Thursday, September 30, 2010

Split pea soup

Mm, green.

I am taking German right now, and I love it. Monday morning, my bike ride to school was pleasantly cool, so I declare that we have now entered Suppezeit! Suppezeit is a great time of year, albeit somewhat short in Houston. Only in a place as hot, humid, and long-summered as Houston would someone declare Suppezeit on an 86-degree day. But get this, although the temperature was 86 degrees, it only “felt like” 83 degrees, according to whomever decides these things. If you’ve lived in Houston, you know what a big deal that is. But I digress. The point is, I love soup, and I am very happy to be moving into soup season.

I made this soup on Monday after a long day at school. With just a little measuring, chopping, and patience, I had a warm, filling dinner and over a quart of leftovers. Stay tuned for a nice use of those leftovers in an upcoming post. While the soup is cooking, you can make a salad and some nice salad dressing (recipe also forthcoming). I also ate it with a slice of yogurt bread toast with a lot of butter.

I love the cumin-smoked paprika combo I used in this soup. Both spices add a lot of umami, which makes the soup really satisfying. Some vegetarian split pea soups are bland or way too salty, but I think the spices in this one give it some depth and flavor without adding too much salt. This vegetarian thinks that smoked paprika is a great substitute for the smoky, savory ham flavor in a lot of split pea soups. I put celery seeds in there because I didn’t have celery. They were fine, but add a diced celery rib if you’ve got one.

Split pea soup
makes 6 cups-ish, enough for at least 4 meals

2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery rib, diced, if you have it
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp celery seeds if you don’t have a celery rib
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 lb split peas
6 cups vegetable broth or 6 cups water with 1 tbsp Better than Bouillon soup base

Heat vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat. When it is hot, add the onion, carrot, and spices. Saute until onion and carrot are soft and onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add split peas and broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until peas are done to your liking, about 40 minutes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Boozy fruit, an experiment (part 1)

Last week I saw an article in the New York Times food section about preserving fruit with alcohol. Alcohol is antibacterial, so according to the article you can preserve fruit without having to sterilize cans like you do with making jams. In addition, it just sounded intriguing to me. The article suggests that you can serve the fruit and liqueur with ice cream, custard, in trifle, or other dessert options, you can make a drink out of them or garnish drinks with them, or even make muffins out of them if you don’t mind a little buzz in the morning. It seems this is a great idea for gifts at Christmas or throughout the year.

The basic idea seems to be 1 pound of fruit, 1/2 cup of sugar, booze (at least 40% alcohol by volume) to cover, and 4-12 weeks of macerating time. I stared at my liquor shelf and came up with three combinations I wanted to try: gin and cucumber, strawberry and tequila, and plum or apricot and kirschwasser, which is a cherry brandy.

I went to the store and bought a pound of cucumbers, a pound of strawberries, three plumcots and three plums. I also picked up more gin (I didn’t want to use the good stuff for this experiment) and some regular brandy because I didn’t have enough kirschwasser, and the corner liquor store didn’t have it. I didn’t have any quart-size jars, and each pound of fruit makes about a quart, so I just used two smaller jars for each batch. This also gave me the opportunity to experiment with flavorings.

Tequila and strawberries

I paired these two because strawberry margaritas exist and are tasty. I washed the strawberries, cut the stems off, cut large ones in half, and cut all the soft or bad spots off. I figured bad spots would not fare well sitting in a cabinet for months. I divided the strawberries into two jars and added some lime zest to one of them. I added 1/4 cup sugar to each jar and filled with tequila.

Brandy with plums and plumcots

I picked this pairing because one of the recipes was in this vein and I had some kirschwasser I never used. I wasn’t really sure which stone fruit to use, cherry, apricot, or plum, but plums and plumcots were on sale at the store, so I went with those. I washed the fruit and poked it all over with a needle as advised in one of the recipes I had seen. I put the three plums into one jar and the three plumcots into another. To the jar with the plums I added 1/2 a cinnamon stick, some fragments of a nutmeg I had cracked previously, and 1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste. To the jar with the plumcots I added 1/2 cinnamon stick and 1/4 tsp whole cardamom seeds. I added 1/4 cup sugar to each jar, divided the kirschwasser between them, and filled the jars the rest of the way with brandy. The plums didn’t fit in the jars very well, so I ended up cutting one of them in half in each jar for geometry’s sake. I am interested in seeing if this changes the taste or texture.

Gin and cucumbers

I paired these two because of my favorite drink, the Gordon’s cup. I was also a excited to have a reason to use juniper berries. I received some as a gift about a year ago and hadn’t figured out a use for them yet. Using my mandoline, I sliced two cucumbers into 1/4-inch thick slices. I divided them between two jars. Into one jar I also placed 2 tsp juniper berries. Into the other I added a little lime zest and 1 tsp coriander seeds. I sprinkled 1/4 cup sugar into each jar and covered with gin.

There was a good amount of undissolved sugar at the bottom of all the jars, so I shook them around. After an hour or so of shaking every once in a while, the sugar had all dissolved.

All the fruits I used are less dense than alcohol. The plums were wedged into the jars pretty well, so they were completely submerged, but the strawberries and cucumber slices were poking up. I didn’t think that was a good idea, and I didn’t want to spend the next month rotating the jars so all the fruit would be submerged regularly, so I searched my house for ways to hold them down. I ended up putting the two halves of my tea ball into two of the jars, the top of one of our cocktail shakers into another, and an empty sample-sized glass jam jar with no label into the last one. These were just tall enough to push down the fruit so it wouldn’t be exposed to air. I hope none of them are alcohol-soluble. My life isn't very exciting; my quest to submerge fruit made me feel like MacGyver.

Tea ball to the rescue!

Having dissolved the sugar and submerged the fruit, I rinsed the jars so they wouldn’t leave sticky rings and placed them in a corner of a cabinet, the closest thing I have to a cool, dry place in my Houston apartment. Unless I get too antsy, I plan on trying them in around six weeks, which will be November 9th-ish. I’m excited. I’ll let you know how they are and what I decide to do with them. At that point, if they’re good, I can make more batches that will be ready just in time for Christmas.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Refreshing Health Beverage/Red Rover

Have you ever tried cranberry juice? I don't mean cranberry juice cocktail or a blend of grape, apple, and cranberry juice. I mean the real stuff.
You can get it at most grocery stores. It's a bit pricey (from $4.50-$9 for 32 oz), but it's really sour, so you probably won't be able to drink much at a time. I was having some physical problems that I thought cranberry might be good for, so I decided to start incorporating some of the real stuff into my diet. (Side note: I'm generally not a fan of treating food like medicine, and I recognize that the small amount of cranberry juice I drink each day probably does nothing tangible for my health, but I wanted to feel like I was being proactive in some way, plus I like it.)

I find cranberry juice too intense to drink by itself, but a combination of cranberry juice and sparkling water is tasty and refreshing. I'm not a fan of drinking really sweet stuff with meals, so I like that this has some flavor but isn't sweet. Jon and I call my cranberry and seltzer combo "Refreshing Health Beverage." One night we were about to watch a movie, and Jon wanted a festive beverage to accompany it. He added rum to Refreshing Health Beverage, and I dubbed it Red Rover. You don't often see non-sweet rum drinks. I think the tartness brings out the flavor of the rum in a totally different way than most things.

Refreshing Health Beverage
1/3 cup 100% cranberry juice
8 oz sparkling water

Pour cranberry juice into a glass. Add water.

Red Rover
1/3 cup 100% cranberry juice
1/3 cup rum
6 oz sparkling water
1 lime wedge, optional

Pour cranberry juice and rum into a glass. Add water. Garnish with a lime wedge if you feel festive.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Celery and tofu salad

We have really been enjoying the spice oil! I have been using a mixture of it, sesame oil, and regular vegetable oil to saute onions and kale. Yum! Jon topped some popcorn with spice oil and salt the other day. The non-capsicum spices really came through on the popcorn.
(Sorry, it just looks like popcorn.)

We have also made the celery-tofu salad from the Minimalist column that originally gave us the idea to make the spice oil. We were quite underwhelmed with the recipe as written, but we made some tweaks that really takes it up a notch. Even when generously salted, I found Bittman's version hot but lacking in depth of flavor. We upped the flavor with ponzu sauce and sesame oil, and it's now quite nice. (Ponzu sauce is a Japanese condiment made from soy sauce and citrus juice.) I think the ponzu was key because it added both saltiness and acid, which the spice oil doesn't have. To bump up the calories a bit, we have also served this over rice noodles, but you'll still be chewing for a long time if you want to fill up on this. I'd recommend eating something more substantial with it to make a full meal.

If you haven't seen pressed tofu before, ours comes in a package like this.
And the bricks look like this.
(I forgot to take the picture until after I had sliced it, so I just stuck it back together.)

It is, as the name suggests, pressed until it is very firm. Some brands are also lightly spiced as well. The texture is really nice for dishes where you won't be cooking the tofu, like this salad or a spring roll. It's also good just cut up on regular salads if you want to pump up the protein a little.

Sorry, I don't include amounts on any of the ingredients. The amount of celery and tofu you use depends on how much salad you want to eat, and the other ingredients are all to taste.

Celery and tofu salad
Pressed tofu
Sesame oil
Ponzu sauce
Rice noodles (the flat ones), cooked, optional

Slice celery into thin spears. I did this by slicing each rib into three pieces and then each piece into two or three pieces lengthwise. Cut the tofu into thin slices roughly the same size as the celery. Top with sesame oil, spice oil, and ponzu sauce to taste. Serve over rice noodles if desired. Chopped celery leaves are nice for garnishing if you're into that kind of thing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Corn chowder

I can't believe I've never posted our corn chowder recipe! This, spanakopita, and sweet potato gnocchi might be why Jon married me. We made this on Saturday as a pre-ballet dinner for us, his mom, and a friend. The recipe is from Vegetarian Classics by Jeanne Lemlin. While we're here, I must put in a good word for this book. When I became a vegetarian in 2002, my grandparents gave me this book for my birthday. Back then I didn't know how to make pretty much anything. The recipes in this book are always easy to follow, don't use obscure ingredients, and most importantly for a new cook, work! We still refer to it a lot, and it has ingredient combinations and techniques we wouldn't think about but end up being really good. I highly recommend this for anyone's vegetarian cookbook collection.

Corn chowder

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 large potatoes, diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 celery rib, sliced
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste
4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
Fresh basil to garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a stockpot on medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, celery, red peppers, bay leaf, basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Add corn kernels and heat through. Remove the bay leaf. With an immersion blender or food processor, partially puree soup. It should still be basically a chunky vegetable soup, but pureeing a little bit gets some of the potato starch into the broth and makes it extra rich and creamy. Stir in cream and milk and serve. Garnish with fresh basil.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chinese spice oil

First, a moment of advertising. I like to make things other than food. Check out to see my sewing projects, old and new.

We made this beautiful red spice oil from a recent Minimalist column in the New York Times. We plan on making the celery and pressed tofu salad from the column later in the week. Jon is in love with this oil. He poured some on the eggplant flan we had for dinner, and when we strained it, he mopped up the bits still in the pot with bread. It is a bit spicy for me, even though I halved the amount of red pepper flakes from the original recipe. I might have to make a very mild version for myself, or just dilute this one to taste. The next time I make it, I might try to get the coriander and cumin tastes to be more prominent. Cinnamon and cloves are so strong that I might need to reduce or leave them out in order to taste the other spices. We plan on using this on the aforementioned salad, in dipping sauces for spring rolls, in stir-fries, and wherever Jon can think to add it for himself.

This was our first time using Sichuan peppercorns, although I had had them in a dish in Singapore. They are kind of trippy. They have a peppery, citrusy aroma, but they numb your tongue slightly, so you don't taste the heat as much. I don't think it would be a big deal to replace the Sichuan peppercorns with black peppercorns, but you would lose that tingly sensation. You can get Sichuan peppercorns at Asian grocery stores. I think Central Market also stocks them.

Chinese spice oil

1 cinnamon stick
1 2-inch segment of ginger, peeled and cut into a few pieces
3 cloves
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 star anise
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1/8 cup (2 tbsp) red pepper flakes (this is half of what the original recipe calls for, and it's plenty spicy for me)

1 cup vegetable oil (we used a corn/canola blend; Bittman recommends peanut oil)

Throw all the spices into a pot. Pour in the oil. Heat over medium until spices are sizzling. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature. Strain. Discard the spices. We're storing it in the fridge, but it's probably fine on the counter.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rye berry salad

This is an antidote to the avocado milkshake and ice cream recipes I have been posting. It's just a simple, healthy, grain salad made with stuff lying in my fridge. I had picked up wheat and rye berries at Central Market ages ago and kept them in my freezer. When we were clearing out space to store the ice cream, I remembered them and decided to use some of them. Wheat and rye berries are the most natural form of wheat and rye. They take a long time to cook, but it's not active time, so this was a pretty easy meal. Pretty much any leftover cooked vegetables you have would be good in this, too.

Rye berry salad
Makes approximately two dinner-sized portions and one lunch for the next day.

1 cup whole wheat or rye berries

4 leaves kale
Sesame and vegetable oil

Cherry tomatoes (I think we had 10.)
1/2 cup cooked adzuki beans
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (I used pumpkin seeds, but I think sunflower would be better.)
1 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Salt and lemon juice to taste

Place the rye berries in a pan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook until berries are soft enough for your liking, about an hour. (Tip: when you test a few, they should feel a little softer than you think you'd like them to be. They seem firmer when you're eating a whole bowl of them than when you test them.)

In the meantime, wash and chop the kale leaves. Saute in a generous amount of mixed vegetable and sesame oil until wilted. (This will basically become the dressing for the salad.)

Halve cherry tomatoes. When the rye berries are cooked, combine all ingredients, including the oil from the pan with the kale, and mix well. Season with salt and lemon juice to taste.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Jus Alpokat

As I mentioned in my post about Singapore, one of the great things I got to try there was jus alpokat, a delicious avocado-based beverage. It was described as Indonesian avocado juice, but it is basically an avocado milkshake. It was a great treat, although it's very rich, and usually the whole glass was too much. My birthday was on Monday, and I decided I wanted a yummy meal reminiscent of my time in Singapore: jus alpokat and curry laksa. (I'll post about the curry laksa later. It was great.)

I looked online for jus alpokat recipes and decided to use a kind of consensus. Some use milk and sugar, some use milk and simple syrup, and some use sweetened condensed milk. The one below uses milk and sugar because it seemed easiest. I loved it. Jon liked it at first, but it was too much for him as he kept drinking it, so I ended up getting to have some the next day as well. The amount below was advertised as making two servings, but it's so rich that it's probably better to split it four ways. Avocado is great in sweet things, and I definitely recommend trying this. I am eventually going to try a vegan version with coconut milk. I think it could be good.

I couldn't find my camera when I was making these, so I used my laptop instead. The pictures kind of freak me out because of the mirror image thing. My kitchen doesn't look like that! My left front tooth is behind my right one, not the other way around! (Yeah, I know I always see myself in the mirror like this, but I'm not used to pictures of me looking like this.)

Jus alpokat

1 1/2 large avocados
1 cup milk
Sugar to taste (about 2 tbsp)
Chocolate syrup

Scoop avocado flesh into blender. Add milk. Blend until smooth. I used the "blend" setting at first and moved up to "liquefy," the fastest setting, after it had gotten pretty blended. Add sugar to taste and blend again. To serve, pour chocolate syrup onto the sides of 2-4 glasses. Spoon the avocado mixture into the glasses. Without washing blender, place ice cubes into blender and pulse a few times to crush. Top each glass with crushed ice. Eat a little of it immediately because it has a great texture and it's avocado flavored, and then mix the rest into the beverage.