Archives for posts with tag: lemongrass
painting shows bowl of chicken-coconut soup with Asian condiments

Chicken-Coconut Soup. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

The weather swings from mackerel skies to overcast, from sun to rain. The farm box remains remarkably constant in content: spring onions, leeks, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, tangerines. Today we got cilantro and asparagus as well. My mother has been under the weather for days, following a diet of toast, toast and toast. What can I possibly make for dinner?

I settle on an old favorite, a spin on Thai chicken-coconut soup with plenty of winter vegetables: carrots, cabbage, spinach and leeks.

I begin by making coconut milk. I measure two cups of unsweetened coconut into the blender while I heat 2 and 1/2 cups of skim milk on the stove. (The richness of the milk does not matter: we are using it to extract the coconut flavor from the coconut — I’ve used everything from whole milk to skim and water in a pinch). Blend the warmed milk and the dry coconut for a minute or two and then strain out the coconut. Throw that same coconut back in the blender with two cups of warm water and make a second batch, straining the coconut out. Now you may throw the coconut meat out, or compost it: all of the flavor has gone into the bowl of thick and thin coconut milk.

I heat two pints of homemade chicken stock on the stove and add the coconut milk and most of a boned and skinned chicken that we roasted earlier in the week. I add 1 Tbsp. fish sauce and the juice of one lime and about 1/2 tsp of chili paste with garlic. I let the meat simmer in the broth while I cut up two root ends of lemongrass and slice about 1 Tbsp of frozen fresh ginger into thick coins. Leaving the lemongrass and ginger large means we will be able to spot them in the soup. I add a bowl of leek rings that I cleaned and cut a couple of days ago.

Mom slices carrots into irregular pieces — like making carrot sticks — and washes spinach leaves. I wash and chop the roots of today’s cilantro and add them to the simmering pot. I slice cabbage thinly.

Then we go upstairs and watch an episode of “The Rockford Files.”

When we return to the kitchen, Mom turns up the pot to high and adds the carrots. In three minutes the carrots are almost cooked and I turn the burner down to medium and add the cabbage. Oops. I have underestimated the volume of the soup, so instead of cooking spinach in the soup we put spinach leaves in our bowls and ladle the hot soup on top of them, turning off the soup pot. I garnish my bowl with fresh cilantro. There is plenty of soup for future meals: we will reheat it and add fresh spinach and cilantro to our bowls again.

Food Notes: As you can see, this is not a precise recipe. The basics include a blend of chicken broth and coconut milk and the classic Thai seasonings of ginger or galangal, lemongrass, fish sauce, and chilies. You can vary the amounts of fish sauce, lime juice, chili paste, lemongrass and ginger to taste. If you like your soup sweet, you can add brown sugar. You can make it with canned coconut milk, either regular or light, which is what I do when I am not out of canned coconut milk. Tonight’s version was mild, rather than spicy, to accommodate Mom’s indisposition, but you can amp it up with loads of chili paste or fresh chilies. You can make it traditional Thai style with no vegetables at all. You can add rice noodles or rice. You can use leeks, spring onions, or scallions. You can include sweet potatoes or broccoli, as long as you do not cook them too long in the soup. If you like crunchy broccoli, you might want to put it in your bowl and pour the soup over it like we did with the spinach: by the time you get to the bottom of your bowl the broccoli will be nicely cooked. This is a nice soup to eat when you have a cold or when you are trying to tempt someone with a low appetite: packing it full of vegetables adds vitamins and minerals to the broth.

Painting Notes: The quickest of paintings to meet a deadline.

painting shows January fruit, vegetables and tulips from the farmers' market

January Bounty. 12″ x 12″ gouache, watercolor and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

One of my Saturday habits is to journey to the Berkeley Farmers’ Market — I go if I can at all justify a trip because I like walking through the market and seeing what is there. I usually go with my friend Margit. We walk up one side of the market and down another. Today I stopped to buy black trumpet mushrooms, cilantro, small red grapefruit, a couple of jumbo artichokes, carrots, fresh lemongrass and a bouquet of orange tulips because January is a month of orange and green, fueled by greens and citrus. Then I found a twenty dollar bill on the ground and promptly bought a bottle of vanilla palm syrup (I had tasted it months before). I saw many things that I did not buy today: attractive displays of tiny red kabocha squashes that would make adorable soup bowls, tulips in purple, hot pink and a variety of reds. I could stare at the tulip stand for ten minutes and not get my fill.

You can walk through the market tasting things. At one stand the vendor handed me a slice of raw milk cheddar cheese. At Frog Hollow Farm, they had a whole row of preserves with tasting spoons: my favorite was a mild Meyer lemon marmalade. The artichoke farmer had tiny squeeze bottles of his preserves so I was able to taste the Tayberry jam that I had bought on a previous visit but have not opened yet.

I have no idea what I will cook this weekend: I have blogged about things I am still eating, such as romanesco with gorgonzola, and black bread. I have cooked some things that were edible but not worth writing about. In my refrigerator I have several celery roots, parsnips, green garlic, baby bok choy, braising greens, eggs, milk and cheeses and sourdough starter. On the counter I have winter squash  (delicata and buttercup), seven tangerines and eleven oranges. We have potatoes in our potato bin and a couple of yams. Shall I make soup from one of the recipes I’ve saved, a celeriac version of Five Euro Foods’ Jerusalem artichoke soup or a sweet potato and carrot concoction inspired by Kat at Sensible Lessons? If I simply cook the artichokes in water with lemon and a garlic clove and we eat them with lemon and butter, what is there to blog about? We eat three meals a day. Sometimes I cook three meals a day. Sometimes we eat all leftovers for a few days: I shred cabbage on the mandoline and serve it with the last of my orange-tahini dressing and a couple of helpings of leftover romanesco with gorgonzola. My freezer is full of citrus peel to candy. There is plenty to cook and plenty to eat and yet…

The blues are still dogging me around, but January doesn’t care. Tulips bloom in profusion and a grower hauls them to market. The sun shines again although the morning temperatures require long underwear. I paint a picture of my tulips and most of my other Farmers’ Market finds. I acknowledge that January in the Bay Area is easier than January many places: we have no snow, no ice. This year we have little mud and rain. I have fingerless gloves and silk long underwear and cashmere sweaters for when the temperature dips. I have the radio for company, the Saturday folk music shows, my cat on the love seat, my mother in the next room watching T.V. I am healthy. I am counting my blessings for you and for me, but I am not convinced that I am blessed in the moment. Count the miracle of electricity that powers my computer and the wondrous WordPress templates that let me drop things into them. Count ears to hear. Count fingers to type. Count eyes to see the glorious colors at the market.

Try something. Okay. I made polenta croutons, which I have been wanting to make since I first saw them. I thought, “Make something fun.” I put in extra Parmesan because I like Parmesan and wanted to make sure I could taste it. I used polenta instead of cornmeal because they were called “polenta croutons.” Alas, the 1 tsp of cayenne overwhelmed the other flavors even with the extra cheese. I was not happy with them. I think I might have the kitchen equivalent of a “black thumb” today: if I had started with 1/4 tsp of cayenne I could have always bumped it up in a future batch, but I followed the recipe for the spice level.

I have run out of flour. Well, not exactly. “We” have run out of flour: I have some that I bought for a baking contract that I am carrying out for a friend, but we have run out of shared “household” flour. This morning I made sourdough waffles with the last 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour — I had to use cake flour and whole wheat flour to make the batter, which tasted frighteningly sour. I added another tablespoon of sugar. The waffles were fine once I had folded in the egg whites and baked them — just fine, though, not outstanding.

I make lemongrass tea. Not much of a recipe to that: cut up some fresh lemongrass. I slice it in rings from the root up toward the top of the stalk. One stalk makes a couple of large mugs of tea, plus a little more. I use one stalk of lemongrass to 3 cups of water. I put in a little minced fresh ginger for a little sweetness and a little kick. I let it simmer for awhile while I go do other things. Technically a tisane rather than a tea (there’s no “tea” in it) it is nice to drink when you want more hot fluids and can’t take anymore caffeine. I store what I don’t drink in a glass jar in the refrigerator. It’s good hot in the winter and cold in the summer. If you want it sweet, put a little honey in it or make simple syrup. Lemongrass is in season in northern California right now, part of the January bounty: it freezes well if you want to save some for later. January will pass. The food in the fridge will be eaten. Meanwhile, enjoy the tulips and make yourself a cup of tea or a lemongrass tisane.