Category Archives: Soups and Stews

Winter Vegetable Chili

Some days you just wake up on the wrong side of bed. While some people go on a run, take a hot shower, or grab a journal, I chop. That’s right, I chop. Vegetables. In the most peaceful way possible, taking a knife to an onion or a carrot is calming, relaxing.

When I told my sister this she gave me that “My sister has gone off the deep end” look. I’ll forgive you if you think I’m crazy too. Perhaps I am. But on a morning like this – when I wake up in a funk, head to the kitchen, turn up the music, and wield my lone kitchen knife – I like my potential craziness, because it means creating something nothing short of delicious. Like this chili. And chili is always a good thing. Always.

I think it’s the rhythmic sound of knife hitting cutting board and the diverted focus – from something worrisome to a bright red pepper – that makes chopping away therapeutic. I wish it were exercise I could claim as said therapy, but at least it’s not baking. No, baking I just like to do every other hour of the day. (Did I tell you I made this carrot cake the other day? It was heavenly. Well worth the carrot gratings I had in every nook and cranny of my kitchen. Yes, well well worth it.)

I bought the ingredients for this vegetarian friendly chili nearly a week ago. Forgetting that I’m the type of person who can’t bear sitting still, I thought I would have loads of free time this week given that I wasn’t nannying. Instead I managed to make a week of nothing, into a week of everything. I busily ran between lunch with friends and impromptu babysitting jobs. I created small tasks for myself. Finally finding those long lost library books? Check. Reading a Spanish translation of the Hobbit, which I checked out with my now fine-free library card? Check. Diving into that speeding reading book my dad gave me for Christmas? Check. Forcing myself to go to the gym? Check…kind of. Cooking chili? Ummmmmmmmmm. That is, until now. Admittedly, I might have put too much on my “to do” list. But really, that’s nothing new.

Winter Vegetable Chili 

barely adapted from Food & Wine

Serves 4

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

2 medium garlic cloves, very finely chopped

1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon chile powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

Salt, to taste

1 14-ounce can peeled Italian tomatoes

1 canned chipotle in adobo, plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup canned hominy, drained

1 14.5 oz can red kidney beans, drained

In a medium, heavy enameled cast-iron casserole or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper, parsnips and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chile powder and cumin and season with salt. Cook for 1 minute.

In a blender, puree the tomatoes and their juices with the chipotle, adobo sauce and water until very smooth. Add the mixture to the casserole along with the hominy and beans and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer the chili over moderate heat until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt. Serve with rice, red onions, cilantro, sour cream and chips.

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White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic, and Farro

I am a list person. And yesterday I made a list. A list titled “Recipes to Cook in 2012”. My title is slightly a misnomer as it also includes “sub-lists” of ingredients (like polenta and Jerusalem artichokes) and general dishes (like tarte tatin and vegetable lasagna) that I want to attempt this year, as well as cookbooks I hope to delve into. But the specific recipes I’ve had my eye on for the past year or so, like that Quinoa Skillet Bread over at 101cookbooks, that list is the longest. And of course, at least half of it is comprised of desserts.

Come mid-February the desserts will be rolling out of my oven. I promise. But before I jump into a pile of flour, sugar, and butter I decided to give one last go at sticking to my “eat healthy” New Years resolution with this white bean stew.

Now, I’ve never been the hugest bean fan. They alright. I’ll eat them. But they’re certainly not the ingredient I’ll reach for when I’m looking for a tasty dinner or the perfect potluck dish. No no. This bean stew is different though. It draws together a range of relatively simple flavors, from onion and celery to Parmesan rind and Turkish pepper, to become a delicate, yet filling, winter time meal. The snowy Chicago day is making me crave a bowl even as I type.

White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic, and Farro 

from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

Melissa Clark makes a couple really good suggestions about this recipe: Substitute any dried bean for the cannellini beans. Just be aware that the cooking time might change. Look for semi-pearled farro. It cooks faster! You can also use wheat berries, brown rice, or whole wheat Israeli couscous. Lastly, you can add a ham hock or two, some bacon, a smoked turkey neck or wing, or some sautéed sausage if you want the dish to be meaty. No need to use the Parmesan rind if you add meat!

Serves 6

1 pound dried cannellini beans

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 celery stalk, cut in half crosswise (reserve celery leaves for garnishing)

1 large onion halved lengthwise from root to stem so it holds together

1 whole clove (stick in the onion half)

2 rosemary sprigs

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

Piece of Parmesan rind, if you have it

2 ½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste

1 cup farro, rinsed

Spinach, torn into pieces (optional)

Flaky salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel

¼ teaspoon Turkish or Syrian red pepper such as Urfa, Maras or Aleppo

Chopped celery or parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)

Lemon juice and Parmesan cheese, for serving

If you have the time and would like to soak your beans ahead, this will shorten your cooking time. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let soak for as long as you can. Overnight is optimal but even a few hours will hasten the cooking.

When ready to cook, drain the beans and place them along with the oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, the celery, and the onion in a large pot over medium-heat. Bundle the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf together, tie securely with kitchen twine, and throw it into the pot (or just throw the untied herbs into the pot, though you will have to fish them out later). Add the Parmesan rind, if using. Add water until everything is just covered and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer, partially covered, until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long (if at all) you soaked your beans and how old your dried beans were when you go them.

A test of doneness is to place a bean in your palm and blow on it (the natural thing to do since it will be hot). If the skin breaks, it’s ready. Of course, tasting is a better way to tell. If your bean pot starts to look dry before the beans finish cooking, add more water as needed. At the end of cooking, the water should not quite cover the beans.

Meanwhile, while the beans are cooking, prepare the farro. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farro, pasta style, until softened. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending upon what kind you use. Drain well.

Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves

When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, herbs, and Parmesan ride if you used it. (You can leave the garlic cloves in the pot; they are yummy. There may also be some tiny herb leaves that have detached from the larger sprigs floating loose in the pot. You can leave those in too.) At this point you may want to ladle some of the liquid on the top out depending on how thick you want your stew.

Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced raw garlic, and puree. Return the bean puree to the pot. (You can skip this step and just stir in the minced garlic; the broth will be thinner but just as tasty). Add the spinach, if using, and simmer until the greens wilt.

Serve the beans over the farro, drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle with good flaky salt, red pepper, and celery leaves or parsley. If the stew tastes a bit flat, swirl in some lemon juice at the end to perk up the flavors. Grated Parmesan cheese on top is also nice. But make sure not to skimp on the oil, salt and red pepper when serving.  It really makes the whole thing come together.

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Sweet Potato Soup

Not surprisingly, one of my favorite pass times is reading cookbooks. And food blogs of course. There’s something incredibly gratifying about finding that one recipe I’ve been searching for or stumbling across a combination of flavors that gives me a spark of creativity. Even better than the recipes found in cookbooks and on food blogs are those inspired by friends and family.

Our freshman year, Melanie and I lived two rooms apart in our dirty dorm, whose walls were infused with the stench of Skol and Jose Cuervo. We bonded during late night study sessions taking breaks to question the composition of the ominous stain in the middle of my carpet or dance to the dub step and top 40 hits emanating from the frat quad. Three years later she still lives two doors down, this time in our apartment.

I visited Melanie this summer at her home in D.C. Her mom cooked me chicken Parmesan and salmon with a dill yogurt sauce. We sat around her kitchen table – Mel, her mom, and I – taste testing Godiva chocolate and gossiping about boys at school. And then her parents treated us to tapas: endives with goat cheese, almonds, and oranges, bacon wrapped dates, potatoes topped with a spicy tomato sauce, and more salmon, this time with raspberries and cauliflower puree. Those couple days were filled with the deliciousness that was unsurprisingly absent from the summer camp dining hall I had been eating from for the previous month.

The gift of food can only be repaid with more food. So I dragged Mel in to her kitchen to bake a batch of scones for her and her family. Melanie told me she couldn’t bake, describing the time she forgot to add baking soda to chocolate chip cookies, which naturally then spread across the entire baking sheet. Her sister jokingly called them “diarrhea cookies”. Enough said.

She may not be able to bake (Although, I don’t quite believe that seeing as how she baked a decadent raspberry vanilla cake just a couple weeks ago.) but she has proven she can cook, recently making lasagna, quiche, and butternut squash soup. It was soup season she said. And I agreed. Her soup was thick and creamy. And as it bubbled over the stove its aroma filled my apartment reminding me that at last my favorite season had arrived. And so a week later, it was a fall soup I was craving to cook up and devour.

While Melanie gave me soup inspiration it was Kirstin who brought sweet potatoes in to the picture. Kirstin and I first crossed paths shortly before our first day of college. From the area, we had both made the drive to school towards the end of August intent upon picking up our student IDs before the rush of other freshmen flooded the office. As we waited in line Kirstin turned around to introduce herself. That was luckily not that last time I was greeted by Kirstin’s friendly smile and warm hello. Our paths have continuously crossed since that day from classes to student group events to most recently, a potluck at my apartment, to which Kirstin brought the best, yes the best, salad. “Fall Salad” she had titled the recipe sent to me via email. Riddled with pecans, goat cheese, apples, and dried cranberries it was a salad I throw together for lunch on a regular basis. But then I found the sweet potatoes hidden beneath a mix of leafy greens. It was the sweet potatoes that elevated the salad from lunch time fare to a potluck worthy dish. And it was the sweet potatoes, roasted in dijon mustard and maple syrup, that gave me my final needed push of soup inspiration.

And so this soup was born, subtly spicy and slightly sweet, out of good friends and their adventures in the kitchen. Grab a spoon. Join me. Dive in. And thank Mel and Kirstin for the sweet potato soup warming your body and your heart.

Sweet Potato Soup

Loosely adapted from the Food Network’s Claire Robinson

Makes 4 to 6 servings

3 pounds sweet potatoes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock or broth

1/3 cup maple syrup

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

Goat cheese

Dried cranberries, finely chopped (optional)

Pecans, finely chopped (optional)

Cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°. Roast sweet potatoes until very soft, about 1 hour. Let cool. Cut a slit from one end of the potato to the other and remove flesh with a spoon. Place in a bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, vegetable stock or broth, maple syrup, and dijon mustard. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the sweet potato is broken down, about 15minutes.

Cool the sweet potato mixture for about 5 minutes. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth, transferring the puree to a clean saucepan as you work. Season the soup with salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat to combine the flavors. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and stir in goat cheese just until it begins to melt in. Top with cranberries and pecans or sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.

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Tomato Bread Soup

A couple weeks ago I went to one of my favorite nearby restaurants, a fabulous tapas bar. As usual, I forced my table to order the queso de cabra. For those unfamiliar with tapas, queso de cabra equates to goat cheese baked in a tomato sauce served with slices of baguette, which I prefer toasted with a little garlic and olive oil.

After sopping up the last of the cheese and tomato sauce I had to wonder how I could possible make this dish more accessible to my everyday diet. I suppose I could have opted to replicate the tapa completely and eat it for a meal on its own, but for some reason a pot of tomato sauce with a hunk of goat cheese baked in the middle and some garlicky toasts on the side didn’t seem like a stand alone meal. It seemed like a great tapa but not a complete dinner. Why tomato soup seems like more of a dinner I cannot tell you, but it did. So, my queso de cabra version of tomato soup was born.

I wanted to use fresh tomatoes given their abundance at the farmer’s market and I also wanted bread to somehow be included in the mix. This is where the  Bill Telepan recipe adapted by Luisa Weiss of the Wednesday Chef came in to play. (Read Luisa’s review of this soup by clicking on the link below. If that doesn’t make you want to whip up a batch of this soup I don’t know what will.) The recipe calls for making an easy tomato soup recipe, stirring in hunks of sourdough bread towards the end, and topping it all with cheese and basil. Sound pretty good to me.

The only changes I made to Luisa’s version were to peel the tomatoes. If you’re going for ease though feel free to leave them unpeeled. Luisa did! And to use goat cheese instead of ricotta. Next time I might try roasting the tomatoes or adding the goat cheese to the soup when I add the bread. For now though, with my pre-lunch stomach growling, I think I’m just might have to warm myself up a bowl. And then buy some more tomatoes this weekend to make it all over again.

Tomato Bread Soup

adapted (slightly) from the Wednesday Chef

The changes I made to the Wednesday Chef’s version of this recipe are detailed above. If you only want to eat one serving immediately and save the rest for later I suggest cooking the entire tomato soup for 45 minutes according to the directions below. Then, once it’s ready, pour the serving size you want in a smaller pot, add the bread, and cook for another 10-15 minutes. The rest of the soup you can refrigerate and add bread to when you heat up your next serving.

Serves 3 to 4

3 pounds plum tomatoes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups sourdough bread, without crusts, cut into small cubes

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, minced

Fill a large bowl halfway with ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using a paring knife, score the bottom of each tomato with an X. Add tomatoes to boiling water and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until skin at the X begins to peel back. Using a slotted spoon, remove tomatoes and immediately place in bowl of ice water. Once cooled, peel and core tomatoes. Place in food processor and pulse to chop.

Heat oil in 4-quart saucepan. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft, but not browned. Add tomatoes and their juices. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a slow simmer and cook 45 minutes, covered, stirring from time to time.

When the soup has simmered for 45 minutes, stir the bread cubes into the soup and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning if desired.

Serve hot or at room temperature, with goat cheese and minced basil sprinkled on each serving.

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