Category Archives: Soup

Salmorejo Dreams

I did not come from an air-conditioned family. In the hills above Lake Champlain, open windows and a breeze were enough to keep us comfortable. But New York is different. No breeze pushes through my lonely sixth-floor windows. Heat rises up from the five floors below and collects in our apartment. The nights feel even more humid than the days, especially at four in the morning as I lie awake thinking of nothing but sleep and cooler days. So three years ago, we bought two used air conditioners from our departing neighbors–the first I’d ever owned.

This year–probably from some primal “I’m almost 30” desire to feel like I have a home–James and I have been working our way through an extended spring cleaning. We painted the walls, scrubbed hidden corners, repositioned furniture. We purged and simplified, years of collected “stuff” without a place, without meaning, gone. I grew more plants. Vegetables, herbs, giant vine-y monster plants that grow and grow and grow. And then, from the need to have more space and more light, I had the best idea ever. Let’s get rid of the air conditioners.

We replaced the a/c with fans, the idea being if we can’t get a breeze through these window, we will make one. In June, everything was fine. I read articles about fans like this one from the New York Times and felt special. I imagined telling people of my a/c free apartment to be like telling people I don’t own a TV. A careless mention in casual conversation. “Well you know, we’ve done away with our air conditioners.” People would stare, trying not to betray their awe, as they congratulate my moment of asceticism in the name of smaller energy bills and a better environment. Instead, everyone thought I was crazy.

And they’re right. Fans move air around and evaporate sweat. They do not cool the room. With the heat index near 115, evaporation stopped, and the indoor temperature rose to 91. Hot is still hot, whether fans are moving air around or not.

We tried to hold out. We kept a blue spray bottle near by–one squirt for the cats, one squirt for me. We froze blocks of ice in loaf pans and left them in front of the fans hoping to lure out an arctic breeze. I put frozen peas in my bra and slept with a wet washcloth draped across my forehead like a fever victim. Without a swimming hole nearby, I jumped into a cold shower whenever the sweat started rolling down my back again.

The only word for it is surviving. We were surviving. Until I woke up on Friday morning and found both cats flat on the floor, panting with eyes focused on me like lasers of desperation and loathing. We bought an air conditioner that day.

These are the days when I miss the gazpacho we ate in Spain. Salmorejo in Cordoba–peeled tomatoes pureed with bread, olive oil, salt, vinegar, garlic. Garnished with Serrano ham and chopped hard-boiled eggs. There must have been a secret ingredient, a secret reason this soup was so good. Or maybe simplicity is the secret.

Back in NYC, tomatoes at the market are still too expensive, so my Salmorejo dreams will have to wait. On the hottest day of the year, I made green gazpacho instead of red.

Green Gazpacho
 adapted from Plenty

2 sticks of celery, leaves on
2 green peppers
12 oz small cucumbers
4 oz white bread (stale is good)
1 hot green chili
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp sugar
5 oz walnuts
7 oz baby spinach
1 oz basil
3 tbs parsley
4 tbs sherry vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1.5 oz Greek yogurt
2 cups water
4.5 oz ice cubes
2 tsp salt
white pepper

1. Chop celery, peppers, cucumbers, bread, chili, and garlic and throw all into a blender.

2. Add the remaining ingredients, but only use about half the water.

3. Blend until pureed. If you’d like a thinner soup, add more of the water. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

4. Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil and crusty croutons or a slice of bread.

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Take Stock

A few weeks ago, I experienced another one of those life-defining moments. It was a mushroom risotto made with store-bought vegetable broth. As I added more broth, the rice turned a darker shade of burnt sienna and the mushrooms faded into the background. My first bite was a mouthful of perfectly al dente rice ruined by the overwhelming flavors of celery, sweet tomato, and lingering cardboard. A good risotto is all about the broth–and so, I vowed to start making my own.

Standard All-Purpose Vegetable Broth

(alternatively titled: put whatever you want in a pot of simmering water, and let it cook)

  • 4 quarts of water
  • 1 piece of kombu
  • chopped carrot
  • chopped onion
  • chopped celery
  • chopped leeks
  • a knob of butter
  • chopped garlic
  • parsley stems
  • 2 bay leaves
  • thyme
  • whole peppercorns

1. Soak the kombu in 4 quarts of water while you chop the vegetables.

2. Melt knob of butter in a large, heavy bottomed stockpot. Add chopped vegetables and sauté until soft and lightly browned. Throw in the chopped garlic and cook for a minute.

3. Remove kombu from the water and set aside for later use. Add the water to the stockpot along with the parsley, bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns and bring to a simmer.

4. Add the kombu and reduce heat to low. The soup should be just barely at a simmer. Allow to cook for 1 hour and strain.

With only two people in the house, I don’t have any immediate need for 4 quarts of vegetable broth. After I let the broth cool, I separate it into two cup portions and put it in the freezer for future use. This stock is light, versatile, and will make your kitchen smell wonderful.

Kombu Dashi

Simple all-purpose kelp stock

  • 1 piece of kombu
  • 4 cups of water

1. Pour water over the kombu and cover.

2. Soak the kombu at room temperature for anywhere between 30 minutes and 12 hours. Obviously, the longer it soaks, the more flavorful the broth.

3. Remove the kombu, and you’re done. The stock can be refrigerated for up to five days. This is a great base for miso soup.

Hoji Shiitaké Dashi

Shiitaké Mushroom Stock

  • 5 large dried shiitaké mushrooms
  • 4 cups of water

1. Soak the dried shiitakés in water and cover the container.

2. Allow to soak for at least 30 minutes.

3. Remove the rehydrated mushrooms and use them for cooking or refrigerate for later use. They’ll last for about two days. This stock is stronger than the kombu dashi and perfect for flavoring vegetarian meals.

A Photo Essay

A month away through photographic catharsis.

Squares of chocolate,

finely chopped,

mixed with milk and eggs and sticks of butter among other sweet comestibles,

provided full ramekins of silky pudding.

3 ramekins later,

guilt permeating my mind, I vowed to find a healthier pudding recipe for daily weekly consumption.  Avocado pudding complete with almond butter and agave nectar is not as silky smooth as double chocolate death pudding, but I assure you, it is delicious.

An apathetic occasional soup consumer, this month I learned how to cook and Love Soup.

Soup has become a weekly staple.  Green soup with sweet potato and sage, garnished with olive oil.  The secret to really good soup, no matter what?  Lemon juice, right before the soup has finished.

I can’t spend all of my time eating, and I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the opening night of The Nose at the Met.  Photo taking is illegal, but the propaganda-esque setting demanded a stealthy iphone shot.

It was a month of spring days and wind storms.  We remained huddled inside with our soup and pudding during umbrellageddon, and took full advantage of NYC parks on the unseasonably warm days.

Fort Tryon park picnic.

Milkshakes in Inwood.

Squirrel lunch in Inwood Hill park.

Hiding ducks, same park.

I continued to experiment with my favorite cookbook, Lucid Food.

The world’s best granola:

Golden beet and barely risotto:

James and I spent far too much money participating in the 3D movie craze.  We saw Alice in Wonderland.  So bad, no words, don’t go.

Anticipating fresh spring greens, I made herbed vinegar for salad dressing.

Fill a jar with herbs (in this case basil and thyme),

boil the vinegar and add to the jar.  Allow it to sit for two weeks.  Use as desired.

Another warm day meant rhubarb spritzer.  Boil the rhubarb in water and strain into a pitcher

Pour over ice, add spritzer and a sprig of mint, garnish with strawberries.

Refreshing.

Also from Lucid Food–Watercress and Enoki Mushroom salad.

On the nice days, it has been very hard to stay inside, so James and I spent even more time in Morningside Park photographing signs of spring.

And we always came home to more food.  Lemon Bars.