green chile posole

IMG_9582My efforts to cook down the freezer continue, and soupily.  I am off to pick up the beef today, and am proud to announce I managed to clear about half the space, so I should be fine.  A major part of the square footage was taken up by what I thought was a half of a pig’s head (nope, a whole; surprise!) from my butchery class with Camas Davis.  I also found a jowl and a cheek, as one does.

Because the head was so big, I roasted it and stripped it for tacos (cabeza), then added the leftover bits to pork stock for a wonderful green chile posole with the other parts I had uncovered in my latest archaeological dig.

Posole!  If you haven’t tried it, it’s wonderful.  I used up a bag of homemade posole (nixtamalized) corn, made last year, the last of my peppers from the two potted plants I had maintained until the frost, the last of the green tomatoes, some roasted anchos I found in the freezer, a big handful of oregano and tarragon still hanging on in the garden, and that wonderfully rich, gelatinous cabeza meat and some pork shoulder. The cabeza really added so much to the broth, and I recommend it if you should have a head in your freezer.  No questions asked.

If you’re making it, here are a few more tips: I threw in a handful of local cornmeal to slightly thicken the broth, and simmered everything for 30 minutes or so, adding a lemon and some powdered ancho pepper and garlic powder near the end of cooking. Perfect winter meal, all local, but with a taste of warm sunny skies.

fungstravaganza: wild mushroom soups and dumplings!

IMG_9282I spoke to a full house at the mushroom festival on Sunday.  A full house, I’d like to believe, that was there to soak in my culinary wisdom and wit about mushroom soups and dumplings, but I am not too vain to know they were there because they were soaked.  The makeshift stage, arranged as one does at rural festivals with hay bales and sheltered by a fabric tent, provided a reason to come sit and listen to my radio voice in the downpour.  Heck, it was the only dry spot with seating in the entire joint, and one that smelled like garlic and pork and ginger and mushrooms, so I know it was a natural place to hang out.  Yay!

If you’re here because of the demo, welcome!

IMG_9285So I talked about three mushroom soups using wild mushroom stock, and promised to provide the recipes here.  One was a creamy, full-bodied soup from Eastern Europe featuring sauerkraut and pork, and the other two were lighter and good for vegetarian dining. I also discussed two mushroom dumplings: bolete (a.k.a. porcini or cep) spaetzle and chanterelle potstickers.  The spaetzle is good in soup, the potstickers, of course, are good as an accompaniment to soup.

Wild mushrooms in these recipes can be used interchangeably with what you have on hand, but I suspect most of you will have chanterelles or hedgehogs or boletes if you forage in Oregon, or you can rely on the markets to get others and the dried shiitakes or boletes or Chinese brown mushrooms you’ll need for the stock.

I don’t have any magic way to make pictures of brown or creamy soups look good, so enjoy this picture of spaetzle with pork medallions in a creamy chanterelle sauce I snapped in Germany.

20141020_142010Interested in more wild mushroom recipes?  Check out the brand new and comprehensive community cookbook compiled by the Cascade Mycological Society as a fundraiser for scholarships.  If you’re new to foraging, this is THE local organization to know.

Wild Mushroom Stock

This recipe is based on a stock I made for a Japanese vegan dinner using only dried shiitakes and soy, and a more complex stock popular at Greens restaurant in San Francisco.  It’s dark and well-rounded in flavor, and great for vegetarian soups and stews.

  • 10 cups water
  • 2 cups dried mushrooms, mixed or single variety (shiitake, Chinese brown mushrooms, boletes, morels)
  • Any trimmings of fresh mushrooms you have
  • two leeks, including the tops
  • one celery stalk with leaves
  • one yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • a dozen black peppercorns
  • handful of fresh herbs: fresh parsley, bay leaf, thyme
  • salt to taste

Bring water to a boil, then add dried mushrooms (they will reconstitute in the boiling water) and the rest of the ingredients.  Simmer for 1 hour or more, then let cool in pot.  Remove vegetables, reserving the mushrooms for other uses (like fried rice), if you like.  Clarify stock using an egg raft or several coffee filters and a sieve.

For the simplest soup recipe, serve cups of hot broth with tiny slivers of:

  • fresh ginger, preferably new ginger
  • carrot and/or burdock
  • fresh mushroom
  • and chopped chives.

Add just before serving.

Another idea for this stock is a vegetarian version of the classic French onion soup, enriched by caramelized onions and topped with a melty cheese toast.  Wild foods expert Butter Wilde has a recipe for a gorgeously rich Porcini French Onion Soup on Hunger and Thirst, her blog.

Wild Mushroom and Sauerkraut Pork Goulash (Szekely Goulash)

Chanterelles are a delicious addition to this traditional Transylvanian stew. This recipe is very popular every time we do a sauerkraut class with the Master Food Preserver trainees, and I make it frequently.  It’s a good use for your homemade fresh sauerkraut.  Consider rinsing your kraut if it’s very salty; I usually don’t. The pork browns on top of the sauerkraut as it’s baking, so no need to brown ahead of time.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a shake of paprika on top.

  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 2 large white onions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 2 cups chanterelles or boletes, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons imported sweet paprika, or a mix of sweet and hot
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dillweed
  • 1 lb. sauerkraut, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 2 1/2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes, tossed with some salt and black pepper
  • 2 cups mushroom stock or chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a heavy dutch oven or similar pot with a lid, heat onions, garlic, and caraway seeds with oil until onions are limp and golden brown.  Add chopped mushrooms and saute until liquid cooks away, then add paprika, bay leaf, dillweed, and sauerkraut, stir well.

Layer pork cubes on top of sauerkraut and add stock.

Bring to a boil, then cover, place in oven and cook for 2 hours, or until pork falls apart.

After removing from oven, add cream and let flavors meld for 15 minutes or so before serving.  Do not boil again after adding cream.

Wild Mushroom Soup with Hazelnut Spaetzle

Bring mushroom stock up to a simmer, then add cooked spaetzle (see recipe below).  While soup is heating, sauté tiny cubes of carrot, potato, celery hearts, and shallot in a little vegetable oil until browned, then add to soup dishes.  Pour soup on top, dividing spaetzle evenly between the bowls.

Wild Mushroom and Hazelnut Spaetzle

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground hazelnuts or almonds, or similar nut flour
  • 1 tablespoon powdered dried bolete/porcini/cep mushrooms (grind dried mushrooms in a clean coffee grinder to a dust, pick out any remaining large pieces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk

Mix dry ingredients, then add egg and half the milk, and beat well.  Add more milk until the batter is stiff but not yet a dough.  Let sit in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

In a medium pot bring several cups of slightly salted water to a boil. The water should fill the pot about halfway.  Turn down to a simmer.

Method 1:  Using a ricer, spaetzle-maker, or colander with large holes, push a portion of the batter through the holes in large strands directly in the simmering water.  Repeat after dumplings float to top (see below).

Method 2: Spread the batter out flat on a large cutting board or tray without sides. with a long knife, cut off bits of batter in very thin strips, pushing them into the boiling water as you cut.  Move quickly so the dumplings will cook evenly in a batch.  Repeat after dumplings float to top (see below).

When the cooked spaetzle are ready, they will float to the surface.  Remove and drain, then toss into a bowl with a teaspoon or two of oil and stir gently to lubricate, so they won’t stick.

These are best in any clear soup, or drain well after cooking, then toss in some hot butter and brown a little before serving with a saucy main course as one would noodles.

Serve immediately.

Oyster Mushroom Potstickers

Follow the method outlined on my “little green potstickers” post, substituting the following ingredients for the filling:

  • 2 cups fresh oyster mushrooms, cleaned, chopped finely, and dry-sautéed with a splash of soy sauce (2 t. or so) until all the liquid is gone.
  • 1/4 cake regular (firm) tofu, drained well of water
  • 1/4 lb. ground pork
  • 3-4 green onions, white parts only, minced
  • 2-inch long piece ginger, grated finely
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • 1 t. sesame oil
  • 1 t. sesame seeds
  • 1/2 t. salt

Let dry-sautéed mushrooms cool, then combine with filling ingredients and proceed as in the post linked above.

summer soups

IMG_7866In this endlessly hot weather, the only thing to do is to delicately sip cold soups and drink Pimm’s Cup.  Why don’t I have a croquet course set up on my lawn again?  This is outrageous.  I demand immediate measures to be taken to remedy the situation.

Until then, I will be eating chilled gazpacho.  I like my gazpacho milled to a fine consistency, then made chunky with chopped veg and freshly made garlic croutons.  This version added Sungolds and fried padrons from Groundwork Organics.

Want more cold soup ideas?  Try the aforementioned gazpacho in red or green, sour cherry apricot soup, borscht, cucumber melon soup, or okroshka, a mixed vegetable soup based on tangy kvass.

 

 

 

 

ozette potatoes, queen spud of the northwest

IMG_4256Of the many cool vegetables grown by relatively new farm Turnip the Beet, the ‘Ozette Fingerling’ potato must top the list.  Rush over to the farm tomorrow at the Lane County Farmers Market to see if Farmers Lela and John have any of these big fat fingerlings left.  Locavores won’t regret it.  Last Saturday, Lela told me that they might have them for another week.

On that very day, when I was trying and failing to blow through the market just to get a few things, I was stopped by a very excited anthropologist who told me that the Ozette, grown by the Makah people of what is now the tippiest tip of northwest Washington for centuries, was available for sale.

The Ozette is a potato that came up the coast from the Andes, I was informed dramatically, bypassing Europe altogether!  Unlike most potatoes that were collected in Peru and environs by the Spanish and colonized back in the Old World, then returned to America, the Ozette had been left behind by Spanish colonists. They had decided the Makah area around Neah Bay wasn’t a good port, so they left their settlement behind.  The Makah people, who seem like a sensible lot, saved the potatoes from the garden, named them after a local island, and planted and cherished them for generations.

The potato looks like a long, fat oca, if you know that Andean root from your travels to Peru or New Zealand.  It’s bumpier and creamier and smoother than a standard fingerling.  When baked, the potato becomes dense but still floury, like a Russet on steroids.  And the flavor is nutty and rich.  It makes an absolutely delicious soup because of the starch content, and doesn’t need butter if you bake or mash it.  I still have a couple left I’d like to fry.  My guess is that they’ll be terrific latkes for Thanksgivukkah this year, if they last in the fridge or cellar that long.

If you’re interested in the history of this singular Pacific Northwesterner, check out Gary Nabhan’s Renewing America’s Food Traditions.  You can also read about Slow Food’s presidium (scroll down) Ozette project and the details of the Ozette’s development and commercialization as a seed potato. There’s a great video featuring narration from a Makah woman about Native farming and naming the Ozette that was produced by the Seattle area restaurant/farm The HerbFarm, one of the first non-Makah Nation concerns to grow the potato.  The Ozette’s entry in the Slow Food Ark of Taste is here.

The Ozette made me a wonderful vegetarian soup this week with some leftover corncob broth I had from prepping my Bodacious corn for freezing for the year.  It’s fine to substitute water, but the corn added a snappy note to the potatoes and cauliflower.  I’d strongly recommend it.  Corn broth freezes beautifully. I love potato soup, and think it never needs added bacon or pancetta, but if you wanted to gild the lily…

Ozette Potato Cauliflower Soup with Corn Broth

Serves 4.

  • 6 cups corn cob stock
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 t. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 3 cups potatoes cut in 2-inch chunks, preferably Ozette but ok to substitute 1/2 Russet and 1/2 Yukon Gold
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • fresh thyme
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Make your corn cob stock by simmering six denuded cobs in heavily salted water for about 20 minutes, then remove cobs.  Or use chicken stock or water.  Saute onion until golden brown.  Add onion, cauliflower, potato, and carrot to the corn broth, and cook until soft. Taste and add salt and white pepper to your liking. Mash vegetables, then blend with a hand blender until smooth.  Alternatively, use chinois to mill soup smooth.  Add fresh thyme and buttermilk and simmer on the lowest heat for a couple of minutes to blend flavors, then serve.

cold soups made with a magic elixir called kvass

IMG_5306My new addiction is an old Russian fermented drink called kvass. It’s great as a breakfast juice or as an afternoon refreshment on a hot day: slightly sour, ice cold, a strong nose of beery grain or funky beet.  it’s a drink for those of us who like deep, dark, barnyardy flavors.  Or beer!

As discussed in my Russian zakuski party post, kvass is a healthful tonic full of enzymes and the lactobacilli that are the new popular kids on the block.  Whey can be added to rye bread or raw vegetables and fruits with nothing more than water, and the liquid will magically be soured to your taste.  Like lacto-fermented pickles, kvass sits on the counter until the good bacteria multiply and give it a characteristic tang.

I’m at work on my first blackberry kvass and a fermented version of tomato juice that I’m planning to push on an unsuspecting friend for bloody marys, and I will report back.  Until then, I wanted to share some easy cold soup recipes using kvass as the base, since I’ve already gone on about it and I can’t get enough.

IMG_5201Easy Beet Kvass

Chop up two big red beets; add to a half-gallon jar with two teaspoons of salt and a 1/4 cup of whey, sauerkraut juice, or a similar fermented liquid to hasten fermentation.  I used fermented dill pickle juice in the photo above, which is why you see a juniper berry floating on top.

Fill jar 3/4 to top with water and stir. Let sit on the counter for 2-4 days, depending on how sour you’d like the mix.  (I went for 4 days and the flavor was great for soup.)  Skim off any mold bits daily.  Strain and refrigerate.  Drink as is, or use uncooked as a liquid for cold soups, correcting for salt.

Beet Kvass Borscht

Serves 4.

There are various names for soups like this in Russian and Polish, but let’s just keep it simple.  You have two choices here: you can add your vegetables and let sit in the stock overnight for improved flavor but a thoroughly hot pink color; or you can add your vegetables just prior to serving for pretty colors (above).  It’s, as they say, all good.

To a quart of cold kvass, chop up and add some or all of the following: cooked beets of various hues, cucumbers, scallions, chives, dill weed, apples, hardboiled eggs.  Serve immediately or let flavors develop in the refrigerator.  (But if you decide to add eggs, place on top just before serving.)  Taste and salt if necessary.  A gamechanging addition, should you have it on hand, is a good slug of dill pickle juice.  Or try kimchi juice?  Optional garnish: more herbs, a dollop of sour cream.

IMG_3596Rye Bread Kvass

This recipe is slightly more complicated and gooey than beet kvass, and yields a mildly alcoholic brew. You’ll need to get your hands on decent rye bread, either light or dark, with no preservatives.  Darker rye, such as the thinly sliced German or Russian stuff that’s bursting with grain and almost moist, is terrific but will yield a darker color for the kvass. In the picture, my kvass is a combination of about 1:3 dark:light rye. Alternatively, you can make your own rye or buckwheat mash, but I’ll leave it up to your powers of the internet to find a recipe for that.

I’m going to play with yeast types (I’ve heard ale and champagne yeasts make better kvass) and did not bother to secondary-ferment my kvass, as I wanted it for soup and fizzy soup sounds kind of gross to me, so let me know if you have any advice.

  • Half gallon jar or crock
  • 5-6 slices good quality bakery or German rye bread
  • packet of active dry yeast or piece of sour dough or 1/2 cup whey
  • fresh juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • handful of raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • (For secondary fermentation, you will also need a 2-liter plastic bottle or similar)

Dry bread in the following manner: (1) let it sit on your counter until hard; or (2) toast in the oven until hard and golden brown.  If it burns a little, that’s ok, since it will add to the flavor.  Place in half-gallon jar.

Boil 7 cups of water and pour over bread in half-gallon jar.  Cover and let sit overnight.

Strain bread and press very gently to get as much liquid out as possible.  Discard bread and pour liquid back into jar.  Add yeast or sourdough or whey, lemon juice, honey, salt, and some raisins.  Cover and let sit on the counter for 2-4 days, checking for bubbles (good) and skimming off any moldy bits (bad) daily.  It should smell a little like beer once it gets going and look like the photo below.

IMG_3642For secondary fermentation, strain the kvass through cheesecloth and pour into a 2-liter bottle.  Add a few raisins to bottle.  Seal the cap and let sit for a few days.  Fermentation will build up inside the bottle.  When the raisins float to the top, it will be done.  Refrigerate and use as a drink sweetened with more honey, or as a delicious cold soup stock.

IMG_3664Okroshka (Cold Rye Vegetable Soup)

Serves 4.

Similar to the borscht recipe above, add chopped vegetables to a quart of cold rye kvass.  Since this is a clear soup, don’t add beets or the color will be ruined. Season with a bit of and a healthy dose of dill pickle juice, whole grain mustard, salt, and parsley.

There are as many versions of this soup as there are Russians.  Sandor Katz offers a version with potatoes and turnips in addition to the apples and cucumbers, but I’m not sure I like the texture of potatoes in cold broth because they are softer than the crisp apples and tend to taste merely waterlogged to me. I might try a version that is only cold cooked veg, though: yellow or chioggia beets, tiny waxed potatoes, tiny turnips, steamed Dutch round carrots. Several recipes call for the addition of chopped fermented dill pickles, a brilliant touch if you ask me.

In any case, the soup is even better with more dill and sour cream mixed in.

Oh, and one more.  I already posted my cold melon and cucumber soup made with kvass recipe here, but for sake of completeness…

Melon Cucumber Soup with Shiso

Serves 6.

  • 1 honeydew or other pretty green-fleshed melon
  • 3-4 medium pickling cucumbers or one firm, medium-sized cucumber
  • 1/2 cup kvass
  • 1/2 stale dinner roll or a slice of white bread
  • a pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 cup any chopped green or banana pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons tarragon
  • 5-6 green shiso (perilla) leaves, plus more for garnish, optional
  • crème fraîche for garnish, optional

Wash and peel melon, cut into chunks.  Peel and seed cucumber only if using one of those grocery store kinds with leathery skin and big seeds.  Tear bread into pieces and soak in kvass.  Add to food processor bowl or blender melon, chunks of cucumber, kvass/bread, salt, peppers, tarragon, and shiso.  Blend until as smooth as possible.  You might try pressing through a food mill or chinois after this step, if you and your guests are fancy.

Refrigerate for several hours, up to overnight but not more, to blend flavors.  Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a chiffonade of shiso in each bowl.

cool as a melon cucumber soup

IMG_5304I’m really into cold soups this summer.  It’s like mainlining vegetables.  And my latest love, kvass (yes, yes, a recipe soon forthcoming, I promise), is making them all the better.  Kvass, a fermented drink made from bread, beets, or fruits, sours up a sweet soup and gives it depth.

This melon-cucumber soup, when done with a meltingly ripe melon from Eastern Oregon, will be too sweet, so you need the balancing agents: kvass, cucumber, green pepper, salt.  Be careful with your garden cucumbers — they can be bitter in this hot, dry weather.  Taste each one before using.

Shiso is an herb everyone should grow, both the green and purple kinds.  Its flavor is a little like basil, a little like tarragon, a little like holy basil, a little like mint.  The purple stuff provides a great dye for pickles, and dried, produces a traditional topping for Japanese rice.  The green stuff can be salted to preserve and used fresh on seafood and, as you shall see, in cold soups.

Melon Cucumber Soup with Shiso

Serves 6.

  • 1 honeydew or other pretty green-fleshed melon
  • 3-4 medium pickling cucumbers or one firm, medium-sized cucumber
  • 1/2 cup kvass, should you be lucky enough to have it, or hefeweizen or other light-flavored beer
  • 1/2 stale dinner roll or a slice of white bread
  • a pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 cup any chopped green or banana pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons tarragon
  • 5-6 green shiso (perilla) leaves, plus more for garnish, optional
  • crème fraîche for garnish, optional

Wash and peel melon, cut into chunks.  Peel and seed cucumber only if using one of those grocery store kinds with leathery skin and big seeds.  Tear bread into pieces and soak in kvass.  Add to food processor bowl or blender melon, chunks of cucumber, kvass/bread, salt, peppers, tarragon, and shiso.  Blend until as smooth as possible.  You might try pressing through a food mill or chinois after this step, if you and your guests are fancy.

Refrigerate for several hours, up to overnight but not more, to blend flavors.  Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a chiffonade of shiso in each bowl.

the unexpected pleasures of savory watermelon

As soon as the sweet, dense, singular Eastern Oregon-grown Hermiston watermelons hit the market in late July, I try to keep a tub full of ready-to-eat slices close by in the refrigerator, just in case a heat-related emergency arises.  But heat and watermelon can be even chummier, I realized last night at an illuminating supper.

Taco Belly (which no one calls by its official name, Taqueria Belly) is the fancier new Belly’s scruffy kid sister, but no less beloved by its owners and staff and customers.  The regular menu is good, but the specials…well, sometimes the specials just Knock. It. Out. Of. The. Park.  I submit to you Exhibit A:

A grilled watermelon “salad,” special du jour du yesterday.  Watermelon salads are usually fussy things, with little cubes and precious dots and twiddles and fringes.  This was big, luscious slices of watermelon, grilled on a hot fire with the rinds on.  Then the slices were topped with pepitas, fresh goat cheese (I think), a simple roasted salsa roja, and a smattering of white onion and cilantro.  The pile is crowned with a few edible nasturtium flowers, which add not only fiery glory but a peppery and slightly bitter note.

This morning, admittedly high on watermelon, I found an elegant appetizer of salmon sashimi draped over a spiced watermelon refrigerator pickle from the slightly odd blog My Man’s Belly.  You can find her recipe linked in the watermelon category of the Punk Domestics preservation collective blog.  You might try smoked salmon, homemade gravlax or quickly seared salmon, as well.  Oregon salmon, of course.

But we can’t stop there.  I’ve been saving a recipe from the Bite of Eugene last year for exactly a moment like this, an original recipe that Iron Chef Oregon 2010, our dear Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro & Bar served at the festival and distributed to attendees. Watermelon gazpacho. Yes.  It’s a subtle and perfect blend of watermelon and sweet, acidic summer tomatoes, with red peppers, cucumbers, onion and garlic to provide the underpinnings a good gazpacho needs.  It was my favorite soup last summer, so I asked Chef Gil (last year, hope he remembers) if I could post it on the blog.  And I trust my delay will be your future pleasure!

The soup should be started the night before you plan on serving it, since it needs to sit for 12 hours.  I suggest using dark, high acid tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes, but any garden tomato is a winner in August.  You might want to reserve some of the vegetables for a little garnish in each bowl.  Straining the soup through a fine sieve is really an important step for a mind-blowing texture that will make your guests roll their eyes back into their heads in delight, but if you don’t have a sieve and don’t mind a more rustic finish, the blender will do.  You will still be loved.

Rabbit Bistro’s Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 2 lbs. assorted heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 pint basket heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs. clean watermelon, no seeds
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 baguette, diced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup dry red wine, preferably Spanish
  • 1 cup olive oil, preferably Spanish
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large container, mix all ingredients well and press on the tomatoes and watermelon, ensuring that they release enough liquid to almost cover the mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Blend, in a blender, in batches, and pass through a fine sieve.  Serve in chilled bowls.  Serves approximately 8.

improvised smoky bean and root vegetable soup

Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup was one of my favorites growing up.  Quivering beige sludge with an occasional bean or mysterious fat cube, it was condensed.  You’d add a can full of water and slosh it around in a pot on the stove, then it would become soup.  It would cook up hot and salty, just how I liked it, and perfect with saltine crackers.

Even after leaving home, it was comfort food.  I remember with fascination and trepidation a particular old sandwich shop in Ann Arbor that would sell a bowl of it, sans attribution, for college student prices.  Maybe a buck fifty a bowl?  Perfect for a freezing day walking around without sense in Michigan.  (Drake’s closed a few years after my last visit in the late 80s, but there’s a wonderful photo set from that era here.)

I wouldn’t say no if someone put a can in front of me now, but I’d probably seize up over the salt content.  Actually, maybe not, since even Campbell’s realized it was over the top and reformulated the stuff into a “heart healthy” version (whatever that means) a number of years ago.

There are many ways to make your own bean-smoky-meat soup that are way more healthy than anything processed in a can, but if you’re lucky, they’ll still bring on that rush of nostalgia when you smell them in the pot.

I had a surplus of root vegetables from the CSA thanks to this frosty month, and thought I’d experiment with a bean soup that was as much about the veg as it was the legume.  This soup is more than its parts, so feel free to add more root vegetables than you think possible.  It will look like too many roots, but you’ll cook half of them down into the broth.  Don’t do anything ridiculous, like add beets, though. Stick with mild potatoey- or carroty-type roots.

Smoked ham or bacon or turkey is really not optional for this recipe, as it forms the broth.  Start the night before you’d like to serve it.  Flavor improves as it sits.

Improvised Smoky Bean and Root Vegetable Soup

  • Several pounds of mixed root vegetables: rutabagas, turnips, potatoes, celery root, etc., chopped
  • One large yellow onion, diced
  • 3-4 stalks celery, diced
  • a half dozen good-sized carrots and/or parsnips
  • Several cups of country ham (or a couple of ham hocks/shanks if you have those instead)
  • Greens: a bunch of kale, collards, green cabbage, head of parsley, escarole, etc.
  • Fresh herbs if you have them (I used a bay leaf, a couple sprigs of sage, and some thyme)
  • 2-3 cups of dried soup beans, which might be Hutterite soup beans, Vermont cranberry beans, Navy or Great Northern beans, etc.
  • salt and pepper

Soak your beans overnight and prepare the stock. Dice the onion, celery, and carrots or parsnips into small pieces.  Over medium heat in a medium-sized stock pot (5 gallons, perhaps), sauté ham (if using), chopped onion, celery and carrots/parsnips until they turn golden brown.  Add enough water to fill the pot about halfway, and add half of the chopped root vegetables, herbs, and the ham hock/shank (if using).

Do not add the beans or the other half of the vegetables yet.

Simmer stock on a low heat for a couple of hours, then cool and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, bring stock up to a simmer, then add the beans and cook until they are soft.  With a potato masher, mush some of them up to thicken the broth.

Now taste and salt the broth (salt needed will depend on the ham you’re using).  If in doubt, err on the less salty side, since you can add more later. Add the greens and the rest of the vegetables, and simmer another half hour or so until tender.

Adjust seasonings before serving with a hunk of country bread.

Serves many hungry people and freezes well.  Cats who appear to be innocently looking out the window from a far corner of the table so they won’t seem interested also enjoy it when your back is turned.

happy year of the dragon!

Gung hay fat choy! May your soup bowl contain many treasures.

This is a Fujian classic, Buddha Jumps Over the Wall soup, served at the Silks Palace Restaurant next to the National Museum in Taipei.  It was set up for a photo shoot during our luncheon when I was in Taiwan.  They took a bunch of photos of me pretending to eat, too.  Never thought I’d be a fashion magazine model!

Buddha Jumps Over the Wall is a deceptively simple-looking soup.  It has dozens of ingredients, including shark fin, abalone, chicken, ham, quail eggs, and many vegetables and herbs.   It’s served at the New Year in Taiwan.  You can read about the preparation and ingredients used here.

And the name?  It’s one of those stories with conflicting legends.  But it seems that the smell of this soup cooking drove a Buddhist monk to distraction, and he either jumped over a wall to get to it or away from it, depending on the version. Read more about it on the Taiwan Food Culture website, which provides an excellent synopsis.

The version we had at the restaurant was in a ding, a ceramic version of a traditional cauldron.  The lunch was really cool — we were treated to the Imperial Treasures Feast, a set menu with food prepared to evoke artifacts in the National Museum. We ate a poached replica of a baby bok choy made of jade, a thankfully more tender interpretation of a braised pork belly carved from agate, and nibbled on miniature deserts nestled in a model of a famous curio box.  There’s a similar menu on the Silks Palace website, and more pictures.

 

homemade hominy and other corny matters

What a sad story is corn in America.  Demonized now because of the commodification of agriculture and our reliance on feed corn, corn is viewed with a suspicious eye.  As a naïve Midwesterner, I’ve always loved corn.  I like popcorn, corn on the cob, cornnuts, cornbread, corn tortillas, corn salsa, tortilla chips, cornmeal, corn broth, corn chowder, corn stirfry…the list goes on.  The only kind of corn I don’t like is canned creamed corn.

Well, and high fructose corn syrup, which kind of starts out the same way.

I realized after reading Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, like so many of us did, that corn was a huge part of my diet as an American.  My very first diet seachange was to start cutting out preservatives and “hidden” sources of cheap corn in my food to shift my dollars away from Big Ag.

So I laughed in sympathy when Ayers Creek Farm owner Anthony Boutard began his talk for our Oregon Agriculture panel at the Food Justice Conference last month by shaking ears of corn at the audience, saying how mad he was that Pollan had ruined corn.

In 1922, McCall’s magazine ran an editorial on the introduction of new American fiction that would represent real, not nostalgic or idealized, American life…as American as corn.  I believe (partly as an addled corn addict, partly as a Midwesterner, and partly as a huge fan of Boutard’s corn) that we should rehab the reputation of American corn…as American as fiction.

We grow decent corn here in Oregon, believe it or not, and some of it is actually dried.  Homemade hominy is the perfect opportunity to start corn’s renaissance efforts.  I had the chance to make it last week, thanks to some red and yellow flint corn, already treated with hydrated lime, that Anthony brought down to Eugene for me.  Above, you can see a picture of the results: both my not-quite-successful attempt to remove the pericarp coating the inner kernel and the awesome freezing power of my new chest freezer, which just added a tiny bit of frost atop the corn.

Hominy can be pressure-canned or frozen.  I froze this batch because was a bit nervous about the stubborn clinging of the pericarp (the little nodule on the end is supposed to come off and didn’t, even with fierce rubbing) affecting the penetration of the heat in pressure canning, which sounds silly now that I type it.  Freezing is a lot less hassle.

My favorite use of hominy is what I call fake posole, a soup that isn’t even remotely like posole, save the pork and hominy.  I particularly like the combination of green chiles and pork.  In the soup pictured below, I simmered pork shoulder in a stock pot with onion, garlic, and bay leaf for a few hours, then shredded the meat and added some of my homemade salsa and a couple of cups of roasted chiles (frozen is fine) and the hominy.  The difference in using fresh (or fresh-frozen) hominy is that what’s usually mainly a starchy texture in the can becomes the most delicious, nutty, roasted corn flavor when you make your own.  It greatly enhances everything it touches, and I’ll never touch the canned stuff again.  For example, check out the pure white, washed out kernels in the soup (made with canned hominy), and the brilliant yellow and red stuff above.  The color differences, well, pale in comparison to the taste differences.

To make your own hominy, you’ll need hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide), also known as pickling or slacked/slaked lime (Spanish: cal, if you want to search for it in a Hispanic market), to break down the outer pericarp on the kernels.  I’ve also seen recipes from a very reliable source, the University of Georgia National Center for Home Food Preservation, that use lye (sodium hydroxide) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

Edited to add, 2014:  I wanted to highlight Chef Mark Kosmicki’s method, as described in the comments below: “If you didn’t want to use chemicals, you could do this just fine with wood ash. I’ve done it recently with wonderful results. You just have to soak the corn in water the day before, then boil with a half cup ash per pound of corn, then boil till the skins are loose, an hour or two. Run it under water to clean, which is kind of hard.”
Also, in the intervening years between writing this post and editing it, I should mention that Anthony has published a fantastic book on corn, really a must-have for the locavore gardener/cook.  Expect science and recipes from renowned Portland chefs!

Here are Anthony’s instructions, slightly edited for clarity.  Enjoy!

Hominy

  • In an enamel pot (ed: important, since the lime is caustic and you don’t want it reacting with metal — I used my Le Creuset dutch oven and it cleaned up easily), add two tablespoons of hydrated lime per pound of corn.
  • Add water to cover the kernels by an inch or so.  Heat the pan to a bare simmer, don’t boil, and let cook for 40 minutes to an hour.  The solution will turn a lurid yellow and the fragrance of corn will fill the kitchen.
  • Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture steep overnight at room temperature or on the back stoop.
  • The next day, strain off the lime and liquid into the compost bucket (ed: will add calcium to your compost).  Rinse the kernels vigorously several times until they are clean.  The outer skin of the kernel, the pericarp will wash away (ed: I stress VIGOROUSLY and SEVERAL, but don’t worry if you don’t get it all off, since it’s still tasty.  I let it sit for two days and it was still hard to get the pericarp off).  The result is alkalinized corn, or nixtamal.
  • The nixtamal is cooked very slowly until it is tender, at which point it is called hominy. If you have a slow cooker, you can use it to cook the hominy (ed: highly recommended).  Fill your stockpot or slow cooker pot with the corn and fresh water.  Cover the kernels well, as they will absorb a good deal of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until the kernels split open as little flowers.  The hominy is now ready to use in a pozole or soup.