Black-eyed peas.

A while back, when I decided not to be religious, I realized superstitions wouldn’t jibe with my newfound atheism.  I had, afterall, never quite believed in throwing salt over your shoulder (it made such a mess) or not letting a black cat cross your path (I had one named Midnight); it had all felt very half-hearted.  Nonetheless, there are a few superstitions that stuck with me; I’ll always take a sip after a cheers, I tend to knock on wood—and I eat black-eyed peas for the New Year.

Not quite on the New Year however; I can’t seem to get myself to eat beans on a day that I associate with my last holiday calorie-filled hurrah.  I’ll buy the peas for New Years, sometimes with an honest intent to make them, but never do, giving in to roast chicken and potatoes, or braised pork.  I’m weak-willed.

Though when New Year’s Day is over and the diet begins, black-eyed peas help me with the transition.  They remind me that fat- and carbo-loading isn’t the only way towards delicious.  Especially this recipe, coming from Daniel Boulud, which pairs the earthy peas with (the herb I now consider its true love) dried oregano.  Bacon is added because, come on, it’s a transition to health—not a nosedive.  And finally, most importantly, a good dose of hot sauce keeps things exciting.  Without that, you’re just full of beans.

Southern-style Black-eyed Peas with Bacon

from Daniel Boulud’s Braise

makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 5 ounces slab bacon, cut into cubes
  • 2 red onions, peeled and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

The day before you plan to serve this dish, put the peas in a bowl, cover with water by at least 2 inches, and refrigerate.  The next day, drain well before using.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275ºF.

Place the bacon in a small cast-iron pot of Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, oregano, and black pepper and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes.  Add the drained peas, bay leaves, salt, and 6 cups water.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven.

Braise until the peas are tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes*. Stir in the Tabasco, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

*For my taste, it was closer to an hour and forty-five minutes.

Vegetable Soup? It’s freakin’ 80 degrees out there!

It’s getting hot in here. Well, not in here—this series of tubes that we call “the internets”—but out there, on the other side of my window, where tulips and blossoms are beginning to bud under the warm New Jersey sun.

Tomorrow’s temperature may reach 80, there’s a warm breeze blowing through the blossoming trees, and the kids at my school have a terrible case of Spring Fever. There’s no denying it—Spring has sprung.

So, why in the world would I give you a hearty, warm, comforting vegetable soup? I could make up excuses that I’m trying to reach out to those poor saps in Canada or wherever it is that snow is still on the ground. Or I could tell you I’m sick and that’s why I made it. That, thankfully, is not true (I’m feeling quite great, actually, and so is Jim.) I could tell you that the vegetables that went into the soup were so good, so irresistible, that I just had to post the soup. That, also, would be a lie.

In truth, the vegetables in this soup had been hanging around the bottom drawer of my fridge for quite a while. I bought them, used some, and left the rest to twiddle their thumbs in the frigid air. I had good intentions, mind you, of lots of vegetable spring dishes. And then I got lazy this week, falling back to our old standards—red lentil dal, risotto, dishes that have me going to the pantry more than the vegetable drawer. I almost forgot about all those sad, bored veggies, and I would have let them wither and die had I not decided, with spring-cleaning motivation, that I would clean out the fridge.

We’re going away for the weekend, to attend Jim’s uncle’s photography show’s opening in East Hampton. I’ll plan it out so that we do next week’s shopping on the drive home on Sunday and making room in the fridge is the last thing I’ll want to do when we finally get back to the apartment.

The best way to use up all your idle veggies is a pot of vegetable soup. The more, the better—I used leeks, onions, parsnips, turnips, carrots, and potatoes. You don’t even need a recipe, just chop everything up, render some bacon in a big pot (or simply use olive oil), add your vegetables, saute them until fragrant and golden, and then add enough water to cover. The vegetables will flavor the water to make a rich, delicious stock. If you are using potatoes, add them in about 10-15 minutes after adding the water. Simmer until all the vegetables are done. Ladel into bowls and top with a bit of salted butter. Pretend it’s cold outside and enjoy with a good French baguette.

Winter Ratatouille

One of my favorite late-summer dishes is ratatouille. It helps to keep your spirits warm as fall begins to creep in and it’s outstandly satisfying to make. You chop and chop and chop, throwing everything into a big pot to swim together, and an hour or so later the flavors have melded to become an out-of-this-world delicious meal. And it’s healthy. If that ain’t perfect, I don’t know what is (a triple chocolate cookie, maybe?)

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about ratatouille lately (if you couldn’t tell.) I’ve been jonesing for it more than the berries and peaches of summer. I been so friggin’ upset that I have to wait for ratatoutille (because, god forbid, I will not eat out of season tomatoes) that it totally clouded my brain and I couldn’t think of anything else. And then when I was flipping through my new cookbook, a lightbulb popped over one recipe. A pot of winter vegetables, slowly stewed in some fat—a winter ratatouille!

It’s made with just about every winter vegetable you can find. Like a ratatouille, you cook most of the vegetables (cut in similar sizes) together in a pot for a relatively long amount of time, and near the end of cooking you add in potatoes (instead of tomatoes.) In place of the olive oil, I cooked the vegetables in some bacon fat and beef broth. You could use butter and vegetable broth to make it vegetarian.

If you like cabbage and brussels sprouts, you need to try this. If you don’t like cabbage, you need to try this. If you are a human who consumes food, you need to try this. It’s delicious, hearty, filling, and super healthy. It’s now in my recipe box under the label “miracle food.”

It’s certainly a meal on it’s own, but serve it with sausages if you want something more. Make sure to put out good, grainy mustard, horseradish, and butter on the table so everyone can add what they want to their plates. Left-overs are even better than the first try.

Winter Ratatouille

serves plenty//from Everyone Eats Well in Belgium

  • 4 oz bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dices
  • 4 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 leeks, white parts only, well-rinsed and thickly sliced
  • 1 head Savoy cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
  • 4 turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 2 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
  • Bouquet garni: 5 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, tied together
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 lb red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-in cubes
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley

Fry the bacon until crisp in a large enameled dutch oven over medium heat. When crisp, remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add onions, leeks, cabbage, carrots, turnips, and brussels sprouts to bacon fat. Cook until soft, about 12 minutes. Stir the veggies throughout and don’t let them brown. Add the broth, bouquet garni, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cover and cook 30 minutes.

Add potatoes and bacon into pot. Cover and leave lid slightly ajar. Continue cooking until the potatoes and done and the liquid is almost all evaporated, 15 to 25 minutes. Discard bouquet garni. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir together with a wooden spoon, sprinkle with parsley. Serve it to anyone who’s chilly. Or hungry.

Simple Miso Soup

This post may be uninteresting to you, especially since Japanese food in America has been wildly popular for the past few years. It’s a simple recipe for Miso Soup. And I am so excited about it!

I guess I missed the boat on this one—when all of my friend’s were lapping up miso soup in college, when I skimmed over blog posts and recipes of it uninspired, when I chose the gyoza over it in restaurants. I never cared to even try miso soup until one day last spring, when Jim and I were in New York for a play and (more importantly) a fancy dinner. We chose a restaurant, well-received on Zagat, whose name has vanished from my memory. Every item on the menu, save for the miso soup Jim ordered, was either unremarkable or inedible. I finally gave in and tried Jim’s soup out of hungry desperation. It was delicious! I loved the salty, briny flavor of the dashi and went wild for the crunchy green onions. I mostly stayed away from the tofu, thinking that I was allergic to it after I had a reaction to a soy-gingerbread latte a few months prior.

Since then, I’ve learned that I’m not allergic to tofu and also that I just don’t care for it. So, I’ve been hunting for a comprable miso soup in sushi places and gourmet shops since last spring, hoping beyond hope to find one that focuses as much on the other ingredients as it does on the tofu and not having to break the bank for it. I was unlucky to the point of being turned off by miso soup altogether—almost to the point of forgetting about it, until my soup obsession started this winter. I don’t know why I never made miso soup myself before but I should really give myself a kick in the ass. It’s so wonderfully easy—and I can make it to my tastes! Don’t like tofu? Screw the tofu!

So, that’s why I’m so excited about this simple miso soup. I see it as a jumping off point for me—today’s post is the classic miso, tofu and all, but next week I’ll try something different. Eventually I’m sure I’ll come up with my ultimate miso soup. The combination of the sea-laced kombu dashi with salty red miso is the broth-soup jump-off point of my dreams (wow, I really am turning into a soup-nut.) And to top it all off, miso soup is healthy and beneficial to my lazy winter immune system—maybe one of the reasons I’m already feeling better!

Miso Soup

Don’t let the ingredient list scare you off—they were all stocked in my supermarket without my knowing. I asked the clerk, thinking it was hopeless, if he had kombu and bonito flakes and the wonderful man said of course! and then politely gave me a lesson on how to make the best miso soup. Also, the ingredients store easily in the pantry—a plus in my book.

For the dashi:

  • 1 strip kombu, scored a bit with the tip of your knife
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup bonito flakes (dried tuna)

For the miso soup:

  • Prepared dashi
  • 1/3 cup red miso (you can use white or yellow if you think red is too strong)
  • 2 cups sliced shitake mushrooms
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced

To make the dashi: Combine kombu strip and water. Bring to a simmer but do not let boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove kombu with tongs and discard (or save for another use.) Add bonito flakes and simmer for a few more minutes. Drain through a fine-mesh sieve.

To make soup: Place dashi back on stove, reserving about a cup in a heatproof bowl. Whisk miso into the cup, combining well. Pour combined miso back into the dashi and stir. Add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Add green onions, turn off heat and let it sit for another minute. Serve.

 

QUESTION! QUESTION!  Do you have any interesting (or simple) miso soup recipes or tips?? I’d love to hear them!

Chestnut Soup

I’m not sure if these chestnuts were roasted on an open fire and frankly I do not care. My doctor advised me to start getting up and walking around a little. I’m sure that shelling chestnuts is not an activity he has in mind. But soup-making, especially when it involves little more than opening a few jars, seems like the perfect exercise.

I’m beginning to feel a bit better, actually, (knock-on-wood) and I’m itching to start back in the kitchen. This chestnut soup, so super easy, almost doesn’t qualify as “cooking” but it was easy on my back and, as I was told the other day, soup is good for everything. It was the first recipe I looked at when cracking open my newest cookbook, Splendid Soups by James Peterson. I put a lot of research into buying Peterson’s book (usually my book-buying is effortless and impromptu.) A few weeks ago, I decided I just needed to have a soup cookbook—one that would take me above and beyond my already somewhat attuned soup-making know-how. I asked on forums, I called friends to the task, I google-searched and google-searched, only to find mediocre soup “bible” tomes, ones that focused on easy, Americanized, everyman soups.

Continue reading “Chestnut Soup”