jews, rosés wandered for years in the wilderness, having been given a bad name in America by the likes of Mateus and Lancers and (more recently) Sutter Home White Zinfandel. In fact, that one wildly popular White Zin was so poorly received by the cognoscenti that — despite being an economic juggernaut — it nearly tanked the reputation of the Zinfandel grape, and red Zinfandel (or just Zinfandel) is as far from white Zinfandel as red pepper is from white pepper. [That said, my pal Van Williamson makes a delightful rosé of Zinfandel (he calls it Rosato), so it is possible to make a “white Zin” that’s palatable.]

“So what,” I hear you ask, “is the key takeaway here? After all, I wasn’t invited to the party, and even if I had been, I missed it.”

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First of all: Don’t be afraid of rosés! They’re the perfect anti-wine-snob wines, mostly inexpensive, and the obvious bridge between people who claim not to like red wines and people who maintain they’re not interested in whites. They go great with food, from grilled meats to seafood to veggies. They’re widely available; most major grocery stores usually have one or two really tasty ones for under $20 (unless you happen to live in one of those unfortunate states where the liquor sales are controlled by the government, and even the state stores in places such as Pennsylvania and New Hampshire frequently carry an acceptable selection). If your local wine store clerk gives you attitude over your selection, give him — trust me, if it happens, it will always be a him — a clout upside his snooty pate and proceed proudly to the checkout counter. After all, the French, who know a thing or two about wine, consumed an average of 11.8 liters per capita in 2010.

One of several well-stocked coolers at the 2013 Tournament.

One of several well-stocked coolers at the 2013 Tournament.

Twenty years ago, red wines constituted 73.4% of wines sales in supermarkets in France; in 2011 (the most recent year for which I could find figures), they had declined to 56%. Over that same period, rosé’s market share had grown from 13.1% to 27.3%. As per usual, we’re a little behind the curve, trend-wise, but experts in the American wine business are saying that rosé sales are expected to continue to rise here as well. Maybe Brangelina’s recent foray into rosé territory will jump-start the movement here; the first 500 cases of their Miraval rosé sold out in six hours.

A few of the 84 bottles that were consumed at the 2013 Tournament of Rosés.

A few of the 84 bottles that were consumed at the 2013 Tournament of Rosés.

In addition to being a great hang, parties such as this are a terrific way to get exposed to wines you otherwise might never know about. And clearly, having friends who are in the wine business (and who have outstanding cellars) are a positive boon such a gathering. But even without that, getting friends together to share and compare can be both entertaining and educational. [It’s real easy to forget about the educational part after the first few glasses, so I just take pictures of bottles I like.]

A picture of bottles I liked.

A picture of bottles I liked.

I don’t recall who first introduced me to the two-point wine scale, but it’s served me well: ultimately, it’s either “yum” or “yuck.” While far from being an expert, I’ve spent a fair amount of time tasting, reading, and making notes about wine myself, so the last thing I would want to do is disparage others who analyze wine the way people of a certain age used to pore over the cover of Abbey Road for clues that Paul was dead. But the final question for me always boils down to whether or not I would want to consume some particular wine again, ratings be damned. And today, I was richly rewarded.

Rosés, much like roses, come in many colours.

Rosés, much like roses, come in many colours.

Here are a few faves (in no special order) that are widely available, all under $20 and many a good deal less:
2012 Charles and Charles, Columbia Valley, WA
2012 Caves d’Esclans ‘Whispering Angel’ Rosé, Côtes de Provence, FR
2012 Domaine de Triennes Rosé, Vin de Pays du Var, FR
2012 Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Rosado, SP
2010 Château Bonnet Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, FR
2010 Falesco Vitiano Rosato, Umbria, IT
2012 Château de Campuget Costières de Nîmes Tradition de Campuget Rosé, FR
2012 Ameztoi “Rubentis” Rosado Getariako Txakolina, SP
2012 Château de Lancyre Rosé, Pic Saint Loup, FR
2012 Chateau de Lascaux Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc, FR
2012 Domaine M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé, Côtes-du-Rhône, FR

And here are a couple that you probably won’t ever get to taste, and which I will likely never taste again, thanks to the generosity of one of our wine collecting friends, who pulled a couple of special bottles for the Tournament.

From our pal John's cellar. Magnificent.

From our pal John’s cellar. Magnificent.