Archive for the ‘Soups and Stews’ Category

Betsy’s Herbed Zucchini Soup

Monday, August 4th, 2014

zucchini basil soup web

Zucchini has arrived in these parts. This squash is much maligned because it tends to overwhelm gardeners before they can finish uttering the word “zucchini.” I have a couple of suggestions to help readers embrace zucchini and avoid feelings of inadequacy.

First, when you are doing your spring planting, don’t feel obliged to place an entire six pack of zucchini seedlings in your vegetable patch. A plant or two will do nicely. Zucchini is a friendly neighbor that likes to wander all over the garden, and it CAN take over.

Next (this is the part at which I am bad), once the zucchini gets going check it every single day and pick ruthlessly. You want delicate squash, not baseball bats.

If you do end up with giant zucchini, do what my neighbors Susan and Peter Purdy did a few years back and throw a Zucchinipalooza party. Everyone in the neighborhood brought zucchini-related foods, and we played games. Large zucchini were literally used as bats in a ball game. Strangely shaped squashes were placed in a tub for bobbing. And so on.

Finally, in addition to throwing zucchini into lots of different dishes—stir fries, soups, stews—look for zucchini recipes you can make and freeze. In a very few months, you’ll be missing this vegetable and longing for a taste of summer.

The recipe here, from my friend and former babysitter Betsy Kovacs, is eminently freezable. It’s also great fresh (hot or cold); it positively bursts with flavor.

If you don’t have the exact proportions of ingredients listed below, go with what you have. With more zucchini it will be thicker; with more stock, thinner. With more herbs it will just taste more summery.

As you can see from the video below, I made it recently on Mass Appeal. It comes together very quickly so it’s perfect for a TV appearance—or for a summer day.

zinpotweb

The Soup

Ingredients:

1 to 2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 pounds zucchini, with stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups water or stock (chicken or vegetable, depending on your taste)
1 handful basil leaves, tightly packed—or dill or parsley; your herb of choice
salt and pepper to taste
a little half and half, sour cream, or yogurt (optional)

Instructions:

In a 4-quart Dutch oven cook the onion and garlic in the oil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the chopped zucchini and the teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 more minutes. Add the water or broth plus the herbs. Simmer the soup, partially covered, until it is tender, about 15 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender or food processor. Remember to use caution with the hot soup; you will want to process it in batches to avoid eruptions.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Adding a little half and half to the soup or serving it with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt can give it a bit more depth. Or you may prefer leaving it as is to let the zucchini and herbs shine. Serves 4 to 6.

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Slightly Southwestern Corn and Tomato Soup

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Late summer has arrived, and I’m ambivalent. Part of me adores the golden light, the bursting tomatoes and cucumbers, and the crisping air.

Another part of me knows that soon the light will be replaced by darkness, the tomatoes and cukes will yield to empty vines, and the crispness in the air will give way to chill.

I’m determined to take advantage of every moment of warmth and yumminess before those “soons” arrive.

This soup helps. It takes advantage of the full, ripe tomatoes and corn I can’t stop bringing home. Its ingredients and flavor pretty much embody freshness. And it can be frozen to be enjoyed in the winter.

The mixture is flexible. If you like corn more than you do tomatoes—or if you have more corn than you do tomatoes—up the corn content. If you have tomatoes about to get too soft, use more tomatoes. Add other vegetables if you have them in the house; a few beans or a little carrot won’t hurt. If you don’t have broth on hand, use water instead but increase the salt and cilantro … and maybe toss in a little cumin seed.

In short, be at ease and enjoy making and consuming your soup. And enjoy what’s left of this glorious season.

The Soup

Ingredients:

for the soup:

2 cups corn
2 cups tomatoes (if you have the patience to dip them in hot water and peel them, you’ll avoid having little pieces of tomato skin in your soup; if you don’t, live with the skin!)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 bell pepper, roughly chopped
seeded jalapeño peppers to taste (I used two when I tested the recipe, which made for a slightly spicy soup; I would probably add at least 1 more next time!), roughly chopped
a handlful of fresh cilantro leaves
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste (how much salt depends on how salty your broth is)

optional garnishes:

sour cream or Greek yogurt (just a little bit makes the soup creamy)
grated store (Cheddar) cheese
tortilla crisps (corn tortillas cut into small strips and fried briefly in canola oil)
more cilantro leaves

Instructions:

In a large pot, combine the soup ingredients. Bring the soup to a boil; then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender (about 30 minutes).

Cool the soup slightly, and puree it in a blender or food processor. Serve with or without the garnishes. (I like them!)

Serves 6 to 8.

“Seinfeld” and the Soup Nazi

Friday, April 6th, 2012

If I had to pick one series to represent American network television in the 1990s, it would probably be Seinfeld.

I personally only watched two episodes of this comedy program during its network run. Nevertheless, I was aware from dinner-table conversations in communities with populations that ranged from the hundreds to the millions that the show revolved in quasi-autobiographical fashion around the stand-up comedy of an upper-west-side New Yorker, Jerry Seinfeld, and his onscreen friends: explosive ex-girlfriend Elaine, neurotic best friend George, and so-weird-he-might-have-been-from-Mars neighbor Kramer.

The program debuted slowly, starting with the pilot’s airing as filler in the summer of 1989. It grew in time to enchant critics and then millions of viewers before it went off the air with great brouhaha in 1998.

In Seinfeld: The Totally Unauthorized Tribute (not that there’s anything wrong with that), David Wild of Rolling Stone enthuses, “’Seinfeld’ is one of those rare redeemers of popular culture; like Sinatra, pasta or the Beatles, ‘Seinfeld’ shows that sometimes the masses get things exactly right.”

Episodes became instant classics among baby boomers, rapidly gaining the sort of status previously enjoyed only by favorite segments of I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners.

I heard immediately after they aired, for example, about the controversial subject matter of “The Contest” (an episode, for anyone who missed the discussion, in which the principal characters compete to discover who can refrain the longest from masturbation) and the biting culinary humor of “The Soup Nazi.”

Naturally, the latter, which aired in November 1995, speaks to me. Like many episodes of Seinfeld, “The Soup Nazi” contradicts the popular conception that nothing happens in this series. In fact, Seinfeld is very much of its era in that it often features multiple, intersecting plots.

In this episode, one subplot revolves around the Nazi of the title and his soup emporium. Another involves George’s attempts to persuade Jerry to desist from displays of affection with his latest girlfriend. The last features the efforts of Elaine to acquire an armoire for her apartment.

Perhaps the program’s “nothing” reputation stems from the fact that plot in Seinfeld is less important than the absurd conversations of its characters. Perhaps it stems from this situation comedy’s tendency, inherited from the stand-up comedy form of its star, to jump from one plot point to another in non-sequitur fashion, making the trajectory of the plot(s) hard to trace. In any case, the narrative soup here is quite deliciously thick.

The main plot of “The Soup Nazi” features the efforts of the program’s principal characters to place successful orders with the fierce owner of a small take-out establishment that sells ambrosial soup. Jerry tells George and Elaine, “You can’t eat this soup standing up. Your knees buckle.”

Unfortunately, he warns them, the highly temperamental chef, “secretly referred to as ‘the Soup Nazi,’” does not allow customers to deviate from his strict ordering procedure.

As most fans know, the character of the Soup Nazi was based on a real New York chef notorious for his delectable soup but less than delectable kettle-side manner.

As it does in the program, the line of potential customers regularly extends around the block from Al Yeganeh’s soup store. In fact, my sister-in-law lived two blocks from this establishment, the Soup Kitchen International, for years and never tried Yeganeh’s soup because she never had time to wait in the line!

Yeganeh apparently detested the Seinfeld tribute (if that’s the right word) to his reputation.

He told People in 1998, “The show really destroyed my personal life and my emotional and physical well-being. Because of this TV show, customers think I’m going to kill them and they panic. But the line must be kept moving!”

Typically, the “Soup Nazi” episode uses Yeganeh’s alter-ego more to shed light on the personalities of the regular cast members than to make any statement about the vagaries of New York restaurateurs.

Jerry, the only character with a successful career, masters the tense ritual of ordering from the Soup Nazi quickly and emerges victorious from the store with a bowl of crab bisque.

George is less fortunate. His bleating requests for bread to accompany his soup force the Nazi first to raise the price of George’s lunch and then to utter the dreaded words “No soup for you.”

Elaine, ever the free spirit, appears to view the establishment’s stringent rules as a challenge. She dawdles over her order so obnoxiously that the Soup Nazi banishes her from his kitchen for a full year—and I for one don’t blame him.

Interestingly, Kramer, who generally seems to operate on a different plane from the other characters, is the only person in the group to whom the Soup Nazi warms up—mostly because Kramer is just weird enough to understand the Nazi’s attitude toward the ordering process.

He views the chef’s desire for “perfection” in his customers as a natural extension of his quest for perfection in his cooking. “You suffer for your soup,” Kramer says sympathetically. Clearly, Kramer’s heart as well as his taste buds will suffer at the episode’s end, when the Soup Nazi announces that in light of Elaine’s threats to reveal his recipes to the world he plans to decamp for Argentina.

Over the course of the episode, the viewer is introduced to a number of soups on the Nazi’s menu, including turkey chili, jambalaya, gazpacho, cold cucumber, corn and crab chowder, and wild mushroom. I have chosen to make mulligatawny, the favorite flavor of Kramer, who calls the Soup Nazi “one of the great artisans of the modern era.”

Soup Nazi Mulligatawny

Make sure your spices are fresh and pungent for this soup. I recommend curry powder and cumin seeds from Kalustyan’s (or Foods of India in New York, two stores at which the Soup Nazi might well have shopped.

If you want a vegetarian mulligatawny, feel free to omit the chicken and to substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. You’ll still have a lovely, warming concoction.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, mashed in a mortar and pestle just enough to release flavors
1-1/2 tablespoons curry powder (or more you love curry)
1 cup lentils, washed and drained
6 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tomato, cut up
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
cooked rice to taste (optional)
cream to taste (optional)
fresh, chopped coriander (optional)

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, and sauté the onion, garlic, and carrot until the onion turns a light golden color. Stir in the cumin and curry powder and heat for a minute as a paste, adding a bit of the chicken stock if it threatens to dry out completely. Quickly stir in the lentils; then add the stock, salt, lemon juice, and tomato.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer covered for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken, and simmer for another half hour partly covered, stirring frequently.

Cool the mixture for at least a half hour, and then puree it in batches in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate the soup for several hours (overnight if possible) to let the flavors meld. Then heat the mixture in a large saucepan until warm, stirring constantly to keep the thick soup from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Your soup may be served plain or with cooked rice. Some people prefer to add a bit of cream to their bowls, and many like a hint of coriander sprinkled over each bowl just before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Larry Thomas, who portrayed the Soup Nazi, still sells personally signed "No Soup for You" photos on eBay.

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Country Ham and Potato Soup

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Fall calls out for hearty soups, and they don’t come much heartier than this one! I know, I know, “hearty” is a code word for fattening, but I served it to company so I didn’t have to sip it all myself.

My mother’s dear caregiver Pam gave me the recipe when she saw that I had leftover ham in the house, along with leeks and potatoes from our farm share.

Pam explained that she made the soup frequently when she cooked in the cafeteria at the local high school, where our friend Vicky worked as a baker.

One day Vicky tried the soup. She immediately asked, “Pam, will you marry me?”

It may not make you propose marriage—but it will certainly warm you up … and fill you up as well.

Pam’s Soup

Ingredients:

3 cups diced potatoes
5 slices bacon
3 leeks (mostly white part), cleaned and diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart warmed chicken broth
2 cups chopped ham
pepper to taste
1 cup milk
cream to taste

Instructions:

In lightly salted water bring the potato pieces to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes for 10 minutes. Leave them in the water while you prepare the bacon.

In a heavy Dutch oven fry the bacon until it is crispy and brown. Remove the bacon pieces from the pan and set them aside. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat, reserving the remaining fat as well.

Use the bacon fat in the pan to sauté the leek pieces until they soften.

Push the leeks to the side of the pan and add 2 to 3 additional tablespoons of bacon fat. Whisk the flour into this fat to make a roux. Whisk for at least a minute or two to let the fat and the flour combine.

Gradually stir in the chicken stock; then stir in the ham, the potatoes, and 1 cup of the potato water. (You may discard the remaining potato water now.)

Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1/2 hour. Add the milk and a little cream to thin and lighten the soup.

Serve with the bacon (crumbled) as a garnish. Serves 6.

Flu Season Chicken Soup

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

 
This recipe comes from Loyce Cofer of Tyler, Texas, a loyal reader of this blog.
 
Loyce is 70 and lives in East Texas with Don, her husband of 51 years. I asked her about her life, and she replied that the pair had sometimes had to struggle to make ends meet. “We’ve managed with a lot of perseverance,” she added.
 
Loyce can’t cook or get out as much as she used to since she suffers from diabetes and neuropathy in her feet. She is also a seven-year survivor of breast cancer. Despite her aliments she is grateful for every drop of rain in her dry area and for the gifts of life, friends, faith, and family.
 
“My life as a stay-at-home mom was rewarding in a way as I loved our sons so much and strived to make it warm and welcoming,” she wrote. Obviously, this chicken soup—perfect for the cooler weather and the season of colds and flu –would contribute to the literal and figurative warmth of that home.
 
“I’m a recipe hound as you know and do love to cook with herbs and spices, even wine occasionally but not a gourmet,” Loyce told me. She sounds like a woman after my own heart. “I make this for my husband and myself since our sons live out of state but I would make it for friends that are feeling poorly.”
 
Loyce makes her soup with a tablespoon of Wyler’s chicken bouillon granules. I had the bones and leftover meat from a small chicken leftover in the house so I added them to the soup instead of the granules. If you don’t have leftover chicken, do try her method. (Of course, this coming week most of us will have leftover turkey.)
 
The recipe may be increased or decreased as needed. 

Here’s a tiny photo of Loyce with her husband Don taken during the spring flower display in Tyler, a town famous for its azalea trails.

 
Loyce’s Flu Season Emergency Chicken Soup (slightly adapted by Tinky)
 
Ingredients:
 
1 chicken carcass with some leftover meat (or 1 tablespoon bouillon granules)
enough water to cover the chicken (plus a little to spare)
garlic to taste; Loyce used minced dried garlic, but I used 2 cloves of minced fresh garlic
1 onion, diced
2 medium diced carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, peeled of fiber and diced
parsley to taste and other herbs like thyme and rosemary (fresh or dry; I used fresh parsley but dried thyme and rosemary)
salt to taste
pepper corns to taste
 
Instructions:
 
Place all the ingredients in a stock pot and slowly bring them to a boil over medium heat with the pan covered. Watch the pot so it won’t boil over.
 
When the water comes to a boil reduce the heat and cook the soup, ALMOST covered, for 3 hours, adding water if needed.
 
Loyce skims the fat from the soup as she cooks. I’m not very good at this so I waited until it was done (see below).
 
Remove the ingredients from the pan and strain the stock away from the sold ingredients. Save the pieces of chicken (without skin), carrots, and (if you like) the onion and celery bits; mine had given their all so I discarded them.
 
If you haven’t skimmed the fat off, refrigerate the stock and other ingredients until the fat solidifies at the top of the stock pan. Remove the fat, add the saved bits of chicken and vegetable, and bring the soup to a boil again. Let it cool slightly before pouring it into bowls. 

Serves 4 to 6, depending on the size of your chicken pieces and the amount of water you added. Loyce likes to serve this with cornbread.