Last year I had the rather brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea to host a soup swap for myself and some girlfriends. The concept was simple: do the work of cooking one soup, but wind up with a fridge full of 4 or 5 different soups. This was mostly born from the fact that while I love to cook big batches of things to take in my lunch for the week, I don’t exactly want to eat the same thing 5 days in a row. So, in what I hope will become an annual tradition, we got together and traded soups (and stories of youthful indiscretions, but that’s for another blog… or not!).
Once again I made two soups, this Cheese Soup with Caramelized Onions & Cumin (sooo good!!), and an “African-inspired” carrot soup from Moosewood Daily Special that had peanut butter, lime and chili sauce. The carrot soup sounded like a good idea at the time, but I had to majorly tweak it to get it to taste good to me. I added a pretty significant amount of brown sugar, upped the peanut butter, and also added coconut milk. It ended up tasting like peanut satay sauce, which I guess was not a bad thing, but the fact that I altered it so much makes it pretty impossible to give a recipe. (But make the cheese soup- that turned out great!)
This year’s batch of soups were no less delicious and satisfying than last year’s. So without further ado, here are my “tasting notes”. For the recipes, just follow the links.
French Lentil Soup
First of all, the “French” refers to the type of lentils used, not the style of the soup, so don’t worry- it’s not some heavy-cream-and-butter bomb! French green (Puy) lentils are so great in soup; they are much firmer than regular brown lentils and have a nice chew to them. This soup is seasoned with mint and cinnamon, among other things, which gives it a delightful Middle Eastern feel. There is an optional garnish of thick Greek yogurt. I would up the suggested salt content a tiny bit, but other than that I found it to be just right as-is. Oh, and there are greens in it too so it’s super healthy. Thanks Kate, this is definitely going into the rotation!
Caldo Tlalpeño (Chicken, Chipotle & Chickpea Soup)
The soup for those who like to eat alliteratively! Amanda says she makes this for weeknight suppers on a pretty regular basis, and it seems pretty straightforward and simple. The only thing that might throw you off is finding fresh epazote, but I believe she made this batch without and it was still delicious. I tend to prefer dark meat so I would probably sub out an equal weight of bone-in, skinned chicken leg quarters, but that’s just a personal preference and it was certainly good (and probably a bit healthier) with the breast meat. Although it’s not in the recipe, I couldn’t resist adding some chopped cilantro when I reheated mine.
Shrimp & Corn Chowder with Fennel
Shrimp, corn, fennel, bacon… what’s not to like about this soup? Some of the commenters on the Real Simple site (where this was taken from) were pretty harsh, saying it was very bland. I could definitely picture a dash or two of Tabasco, and just a wee bit more salt, but it was far from being as bland as they implied! (You’re probably starting to think I’m a salt freak at this point, but a pinch of salt can be the difference between bland and just right. Taste and add as you go… everyone’s taste buds are different!) Michelle made this with the suggested (optional) bacon and I would too, but I would maybe crumble it in just before serving. The only other tweak I would consider is adding a bit of cornstarch to give it a thicker, more “chowdery” feel (dissolve cornstarch in cold water before adding to the soup).
African Curried Coconut Soup
This vegan soup was delightful and looks really easy to make. The rice is listed as “optional” but I would definitely include it- not only does it make it a bit more filling, but it’s beneficial to eat rice and legumes together, especially for non-meat eaters. Sarah added some spinach at the end of the cooking (not in the recipe) and it was a nice touch.
Thanks again, ladies… Can’t wait for our next swap!
I’m not usually the type to make a recipe more than once or twice, even if it’s really great, because there are so many new things to try and I always have a backlog of recipes I want to make. It’s kind of like reading the same book twice… I’ve done it before, but I’d much rather take a chance and read something new!
This potato salad, however, is one of the few recipes which has made it into my permanent repertoire. I think every cook should have a good potato salad up their sleeve, and this is mine (well, one of the permutations of it, anyway). I originally got the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, and have only made a couple tiny modifications. This version calls for walnut oil and Sherry vinegar, mostly because I had recently bought some walnut oil and wanted to use it. Walnut oil is a real treat if you can find it, and pairs very nicely with Sherry vinegar. Once you have the basic method down, the recipe lends itself well to any flavors and variations you’d want to foist upon it. I often play around with the oil and vinegar combos- I’ve made this many times with olive oil & red wine vinegar (which is what the original recipe stipulates), but white wine or champagne vinegar would be good too. Or you could make an autumnal version using walnut oil and apple cider vinegar and put little bits of walnut and apple in the salad (maybe leave out the herbs for that version). I embellished this version of the salad with some walnut pieces, crumbled blue cheese, and bacon on top. It’s also great served on a bed of arugula. (Note: If you do use walnuts, don’t add them until just before serving- if they sit, their skins will stain the potatoes most unattractively.)
2 lbs small thin-skinned potatoes (redskin or yellow will both work), unpeeled, scrubbed, and cut into 1/4″ thick slices
2 tbs salt
1 medium garlic clove, peeled
1 1/2 tbs sherry vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup walnut oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small shallot, minced
1 tbs minced fresh parsley
1 tbs minced fresh tarragon
1 tbs minced fresh chives (see notes)
1 tbs minced fresh chervil (see notes)
optional garnishes: walnut pieces, crumbled blue cheese or gorgonzola, bacon…
Notes: When I made this, I only used the tarragon and parsley. For those of you who have herb gardens or unlimited grocery budgets, by all means use the chives and chervil; however, where I live, fresh herbs run at least $2 a package and I’m certainly not suggesting they’re crucial enough to justify that expense. If you’re leaving them out, I would up the parsley and tarragon to 1 1/2 tbs each, though. Spreading the potatoes on the baking sheet may seem like an extra unneccesary step, but it really helps get the dressing much more evenly distributed than just stirring, so you don’t get bland bites of potato with no sauce. Last but not least, in the photo, those are scallions you see… I couldn’t locate the shallot I *knew* was hanging out somewhere in the kitchen, so I improvised. But shallots would definitely be my preference.
Directons: Place the potatoes in a large saucepan with 6 cups cold tap water and the 2 tbs. salt; bring to boil over high heat, then reduce to medium. Lower garlic into the simmering water via a skewer or slotted spoon, and blanch for about 45 seconds. Run the garlic under cold tap water to stop the cooking, and set aside. Continue to simmer potatoes, uncovered, until tender but still firm, about 5 minutes. Drain potatoes, reserving 1/4 cup of their cooking water. Arrange hot potatoes on one or two rimmed baking sheets close together in a single layer.
Mince the garlic or put through a garlic press. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, reserved potato cooking water, garlic, and a few generous grinds of pepper. Taste both potatoes and dressing for salt, adding a little to the dressing if it seems bland. Drizzle the dressing evenly over the warm potatoes and let stand for 10 minutes. You can use this time to mince your shallots and herbs.
Sprinkle the shallots & herbs over the potatoes. Transfer to a serving dish. Mix gently with a rubber spatula to combine. Serve immediately. (The salad is best served slightly warm or at room temperature. If your schedule prohibits serving it right away, remove the salad from the fridge long enough in advance to allow it to come to room temp, and wait to add the herbs until just before serving.) According to Cook’s Illustrated, the salad is safe to sit out unrefrigerated for 2 hours.