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
- 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.
- Melt the coconut oil and miso in a small pan, stirring with a fork to combine.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Figs, avocado, scallions and baby spinach in a mustard, honey, safflower oil and apple cider vinaigrette can be prepared and consumed in the 20 minutes between your arrival home from a board meeting and your 9:00pm conference call–though you may find yourself in need of a square of Jacques Torres’ Gingerette Bar to help everything settle.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Toast half a whole grain panino, slather it with hot paprika-laced mayonnaise, stuff a spinach and red onion omelette with Aleppo pepper in the middle, and you’ll be back to your grant proposal in 20 minutes. Or 25 if you feel the need to blog about it.
Sometimes just making it to Friday night seems like a Herculean feat. I came home bruised, battered, and hungry. While I had just about made my way through the Homemade Hummus from last weekend’s chickpea extravaganza, I still had a pint and a half of whole chickpeas left to consume. Today was bitterly cold and I found myself craving something warm and spicy.
Sweet & Sour Curried Chickpeas with Spinach
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon whole coriander
- 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1/2 tablespoon whole fenugreek
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil (Ghee or some sort of vegetable oil would be fine.)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 knob (large gumball sized) ginger, minced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1/2 tablespoon garam masala
- 1/2 pound dried chickpeas, cooked, with liquid (You could use a couple of cans in a pinch, but the texture will suffer.)
- 2 tablespoons dried tamarind (If my crappy grocery store has it, yours will too.)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 bunches fresh spinach, roughly chopped
- Bring the oil up to medium heat in a medium-sized heavy-bottom pot. Add the onion and sauté stirring frequently. After a few minutes, add the ginger and jalapeño.
- Meanwhile, toast the cumin, coriander, fenugreek and peppercorns in a dry cast iron skillet, shaking frequently, until they begin to pop and release their smell. Grind these using a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder.
- Add the garlic to your onion mixture. Stir constantly for about one minute. Then add your ground toasted spices plus the turmeric and garam masala and continue stirring for one minute, allowing the spices to hydrate in the oil.
- Add the chickpeas with their liquid, the tamarind, the sugar and a nice pinch of salt. (There is probably some dentist-approved way to handle the tamarind, but I just tore it into small pieces with my hands and then fished out whatever seeds I could spot as the fruit disintegrated into the sauce. I recommend doing a better job than I did, though I managed to avert a trip to Dr. Czarnik.) Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and let simmer for a while, adding water as needed.
- This is a good time to put some rice on. (While basmati would be traditional, I used some brown Jasmine rice, because that’s what I had, and added turmeric and salt.) When your rice is just about done, taste your chickpeas and adjust the seasoning with salt and sugar as needed. Then add the spinach in batches, stirring to speed the wilting process, and cook until the leaves are just tender.
The resulting meal was a delightful mashup of my favorite Indian takeout dishes. But, with no dairy and just a tablespoon of oil for about four servings, it was much lighter–which is a good thing when you need to buckle down and write a paper at the end of a very long week.
I’ve been battling a cold for the past couple of weeks. Tonight I made the difficult decision to skip a show to which I already had tickets. Instead, I came home and continued to work my way through the frozen soup collection I’ve been amassing.
On those winter days when it’s too cold to think about going out, I spend my time cooking up large batches of soup using whatever I have on hand. I eat it for as many meals as I can stand and freeze the rest. The plastic pint containers that you get when ordering takeout or buying olives are perfect for a single serving. The key here is to be diligent about labeling each container with the date and the contents.
Tonight’s freezer exploration turned up a particularly tasty soup that I made back in January. I had hosted a cocktail party at which I served bagna cauda, a dip of butter and/or olive oil with garlic and anchovies. I like to add some red pepper flakes and parsley. You serve it warm (hence the translation: “hot bath”) with raw winter vegetables and hunks of bread for dunking. The bagna cauda paired brilliantly with both the Prosecco and the Negronis.
The next morning found me with a headache, sticky counters, and a bunch of leftover fennel, endive and cauliflower. The vegetables were beginning to brown where I had cut them. Delicate spinach intended for a salad was also begging to be consumed.
There are a few basic formulas for making soup. This one involves sweating the aromatics, adding the vegetables, gently simmering them in broth, and then pureeing the mixture. That’s it.
The absinthe was a last-minute addition that took the soup to a new level. Tonight it almost made me forget that I am missing Beth Ditto’s performance. Hopefully a cough syrup nightcap will finish the job.
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion, diced
- 1 fennel bulb, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed
- 2 tsp fennel seed
- pinch cayenne
- pinch powdered ginger
- pinch nutmeg
- 2 cups chicken stock, 2 cups water
- ⅛ cup absinthe
- ½ head cauliflower
- 2 bunches spinach
- 1 head endive
- sherry vinegar
- lemon juice
- garnish with plain yogurt, fennel fronds, fennel pollen
- Melt the butter with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the red onion and fennel and cook stirring frequently so that they do not brown.
- When the onion and fennel are soft and becoming translucent, add the garlic, fennel seed, cayenne, ginger and nutmeg. Cook stirring constantly for a minute or two.
- Add the chicken stock, water, endive and cauliflower and simmer gently until the cauliflower is soft. Add the spinach and absinthe and simmer for another 10 minutes – or maybe less. (You want the spinach to retain its bright green color.) Puree using an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor or traditional blender.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired with salt, pepper, sherry vinegar and/or lemon juice. Ladle each serving into a bowl and garnish with plain yogurt, fennel pollen and the fennel fronds.