Kohlrabi, Potato & Apple Soup

As should be evident from my sporadic posts, it’s been a hectic autumn. I’ve done my best to keep up with the onslaught of fresh CSA veggies by making simple and serviceable dinners for one. I also hauled a ridiculous quantity of carrots, turnips, lettuce and fresh herbs down to Baltimore for Thanksgiving. I slunk home guiltily on Sunday, afraid to face the cabbage, kohlrabi and apples that I had left behind.

The cabbage made for a fine lunch once I cut off the moldy bits and cooked it up with carrots and a little bacon. The key is a nice sharp Dijon mustard. I had a work event Monday night. By the time I got home around 10:00, it was all I could do to dice an apple and sprinkle some granola atop my bowl of yogurt. I’m sure I ate dinner on Tuesday night but, between a big fundraising push and the scramble to write my paper for Wednesday’s class, I’ll be damned if I can recall what I made. I’d be willing to bet it involved peanut butter.

By Wednesday, what I had been telling myself was allergies had settled into an undeniable cold. Mercifully, I scored a seat for the long subway ride from Harlem back to my corner of Brooklyn. I’m still not sure whether the train skipped my stop or I failed to notice it through my feverish haze, but the extra long walk through a cold and misty rain didn’t help the situation.

I arrived home exhausted and in need of comfort. Scanning the pantry, my eyes alit on the dregs of a box of Streit’s Matzo Meal left over from my Passover foray into Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls. This time I stuck to the directions on the box, which yielded lovely, classic matzo balls in just under an hour, most of which I spent selecting the perfect soundtrack for my melancholy.

 

A normal person would have served these in a chicken broth, but I had some Hawthorne Valley beet kvass that was approaching its expiration date, so I went with a sort of borscht-matzo ball hybrid. It was deeply satisfying, if slightly off-putting in color.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel much better today, so opted to work from home. Breakfast brought more yogurt with apple and granola. For lunch I simmered a few of the leftover matzo balls with a couple of cubes of frozen chicken stock. At the last minute, I added some sad spinach buried in the back of the crisper. (Forgive me, Farmed Ted.)

Now about that kohlrabi…

Kohlrabi, Potato & Apple Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and chopped
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 small apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried savory
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • salt and pepper
  1. Bring olive oil up to medium heat in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottom pot. Sauté the onion until soft, approximately five minutes. Add the kohlrabi and sauté for another five minutes.
  2. Add the potatoes apples, herbs, spices and a healthy pinch of salt. Top with just enough water to cover, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the kohlrabi is tender, which should take somewhere around 45 minutes, adding more water if needed.
  3. Puree using an immersion blender or in batches in the food processor, thinning with water if needed. Run through a chinois (or a food mill if you’re lucky enough to have one), discarding any fibrous remains. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt, pepper or nutmeg.

I had originally thought I might augment the puree with a generous pour of the half and half left by a house guest. But the resulting soup was so smooth and creamy and satisfying all by its vegan self that I opted instead for a sprinkle of pan-toasted croutons and a little diced apple.

Kohlrabi Potato Apple Soup

Newfangled Vichysoisse

Like my musical appetite, my tastes in food are quite varied. I do my best to at least try everything once–quite an accomplishment given my vegetarian roots. Most things I like enough to try again. But there are a few dishes that just do not work for me.

I have an aversion to the knish, which is tragic given that I lived around the corner from Yonah Schimmel for a good chunk of my 20s. It is the rare gnocchi that turns my crank. The joy of a tamale has also proven elusive, though I did have one last year that made me rethink this stance. (It hailed from East Williamsburg and was stuffed with a generous portion of spicy cheese.)

I am not a big fan of starchy things, it seems. And if you must be starchy, you best not be bland.

CSA season is off to a slow start–no surprise given the miserable winter we had. The Sunday before last, in anticipation of my first pickup, I giddily cleared out my crisper by whipping up a massive batch of potato salad. Two days later, I collected lettuce, asparagus, leeks, beets, carrots, scallions and…more potatoes. Tonight’s share felt more springlike, with cucumber, cilantro, baby bok choy and sugar snap peas joining the asparagus, lettuce and leeks.

As I loaded my vegetables into the crisper, I was ashamed to realize that I hadn’t made a dent in last week’s storage crops. Compounding matters, I now had four giant leeks taking up the space normally reserved for beer.

Potatoes and leeks. The obvious choice is vichysoisse. But, being starchy and not particularly flavorful, this cold potato and leek soup doesn’t hold much allure for me. To quote Kanye: “We can make it better.”

Newfangled Vichysoisse

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large leeks, white and light green portions chopped and thoroughly rinsed
  • 2 garlic scapes, sliced
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 8 cubes frozen concentrated chicken stock or 1 quart chicken stock of your choice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons absinthe 
  • 1 cup good quality whole milk yogurt
  • salt
  • black and white pepper
  • chives for garnish
  1. Bring a large pot up to medium-low heat. Add the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the leeks and cook stirring regularly until limp and translucent (about 10 minutes), taking care not to let them brown. Add the scapes and cook for a few more minutes. Add the potatoes and continue to cook for a few more minutes. 
  2. Add the chicken stock, bay leaf and enough water to just cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, pop a lid on and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or so until the vegetables are quite tender. 
  3. Fish out the bay leaf. Add the absinthe, nutmeg, a generous pinch of salt, and plenty of black and white pepper. Pop the lid back on and simmer for another 5-10 minutes. 
  4. Remove from heat and add several ice cubes to cool your soup down and thin it out a bit. When cool enough that you are unlikely to cause injury, add the yogurt and purée using an immersion blender or in batches in a standard blender. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper.

If lunch is a distant memory, you can eat your Newfangled Vichysoisse lukewarm or even hot, but this soup really shines when served cold. (Just remember that, as with most cold foods, it may need more salt.) Either way, be sure to garnish with a generous sprinkle of snipped chives. I bet some rye croutons would be awesome too.

Newfangled Vichysoisse

Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls

On Sunday I hosted a potluck dinner for some of the amazing women I met/got to know a whole lot better during last summer’s two-week Paris study trip.

As expected, the menu was eclectic, seasonal and delicious. We had deviled eggs, cucumber salad, carrots and radicchio roasted with raisins and balsamic vinegar, a soba noodle salad, roasted fennel, and an array of not-kosher-for-Passover bread products. Camille, who came straight from her job at Threes Brewing, contributed to the chametz situation with a nice growler of IPA.

I’m still working my way through the potatoes from my winter CSA share, so I whipped up a batch of caramelized leek and cheddar potato skins. And, despite my indulgence in all manners of leavened grains, I felt compelled to make up for not having attended a seder this year by making matzo ball soup–albeit a vegetarian and Asian-inspired version.

Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls 

  • 1 large bunch spinach
  • 6 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons red miso paste
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups matzo meal
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 leek, minced
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • pepper
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and quickly blanch the spinach. Strain into a sieve, pressing hard with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. (Squeezing the spinach into a tight ball with your fist is also an effective strategy.) Chop finely.
  2. Melt the coconut oil and miso in a small pan, stirring with a fork to combine.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the matzo meal, water, miso oil, leek, parsley, a couple of teaspoons of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.
  4. Bring a large pot of water plus 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Wet your hands and form the matzo mixture into smooth balls about the size of a large gumball, dropping them into the water as you go. You’ll need to rinse your hands every so often when they get too gummy.This recipe should yield around 40 matzo balls. If you’re a patient person, you might do these in two batches. Alternately, you could just cram them in like I did. Maintain a vigorous simmer for 25 minutes or so, during which time the matzo balls will twirl and plump. Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls
  5. OK, that was shockingly easy. Now one last step, courtesy of my mom, who swears by this technique. Scoop the matzo balls into a container, cover with the salted water, and store overnight in the fridge.

I worried that the soak would lead to a container of starchy mush. But these matzo balls hold beautifully, requiring nothing but a quick simmer in the broth of your choosing the next day. I went with a hot and sour tom yum-style vegetable broth with lots of fresh ginger and lemongrass, garnished with shiitake mushrooms and cilantro. The resulting dish was complex in flavor yet familiar enough in texture to evoke memories of the Maxwell House Haggadah and Manischewitz. Fortunately, Sari brought better wine.

Spinach-Miso Matzo Balls

White Bean & Winter Vegetable Stew

We’re getting down to the dregs in terms of seasonal eating. My last CSA pickup was over a month ago. The green things at my local farmers’ market dwindled down to hearty spinach before drying up completely sometime in the middle of February. And so I have turned my attention to beans and storage vegetables (plus a little store-bought kale–hey, a girl’s gotta get her greens).

White Bean & Winter Vegetable Stew

  • 1 pound dried navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 large carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 ounce guanciale, cubed
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large bulb celeriac, peeled and cubed
  • 1 parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 Meyer lemon, skin and all, finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper

Add the beans, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, guanciale, herbs and spices to a large Dutch oven along with enough water to cover by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for an hour or more, until the beans are tender. Fish out the celery, carrots and bay leaves. Add the squash, celeriac, cheese rind and lemon, and top with enough water to just cover everything. Bring back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. When the vegetables have softened (about 15 minutes), stir in the kale along with plenty of salt and pepper. Cook until the kale is wilted. 

White Bean and Winter Vegetable Stew

It’s going to be another long and strenuous workweek. At least I’ve packed my lunch.

Packed Lunch

Braised Cannellini & Kale

Sunday was my final day of a much-needed break. After four months of going hard at my new job, I was desperate for a little physical and mental recovery time. I took a few long walks, drank more than my fair share of a wide variety of adult beverages, watched some movies, caught up with dear friends, halfheartedly read a book, organized my apartment, did a little yoga, cooked and was cooked for, and generally tried to live a life of leisure. Needless to say it all went by a little faster than expected.

I spent my last day of vacation reading, napping and making a big vat of beans and greens to get me through what was promising to be a long, dark and cold workweek.

Braised Kale & Cannellini

  • 1 pound cannellini, soaked overnight and for up to two days
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces guanciale, cubed
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 cubes frozen chicken stock
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 1 parmesan or romano rind (optional, but oh so good)
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 1 large bunch kale, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Bring the olive oil up to medium heat in a large dutch oven. Add the guanciale and cook stirring frequently until it is partially rendered. Add the onions and continue stirring until the onions are nicely browned. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for another minute or two.
  2. Add the wine, chicken stock, carrots, cheese rind, fresh herbs and enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let this go for an hour or so while you take a nap with the cat. Give it a stir, add a little water if needed, and let it go for at least another hour, during which time you might consider another nap.
  3. When the beans are cooked but still a little al dente, add the kale, red wine vinegar and a generous portion of salt and pepper. Pop the lid on and cook for at least another half hour, but no harm in letting it go quite a bit longer given the toothsome nature of winter kale. (A third nap would be excessive, right?) Season with additional salt, pepper or red wine vinegar as you see fit.

I ended up serving this to my travel-weary sister Hannah and her husband Rick along with thick slices of whole wheat sourdough toasted in a generous pour of olive oil–an ideal vehicle for soaking up the rich broth. I finally persuaded my nephew to try one of the beans. Let’s just say that Wally was not a fan.

Later we all piled into the car to travel the mile and a half to where Hannah and Rick would be spending the very first night in their new house. While his parents struggled to make the place habitable, Wally and I read stories amidst the cardboard boxes in his new bedroom and played a modified version of beer pong using a tape ball left by the painting crew.

Wally and Auntie Jaz

At some point, Wally dragged a pillow into the middle of the living room and curled up with his blanket.

Sleepy Boy

I knew just how he felt. I got home just in time to pack up the leftover food and climb into bed. Come Monday, this hearty stew made for a nice lunch whilst hunkered over my keyboard desperately trying to get a series of spreadsheets to bend to my will. Yep, vacation is over.

Braised Kale and Cannellini

A Leap of Faith: Beef, Shiitake & Celeriac Stew

As 2014 barrels to a close, I find myself pondering leaps of faith…and making beef stew.

The past few months have brought some major, and for the most part self-initiated, life changes. I’m beginning to settle in, but have yet to really find my new rhythm. Or, rather, just when I think I have, the song changes. I’ve been impressed by my brain’s capacity to synthesize and adapt to new information (and have been killing the Times crossword puzzle as of late). But I’d be lying if I said these changes aren’t physically and mentally exhausting.

Early in adulthood I was faced with a major decision. A mentor and dear friend, noting my distress, observed that there were no right or wrong choices, merely different paths. I have shared this advice with countless people over the years and have taken great comfort in it myself. But, deep down, I’m still convinced that, with enough effort, I can analyze my way into the right choice.

There was a distinct moment in my late 20s when I realized that there was no answer key to life and that everyone is just making it up as they go along. Being an adult doesn’t mean knowing what to do in every situation. We learn from trial and error. We get better at selecting those we ask for advice. We learn to accept that things may not turn out as hoped. We also learn that things continue to evolve and, at some point, it’s bound to get better.

As hard as I am working to make the right choices, there are moments when I realize that what I’ve set in motion involves forces well beyond my control. Try as we might to reason our way through, our life choices are, ultimately, leaps of faith.

Stew, too, is an act of faith. You take a cheap cut of meat, sear it in some fat, and then braise it in liquid. About an hour into this process, the meat will be alarmingly tough and the surrounding gravy won’t taste like much. But keep the faith. Let it go another hour or two (each pot of stew having its own internal timeline) and you will find yourself with a tender and savory dish. It may not always be quite what you set out to make, but it will be good and nourishing. And it will get better with age; consider making your stew the day before, chilling overnight, and then reheating.

Mushrooms and Onions

Beef, Shiitake & Celeriac Stew

  •  3 tablespoons beef fat (or butter)
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat (chuck, sirloin or whatever else the butcher recommends)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 large carrots
  • 1 baseball-sized bulb celeriac
  • 1 pound shiitake (pr plain old button) mushrooms 
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 anchovies in oil
  • 2/3 bottle red wine
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Melt fat or butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Toss meat with flour and a healthy pinch of salt. Brown meat in batches so as not to crowd the pan, allowing a nice dark crust to form. Set aside.Seared Beef
  2. If your fat is all gone, add the olive oil. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring frequently, scraping up the dark bits at the bottom of the pan with the juices released by the onions. When the onions are soft and browned, add the carrots, celeriac, mushrooms and red pepper flakes. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften. Clear a spot in the pot and add the tomato paste and anchovies. Cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Deglaze the pan with a bit of the red wine, then add the rest of the wine plus the beef stock, herbs and sugar.
  3. Bring the stew up to a boil, pop a lid on, and turn the heat down low. You’re aiming for a slow simmer. Now is a fine time to take your compost to the farmers’ market. You may purchase a hot apple cider for the walk home but do no under any circumstances buy more vegetables given that you are leaving town in four days and still have the bulk of last week’s CSA share stashed in your refrigerator.
  4. After about an hour of cooking, remove the lid so that your sauce begins to thicken. Add a healthy dose of salt and pepper. Continue to simmer for one to two additional hours until your meat is fork-tender (but not complete mush) and the surrounding liquid is the consistency of a hearty gravy.

Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Beef Stew

EAT THIS: Thanksgiving Soup

Thanksgiving Soup

On the fifth day of Thanksgiving, bring the turkey stock that wouldn’t fit into the ice cube tray to a simmer. Pick the bread out of your leftover stuffing and add what remains to the pot (cremini mushrooms, Italian sausage, fennel and leeks in this case). Add a few sliced carrots. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Roughly chop and add the remaining turkey meat. Add a big bunch of swiss chard. Proceed to eat this for the next three days, noting that you really just kicked the leftover can a little further down the road. But hey, at least you worked a little fiber into the equation.