Thursday, January 27, 2022

Chilled Cucumber Soup

 Originally published July 25, 2011


I think I've mentioned before that Mr. Eats and I never turn down an invitation to dinner from my friend, Hedy. She's a fantastic cook and Mr. Eats appreciates eating critter meat that's home-cooked. But mostly because everything she makes is interesting and delicious.

Last weekend, she made this wonderful cold cucumber soup. It was light and refreshing but oddly filling as well. She kind of chuckled when I asked for the recipe because she's never used one. It's a Persian soup and so common and easy to make, there's just not been a need for a recipe. But she happily told me how she makes it and I did my best to type up a recipe for it.

When Hedy makes it, she also includes tarragon, but I didn't have any on hand and it tasted just fine without it. She also noted that if you want to make it ahead, don't put in the cucumbers, walnuts, raisins and bread until right before serving because they can get a bit slimy.



This soup is a wonderful and easy way to use up some cucumbers, which are in abundance here in the south this time of year. So much so that people start looking for options so they don't end up making a pantry's worth of pickles. And it's so good that Mr. Eats was excited to have it again even though it's vegetarian! We had it for dinner along with some marinated feta on pita with cilantro. Adjust the servings up or down easily--equal parts yogurt and water!



Chilled Persian Cucumber Soup
serves 4-6

3-4 green onions, washed
½ bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
½  bunch of fresh dill, chopped
½ bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 large cucumber
16 ounce container of Greek yogurt
2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste (start with about one teaspoon of each)
½ cup walnuts
½ cup golden raisins 
Crusty bread, toasted and torn into chunks

Chop the green ends of the green onions into thin circles and set aside.

Peel and halve the cucumber (sideways), halve again (lengthwise) and scoop out the seeds by running a spoon down the seed side of the cucumber. Quarter the halves and cut into quarter-inch thick chunks. Set aside.

Put the yogurt in a large bowl and dilute with water half a cup at a time until desired consistency (not too thick). Add the herbs, salt, pepper , and cucumber and stir. Add walnuts and raisins and scoop into serving bowls. Garnish with bread and serve immediately.

 

 

Watermelon Gazpacho

 Originally published August 1, 2011


It's been almost two years now and I still haven't posted about the wonderful time Mr. Eats and I had in New York on our "babymoon." [Update: I never will--ha!] Anyhoo, one of the places we stopped for lunch was a cute little vegan cafe called Sacred Chow. The special soup they had that day was watermelon gazpacho. I've never forgotten it.

So I went to the Google and searched for recipes. Nothing was quite right. There were no tomatoes, it wasn't spicy, and I distinctly remember avocado, mango and cilantro. It was somewhat sweet and somewhat savory, too. So I thought, what the heck, I'll try to make it from memory. Luckily for me, their Facebook page has a photo with a list of ingredients! The only thing I didn't think of was olive oil, but I think that would have occurred to me during the process. The list didn't include an actual recipe, so I came up with one on my own and made a tiny addition (cucumbers, which--as I mentioned--are in abundance around here right now).

And I have to say that I'm really patting myself on the back for this one (though I owe a big thanks to the folks at Sacred Chow for the inspiration). This soup is delightful. No tomatoes means it's easy on the tummy but the oil, vinegar and salt (and the avocado and cucumber) give it a nice balance so it's not too sweet. It's perfect for dinner. I served this with some chimichurri in chili-infused olive oil and roasted corn on the cob.



A note on preparation--once again, I used what's becoming my favorite gadget, the immersion blender. I put all the watermelon in the bowl and gave it a few whirls so that there was about half liquid and half watermelon chunks. I love that thing. The directions below are for those of you who need to use your blender or other appliance to puree the watermelon.

Watermelon Gazpacho
serves 4-6

1/4 of a small watermelon, chopped into small chunks with seeds removed (about 2 1/2 cups when cut)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 to 2 teaspoons ground sea salt
1 avocado, peeled and cut into chunks
1 mango, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup of seedless red grapes, cut in halves
1/2 a cucumber, seeded and cut into small chunks
1/4 cup cilantro, diced
fresh ground pepper to taste

Set aside half the watermelon chunks in a large bowl. Puree the remaining watermelon and pour into the bowl. Stir in the olive oil, vinegar and salt one teaspoon at a time, testing between teaspoons.

Add the avocado, mango, grapes, cucumber and mix in with the cilantro. Add a few grinds of pepper and serve chilled.

 

Squash Soup with Avocado Lime Cream

 Originally published August 29, 2011


Remember the Tomato Art Fest recipe contest? The one that I didn't win? Well, as I mentioned previously, Amy at Fearless Homemaker also entered the competition with tomato-jicama stacks with avocado-lime cream.

Mmm...avocado-lime cream...mmm...I thought to myself, "Self, that would taste really good on some enchiladas or soft tacos. Self, you must make this." So I whipped up a batch and used it to top some soft tacos filled with lime-soaked baked tofu, queso fresco and sauteed chopped squash and onions. I also served some yellow rice as a side dish. A very tasty dinner.

But I saw Mr. Eats dipping into that cream a little more than I expected. Extra dollops on the tacos, several dollops on the rice, and then a brazen spoonful directly into the mouth. He liked it. Obviously.

So, what else to top with this cream? He won't eat raw tomatoes, so Amy's recipe is out. I had quite a bit leftover, too. So I started looking around the kitchen and it occurred to me: squash soup.



I'd been meaning to make a squash soup for a while. All kinds of squashes are in abundance right now. So what else to put in the soup? Shallots, of course, since I still have quite a few of them. Confession: when I bought this package of shallots, I confused them with cippolinis and had intended on roasting them to eat whole. While I'm sure that can be done with shallots, I don't think that would be the experience I was going for....

So, I looked around at what I had on hand. Half a golden zucchini, a couple of crookneck squash, and a white pattypan squash. I figured that would be a good combination.

Experience from the great baby-food-making debacle of last year told me two things: first, remove the seeds and second, cook the heck out of that squash. So first I sauteed the zucchini and crookneck with a couple of sliced shallots and then sauteed the pattypan with some garlic. And then put them all in a simmering pot of vegetable broth and some salt and pepper, of course. Once it cooled a bit, I blitzed it with my stick blender and...soup!

The last step was to see how it tasted with the avocado-lime cream. In a word, fantastic. A  perfect pairing. Dinner that evening was a cooled squash soup with dollops of the cream and a side of some peaches and cream cornbread. A light, but satisfying late summer dinner.

This soup can be made with just about any type of squash (you can bet I'll be making an acorn squash version and a butternut squash version later in the year), but if you're using crookneck, I think it's a good idea to include a pattypan in there, too because there was a really nice creamy consistency without even using any milk or cream. I believe that came from the pattypan.

Also, I changed Amy's avocado-lime cream recipe a bit. I cut back the avocado and lime juice and added a handful of cilantro. So if you're a cilantro hater, note that this can easily be made without it and it will still taste great.

Squash Soup with Avocado-Lime Cream
serves 2-4

3-4 summer squashes, seeds removed and cut into thin chunks
2 small/medium shallots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Add the olive oil to a large skillet and turn on medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook until soft (about five minutes). Add the squash and cook another 5-10 minutes (or until soft).

In the meantime, combine the broth, water, and salt in a large saucepan and heat to a boil. Add the sauteed squash and bulbs and simmer until very tender (about 30 minutes). Set aside to cool. Once cooled, puree the soup (with a stick blender, food processor, or blender). Chill.
***
Avocado-Lime Cream with Cilantro

1 avocado, sliced
the juice of one lime
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
a handful of cilantro, washed

Place the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.
***
Once the soup has chilled, sprinkle with pepper and swirl in dollops of the avocado-lime cream to taste and serve.

Really Easy Lasagna

 Originally published October 3, 2011


This lasagna is really the first thing I ever prepared for a meal that involved cutting multiple vegetables and more than 20 minutes to cook. But it was a great entrée into cooking. Even if the pasta sauce is a bit of a cheat.



The recipe is one I clipped from The Commercial Appeal's food section many years ago called Mother-In-Law's Birthday Lasagna; the moniker given because it was easy to throw together when you needed to quickly prepare a meal for a number of people but you still need to have time to socialize. Prep time for this is only about 20 minutes and assembly is easy.

I've changed it a lot over the years and even since I've started this blog. It's even simpler and easier to prepare. Essentially, you chop vegetables, you throw them in a bowl and then layer them with sauce, noodles and cheese. Cook for an hour, let sit, eat. And you can put whatever fillings you want in there. I'll post what I use, but you can add whatever you can cram in there:

• crumble some firm silken tofu on a layer for an extra protein boost and/or to mimic the
texture of ricotta cheese (I don't use ricotta--it doesn't add much for me, personally)
• roast a few handfuls of broccoli and add them to a layer
• sprinkle a layer of vegetables with leaves of fresh spinach
• crumbled tempeh
• cannelini beans, white beans, or kidney beans (already cooked)
• nothing but cheese; if you don't like vegetables, just put a whole bunch of cheese in it
• Don't feel like chopping? You can find plenty of pre-cut veggies in the freezer section.
• okay, okay, you can put some ground beef in there, too. But I don't recommend it. Obvs.

But here's what I like to put in mine. I've gotten some rave reviews, too.

Really Easy Lasagna
serves 6-8

1 pound sliced baby portobello mushrooms
1-2 yellow squashes
1 medium zucchini
5-8 ounces (about half a bag) shredded carrots
1 jar (26 ounces) pasta sauce (I like Newman's Own marinara or Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic)
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce (the flavored sauces, such as roasted garlic or basil are perfect)
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs, basil and/or oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil
9 lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (I like Sargento)

Rinse the mushrooms and saute over medium heat about five minutes (or until most of the water cooks out).

Cut the squash and zucchini into 1/4-inch (or so) slices and then quarter the slices and put into a medium size bowl. Add the mushrooms when they've cooled a bit and the carrots and stir to mix them all together.

In a separate (large) bowl, combine the pasta and tomato sauces and add the extra seasoning. Stir and add more to taste.

In a 9x13 pan (glass or aluminum), spread the olive oil in the bottom and along the sides. Then pour and spread one cup of the sauce. Place three noodles on top of the sauce.

Spread half the bowl of vegetables over the noodles (evenly). Then sprinkle half the cheese over the vegetables. Cover the cheese with about 1 1/2 cups of sauce and place three more noodles on top.

Spread the other half of the vegetables over the noodles, then the rest of the cheese and pour on another cup and a half of sauce. Then place three more noodles on top and the remainder of the sauce on top of the noodles (make sure all are covered with sauce). Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350°F for one hour, cooking uncovered for the last 15 minutes. Let stand 15-30 minutes before serving.

In short, what you really need to keep in mind to make it even easier:

  1. sauce
  2. noodles
  3. filling
  4. cheese
  5. sauce
  6. noodles
  7. filling
  8. cheese
  9. sauce
  10. noodles
  11. sauce

You don't have to sauté the mushrooms, but it helps to cook out some of the water. If you've got other juicy fillings (such as frozen spinach), they need to be cooked down or drained well first (example: roasting broccoli). The lasagna will eventually soak up all the water, but it would have to stand longer than half an hour after baking.

This is not only great to serve for a small dinner party, it's a great dish to prepare and send to a friend (cooked or uncooked) on any of those occasions when you send food (family in the hospital, funeral, new baby). And certainly if you need to hide vegetables in other food to get your picky eater kids to eat them (as a child, anything was more palatable to me with tomato sauce on it, particularly broccoli!). The leftovers actually taste better, particularly when you add some good herbs (I also like to add dried rosemary sometimes). And if you're part of a small family (single or there's just two of you), you can make this and eat for days.

Vegetarian Beer Cheese Soup

 Originally published December 13, 2011


I'll be honest--I hadn't ever heard of beer cheese soup until a few months ago. Apparently, it's a thing in Wisconsin. They take it seriously. And it must be topped with popcorn. And it's been in the back of my mind ever since I first tasted it.

So I consulted the Google for recipes and found two things that I found displeasing:
1. A list of ingredients including carrots, celery and onions (really, just a mirepoix as a base). I do not like celery. I will not buy it or eat it.
2. A list of ingredients that included Worcestershire sauce which, many people do not realize, is not vegetarian (anchovies!).

I also discovered a fair number of cheater recipes that used cream of chicken soup. Again, no thanks. Besides, I thought to myself, isn't this soup supposed to be pretty much beer and cheese with a little kick? Yes, self. Yes, it is.

So, what does this have to do with Tomato Week II: Tomatwo? Well, my real inspiration for the soup was this can of RedGold tomatoes with chilies I had that I figured would add just the right amount of kick (I admit to being a bit of a wimp where chilies are concerned) and create a really good base for the soup. No need for all that cutting and chopping and...and...celery. ::shudder::

Make a roux, add some broth, some beer, and some cheese (plus a little flavor boost) and that's it. Beer cheese soup. It's that simple.



Almost. There are a few key things to note.

First, use good cheese. I found the best was a combination of half havarti and half extra, extra sharp yellow cheddar. This yielded a nice, creamy texture but still had a nice bite from the cheddar.

Second, use good beer. I used Blackstone Nut Brown Ale (made right here in Nashville). This is not a beer I'd ever drink because it's heavy and strong, but it was the perfect beer for this soup. A dark ale, a stout...not a light beer. Don't bother.

Third, unless you're some sort of roux savant, you're going to get teeny tiny lumps from the flour even with the sifting and the whisking. Either don't be bothered by it or get out the immersion blender (like I did). I am, however, open to suggestions as to how to avoid the lumps. They're not that bad, though. Just a little visually displeasing. Still delicious. [Update: see Glenna's comment below for a great tip on how to avoid souplumps.]

So, if you're wondering, "should I make this soup?", the answer is yes. I've gotten positive reviews from lovers of both cheese and beer, from people who like cheese but not beer, and even from people who do not like creamy soups. And the alcohol cooks out, so it's family-friendly!

Vegetarian Beer Cheese Soup
serves 4-8, about 2 quarts

4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup diced onions
1 can RedGold petite diced tomatoes with green chilies (10 or 14.5 oz)
1/3 cup flour, sifted
1 12-ounce bottle of dark beer
2 cups vegetable broth
4 cups (about a pound) shredded cheese (half sharp cheddar, half havarti)
1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
salt and pepper to taste
paprika to garnish

In a large saucepan or stock pot over medium-high heat, combine the onions and olive oil and saute until transluscent. Add the diced tomatoes. Once heated, slowly add the flour, whisking briskly to avoid lumping.

Slowly add the beer, then broth, and Liquid Smoke. When the liquid begins to simmer, add the cheese by handfuls, stirring until completely melted.

Add salt and pepper to taste and paprika to garnish.