You probably want me to write about cookies and such, it being the holiday season. And trust me, I would much rather tell you about cookies, and I will. This month will be very much about cookies. I can’t even wait to begin, but first, I have to just share this recipe for Russian cabbage soup with you because even though this is the official cookie season (aka Christmas), man (or woman) cannot live by cookies alone. It’s cold outside and I bet you would just love something that will warm you up. Why not cabbage soup?
I know that in many people’s minds, soup is not the kind of thing you get overly excited about. It often gets overlooked on the menu in favor of a more exciting appetizer, and unless it has words like velouté in its title, it just doesn’t have much sex appeal to many. But not this girl. This girl loves soup, loves it unabashedly and wholly, placing it in the three top reasons to love fall and winter; the other two being squash season and thick wool sweaters. And red wine. And hot cider. Okay, so maybe more than three, but you get the gist.
I’ve been meaning to make soup for quite some time now this fall, but the weather’s been playing tricks on me. I’ll get ready to prepare a pot of a hot and hearty soup and sneaky fall will flirt with Indian summer, pushing the temperatures well into their 60s. And here I am, with beets and cabbage in tow, ready to make borscht. It’s been so unsettling – this lack of soup in my kitchen this fall, I was beginning to wonder when it might happen for me.
And then there was last week, when the weather was downright abysmal – pouring rain, nearly black skies and me staring longingly outside the office window wishing I was home on my couch with a pillow and a blanket and a good book. But seeing as I wasn’t anywhere near these comforts, I had to find solace elsewhere – in the form of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – perfect rainy day meal, if you ask me. The grilled cheese sandwich hit the spot, but the tomato soup, watery and bland, left me wanting.
I wanted something hearty and thick, something hearty with intense flavors. And so I set out to find a recipe that might deliver those qualities. After much searching I found a recipe at Martha Stewart, but never content with first good find, continued to peruse the web. Which is when I happened upon Molly’s write up on the very soup I bookmarked at Martha Stewart.
It sounded delicious, it used cilantro (which is one of my favorite herbs ever), and with some jalapeno chopped up finely, the soup offered a little bit more heat than its mere elevated temperature. It sounded delicious and simple – and given how demanding work has been this fall, simple is a concept very much embrace.
Besides, Molly’s praises of the soup were so glowing, that I was instantly convinced. Besides, she recommends passing the time, while you wait for the soup to cook, with a glass of wine. Which, when you’re hosting a small dinner for your friends, might be precisely what you need to get you in a festive dinner-party mood. And since it’s red wine season again – go ahead, put the soup on, and pour yourself a glass. You earned it.
One of the best things about summer is that it’s full of produce so good, it’s almost a shame to cook it. Every time I buy berries or fruit I wince at the thought of transforming them into something other than their natural state. Sure, I love pies and crumbles and jams as much as the next fruit junkie, but in this season, fresh and raw are sometimes best. Of course, it doesn’t stop me from baking and cooking fruit, I just always have second thoughts about it. And yes, pies and crumbles just don’t taste the same when the fruit is not in season or is frozen. I did however, manage to pull together a fresh corn soup that keeps the freshness of corn intact, while allowing you to do something different with it.
This soup is many things: fresh, raw, refreshing in the muggy heat of summer, vegetarian and vegan friendly, and best of all – a cinch to make in the kitchen. You could make this late at night after getting home from a grueling day at work and it will take you no more than 15 minutes! In the time it might take you to order a pizza, you could make this soup. Without even approaching your stove and making your already-hot apartment or house even hotter. Are you intrigued?
Other than the slight messiness of cutting the kernels off the cob, this is fun and easy. Yes, you need a blender or a food processor for this, perhaps the soup’s only drawback. But all in all, this is a pretty energy-efficient soup if you think about it. With all the talk as of late of reducing your carbon footprint and with energy costs sky-high, you help the environment by not using the stove and thereby leave a few extra dollars in your pocket to treat yourself to a summer margarita – which, if the soup fails to take the edge off after the long day at work, the margarita surely will.
Oh hi, it’s me, it’s seems that I’ve yet again fallen into crazy days at work, days that are interminable. My last push towards getting better from the endless cold involved getting a second course of antibiotics and last week was all but a blur, with 15 hour work days and general chaos notwithstanding. The antibiotics are also making me very tired as a result, but one of the side-effects is that of having trouble sleeping. Lovely, lovely stuff, I tell ya.
However, I have to, however briefly, tell you about this soup I made a few weeks back that was just beyond heaven. I was quite inspired by Molly’s dreamy write-up on it and ever since I read her post on this soup, it’s been on the foreground of my mind.
And so when I spied the green garlic at our Saturday local greenmarket, I was quite overcome with joy because this soup was now well within my reach! My enthusiasm scared KS a bit because once I set my mind on something food-related, I am very ebullient about it. He is more of a subdued force and acts as a very good foil to my otherwise irrational exuberance. But I think this time my glee was well-founded – we loved the soup so much, we finished all, but a single bowl of it in one hungry sitting.
I added some seductively fragrant extra-virgin olive oil to our bowls as we try to go as much dairy-free as possible. I highly recommend a dollop of the finest olive oil you have in the house to enhance it.
I meant to post this earlier this week – KS was sick this weekend and I made him this chicken soup. But then I came down with a horrible stomach bug on Wednesday and could do no more than sleep while trying to shake of a fever. Now that I’m better, I have to share this chicken soup recipe with you before it gets way too hot for chicken soup. Because this was KS’s favorite soup to date and besides the porcini mushroom soup which I can’t speak highly enough of, this might be mine too.
Everything in the soup just worked, the flavors were deep, developed, perfect. It possessed a thick heartiness to it, and filled your belly with warm, comforting, familiar flavors. I call it my everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soup. I put a lot of various things in it and it does take some time to make, but it is totally and wholly worth it.
Don’t forget to skim the frothy part of the broth when the whole thing boils for the first time – for that I’ve included a rather unappetising picture of the froth – so you know what it looks like and are compelled to skim it ever-so-vigilantly.
I would also steer you in the direction of buying a whole chicken, rather than chicken parts. I’m convinced that there’s something magical in the proportion of white meat and dark meat and it makes the broth just right texture wise. It’s just as simple to pull the bones out of a whole chicken as chicken parts – when it’s so fully cooked it’s falling off the bone, the whole process takes mere minutes. Besides, when you get a whole chicken, you get the neck, the giblets and the tiny chicken liver – and aren’t those the best parts?
I have to give credit where it’s due – this soup would not have been possible if it weren’t for KS who kindly and willingly entertains my flights of fancy in the kitchen. If, while I’m eating breakfast at my desk at work, I email him to, oh, soak the lentils for an hour prior to me coming home and making dinner because I think this garam masala spiced lentil soup sounds swell, he emails back agreeably and ha! because victory is mine, and time, dear time, since there’s so not enough of you in the day, I’ve just tricked you if only a little bit and saved myself and KS an hour before we can commence dinner. If that’s not pure genius on my part, I don’t know what is.
I’ve already confessed to you that I’m a total sissy when it comes to morning darkness, but also like to clean few pots and pans in the kitchen on weeknight. The cooking thing too, you know, I do love it, but sometimes it separates me from my meal and while I feel all European and chic dining at 10 pm, I think my body prefers and earlier time (I think my body likes me to be square and eat at 7pm – body, if you’re reading this, 7pm dinners are not happening on weeknights. Ever. Unless I quit work.)
So really, how many childhood-memories-in-a-recipe can I recall before even the most congenial person rolls his or her eyes and groans “What is it with your perfect childhood? Why can’t you just live in the present?” And really I do, I promise you. It’s just that for so long I wanted to eat everything, but the cuisine I grew up with. And reading a piece in this week’s New Yorker magazine’s annual food issue by Gary Shteyngart, with whom I share many an immigrant experience, I paused to examine my teenage aversion to the cuisine of my childhood and my obsession with all things American-cuisine related, including those golden arches, I now so revile.
I don’t know what caused me to start craving my “ethnic” food so to speak. I put ethnic in quotations, because for as long as I lived in Russia, I was constantly reminded of not belonging. Being Jewish in Russia, had little to do with your religion (which my parents didn’t practice in the slightest), and everything to do with your “race” or “ethnicity” because that’s what it was and continues to be considered. So the Russian food I grew up with, mixed with the Jewish food of my family, was all mixed together, but I was always conscious of Russian culture as that to which I didn’t belong. It was only in America that my Jewishness became associated with my religions leanings, and where I came from, namely Russia, became my defining cultural adjective. When people ask me about my background, I tell them I’m Russian.
In any case, there was a long, long period, when I refused to go out to Russian restaurants and willingly eat and cook Russian food. I chastised my mother, I wanted to change, to adapt, and I was tired of eating the same kotlety and borscht I grew up with during my childhood. But something changed after I moved to New York. It wasn’t that I suddenly found myself surrounded by Russian friends, it wasn’t so much the presence of Russian cuisine in my beloved Brooklyn, where I first made my home in New York. It was something else, a feeling of loneliness perhaps, that made me crave the food again. Far away from my family, without a single friend in the city, working long hours in an environment that was harsh and pitiless, I would come home from work, throw a dozen of frozen pelmeni into the pot of boiling water and in ten minutes, I would have hot and hearty dinner waiting for me. A dollop of sour cream, a splash of white vinegar and I would sink into the couch with my bowl of meaty dumplings closing my eyes at each swallow – blissfully forgetting my misery if only for the few minutes it would take me to consume my dinner. I think it was then that I realized that you can leave home, if only temporarily, only to long for it again. I envied my Russian friends with families around them, I wanted that security as well. But I chose this lot for myself and had to stick it out.
When KS and I met, I was delighted to learn that he had an appetite and a food curiosity that rivaled mine and while it took me awhile to cook for him, I definitely tried a few Russian dishes on him – and he loved each and every one of them. Stuffed cabbage, pelmeni, the Russian potato salad otherwise known as olyvie, borscht, mushroom soup, herring – KS ate everything and always went back for seconds.
And so when I begged him to get a sorrel plant for our rooftop garden and he acquiesced, I told him of this wonderful schav my mom would make for us in Russia where sour grass, its other name, would be abundant and cheap. We brought the little plant home and gave it a nice pot. But it never grew to anything big and I postponed the soup each time.
That is until last Saturday, when I found myself staring at bags of sorrel at our local green market. I was so excited that I grabbed the bag as fast as I could as if the other dozens of bags were suddenly going to disappear. I brought the bag home and proudly proclaimed, “Oh, I am making us some schav, baby!!”
To which KS replied, “Yeah, so um how do you make it?”
And this is where I drew up a blank. Sure, I’ve eaten this soup more times than I could recall, but I had no idea how to make it. Of course, mom, only a phone call away, patiently explained to me how to make this super simple soup. And when I say super simple, people, I mean, this is the pits. It’s as easy and fool proof as it gets. No wonder we made this all the time in the summer. And the little shrimpy me with no appetite whatsoever, would eat two full bowls of this every time.
This recipe is different than other schav recipes I’ve seen out there. I’m not sure why my family makes it differently, but I can honestly say I prefer my mom’s recipe to the other ones I’ve had. For one thing it’s more clean-tasting, and secondly, it’s clear and pretty. But like all childhood-favorite foods, we always think our version is better than everyone else’s.
We’re visiting my parents this weekend and my mother’s making borscht. I’m sure there will be other Russian goodies present. And I can’t wait.
Whether or not you’re working in finance and even if you understand the stock market about as much as cats can read, you have probably (unless you were camping for two weeks in the mountains) been privy to what the markets have been doing recently on sub-prime news. The malaise has spilled from the US indices, which have been languishing and have nearly lost all their 2007 gains, into markets world-wide. So even if a “naked short” makes you think of an unclothed midget, and an “option” to you is whether to take a nap or go for a run, chances are, if you have any personal investments whatsoever, you have watched them lose their gains – and it’s been a bit depressing to say the least. I know I know, what goes up, must, eventually come down.
But I’ll spare you the market analysis because I don’t feel qualified to really comment further, however, despite the fact that I work in the field. Suffice to say, it’s been quite busy at work, longer days, working from home, and I’ve all but forgotten that shiny beacon of light – the gym. When I am stressed out, I turn to my kitchen, not so much to eat, but to cook. The chopping, the stirring, the clean-up in between, all soothe and comfort me. They allow me some control over the world which often feels uncontrollable. And I like to get me some of that control from time to time.
In times like these, stressful and worrying times, while most ply themselves with sweets and baked goods in times like these, I turn to the warm savories: soups, mashed potatoes, rice and endless cups of tea (not quite the savory, but warm!). As soon as this recipe flashed across my screen, it was pretty much all I could think about. Sure, I read words like “chilled” and “freeze”, but I knew this soup could be enjoyed warm as well as hot. I decided to cut the recipe in half from its original proportions, in case it turned into a soup for a small army and substitute sage for thyme. I’m rather indifferent to thyme as an herb and prefer the frosty-looking leaves of sage. But those are just the details. Oh and since there was no crème fraîche anywhere in our neighborhood (who knew, Tribeca?) we had to settle for sour cream. But in my Russian sour-cream adoring book, that’s hardly a tragedy.
I encourage you to try the soup first without the crème fraîche or sour cream and then add the dairy in – if your soup turns out anything like mine, you will notice how the dairy really accentuates and deepens the flavor. KS, of course, had to give his bowl a bit more kick with some home-made Trinidadian hot sauce, given to us by a friend. And the soup works both ways – warm and chilled – so if you make it and cannot wait to try a bowl that very same evening, go for it. Grab a light blanket, pop in a movie, eat this soup by spoonfuls. I was in such a state of bliss eating mine that I temporarily forgot about the Wall Street doldrums.
I was a bit saddened by this NYTimes article – couples where one person is the alpha cook and doesn’t give up control, watching his partner’s every kitchen move, and sometimes (gasp!) putting them down! This made me sad, for food, to me, is one of many ways we show that we care, extend ourselves, and bond with others. While I am extremely detail oriented and a perfectionist in the kitchen, I am also of the persuasion that I don’t need to be in control in the kitchen all the time. Quite the opposite, I find it quite refreshing to kick back and let someone else do the work in the kitchen. Provided of course, that the person cooking know what he’s doing. Luckily for me, the BF is that person, knowingly navigating the kitchen and teaching me a thing or two in the process.
Which brings me, perhaps, to a bit of a name change here. After I sang him praises and vowed to give him due credit for this entry’s meal, he decided he no longer wanted to go in the disguise of the vacuous and impersonal label of BF, and instead adopt a nom-de-plume of Konstantin Steel (the K, being my Russification of his vision, I’m sure). If you start wonder where on earth he came up with such a name, then I’ll allude to a discussion we once had of what our names would be if we were exotic film stars. His was Konstantin Steel; mine – will remain a deep, dark secret. Ha!
But back to all things cooking-related; this week, I’ve cooked almost nothing. Work’s been quite demanding and there was Valentine’s Day in the middle as well. I did accomplish quite a bit last week, on the kitchen front, but I’ve yet to blog about it – I am SO behind (head down in shame).
But KS, my goodness, he was a cooking superstar this week. He picked up my slack and raised it up a notch. So not only did he make me a sublime dinner of Lobel’s steak with mashed potatoes, mushrooms and roasted green beans for Valentine’s Day (I’m still faint from it), but last night, he whipped up this Tuscan White Bean soup that hit just the spot. He even soaked the beans the night before. All I did was chop the vegetables for our customized mirepoix and eat the soup. Not bad for an alpha cook! Not to mention yesterday morning when he made us delecable huevos rancheros, toasted tortillas and everything, and all I did was pour coffee and grab some forks.
So you see, I relinquish kitchen control quite easily, in fact, KS and I switch the alpha cook roles depending on who is cooking what and who’s specialty it is. Today, for example, I promised to make him those white chocolate, pignolia nuts, cranberry cookies he’s been asking for weeks. While I’d rather not mention repeats here, the cookies were such a hit, I’m still hearing about them two months after Christmas. This will be my alpha cook moment – but last night, I was quite happy in the beta category, playing sous-chef and staying out of the way.
In the end, I think that two very competent cooks can play nicely in the kitchen – it’s just a matter of taking turns, giving up a little control, and most importantly realizing that the person who is cooking for you is crafting a gift of love, and what can be more perfect that that?
Sometime last week, I felt the inspiration to cook and toss all my daily tasks to the wind. I suspect that sudden burst of energy and desire were prompted more by the cold weather and bone-chilling wind than by anything else. My mother, one of the best soup makers I know, happens to have an amazing borscht recipe under her belt. And when seasons shift definitely colder, borscht is one of the soups, along with Russian cabbage soup (schi) that I turn to.
Many an American has wrinkled his nose when a beet is introduced into a conversation. Growing up in suburban America, I was always defending the virtues of root vegetables: turnips, carrots, beets, radishes. Because I was an immigrant, my food preferences were considered strange at best, and disgusting at most. And I grew up thinking that not only beets were uncool (albeit tasty), but they were also a form of lower-income diet. Imagine my surprise when my monthly issue of Martha Stewart Living arrived (I must have been the only 16-year old with a MSL subscription) and I found a salad of beets and chevre beautifully displayed as one of the recipes. Either beets were gaining ground or Martha was going back to her Polish roots. Either way, beets were comin’ up!
These days, you will find beets in the most illustrious of restaurants. They’re tucked into salads, displayed in vegetable arrangements, cooked in soup, and hidden in chocolate cake. Their deep, rich color and sweet earthy flavor and texture are both filling and surprisingly light. They smell of the earth, of winter, and of home. And despite their lowly upbringing and modest looks, they’re quite elegant and sophisticated.
Borscht is a little bit of a commitment. Set aside a few hours over a weekend to make it if only because you want the flavors to gradually develop. Deeper flavor means more delicious borscht. To make up for taking its time, borscht is not a complicated soup to make. And as most soups often do, borscht tate better the next day. If you make this soupd with beef, it’s a meal in and of itself. Russians often serve it as a first course at dinner, but in smaller portions. Whichever way you choose to eat it, borscht is guaranteed to make this winter season a little more palatable.