February 3rd, 2016

Carrot-Cauliflower Soup with lemony cilantro oil

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I’ve never talked about it here, but one of the food hats I wear is that of restaurant critic for our newspaper, The Tennessean. For over six years, I’ve been covertly dining around town and writing columns about my experiences. “Dream job!” so many people say to me. I smile and respond, “Yes and no.” Like most jobs, it has both its up and down sides.

I enjoy being out in the community, and this work allows me to go to many many places, sampling many many dishes (some wonderful, some less so) that I would otherwise not be in a position to do. While I don’t believe that any of my negative reviews have put someone out of business, I do think that my focus on an eatery, be it brand new or one of the old and perhaps forgotten ones, can make a difference in terms of its success.

Beginning saute

However!
Dining out at least two times a week, eating a wide variety of foods can wreak havoc on a body. No matter if it’s high-end, chef-driven, farm-to-table, mom-and-pop, ethnic, or low brow, restaurant food simply is richer, more calorie laden than what I cook at home. (Plus I wind up eating more than I normally would.)

I’ve adopted a plan: VB6. Vegan Before 6pm It’s not new. Mark Bittman, cookbook author and former New York Times food columnist, introduced this concept a few years ago. He would eat strictly vegan–no meat, no eggs, no dairy—throughout the day. Instead, lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. After 6pm, he would eat, in moderation, whatever he wanted.

He found it to be effective-simple-flavorful way to shed unwanted pounds and overall improve health.

stage 2 saute

I’m only on day 3 of this new approach. I have confidence that this will help–I’ll let you know in weeks to come. In the meantime, I wanted to share this especially delicious soup I recently made that satisfies any number of dietary criteria:

It is vegan. (No meat, eggs or dairy)
It is gluten free. (No wheat)
It is paleo. (No dairy, wheat and cereal grains, potatoes, legumes)
It is whole 30. (No meat, dairy, wheat, grain, legumes.)

Did I mention that it is truly delicious? (Smile)
and,
It is easy to make! (might be the best part.)

I found the recipe on the New York Times cooking website, and its sunny appearance appealed to me. The recipe is by the esteemed Melissa Clark, who notes that the soup’s beauty is that once you make it, you don’t need a recipe. Any number of vegetables and variations are possible.
Of course, I made a few alterations.

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Cauliflower is the versatile wonder-vegetable. Simmered and pureed, it gives the soup its velvet body. Carrots add bright sweetness; onions and garlic are ever the work horses in anchoring the soup’s foundation.

But, it’s in the layering of spices and lemony herb oil that brings true dimension to the dish, and soulful satisfaction in the eating.

Be sure to toast the coriander seeds in the skillet to release the aromatic oils before crushing them with your mortar and pestle. Lemon zest and juice stirred into the olive oil-cilantro mixture really make it sing.

beautiful spoonful

CARROT-CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH LEMONY CILANTRO OIL
adapted from Melissa Clark, Cooking New York Times
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch cayenne
1 quart vegetable stock
zest and juice from one lemon
½ bunch cilantro, leaves finely chopped
2 teaspoons coriander seeds

Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until warm. Stir in onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Add carrots and cauliflower. Season with salt, turmeric, and curry powder. Pour in vegetable stock. Cover and bring mixture to a simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, make the garnishes—toasted crushed coriander and cilantro pesto oil.
Recipes are below:

Remove the soup from the heat. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Taste for salt and adjust.

Ladle into warm soup bowls. Sprinkle toasted crushed coriander over each, then spoon and dot a little cilantro pesto oil and serve.

Makes 4 servings

cilantro oil

Crushed Coriander
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast coriander seeds until fragrant and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and coarsely crush.

Cilantro Pesto Oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
zest and juice of one lemon
salt, to taste

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, cilantro, lemon zest and juice. Stir well.
Add a pinch of salt to taste. Stir well again.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »




February 10th, 2015

A Celebratory Soup!

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This week, my mom Joanie passed a milestone birthday–85 years on the planet. Jumpin’ Jive, Joanie’s 85! With the exception of some minor aches and pains, she is blessed with good health and a sharp mind. She and my dad (a robust 88!) live on their own, and go about their day-to-day with enthusiasm and gratitude.

Five years ago, she celebrated her 80th with a big hullabaloo. This anniversary, however, she decided to observe on the down-low.

From me, she requested an afternoon of my cooking and company, with time reserved to solve the Sunday NYTimes crossword. Preparing a special meal, dining together, and then escaping with our erasable ink pens into the world of cleverly constructed words: That’s a gift I am happy to provide.

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For our lunch, I made three dishes–puree of cauliflower soup, grilled strip steak smothered in sherried mushrooms, and chocolate pudding parfaits. All three were delicious, but it’s the soup I want to tell you about today.

It is lush and creamy, without a speck of cream. No roux or other thickening agents either. A couple of potatoes, an onion, a parsnip or heirloom yellow carrot work together with the cauliflower to give the soup its silken body.

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Simply put, it is vegetables and broth, simmered and pureed.

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And, with a modicum of embellishments, it elevates to a soup for celebrations.

About those embellishments:
I reserve a handful of cauliflower curds, which I oven roast to crispness and drop into the soup, like croutons. Then I sprinkle in crumbles of gorgonzola–or any blue, which slightly melt into the soup where they fall, supplying little knobs of pungency in select spoonfuls.

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To finish it: A whirl of chili oil–for a brilliant streak of heat, a scatter of sliced green onions for a hit of brightness and fresh taste. (Green onions are a gift. What savory thing isn’t improved upon with a bit of fresh green?)

Joanie and I loved the soup. I was happy, because it was beautiful to serve, delectable to eat and easy to make. The fact that it is gluten free, vegetarian, (and if you omit the gorgonzola, vegan and dairy-free) makes it one that I’ll keep in my repertoire, knowing that I can serve any guest with any dietary preference with confidence.

Now, back to puzzling…got to figure out 94 Down, site of ancient Greek Olympics…four letters beginning with E…

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PUREE OF CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER CROUTONS
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 parsnip or heirloom yellow carrot, peeled and sliced
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large head cauliflower, washed, cored and chopped, 1 1/2 cups of curds reserved
1 quart vegetable broth
salt and black pepper, to taste
2-3 green onions, finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola (or blue cheese)
chili oil

Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil.
Add onions, carrot or parsnip, and potatoes. Saute for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chopped cauliflower and continue sauteeing for another five minutes.
Pour in the broth. Stir well. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender–12 minutes.

Remove from heat.

Blend until smooth—I use an immersion blender to puree the soup, but you may use a food processor or regular blender if that’s what you have.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with roasted cauliflower “croutons,” crumbled gorgonzola, green onion, and chili oil, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

Roast the cauliflower curds:
For more tips on roasting cauliflower, with corresponding recipes, visit Cooking Light’s healthy makeovers here.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the cauliflower in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Spread over a baking sheet and place into the oven.
Roast until golden brown and slightly crispy, about 15 minutes.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes | 16 Comments »




December 15th, 2014

Great GREENS

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My friend Heather had overbought produce for an event, and found her fridge bursting with 12 bunches of assorted winter greens–curly kale, lacinato kale, and great fronds of Swiss chard. She called me, wondering, what could she do? They were becoming limp, and it would be a shame for them to be fodder for the compost.

We talked about some ideas—making kale pesto and kale chips, blanching and freezing chard, when I said, “I’ll take some off your hands. I’ll make some dishes with them. Then, come to dinner.”

Later that day, she arrived at my door, arms laden with grocery bags, a jumble of green leaves, bright and dark, veined and rumpled, some sturdy and sweeping, some starting to look a bit weary.

Great greens, girl. Gotta get to work.

Before I could figure out their destiny, I had to assess their condition. I trimmed their stems, and plunged them in tubs of fresh water to rehydrate. Within an hour, most of the greens had perked up. The chard plumped and straightened, out of the tub. The rumpled kale regained its bounce.

Now, what to make?

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The thing with greens—any sort really—is that what starts out as monumental quickly cooks down to manageable. Nonetheless, I had enough chard to make a great pot of stewy-soup, and plenty of lacinato kale to make this beguiling recipe I’d just discovered on Food 52.

Both are simple wintertime recipes, hearty and delicious. Most of work is in prepping the greens–cleaning, deribbing, tearing, chopping.

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You begin this soup the way you do most soups: You build a foundation. Saute hunks of portabello mushrooms with diced onions and carrots to get a meaty base before adding vegetable broth and tomato paste. The mushrooms and tomato are the powerhouse duo, making the sienna-colored broth in which the chard simmers a veritable umami-bomb of flavor.

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And this kale gratin? Ridiculously easy. Only 6 ingredients, 3 of them being salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Everything gets tossed into a baking dish and then placed into the oven. That’s it!

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I made two modifications.

The original recipe calls for 3 cups of Cream. I know. So rich, so luxurious, so over-the-top—but I couldn’t bring myself to go there. And, I already had a quart of half-and-half in the fridge. I dialed it back a bit–and substituted the half and half for cream. Instead of placing slabs of sharp cheddar over the top of the casserole, I shredded the cheese–4 ounces each of New York yellow and Vermont white—to generously sprinkle over the mass, the pieces nestling in and around the greens.

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Don’t worry about the tower of kale in your baking dish–it cooks down in that hot oven. Some of the leaves get dry and crispy on the top—and boy, is that ever a boon. (Kale chips!) The cheese, as it bubbles and melts, forms a savory caramel crust too. Scoop through that layer of crunch into this compelling press of green, cooked to tenderness, the kale absorbing the nutmeg-scented dairy in the process–a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

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I cannot overstate the absolute wonder and earthy delectability of this dish. If it’s this marvelous with half-and-half, the cream version must be Heaven. I just want to be a little mindful of my heart, and not get there too soon.

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SWISS CHARD-PORTABELLO MUSHROOM SOUP
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 pound portabello mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 quart vegetable stock
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves cut into ribbons

Place a 6 quart pot over medium heat. When warm, add the olive oil. Then add the onions, sauteing them until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and continue to stir and saute for another three minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the mushrooms.
Season with salt, black pepper, and thyme. Stir. The mushrooms may stick to the bottom, but don’t worry–that will add to the flavor of the base.

Pour in the vegetable stock. Add the tomato paste and a cup of water. Stir well.
Add the Swiss chard, folding into the broth. It will collapse as it cooks. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings.

Serve over hot cooked rice.
Makes 10-12 servings

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LACINATO KALE GRATIN adapted from Food 52 and Renee Erickson/A Boat, A Whale, and a Walrus
2-3 bunches lacinato kale (a.k.a. black Tuscan or dinosaur kale)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
3 cups Half-and-Half
1/2 pound shredded sharp cheddar (can be a combination of yellow and white sharps)

Preheat oven to 350 convection or 375 conventional.

Remove the kale ribs and tear the leaves into pieces. Place into a large bowl. Sprinkle the leaves with salt, black pepper and nutmeg and toss. Heap the seasoned kale into a 9 inch by 13 inch baking dish. Pour the half-and-half over the kale, taking care that it doesn’t spill over the sides. Top with shredded cheddar, tucking some of the shreds underneath some leaves.

Place into the oven, middle rack, and bake for 45 minutes (convection) or an hour (conventional)

Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.

Makes 8 servings

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 15 Comments »