My mom had only a handful of soups she made–my dad preferred canned–but when he was out to sea, she made them fairly often, and what they lacked in variety or complexity, they made up for in deliciousness. Her clam chowder has four or five ingredients; her split pea is just split peas, ham hocks, carrots, onions, and celery; kneidlach soup is a bit more of a production. I can’t remember any others that she made with any regularity.
Here’s a soup that was a bit of an accident. I was in the mood for kimchi soup, but I was out of kimchi and didn’t realize it until I got to the fridge. Oh, woe!
I have made several iterations of this, and as I always was with mom’s soups, I’m impressed with how flavorful and complex it seems with so few ingredients (and some of the ingredients there are are optional, so you may have even fewer).
Soup isn’t about spending hours in the kitchen, usually, at least not for me. Soup is about comfort. And comfort is about love.
Please have this soup recipe from me, with love. Even better, serve it to someone who will feel loved because of the gift.
This improvised soup is reminiscent of a Thai coconut-milk soup. Fish-lovers will really enjoy it.
2-4 tablespoons olive oil or other oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 small carrot, chopped
1 cup potatoes, chopped (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cups chicken broth (homemade or low-sodium)
1 can (15 oz or so) coconut milk (I use organic to avoid the additives)
Vietnamese fish sauce to taste (or use soy sauce or tamari)
1 cup (5-10) Japanese fish balls or other fish-cake-like item (or use cubes of fresh boneless fish, or shelled and deveined shrimp)
¼ to ½ cup fresh or frozen green peas
fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat.
Add onion, celery, carrot, potatoes (optional), and salt to saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion starts to turn translucent.
Add garlic and ginger and cook for a couple more minutes.
Add chicken broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
Add fish sauce to taste. I usually start with a few tablespoons and taste the broth, then add more if necessary.
Add fish and peas and cook about 10 minutes more, until fish is heated through.
Garnish with cilantro if desired, and serve.
I used 4-5 purple marble potatoes (very small new potatoes) in this, but any kind of potato, or none, is fine, and noodles or rice would be fine, as well — just cook them first, place some in each bowl, and pour soup over the top.
If you don’t have an East Asian grocery near you, some ingredients may be harder to find, so I’ve offered substitutions that I know from experience are good.
I wasn’t hungry at breakfast time, and I knew I would be eating lunch out, so I took a bag of snacks to work. Ended up eating most of it, a little bit at at time as the day went on. Didn’t eat the walnuts, which are a good thing for me to carry as a snack, because I don’t like them enough to just eat them for the sake of them, but they’re great to have if I get genuinely hungry.
Ate lunch out with a group of co-workers, including my friend Danny, who paid for my lunch (it was only a two-dollar slice of pizza, but still). Then I bought us both dessert and myself some iced tea — total $8.53.
For dinner, I stuck to the plan for a change. Made miso-vegetable soup. Basically, make any vegetable soup you like, boil some tofu cubes and rice noodles in there for a bit, then add 2-4 tablespoons of miso that have been stirred into a little warm water first. And some soy sauce. A lot if you like salt the way we do. :-) It was good, but fairly… dull. Pretty, though. Veggies this time were onions, garlic, carrots, celery, kale, sugar snap peas, and hijiki.
Money spent on groceries today: $0
Money spent in restaurants today: $8.53 (project total $8.53; sigh. I am hoping not to spend too much on food out this month. I do still have one office lunch left this week, though, for a co-worker who is leaving.)
Food gifts received today: $2 (project total $17)
Things we’ve run out of: Mayonnaise, ice cream, milk (poured it out; it had gone bad)
I promise to post about something else as soon as:
1) This cleanse thing is over; OR
2) I have a day where I forget to take photos; OR
3) I have a day in which I eat all stuff I’ve already posted about.
But in the meanwhile, here’s the food for day 3 of the cleanse.
Breakfast: Fried O’Brien potatoes, homemade ketchup, watermelon, and V-8
Lunch: Big salad with homemade sesame dressing (mixed up sesame oil, rice vinegar, agave nectar, grated fresh ginger, wheat-free tamari, and grated garlic to taste), topped with sesame salt; fresh cherries
Snacks: Nuts, seasoned seaweed, and Oh, so much fruit. More than I can show you here, but among the bounty was more watermelon. Also, white peaches so ripe it’s making my mouth water to tell you about them. And more cherries. And so on. Plus a latte made with decaf espresso and homemade soymilk. (The soymilk maker is still in the testing phase. I’m working on it.)
Dinner: Tamale pie. The plan was for chili, but I was waffling on finding a good vegan, gluten-free cornbread, and James suggested I just make some more polenta, add olives to the chili, and make tamale pie. Those of you who’ve been around a while know that James is big on suggesting yummy and time-consuming things for me to make, so I was happy to oblige with this relatively quick and easy dish.
I also added some olive oil and a fair bit of garlic and nutritional yeast to the polenta before pouring it over the chili (which I dished into the baking dish with a slotted spoon so it wouldn’t be too soupy). The chili is based on the Moosewood recipe that Susan V. adapts here, but I left out the bulgur and used some olive oil in the preparation.
So there it is. There’ll be more Mom Food when this is over. I promise!
[Note from Serene: Please forgive my lateness in posting this. Chris uploaded it weeks ago and I've been snowed under, as I mentioned. I hope that Mertie would forgive my negligence, and I hope you all will, too.]
Now, for Chris’s post:
I would like to dedicate this Mertie’s Monday to Mertie herself, who passed away 30 years ago this week. She would never have made something like this, but I think she would have liked it had I made it for her.
I’ve been laid up for a couple of weeks in hospital, eating pretty bad food, and feeling sorry for myself. So when I got out earlier this week, I decided that I’d cook something in a couple of days and have some homemade cuisine. However, I must confess, the first meal I had when I got out was Beef with Green Pepper and Black Bean Sauce and Vegetarian Spring Rolls from our favourite Chinese restaurant. And last night HWMBO (He Who Must Be Obeyed, my husband) bought a Crispy Aromatic Duck packaged by Waitrose, our upscale supermarket (think “Whole Foods” without the high prices.) It was surprisingly good. But these are only asides.
A few days ago our favourite newspaper, the Guardian printed a recipe in its G2 section (daily magazine). Angela Hartnett (a hot-shot chef here in London) contributed a recipe for Sausage and Kidney Bean Stew.
If you’re interested in her original recipe, follow the link. There is also a nice picture there, much nicer than mine. I liked the look and the imagined taste of the stew, so rooted around for ingredients to make it for tonight. What I write below is my thought process when planning the meal.
I had British sausages in the freezer, and decided on a traditional recipe pork sausage. If you are not in the United Kingdom do not under any circumstances use breakfast sausages for this. I imagine they will not only taste terrible in this kind of sauce, but will ooze lots of fat which will make the stew stodgy. In the United States I would suggest sweet Italian sausage, or even hot Italian sausage. That will give it a tingle, and it will be closest to what we eat here in England.
When I looked at the recipe, I thought that limiting the vegetables to sliced onions might lack a bit of a crunch. So I added to my shopping list a bunch of celery. I have a bottle of pickled sliced jalapeno peppers in the fridge, and thought I’d substitute those for the chile.
So here’s my altered recipe, and HWMBO liked it, so that’s all that counts. I hate it when I cook something and he doesn’t care for it. After all, he’s the breadwinner and he deserves good tasty food because he supplied the ingredients.
6 traditional British sausages. Do not skimp on these. Run-of-the-mill sausage will not be tasty and will cook to a pap.
(in the US, substitute hot or sweet Italian sausage. Do not use breakfast sausage.)
2 medium onions, sliced
4 ribs of celery, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 can of chopped tomatoes in juice
1 can of tomato paste (or if in the US, ¼ tube of tomato purée)
1 can of kidney beans, partially drained
1 tablespoon of bottled jalapeno slices, with liquid, OR 1 sliced seeded chili
Adobo seasoning, or salt and pepper to taste
In a medium stewpot, sauté the sausages in olive oil and a gentle heat, browning them on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Add the sliced onions and celery (and the sliced seeded chili if you’re using that), and sauté them until the onion is transparent but not caramelised.
Once the vegetables are done, dump in the tomatoes, rinse the can with a little water and add that to the stew. Add the tomato paste, the jalapeno slices, and the beans. I decided that lots of the goodness of the beans was in the liquid with it, so I poured a couple of tablespoons of that into the stew, then drained the beans and added them. I stirred to mix everything, then added the sausages. I put Adobo seasoning in it instead of salt and pepper–a holdover from my days living in the Bronx and cooking Red Beans and Rice every few days. I also added a teaspoon of dried oregano and one of dried basil. Whenever I cook with tomatoes, I always add basil, as basil and tomatoes go together like a horse and carriage…um….yeah.
Some devil in me drew me to the fridge, where I took out the bottle of Tabasco Sauce and sprinkled it liberally into the stew. This was a mistake. The peppers added enough of a kick and the stew was a bit spicy when I got finished with it. However, you may want to try a splash (no more than that) and see whether you like it that way.
Simmer for 20 minutes so that the sausages are cooked through. Stir occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Serve in a soup bowl over white rice, and enjoy. This particular recipe would serve 3. As good UK sausages usually come in packages of 6, allowing two for each person is just right. You could double everything but I think the stew might not be as good if 12 sausages were crowding out the liquid. I haven’t tried that yet.
Another substitution that I would be eager to make is pork chops or pork steaks for the sausages. Pork chops can be pretty dry and tough if not treated right. Imagining this stew with pork chops makes me want to try it—perhaps you’ll try it and report back to us. I suspect that the stewing action will tenderise and moisten the pork chops. Before using them, though, be sure to trim the fat and brown them on both sides just as I did the sausages.
Experimentation is a good thing
Note that while I generally followed Ms Hartnett’s recipe, I felt free to experiment. Some of the things I tried worked—the jalapenos and the celery really made this dish sit up and sing! Other things I tried didn’t. Too much Tabasco Sauce can actually be a bad thing and while it adds its own taste to blander foods, when you have something full-bodied like this I’d recommend leaving the bottle at the table and letting those who wish add some to their own plates.
I can’t stress too much: when you are cooking from a recipe, feel free to experiment according to your own and your family’s or guests’ tastes. When I cook with tomatoes, I always think “oregano and basil”, even if they aren’t in the recipe. I use my experience to do what in the physics lab would be called a thought experiment, but what I would like to call a tongue experiment. When you look at a recipe, think of other dishes you’ve cooked or eaten that had similar ingredients. Feel free to add things you like. Also, feel free to leave out ingredients you don’t like. If you don’t like anchovies, for example, substitute a bit of salt or perhaps some Thai fish sauce in the recipe.
The only things to be careful of here are not to experiment too much with things like baking methods for breads and cakes, or cooking methods for meat, fish, and eggs. If you’re cooking pork, make sure it’s cooked through no matter what method you’re using. Rare pork isn’t a gourmet delight. If you’re roasting a chicken, make sure that you use a meat thermometer and place it between the thigh and the body, directly into the bird. I have often roasted chicken or chicken parts, and plunged my fork into the meat and the juices ran clear. What I encountered when I cut it apart was a red patch right in the middle. The microwave cures that, but it detracts from the taste.
In baking think “chemistry set”. When you are baking, the ingredients should be accurately measured and substitutions should be made with care and only when you are a successful and competent baker. Otherwise, you may end up with a flat loaf of bread rather than a nice risen one.
In short, the stew was indeed spicy. It was very tasty, however, and the kind of a stew that really goes down a treat on a cold day. The blandness of the sausage was complemented by the complexity of the rest of the stew. It sure beats Bangers and Mash as a way to make a British sausage into a great meal. I hope that if you make it you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.
So far, it’s been a pretty joyful long weekend, where the Mom Food Project is concerned. I had off from work Thursday and Friday, and there’s been a lot of food joy in my house.
First, I realized this blog turned a year old a few weeks ago. Oops; didn’t realize it, so it came and went unheralded, but it still makes me happy. Also, the post before this one was my 200th! Again, didn’t realize.
Another great thing: No cancer! Blood tests and scans all came back negative. My first cancer surgery was in 2007; this is great news, as you can imagine. Okay, it has nothing to do with the blog, but I had to tell you!
In serendipitous food news, the Berkeley Bowl (@BerkeleyBowl) tweeted yesterday that they were having a special on flats of pesticide-free tomatoes on the vine. About 45 cents a pound. I jumped on it and bought these:
I made a big bowl of the tomato stuff with four and a half pounds of them. Hey, that’s from the first official post, so we’ve come full circle!
The rest I blanched, skinned, and turned into a massive vat of tomato sauce, with onions, garlic, veggies, and olive oil (click thumbnails if you want to see bigger pics):
And now, in the same vat, I’ve just made the mother of all pots of split pea soup, with a huge smoked turkey leg. It’s delicious, and it will fill my freezer. Recipe later, and photos, but James offered to put it away for me, and I took him up on it, so I don’t wanna bug him just now. He also made us grilled mozzarella sandwiches to go with it. He’s the best.