A couple weekends ago, the soup swap was brought back to life after a one-year hiatus. What were we thinking, skipping a year? I do not know. My only excuse is that we moved last January and at the time, I probably didn’t think the house was “ready” to have people over. I can’t say that it’s that much more ready now- we still have a long way to go and the list of home improvement projects is long- but fortunately I’ve forced myself to get over it and lower my standards; otherwise, I’d never have any guests!
It’s a well-known fact that a little pork can enhance just about any soup, and we found it amusing that everyone’s soups, without specifically planning it that way, had pork in them. Michelle’s was the meatiest, a pork and tomatillo stew with big chunks of tender, falling-apart meat. Kate brought a delicious split pea with bacon, perked up with the addition of fresh rosemary. Molly made a hearty chickpea and sausage soup with some Hungarian sausage she’d been gifted from a neighbor, and Sarah made a fantastic wonton soup with homemade, pork-filled dumplings.
It’s not often that you’ll see me extolling a dish for its hearth healthy qualities. It’s not that I don’t care about good health, it’s more that I prefer to focus on eating a diet that is balanced, with the philosophy that “all things in moderation” will render it unnecessary to have to specifically seek out recipes that are low cholesterol or low fat or whatever. But at the beginning of this year, Marvin let it be known that he’d like us to eat less meat and more vegetables and grains. He specifically requested whole grain salads, which I already make from time to time and which are great for quick lunches when you have the hectic schedule of a freelance photographer.
I happily obliged by adapting a recipe from Once Upon a Tart (a great cookbook for soups and side salads) with wheatberries, beets and pomegranate. The recipe instructs you to fold in the beets and pomegranate at the end so they don’t stain the salad, but I wanted the dramatic, deep reddish-magenta hue to soak into the wheatberries… so much prettier and seasonally appropriate. The salad is quite good as it is, but even better with a little crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese on top. (This I would add at the last minute though, since I draw the line at pink cheese.) Although there’s no reason not to make this any time of the year, it would make a dramatic Valentine side dish- I plan to serve it alongside a venison tenderloin tomorrow. And you can serve it feeling comforted in the knowledge that you’re not potentially bringing about your loved one’s early demise with rich foods. If you do have a decadent main dish or dessert planned, no worries- it’s all about balance. Continue reading
My start-to-finish process for making a recipe often goes a little something like this…
Day 1 (Friday): Think about what recipes to make over the weekend. Decide to attempt chlodnik, a chilled Polish soup with buttermilk and beets. Look at recipes online. Make a shopping list.
Day 2 (Saturday): Oversleep, miss the farmers’ market. Instead of cooking, go out to eat later with friends who are in town playing a show.
Day 3 (Sunday): Go to the grocery store in the late afternoon; pick up beets, buttermilk, cucumber, dill, scallions, radishes. Get home from the store late and too hungry to “cook”. Make a veggie “taco salad” with romaine, tomatoes, avocado and cut up pieces of a Dr. Praeger’s Tex-Mex veggie burger and call it a night.
Day 4 (Monday): Work late, get home starving, make frozen potstickers and salad for dinner. Finish too late to really have time or motivation to be in the kitchen. Try to make some headway on your book club book.
Day 5 (Tuesday): Plan on at least prepping some ingredients tonight, but get an invitation to go to a friend‘s for dinner, and accept. At this point, decide that maybe instead of making the soup for weekday lunches/dinners, you’ll just bring it to a potluck picnic on Saturday.
Day 6 (Wednesday): Go to the gym after work because it’s been, like, over a month. Have another salad for dinner. Actually get around to doing some prep work- peel and cut up the beets and cook them; set aside in the fridge.
Day 7 (Thursday): Fully intend to do the remaining prep after work, but instead get caught up cleaning kitchen for three hours because of discovery of an invasion of tiny bugs that have entered your home via a bag of cat food.
Day 8 (the following Friday- yes, a full week after the plan has been put in motion): Get down to business. Cut up cucumbers, radish, scallions, dill; combine with beets and buttermilk, a little sugar & salt, and some sauerkraut for good measure. Taste. Beam with pleasure that it tastes as good as how you remember it when you used to work at that deli that makes it. Refrigerate overnight to blend the flavors.
Day 9 (Saturday): Serve chlodnik with marble rye on the side to friends in an idyllic setting. Bask in the compliments (hey, it’s no small feat to impress these hardcore gourmands, let alone expose them to something they’ve never tried before!). Decide that this is going to be your go-to chilled summer soup for the next little while.
NB: I am not making any claims of “authenticity” for this version of chlodnik, other than to say it closely resembles the one I used to eat at Russell St. Deli when I worked there. In looking at recipes online, it seems there is a great deal of variation. One of the things I ran across a few times was that this recipe is supposed to be made with baby beets, about the size of radishes, and that you’re supposed to use the whole plant, stems, greens and all. I couldn’t find any baby beets (see above re: sleeping in & missing the farmers’ market!) but I’d like to try it that way in the future just for comparison’s sake. Other variations include the addition of grated raw turnip, chopped pickles, and quartered hard-boiled eggs. My only departure from the Russell St. version was the sauerkraut, but I didn’t add so much as to overwhelm the other flavors.
Chlodnik (Chilled Buttermilk-Beet Soup)
6 cups buttermilk (if you’re in MI, the Calder brand is good)
1 lb beets + 1 cup beet cooking liquid (see recipe)
1 cup seeded & diced cucumber (½ a large English cucumber will yield this)
1 cup very thinly sliced radishes (3-5 radishes depending on size)
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill
1½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
½ cup sauerkraut + ¼ cup sauerkraut juice
optional: ½ cup sour cream
optional: hard-boiled egg quarters for garnish
Many of the recipes I found called for some sour cream, which made for a thicker soup than what I had remembered. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have a good quality thick buttermilk, you may not need it. If you’re using sauerkraut, use a salt-fermented sauerkraut (the Bubbies brand is awesome) rather than one in vinegar.
This recipe makes a fairly large amount of soup (about 10 cups). If you want to make a smaller batch, just use 1 quart buttermilk (4 cups), and reduce the quantities of the remaining ingredients by about 1/3. As with many soups, precision is not of the essence.
Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler and cut into matchsticks. Raw beets don’t stain much, so you don’t really need to worry about wearing gloves for this. Place the beets in a small saucepan and add water just to cover. Cover and cook at a very low simmer until tender (do not allow to boil or they will lose their bright color). Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.
If using the sour cream, place it in a large bowl. Whisk in buttermilk a little at a time until the mixture is liquid and no lumps remain. Add all remaining ingredients and stir well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Refrigerate until well-chilled.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with a little sprig of dill and a couple hard-boiled egg quarters, if desired. Pumpernickel or rye bread is good on the side.
I first came to Amanda Hesser through her book Cooking for Mr. Latte, a “food memoir” of her courtship with her now-husband. While that book was cute and enjoyable enough, I was more excited at having discovered her cookbook, The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings From the French Countryside. Here is a cookbook after my heart: not only is it set in a château in France, it focuses on using seasonal ingredients, AND has great writing to boot.
Hesser prefaces each chapter (corresponding to a month) with a couple pages worth of anecdotes about what was harvested that month, how it was dealt with in the kitchen, and best of all, her interactions with the crusty gardener, Monsieur Milbert. The third main character in this drama is the garden itself, whose caprices ultimately dictate the activity of Hesser’s kitchen and the moods of Monsieur Milbert.
I have yet to cook many recipes from this book, but that is almost beside the point. In the spirit of trying to be more of a locavore, I have referenced it often before going to the farmers’ market, to get inspiration for seasonal menus and to see what produce I should be on the lookout for. (For those of you who assume everything at your farmers’ market is local and/or in season, think again- many markets, including Detroit’s Eastern Market, sell produce that has been shipped from CA or elsewhere. If you’re in doubt, don’t be shy about asking the vendors where their produce was grown.) Luckily, the region of France where the book takes place has a similar growing season to Michigan, so the recipes for any given month correspond to what’s available here.
Hesser’s recipes are modern and mostly unfussy. She is inspired by French cuisine and traditions, but not a slave to them, and many of the recipes feel more ”American Contemporary” than French. The recipes are not complicated per se, but some of her methods and suggestions do reflect the fact that she was in a kitchen all day and had nothing but time to fiddle. For example, she prescribes saving the skins from blanched, peeled tomatoes and drying them in a low oven to be used, crumbled, as a garnish on soups. (I actually took the time to do this once, and the dried skins sat languishing in my cupboard, forgotten, for at least a year!)
One big hit was the Red Beets with Shallots and Sage- I have brought this to two potlucks, and both times people who thought they hated beets changed their minds after tasting it. If anyone else out there owns this book, let me know what recipes you’ve tried. Meanwhile, I’ll be checking to get ideas for the lean season ahead, and waiting impatiently for the first asparagus to hit the markets in the new year.