Archives for posts with tag: “No Croutons Required”
painting depicts bowl of corn soup and ingredients with lime tree

Mexican Corn Soup with Lime Tree. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil and gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

While I was in northern New Mexico my meditation teacher gave me a bag of blue cornmeal from the local farmers’ market and the suggestion that I teach you to chew slowly. Two days into the retreat she recommended that we chew the first three bites of each meal thirty times.

Meditation retreats are full of odd suggestions to the uninitiated. The first time I went to one the teachers told us as we took each bite of food to think about all the things that produced the food: air, sun, rain, soil, bacteria, seeds, farmers, labor, plants, wind, bees, etc., etc. We were eating vegetarian food so we did not have to think about the animals who died, although they did mention bugs and mice killed in the fields during harvest. They instructed us to note while we ate biting, chewing and swallowing, if not the arising of the urge to bite, chew and swallow.

After three meals of thirty-chew first, second and third bites, we compared notes. One woman said she noticed that each kind of lettuce tasted different. A couple of women said they forgot about slow chewing until partway through each meal. One said she normally ate her meals in five minutes and that the slow chewing allowed her to look around and notice where she was. Some people said they ate less food. Others said they digested their food better. Two of us said that once we started counting chews we found it hard to stop. Lisa provided statistics: 43 chews per piece of bread, 32 per bite of salad, 51 per leaf of kale.

When I thought I would bring you something back from New Mexico I thought perhaps I would bring the recipe for butternut squash lasagna with bechamel or the potato and artichoke soup with chicken, or the intriguing brown soup of roasted parsnips and turnips. I did not imagine I would tell you to chew three bites of food thirty times during your next three meals. Try it if you want. You might notice the licorice taste of tarragon in the soup, the bite of the basil salad dressing, see the way a raw onion sends its sulfurous chemicals to the roof of your hard palate soon after you taste first the sweetness, then the sharpness.

Meanwhile spring has hit California with rain, blooming rhododendrons, pale daffodils, camellia buds, flowering fruit trees. The cold mornings and nights call for wintry soups. Here’s an easy one, a gluten-free, vegan corn soup, made from the kind of things that can get you through the winter and the bright flavors of lime and cilantro, which grows here long after the basil is gone. I copied this from a bowl of soup I once had at Radio Valencia in San Francisco, taught myself to notice the flavors and construct a similar soup. You can make it in the summer, too, when sweet corn comes in, but frozen corn is adequate for these frigid days and it’s a nice change from winter roots and greens.

Easy Mexican Corn Soup

Mise in place: you will need just four ingredients: a bag of frozen corn, a jar of red salsa, two limes,  one bunch of washed cilantro (fresh coriander), including the roots. You may reserve a few cilantro sprigs for a garnish. Equipment: one stock pot, one chopping knife, one blender and two hands.

Get out your stockpot and put it on your largest burner.

Plunk your frozen corn into the stock pot and open your jar of salsa. Pour the salsa over the corn and turn on your burner to low heat. Cut your limes in half and squeeze their juice into the pot (I just use my hands for this). If the limes are hard, roll them around on your cutting board before cutting and squeezing them. Now chop your cilantro, roots, stems and all, and throw it into the pot. Rinse your salsa jar with plain water and add the water to the soup. Cook until the corn is soft and puree the soup in the blender. I do this in several batches, sometimes leaving some whole kernels of corn for texture and appearance.

Food notes: I have made this with one pound of corn and fourteen ounces of salsa and with three pounds of corn and 28 ounces of salsa. I have added roasted squash to it when I had some leftover and the corn seemed skimpy. You can adjust thickness and heat by adding more water or more salsa. I have made it with green salsa (salsa verde): the thing is, green salsa tends to make the soup too hot (this soup gains heat as it sits) and the color is not as pretty — I would recommend using red. If you don’t like cilantro, this is not a soup for you — I can’t think of another winter herb to substitute for it. If you can, go for it and report back to the rest of us. This soup has every virtue you could want: it is low in fat, gluten-free, dairy-free and makes use of seasonal herbs and citrus, plus common foods stored for the winter. The thing is, it does not taste like a virtuous soup, and you can always eat it with toasted cheese. Someone I know once suggested putting shrimp in it. Have at it. For more soups and salads featuring fresh herbs, check out the February entries at No Croutons Required on Tinned Tomatoes.

Chewing notes: This soup will not give you opportunity for chewing practice, but perhaps you could eat it with some bread, tortillas, or a green salad. I can attest to the fact that chewing See’s chocolates does not make you eat fewer of them, but it does allow you to enjoy them more — guess what we eat on Valentine’s Day?

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painting of red kabocha squash, soup ingredients

Red Kabocha Soup 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn Dimmick

In Wednesday’s veggie box we got a giant red kabocha squash. I was thinking of making it into a Thai-style soup with coconut milk and lemongrass, red chili and Thai basil. I asked Mom if she wanted chunky soup — i.e with vegetables floating in it — or a puree.

“Make the smooth soup,” she said. “We haven’t had it for a long time.”

I realized she was thinking of the butternut squash soup I make. I checked.

“You mean you just want me to make it with milk and ginger the usual way?”

She did. There went my exotic soup plans.

I had roasted the kabocha whole the previous night, acting on a tip from the farm newsletter that recommended roasting the whole squash and then cutting it open and scooping out the seeds and strings. I scooped the seeds and strings into a  pot, along with the roasted skins, setting the squash flesh aside, covered the squash innards and skin with water and set them to simmering while I peeled and diced two onions and took our ginger root out of the freezer.

After I strained the squash stock into a bowl, I got out my microplane to grate the ginger.The microplane is a handy tool you will find at any hardware store — I find mine indispensable for grating Parmesan and ginger and zesting citrus.

Using a stock pot, I heated a little olive oil and butter over low heat. In that I sauteed my onions, grating the ginger directly over the pot, and adding some crumbled thyme leaves.. Next up, squash stock and squash: into the stock pot they go. Cook for awhile and and add a sploosh of tamari (wheat-free soy sauce).

When the squash is soft I puree the hot soup in a blender in two or three batches,, pouring it back into the stockpot as I go. I add milk to taste or until I like the consistency, somewhere between a cup and a quart, depending on how large the squash was. I usually use one-percent milk, but you can use anything up to and including whipping cream, depending on your proclivities. Just don’t use skim milk if you are going to say it is my recipe. Or dried milk.

Roasted Red Kambocha Soup (or Butternut Squash Soup)

Roast 1 large whole red kambocha squash in a 350 oven until it is fully soft. (You can do this a day or two ahead like I did)

OR cut open 1 large butternut squash lengthwise, scoop strings and seeds into a saucepan, cover with water and cook for stock, and roast squash cut side down in a baking pan. If using butternut, deglaze the baking pan with water and add the results to your saucepan.

Separate your roasted squash flesh from your seeds, strings and skins.

Cover seeds, strings and skins with water and simmer in a saucepan for stock.

Meanwhile, peel and dice 2 medium or 1 large onion.

Heat 2 tsp, olive oil and 2 tsp butter in a stockpot over low heat.

Add onions.

Grate 1 Tbsp fresh ginger over sauteeing onions (easiest with your trusty microplane)

Crumble in dried thyme to taste. (We home-dry ours, letting bundles of fresh dry exposed to the air).

Strain stock through mesh strainer into stockpot. Discard solids.

Add squash flesh to stockpot. Cook for fifteen or twenty minutes until everything is soft

Add tamari to taste. Start with 2 tsp. (This is providing your salty taste — no need for salt).

Puree soup in blender in two or three batches, adding pureed soup back to stockpot.

Add milk to taste or to achieve desired thickness or thinness. If the soup gets thick while sitting, you can add more milk when you heat it.

Food notes: I developed this recipe originally for butternut squash and it makes lovely butternut squash soup. The kabocha soup is similar, but lighter in color. You could make it with any winter squash you like.

Because the ingredients are few, the preparation methods make a difference. Once you roast squash for soup, you will never want to mess with soup recipes calling for raw winter squash again. If you make the stock from skins, seeds and strings, your winter squash soup will have a depth of flavor unachievable if you just pour vegetable stock or chicken stock into it. Please try it once. If it sounds difficult, allow yourself to roast the squash one day, make the stock another day and make the soup a third, but it really doesn’t take long all told. If you are in a hurry, save the squash seeds and skins in the freezer to make stock with next time and use water, milk or some kind of stock — just know it won’t be as good.  I often mix up yeast bread dough while the squash is roasting to take advantage of the warm oven for the rise — there is nothing better than hot soup with homemade bread.

I have used evaporated milk, low-fat milk, whole milk and half and half in this soup at different times. If you use richer milk, it is richer. We find one-percent milk fine for everyday soup. If we were inviting celebrities to dinner, we might add a little half and half.

Tamari is less salty than regular soy sauce. I like the flavor better. If I had been making Thai style soup I would have used coconut milk for the milk and fish sauce for the tamari.

Obviously, you can make large or small batches of this soup, according to how much squash you start with: if you use a small squash, it will not yield as much flesh or stock and you can use less milk and one small onion. Use more squash, get more soup. You’ll have to taste it to know how much milk you like.

After I originally posted this I ran across the “No Croutons Required” October soup event, which requires bloggers to submit their delicious squash soups to Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes, http://www.tinnedtomatoes.com/2011/10/no-croutons-required-october-2011.html I am excited to submit this variation on one of my favorite soups to this long-running event.

* My little joke: I keep confusing “kabocha” and “kambocha.” The one with the “m” might be deadly in soup.

Painting note: For further information about “Red Kabocha Soup” or any other painting, please contact me here.