Pho’nomenal Soup

It’s been warm in North Carolina for several weeks, but recently the trees, flowers, and fauna have agreed to come alive and welcome Spring. The collective attitude of this area, the state, probably most of the country is lightened and optimistic, and everything seems fun and exciting. It’s almost hard to sit at home when you see the bright blue skies out of your window and know full well that the sun is warm and the breeze is light and soothing. I’m endlessly thankful that blending into life in Durham has been fluid and inspiring. It’s not without effort that I’ve made this community home, but the effort is easy to succumb when the opportunities are so prevalent. Durham shares features of Chicago that I loved, the primary being that it becomes so vibrant and positive in the warm weather. Everywhere it seems people are out, active, and socializing. Every restaurant and brewery offers the option to dine in the open air, and the myriad trails winding through this area are overflowing with people. It’s so fun to be happy and warm.

The above paragraph does not segue appropriately into the recipe at all. Rather, I’m blogging because I think I’ve exhausted my outdoor experiences for the weekend, and since the sun is setting, I find myself anxious for something new to do besides read quietly or numb to TV. So I’ll use this blog post as a way to believe I’m talking to someone since my dogs insist on napping and not engaging with me at all.

I want to call this recipe pho, because it is, I presume. However, I hesitate to comment on a culinary genre so profoundly outside of my personal experience and, in doing so, cheapen the years of creativity and influence that eventually inspired what is now appreciated as pho. It seems that in becoming a trendy- or at least well-known- food, there are of course a variety of manipulations that may stray egregiously from the original source. But I’ll attempt to throw my recipe into the forum, not to promise authenticity, but to encourage expansion of this beautiful and flavorful dish into even the most benign kitchens. This is truly one of the most straightforward meals I’ve made, with such outrageously delicious results. The ratio of effort to pay-off is trending towards infinity. So I call this soup, with a heavily obvious pun- pho’nomenal-  because it is phenomenal and it, for lack of a better descriptor, is pho!

Vegetarian Pho

Serves 2

(Inspired by this recipe)

Broth

  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 large knob of ginger, cut in half
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix-ins

  • 1/2 block tofu, diced into 0.5 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp. canola, sunflower, safflower, or other high-heat oil
  • 2 bunches bok choy
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 3-5 oz enoki (or other interesting) mushrooms
  • 3 oz rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Sriracha and soy sauce to serve

To prepare the broth, halve the onion and ginger and place in the broiler. Broil until a dark golden color but not quite burnt. Flip and broil the opposite side. Watch carefully- this takes 2-3 minutes per side.

In a large stock pot, add the broiled onion and ginger, lemongrass, and whole spices. (Buyer’s note: I purchased all of these spices from the bulk bin at whole foods for approximately 25 cents… some were so light they were free! So don’t be discouraged by a long list of potentially expenses cabinet-dwellers… just buy what you need!). Add 6 cups of water to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 90 minutes. I actually prepared the broth entirely ahead of time, cooled it, and stored prior to reheating when I was ready with the mix-ins the following night. But, alternately, prepare mix-ins while the broth is simmering. Once an appropriate amount of time has elapsed, strain the broth. It should be a deep, rich brown color. If needed, add a bit more salt.

Prepare the tofu by cubing, tossing with oil, and placing in the broiler for 5 minutes. Toss and continue to broil for 5-7 minutes longer, until lightly browned and crisped on the edges. While the tofu is cooking, prepare the rice noodles. Most packages ask for them to be added to boiling water then sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy, mushrooms, and sliced jalapenos to the bowls. Once the tofu is done, add that as well. Top with the rice noodles.

To serve this in a pretty way, present the bowls with mix-ins then pour the steaming broth over the top. (My photos look a little low on broth, and that’s because I split it into 3 servings so I could get more food out of it [still living cheap], but this would be more substantial/ characteristic of massive pho bowls just split into 2 servings). Top with as much sriracha as you dare, as well as a splash of soy sauce. Serve with large spoon and chopsticks!

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

I am not on my game. I somehow delayed posting again far longer than intended, as if Thanksgiving was 3 weeks long. Maybe it was, if you consider the brain space it occupied during those weeks. But here it is, December. The month of Christmas, the holiday season, whatever you’d like to call it. So I better catch up the pace.

Unfortunately, my brain is tired, and I haven’t even yet eaten. Sometimes dinner sounds like too much to do. As if the minutes laboring over the stove will exhaust me, I sit hungrily on the cough waiting for a bowl of mashed potatoes (that sounds really good) or pasta or cereal to appear before me, hot (or cold) and ready to go. Maybe even the spoon will elevate to my lips as in the Cheerios scene in the movie Matilda. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then please go watch Matilda promptly. I’ll hum the music- mmm hm mmm hm mm mm mmmm. No? The dancing? The flying, spiraling card deck? No? Bruce Bogtrotter? Someone feed me.

I made this soup a few weeks ago, in tribute to the dropping thermostat and the dog jackets now covering my closet floor. I’m already begrudging my winter coat, so a fair amount of time may have passed. In either case, I was really hell bent on replicating my favorite soup from Panera Bread, because it’s so creamy and delicious. I love creamy soup, but vegetably soup, and wild rice just makes it that much more interesting. I had tried making this soup once before, but failed in some capacity (I think I undercooked the rice), which left me forlorn. Maybe I couldn’t recreate the soup after all!? But winter encouraged me to try again. And this time: success!

This is a labor-intensive product, mostly in the manner of vegetable dicing and time spent waiting anxiously for rice to soften and stock to thicken. So, if you’re sitting on the couch at 7:30pm hungry, it’s not the time to make this. If, however, it’s blisteringly snowy, and an early Friday evening or even Sunday afternoon, go light your favorite fir-scented candle, turn on the Bing Crosby, and make this soup. I promise absolutely no disappointment. I actually promise joy. Holiday-laden, warm and comforting joy.

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Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Serves 6-8

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold)

4 carrots, diced

4 celery stalks, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

10 oz. mushrooms, sliced or diced

1 cup wild rice, uncooked

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. fresh or dried thyme

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. rosemary

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp. freshly-cracked black pepper

8 cups free-range chicken stock

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the chicken thighs in a thin coat of olive oil and place in a baking dish, something that allows even space but not too much. Bake at 425 until cooked through, approximately 30 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool. Once cooled slightly, shred with a fork.

Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the diced carrots, celery, and onion to the melted butter. Sauté until the vegetables have started to soften, about 10 minutes. To the softened vegetables, add the sliced (or diced!) mushrooms, and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are just beginning to release their juices.

Next, add the cup of wild rice as well as the spices and seasonings. Stir well so that everything is mixed. Add the chicken stock to the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is soft and tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the variety of rice.

In a mason jar, shake together the milk and flour (or whisk in a small bowl) to create a slurry. While actively whisking, add the thickening slurry to the soup. Allow the soup to simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened to your liking. This takes approximately 5-10 minutes in most cases. Once thickened, add the shredded chicken to the pot and stir. Remove from heat and serve!

 

 

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Now go put on your music, make yourself some soup, and bring some crackers for dipping. If you finish the meal with hot chocolate, I applaud you.

Sriracha Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Coconut Cream and Cilantro

Soup season may be “over,” but I think there’s a free soup pass if it’s under 50 degrees, and that’s still the case in Chicago. But I did want to amp up the “Spring-time” feel with coconut and cilantro, which actually are probably a Summer feel, but I digress. I also wanted to try a new trick for soup: thickening with soft tofu. I’d read about using tofu as a thickener ages ago, and when the idea of a spicy, Sriracha-inspired red pepper soup jumped into my brain, I immediately remembered that advice. Something in my brain begged for this soup to have an Asian spin (probably the Asian lettering on the Sriracha bottle), and this seemed to be the perfect application for using tofu as a thickening agent. Partially, also, because I wanted to impart a subtle-if-at-all-discernable tofu flavor. So there’s some insight into my brain, and an explanation of my recent Google searches. I have to say, though, as someone who loves Sriracha and its unique kick, and loves tofu’s just-present flavor, this soup really, really hit the mark. It may be a new favorite. Because, come on, it’s mostly just a ton of roasted red peppers, which may be the best “vegetable” purchasable at your neighborhood Trader Joe’s (or other grocery store).

If it’s Spring where you are, I truly hope you are enjoying it in hours of sunlight-laden evenings and relishing the feeling of warm skin. When in California, I realized the little things you miss when you’re on your 7th month of unrelenting cold: hot metal railings, warm wood on your feet, sun-kissed shoulders, enjoyable breezes. I know it’s all coming soon, and I’m optimistic in general at this point, but I’m allowed soup in the interim, and you should have it just to delight in the flavor (and maybe enjoy as a tongue-in-cheek tribute). Ah, winter; Sriracha kills you every time.

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Sriracha Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Coconut Cream and Cilantro

Serves 4

1 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, roughly chopped

2 tbsp. sriracha

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper

3 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup light coconut milk

1/2 block soft or silken tofu, cubed

Coconut cream, to serve

  • 2 tbsp. Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. light coconut milk

Fresh cilantro, chopped, to serve

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add onion. Sauté the onion until lightly browning, about 5-8 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds- 1 minute longer. Add the diced roasted red peppers and stir. Add salt, pepper, and spices. Mix and heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the sriracha and stock, stir, and bring to a boil.

Once boiling, remove from heat and puree until smooth using an immersion blender. Add the coconut milk and blend to combine. Add the soft tofu cubes and blend until the soup is smooth and thickened. (I found the tofu didn’t blend entirely, meaning I could see small flecks of tofu. Probably a Vitamix or intense blender could get this smooth, but it’s really a visual thing more than anything). Pour the soup back into the sauce pan and heat until hot (the coconut milk and tofu will cool the soup). Once heated, pour into bowls.

Top the bowls with coconut cream and cilantro to serve. I think a grilled cheese would pair nicely, too, if desired.

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In real life, you add a mountain of cilantro and a ton of coconut cream, because it’s amazing. The cream is so, so cool and delicious against the spicy, intensely flavored soup. I was expecting to be off-the-roof spicy, but it’s really very manageable (to my moderately-tolerable spice palate). Obviously, you could use more or less Sriracha to taste. I’m sure Brian would like an additional squeeze. And really, don’t let the tofu scare you; I think it’s the perfect way to complete this soup.

Oh, and yes that is a dachshund towel. Of course.

 

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

My first post on this blog is for a winter vegetable soup. It’s incredibly delicious, but, to be honest, I came up with that recipe in a I-must-use-up-these-last-vegetables-in-the-fridge scramble. Winter vegetable soup was merely a creative and convenient derivation from my truly favorite soup recipe. This one. I’ve made this soup hundreds of times, and while I initially made a few tweaks here and there, I now never stray. It is my go-to soup, my easy weeknight dinner, and my absolute favorite way to eat a sweet potato. It’s perfect as a meal: a giant bowl, steaming hot, served only with a spoon. It’s wonderful as a side to a grilled cheese sandwich (dipping not optional) or a flavorful salad (pecans, goat cheese, and cranberries anyone?). It’s probably even fine as a snack, although I can’t say I’ve ever eaten a bowl small enough to qualify. This recipe is gluten-free, vegan optional, vegetable heavy, definitely healthy, and deeply satisfying. But it tastes indulgent, creamy, and wonderfully complex. Seriously, I could talk about this for way too long. Make this soup, ASAP. Before you get buried in 3-6 more inches of snow and have to dig your car out at 6am and have to work until past sunset and have to run inside on the treadmill because it’s too cold to be outdoors for more than 2 minutes. Make this soup before you forget why winter is sometimes delightfully cozy and warm.

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup 1

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup 2

 

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 2-4

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 large sweet potato, diced into 1 inch cubes

1 large carrot, diced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika or chili powder

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Salt & pepper to taste

2 cups vegetable stock

2 tbsp. milk, cream, or coconut milk

Toasted rosemary breadcrumbs (optional)

  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

In a medium saucepan, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and sauté until onions are translucent and lightly browning, about 5 minutes. Add diced garlic and heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add diced sweet potato and spices and stir. Cook spices for about 30 seconds, then add 2 cups vegetable stock (this is an approximation; vegetable stock should be just below covering vegetable mixture). Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until sweet potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooked through, take the soup off the heat. Theoretically, this soup could be eaten chunky; however, I prefer a smooth and creamy soup. Use an immersion blender, food processor, or blender to puree the soup until smooth. Add 1-2 tbsp. cream or coconut milk and blend.

To prepare breadcrumb topping, melt butter in a small frying pan. Add breadcrumbs, chopped rosemary, and salt, and heat until breadcrumbs are browning and toasted. Sprinkle atop soup alongside some smoked paprika.

Other toppings for this soup could include diced avocado, fresh green onions, greek yogurt or sour cream, or croutons. Or, you know, an entire grilled cheese sandwich. Most importantly, though, make sure you have a bowl and spoon big enough to dive in.

 

Pasta e Fagioli (Tuscan White Bean Soup)

Can we call Chicago “Chiberia” again? Anyways, it’s cold. And I really want soup. And I’ve never made beans from scratch before. And I had all these sad vegetables begging for a purpose. All of these thoughts were equating a challenge: hadn’t I seen a beautiful pasta e fagioli soup recipe somewhere once before? Couldn’t I make a huge pot to eat for weeks, allowing myself to satiate my never-ending soup desire? Yes, yes I had. And, more importantly, yes I could! This soup is up for interpretation. Just mentioning to coworkers, friends, other people (who seemed oddly too interested in what I was eating) that I made pasta e fagioli opened up a series of remarks and interpretations. “Oh, doesn’t that soup have tomatoes?” “Isn’t that soup made with meat?” “What is that green stuff in there?” There was a lot of inquisition for a simple bowl of soup. Especially since pasta e fagioli means simply pasta with beans. That’s it. This soup must have pasta, and it must have beans. It doesn’t need tomatoes (I decidedly chose to have a tomato-less broth), and it doesn’t need meat. I added some vegetables, because I can’t imagine soup without them, and I love the heartiness that greens impart. But one thing I did intend was for this to be a Tuscan inspired soup. In glorious memory of Tuscany- a dreamy 2 days in Florence, Italy on vacation too many years ago- I imagined a hearty, simple, and, most importantly, flavorful soup. This soup is not an immediate thirty-minute-meal. It also isn’t as complex as a bolognese, requiring simmering for days. It is in fact relatively simple, although some prep work is required, as well as a bit of patience. But the reward for such virtues! It seems to me the best food is made this way. Give anything time to blend together, and something exponential is created. This soup is quite literally the definition of “greater than the sum of its parts.”

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Pasta e Fagioli (Tuscan White Bean Soup)

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 8-12

Prepared cannellini beans

  • 1 lb. dried cannellini beans
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

3 carrots, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 cup vegetable stock

1 Parmesan rind

8 oz. dried pasta (I used miniature shells)

4 cups Tuscan kale, cut into 3 in. strips

Salt & pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

To prepare the cannellini beans, combine dried beans, water, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Allow beans to soak for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

The night of cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour the olive oil into a large (LARGE) Dutch oven over medium heat. To the olive oil, add onions and sauté until softened and caramelizing, about 15 minutes (if the onions are browning too quickly, reduce heat to low). To the onions, once caramelized, add diced celery and carrots. Increase the heat to medium and sauté the vegetables together until the celery and carrots are just softened, about 5 minutes further. Add the spices and minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, no more than 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of vegetable stock, using a rubber spatula to loosen any browned bits from the pan.

Drain and rinse the dried beans that have been softening (they will still be quite firm). Add the beans to the vegetable and stock mixture and mix. Pour several cups of water into the pot until covering the beans by about 1 inch. Add the Parmesan rind to the mixture. Cover the Dutch oven with its lid and slide it into the oven, which should be heated to 375 degrees F. Set a timer for 1 hour.

After an hour, check the soup to determine the doneness of the beans. You’re looking for a softened texture with just a hint of a bite. I tasted a bean each time I checked until I determined doneness. If the beans are not fully cooked, cover the pot and return to the oven. Check the beans every 15-20 minutes until they are the desired texture. I found an hour and a half to be an appropriate cooking time; it will take more or less time depending on your pot, your oven, your beans, etc.

Once the beans are cooked fully, remove the pot from the oven and return it to the stovetop. Heat the soup over medium heat until simmering, which should happen very quickly. Add pasta to the simmering broth, adding water if the soup seems too thick. Cook the pasta for the recommended time. At about 1 minute until the pasta is considered “done,” add the kale ribbons and stir until wilted. Remove the Parmesan rind from the pot. Taste and season, being careful not to over-salt (the Parmesan will impart a salty flavor).

Serve in a soup bowl with an ample grating of fresh Parmesan. Inhale the comforting fumes, warm your hands on the sides of the bowl, and imagine that just for a second you don’t live in the freezing-cold Midwest. Then, eat your soup and decide you don’t care. Soup solves life’s problems.

Although this soup is somewhat labor intensive, a much easier version could be accomplished with using canned cannellini beans. This would require simply adding about 2-3 cans (rinsed) cannellini beans to the vegetables after deglazing, and adding several cups of vegetable stock until the appropriate bean-to-stock ratio is achieved. A Parmesan rind can be added, although it won’t have as much time to release its flavor. This soup could be simmered for 15-20 minutes until adding the pasta and resuming the original recipe, meaning the start-to-finish time would probably be more like 45 minutes, rather than 2+ (26+) hours. However, it will be missing that slow-simmered quality, which is really what makes this simple soup delicious pasta e fagioli. But, some weeknights call for speed. This recipe can also be halved, quartered, etc. much more simply with canned beans, or, alternatively, using only 1/2 the bag of dried beans at the onset. In total, it’s a very adaptable recipe; although, you’ll be glad to have the leftovers in your freezer come Polar Vortex 3.

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What’s better than warm soup in a large mug?

Cream of Celery Soup

It’s 2014! And Chicago has welcomed us with a blustering blizzard that has trapped my car in a blanket of snow, myself inside my apartment, and my dogs under at least 2 blankets at a time. My typical city-wide view is now a dense gray fog of clouds and snow, and within seconds of stepping outdoors I’m blown backwards inside by the howling wind and sharp snowflakes. Who knew snowflakes can be sharp? They can somehow. And nothing is more ironic than receiving a parking ticket from the loving Chicago PD for parking on a street where they tow if there are more than two inches of snow… when you can’t move your car because there are more than two inches of snow. Chicago rant aside, I think it’s time for soup again. Soup with vegetables! Because we’re healthy now, right? Sure, “cream of” usually means heavy and indulgent, but, in this case, we’re speaking more to the creamy, sumptuous nature of the soup, as there is actually no cream in it at all. But a lot of celery! And in this quick, delicious, and nutritious vegetarian soup, the celery gets way better use than ants on a log.

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Cream of Celery Soup

Serves 4

2 tbsp. butter

1 yellow onion, diced

2 bunches celery, diced (celery leaves included!)

2 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried rosemary

3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock

1 1/2 cups milk, anything but skim

Salt & pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a large sauce pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add diced celery to the pot and saute until softened and tender, about 10-15 minutes longer. (If you prefer your soup to be ultra creamy, consider blanching the celery first in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, until very soft, and then saute with the onions for an additional 5-10 minutes. I don’t mind some celery flecks in the final product, so I skipped this step). Once the vegetables are cooked to your liking, mix in herbs and seasoning and saute for a minute. Sprinkle flour over the vegetable mixture and mix thoroughly, allowing the flour to “melt” into the mixture. Continue to mix and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the vegetable stock and milk, preferably whisked together beforehand.

Stir the soup regularly over medium heat, until the soup begins to thicken and lightly boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer slowly for 10-15 minutes, until the soup is your preferred consistency. (If you find the soup too thin, add another tablespoon or two of flour shaken into 1/3 cup milk. If too thick, just add more liquid- stock or milk or otherwise).

Once the soup is thickened, use an immersion blender to create a smooth consistency. Serve hot, with crackers of course. This soup may not feel substantial enough for dinner, but it is wonderful served with a grilled cheese sandwich. Or a salad, of course; it is the new year.

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Classic food-in-the-window-with-Chicago-skyline shot.