Recently in Soup
Thursday, January 20, 2011

cauliflower soup with parmesan and harissa

cauliflower soup

Maybe I got a little ahead of myself. I had intended for us to be fully unpacked and settled in five days. I thought, if we apply ourselves, we can get it all done in no time, like magic. But settling into a place doesn’t work that way. For one, you discover you need things. Things like shelves and shelf dividers and wall-mounting hooks. Things that help you organize, and if anyone from the Container Store executive team is reading this, we could really use one of your stores in our hood. Of course, the downside to that would mean that I would never, and I mean never, leave it – and Andrew have to explain to people that his girlfriend got lost somewhere between the Elfa shelving units and the kitchen stackables. It would be a sad tale of love and loss. I’d quickly become a cautionary tale, or an urban legend – or both!

Secondly, in the process of unpacking, you discover that there are things you no longer need, things you want to give away, things you want to sell. And so these things, until you find a proper place for them, sit in the middle of you living room/bedroom/hallway shamelessly staring at you as if to say, “You, you who no longer wants me, how could you do this to me? How could you just discard me?” Such is the state of things at the apartment.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

spiced butternut squash and carrot soup

spiced butternut squash and carrot soup

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for Thanksgiving. I’m ready for Vermont, itching to get out of the city. And it’s not that I don’t love New York, but I need to be surrounded by trees and mountains for awhile. Brooklyn, you don’t count – you never wear me out. But Manhattan – I’m looking at you. Today’s commute alone was that final straw that made me want to be instantly transported to rural New England. I wanted to be in a rustic house, wearing wool socks and eating this soup. I think it could do lots of soothing things for my soul. And if yours needs soothing, might I suggest a bowlful?

Soup is a funny thing. It strikes me as a thing people can tolerate, or love. But apparently, there are people out there who hate soup. I don’t get it. It’s a little like hating “WALL-E”. How can anyone hate Wall-e with his Short Circuit physique and his love of “Hello, Dolly!” But I once overheard people discussing it on the subway, and called it pointless and silly. I wanted to interject and offer up my arguments for WALL-E’s innate genius, but thought better and kept my opinions to myself.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

avgolemono soup

avgolemono soup

This is Andrew’s favorite soup and it took me six months to make it. You would think that as his girlfriend I’d feel compelled to rush to the kitchen to make his favorite things to woo him, but apparently I’m obstinate and run on the over-promise and under-deliver campaign. I am easily distracted and seasonal foods are the equivalent of ooh-shiny-what-were-we-talking-about-again? Andrew has been lovely and patient, acting as an obedient guinea-pig and sampling whatever dishes strike my fancy at a moment’s notice. Might it be because he knows which side his bread is buttered on? Possibly. But either way, he’s been lovely.

5 eggs

In discussing our favorite dishes, Andrew told me about this Greek diner in Boston he’d go to with family, and the diner would make this amazing Greek chicken lemon soup. I’ve heard of avgolemono soup, but I’d never had it before. The premise: chicken stock, intensely infused with lemon juice and thickened with eggs, sounded at once comforting, luxurious, and refreshing (with lemons how could it not?). But because I’ve never eaten it before, how would I know a good recipe from a dud? It’s one thing to make your boyfriend’s favorite dish that you have mastered, but a totally different one to venture into the terra incognita. You don’t want to fall flat on your face, and while you want to wow and impress, you, the you with a day job, also might not have the time to run all over New York (or wherever you happen to live) and sample avgolemono in a dozen different locations.

8 lemons

But over the past month, I have looked at many an Avgolemono recipe in preparation for Operation Boyfriend’s Favorite Soup, and realized that you can tell, by reading through a recipe, if it’s going to be a good soup. Maybe not the exact replica Andrew was used to, but a tasty bowl of soup nonetheless. After reading through over a dozen or so recipes, I could tell which version produced what. Some recipes came across as inadequately lemony (you need more than one lemon for a whole pot of soup to bear its name); some as too watery (quarter cup of rice does not exciting soup make); some as skimping on the chicken itself, if not avoiding it all together. From my research, I learned that classic avgolemono, should typically contain some rice and offer noticeable chicken presence. Since you’re eating chicken soup, it follows that you should see chicken meat in your bowl. The soup should taste rich, but not overbearingly thick or heavy. If you want your soup to be less filling, adjust your chicken accordingly, but if you prefer to have a meal instead, chicken meat should have its own spotlight.

avgolemono soup

The soup gets better the following day, as the flavors meld together and grow more intense. I had it for lunch yesterday and thought perhaps I might be unduly flattering myself. But Andrew, who also had it for lunch at work, noted the same, which makes me think that perhaps there’s something to the better-the-day-after theory. Unless, he is just flattering me and it’s some kind of a Jedi mind trick so that I make this soup soon again and not wait another six months. If it’s the latter, this is nothing short of brilliant strategery* on his part – flattery will get you everywhere.

*Yup, I went there.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

butternut squash and cider soup

butternut squash and cider soup

We got back from London, and I promptly came down with one of those post-long-plane rides colds. At first, it was kind of fun to have a sexy rock-star voice, but when it quickly deteriorated into lower octaves, I started to sound like I’ve been drinking for thirty years. The sexy was long gone, and I just wanted my regular high-pitched, I-still-sound-like-I’m-thirteen voice back. That, and the ability to finish a sentence before erupting in a coughing fit.

I don’t know about you, but when I get sick, unless I’m running a serious fever, I don’t sit still. I don’t wrap myself in blankets, make residence on the couch and watch countless Dr. Who re-runs unless I am nearly dead to the world and have resigned to Gatorade and saltines. (By the way, the new Dr. Who is just not doing it for me. Just wanted to share that.) Something about being sick coupled with a desire to be constantly moving about sets me in motion. And makes me want to make soup. And to be precise – pureed soup that tells me that autumn is here, and it’s high time for squash.

butternut squash and cider soup

This soup comes from a highly-anticipated book – The Essential New York Times Cook Book written diligently and thoughtfully over the last six years by Amanda Hesser. The Amanda Hesser of the Cooking for Mr. Latte and The Cook and the Gardener fame, among others. Years ago, when I was reading chapters of “Cooking for Mr. Latte” in the Sunday Magazine, I would imagine myself falling in love and winning over my future husband with one meal at a time. I imagined myself jettisoning my job, packing a suitcase and moving to France to attend La Varenne. The stories always sounded so lovely, and I liked to imagine myself in them. It was the ultimate romance: love through food and stories around it. So many of our memories are shaped by what we eat and who we eat with, even if a meal is just with yourself.

butternut squash and cider soup

I am so very grateful to the that same thoughtful soul (you know who you are!) who sent me the fantastic Melissa Clark and Bill Yosses book for sending me a review copy of this expansive tome. It was on my list of books to own and it is an absolute treasure. Painstakingly curated and lovingly put together, this book is encyclopedic in its scope with recipes dating back to 1880’s, comprehensive, and thorough. But beyond its offerings, it’s like a treasure trove of history – stories told through recipes of how this country has evolved in what we eat, and consequently what we might be concerned with: sustainability, health, frugality, or excess. There are dozens of recipes I’ve noted and set aside. I will be cooking from it for decades.

butternut squash and cider soup

I tweaked this soup quite a bit because I like to play with some spices in my squash, so I added some cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne. And I wanted to make the squash taste more um, should I say “squashy”, so I added a tiny bit of lemon juice just to brighten the flavor just a bit. I took out the apple garnish, adding instead some cumin-spiced sour cream, which can be swapped for crème fraîche or yogurt, if you like, and sprinkled a few cilantro leaves on top. But, darlings, the cider! The cider was bold, pronounced, and unexpected. On the one hand, there was an unmistakable taste of apples and fall, but on the other hand, the apples gave way to more savory flavors of the squash playing a supporting, rather than a leading role. It’s soup that is at once inspiring and comforting, bold and subdued, celebratory and casual. And it’s perfect for those evenings when you’ve all but lost your voice. For if you cannot exclaim out loud the admiration for the soup, your empty bowl will be declaration enough.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

gazpacho

gazpacho

Goodness, folks, where did you come from? You are just about the most amazing bunch of people, you know that? I give you boyfriend news, and you send me the internet equivalent of a hug and a squeal; I send an online video your way – and you’re all support and glee! How did I luck out with you as an audience? I must’ve done something right!

I want to take a minute and just say something here (all the while you look at these amazing tomatoes) about the internets, and friendship, and taking chances, and following your gut. I want to take you through a little exercise, on a journey of linking events. Last summer, I had just moved to Brooklyn and as I was settling into my apartment, I was also ordering kitchen goodies to fill out my new, shiny, spacious kitchen (I am still pinching myself that I have a kitchen like this, in a rental, in NY, but I digress). I had accidentally ordered two cherry pitters and was “complaining” on Twitter about my lack of attention to detail and whatever would I do with two pitters? Enter Jennie, who is one of my dearest friends now, who half-jokingly responded, I’d be happy to take one off your hands and refund you the cost. And I wrote to her, look since we’re in the same neighborhood let’s meet up and I’ll give you the pitter. Free of charge. Because, they are, like, $12 and charging you for that would just be silly. Right? Right.

scooping out the tomatoes

So Jennie and I, two perfect strangers, outside of being Twitter buddies, met up at One Girl Cookies for a coffee and a pitter drop-off. Jennie, and this tells you about the kind of person that she is (and that kind is amAzing!), brought me some tomato jam she had made earlier (which I promptly ate in one sitting with one of those gigantic spoons you see in pictures here) because she liked sharing as much as I did and because Jennie, at heart, is a mom. But mostly because Jennie looks to seeks out individuals such as herself that she can build communities with. Jennie, at her core, is a builder and a nurturer.

o hai, am a little piece of crustless baguette!

Something about that meeting, maybe it was our candor, maybe it was our similar sense of humor (dry, sarcastic) that sort of sealed the bond between us almost instantly. I call her my neighbor-sister-in-crime. I’m not sure what she calls me, but I’m sure it’s something nice. But we’ve become fast friends because we took a chance and we had a good gut feeling. Now, fast forward a few months to late fall and the Bon Appetit bake-off. Jennie had mentioned that her friend Alice, of Savory Sweet Life was coming to town. Jennie had roomed with Alice at another conference, and Jennie, who’s a keen judge of character, thought Alice was kind, sweet, and joyous. After Alice and I exchanged a few emails about hotels in New York and their respective costs, I quickly realized how quickly everything in New York can add up. I knew Alice had three kids, and that money could and should be spent on them, and I offered Alice and her husband my place to stay. I didn’t think much on it, nor did I contemplate the matter that long.

scooping out the tomatoes

I suppose it’s a little odd to invite people you’ve never met to stay in your home. I suppose it’s also a little odd when someone you’ve never met before offers you their place to stay. You might start doubting that person’s sanity. Home is a very personal thing. It’s your haven, your cocoon, your place of rest and protection. After a bad day, home envelops you, holds you close. Home offers things like soup and stews and blankets and warm cups of tea. And if you’re anything like me, then you’re a bit of a homebody, and like to spend your evenings curled up with a book on the couch, the television softly on in the background. But even though I treasure my home, I also understand that for a lot of people, coming to New York is a huge financial burden. Especially if you have children.

scooped!

I’ve grown up in a very “open” house so to speak – people came and went, and we always had someone over. By nature, Russian culture is very communal: people’s accomplishments and contributions are measured through their involvement with families and communities. Little premium is placed on being an individual, whereas in the American tradition we are reminded of the “rugged individualism”. In America you are encouraged that you must push your limits, that ceilings exist only to be broken, that your inner voice should be the strongest one.

mashing the garlic into a paste

Growing up with these two cultures, I am an amalgamation of both views, depending on the situation. I am very “Russian”, I suppose when it comes to sharing my space, as I love to have people over, love to host them and don’t feel annoyed when hungry friends show up unannounced. So sharing my home with Alice seemed natural. Something in my gut told me I should take a chance and had I not listened, I wouldn’t have met Alice and become friends with her the way that I have. Had I not arranged to meet Jennie for coffee, who knows if she and I would have grown to be so close? I am grateful for these opportunities, grateful that I have people at my table eating, and grateful for all of you. It’s nice to have you here, at my virtual table, even though I can’t feed you directly, I can pass these recipes on to you.

food processor, i love you

So how does this sop tie into all this? Well, I made it a few weeks back for a Sunday supper for some folks we had over for dinner: Andrew’s younger brother and an out-of-town friend. There we were, gathered around a table on a Sunday evening, ushering in a new week. And also eating this soup, among other things. And that’s what I love the most, a house full of people, eating and laughing together. I think this is the single reason I cook – to me it’s an expression of love, of family, of community. I started cooking in earnest when I felt uprooted and disconnected from home, and didn’t know where I belonged. A kitchen gave me a home.

what summer means to me

Now, about this soup, I can say nothing less than the following: Universe, this is my favorite summer soup hands down! It is summer in bowl in all its tomatoeness. It’s fresh, it’s cold, it has a bite of garlic and a brightness of vinegar. It is the also one of the easiest things to make and somehow manages to look really sophisticated and impressive. It got me thinking that these would be perfect served at party in tiny shot glasses. Easy to consume, delicious, and leave you wanting more. Everyone at the table wanted seconds, which made my heart sing. Needless to say, there was nothing left for the following day.

hang on, little tomatoes!

So this soup, and this is my long-winded way of telling you this, is for all of you. You who come to read for the stories. You who come just to look at the pictures. You who cook from this site and send me feedback. You who’ve stumbled here by accident and decided to stay. My favorite soup of the season – is for you. I hope you like it, and thank you for being here.

mile end delicatessen mile end delicatessen

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Monday, August 9, 2010

cucumber yogurt soup

cucumber yogurt soup

Today, I have soup for you. Not hot soup, mind you, because we are in the midst of summer, nobody wants to eat piping hot soup. Not me, at least. This here today is cold soup – cold cucumber yogurt soup to be exact. It’s amazingly refreshing, I promise you. I even had it for breakfast the day after I made it – over one of those days the heat index broke 100. I realize it’s less than traditional to eat soup for breakfast, but then again, I am also a fan of cold lo mein the morning after a night of Chinese food. Go figure.

The way this summer’s been going, I’m looking forward to eating a lot of this soup. Full bowls of it with crusty hunks of bread, kohlrabi salad, and buttermilk granita. Anything to keep me from turning on the stove or the oven. I do break down sometimes, in an attempt to conquer fear, or bring the summer barbecue inside my tiny apartment, but if I can get away with not raising the apartment temperature I’m all for it.

cucumber yogurt soup

Speaking of hunks (I do know a way with burying the lede, don’t I), I’ve been keeping something from you. Or rather someone. And it’s partly been because I have been so protective of it (him), and partly because I wasn’t sure how to. You see, every time I wanted to tell you about this someone, words would fail me. Like, really fail me. Every time I tried, I would stare at the computer screen, not sure where to start and how to finish. What I want to say go so far beyond language that for now, I’ll say just this: he makes my heart and my life fuller and brighter like a great big song that you want to fill a space with – a song that is deep, clear, resonant. He’s the best “plus one” a girl can hope for, and an eager and enthusiastic eater – an inspiration and a support. And it’s nice to say things like “our dinner” and “we ate” because sharing a meal with him is always a joy and I’m grateful for each little moment like this – really grateful. That’s all I’ll say for now, but expect him to be an ever-growing presence here. I’m happy. Really, truly, ridiculously pinch-myself-I’m-not-dreaming happy.

cucumber yogurt soup

But – back to this soup, which, incidentally I had all to myself. The best part about this soup, besides the fact that it’s delicious, is that you don’t need to turn on your stove, which I already said, but let me stress it again – it is marvelous to make something so quickly and so easily, especially when there’s not enough iced water in the world to cool you off. This soup comes together in mere minutes. That’s right – minutes. The weeknight meals I tell you about that take under an hour to cook while you drink wine? Well, you can definitely have a glass of wine while prepping this, but I’d be surprised if you were able to finish it by the time this soup was done. Unless, of course, you just downed it (no judgment here!) There are no hard and fast rules here – use more or less of the herbs you want, and if dill isn’t to your liking, you can always swap it out for parsley or chives. I think the mint is critical here as it gives the soup its wings, if you will.

cucumber yogurt soup

I could almost hear my oven whimpering when I walked into the kitchen, pulled out my ingredients, and five minutes later sat down to eat this soup. I felt a little badly ignoring it so, but I more than made up for it the following weekend when we had some company over. I ate this soup with my larger-than-life old Russian spoons I inherited from our family friend’s mother after she passed away. I love those gigantic spoons – they mean business. And a perfect vehicle to transport delicious soup from bowl to mouth. I only wished that I could have shared it that evening, though I’m not too worried – we’ve got more sweltering days coming our way and it’s only a matter of time before I’ll reach for this recipe again and make a double batch, to share. See, I just wrote “we” and “our” and it made me all aflutter and smiley – isn’t love grand?

Continue reading cucumber yogurt soup.