Creamy Cauliflower Caraway Soup

The other night I had the February blahs.  I was hungry, felt as if I was fighting a cold, worn out from laboring in the garden, and wanted comfort food.  I had very little in the vegetable tray, but what I had was perfect for this soup.  I made it that night, and I refined it tonight.

This is a healthy, low-calorie, vegan soup that is pureed smooth and silky.  Two factors make this soup special.  First, you almost char the cauliflower and caraway in a very hot pan until it is dark brown.  I’ll call it deeply browning, because I don’t want that burnt flavor of charring.  I was once served a tomato soup at the Four Season’s Resort which obviously used charred tomatoes, and it tasted so burned that I couldn’t eat it.  In fact, it nauseated me, like when you really burn something on the stove and that smell is all over the house.  I don’t think that that was the response they were looking for!  Deeply browning the cauliflower brings out a wonderful rounded flavor (you can deeply brown the cauliflower, add a little broth and steam for a few minutes, and serve it this way as a side dish… delicious!).  The caraway releases its flavor in the heat, and then becomes a very subtle note in the soup so that you really can’t distinguish it.  If you would like a heavier caraway flavor, just increase the amount of seeds.

Deeply brown the cauliflower.

The soup is pureed and is naturally creamy with the addition of the potatoes. While the frying pan is cooling you use it to toast the salt and cayenne, again releasing and deepening the flavors.  Use this as a topping, which is then stirred into the soup by the guest.   This soup doesn’t take long to make and is perfect for a cool winter’s evening, and doesn’t make the house smell like cauliflower, either.

Sprinkle heated spices on top, then have guests stir in.

 

Creamy Cauliflower Caraway Soup
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
A creamy, low-fat vegan vegetable soup that is fast, easy and very satisfying.
Ingredients
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium head cauliflower, chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped (about ¼ cup)
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine (not sweet!)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • ⅛th teaspoon cayenne pepper
Instructions
  1. In a heat-tolerant frying pan, add two tablespoons olive oil and heat on high until almost smoking.
  2. Add cauliflower bits (watch for splashing!), caraway seeds and stir.
  3. Allow cauliflower to cook between stirring so that it develops dark brown marks on it. It should smell savory but not burned.
  4. Meanwhile, heat other two tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan.
  5. Stir in shallots, celery, potato and wine.
  6. Cook until wine is reduced to very little.
  7. Add cauliflower and caraway to saucepan. Don't wash the frying pan yet.
  8. Add broth and one can of water to saucepan.
  9. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.
  10. In the cooling frying pan, stir together the cayenne pepper and salt and let it darken without burning. Keep in reserve.
  11. When soup is done, blend it until it is smooth, and caraway is as fine as your blender or VitaMix can make it.
  12. Pour back into saucepan and check for seasoning.
  13. Ladle into bowls.
  14. With a spoon (not your fingers... cayenne gets everywhere!) sprinkle some of the cayenne and salt mixture onto the soup.
  15. Either swirl it decoratively, or have guests stir it in before eating.

 

Jook

Jook with sesame oil and chopped cilantro

Jook, Juk, Chinese rice soup, rice porridge, congee… these are many names for basically the same food, rice cooked with a lot of water. There are equally as many ways to fix this wonderful comfort food. Jook can be made with plain water and white or brown rice, then served with toppings such as cilantro, sesame oil, chopped peanuts, bits of cooked tofu, soy sauce, chopped hardboiled egg, preserved or cooked vegetables, chives… as little or as much as you’d like. Jook can be prepared with or without salt; I prepare mine without, then grind a little on the top when serving for that little burst of flavor. Jook can be served with cinnamon and sugar for dessert; this is especially nice for those who love rice pudding but don’t want to eat or can’t eat dairy. Commonly eaten as a savory breakfast dish, Jook is also a perfect food for when you are ill. Not only is it comforting and filling, but it is easy to eat for a sore throat, easy on a troubled stomach, nutritious, and if you are a victim of Montezuma’s Revenge (if you know what I mean), rice is very good for helping you to stop going. Ah-hem. Jook is a very good baby food for those little mouths that are just getting into semi-solids.

You can find hundreds of different versions of Jook on the Internet.  Many make it with part broth, part water.  Some throw in fresh ginger, some cook bones in it for added calcium.  Cooking it plain allows you to top each bowl up the way you want, which is what I do.  Leftover Jook can be mixed with water to loosen it up, or eaten in its more solid form.  You can’t get a much easier comfort food to make that is so versatile.  It is particularly good for celiacs (those who cannot eat gluten).  With cooler weather upon us, make one dinner a Jook day!

Jook
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
 
Jook, rice porridge, rice soup or congee, is a wonderful versitile comfort food.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup washed white rice (short or long grained depending on your taste)
  • 8 cups water (if you like it thick)
  • or
  • 10 cups water (if you like it medium)
  • or
  • 12 cups water (if you like it very thin and soupy)
  • optional: 1-2 tsp. salt)
  • optional: substitute broth for equal parts of the water)
  • optional: add a thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger)
  • Topping suggestions:
  • sesame oil, peanuts, fresh cilantro, chopped hardboiled egg, cooked tofu, seaweed, soy sauce, freshly ground salt and pepper, butter, cooked vegetables, pickled vegetables... leftovers. Also make it sweet with sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried fruit, chocolate chips!
Instructions
  1. Put washed rice and the desired amount of water in a dutch oven
  2. Heat until boiling
  3. Turn down heat to a simmer and cook uncovered 2½ - 3 hours, depending on how thick or thin you want it.
  4. Serve hot in small soup bowls with choices of toppings.

 

Herb-Fresh Tomato Soup

Soup with a swirl

This recipe I copied from a newspaper when I was a teenager, and embellished on over the years. The dollop of whipped cream on top always appealed to me.  It makes a very satisfying tomato soup.  It is a good way to use an abundance of tomatoes.  The key to the great flavor is to use low-acid tomatoes, and fresh basil and thyme.  Of course, you can substitute canned tomatoes and dried herbs as well; if you do that, you can just blend up the cooked soup at the end.  I have a lot of yellow tomatoes, which are not high-acid.  I had an idea of making a golden tomato soup, but the tomato paste in the recipe turned the soup red, of course.  I entertained ideas about making a tomato paste from yellow tomatoes, but I’m not sure I’m that ambitious.

A bowl full of color (those are mangos in the back!)

There are two ways of making this soup from fresh tomatoes, both of which incur a little extra effort.  The first is to blanch then peel the tomatoes, and squeeze out the seeds.  Then after the soup is cooked you can just puree the soup in a blender.  This makes a little thicker soup. The other way is to quarter the whole tomatoes and cook, then at the end turn the soup through a food mill, and strain out the seeds.  This soup is a little thinner.  You don’t want to blend up the seeds and peel or the soup will be bitter.  Both ways make a fresh, tasty soup that can be served hot or cold, and is great with cheesy croutons or sandwiches.

Press through a food mill

The dollop of whipped cream can become a drizzle, or be eliminated.  If you’d rather have a cream of tomato soup, then add more milk or cream to the soup and gently heat (but not boil) and then serve.

Below is the recipe for the food mill method.

Herb-Fresh Tomato Soup
Author: 
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
A garden-fresh tomato soup that sings of summer. This soup should accompany a sandwich, salad, or be the first course of a larger dinner.
Ingredients
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds fresh (low acid, if possible) tomatoes, quartered (about 5 cups)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 T snipped fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried crushed)
  • 4 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried crushed)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 T cooking sherry, red wine or Tequila (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper
  • Dollop of unsweetened whipped cream (if desired)
Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, combine butter and oil and heat until butter melts.
  2. Add onion; cook until tender but not brown.
  3. Stir in tomatoes, paste, basil, thyme, sugar and alcohol (if using).
  4. Mash tomatoes slightly.
  5. Add vegetable broth.
  6. When boiling, reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 minutes.
  7. Press through food mill.
  8. Strain.
  9. Return mixture to saucepan.
  10. Stir in salt and pepper (to taste).
  11. Reheat and serve with a dollop or drizzle of cream and a sprinkling of herbs on top.

 

Savory Carrot Soup

Freshly Pulled Carrots

Carrots are a gardening miracle.  From such a minuscule seed, out pops a root strong enough to plow through tough soil and soak up minerals.

Little Sprouts

The carrots shoot those minerals up to the ferny leaves, and when they die, leave the minerals to enhance the topsoil.  Carrots fill the roll as one of nature’s miner plants.  They are also terrific to eat and very good for you.

I’m sure you’ve heard about how high in beta-carotene carrots are, and how they help eyesight.  If you haven’t there are hundreds of Internet references to look up. Carrots are a very versatile vegetable, tasty raw as well as cooked.

Nantes and Chantenays

There are many carrot varieties.  Nantes, Chantenay, Danvers… these are the common varieties you’ll see sold in most seed stores.  However there are white carrots, purple carrots, deep red carrots, and carrots of many sizes and shapes.  Some are woody, some very sweet, some tender and some strongly flavored.

Feel around the carrots to see if they are ready to pull

Garden carrots need only scrubbing, not peeling

If you grow your own organic carrots, feel around the roots to see if they are large enough to pull.  Don’t leave them in the ground for too long or they’ll become less sweet and woody in texture.  Also, if you use your own organically grown carrots, you don’t need to peel them.  Just use a brush to scrub off the dirt.

Carrots are wonderful to eat when simply steamed until tender, then buttered or drizzled with olive oil and chopped herbs.  Dill is particularly good, as are chives.  I’ve found many carrot recipes, but most of them are sweet not savory.  Honey-glazed carrots, carrot soup with curry and sweet coconut milk, brown sugar carrots… I don’t care for them.  Carrots are naturally sweet, and to slop more sweet stuff on top is overdoing it.  Sweetened carrots belong in carrot cake, and there is only one recipe for it that I find not cloying and heavy (I’ll share that recipe with you another time).  I also like carrots in a savory soup.

Here is an unusual recipe that is tasty, easy, low in calories, and has protein from an unusual source: vegetarian sausage patties. Celery adds dimension to the flavor as does minced fresh rosemary.

Minced Fresh Rosemary

Savory Carrot Soup
Author: 
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
This golden, low-fat soup brings out the savory goodness of carrots.
Ingredients
  • About two cups sliced carrots
  • One shallot, diced
  • One celery stalk, diced
  • Two vegetarian sausage patties (such as Morningstar Farms)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • One large potato, peeled and chopped
  • Four cups vegetable broth
  • Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
Instructions
  1. In medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook for two minutes.
  2. Add celery and stir occasionally for about three minutes.
  3. Move the vegetables to one side and add two vegetarian sausage patties. Flip when cooked on one side.
  4. Add potato, carrots and rosemary.
  5. Stir, breaking up sausage patties with spatula.
  6. Add vegetable broth
  7. Bring to boil then lower temperature to a simmer and partially cover with the pot lid.
  8. Cook for about twenty minutes, until carrots are just tender.
  9. Cool, then blend soup until smooth.
  10. Return soup to pot and reheat.
  11. Serve hot, topped with cilantro leaves if used.
Serve this golden orange soup in bowls that compliment it’s color.

Serve in Bowls that Compliment the Rich Soup Color

Locro de Papas (Ecuadorian Potato Soup)

Locro de Papas

A couple of years ago my daughter and I went on a birdwatching ecotour of the cloud forests in Ecuador, and then to the Galapagos islands.

Me and Galapagos Sea Lions

The flights ended and began in Quito, the capital city, which holds about 75% of the entire population of Ecuador.  Eating wasn’t as much a challenge as we had anticipated; often in lower economic areas there are better non-meat choices.  We stayed at a hotel in Quito at the beginning, middle and end of our journey.  Room service was the same price as eating in the restaurant, so we indulged in our room for most meals because we were exhausted.  One of the three separate nights we stayed there we watched Lord of the Rings in Spanish. Neither of us really speaks  Spanish, but I understand enough to get the gist of what is being said. On our last day the streets were blocked off because the president of Ecuador came to stay in the adjacent hotel and we saw his party board a plane as ours was taking off the next day.

The hotel menu offered interesting side dishes made with interesting ingredients such as yucca and plantain.  Our absolute favorite, though, was Locro de Papas.  Literally this translates as Potato Stew, but it wasn’t a stew.  Locro de Papas is one of the most popular dishes in Ecuador and the Andes.  It is wholesome peasant food that has as many variations as Americans have chili recipes.  At home I managed to reproduce the version that we fell in love with as best as I could.  A few ingredients make the soup special.  One ingredient which you may not have on your pantry shelves, but is easily obtained in the Mexican food isle, is annatto, also called ground anchiote.  It has a slight flavor and is used to color foods.  It is not essential for the success of this soup, but it is a nice addition. They use an oil that is colored with the anchiote seeds, but using the ground spice with olive oil works just fine.

Cumin, annatto and cheese

What is essential is ground cumin.  Some people can’t stand the smell of cumin, which is slightly reminiscent of dirty socks.  However the flavor carries this soup perfectly.  Another addition is sliced avocado.  Warm avocado is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  Living in Fallbrook, the Avocado Capital of the United States, I have ready access to the many forms avocados can take.  Avocado fudge, ice cream and fried avocado slices are all standards of the yearly Avocado Festival.  Another addition to this soup which creates a wonderful texture as well as adding protein and calcium, is cubed non-melty cheese.  If you are non-dairy, then substitute with cubed firm tofu (which can be added even with the cheese).  The textures of the potatoes, cheese and avocado are heavenly.

One of the standards of an Ecuadorian lunch or dinner is an introductory soup, usually vegetarian.  We ate some fantastic soups.  Instead of bread on one occasion, we were given a bowl of popcorn to sprinkle on our soup.  It was great!  I’ve included it here.

Be sure to slice the potatoes no less than 1/4 inch thick; if any thinner they will fall apart when cooking.

Thick potato slices won't fall apart

The version in the hotel had lots of butter in it; I’ve replaced half of it with olive oil, but if you don’t do butter then use all olive oil.  The butter’s fat content makes the soup satisfying to the palate.

Saute shallots in oil and butter

This is a quick and easy soup.  Don’t cheat yourself out of a great meal by not making Locro de Papas!

4.0 from 1 reviews
Locro de Papas (Ecuadorian Potato Soup)
Author: 
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
This version of the favorite soup of South America is quick to make and very filling.
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced no less than ¼ inch thick
  • ½ tablespoon ground cumin
  • ½ tablespoon ground annatto
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup cubed non-melty mild cheese, such as Queso Fresco
  • 1 block firm tofu, cubed (optional)
  • Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
  • 1 cup freshly popped popcorn (optional)
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.
  2. Add diced shallots and cook until translucent, about three minutes.
  3. Cut potato slices in half and add to pot.
  4. Stir in cumin and annatto.
  5. Pour in vegetable broth.
  6. Bring soup to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about twenty minutes, until potatoes are just tender enough to part when pressed. Don't overcook!
  7. Ladle soup into wide shallow soup bowls.
  8. Add chunks of cheese and tofu (if using).
  9. Top with sliced avocado.
  10. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve immediately.
  11. Provide bowls of popcorn alongside soup to add as topping (don't add it ahead of time, they become soggy instantly).

 

 

Taking the “Ew!” out of Tofu

Working Tofu Magic

I’ve been an ethical vegetarian for seventeen years, raising both my children without animal protein as well.  Believe you me, packaged vegetarian foods have come a looonng way in palatability.   There is a whole new world of packaging rife with misspellings and quotation marks, such as “chickn” and “bakon”, just to make sure that no hen or pig will sue the company for false representation.  Many vegetarian options were simply god-awful to eat; some still are.  It is still hard to find products that aren’t filled with pieces of red and green peppers (ick!), whose flavor permeate the rest of the food making it disgusting if it had been palatable at all in the beginning.

There are wonderful meat substitutes that can vary a menu and add protein, and the ability to create mock meat has become an art and can be found in many restaurants, especially Thai or Chinese.   I order several times a year from May Wah in New York, who sells mock meats created in Taiwan.  Morningstar Farms makes wonderful standards such as fake bacon, sausage links and patties, chicken strips and meatless crumbles (like ground beef).

A host of good pseudo-meat products

When my daughter and I toured England four years ago, the popular vegetarian option on all the menus that year was mushroom risotto.  We ate quite a lot of mushroom risotto, as well as some very strange stuffed onions which were stuffed… with more onions.

Although there are many interesting varieties of fake meats, the least expensive and easiest way to provide extra protein to your diet (other than beans, kale and dairy products, etc.) is to learn how to prepare tofu.

Tofu is prepared soybean curd.  It comes either in a water bath tub which must be refrigerated or in asceptic pouches which can be stored at room temperature.  On the label you’ll see that it comes in ‘soft’, ‘firm’ and ‘extra firm’ for different uses.  Most beginners at eating tofu say that it has no flavor and it just soaks up the gravy and seasonings it is cooked with.  Not so.  Fresh tofu has a delicate, fresh flavor that is available to a palate that is not overly spoiled by too much salt and seasonings.

Types of tofu

I’ve grown to like the soft tofu as much as the firm, cooking it so that the outside has a crisp texture and the inside is smooth, and that is the recipe I’ll give to you shortly.  For those who want something chewier, there is a great trick to make tofu more meat-like.  Freeze it!  This works best with firm or extra-firm tofu that is in a water bath tub.  Freeze it, then thaw it out, press out the water, slice it however you want and throw it into whatever you are making.  It is much more like a sponge and has more texture.

For fresh or thawed tofu, you should drain it.  Pressing it is easy and can be done while you are gathering the rest of the ingredients for your meal.  Just put a plate on top of a cake of tofu, which is on a cutting board or plate by a sink, and set a heavy can or two on top.

Nice hat

You’ll be amazed at how much water runs off.  If you happen to own a Japanese pickle press (you don’t?  Oh, you should!) it is really easy to press tofu.

Say 'Pickle Press' ten times fast. Go!

I bought mine at Green Apple Japanese Market in Oceanside for about five dollars.  The screw press holds the vegetables down into the brine, or acts as a torture device for tofu.  If you press thawed tofu, it’s texture becomes so spongy that it doesn’t easily fall apart and you can squish it down pretty far!  It’s fun!

A simple way to prepare tofu is to press it for no less than five minutes, slice it, and pan fry it.

Sliced tofu

I use a combination of olive oil (because it is one of the most recommended foods that you can eat, and you should have about two tablespoons a day!), sesame oil for flavor, and a product called Bragg’s Amino Acids.  It is similar to soy sauce or tahini sauce, but is far less salty and very healthy, providing extra amino acids to your diet.  I buy it at health food stores such as Henry’s Marketplace.

Tofu and his cooking buddies

If you aren’t going to go run out and buy some right now (whyever not?  Pick up a pickle press while you’re out!) use a little tahini sauce, or very lite soy sauce.  As these sauces cook, the salt condenses and overpowers the flavor of the foods.  So, to one cake of sliced tofu, I put about two tablespoons olive oil, half a tablespoon sesame oil and one tablespoon Bragg’s Amino Acids in a frying pan and heat it to medium-high.  I mix them together to cover the bottom of the pan and set in the tofu slices.  The more moisture in the tofu, the more it will splatter, so I turn up the heat a little more after setting the slices in the pan.  I also use a splatter guard.

Cook slices in pan with splatter screen

The slices should sizzle.  Cook for about ten minutes, then turn them for another five.  They should be light brown.  Add them to vegetables, serve them seperately or top a bowl of noodle soup with them.  A varient on this recipe is to use extra-firm tofu, well drained, sliced into smaller pieces and cooked at a higher temperature for a little longer.  The pieces become crispy… mmmmm!

You can add soft tofu into smoothies or puddings, or scramble them to make something that really doesn’t taste at all like eggs but can be very tasty as well as nutritious with the right seasonings.

So don’t be afraid of your tofu.  Buy it as fresh as you can (there is a tofu maker in San Diego!) and play around with it.  Look for tofu that specifies non-GMO soybeans.  There are so many ways to prepare it, but this method is quick and simple for busy people, and very tasty, too!

Russian Mushroom and Potato Soup

This soup is one of my absolute comfort foods; its great for holidays, too, and isn’t difficult to make.  Fresh dill works well with cold dishes, but doesn’t impart the correct flavor in cooked.  Use freshly dried dill: its pungency makes this soup unforgettable. The salt content is a matter of choice, and of how much salt if any is in the vegetable broth.  Potato-based dishes need more seasoning because potatoes absorb the salt, but be careful you don’t over do it! I’ve successfully doubled and tripled this recipe for guests.   This is a heavier dish, so serve smaller portions with fresh rolls and maybe just fresh fruit or a light side salad.  Yum! 

5 Tblsp.  Butter or butter replacement such as Earth Balance, or vegetable oil, divided

2 large shallots

2 large carrots, sliced thinly

6 cups vegetable broth

2 teaspoons dried dill weed (use freshly dried!)

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt to taste

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 bay leaf

2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and diced

1 pound fresh mushrooms (use a mix), sliced

1 cup half and half or water

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Fresh dill (optional) for garnish

Melt 3 tablespoons butter or oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Mix in shallots and carrots.  Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.  Pour in broth.  Season with dill, salt, pepper and bay leaf.  Mix in potatoes, cover and cook 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender but firm.  Remove and discard the bay leaf.

Melt the remaining butter in a skillet over medium heat, and sauté the mushrooms 5 minutes, until lightly browned and have given off moisture but not dried.  Stir into the soup.

In a small bowl, mix the half-and-half or water and flour until smooth.  Stir into soup to thicken.  Add more salt if needed.  Garnish each bowl of soup with fresh dill to serve.

Serves 8 main dishes.