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Our Project

For Mother’s Day, the kids got me a new cookbook: Magic Soup: 100 Recipes for Health and Happiness, by Nicole Pisani and Kate Adams. We cooked up the idea of trying one soup per week and blogging about it. After some discussion, we decided to make the soups in order, not counting the five stocks at the beginning. We hope you enjoy reading about our experiment as much as we’ll enjoy eating it!

Soup #13: Leek and New Potato Soup with Calçots

We’re back! We took the school year off because it was impossible to find a night on which we could regularly make a new soup. However, first grade and preschool ends for the kids on Friday, and our evenings have opened up. I turned to the bookmarked page and found “Leek and New Potato Soup with Calçots.” We actually had potato leek soup fairly recently from a vegetarian crock pot cookbook. This soup is a little different. First of all, it calls for calçots, which I’d never heard of. I read an interesting article about the Calçotada Festival in Valls, Spain, in which people grill and eat hundreds of pounds of calçots.

I, on the other hand, didn’t even call around to see if there were any calçots to be had. The cookbook said that red salad onions are a good alternative, so I bought a red onion. I had to do some further research to figure out what black onion seeds are (no relation to onions whatsoever), but once I figured out that they’re used in Indian food, I knew I could get them at Krishna Groceries down the street.

This soup wasn’t too time-consuming, actually. I chopped leeks and cooked them in butter as instructed. However, there I met my first recipe frustration: the instructions said to melt half the butter in a saucepan, add the leeks and cook for a few minutes until they soften. But it never said what to do with the other half of the butter. I read it three times, but it truly wasn’t there. I guess less butter is okay. I bought new potatoes in all different colors; it was fun to cut the purple ones in half and admire their vibrant hue. The soup came together pretty easily; the potatoes and leeks simmered in soy milk, black onion seeds, and lemon zest for a while and then got pureéd in the blender.

Chopped raw new potatoes.

Sauteeing leeks.

The recipe wanted me to cook calçot onions on the side, and there I discovered the second recipe frustration; it didn’t say how to handle the red onion I was allowed to substitute. Since it said that the calçots were going to be soft and slightly caramelized, I cut the onion into chunks and sauteéd it in olive oil until it was soft and slightly caramelized. Benjamin, who was helping me, sat on the counter and ate chunks of raw onion until his eyes got all red and puffy. He washed it down with milk.

Eating raw onions.

The soup was different from other potato soups I’ve had. It turned a greenish gray because of the different colors of potatoes, and the lemon zest came through. It was pretty bland, though the onions and some salt helped a lot. I liked it, but then I tend to like vegetables cooked any way. Dave didn’t mind it, Benjamin only ate a bite, and Phoebe wasn’t feeling well, so she skipped dinner.

Onions and apples for pie.

Finished soup.

It was a rainy, chilly evening, so I offered to make chocolate-chip cookies. No takers. But Benjamin said he wanted pie, and I happened to have enough apples, so we made an apple pie while we worked on the soup. The kitchen was a mess, but it’s so great to have hot food on a cool night. Phoebe roused herself from the couch to do the latticework on the pie.

Stirring pie dough.

Apple pie.

Soup #12: Celeriac Mimosa

We’ve moved sections in the cookbook from “Quick Fixes” to “Roots and Tubers.” The ladies write: “Just when we thought we had our five-a-day sorted, we discover that we’re supposed to try and eat nine portions of fruit and veg every day!” Dave is less than thrilled at the change.

Once again, we ate this so long ago, I have no memory of making it. I do remember liking it quite a lot, myself, and for some reason I have the vague feeling that no one else tried it. How did they get away with that? Another photo from the book:

Celeriac mimosa photo from the cookbook.

Soup #10: Coconut Shrimp

Jess: This soup was an utter failure and a complete disappointment. It looked wonderful in the photo; I love Asian soups. I love shrimp, bok choy, ginger, lime, bean sprouts, and coconut milk.

But the first recipe frustration came right off the bat, when the description said “Furikake…is a Japanese seasoning made with sesame seeds and seaweed flakes. It’s a delicious alternative to sea salt, especically for East Asian dishes.” There’s no mention of furikake in either the ingredient list or the cooking directions. So did I need it? And what was I supposed to do with it?

I priced the three ingredients I couldn’t easily get at King Soopers on Amazon. It would be about $21 to buy white miso paste, mirin, and furikake (assuming I was supposed to sprinkle that on top). Then I remembered that there’s a big Asian market only a few minutes from work. On Monday I drove over there and bought my three ingredients, plus three sesame balls (one of my favorite treats), for $17. However, saying “I bought them” doesn’t really describe the experience. Almost everything in the shop is in an Asian language, though the isle signs are bilingual with English, which was very helpful. I know enough geography and the basic sounds of the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese languages to figure out which language I was reading. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find mirin. In the “cooking wine” isle everything was Chinese. I Googled a few of the brands, only to confirm they were Chinese. I couldn’t find miso or furikake either. I asked two different stockers, each of whom said “I can’t help you” and turned abruptly back to stocking the shelves. Finally, after wandering for 20 minutes, I asked one of the cashiers, an older Asian woman. She led me to the very last aisle, marked “Japanese.” Aha! I found everything I needed there. The whole time I walked around the store, I thought about how much harder it would be to study abroad somewhere like China; I spent a semester in Liverpool. Although I was terribly homesick, I loved England and could speak the language. I even started saying “ta” when I got off the bus!

Anyway, the recipe says “Despite the long ingredients list, this is basically a pantry soup that takes 10 minutes to make, and all in one pot too.” I quibble with that; it took half an hour to collect and chop everything, and the only reason it’s now a pantry soup is because I went and bought a bunch of stuff I’ll never use again, so it’ll all sit in my pantry (and fridge) for the next 10 years. Still, as I said, I had high hopes.

Bashing lemongrass, chopping green chili pepper, and weighing bok choy.

Bashing lemongrass, chopping green chili pepper, and weighing bok choy.

Miso paste (not white but yellow) and coconut milk.

Miso paste (not white but yellow) and coconut milk.

Mirin and fish sauce (should've made sure the flash was on!).

Mirin and fish sauce (should’ve made sure the flash was on!).

It was easy to pour in a few things, boil, simmer, and add a few more things. I doubled the recipe because I thought I was really going to like it. The udon noodles came in a 12-ounce package, but I was only supposed to use 8 ounces. I figured that was no big deal; we all like noodles. I dumped them all in, and everything went south. The noodles soaked up all the broth and stayed sticky and undercooked. I sloshed them around in the pot, but there was already no broth left and a big clump of udon. I ended up pouring water over the whole thing and cooking the noodles at least three times longer than the directions said I should. Was my udon somehow different? Should I have cooked and rinsed it separately and then added it to the soup for the final minute or so? The recipe didn’t say so, but if I ever try again (and maybe I should, since I have all the ingredients now!), I’ll do it that way. I used uncooked shelled shrimp because I figured no one would want to eat it with the shells, as it’s pictured. The shrimp cooked beautifully, pink and meaty and lightly sweet, but it turns out the kids only like shrimp scampi. The bok choy never really wilted. I didn’t use the chili pepper so the kids wouldn’t burn their mouths, but the spicy flavor would’ve helped. The whole thing was sticky, mild, and too sweet.

A sticky, gooey mess.

A sticky, gooey mess.

Naturally, Benjamin ate 3 helpings. Dave did his best. Phoebe whined and moaned and ended up eating only one bite of a piece of shrimp. I’d like to try again, but I’m not sure I’d be forgiven for that. Especially because we’re soon to leave “Quick Fixes” for the pleasures of “Roots and Tubers.”

p.s. Speaking of too sweet, the sesame balls I bought were a disappointment, too. The inside was mung bean instead of red bean paste! And while the dough was chewy and oily on the first day, the second ball was inedible on the second day. I should’ve shared instead of hording them in my snack drawer. Lesson learned.

p.p.s. Benjamin reached up to grab the cup on the counter and poured all my fresh-squeezed lime juice all over his head and onto the floor. Fortunately, he didn’t get any in his eyes: only in his mosquito bites.

Miso paste in hot water in the glass. The cup and strainer were for squeezing the lime.

Miso paste in hot water in the glass. The cup and strainer were for squeezing the lime.

p.p.p.s. In the end, I forgot to put the furikake out on the table. I guess I’d better start eating rice balls for lunch. Rice balls with salmon furikake.

Soup #9: Salmon & Orzo

Jess: This soup didn’t quite come together as the recipe intended. I thought I had fennel seeds; while I like black licorice, I don’t like fennel much, and I had this memory of having a spice in the cupboard that always makes me think “ick.” So I didn’t buy any. I had to buy sumac online, and I meant to go back to Sprouts to look for baby gem lettuce, but I forgot. I forgot to stop by the community garden for fresh dill, and there was no hope for nasturtium leaves (we’re in the United States!) or pea shoots (too late in the summer).

The recipe says to spread out the fennel seeds and strips of lemon zest on an oven tray and dry-roast in the oven. After taking every spice out of the cupboard, I discovered I had fenugreek (no help at all) and anise, which the Great Google informed me wasn’t really the same thing. So I spread out about a quarter measurement of anise seeds (versus the fennel I was supposed to have) and the lemon. At the prescribed time, some of the lemon had dried almost to burning, and some was still shiny and damp. The wet zest refused to be ground in the mortar, so I ended up popping the mixture back into the oven three times to finish drying the lemon. Nothing in the recipe says whether it’s going to turn brown or not, so I had no idea if that was okay. I also had no way to keep it from turning brown, so that’s what ended up in the food: a mixture of anise seeds, ground-up dried brown lemon peel, and sumac.

Basically, you spread salmon fillets with mustard and the aforementioned spice mixture and cook them. I bought frozen fillets because they’re cheaper, and we don’t like fish well enough to splurge. (Though the kids and I do sometimes eat salmon on Dave’s golf nights.) The recipe called for leaving the salmon soft and dark pink in the middle, but we like ours the consistency of tuna, so I cooked the fillets longer than recommended.

While the salmon is cooking, you cook orzo in boiling water and then tip it into hot chicken stock. While both those things are cooking, you toss the baby gem lettuce and dill in olive oil and sea salt. When you’re ready to serve everything, you put the salmon in the orzo broth and top it all with the lettuce and nasturtium leaves. I made the little salad with baby mixed greens (I left out all the purple stuff, since gem lettuce must be green), olive oil, salt, and dried dill.

In the end, it was pretty good! I don’t cook with salt, so the broth needed lots of added salt. No one else wanted salad in their soup, but the oily, salty bitterness of the lettuce really added flavor to the soup, which was pretty bland without it. Both kids asked for seconds! Frankly, this would be a very fast meal without the fussy topping for the salmon. It was tasty, but I think you could approximate it with mustard, lemon pepper, and sumac (once you buy a whole bag of the stuff). I only tasted the anise once—I don’t know if that’s because I used so little or because it was overwhelmed by other flavors.

Something strikes me as odd about chicken soup with fish, but I’ll say it again—the oily, salty salad really complimented the soup. I’d eat this again, but I might tinker with it a bit.

Soup #8: Chana Masala

Jess: This won’t be my last apology on this website, I’m sure, but it’s deeply felt. Once again, I’m two weeks late writing these posts (numbers 8 and 9), and I completely forgot to take photos as I cooked. So you’re stuck with what would be my long-windedness, except that both these soups were pretty darn quick and easy.

We eat chana masala (an Indian dish made with chickpeas in a thick tomato sauce) pretty frequently, and Dave loves it, so he was excited for this “soup.” Basically, you cook onion in oil until it softens and then add spices. Then you add the chickpeas and the sauce ingredients; this recipe uses coconut milk and tomato puree, so it’s quite rich. After two recipes for which I manufactured tomato puree, I finally stumbled on it in the grocery store. They only had one name-brand variety, but expense is no barrier for this project, as you can tell from my wanton online ordering of Middle Eastern spices. After almost boiling the chickpea mixture, you simmer it for 30 minutes. I was actually able to find all the ingredients for this recipe, and there were no frustrations. Because we frequently cook Indian food, most of the ingredients are staples at our house. This recipe is quick, easy, and delicious. It’s served with spoonfuls of Greek yogurt, which works well with the thick sauce.

Dave said he prefers our usual recipe, although he liked this one, and I liked it better than the usual. I’m the one who eats leftovers for lunch, so I’m the one lucky to report that it’s even better after marinating in the fridge for two days—like most other Indian dishes I’ve cooked. Skip the yogurt, and this is easily made vegan.

Soup #7: Drop an Egg

Jess: Again, no photos. But you could almost make this again for the sole purpose of adding them. It’s the easiest one yet!

This time, the recipe frustration came right at the beginning. “Remove the tough stalks from the mushrooms, finely slice them, then mix them with the olive oil in a large bowl.” So…is that the mushroom caps or the stalks you’re supposed to slice? I opted for the caps, figuring it didn’t make much sense to buy a bunch of mushrooms and then use the parts called “tough” in the recipe. Language specificity, please!

Roast mushrooms. Make a stock, ginger, and tamari broth with mushrooms. Drop in scrambled eggs so they turn into threads. Serve over scallions.

This was fast, tasty, and worth eating again. Dave has been such a good sport about this project—he doesn’t eat mushrooms, but when I offered to make the weekly soup on the night he’s golfing, he said he wanted to remain part of the experiment. Phoebe threw a little fit about it on the way home from daycare, so she’d already decided not to like it. Benjamin asked for thirds!

I served this with bread and olive oil with dukkah for dipping. We’ve got most of a bag of dukkah on our hands! It’s quite good that way, as the Internet suggested it would be.

I just noticed there’s a section in the cookbook called “feasts,” so I’m going to keep enjoying preparing the “quick fixes.”

Soup #6: Cauliflower Soup with Dukkah

Jess: This soup looks suspicious in the photo. It’s white! Kind of like clam chowder, but smooth, and clearly thinner. There are hardly any ingredients, but one important one, dukkah, turned out to be a challenge. I bought a head of cauliflower and a box of almond milk—I already had sesame oil and a lemon. I looked up where to get dukkah, a spice mixture featuring hazelnuts, sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, and paprika, and found it on Amazon, but it was $18 for 4 ounces. I tried a few local shops, including Trader Joe’s, because their website mentioned it. No luck. I eventually decided the cost had to be borne as part of this experiment.

Today’s Thursday; we didn’t have anything planned after work, so we all met at the coffee shop and played games before dinner. Benjamin is getting really good at matching Zingo tiles! When we got home, I chopped up the cauliflower, cooked it for a little while, added dukkah, and then turned it into soup by adding the unsweetened almond milk. It smelled good to me, but then, I like almost all vegetables. Dave and the kids husked and boiled the first corn of the season to eat with the soup. When we were almost ready to eat, I put half the soup into the blender, as instructed. Dave had walked by and suggested that we should eat it unblended, so I agreed to blend only half. And good thing! As the soup whizzed around, the plastic cork (for want of a better word) that allows you to put food into the blender through the lid fell into the soup. And got sucked into the blades, which made an awful sound chopping it up. I think the rubber lid had expanded because I’ve been blending hot soup.

CIMG2071

CIMG2078

That batch was inedible, so we ended up eating the soup the way Dave wanted to try it. Result? I think it would’ve been more delicious at the blended consistency. As it was, the almond milk was too wet. The cauliflower was tasty, and the dukkah was wonderful: salty, nutty, and full of spices. The recipe said to use a lemon, sesame oil, winter savory herb, and more dukkah to garnish. I set out bottled lemon juice, sesame oil, ground savory, and the bag of dukkah.

CIMG2075

Recipe frustration? Or just Ugly Americanism? The recipe says “winter savory herb, to garnish (optional).” I would’ve liked to garnish, but I kept thinking “which herb? Is it my choice?” Only after I looked it up did I figure out that savory is the name of an herb. And that there are varieties. King Soopers doesn’t stock it, so I bought a bottle of ground savory and figured I was covered.

This is a very fast recipe, which is a point in its favor. No one else in the family will want to eat it again, but I love vegetables and would be happy to spend my retirement, long after the kids have moved out, cooking and eating like this.

Soup #5: Zucchini & Za’atar

Jess: I forgot to take photos of this soup, and we ate it a long time ago, so this will be a bare-bones review. Which is fine, because this one is easy and yummy. Phoebe has basically decided not to like anything new, so she fussed, but Benjamin and I had seconds. Dave found it so-so. Although soup tends to be healthy, eating the dregs out of everyone else’s bowls probably isn’t!

This is really so simple. You cut up zucchini, cook the pieces in oil, add za’atar, and soften the zucchini in broth. In the meantime, you fry panko with salt and lemon thyme. This cookbook basically requires you to have Stan Hewett’s herb garden (that’s a reference to a beloved old Ohio mansion), so of course I couldn’t find lemon thyme. I used regular thyme and remembered—again—that I only like it in very small quantities.

And what’s za’atar, you say? According to Magic Soup, “An herb that grows in the Syrian-Lebanese mountains, sometimes called wild thyme in English, since it has a thyme-like flavor. It’s also a Middle Eastern spice blend, often made with wild thyme, olive oil, toasted sesame seeds, and sumac.” I was certain that a friend of ours had mentioned that Whole Foods had been promoting their A–Z spice selection and asked if we had heard of za’atar, so I drove from work at lunchtime to the Whole Foods in Superior. No luck. The very helpful help desk lady said I should go to the Middle Eastern store in Boulder, but I didn’t feel like making another trip out of it, so I ordered it on Amazon.

The soup was chunky and vegetable-y, and the fried panko added a delightful crunch.

Realizing that I hadn’t taken any photos of the soup as I made it, I took a photo of the frozen block of leftovers.

CIMG2078

Soup #4: Greens and Grains

phoebe it was disgusting because. the barley taste disgusting .the barley looks disgusting. the barley feels disgusting.

Jess: This soup looks nothing like soup; it’s more like a fancy salad. When I looked over the recipe ahead of making it on Thursday, I was pleased to discover that we already had almost all the ingredients. I’d need another bag of barley, since I was doubling the recipe (serves 2), and I’d get a few more “flaked” almonds in case ours were too old. We’re fortunate to be participating in the Sanchez community garden, where the spinach is bright green and bushy. We can take as much as we need, and you can’t even tell it’s been harvested.

Hot chicken stock and a cup of pearled barley.

Hot chicken stock and a cup of pearled barley.

Shredded spinach and tahini mixture.

Shredded spinach and tahini mixture.

This is a truly simple recipe to prepare, although we were all hard-pressed to call it soup. It didn’t have any broth! You toast the quinoa and cook it with the farro (alternatively pearl barley or freekeh) in stock and then use the rest of the ingredients for topping.

Simmering barley.

Simmering barley.

A few recipe frustrations:

1. The written recipe says that the farro will take about 10 minutes to cook if it’s semipearled. I chose barley instead of farro (as allowed in the recipe) because I already had some and because it was 4 times as cheap to buy a little bit more. However, when I looked at the package, I discovered it was going to take 45 minutes to cook. It would’ve been helpful to mention that in the recipe more specifically than “check the package directions, as cooking times vary.”

2. After the grains are cooked, the recipe says to “turn off the heat, add the kale and leave it to sit until wilted…. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the kale and tahini sauce…” I spent quite a while deciding if I was supposed to scoop the spinach (an approved substitute for kale, and free from the garden) off the top or do some magic to get the grains into the bowl with the spinach somehow on top. A quick “remove the wilted spinach to a bowl” would’ve helped.

3. It’s not the right season for pomegranates. However, while trying to figure out if I could get them anyway, I learned that the seeds are called arils. Cool.

I set out bowls of shaved almonds, the tahini paste, craisins (to substitute for pomegranate arils), and the wilted spinach. I didn’t bother trying to find/buy red amaranth or purple shiso, even though they look lovely in the photo. They were listed as optional.

The consistency of the barley was just wonderful, dense and toothy. I skipped the craisins (I don’t like to mix sweet and savory), but the nuts, spinach, and tahini were all delicious. The nuts added even more crunch, and the spinach added a fresh, vegetable-y taste. The tahini was surprisingly bitter, but a few grinds of sea salt helped immensely. Dave pronounced it our second-best recipe so far. Benjamin ate three bowls (he particularly loved the spinach). You can see Phoebe’s judicious and balanced take above. (I swear we’ll find one she likes!)

Notes:

I listed this as both “soup with meat” and “vegan” because I used chicken stock instead of vegetable. That simple substitution will quickly make this vegan.

To write her comment, Phoebe learned to use the copy/paste function. Even if she never eats Greens and Grains again, she’ll be using copy/paste her whole life.

In related soup news, I had a scoop of leftover barley in the middle of leftover watercress soup for lunch today. It was, frankly, wonderful! The soup had matured from its previous watery, brothy flavor to the slightly peppery herbal flavor it’s clearly supposed to have. Adding the barley gave it some consistency. I’m glad I have one more serving of each left for tomorrow.