Fresh Tomato Basil Soup

September 16, 2012

 

Though I was not particularly fond of tomatoes in my youth, tomato soup none-the-less was a favorite.   Tomato soup, the condensed variety-from the can, was the required side dish, along with crusty sourdough French bread, to our Dungeness Crab dinners every winter.  I loved the tangy creaminess of the soup topped with loads of cracked black pepper.  As the years progressed and I grew to have a garden that graces us with loads of tomatoes each late summer, I began to make my own soup- still seeking delightful tang and creaminess, but with fresh notes as well.

Fresh Tomato Basil Soup does not taste like the soup of my youth.  Do not try to pass it off on a die-hard canned soup fan.  Instead it highlights the intense flavor and aroma of summer tomatoes and fresh basil. Cook the tomatoes down and puree smooth.  The creaminess comes from a bit of Greek yogurt swirled in at the end, making this soup deceptively light despite its luxurious mouth feel.  My daughter, who is a bit of a tomato-phobe, paused while eagerly loading this soup into her mouth to say,”MOM, this soup is YUM!”  We are still working on proper grammar, but you get the point.

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Twice a month, there is an after school garden work party at my daughter’s school.  Parents and their preschool age children gather to weed, seed, and harvest the bounty.  It is a delight to participate in this effort, a joy to see these young children so excited to work with AND eat fresh vegetables, but a bear to come home late with two overtired and hungry kids of my own.  Thank goodness for the crock pot.  With only 10 or 15 minutes of prep the night before, a delicious dinner can be ready to serve when I return home.

Lentil Wheat Berry Soup with Herb Pistou is a crock pot soup that satisfies on so many levels.  The earthiness of the lentils blend with the chewiness of the wheat berries.  The pork infuses a richness into the flavorful broth.  These ingredients stew in the crock pot all day and provide a guarantee that your house will smell divine when you return home, tired and weary from the day.  The herb pistou solves the one hangup I have with crock pot cooking.  While cooking food all day ensures tenderness and rich flavors, there is a tendency for colors and flavors to become too melded and for the heartiness to become dull or bland.  Inspired by Blue Kale Road’s Spicy Israeli Zhoug, I came up with a last minute swirl of fresh herbs and acidic lemon to brighten the entire soup.  Serve this soup with a crunchy salad and fresh bread.  It freezes and reheats beautifully.

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

May 3, 2011

It is Mexican food week at our house.  No, not really because of Cinco de Mayo.  The truth is we just really like to eat just about anything Mexican- traditional or inspired.  We have been eating carnitas, homemade refried beans, chorizo empanadas, and now for the third time this month, Chicken Tortilla Soup.

This recipe comes from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday.  If you have not checked out this book, you should.  It is definitely one of our favorites.  We happened across it in the kitchen of a house we rented in Nayarit, Mexico years ago.  My husband and I both loved it, and the meals we created from it so much, that we both surprised the other with a copy of it for Christmas that year.  Oops.

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Irish Watercress Soup

March 15, 2011

St. Patrick’s Day in the United States is best known for the table top spread of corned beef, cabbage, and generous glasses of Guinness.  While my family does enjoy this time-honored meal (I am curing my own brisket for the occasion as we speak), there are many other dishes that can also serve to mark the day.  This year, I made Irish Watercress Soup in addition to the standard fare .

Watercress first came into my awareness while reading the children’s classic, Trumpet of the Swan.  Reportedly, it is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables to play a role in the human diet.  It comes from the same family, Brassicas, as broccoli and mustard, and the same genus as nasturtiums. The peppery bite is very reminiscent, though milder than the spicy taste of nasturtium flowers.  Blended into a traditional potato leek soup, it imparts a beautiful green color and bright peppery flavor.  This soup has a rich taste, despite being vegetable based and fairly low-fat.  It is hardy enough to serve as a main dish with a side salad and crusty bread.

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Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup

February 27, 2011

Somewhat recently, I discovered Vietnamese Pho and its cousin Hue.  There are a number of restaurants in town that dedicate almost their entire menu to these hot and spicy soups.  At first, they seemed so exotic and indulgent with the fresh bean sprouts and peppers topping the hot rich broth perfumed with fresh basil or cilantro. When I first made the soup myself though, I realized how incredibly simple and healthy they are.  A few simple fresh ingredients come together with some basic Asian cooking staples: rice noodles, fish sauce, and sambal oeleck.  The result is a hot and spicy nourishing soup.

To speed up cooking time, consider cooking the broth and meat in a pressure cooker.  In just ten minutes, the meat is cooked to an almost divine tenderness.  You save time and energy, and the dish is possibly more delicious than the traditional method of slow simmering.

This recipe for Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup is incredibly versatile.  Feel free to substitute chicken or even tofu for the beef (and decrease the cooking time).  The garnish is also very adaptable.  We have an uncommon fondness for cabbage, so that is our go-to condiment, but that can be replaced with bean sprouts as well.  Trade the fresh hot peppers for dried chilies if you prefer.  If you do not have lime on hand, give the soup a splash of rice vinegar at the end to add the bright acidic finish.  This soup is very good, one of our favorites. Try it and let me know what you think!

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