Greek Tomato and White Bean Stew with Feta and Ouzo

 A splash of Ouzo and a sprinkle of feta add Greek inspiration to this hearty vegetable stew:

White Bean, Kale, Tomato Ragout with Ouzo and Feta

I love hearty vegetable soups in the winter. They are quick to prepare and non-judgmental when it comes to emptying the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator for a healthy dinner. One of my favorite stocks is Italian inspired and tomato based, sometimes with a splash of wine, and often with a rind of cheese added into the mix to exude delicious umami flavor while the soup simmers. I’ll then finish with beans or grains and handfuls of winter greens which wilt in the simmering stock just long enough to soften without discoloring. For this soup, I tweaked my favorite method and took a detour further south to Greece for inspiration. A splash of Ouzo (a Greek anise liqueur) amplifies the fennel in the soup and adds an extra layer of flavor that rounds out the tomatoes’ natural acidity. Rather than submerging a rind of cheese in the stock, I sprinkled feta over the soup for garnish. I must say I was pleased with this little detour, and I hope you are too.

Greek White Bean Stew with Tomato, Feta, and Ouzo

Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)
2 to 3 tablespoons Ouzo or anise liqueur
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch lacinato kale (or chard)
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Crumbled feta for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, and the onion is translucent without coloring, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste to blend and then add the wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by about one-third, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, 2 tablespoons Ouzo, the bay leaf, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add a little more salt or another tablespoon of Ouzo if desired.
3. While the stew is simmering, remove the tough stems from the kale, stack the leaves, and slice crosswise into thin ribbons. 
Stir the kale and white beans into the stew and cook until the kale wilts, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. If the stew is too thick, top off with additional chicken stock and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and serve garnished with crumbled feta and the reserved fennel fronds.

Time Out Soup: Turkey and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitake Mushrooms

This is a Sunday soup (or, in this case, a Tuesday soup). It’s a perfect antidote to a long holiday weekend punctuated with big meals and late evenings. It’s restorative, healthy, and nourishing and a perfect time-out meal to enjoy on a relaxed evening with no social agenda. It’s also a simple way to use some of that leftover turkey lurking in your fridge. If you don’t have turkey, fear not, chicken works just as well, so if you’ve soldiered through your Thanksgiving leftovers  you can easily use cooked chicken meat or a rotisserie chicken from your local store or farmer’s market. That’s why I often call this a Tur-Chicken soup.

There are two important ingredients I like to add to this soup. Shiitake mushrooms impart a slinky umami flavor to the stock, and farro, an ancient nutty wheat grain, lends satisfying heft to each slurp. Use pearled or semi-pearled farro for easiest cooking. Whole grain farro, while the healthiest option, requires soaking and a long cooking time of at least one hour, and has a distinct earthy flavor. Milder semi-pearled farro still retains some of its nutritious bran and germ but is scored to hasten cooking, and pearled farro is completely stripped, thus the least nutritious, but quickest to cook. If farro is not available, pearl barley is a good substitute.

Turkey and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitake Mushrooms

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 to 50 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 ounces small shiitake mushrooms, ends trimmed
6 cups turkey or chicken stock
1/2 cup pearled farro or pearl barley
2 thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken breast meat
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it softens without coloring, about 3 minutes. Toss in the carrots and mushrooms and sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the mushrooms begin to release their juices, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the farro and cook briefly, stirring to coat and lightly toast the grains, and then add the stock, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the farro is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in the chicken (or turkey), salt, and pepper and top off with additional stock if needed. Simmer until the chicken is heated through. Ladle the soup into bowls, and serve hot, garnished with the parsley.

Kimchi Soup with Shiitakes, Tofu and Kale

kimchi-soup-tastefood

I won’t say this soup is authentic, but it does take inspiration from a Korean Ramen-style bowl, while I improvised with what-was-in-my-kitchen ingredients. It also nipped my craving for a healthy, warm and spicy soup on a rainy day.  You can see there are no ramen noodles in the soup – I had a package of udon noodles ready to use, but the soup was so densely packed with vegetables, I didn’t see the need to add them (but add them if you wish!) What I did include are gochugang and kimchi, 2 traditional Korean ingredients that are essential to the flavor of the soup. Gochugang is a fermented soy bean and hot pepper paste, which is available in Asian and specialty stores and the international  section of well-stocked supermarkets. It’s a murky, spicy and slightly sweet paste which adds umami-rich depth of flavor to any dish it graces. Think of it as miso with a kick of heat. Kimchi is fermented cabbage and other vegetables such as daikon and scallions – kind of a Korean cole slaw – boldly flavored with the likes of fish sauce, red pepper, ginger, and garlic, all of which contribute heat and a fiery tint to the soup broth. Again, kimchi is available in well-stocked supermarkets and health food stores. The shiitakes are also essential to this soup, as the mushrooms impart deep flavor to the broth. Feel free to substitute or add other vegetables such as spinach, broccolini, and bok choy.

Kimchi Soup with Shiitakes, Tofu, and Kale

If you are using udon noodles or ramen noodles, pre-cook them and add to the soup before serving. Serves 2 to 4.

2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil, divided
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, trimmed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon peeled grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup kimchi, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons kimchi juice
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon gochugang (fermented hot pepper paste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small bunch kale, tough ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
8 ounces soft tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 red chile pepper, thinly sliced

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they soften, turn golden brown and begin to release their juices, stirring frequently. Remove the mushrooms and set aside.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot over medium heat and sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the carrot and sauté until bright in color and crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kimchi and kimchi juice and sauté 1 minute, then add the stock, soy sauce, gochugang, sesame oil, and sugar.
3. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the kale and continue to simmer until the kale wilts, about 2 more minutes, stirring frequently. Return the mushrooms to the soup, gently stir in the tofu, and simmer until just heated through.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the scallions and chile.

 

Clam Chowder

Memorial Day is fast approaching – the sunny holiday which ushers in the summer season, lots of grilling, time at the seashore, and – for me – clam chowder. Blame it on my New England roots, but slurping down a bowl of steaming hot, buttery rich chowder is right up there with building sand castles and smearing on sunscreen when I think of summer. Chowders are actually quite easy to make, a simple concoction of milk and cream, potatoes, and clams. If you are not feeling the clams, you can add firm fleshed fish such as salmon and halibut and call it a fish chowder. The key is to get a smoky base to the soup with bacon (or in fish chowders, I’ll add warm-smoked salmon), and a little thickness with a roux (which is simply a little flour mixed into the fat from the bacon) and have fun with your vegetables. Potatoes and onion are standard, and I often add leeks or mild root vegetables, such as celery root, or even spinach. When you are selecting clams be sure to choose the smallest you can get your hands on, such as little necks, middle necks, or, if you are on the U.S. west coast, manila clams.

Clam Chowder
Serves 4

2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock, divided
1/2 pound small fingerling potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch coins
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
12 manila or middle neck clams or 24 little neck clams
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the bacon in the oil in a large pot over medium heat until the fat is nearly rendered. Add the onion and leek and sauté until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the flour into the pot, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until very lightly colored, stirring constantly. Whisk in 1 cup of the stock, stirring to blend the flour. Add the remaining stock, the potatoes, milk, cream, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the clams, partially cover the pot and simmer over medium heat until the clams open, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any unopened clam shells. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot garnished with fresh thyme.

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup – Easy Pho

Chicken Pho TasteFood

Are you a fan of Pho? If you’ve never had it, Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup. It consists of a mountain of slurp-worthy rice noodles swimming in a rich and aromatic broth fortified with proteins such as chicken, beef, or tofu. The bonus is the garnishes – a cornucopia of fresh herbs, chiles, lime, and sprouts to scatter over the top, with squirts of hot sauce and hoisin for good measure. Pho is intoxicatingly good, highly addictive, and a perfect remedy to fight a cold or simply satisfy a craving for Asian spice and heat. Once you taste it, you’re likely hooked.

The key to an authentic pho lies in its broth, a time consuming affair best left to the weekend when you have the freedom to fill your home with exotic aromas, while a whole chicken or beef bones slowly cook, and the stock reduces to a flavorful soul-satisfying intensity. The challenge – as cravings go – is that sometimes you just want pho – now – when it’s not a weekend, when it’s an hour before dinner on a busy weeknight, when you’ve just arrived home, only leftovers are in the fridge – and the nearest Vietnamese takeaway is in the next county.

Here is a solution – an inauthentic version I call easy pho, or, more cutely, faux pho. Instead of making the stock from scratch, I use a good quality store-bought stock and embellish it with aromatics. It saves a lot of time, and is a perfect quick fix for a simple, healthy, and crave-satiating weeknight dinner.

Easy Pho – Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

This recipe is especially easy to make when you have  leftover chicken in the fridge, otherwise you can pick up a rotisserie chicken from the store, or quickly poach a couple of chicken breasts. Serves 4>

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 (2-inch) knob of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
6 cloves
2 star anise
1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
1 pound cooked chicken meat, shredded
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Garnishes:
Sliced red or green jalapeño chiles
Mung bean sprouts
Fresh mint or Thai basil sprigs
Lime wedges
Sriracha and Hoisin sauce

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and sauté until fragrant and the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and peppercorns and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock, fish sauce, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. While the soup is simmering, cook and drain the noodles according to package directions.
3. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Add the chicken to the soup and simmer over medium-low until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more fish sauce, sugar or salt to taste.
4. Divide the noodles between large serving bowls. Sprinkle an even amount of scallions and cilantro over the noodles. Ladle the soup into the bowls.  Serve with the garnishes.

Hearty Chili with Bison, Black Beans, and Barley

bison chili tastefood

This is a chili template. You can follow it and substitute your favorite meat or even make a vegetarian version by skipping the meat step. In this chili I went all in, combining bison, black beans, and barley. If you haven’t tried bison I encourage you to try it. Bison is leaner, lower in cholesterol, and more rich in protein and Omega 3’s than beef. Other proteins such as beef chuck, pork, chicken or turkey can be substituted. If you prefer a vegetarian option, you can double up on the beans instead. Then there is the barley – I had a bag of gorgeous purple heritage barley from the farmers market I couldn’t resist adding to the stew. It adds heft and extra nutrients to this already hearty stew. You can omit the grains and add more beans. You get the idea!

Bison, Black Bean and Barley Chili
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds bison meat, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 chiles in adobo, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1 cup pre-cooked barley (I used purple heritage)

Garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and saute until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.

In Praise of Lentils and a recipe for Soup

Lentil Soups tastefood

Why do I overlook lentils? These humble legumes resembling tiny pancaked pebbles are often bypassed in my pantry, as I reach for rice, farro, couscous. When I finally do cook with lentils, I remember how good they taste, how satisfying they are to eat, and how easy they are to prepare. Imminently flexible, they can stand in for a grain, starch, even a protein. They are healthy too – rich in nutrients, high in protein, iron, and fiber, arguably placing them neck and neck with other lauded superstar foods in the nutrition department. They cook quickly and without any fuss, gamely absorbing the flavors and seasoning from their fellow ingredients and braising liquids, adding a hearty, earthy, and rich base to soups, stews, side dishes, even salads. Really, I must eat more lentils – and you should too.

Lentil Soup

This soup is simple, to the point, and deservedly all about the lentil.

Serves 4.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted through
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Madeira or Port wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and sauté until the carrots begin to soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, lentils, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (The soup should be somewhat thick. If desired, thin the soup to your preferred consistency by adding additional chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time.) Stir in the sugar, wine, vinegar, salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning. Simmer the soup, partially covered, over low heat to thoroughly heat through and meld the flavors, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with the parsley.  Serve hot.