Soup Week!: Yellow Pepper and Pine Nut Soup

Yellow Pepper and Pinenut Soup

I love soup, so I decided to have a soup week.  Since there are only two of us it didn’t make sense to make a new soup every day, but I did eat soup every day.

I’ve really been enjoying a cookbook I recently picked up called The 150 Best American Recipes by Fran McCollough and Molly Stevens and all of the week’s soup recipes have come from this book.  The authors exhaustively go through recipes published in cookbooks, magazines, and the internet in the United States each year and pull out the winners.  This cookbook is a compilation of the best of those winners.  Amazon is selling it for $9.99 and BYU’s bookstore has a big stack of them in their bargain bin for the same price if you are local.  Get it–you’ll like it.

On with the soup!  This soup is amazingly simple and at the same time brings a taste that is elegantly sophisticated.  I halved the recipe since my wife is not a big fan of bell peppers.  The original recipe comes from cook Han Feng and was published in Marie Claire magazine.

  • 3 pounds yellow bell peppers (about 8-10 peppers)
  • 6 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • Salt and ground pepper
  • Small thyme sprigs to garnish

Halve the peppers and remove the stem, seeds, and ribs.  Simmer the peppers in the chicken stock for about 20 minutes until they are soft.  Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts to a light gold in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning.  When the peppers are soft, puree them in a food processor or blender with the pine nuts until very smooth.  Add a little of the chicken broth if needed to achieve smooth consistency.  Mix the puree back in to the chicken broth and season to taste.  Garnish each bowl with a small thyme sprig.

This soup is not hearty enough to be a meal in itself, but makes a marvelous soup course.  The taste is out of this world and I can’t find the right words to describe it.

Cream of Tomato Soup

If your notion of tomato soup is the gunk that Campbell’s makes then this recipe is going to blow you away.  As far as the work to payoff ratio goes, you really get a bang for your buck here.  Seriously, the first time I made this I was shocked at how amazing it tasted.  You’ve got to try this.  I’ve adapted the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.  (I highly recommend this cookbook if you don’t already have it)

Cream of Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 carrot diced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 3 (14.5 oz.) cans tomatoes diced or whole
  • 1 cup cream or half and half (I think you know the right choice here)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or stockpot and add the diced onion and carrot.  Saute until soft and add thyme.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add tomatoes and simmer for ~15 minutes.  Add cream and puree using an immersion blender, standard blender, food processor, or food mill.  Serve hot.

We like this with a good ole’ grilled cheese sandwich.

Vegetarian Black Bean Chili

Sea of Black Bean Chili

Autumn is coming and one of my favorite things to make in this season is Black Bean Chili from The Greens restaurant in San Francisco.  I’ve never eaten at The Greens myself, but my friend Megan was a chef there a few years ago, so I picked up the restaurant’s cookbook from my local library and thought this recipe looked good.  Little did I know that this is one of their signature items.

One of the things that I love about this recipe is that, rather than using chili powder from the store, you grind the spices.  For me this was a real eye-opener into what chili really is and how I can take more personal control over the way I spice my food.  If you don’t have one already, you’ll want to buy an inexpensive coffee grinder (I got mine for $10) that is devoted only to spice grinding.  In a pinch you could use a blender or a food processor, but it might be hard to get a very fine grind with these.

This recipe freezes very well and I usually like to double these amounts and then freeze half.  BTW, this recipe packs a wee bit of heat, so if you don’t like a little warmth in your mouth after a bite of chili you can scale back on the cayenne and/or chipotles.

You will need:

2 cups dry black turtle beans
1 bay leaf
4 teaspoons cumin seed
4 teaspoons oregano
4 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 negro or ancho chile
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 yellow onions, ¼ inch dice
4 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds canned tomatoes with liquid, chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped chipotle chile
1 tablespoon rice wine vineger
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 poblano or ancho chiles, roasted, peeled and diced
½ cup muenster cheese, grated
½ cup crème fraiche, or sour cream

Sort through the beans and remove any small stones. Rinse them well, cover them generously with water, and let them soak overnight.

Next day, drain the beans, cover them with fresh water by a couple of inches and bring them to a boil with the bay leaf. Lower the heat and let the beans simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat a small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and when they begin to color, add the oregano leaves, shaking the pan frequently so the herbs don’t scorch. As soon as the fragrance is strong and robust, remove the pan from the heat and add the paprika and the cayenne. Give everything a quick stir; then remove from the pan — the paprika and the cayenne only need a few seconds to toast. Grind in a mortar or a spice mill to make a coarse powder. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

To make the chili powder, put the dried chile in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes to dry it out. Cool it briefly; then remove the stem, seeds and veins. Tear the pod into small pieces and grind it into a powder in a blender or a spice mill.  Here’s a shot of the toasted ancho chiles (2 because I doubled the recipe):

Ancho Chiles

And here we have the ground ancho chiles on the left and the ground spice mixture on the right:

Ground Spices

Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions over medium heat until they soften. Add the garlic, salt and the ground herbs and chili powder and cook another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice, and about 1 teaspoon of the chipotle chile.

Onions, Tomatoes, Garlic, Spices

Simmer everything together for 15 minutes then add this mixture to the beans, and, if necessary, enough water so the beans are covered by at least 1 inch. Continue cooking the beans slowly until they are soft, an hour or longer (I like to give myself several hours), or pressure cook them for 30 minutes at 15 pounds pressure.

Chili Simmering

Keep an eye on the water level and add more, if needed, to keep the beans amply covered. When the beans are cooked, taste them, and add more chipotle if desired.  Season to taste with the vinegar, additional salt if needed, and the chopped cilantro.

Prepare the garnishes. If you are using fresh green chiles, roast them over a flame until they are evenly charred. Let them steam 10 minutes in a bowl covered with a dish; then scrape off the skins, discard the seeds, and dice.

Serve the chili ladled over a large spoonful of grated cheese and garnish it with the crème fraîche or sour cream, the green chilies and a sprig of fresh cilantro. Feel free to get creative here and garnish the chili as you like (bacon would take this out of the vegetarian realm, but would be phenomenal). This chili is great with tortilla chips or cornbread.

Bowl of Black Bean Chili

. . . and we’re back

You’re not truly a blogger until you start at least one of your posts apologizing for not having posted in some time.  Well . . . I’m sorry.  The dissertation has taken priority.

Over the past month I’ve been a bit lax in the kitchen, but I did take a few photos with the intention of posting about what I was cooking.  Since I’ve fallen behind I’ll just throw them all in this one post.

First, about a month ago we visited the new Harmon’s grocery store in Draper near the point of the mountain.  Wow.  They have everything.  We got gelato from their gelato bar (good not great) and I bought a variety of olives from their olive bar.  The produce was varied and abundant.  I decided to try some organic golden beets.  I roasted them in the crock pot and then sliced them and dressed them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped pecans.

Beets before

Sorry the photo is a bit out of focus.  I need a tripod (and a better camera).  The beets were great.  Some good feta cheese would have made them better.

We also had some fun with bacon recently.

Bacon Baskets

Bacon Baskets

These make for great BLTs.  I had to stick all kinds of toothpicks to hold them together.  A better way to do this would have been to leave the slices at full length instead of cutting them in half and weaving a 6 x 6 sheet of bacon.  The short pieces really wanted to come apart.  I also recommend baking the bacon on a rack set in a sheet pan since this will keep the bacon flat and will not require flipping (tempting the weave to fall apart).  The big sheet can then be cut into 4 sandwich size squares.

BLT

BLT Closeup

Yes, they did taste as good as they look.  I put a little blue cheese on mine.  You can’t beat the combo of blue cheese and bacon!

With this same meal I made some agua de limón, a.k.a. limeade.  For each serving combine a cup of water, juice and zest of one lime, about 5-10 mint leaves, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in the blender.  Blend it all up and then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer.  Serve over ice and garnish with mint.

Agua de Limon con Mint

Mushrooms from the Salt Lake Farmer’s Market

In addike tion to the garlic scapes I got at the Salt Lake Farmer’s Market, I also bought some Hen of the Woods mushrooms.  I’ve been meaning to try some wild mushrooms for some time now and since I have zero expertise at finding and identifying them, I jumped at the chance to buy them.  I decided to put them in an omelet.  I started by sauteing them in some butter and olive oil with a chopped scallion.

 Mushroom Saute

Once they were cooked I set them aside, wiped out the pan, and cooked the omelet.  I must admit that the omelet was not my best, but the mushrooms (along with the Emmenthaler cheese) made up the difference.

 Omelete

Sneak a peek

 Mushrooms exposed

I love my garden

Garden Salad

Here we have mixed greens and radishes from the garden garnished with Gorgonzola cheese, pecans, and ranch dressing.  Click on the photo for a better view.

Garlic Scapes from the Salt Lake Farmers’ Market

Garlic Scapes

Last Saturday I want to the Salt Lake Farmers’ Market for their season opener.  There were all kinds of great spring produce as well as artisanal cheeses, organic and grass-fed meats, soaps, arts and crafts, and a wide variety of prepared foods.  It was quite the treat and I hope to get up there often.  I just wish that we had this kind of variety and quality at the Provo Farmers’ Market.  Ah well, let’s keep supporting them and hope that it grows.

I had only heard of them, but never tasted them, so when I saw garlic scapes (pictured above) for sale at $2 a bunch I pounced.  When garlic grows it shoots up its green leaves (like a scallion) as well as the scape, which is the flowering stem of the plant.  Farmers cut off the scape as this prompts the bulb to grow bigger and gives them the added bonus of a delicious spring treat. 

Garlic scapes have a somewhat tamer flavor than garlic (especially when cooked) with an added grassy flavor that I find quite pleasant.  When eaten raw they are very spicy.

A Google search revealed that most folks writing about scapes recommended making pesto or stir fry, so I did both.  For the pesto I combined in the food processor:

  • 1 cup of scapes cut to 1″ segments
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (the real stuff though)
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste (don’t be stingy with the salt)

The pesto was overpoweringly spicy with the raw scapes and it occurred to me that some lemon would help to balance this, so I added some leftover lemon vinaigrette that had zest, juice, and olive oil.  It helped.  What really would have helped would have been blanching the scapes for a minute or so in boiling water and then putting them in an ice bath to stop the cooking.  With the raw scape pesto my wife and I were tasting garlic for the rest of the night, even after several brushings of the teeth.  The next morning I was still tasting it, but some aggressive Listerine therapy finally did the trick.  When we had leftovers I nuked the pesto on my pasta and the cooking seemed to tame it sufficiently.  I wish that my Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes were ready because they would have been the perfect balance to this dish.

 Garlic Scape Pesto

With my leftover scapes I decided to make a stir fry.  I fired up the cast iron skillet on medium heat and chopped up the scapes in 1 1/2″ pieces along with broccoli florets, chopped scallions, and sliced chicken breast.  I cooked them in high heat with neutral oil and then added grated ginger about a minute before cooking was finished (2-3 teaspoons).  Once cooked, I dressed the stir fry with soy sauce and dark sesame oil and served over rice.  It tasted phenomenal, but I could hardly taste any garlicky flavor from the scapes.  In texture and appearance they were very much like green beans.  How is that for two extremes of flavor?

 Garlic Scape Stir Fry

Sorry this photo is a bit blurry.  I really need a tripod.  The scapes are those green bean looking things.

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