Chilled Pea Soup with Tarragon and Cream

Cool Soups Are Not Just For Summer. This light and luscious pea soup is a lovely spring teaser:

Chilled Pea Soup with Tarragon and Cream

With warmer days on the way, chilled soups are a bright and refreshing alternative to a steaming bowl of soup. And while cool soups are certainly a solution to the heat of summer, they are also delicious year round. In fact, the slightly chilled temperature often amplifies the flavor and freshness of the ingredients, especially when the soup is as elegantly simple as this pea soup.

I prefer the savory flavor of the chicken stock in this recipe, but additional water may be substituted for a vegetarian version – in which case, be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly. The soup may be served slightly chilled or at room temperature. Serve as a light first course for 3 to 4 people, or divvy it up between 6 to 8 demitasse cups for a pretty appetizer.

Chilled Pea Soup with Crème Fraîche, Lemon, and Tarragon

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
3 cups shelled English peas
1 cup chicken stock (or water)
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup crème fraîche (or plain whole-milk Greek yogurt)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Sliced radishes and fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish

1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent without coloring, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peas and sauté until bright and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock, salt, and pepper and simmer until the peas are very tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Carefully transfer to a food processor and process until smooth. Add 1 cup water, 1/4 cup at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. (The soup should be a little thick and not too runny.) Taste for seasoning and transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature.
3. Whisk the crème fraîche and lemon zest in a small bowl.
4. Divide the soup between serving bowls or small cups. Add a spoonful of the cream to the soup and gently swirl, leaving light traces of the cream visible. Garnish each serving with 1 to 2 radish slices and sprinkle with snipped tarragon leaves.

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.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley

bison chili tastefood

Winter and the Superbowl demand a hefty bowl of chili, and this recipe will surely do the trick. Loaded with beef, black beans and barley, the key to this thick and rich stew is a heady tomato stock fortified with chipotles and stout beer. While you shouldn’t tinker too much with the aromatics, do feel free to adjust the meat and grains. The beef chuck can easily be switched out with turkey, chicken, or pork – or entirely omitted for a vegetarian option (just double up on the beans instead). I like to add barley to the mix – it adds great texture and extra nutrients. Other whole grains such as farro or freekah can be substituted as well.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, 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) – optional

Optional 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.

Warm Wild Rice Salad with Dried Fruit and Nuts

Rice Stuffing

I am just going to come out and say it: I am not a fan of turkey stuffing (or dressing), and neither is my family. Whenever I make stuffing, it sits uneaten at the Thanksgiving table, before banishment to the refrigerator, labeled “leftover,” where it continues to sit for days, forlorn, neglected, and, frankly, wasteful. So, now I don’t make a stuffing for our turkey. Instead, I jam bunches of fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, and sage, as well as wedges of lemon or orange in the cavity to provide aroma and moisture while the turkey roasts. For serving, I provide potatoes and a grain dish to balance and fill out the feast. This rice salad is always a hit. It’s a great gluten-free starch substitute for stuffing, and the dried fruit and nuts stud the rice like festive jewelry, providing a pretty addition to the holiday table. Feel free to mix up the fruit and nuts, substituting raisins, chopped prunes, dried figs, walnuts or hazelnuts. For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock.

Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Serves 6.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 ½ cups wild rice or wild rice blend
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, thyme, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the  dried fruit and pecans while fluffing the rice with a fork. Let stand, partially covered,  for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm.

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.

Thanksgiving Sides: Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Rice Stuffing

~ Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans ~

This rice dish is a hearty and flavorful accompaniment to pork, poultry and game. It’s a great addition to the Thanksgiving table, where you might be tempted to call it a stuffing. Dried apricots, cranberries and pecans stud the rice, adding substance, sweetness and festive color. Whether you use it to stuff a bird or simply serve in a bowl as a side, this is a pretty autumn dish. Feel free to mix up the fruit and nuts, substituting raisins, chopped prunes, dried figs, walnuts or hazelnuts. For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock.

Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Use all wild rice or a blend of rice. A blend of wild rice, brown rice and red rice is pictured. Serves 6.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 ½ cups wild rice or wild rice blend
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, thyme, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until rice is just tender but still firm, about 45 minutes. Add the dried fruit and pecans. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm.

Pearl Couscous Salad

Pearl Couscous Salad

If you haven’t met pearl couscous yet, then it’s high time you did. Despite its name, pearl couscous differs from the finely-grained North African semolina couscous, typically served with tagines. Pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous, is made of baked wheat instead of semolina, and its granules are much larger in size, similar to fregola sarda. It retains it’s shape while cooking, and, before simmering in liquid to soften, it should be sauteed in olive oil which imparts a lovely golden hue and toasted flavor. It’s delicious simply tossed with olive oil and lemon, or as a component of a chopped salad. Serve it as an accompaniment to grilled meats and fish, or dress it up with chopped vegetables and herbs from the garden and sprinkle with feta for a vegetarian option.  Continue reading Pearl Couscous Salad