Split Pea Soup for Days

A couple of Fridays ago I met a friend for some grownup (read: stiff) cocktails followed by some of the best Indian food I have ever had. In between, we stopped off at Kalustyan’s, where I once again failed to exercise any restraint. This is where I picked up those Jamaican Jerk Bitters that went into last weekend’s cocktail. I also purchased an excessive quantity of legumes.

Kalustyan's Legumes

Fortunately, soup season is upon us. We’re having a brilliant autumn here in New York City. The days are crisp, cool and noticeably shorter, making the bright amber sunlight all the more precious. Yesterday found me traversing Prospect Park bundled into my new emerald green Paddington Bear coat, listening (and likely singing aloud) to Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3. ‘Twas autumnal perfection.

Fall Day in Prospect Park

Today I am hunkered down at home trying to catch up on work–the perfect time for a little soup making (and a little more Dylan).

Split Pea Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces slab bacon, diced
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 5 carrots, diced 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 large pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 small pinch ground cloves
  • salt and pepper

Bring a large, heavy-bottomed pot up to medium-low heat with the olive oil. Add your bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until mostly rendered but not crispy. Add the onions and continue to stir and cook until they are soft. Add the carrots and cook for a few more minutes. Dump in the split peas, bay leaves, thyme, red pepper and cloves along with 7 cups of water. Raise heat, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Let cook, stirring more frequently as the mixture thickens, for two hours. Fish out the thyme and bay leaves and add salt and pepper to taste. (A little smoked salt will amp up the bacon flavor.)

Split Pea Soup

This is nice finished with a little sherry vinegar. If you’re entertaining, you might throw in some frozen peas at the end, which will provide a lovely counterpoint to your delicious mush, and serve with a garnish of pumpernickel croutons. If you just polished off a large bowl of miso-poached eggs with bok choy and tatsoi and already have dinner plans, just pack the cooled soup into small containers and accept that this is what you will be eating for lunch all week. It reheats brilliantly.

Miso-Poached Eggs with Bok Choy and Tatsoi

Grown Folks’ Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Summer reared its head one last time this weekend, with temperatures soaring to the low 80s on Saturday. I kicked off my 40th birthday by taking a funder on a tour of community-run farmers’ markets in East New York and Bushwick and ended the night jubilantly dancing with good friends at Franklin Park. (OK, fine, I ended it at a 24-hour diner, but that was technically the day after my birthday.)

By Wednesday, which was the first day in October, temperatures had dropped to the low 60s. There’s a crispness in the air that I will always associate with the first day of school. The woman at my local coffee shop must be feeling the same deeply ingrained nostalgia. “Have fun. Make new friends!” were the words she sent me off with this morning.

The close of my workday found me meeting the same funder for a cup of tea and a lovely apricot and pistachio tart at one of Maison Kayser‘s New York City outposts. I hadn’t had their addictive pain au cereales since my June study trip to Paris, so I grabbed a loaf before departing.

A couple of blocks away I stumbled upon Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, which I had been meaning to investigate. Cubes of their signature cheese, Flagship, greeted me just a few steps inside the door. It was everything you want cheddar to be–sharp, creamy and crumbly all at once. My hunch that it would melt beautifully was confirmed by the sweet bearded Macalaster graduate working the counter. I mentioned my grilled cheese vision and he encouraged me to add a little funk to the mix in the form of Alemar Cheese’s Good Thunder. This young man seemed to know his cheese. And so I departed with not one but two precious (and preciously priced) cheeses in my sack.

While I am perfectly capable of eating nothing but a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, I felt compelled to dispatch with some of this week’s CSA share. Boy, am I glad that I did.

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small handful cilantro
  • salt and pepper
  • splash red wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 425. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil into a roasting pan. Rinse the vegetables and slice them in half, making sure to core the peppers. Place everything cut side down in the roasting pan, drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top and place in the oven.

Veggies Pre-Roast

Let roast for 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are soft and their skins are beginning to char and pull back.

Veggies Roasted

Peel off the skins from the peppers and tomatoes and transfer everything to a food processor. Add a healthy pinch of salt and black pepper and purée until smooth. Continue to run the processor while you slowly add water until you’ve achieved the consistency of your favorite tomato soup. Add the cilantro and purée for a couple of additional minutes. Just before serving, bring soup to a simmer, remove from heat and add a splash of red wine vinegar.

WARNING: This recipe made about two servings of soup. I am seriously bummed to not have more leftovers, as it is quite tasty. As your attorney, I advise you to double it.

I recently read that Gabrielle Hamilton makes her grilled cheese using mayonnaise instead of butter. This is a game changer. Seriously.

Grilled Cheese Ingredients

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese

  • 2 slices good quality bread
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 
  • 2 ounces serious cheese – 1 cheddar and 1 a little funkier 

Bring a cast iron skillet up to medium-low heat. Spread the mayonnaise on one side of each piece of bread. Place one slice into the skillet, mayonnaise-side down. Layer on your cheese and add the top slice. Let cook until nicely browned, pressing gently with a spatula. Flip and repeat the procedure. Let sit for a minute or two before serving to make sure all of that oozy goodness doesn’t drip right out.

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese

East New York Callaloo Stew

I had the first fundraiser for my new job on Wednesday. It was great fun, but also taxing. Nothing like a 13-hour workday that starts and ends with manual labor, in between which you have to get dolled up in a bathroom stall and then meet a few hundred people!

While the event featured upwards of 60 of New York City’s finest restaurants and beverage purveyors, I arrived home ravenously hungry. (My predecessor had warned me that I should task people with making sure I ate, but somehow I failed to listen.) Luckily, I had tortillas, eggs, tomatoes, a jalapeño, and some cilantro on hand, which made for a lovely midnight snack.

Midnight Breakfast Tacos

The alarm went off at 7:00am on Saturday. I hauled my weary body out of bed, cleaned up, downed some coffee and hopped the 3 train to the second to last stop, Van Siclen Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn. I was there to check out some of Just Food‘s programs, starting with a Meet Your Farmer event for food pantry recipients at New Hope Family Worship Center. Eileen, Nicholas and their two farmhands had risen far earlier than I had in order to make the drive down from Whistle Down Farm in Claverack, New York–the four of them crammed into a van alongside the organic vegetables that they grow especially for this site and two other food pantries in the Bronx.

Many of the clients already knew the farmers, as they had visited the farm earlier in the season. Eileen and Nicholas shared a bit about their farm and the techniques that they use to grow vegetables without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. The pantry workers and clients shared their experience with the program and put in requests for vegetables they would like to see next year. Scotch bonnet peppers, greens and more Italian frying peppers topped the list, as did okra (which is apparently tough to grow in the Northeast). The event concluded with a cooking demonstration featuring the carrots that were in this week’s vegetable allotment.

The pantry opened for distribution and the rest of us headed across the street to the East New York Farms! Farmers’ Market, which runs from 9:00am to 3:00pm every Saturday from late June through mid-November at Schenck Avenue and New Lots Avenue. (They run a second market on Wednesdays from 3:30 to 6:30pm at New Lots Avenue and Georgia Avenue.) In addition to a wide variety of prepared Caribbean dishes and natural health care products, the market features produce from a couple of regional farms and from nearby community gardens.

East New York Farmers Market

I made a beeline for the Youth Farm stand, as I had sampled their Scotch bonnets in one of the few dishes I did manage to try at Wednesday’s fundraiser and was eager to get my hands on some. (That’s the farm off to the left in the picture below.) Turns out they had figs as well, which made me a very happy girl.

East New York Farms

A few stalls down, I stumbled on callaloo, which I’ve been curious to try my hand at ever since I discovered that the vegan Jamaican place around the corner from my apartment sells callaloo patties. The green in question, pictured below, is actually amaranth leaves, but is commonly referred to as callaloo, which is the name of several different dishes prepared using the leaves. Each island seems to have its own interpretation of callaloo, so I went with my instinct and the ingredients that I happened to have on hand.

Callaloo Squash and Scotch Bonnets

East New York Callaloo Stew

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 ounce slab bacon, diced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 cups lobster, shrimp or crab stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 Scotch bonnet pepper
  • 2 cups peeled and cubed winter squash (delicata, butternut, pumpkin, etc.)
  • 4 cups finely chopped callaloo leaves (or water spinach, swiss chard, collards or other greens)
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper
  1. Add coconut oil to large pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook stirring continuously until partially rendered. (Do not let is get crispy.) Add onions and sauté until soft. Add bell peppers and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add thyme, allspice and garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
  2. Raise heat to high, pour in the stock and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the squash and Scotch bonnet. Let simmer until squash is very tender, approximately 30 minutes. Add the greens, zest and lime juice. Let simmer for another 30 minutes or longer if you like your greens very tender. Give it a taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you could stand more heat, pop the Scotch bonnet open and let simmer for a while longer. Just be sure to fish it out before serving, lest someone get a major surprise.

Callaloo Stew

Gazpacho, Calamari & Paprika Crostini

My friend Sara is on vacation in Maine this week, which means that I picked up a double CSA share Tuesday night. Hauling this quantity of vegetables plus two melons, goat yogurt, honey, eggs, granola, and a few pounds of assorted meat is no joke. It took me a good 30 minutes just to organize my refrigerator.

Summer Bounty

Between the tomatoes, onions, green pepper, cucumbers and fresh basil, it was clear what had to be done.

Farmer Ted’s Gazpacho

  • 5 large tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 1/2 bulb fennel, cored and chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, cored and chopped
  • 1 large cucumber, seeded and sliced
  • 1 medium white onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons or so sherry vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup packed fresh herbs (I used basil, Italian parsley and fennel fronds, because that’s what I had on hand.)

Add the tomatoes to the large bowl of a food processor and run until you have a slightly chunky tomato sauce. Add the rest of the vegetables, oil and vinegar and a good dose of salt and pepper. Run until any large chunks are gone. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional vinegar, salt and/or pepper. You can also add a pinch of sugar or a few dashes of hot sauce to balance the flavors. Add the herbs and run for about a minute more. Refrigerate for at least a few hours to allow flavors to meld.

Paprika Aioli

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 tablespoon hot paprika
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients and let sit in refrigerator for at least an hour.

The rest of this dish takes about 20 minutes to complete, so feel free to knock off for a while and grab a nap. You deserve it. (And, if you’re honest with yourself, last night’s margaritas demand it.)

Catnap

Crostini

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 slices baguette

Bring a large cast iron skillet up to medium-low heat and swirl with the olive oil. Place bread in skillet and let sit until the bottom side is crisp and just a bit browned. Flip and repeat.

Calamari a la Plancha

  • 1 pound cleaned and sliced calamari, drained and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Return the skillet to the stove over medium heat. Toss the calamari with oil, Aleppo pepper, garlic, salt and pepper. Add to skillet, cook for one minute, stir and flip pieces and cook for one more minute. Remove from heat and dress with lemon.

At this point, you are ready to plate. Pour the gazpacho into bowls and nestle the calamari in the center of each. Spread the aioli onto your crostini and strategically place alongside the calamari. 

Gazpacho Calamari Paprika Aoili Crostini

Sean and I ate our supper on the roof while sipping a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and admiring the pink and orange sunset–which, now that I think about it, evoked the warm hues of our gazpacho with calamari a la plancha and paprika-aioli crostini. For dessert, we managed to polish off a whole, perfectly ripe melon with some lovely serrano ham I’d picked up earlier in the day at BKLYN Larder. A couple of hours later we trekked down four flights of stairs, walked past a handful of buildings, climbed another four flights and joined friends on a nearby rooftop for one last round of drinks before calling it a night. God, I love summer.

Melon and Serrano

Masoor Dal with Kale

Temperatures in New York City soared above 70 today, inducing a collective giddiness. Unfortunately, save for a quick dash outside to pick up lunch and some specialty lightbulbs (good lighting being a bit of an obsession for me), I spent the day at my desk. It is the end of a very long week. By the time 6:00 rolled around, it was all I could do to swing by the health food store for some red lentils and cilantro before heading home. I was craving something spicy that would make use of the kale I picked up last weekend at the Union Square Greenmarket. (It’s tough to use up your vegetables when you get home after 10:00 each night.)

Masoor Dal with Kale

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 knob ginger (about the size of the last joint of your thumb)
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (substitute coconut oil if you’re going for a vegan dish)
  • 1/2 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon whole coriander, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
  • zest of 1 small lime
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced cilantro
  • salt
  1. Add your lentils, ginger, turmeric and four cups of water to a medium-sized heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer and place lid on top, leaving open a crack. If you suddenly realize that you need beer, now is the time. Your lentils need to simmer for an hour-plus, so walk those extra five blocks to the good place–and feel free to sample. A growler of Great South Bay Brewery‘s Misfit Toy Black IPA? Don’t mind if I do.
  2. When you get home (about 30 minutes later), give the lentils a stir. (They will have turned to mush; do not be alarmed). By the time you put on some music and pour yourself a beer, it should be time to start the rice. Basmati would be ideal, but I went with Thai Jasmine because that’s what I had on hand. You can follow the instructions on the package, but I’d recommend sautéing the rice in half a tablespoon of ghee or coconut oil for a couple of minutes before adding your water. A good pinch of salt is also key.
  3. Bring a tablespoon of ghee or coconut oil up to medium heat in a small skillet. Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne and cook stirring continuously until the spices are nice and toasty but not burnt (2-3 minutes). Add the onions and the garlic and cook stirring frequently until your onions are crisp and brown at the edges. 
  4. Add the onion and spice mixture to your lentils along with the kale and a couple of healthy pinches of salt and cook for 10 minutes or more, depending on how toothsome your greens are. Taste and adjust your seasoning with additional salt and/or cayenne as needed. Add the lime zest and cilantro off the heat.
  5. Damn, that was easy. But wait, you ask, wouldn’t it be a good idea to remove the giant hunk of ginger before you bite into it? Yes, yes it would.

Masoor Dal with Kale

This dish is best consumed with a second beer, in your underwear, trusty cat by your side, while watching 8 Mile (which you’ve been meaning to see for years).

Gingered Chicken Soup with Rice

I am suffering from my third stomach ailment this year. After two days of being laid up, my fever had broken and my energy was back. But a ten-hour workday, punctuated by kale salad, farro, beets and Brussels sprouts put me in my place. I woke out of a dead sleep at 4am and went to retrieve the recycling bin that had been my constant companion earlier in the week.

Somehow I managed to dress for work and get as far as my subway stop before giving up and returning home. On the way I stopped off at the grocery store for an array of easily digestible (mainly white) foods. Breakfast was plain white toast. For lunch, I moved on to a small banana and a can of Coke (a concession to my caffeine addiction). By 7:00pm, I was actually experiencing something that resembled hunger, but suspected I still needed to tread lightly.

I’ve made this soup before in various forms. The ginger is great for stomach ailments and clearing the sinuses. It cooks up in under half an hour and, if you’re feeling a little less peaked than I am at the moment, you can doctor it in all kinds of ways. Even the most basic version is a welcome flavor boost after white bread and bananas.

Gingered Chicken Soup with Rice

  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 knob ginger about the size of your last thumb joint, peeled and sliced into very thin matchsticks
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
  • freshly ground black and white pepper
  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup Jasmine or other long-grain white rice
  • Optional additional ingredients: rice noodles, egg noodles, spinach, egg, scallions, chives, Sriracha, sesame oil, cilantro
  1. Add the first four ingredients to a small pot, bring to a boil and reduce to a very low simmer. Add the chicken and simmer gently until just cooked through (7-10 minutes). Remove chicken.
  2. Add the rice and continue to simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, shred your chicken using two forks. When the rice is cooked, slide the chicken back in and simmer another minute or two.
  3. The above makes a lovely, restorative soup. If you want to take it a step or two further, at this point you could do any or all of the following 1) swap rice noodles or egg noodles for the rice (and adjust the cooking time accordingly), 2) add spinach leaves and simmer until just wilted, 3) stir in a lightly mixed egg, 4) garnish with thinly sliced scallions or chives, 5) stir in a shot of Sriracha, 6) drizzle with a little toasted sesame oil, 7) sprinkle with cilantro leaves before serving. 

Gingered Chicken Soup with Rice

UPDATE: The chicken breasts came three to a pack, so I continued the theme throughout the week. Here’s a version with daikon radish, turnip, parsley and sesame oil that I made the next day, once my stomach had started to recover. The parsley was a sorry substitute for cilantro, but this iteration was otherwise delicious.

Daikon Turnip Chicken Soup

A few days later, when the craving for fiber and complex carbohydrates had kicked in, I swapped the rice for a thinly sliced sweet potato and stirred a bunch of baby spinach and a lightly whisked egg in at the last minute. This was a very nice reentry into my normal food patterns.

Chicken Sweet Potato Spinach Soup

Smoky Creamy Field Peas

I just returned from a truly epic road trip down South. It’s going to take me a minute to put the whole thing down in writing, but suffice it to say that one of the many highlights was consuming five different specimens of pulled/chopped pork in 24 hours. Of all the fine swine that we consumed, the winner by unanimous decision was the unsuspecting plastic-wrapped BBQ sandwich from Cooper’s Country Store in Salter, South Carolina.

Cooper's Country Store

Cooper’s is a classic combination gas station and country store that I suspect hasn’t changed much since it was built at a country crossroads in 1937. Mercifully, they do take credit cards, so we were free to stock up on Blenheim’s ginger ale, locally ground grits, field peas, and all manners of pork. My traveling companions couldn’t resist the lure of the country hams that were curing behind screens. Being a single gal who lives in 600 square feet, I limited myself to several pounds of bacon and smoked ham ends, which would make excellent seasoning meat.

Cooper's Counter

But back to that sandwich. It came on an ordinary enough white hamburger bun. No slaw. No dripping sauce. Just pulled pork meat (whole-hog, as is de rigueur in South Carolina) that was smoky but not overpoweringly so, assertively vinegary, a good bit spicy, and just the tiniest bit sweet. This was the barbecue of our collective dreams.

BBQ Sandwich

Three days later, I found myself back in Brooklyn, catching up on real life. After 36 hours of kale salad, haricot vert and sushi, I was feeling recovered and even a bit nostalgic. The field peas that had made it out of my backpack but not into the cupboard were calling out to me. And, of course, there was that seasoning meat.

Field Peas

Smoky Creamy Field Peas

  • 1 pound dried field peas, soaked overnight and drained
  • 1 large hunk seasoning meat (approximately the size of a deck of cards), sliced – bacon ends, ham trimmings, salt pork, or what have you
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 2 carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
  • 3 peeled and halved garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • dried chilis, fresh chilis and/or red pepper flakes
  • 2 or more tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 red bell pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced 
  • salt and pepper
  • hot sauce (optional)
  1. Fill a large dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot up halfway with water. Add the seasoning meat, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay, thyme and chilis. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add your peas and let simmer partly covered for approximately 45 minutes or until tender but not falling apart.
  2. Remove and discard the veggies and herbs. Pull out the seasoning meat and dice into small pieces. Unless you are feeding a crowd, remove a pint of the peas and most of the cooking liquid, reserving for future use. (Beans freeze brilliantly.) Scoop another pint into your food processor with a bit of the liquid and let run until they form a paste.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Taste your beans and adjust seasoning with salt, black pepper, more vinegar, and a little hot sauce of your choice. (If you used country ham ends like I did, you may even be able to forgo any additional salt.) If needed, add back a bit of your cooking liquid.
  4. Add butter to a small skillet over medium heat and sauté the bell pepper until just soft. Stir this into your beans along with the parsley and remove from heat.

Field peas are traditionally served over long-grain Carolina rice. But, if you happen to have a pot of kale and mustard greens slow cooked with some more of that seasoning meat, that would do fine too.

Field Peas and Greens