Summertime Corn and Vegetable Chowder

August 8, 2008 at 5:11 am (B_minus (2.5 stars), Peter Berley, soup, Summer recipes, Vegetable dishes)

What do you do with a head of wilted lettuce languishing in the fridge, half frozen because your German mini-fridge can’t seem to maintain any temperature between equatorial and arctic?  Make a corn and vegetable chowder of course!  After my not-so-positive experience eating baked lettuce in Bertinoro, Italy, I was a bit skeptical about the whole cooked lettuce idea, but decided that I’d give it one more try.  After all, I trust Peter Berley, and this is one of the first recipes in his cookbook Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.

  • 3 ears corn, kernels scraped, cobs reserved (use 2 if they’re very large)
  • 2 cups peeled and diced new potatoes, about half a pound (I needed more, about 3/4 of a pound to get 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup of peeled and diced celery root
  • 4 cups cold water or vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil or unsalted butter
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 carrot, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 pound diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 small head tender lettuce, cut into ribbons
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  1. In a medium-large saucepan over high heat, combine the corn cobs, potatoes, celery root and water, and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes crush easily, about 30 minutes.  Let cool.
  2. In a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, warm the butter.  Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is soft.  Stir in the corn kernels, garlic, carrot, and tomatoes.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
  3. Discard the corn cobs from the broth, then puree the remaining vegetables with a handheld blender.  Add the puree to the other pot, and thin with water if necessary. Raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil.  Stir in the lettuce and basil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes.

Yields 8 to 12 servings.

The original recipe called for celery, but I couldn’t find any at the market so I subbed in celery root.  It also called for fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded, but I didn’t have any at the time.  I was also low on basil, so just threw in a few slivered leaves of Thai basil.  The quantity of corn kernels obtained from 3 ears of corn was enormous.  The soup was definitely dominated by the corn.  I would not have known there were potatoes or celery root in the soup, but the puree added a base of flavor and a thick, stewlike quality that Derek really liked.  He doesn’t normally care for soup, but he ate this one enthusiastically on at least 4 separate occasions (it made a lot of soup).

Although I was nervous about the cooked lettuce, I quite liked it in the soup.  It had a silky quality similar to escarole, and a very mild green flavor.  In the leftover soup, however, it got kind of stringy and unappealing, I thought.  Derek didn’t seem to mind, but next time I might add the lettuce only in the portion to be served at each meal.

Although I liked this soup a lot the first day, I found the leftovers entirely unappealing, and not just because of the stringy lettuce.  If I make it again, I’ll definitely cut the recipe down to make a smaller batch, and probably use fresh tomatoes, more basil, and less corn.

Derek commented: “This is the best vegetable soup I’ve ever had.  Well, maybe not as good as at a super fancy gourmet restaurant, but definitely the best vegetable soup that you’ve ever made.”

Rating: B

Derek: B+

Update August 2010:  I made this soup again using 3 ears of corn, fresh tomatoes (unpeeled), unpeeled potatoes, and the full amount of regular basil.  I didn’t salt the soup until the end though, and as a result I think the base of the soup was a bit bland.  The salt just didn’t seem to infuse the soup properly.  Also I couldn’t taste the celery root this time.  I needed more I think.  Other than that it tasted pretty similar to last time.  It made about 3 quarts of soup.  Derek, however, really disliked it.  He said it tasted like canned soup.  My two dinner guests both had seconds though.

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Better than S’mores

August 8, 2008 at 4:38 am (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Dessert, My brain, Other, Product Reviews, Quick weeknight recipe)

When Derek went to Cambridge last month, I asked him to bring back some Hobnob’s, the delicious oaty, not too sweet British “biscuits.”  He couldn’t find Hobnob’s but brought back a similar oaty biscuit made by Mark and Spencer.  These oat cookies have a certain similarity to graham crackers: a crumbly, almost flaky texture, with just a touch of sweetness. I love the graham cracker and chocolate part of Smore’s, but I was never too fond of the marshmallow component.  Besides, most marshmallows aren’t really vegetarian.  Despite its failings, the marshmallow does fill an essential S’mores role: you need something ooey gooey to hold the biscuit and chocolate together.  Instead of marshmallows, I suggest peanut butter: it’s less artificial, contains less sugar, more protein, and is much, much tastier. Smear one Hobnob biscuit with a thin layer of all-natural, salted peanut butter, and top with a square of dark chocolate.  Please, use a good quality dark chocolate, not a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar; that stuff is just sugar and paraffin wax.  I recommend Scharffenberger’s nibby dark chocolate. If you want the chocolate a bit soft and melted, give it a second in the microwave or a hot oven, or (my preferred, all-natural method) just leave your better than S’mores sitting in a sunny window for 10 minutes.  These peanut better than s’mores are probably the simplest, tastiest, most satisfying desserts / snacks I’ve had in a long time.  Plus, each one is only slightly over 150 calories (hobnob = 60, 1/2 Tbs. peanut butter = 50, one large square of dark chocolate = 50).

Rating: A-

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Smoked Mozzarella Polenta

August 7, 2008 at 5:38 am (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Grains, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe)

A few years ago we were invited to a friend of a friend’s house for dinner, and one of the side dishes they made left an indelible impression.  It was a simple white bean dish made with smoked gruyere, which both Derek and I really liked.  Smoked gruyere is hard to find, so I tried to replicate it once with smoked gouda, but it was a disaster.  The cheese was all stringy rather than creamy, and the flavor wasn’t right at all.

Last week Derek bought smoked mozzarella at the local cheese shop, and when trying to figure out what to do with it he suggested putting it in polenta.  I only had cornmeal, not coarse polenta, so we improvised this dish, which ended up having many of the same delicious qualities of that original bean dish:  smoky, savory, and very creamy.

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 cups of water
  • cayenne
  • paprika
  • salt
  • 1/2 ball smoked mozzarella, torn into small pieces
  • olive oil or butter?
  1. Add the cornmeal to a 2 quart pot, and pour in the water (cold).  Mix, then turn on the heat to high and bring to a boil.  When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to the minimum, and add the spices. Simmer  for about 10 to 15 minutes.  You may need to stir occasionally or put the lid on to avoid splatters.
  2. When the polenta is ready, added the shredded mozzarella and olive oil or butter if you want a richer dish.  Stir to mix.  The cheese should melt completely, and you should be left with a perfectly smooth, uniform porridge.
  3. Serve immediately, and top with garlicky greens or oven-roasted mushrooms or another vegetable of your choice.  A vegetable medley with white beans would also be nice.

Rating: B+

Derek: B

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Zucchini and Tofu in Roasted Chili Paste

August 4, 2008 at 6:31 am (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, Nancie McDermott, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, Summer recipes, Tofu, Vegetable dishes)

This is currently my favorite way to eat Thai roasted chili paste. This recipe from Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott is simple and satisfying. For more color, use half yellow squash, but add it slightly before the zucchini as it’s slower to cook. Alternatively, throw in a handful of halved cherry tomatoes when you add the tofu.

  • 10 – 14 ounces medium-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tsp. – 3 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbs. coarsely chopped garlic (4 to 6 cloves)
  • 1 large onion (about 10? ounces), cut lengthwise into thick strips
  • 3 medium or 2 large zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch rounds (about 1.5 pounds?)
  • 3 Tbs. roasted chili paste
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt (omit or reduce if your vegetable stock is salted)
  1. Heat a wok or a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and onion and cook until shiny, fragrant, and softened, about 1 minute. Add the zucchini and cook, tossing occasionally, until shiny, tender, and a brilliant green, about 2 minutes.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chili paste, vegetable stock, soy sauce, and salt. Toss well. Add the tofu and cook, giving it an occasional gentle toss, until it is heated through and evenly coated with the sauce, about 1 minute. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot or warm.

Serves 4.

Rating: B+

Derek: A-

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Shriveled green beans, red pepper and tofu in thai roasted chili paste

August 4, 2008 at 5:52 am (B_(3 stars, like), Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Summer recipes, Tofu, Vegetable dishes)

This is a tasty summertime recipe that’s very quick to make (if you already have the chili paste made).  Just start your rice a little while before you start prepping, and by the time it’s done dinner will be ready. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thai Roasted Chili Paste

August 4, 2008 at 5:32 am (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, Nancie McDermott, Other, Sauce/dressing)

A few years ago I made the Roasted Chili Paste (Nahm prik pao) from Nancie McDermott’s cookbook Real Vegetarian Thai.  We used it in a recipe with butternut squash and spinach, and everyone enjoyed it.  For some reason, however, I never made it again, until this summer.  I gave my mom my big Kitchenaid spice grinder with the washable bowl,  since it won’t work in Germany, but she didn’t know what to do with it, since she already had a normal coffee grinder.  I suggested she make Thai roasted chili paste in it, and she wanted me to show her how, so we cracked open her pristine copy of Real Vegetarian Thai, and made half a batch of Roasted Chili Paste.  After tasting it and discovering how utterly delicious it is, we felt foolish for only making half a batch! Read the rest of this entry »

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White Flour Tortillas

August 4, 2008 at 4:49 am (Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Quick weeknight recipe, unrated)

Back in the 70’s, when my parents lived on a farm in Tennessee, my mom used to make hundreds of tortillas. She stopped making them once we moved to Austin, where tasty and cheap tortillas are readily available. Thus, I never learned how to make tortillas myself. However, the quality of tortillas available in Saarbruecken is quite low. I’m sure like other Texans I’ll get homesick for tortillas, so I asked her to show me how to make them.

  • 1 cup white wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 6 Tbs. water
  1. Whisk dry ingredients together. Add oil. Mix with wooden spoon, mixing as little as possible. Over-working the dough will result in a stiff dough and tough not tender tortillas. Add 3 Tbs. of water all at once and mix. Add remaining 3 Tbs. of water and mix again. Next use your hands to form the dough into a ball. If the dough is sticky add a little more flour. If there are bits of dough that won’t stay incorporated into the dough ball, add another teaspoon or two of water. Divide dough into four or five balls.
  2. Preheat cast iron skillet on medium heat.
  3. Sprinkle flour on counter. Roll one dough ball around to lightly coat with flour. Press ball into a flat four-inch disk. Use a rolling pin to roll the disk into a thin circle, sized to fit your skillet, about 8 to 9 inches in diameter. Use the same method to roll the dough as is used to roll out a pie crust: always roll from the center of the disk.
  4. Place tortilla in dry, pre-heated skillet (still on medium heat), and cook until the top starts to bubble (about 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on how hot your skillet is). Flip. Cook for 30 seconds on second side.
  5. Eat immediately or stack and cover with a lightly damp cloth. To keep warm, wrap the tortillas in foil and place in a warm oven.

Makes 4 to 5 tortillas. Tortillas will be thicker and slightly larger if you make four, and thinner and slightly smaller in diameter if you make five.

My Notes:

I really enjoyed these flour tortillas. They’re just like the Austin tortillas I grew up on: a bit puffy, nice and chewy, and browned in just a few spots. They’re pretty easy to make too, if you don’t count getting the flour off of everything.

My sister Hanaleah really liked them too. Her comment: “I want another one. Why’d you only make four???” So the second time we made them we doubled the recipe, but everyone was still pining for another even after their second tortilla.

The homesicktexan recipe I link to above is similar to this one except that they use milk instead of water, and they use three times as much baking powder. The also knead the dough briefly and then let it rest for 20 minutes. I’m curious to see how their tortillas differ from this one. We also want to try making whole wheat tortillas. Stay tuned.

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A month of travel

August 4, 2008 at 4:47 am (Uncategorized)

I left Montreal at the end of July, visited all three U.S. coasts, then finally arrived in Germany a few days ago. In my month of travels I made and ate lots of tasty food:

  • I had my first all-raw meal, at Pure Food and Wine, in NYC, with my friend Alekz.
  • I made lots of Thai food with my mom: we experimented with lots of Thai curries, a thai satay peanut sauce, and a marvelous Thai chili paste that was great on zucchini and tofu
  • My mom and I also tried our hand at veggie sushi, with brown rice, and a wasabi “mayo”
  • My mom and I made (twice) the most recent recipe in our food club: a zucchini, onion, tomato gratin from Cook’s Illustrated
  • My mom showed my sister and I how to make flour tortillas from scratch
  • Alekz and I made another batch of Thai lime and chili peanut butter cookies, and also attempted a vegan version, with some advice from my mom
  • My friend Amira bought a huge box of peaches from the “Old Man Retirement Project” farm, near Sacramento. We attacked the box of peaches and made peach chutney, pickled peaches, peach jam, peach tea, and peach butter. I added peaches to pico de gallo, and cheekily dubbed it “peacho de gallo.” Amira’s husband Jack made us peach pie, and Amira made a tasty salad with peaches. Probably my absolute favorite peach concoction, however, I created from the the delicious, extremely fresh trail mix Amira made for our hike. I topped the trail mix with one chopped peach, a big splash of whole milk, and a dash of cinnamon. Best “cereal” ever.
  • I had a lovely meal at Cha-ya, a japanese vegetarian restaurant in the mission. Their yamagobo roll was excellent, and I enjoyed my curried noodle soup, although it could have used a tad more vegetables.
  • I got a chance to eat at Ajanta restaurant in Berkeley, and talk to the owner and cookbook writer. I asked him if there was any way to speed up his carrot halvah recipe, perhaps by using cream instead of milk. He said the carrot wouldn’t get as caramelized and it wouldn’t be as good. Sadly, there was no carrot halvah on the menu at the restaurant. The owner said it was because a) people see carrots on a dessert menu and get turned off, and b) people have had lots of sub-par carrot halvah and have low expectations. For my main dish I ordered a mixed-squash curry, with potatoes. The sauce was very good, but the zucchini and yellow squash didn’t add much. I liked the potatoes much more. We asked the owner for the recipe for the sauce, and he gave me a rough estimate of what to do. Later in the week Amira and I tried our hand at re-creating it, but using cauliflower instead of squash. It didn’t quite come out like the one in the restaurant–a bit too sweet and the spices weren’t quite right. I’m going to try it again though and post about it here.
  • My friend Amy took me to Vic’s Indian supply store in Berkeley, and I was shocked to discover that I’d never heard of about half the items on the shelves. After all these years eating Indian, I had no idea that there are so many kinds of dal I still haven’t tried.
  • At Tacubaya in Berkeley I had a very simple, fresh, and delicious bowl of mexican pinto beans with all the fixings. I also took a look at their cookbook and I’m excited to try to vegetarianize their recipe for tortilla soup. It looks very promising. I scribbled down some notes, but if anyone has the original recipe and would like to share, please send me an email!
  • Katrina made me a delicious salad with watermelon, tomato, radishes, mint, and feta, and a very tasty spread made of greek yogurt and feta and mint.
  • Together Katrina and I made beet greens, and another night bok choy. Both times we cooked them with ginger and garlic and they were impossibly good.
  • I tagged along with Katrina on a wine tour in the Napa Valley. My favorite was Sterling Vineyards. We got to taste and compare three different years of the same wine, and get a better understanding of what happens to wine as it ages.
  • Katrina and I took a tour of the Sharffenberger factory. The whole building smells delicious, the tour was really interesting, we got to try lots of samples, and we managed to snag the last two boxes of chocolate nibs in the store, as well as lots of great chocolate bars. Derek really liked the milk chocolate bar with almonds and sea salt that I brought him. He said “this is better than any chocolate I’ve had in Germany”!. My favorite was the nibby chocolate bar, both milk and dark. Now I’m reinspired to make the Sharffenberger chocolate cookies from Alice Medrich’s cookbook, that I made and loved many years ago. Unfortunately, none of my cookie sheets will fit in my oven in Germany, so I’m going to have to buy new cookie sheets or borrow someone’s kitchen with a bigger oven.
  • I returned to Gobo in the Village, but sadly I couldn’t remember which dish it was I liked so much the last time we went. If only I had written a review!
  • Once in Germany, Derek and I made a very tasty pasta salad: whole wheat pasta, mint, feta, roasted tomatoes, and broccoli prepared Cook’s Illustrated style. It was delicious.

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