Roasted pumpkin soup.

By Friday, I was coasting on fumes. There’s a phenomenon called “the let-down effect,” wherein after a period of stress, your body just sort of gives up and gives in. I find myself most productive under a certain amount of stress – I can go and go and go and make and think and do, but I have a hard time prioritizing, like, basic human needs and so by the end of this past particularly demanding season, I was dehydrated and overtired and on antibiotics and just sort of crashed. (I know that this is problematic, and that claiming stress is integral to my success or whatever is akin to perpetuating this un-ideal, but that’s a topic for another time.)

When I was finally feeling better, “carrot soup” was just the thing.

A better parent might be more upfront about things, but I am the tired wrangler of a very opinionated six-year-old. He thinks the soup is made of carrots, but it’s made of vegetables and he eats it, so I don’t correct him. He thinks he hates squash, and I’d rather he eat the soup he likes than take a stand against it, which he would, because he is as stubborn as a mule and his mother.

This is his favourite soup, and my go-to feel-better soup. It tastes a little bit Vietnamese, and it’s made with kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, which you can buy pretty cheaply almost anywhere in the fall and winter. I buy a few at a time and keep them on the porch; they’re fine for a couple of months if kept cool and dry. Kabocha squash tastes a bit sweeter than butternut squash, and is a great source of nutrients and fibre – roasting it brings out the sweetness, and is important to the flavour of this soup. You can roast it ahead of time if you like; it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days once cooked.

Tips

Coconut cream can be on the pricey side as it’s often stocked in the supermarket aisle where cocktail mixes are sold, but you can buy it fairly inexpensively at Trader Joe’s; I get mine for around two dollars a can at Fruiticana in Vancouver, but any Southeast Asian or Indian market will have cans of coconut cream at a reasonable price.

Serve with a wedge of fresh lime, your favourite hot sauce, a handful of chopped scallions, and a few dots of sesame oil, if you like. Bread with too much butter is also a nice accompaniment, but I feel like that, from me, may be a bit redundant by now.

Roasted pumpkin soup

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1 kabocha squash
  • 2 tbsp. olive or coconut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed, white and light yellow inner parts only, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce*
  • 13.5 oz/400mL can coconut cream
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil

*If you want to keep this vegetarian or vegan-friendly, substitute the fish sauce for a tablespoon of soy sauce.

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Adjust oven racks so that there’s one in the middle, and one one directly below. Place a sheet pan or baking dish on the lower rack. (This is an important step, especially if you’re the one who usually gets stuck cleaning the oven.)

Stab the squash around the top in four places, then turn it upside down and stab it four more times, until the knife cuts through the skin and just pierces the flesh.

Place the squash in the oven, and leave, undisturbed, for 45 minutes to an hour. A sticky, sap-like liquid should bubble from the cut marks, and it should smell a bit like roasted chestnuts. Set aside to cool. You can do this step up to three days in advance; wrap the cooled squash in a bit of foil or put it into a large zip-lock bag until you’re ready to use it.

Halve the cooled squash, and scoop out the seeds. Scrape the flesh from the skin, and set aside. Discard the skin, stem, and seeds.

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté onion, lemongrass, garlic and ginger until shimmering and fragrant, about three minutes. Add carrots, garam masala, turmeric, and pepper, and stir so that every chunky bit in the pot is coated in the spices.

Add chicken or vegetable stock and simmer until carrots are tender, ten to fifteen minutes.

Add squash, and remove the pot from the heat. Purée using a blender or immersion blender. If using a standard blender, blend in batches.

Return the pot to the heat. Add brown sugar, fish sauce, and coconut cream, stirring to melt coconut cream. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed – sometimes kabocha squash can benefit from a bit more salt, but the amount you need will depend on the saltiness of your broth.

When the soup returns to a simmer, stir in sesame oil and serve.

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Something to Read: How to Cook a Wolf

30days

There are times when helpful hints about turning off the gas when not in use are foolish, because the gas has been turned off permanently, or until you can pay the bill. And you don’t care about knowing the trick of keeping bread fresh by putting a cut apple in the box because you don’t have any bread and certainly not an apple, cut or uncut. And there is no point in planning to save the juice from canned vegetables because they, and therefore their juices, do not exist.

In other words, the wolf has one paw wedged firmly into what looks like a widening crack at the door. (How to Cook a Wolf, page 66)

No other book has been as inspirational or as significant in both my cooking and my desire to write about food as MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. It’s a book about cooking (and remaining happy) in the absolute bleakest of times – during war, under ration, or when one is limited by finances, shortages, or long, cold seasons. It was written in 1942, then revised in 1954, and it remains timeless in its advice and good sense. It’s also beautifully written.

mfkfisher

It’s not very long – you could probably read it in a weekend. And it’s just so sensible. Gas and electricity are expensive – why not spend one evening making enough soup to last a week? Meat and eggs aren’t always affordable – why not make a meal of corn grits and vegetables? What we’d now call vegan cooking is, in this book, just what you do when you don’t have much else. There are also good tips for working with cheap cuts of meat and offal, recipes for dinners in which eggs are the main course, and instructions for making mouthwash and soap.

Even if you don’t make the recipes, they are a great jumping-off point. Many of the recipes call for things like rabbit and pigeon, which are expensive proteins now and not likely to be in your fridge or freezer anyway. But you can adapt, and stew a tough bit of beef, or cook up chicken thighs or make a meatball or turn your leftovers into something else entirely with a long cook in a bright sauce and a low oven.

It’s also about redefining dinner – dinner does not have to be meat, potatoes, and some boiled vegetable. I don’t know how many times our dinner has been some manner of grain porridge topped with steamed spinach or asparagus and a poached egg; it’s something we eat all the time, not just when we’re broke (but also when I’m lazy, when it’s raining too much to walk to the store, when I just feel like a poached egg and something green …). It’s a good book, and a short book, and not preachy. Where some of Fisher’s other writing is more indulgent, How to Cook a Wolf is a reflection of the time it was written and quite sensible.

I’ve actually made her War Cake a few times, while not at war but certainly without eggs or milk or butter. It’s a nice thing to have when you are 22 and your parents are coming to your damp basement apartment for tea and you want to look like a grown-up but can only afford half the illusion.

If you already have a bit of fat and buy just what you need for this recipe out of the bulk bins, it will cost you just a few dollars to make and you’ll end up with a loaf you can slice and toast or muffins you can freeze. It’s very adaptable as well, so feel free to make substitutions based on what you have in your cupboards already.

War Cake

  • 2 cups flour, white or whole wheat
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup shortening, oil or bacon fat (always save your bacon fat)
  • 1 cup sugar, brown or white
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. other spices, such as ginger, cloves, mace, etc.
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit, such as raisins or prunes

Lightly grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan. Set aside.

Sift together your flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a pan over medium-high heat, combine the rest of your ingredients, and bring them to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for five minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and cool its contents completely.

Add the dry ingredients to your cooled wet ingredients, stir to combine, and pour into your prepared loaf pan. Bake at 325°F for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

You can also make this recipe as muffins; reduce your cooking time to 20-25 minutes.

 

Green hot sauce.

Serrano and jalapeno peppers

If you have ever thought of pepper-spraying your entire family, but didn’t have the nerve, well, I have an idea for you.

We are now in my very favourite time of the year, because it’s still hot enough to run around without sleeves but the produce is at its most awesome, and I can’t stop blowing my paycheque on ridiculous quantities of stone fruit, tomatoes, and peppers. Nick swore out loud on Sunday when I decided his penance for a weekend camping trip was to Tetris the hundred pounds of farm market bounty I’d managed to lug home into the fridge; there is simply no more room, and I can’t stop. It’s too good. It’s all too good.

“You have to do something about this,” he said, shoving the door closed. “No one needs this much damn zucchini.”

Well, I beg to differ. Let’s not even talk about everything that’s suddenly ripe in the garden. Nick certainly doesn’t want to talk about it.

So, because I am responsible and have an unlimited tolerance for a humid, sweltering apartment, I have been canning the many things I brought home, because the only thing that makes Nick happier than a fridge that won’t close are cupboards that can’t contain the groceries. I made hot sauce. It’s basically sriracha, but green.

We all paid a little bit for this, but it was worth it. Open a window if you do this; if you have a camp stove or a barbecue with a side burner, then cook this outside. Or, if everyone you live with is being a real jerk about the harvest season, then reduce a pound and a half of hot peppers with all their seeds right smack in the middle of your 900 square-foot apartment and listen to them whine and whine and whine.

They’ll forget all about it when they’re spooning green gold onto their sausages come February.

Note: Ideally you will make this using a food mill. If you don’t have a food mill, start by seeding the peppers (if you don’t want this hot-damn hot), then process in a blender or food processor before proceeding to the simmering/reduction stage. The finished product is not too too hot; it’s flavourful with a nice, slow burn.

Green hot sauce

Homemade green hot sauce

(Makes about five 250mL/1-cup jars.)

  • 1 1/2 lbs. serrano or jalapeño peppers, or a combination
  • 1 lb. onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 3 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp. Kosher salt

Remove the stems from your peppers and chop them roughly. Throw them into a heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot (such as enameled cast iron or stainless steel) with all the other ingredients, and bring them to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Cover, and cook for 15 minutes until soft.

Meanwhile, sterilize 5 jars in a large stock pot; you’ll want to boil the jars in water that comes to about two inches over the tops of the jars. Boil for 20 minutes.

Remove the chilies from the heat, and spoon the peppers and liquid into a food mill positioned over a large glass bowl. Process through the food mill until there’s nothing more running through. Scrape the bottom of the food mill into the bowl.

Pour strained pepper mixture back into your pot, return to medium heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until reduced by about half.

Spoon into sterilized jars and wipe the rims with a piece of damp paper towel. Tap the jars to dislodge any trapped air. Place sterilized lids on top, then screw on the rings; you want them just tight enough that they’re closed, but that you could still unscrew using your thumb and finger. Process the sealed jars in boiling water for an additional ten minutes. Remove using canning tongs and let cool for 24 hours. Check that jars are sealed, and then store sealed jars in a cool, dark place. Spoon the vinegary, garlicky pungent stuff over February’s wintry food and relive the magic of a fridge brimming with life.

finished sauce

Strawberry Salsa.

Berry salsa

 

My kitchen is sticky with berry mess, and it is wonderful. I have blended them into smoothies for breakfast, pureed and diced them for muffins for the toddler, and fantasized about weather reliable enough for a pavlova that drips with lemon curd and macerated berries. Strawberries are back! I am not cranky about anything today.

But we have a lot of them, because I never know how much is enough until I have too many. No math skills, this one. I still have frozen strawberries in the freezer from last year’s picking/buying binge. Who could say no to summer fruit after too many months of last autumn’s apples?! Impossible.

So, we do what we can with them, and we do everything with them, and tonight because we were having fried white fish, I decided to make a salsa of them; I am very happy to report that my total inability to calculate even the simplest thing has left me with an abundance of salsa – I will get to eat it later, while watching TV, with a big bowl of tortilla chips. Success, no matter how you do the math. Especially if you can wrangle someone else to scrub the sticky off the kitchen floor and counters.

If you don’t like cilantro, I’ve made this with basil and it’s equally good. Also I take the seeds out of the jalapeno peppers but leave the membrane, because I like this salsa just a little bit spicy.

Strawberry Salsa

  • 2 cups diced strawberries, in cubes of about 1/4″
  • 1 large avocado, diced the same
  • 1 large or 2 medium jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to combine, and let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge before serving. Serve over chicken, fish, grilled halloumi, or in a bowl on its own with all the chips you can eat.

More salsa

Creamy garlic and white bean soup.

Dinner for two.

Nick and I have been talking lately about whether we might the “too much garlic” people. Is that a thing? When people leave here after a dinner party, do they talk in the elevator on the way down about my heavy hand and effluvious kitchen? Do they sniff their breath from behind cupped palms and cringe? Anytime I make a recipe from a cookbook, I double the amount of garlic the recipe calls for, at least. Sometimes I smell it on my skin and in my hair, and always on my breath.

Raw garlic.

There are people for whom there is such a thing as too much garlic, and those are the people I will never understand. I once absentmindedly cut a slice of bread using a knife I had used earlier in the evening to smash some cloves of garlic, and I put peanut butter on the bread, and when I noticed it tasted like garlicky peanut butter toast, I still ate it. Also I should wash things right after I use them, but whatever.

My parents get garlic from a friend of theirs who grows fat cloves of organic garlic in his backyard, and though I’m pretty sure they aren’t supposed to give it to me (this garlic is not meant for just anyone, I’ve heard), sometimes they do. The garlic is pungent and aggressive, and it is so fresh that even dried, the cloves do not pull easily from the bulb. The skins are thick and ruddy, more like parchment than the whisper-thin white skins on imported supermarket garlic. This is good shit, and I get it all year round. For free.

Beans and garlic.

You can buy local garlic at your Farmer’s Market, and sometimes places like Whole Foods have some good options as well. The white, delicate bulbs you get from the supermarket are usually imported all the way from China, so there’s no way to know how fresh they are. They are subdued, but they will do in a pinch. Less-garlicky garlic is far, far better than no garlic at all.

Simmering.

If on occasion you want to feature garlic beyond being heavy handed with your marinara sauce or whathaveyou, consider putting it in soup. An easy weeknight garlic soup will fill your kitchen with slow-simmered aromas and your mouth with a healthful, soothing richness. White beans add body to this dish, and herbs bundled together and removed at the end lend complexity without leaving visual evidence of having been there. This is peasant food, simple and straightforward and wholesome. To save time you can roast the garlic the night before, and your apartment will smell like a bistro some late night in Paris and there is nothing wrong with that.

Dinner.

Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches. In case that wasn’t obvious.

Creamy garlic soup

(Serves four.)

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 540mL/19 oz. can white beans, such as navy, white kidney, or great northern beans
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 1 sprig fresh parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a small baking dish with two tablespoons of olive oil, roast whole garlic cloves for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown and sweet-smelling.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, sauté onion with remaining oil until golden and lightly caramelized. Add beans, roasted garlic, and chicken or vegetable stock, and stir to combine. Bundle sage, parsley and bay leaf using kitchen twine, and pop into the pot. Simmer together for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove bundled herbs and discard. Puree soup using a blender or immersion blender. Taste, adding salt and pepper and adjusting seasonings as needed. Serve immediately, or simmer for an additional five to 1o minutes, or until desired consistency is achieved. Remove from heat and finish with cream, if desired.

Scraped clean.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

Tomato soup is one of those things on the list of “Oh, I thought I didn’t like that,” which has gotten shorter and shorter as I’ve gotten older.

For years I despised tomato soup, because I thought it all tasted like Campbell’s Cream of Tomato, which always tasted tinny on my tongue and then itched in my throat going down.

My Dad liked it though, and our little cat at the time, Truffles, would lap it furiously out of her bowl the instant the bowl was put on the floor (she would coat the wall in orange splatter, unable to wait until it cooled even slightly to dive in), so we always had cans of it in the pantry. I preferred Cream of Mushroom, but I was in the minority.

You don’t need beautiful tomatoes for this; the ruddy, ugly, sort of soft or bruised ones are fine. The secret to good tomato soup is to roast the tomatoes first. Though around here that isn’t such a secret – a friend at work pointed out that roasting is my go-to technique for just about every ingredient. It sounds like I might be a bit predictable. But anyway. Roast the tomatoes. And the garlic. Use too much garlic. This is the future, and we’re okay with that now.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

(Serves six)

  • 5 medium field tomatoes (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
  • 3 heads of garlic plus three cloves, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, packed

Lightly grease a 9×13 pan. Preheat your oven to 300°F.

Quarter tomatoes, and line up in the pan. Scatter the peeled cloves from three heads of garlic over top. Drizzle olive oil over the contents of the pan, and sprinkle about a teaspoon of coarse salt over as well. Roast for 90 minutes to two hours, until tomatoes have withered and garlic is deeply golden. (This step you can do in advance; I like to roast a lot of tomatoes and garlic and stick them in freezer bags for easy weeknight dinners during the winter.)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add three remaining cloves of garlic. Sauté onion until translucent, then add pepper, pepper flakes, and oregano, stirring to coat. Add tomatoes and garlic to the pot, scraping any solids that remain in the pan into the pot. Stir.

Add stock, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until later garlic cloves have softened. Purée using an immersion blender. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed, then add basil and parsley and purée again. Add water to thin to desired consistency, if needed.

Serve drizzled with olive oil.

Corn and asparagus salad

As of about 1:30 p.m. last Friday, it is now summer on the west coast and I am wearing a sundress and remembering my thighs now that they are not prevented by denim or Lycra from rubbing together.

Finally, things I’ve been waiting a year for are in season again, and the sun is warm into the evening so we can garden after work or enjoy a fizzy drink or two and a tomato salad on a patio somewhere and be social. I bought this season’s first zucchini on Sunday. I picked strawberries in the sunshine on Saturday. On Friday I ate corn in a park beside a marina.

My Dad trimmed his garlic plants this weekend and sent me home with a wealth of stinky, curly green stalks with which to make pesto and salads until the garlic oil ekes from our pores and our coworkers beg us to eat anything else. And corn has begun to appear in the markets, just as the last of the frozen stuff has hardened into an iceberg that smells like freezer and deserves to be thrown out.

So for this Meatless Monday, dinner came together in a fifteen-minute frenzy of blanching, chopping, and tossing, and it was cool and bright-tasting, with lemon and tomatoes, and basil, and piquillo peppers from a jar in the fridge and those pungent, fabulous garlic scapes.

There would have been a handful of Parmesan cheese thrown in at the end but I was in such a rush to eat that I forgot. No matter. It’s just fine sprinkled on after, and it’s just fine without if you want to keep things vegan. It would also be wonderful with grilled scallops or spot prawns, or maybe halibut, but you can do that some other night.

Corn and asparagus salad

(Serves four as a main dish, six as a side.)

  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 large cobs corn (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 2 diced piquillo peppers (or roasted red bell peppers)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup garlic scapes or scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh basil
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Blanch asparagus in a large pot of boiling water. Cool in an ice water bath until cold.

Scrape corn from cobs into a large bowl. Add tomatoes, peppers, shallot, garlic scapes, Parmesan cheese, and lemon zest. Add asparagus.

Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, basil, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper together. Taste, adjusting balance as needed. Pour over salad. Toss to coat.

Serve immediately.