If I make it to the early yoga class, things line up so that I head in with unadulterated darkness behind me, but come back out to sun. It's a fleeting thing, but the contrast is especially bolstering. It adds to that ta-dah feeling of doing meaningful work to start your day. Crazy as it sounds, the making and eating of today's soup affords a similar feeling of goodwill.
It's the Chinese-inspired Chicken Noodle Soup from Simply Nigella, a book which includes this cake — the most beautiful bundt imaginable, but also one so dulcet with the persuasive combo of five spice and apple cider that it's looks are rendered a second billing. Since the book came out late last year it's shouldered itself comfortably into a spot in my regular rotation.
When it's me alone for lunch, brothy soups are my ideal. I make up some stock early in the week or late on the weekend, and then reheat it by the bowlful and cooking whatever add-ins I have around directly in my serving. Lawson's soup keys in on all that's appealing of that habit. The process is thoughtful and still the particulars are forgiving to fiddle to suit your likes.
Two days ago Sean brought home a plump but petite organic chicken, the perfect size to tuck snugly into a 4L cococtte. After a moment of bronzing, followed by a Shaoxing deglaze, the bird was joined by cilantro stalks, celery, and carrots, then water, garlic, ginger, soy, lime, and dried chiles. From there all is trusted to slowest blip and burble that can be maintained, under a lid clamped tight. But this, this is where it all shifts, goes sideways, and changes. What begins as intensely heady and clear, simmers into a with a wholly different character — one of redolent singularity rather than disparate components.
The chicken came from its soak, pale and splendidly tender. The broth, deeply flavourful with supple weight on the spoon was a triumph, the ideal example of the alchemy of slow cooking. I ladled a clear, steaming cupful and drank it standing by the stove, in raspy slurps so that the air would cool it just enough to save my mouth. It made me feel lit up while soothed, like medicine and precious reward all in one.
When it came time for a proper serving, I laid a bed of noodles in my bowl then nudged some shredded chicken up beside. I brought the soup to another boil, and added leeks followed by Shanghai bok choy; first the stalks, then the leaves, so that the former was poached but the latter only wilted. At the table there came radishes, sesame oil, more soy sauce, the leaves from the cilantro now, and sesame seeds. The garnishes accentuated the broth — think of turning up the light rather than stealing the spotlight— and the slipping, tangled slide of noodles and vegetables went down with ease.
As an epilogue, the leftovers lasted three meals more, which made Monday's endeavour feel especially productive and satisfying. I hope you're having a great week.
A quick endnote — Simply Nigella was photographed by my friend Keiko Oikawa and a public hooray for her felt apt. K, you've been such an inspiration for so many years, and you did an expectedly bang-up job with this. xx
One more — my cookbook was included in Food52's Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks this month, and while I was kicked out in the first round, to lose to Ruth Reichl hardly feels a loss at all. And, the nomination was truly the most unexpected honour. Cheers and thanks for that.
CHINESE-INSPIRED CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
"Actually, there are dual inspirations for this soup, for it really a version of My Mother's Praise Chicken from Kitchen infused with Chinese flavours. What you end up with is the sort of soup you want to eat in bowls held up inelegantly close to your mouth so that you are in easy slurping distance. I am embarrassed to say that I can't use chopsticks, unless they're the children's sort held together with a piece of card and an elastic band, but this soup really makes me want to learn.
I always recommend organic chicken (or organic meat generally) but I am mindful of the fact that not everyone can afford the luxury. Even so, if you use an intensively farmed chicken here (and the lack of taste is only one concern), you just won't get a flavoursome enough soup, in which case some bouillon cubes or concentrate in the water.
I've given an exuberant list of ingredients for sprinkling on at the end, as I love that final fling of flavour. And though I haven't added them here, should you be making a fresh foray to an Asian food store to make this, and you see Chinese flowering chives about, they would be a real treat, and are so beautiful. Despite the Asian inspiration for the soup's flavour, I make a steep geographical about-turn and use golden nests (one per person) of an egg-enriched tagliolini for the noodle element, though I do also love this with those very thin mug bean or rice vermicelli. In fact, I just can't think of a bad way of eating this: even noodle-less, and thus rather not living up to its title, this is bliss in a bowl. "
— from Simply Nigella, by Nigella Lawson (Appetite by Random House, 2015)
Serves 6 to 8
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SOUP
- 3 leeks, cleaned and trimmed
- 3 carrots, peeled and trimmed
- 3 stalks celery, trimmed
- 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 small or medium chicken, preferably organic
- 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup Chinese (Shaoxing) rice wine
- tied stalks from a bunch of cilantro, plus leaves to serve (see below)
- 2 1/2 quarts cold water
- 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or kosher salt
- 1 teaspoons Szechuan pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to serve
- 2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or minced
- zest and juice of 1 lime, preferably unwaxed
- 10 ounces baby bok choy, tatsoi, choi sum, or other greens of choice
- 4 ounces radishes
- 2 ounces dried fine egg noodles or vermicelli per person
- salt for noodle water to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil, plus more to serve (see below)
- Asian sesame oil
- 2 (or more to taste) fresh red chiles, seeded and finely diced (optional)
- leaves from a bunch of cilantro (see above)
- finely chopped chives (optional)
Slice each trimmed leek in half lengthways, and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Set aside. Cut the carrots into 1 1/2-inch lengths and quarter each log lengthways. Chop the celery into 1/2-inch slices, reserving any leaves to add to the soup at the end. Grate the ginger onto a plate for the time being. I use a microplane grater and get 4-5 teaspoons of fiery pulp out of this. Don't wash up the grater yet, as you'll need it for the garlic and lime later.
Now, with your vegetables prepped, untruss your chicken, cut off (but do not discard) the ankle part of the leg (I find kitchen scissors more than adequate to the task), and put the chicken, breast-side down, on a cutting board, then press down until you hear the breastbone crack — perhaps I shouldn't like this as much as I do — and the chicken is slightly flattened. Wash your hands, and then warm the tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan that comes with a lid and that's big enough to take all the ingredients comfortably; I use a saucepan of 12 inches in diameter, 5 inches deep, which is a tight, but good, fit.
When the oil hot, put the chicken in, breast-side down, and leave to brown for 3 minutes; the heat should not be too high for this or it'll start burning. Turn the chicken the other way up, then turn the heat to high and chuck in the rice wine. While it's bubbling, throw in the chicken ankle pieces along with the tied cilantro stalks, sliced carrots, and celery.
Pour in the water, then add the sea salt flakes, Szechuan pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes), soy sauce, and finely grated ginger. Add the garlic, then grate in the zest of the lime, and squeeze in the juice of half of it. Let this come to a boil.
Once it's bubbling, clamp on the lid, turn the heat to low, and let it simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Once the hour is up, take the lid off, then turn up the heat and bring it back to a boil again, and, once it is, add the leeks you sliced earlier. Cover partially with the lid and cook for 10 minutes, then let the broth simmer uncovered and confidently for another 10 minutes. This is to let the broth strengthen a bit. Then turn off the heat altogether, though keep the pan on the stove, clamp the lid back on, and leave for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. While this is going on, I'd put a saucepan of water on to boil the noodles later, and salt it when it comes to a boil.
When you want to eat, remove the chicken to a board: it may be falling to pieces, but so much the better. Remove the chicken skin (I discard it, as for me there's no joy in chicken skin unless it's crisp), then take the meat off the bone and shred it. And by the way, should you not use up all the chicken for the soup, know that it is magnificent — flavoursome and tender — in a salad or sandwich the next day.
Chop the stems of the greens you're using, and put the leaves into a separate pile. Quarter the radishes top to tail. Bring the pan of soup back to a boil, add the stalks of the greens and the quartered radishes, and let it come back to a boil once more. At the same time, add the noodles to the pan of boiling salted water, and cook them (if you're using the fine noodles or vermicelli they shouldn't take more than 2-3 minutes).
Add the leafy parts of the greens to the bubbling soup and drain the noodles. Put the noodles and shredded chicken into your serving bowls. Taste the soup for seasoning, and add more salt (or soy) and the juice of the remaining half of lime, if you think it needs it. When satisfied, ladle the fragrant broth, with its vegetables, on top of the chicken and noodles, add a drop of sesame oil to each bowl, then sprinkle with chopped chiles, cilantro, or chives, as you wish. Bring the bottles of soy sauce and sesame oil, and some more of the chopped chiles and herbs to the table for people to add as they eat. Warning: don't burn your mouth; this soup smells so good, I'm afraid it's easy to be dangerously impatient and eat while the soup's still scaldingly hot.
- Transfer leftover cooked chicken to a container, cover, and chill within 1 hour. It will keep in refrigerator for up to 3 days
- The cooked and cooled chicken can be frozen, in airtight containers or resealable bags, for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in refrigerator before using.
NOTE FROM TARA:
- Because I'm probably the only fan of radishes in my household (I'd be sad, but it means more for me), I left them out of the soup pot and added them instead to my serving alone.
Over the holidays, my brother gave me a box of family photo albums he's had since our maternal grandmother passed away in the summer of 2012. Between pages sticky with scratchy lines of yellowed glue and crackling sheets of protective plastic was a photo of grandma, younger than I can remember her, cooking with Aunty Surinder. Aunty was a close family friend, if not an actual relation.
The shot belongs with a few others in sequence. My grandfather, dressed in a pale yellow golf shirt with the collar neat, sitting with his elbows on a table, talking to a man whose back is to the camera. Another with grandma and aunty outside a small cottage, wearing sunglasses and smiling broadly at the photographer. My mother thinks the cottage must have been a rental of some sort, a forgotten holiday somewhere. Wherever it was, it looks green and temperate. And they look happy.
That one photo has stood out to me for the last two weeks, how the highest points of their smiles are just visible, the way their attention is on the stove and to each other. The particular blue on the carton and the eggs in the pan. Friends are going to India in a few weeks, and talk of their trip has had me thinking about my childhood visits there. I've been missing my grandmother in that hollow, aching way that comes with time, especially the feel of the skin on the back of her hands, her laugh, and her way with a good scramble. That photo, among all the others, even the ones where she's fully facing the camera, shook any dust off her memory.
Benjamin and William know of our friends travel plans, and that some others are newly engaged, and that another couple just bought a house. While the boys don't call Sean and my friends aunties and uncles, they do call them mister and miss. So it's Mister Jason, for example — I can't get past my upbringing of children not calling adults by their first names alone. What's more, in the naming of their misters and misses in the world, I hope the boys feel they've claimed the adults that are theirs, besides just Sean and I, our parents, and their aunts and uncles by blood.
For the last little while, William has held the firm belief that yellow soups are his favourite. I often make ones with squash or carrots, garlic, ginger, and cilantro, then chilies and coconut to take us somewhere in the area of Thailand, if not quite there. After last week's successful khao soi/squash experiment, I continued the streak with this Indian curried one.
Molly wrote about this soup more than two years ago; it is as simple as you'd want yet so bang-on exactly what it needs to be. The oomph comes from curry powder (honestly, I keep curry powder in the house for the aforementioned khao soi, mum's dry fried noodles, and this soup), but then its made all the more interesting by a partnership with maple syrup (!) and fish sauce. The maple syrup, and grade B is really the way to go here, has a darkness that is brought out by the savouriness of the fish sauce, so its sweetness melts into the background. Lime juice and Sriracha further sharpens the focus right at the front. It is the type of soup you make with such regularity that you take for granted how good it is. Which I totally did, until I was texting about it Sunday night. I'm glad I remembered. I won't soon forget.
(ROASTED) WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK
I like this soup with accompanied by a little bulk — a rag of griddled naan, a mound of brown rice or crisped quinoa in the bottom of the bowl. Or, as shown, with chubby cubes of firm tofu slathered in the same flavours as the soup (maple, Sriracha, fish sauce) then bronzed in a hot skillet until leathery-edged. I had the last of some cooked lentils knocking about, so stirred them through with yogurt, cilantro, mustard sprouts and a pinch of Kashmiri chile powder, then spooned them over the tofu for another collection of textures. Cashews worked over in a mortar and pestle would also be nice.
The method for the soup was barely changed by me in roasting the squash first, but everything else is an adaption by Molly Wizenberg from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens via Lisa Moussalli's own adaptation. I agree with Molly in that butternut is the best squash for the task, but red hubbard and butterkin aren't bad. Acorn makes the soup a bit more khaki and it somehow tastes it, too. The ace method for roasting squash entirely from Molly Hays at Remedial Eating. The squash is roasted whole — no peeling! No hacking! No scraping of seeds still stubborn! Wins all around! — then split once soft enough to do so without resistance. It is brilliant.
- 1 winter squash (about 2 pounds / 500 g)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium or large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 or 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 cups (475 ml) chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha or other Asian chile sauce
- Juicy wedges of lime, for serving
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Place a whole winter squash on a rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet (see note, below). Bake the squash until tender enough to be pierced deeply with the tip of a knife with only modest resistance, about 30 minutes. Carefully split the squash down its length, being careful of the steam. Flip the squash facedown on the pan and pop back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes more until squash tender but still firm. Turn the squash so their faces are now upturned, and roast for 10 minutes more. Set aside until the squash are cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a 4 to 6-quart Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or 2 more. Sprinkle in the curry powder, and stir around for 1 minute. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. If using an upright blender, transfer onions and coconut milk to its carafe, along with the broth. Scrape the seeds out of the squash and discard, then spoon the flesh into the blender as well. Purée until smooth and velvety (alternatively, do all of this in the pot with an immersion blender). Pour the soup back into the pot, stir in the maple syrup, fish sauce, and Sriracha, and check for seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer, then serve with fresh lime wedges alongside for squeezing on top.
- When I roast winter squash this way I tend to do a whole bunch all at once — basically however much my oven can hold. This way it justifies turning the oven on, and then I'm set for soup (or whatever use you might have for roasted squash) for the week.
I wrote about Sara Forte's last book, her first book, right after my grandmother passed away. That sounds a morbid opening, but I don't mean it to be. In truth, the association offers its own kind of comfort. Sara's food is very much a means of taking good care of yourself, and a means to do so for those you love. My association of welcome and Sara is indelible, and I think that may be the same for a lot of you, too.
Sara's new book with photography by her husband Hugh, Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon, is just memorable as that first, and once again arrived at a time when my grandmother was on my mind.
With my own book coming out in 12 days (12 days!!) the reality has settled in. It has landed on my shoulders not as weight, but as something else, like the static shocks you get from rubbing your feet on the carpet. It feels like a current buzzing between my shoulder blades.
And, with each day closer, I wonder more and more often about what my grandmother would think of the book.
Gigi had a tendency to grant praise partnered with just enough criticism that the compliment didn't go to your head. While it may have come across as feisty, or perhaps sharp of her to say so, the critique kept things in perspective. And, there was the added value of that.
Once, upon reading an article I'd written, she told it was very good, but maybe too serious. It would benefit from a joke. Preferably a dirty one.
In my view, Sara's book, and her work in general, offers both deliciousness and perspective in balance. Interwoven with her inventive combinations of texture and taste is subtle encouragement and simple advice on making sensible, responsible choices for our health and environment. Beauty and flavour are not sacrificed in her commitment to whole food and eating healthfully, but rather highlighted by it, as she creates meals without anything to get in the way of the natural gorgeousness of her ingredients.
The book is centred around what Sara calls "bowl food", an inherently soul-satisfying concept. That style of serving, with everything nudged up close in a vessel with nothing overwrought in its presentation or eating, is actually my favourite sort of meal. I like how you can gather up whatever components in your ideal proportion and how, often, it's a one-utensil, no-cutting-required kind of ease of mealtime. (Especially helpful for when you're feeding kids, or particularly tired adults. Or particularly tired adults attempting to feed children.)
Sara fills her bowls with all manner of grains, pulses, and vegetables, with lean proteins included now and again. She has morning to night sorted, including dessert. One day for lunch I made her Baked Eggs with Barely Creamed Greens and Mustardy Bread — it was supposed to be bread "crumbs" but I have an affection for a fatty-fat chunk of bread, so made rustic croutons instead. Some were small about a half-inch or so, others big, for double-dunking into the egg. The mustard on those toasty cubes is a winner, along with their bit of salt. The vinegar and assertive seasoning splits the richness of the cream, yolk, and cheese in the bowl. I used kale for my greens and they were perfectly silky but not obscenely rich. I've made her ribboned salad with maple-glazed tofu, am making her leek and pea soup for a friend today, and have plans for her soaked oats and Eton mess once the local berries arrive. (Please tell me that spring is coming. Today it's freezing rain. Again.)
Bowl and Spoon is the perfect companion to Sara's first book, and very much the extension of what she started there. It's Sara through-and-through, which may be all I need to say.
Before we get to the recipe, a bit of housekeeping. First off, thank you to those of you who have preordered my book! For a moment there it was at #1 on two categories on Amazon, and I almost fell out of my chair. Seriously. You guys are too great. It has been such a treat to see folks cooking from the preorder recipe bundle, and I hope you're loving the brownies. (Please tag me when you share images or thoughts — @taraobrady on all social media — or use the tag #sevenspoonscookbook, if you can! I don't want to miss any.)
That said, the two recipes exclusive to the bundle (there are also five recipes from the book, including flaky biscuits!), are just that — only available with preorders. So if the one bowl, crackly-topped, gluten free brownies or garlicy, herby, chickpea yogurt soup are recipes you'd like, that's the way to get them. (The link to claim your recipe pack are on the sidebar.)
There's more! Penguin Random House of Canada has posted their own preview, with not only except of some of the book's text, but also my Bee Stung Fried Chicken with Korean gochujang honey to finish, and my method for Avocado Toast. Take a look, here.
Also, I've started adding events to the News + Events section on the top bar. There will be more there soon!
Finally, for I truly appreciate all the feedback on what sort of information you'd hope to see in regards to writing a book, and how the opportunity came about for me. I'm working on the posts, and so keep any such suggestions coming! Until then, Heidi shared the most beautiful look at her proposal process, and it is truly inspiring.
That's it for now. I want to pop in once more before the book comes out, so I'll see you then.
BAKED EGGS WITH BARELY CREAMED GREENS AND MUSTARDY BREAD
"This started as a Bon Appétit recipe that got repurposed for the blog, and now has made its way into bowl format for this book. I am always looking for everyday breakfast that can be put together relatively quickly, especially with eggs. I bake these in small shallow baking dishes, but a large ramekin or cast-iron pan works great as well. I assume two eggs per person and serve it with fruit and toast for dipping in the yolks.
The French, who more beautifully call baked eggs oafs en cocotte, often use a bain-marie for ideal egg texture, but I find the following approach just as suitable. "
— From Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon by Sara Forte (Ten Speed Press, 2015)
- 1 tablespoons coarse ground mustard
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups fresh torn bread, in bite-sized pieces
- 1 bunch Swiss chard (or spinach, kale, or a mix), stemmed and coarsely chopped (about 9 cups chopped)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for the pans
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
- Fresh ground pepper
- 8 eggs, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup grated Gruyère
- Few sprigs fresh thyme, for garnish
- Chopped freshly parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400°F and set a rack in the upper third. Wipe the insides of four gratin dishes or large ramekins with butter and set on a baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix together the coarse ground mustard, 1 tablespoon of the Dijon mustard, the olive oil, and salt. Add the bread crumbs and toss to coat. Spread the on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until crispy. Set the bread crumbs aside, but leave the oven on.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add just enough water to cover the bottom; add the greens. Toss until wilted down, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a strainer and press out the excess liquid. You should have about 2 heaping cups greens. Wipe out the skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until translucent, about 1 minutes. Add the greens, the remaining tablespoon of Dijon mustard, the cream, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until warmed through and just thickened, about 3 minutes.
Divide the greens between the prepared dishes and bake on the sheet in the upper third of the oven for 8 minutes. Remove sheet and carefully break two eggs onto the greens in each dish. Sprinkle the tops with a pinch of pepper and a few tablespoons of the Gruyère and bake for 6 minutes, until the whites are just cooked but the yolks still runny. Let them sit for a minute to settle. Garnish with the bread crumbs, thyme, and parsley.
NOTES FROM TARA:
- The well-prepared cook I am, I was out of parsley and thyme, so had to leave them off. I added dried chile flakes for some extra colour and because I have an addiction to spice with eggs and cheese.
There are many reasons why I could never be a photojournalist. Chief among them being that when I travel, I regularly forget to take many photos.
Case in point, when I went to Seattle at the end of October, most of the pictures I have of my time there were taken over two days, even though I was there for eight.
Instead, of documenting things as I intend, I get distracted by them. Lost the view on a drive down the coast; the road that winds and climbs beside the shore, and mountains that look like a theatre backdrop. Or caught up in people watching and the rose petal dukkah at The London Plane, or the roast chicken and the staggeringly-piled meringues at The Whale Wins, or the pizzas sold by the kilo at Pizzeria Gabbiano — two fingers' width worth of four types makes a fine lunch. (By the way, those pizzas are Roman-style, and brilliant with toppings like pistachio with mortadella, squash with mushrooms and blue cheese, and I hear they currently offer one with persimmon and 'nduja. If you go, please try it for me.)
Then it is the brioche at Le Pichet, a breakfast sandwich to write home about, too many coffees to count, and a walk through the art museum, and a few through the market, and return trip to a trio of food shops (here, here, and here). The guava ginger beer at Rachel's reminded me of India, my grandfather's house, and sitting on the dark green hood of his car eating guavas from the tree in the yard.
Or its the multiple feasts between Delancey and Essex; skinny-and-wood-fired pizza (a crust with bubbles and char and chew), lamb barbacoa on toast, oysters, and succulent-as-all-get-out burgers the size of my fist. And The Man About Town, Ashley's Sazerac, and the scent of flamed cinnamon stick for that one cocktail (it stings the nostrils. In a good way.) Those spaces are immediately welcoming, with tables close enough to feel like everyone's at the same party. And where everyone seems to be a regular. I want to be a regular.
(I need to get back for Taco and Tiki Tuesday.)
And then people.
Aran is the one that brought me to the Seattle, to lead a workshop on the mechanics of telling stories across multiple disciplines — basically, how photography and words, and even food, can be teamed up, and how we can make the best use of each to serve an overall whole. We covered the elements and principles of design, the fundamentals of writing, and copy and developmental edits. We took photos and made notes, and swapped inspirations. Aran and Bee made recipes from my manuscript for lunch (one of which is below — if you hover your mouse over the photo, details will swoosh up like magic). I talked a lot about working with intention, which made me think a lot about what my own aims and goals are with what it is I do.
It was a grand group in the studio that weekend.
I was in the midst of a community of creative people, each driven in their different ways; some writers, others artists, designers, business owners — all actively pursuing their own goals. And again, with such company the topic of conversation meandered to work, ours and others, comparing approaches and the challenges of experiences. (It wasn't always so serious. Subjects also included Bollywood films, high school dating, bleaching one's hair with lemon juice, numbered streets, scarves, and the O'Hooligan boys).
One night, Tara and I stood on the near a bonfire with high flames that deserved photography, and talked about our cities, about purpose and plans, and family. There was a chill in the air, but we didn't need coats. You could see downtown from where we were, multicoloured and evenly glowing, and between there and where we were was the silken rippling expanse of the inlet, reflecting that light here and there like sparks.
My book went to the printer on December 1st.
In a printshop somewhere, its starting to exist as something real. Physical. With a weight that can be held in hand rather than felt in the abstract. Once I am able to share a more about its contents in this space, I have every intention of then sharing that much more about what I was trying to get across with its writing. Seattle gave me a chance to practice what I want to say.
I'm looking forward to it.
Since I've been home, I've started a habit of soup. I think it's Aran's influence, as she has this witchy ability to make simple soups with remarkable depth.
One that has been a large part of this current trend, is from Amy Chaplin's book At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, which was released just over a month ago. It is a curry-bright carrot bowlful scented with lime leaves and lemongrass, spiked by chilies and smoothed out with coconut milk. It starts with aromatics in the pan to sauté, then in goes everything else. It's a breeze to get together in less less than 10 minutes, then it is left to blip contentedly on the stove for 20 minutes more. It is voluptuous and comforting, with enough heat to restrain the vegetal sweetness and an aromatic freshness. While it is vegan, I wouldn't call that it is its selling point. It is an excellent, stomach-and-soul satisfying meal, simple as that, which is to say, everything Amy's food is about.
Amy has 20 years experience in the food industry, as a former executive chef, teacher, recipe developer, and private chef. She is a vegetarian, and her recipes are often vegan, yet once more, that status doesn't come across as first impression. Amy cooks seasonally, with a globe-covering collection of influences, never encumbered by unnecessary fuss, or sacrificing flavour for dietary restriction. There is never a feeling of absence with the recipes, they have everything they need. The dishes are sometimes soothing, others vibrant and rousing. It is truly good food, first and foremost, which just so happens to be accompanied by a sensible, and adaptable approach to feeding ourselves in a conscientious way.
It is an impressive collection of over 150 recipes, from pantry staples to full meals, beginning with an in-depth discussion of ingredients and Amy's practices when it comes to how she cooks. It is an invaluable resource, a true reference as well as a cookbook. It gives the reader the tools to change the way they eat, and by extension, their health, and our environment. The book itself is almost intimidating in its beauty, verging on an object to behold rather than use — but then Amy's enthusiasm and quiet, approachable expertise shines off the pages and you're charmed.
Amy, mission accomplished.
And Seattle, I can't wait see you again.
SPICY CARROT SOUP WITH LIME LEAVES AND COCONUT
Making a pot of this invigorating soup in the middle of winer is the perfect antidote to cold, gray days. The lively flavours of ginger and chill are tempered by a good splash of coconut milk, creating a gorgeous texture and bright orange colour. The lime leaves and lemongrass give the soup a nice lift, but if you don't have them on hand, don't worry. I have made this dish many times without them with delicious results.
Note: in cold weather, coconut milk is solid at room temperature. To melt it, place the can in a bowl of a hot water for a few minutes, then shake well before using.
— From At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well by Amy Chaplin (Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., 2014)
FOR THE SOUP
- 2 stalks lemongrass, halved lengthwise and chopped in 2-inch pieces
- 6 lime leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
- 2 teaspoons curry powder (see note below)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 3 tablespoons minced cilantro stems, leaves reserved for garnish
- 10 medium-large carrots (2 1/2 pounds) cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 8 cups)
- 6 cups filtered water
- 1 (13.5-ounce) can unsweetened full-fat coconut milk, stirred and divided
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
- Cilantro leaves
- Sliced red chilies
Wrap lemongrass and lime leaves in a piece of cheesecloth and tie it tightly. Set aside.
Warm coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, and sauté for 5 minutes, or until golden. Add garlic, ginger, serrano chili, and salt; cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, lowering heat if mixture begins to stick. Stir in curry powder, turmeric, and cilantro stems. Add carrots, water, 1 1/4 cups coconut milk, and lemongrass-lime leaf bundle. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes or until carrots are tender. Remove from heat and remove lemongrass-lime leaf bundle and compost.
Blend soup in batches in an upright blender on highest speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until completely smooth and velvety; return to pot and season to taste. Stir in cayenne pepper, if using. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each bowl with a drizzle of reserved coconut milk, cilantro leaves, and chilies.
NOTES (from Tara)
- Lime leaves are often sold frozen at Asian groceries and will keep for ages in the freezer. They might also be called murkat lime leaves.
- I used Amy's curry powder from the book, but any one you like will be fine here. The water can also be replaced with vegetable stock.
- To serve, I added browned cubes of paneer, along with cashews I'd bashed around in a mortar and pestle.
Now! Finally! Since you made it this far! To in addition to sharing this recipe, Amy and Roost Books generously sent a copy of At Home in the Whole Food kitchen for me to pass on to one of you! If you'd like to be in the running, please comment below to that effect, and be sure to include an email address when you sign in (i.e. on the form, not in the comment field). A winner will be randomly selected after 8 PM EST Friday, December 12, 2014. UPDATE! Congratulations to CASEY on winning the book! I'll be in touch via email. Thanks to all who entered.
One more thing! On the topic of coming home, my friend Tiffany Mayer's book on Niagara and its food was released this fall. It chronicles the region's farming history, its present food culture, and the hopes for its future in an ever-changing environment and economy. The book, called Niagara Food, reads like a chat with a particularly smart friend, and celebrates not only this area's bounty, but also the people who make it their life's work to feed others. She did such a great job with it.
About two weeks ago I walked out on a pier that stretches into Lake Ontario. That pier runs parallel to another one, one that crops out from the edge of the neighbourhood where I grew up. It was a grey and windy day, with cotton batting clouds to almost the horizon, but you could still see Toronto from this shore. There was a queue of steamships, the kind my father used to sail, anchored in deeper water; they were waiting for their turn up the canal, or for a pilot to board, or something like that. The pier doesn't look that long until you've made it to its end — at which point you'll find a park bench, a collection of boulders, and a life preserver on a stand.
Over the last two months, I finished my book. Recipes, headnotes, and photos, sent off into the world (really to the offices of my publisher). We've worked through one round of edits, the design is well underway, and in just less than seven months from now, it will be in bookstores. Then it will really, no-turning-back-now out in the world.
Very soon I'll be able to share more, including, fingers crossed, a peek at the cover (!!) and some of the nitty gritty about what you'll find inside.
It's funny. A friend told me recently that she thought I'd been quiet about the book, and I was speechless; flabbergasted even. (As an aside, flabbergasted is such a fine word.) From my perspective, I've lived and breathed this book for the last year or so. I've often heard it said that writing a book is like having a child, like the delivery part — the effort, the stress, the worry and then the relief and reward. For me, writing a book was like having a child. Not being in labor, but when the baby is home and you're tasked with the care of it. The Book was on my mind always, even when I was away from it. I went to it first thing in the morning, and put it to bed each night. Some nights, I went to bed with it, quite literally sleeping with a stack of pages on the nightstand.
Now it's a Sunday afternoon and I'm reconstructing our dining room. When I was in the depths of the book I found it more productive if I could write right beside the kitchen instead of working upstairs. Even if I wasn't cooking from the manuscript, cooking while writing kept me in the proper mindset . So this table, intended to seat eight, currently seats a monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, external hard drive, a stack of notebooks, another of books, my camera, its battery, a bottle of Tylenol, a pile of receipts, and a tin of cookies a friend sent me from Paris.
One of the books in said stack, fittingly enough, is David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. Since that book came out, it's not made it to my bookshelf, but rather has spent its days on this table or in my kitchen, since I've been using it so much. In the first week, we made David's croque-monsieurs twice, with lots of mustard and cornichons on the plate, and a salad of bitter greens to join them. Then I made two of his tapenades —the artichoke with rosemary and the green olive with almonds — for summer afternoon snacking, then, when the basil and vegetables were plentiful in our weekly CSA box, his soupe au pistou made quick work of the bounty. Now that the weather is cooling I'm eyeing the scalloped potatoes with blue cheese and roasted garlic and the roast lamb with braised vegetables and salsa verde.
I have such faith in his recipes that the first time I made the dish that follows, I went for a double batch. It's a bowl of fat couscous studded with nuts and fruit, including preserved lemons. We had it warm with a roasted chicken and some green beans, then the next day I had it at room temperature with bronzed slices of halloumi. It was filling without too much heft, fragrant and refreshing with fruit. The pinch of cinnamon provided an elusive, purring sort of backnote of spice that was especially effective.
This is such a useful book, full of the kind of recipes my family and I adore, including unexpected additions like caramel pork ribs, meatballs with sriracha, and naan stuffed with Laughing Cow cheese. And I've not even gotten started with the desserts (why hello, coffee cème brulée and carrot cake).
My Paris Kitchen is beautiful. Ed Anderson's photography is stunning; he conveys the beauty of Paris as artfully as he does the food. Then there are David's essays; longer passages that give context to the recipes, and offer a glimpse into his past experiences and his present days. He is sharply funny, charming, and so damn knowledgeable. This is the kind of book you want to spend some time with.
Speaking of spending time, I've missed this. It's good to be back, and it's good to see you.
LEMON-PISTACHIO ISRAELI COUSCOUS
Recipe by David Lebovitz, from his book My Paris Kitchen. (Copyright 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved). The recipe and method as they are in the book, with my notes below. As David says in the headnote, orzo is a good substitute for the Israeli couscous.
SERVES 4 to 6
- 1 preserved lemon
- 1/2 cup (30 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (80 g) diced dried fruit (any combination of cherries, cranberries, apricots, prunes, or raisins)
- 1/2 cup (65 g) unsalted (shelled) pistachios, very coarsely chopped (almost whole)
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/4 cups (225 g) Israeli couscous or another small round pasta
- Freshly ground black pepper
Trim the stem end from the lemon and cut it into quarters. Scoop out the pulp and press it through a strainer into a bowl to extract the juices; discard the pulp. Finely dice the preserved lemon rind and add it to the bowl along with the parsley, butter, dried fruit, pistachios, salt, and cinnamon.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the couscous and add it to the bowl, stirring until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are well mixed. Season with pepper and serve.
NOTES (from Tara)
- The same weekend I made this salad, my good friends Adam and Tamara catered an event with a salad of couscous with grapes and pine nuts. So inspired , I used diced red seedless grapes instead of the dried fruit, adding them once the couscous had cooled to warmish room temperature.
- I went a bit generous with the herbs, using a mix of (mostly) parsley and cilantro — probably using about 3/4 cup (45 g) chopped herbs in total.
- I bashed the few pistachios left in the jar to a powder in a mortar and pestle as garnish.
- To serve, I layered the couscous with about 9 oz ( 255 g) halloumi, which had been cut into 1/4-inch slices and fried in a medium-hot nonstick pan until they were golden on both sides.
- If you don't have preserved lemons, this quick version from Mark Bittman is quite good and only takes a few hours of sitting at room temperature. The ratio of lemons to salt and sugar is 1 : 1 teaspoon : 2 teaspoons, so you can do as many or as few lemons as you'd like. If using these lemons, simply mince the flesh and peel very finely and add them, along with accumulated juices, to the bowl in Step 1.
In my family, the equivalent to "when I was young, I walked to school through three feet of snow .. uphill — both ways!" is the distance it used to take to buy cilantro (though we call it dhanya).
If you've ever cooked Indian food, you know how essential this herb is, and when my parents first moved to our small city in the very late 1970s, they had to drive 45 minutes to a larger city to buy it. Not from a supermarket, but from an Indian grocery that was long and narrow, with four rows of shelves forming two aisles, stacked to the ceiling. There my parents would get on burlap sacks of rice and bags of atta (a type of flour) that came up to my childhood-height waist, vegetables like okra and bitter gourd, spices and dried lentils of all colours. Sometimes they'd come home with samosas, a plastic-wrapped tray of neon jalebi or a mixed box of halwa, luddu, gulab jamun and other sweets.
These dumplings, kimchi-and-tofu filled mandu, aren't Indian, instead Korean (the kimchi might have been a giveaway), but I was reminded of those grocery trips when I was shopping for ingredients at one of the Asian markets in town. (The chain groceries here are now much more comprehensive, but I still go to the smaller shops when I can.)
My husband taught English in Korea, and the foods he misses most are barbecue, "special toast" (Gaeran toast) and vegetarian mandu. The latter two refer specifically to those made by a woman who ran a stall on his block. The toast was her unique combination of cabbage, cheese, egg and ketchup, sandwiched between bread and fried in butter, and while I've tried to pin down an approximation, I've never come close. The mandu was special, too. Many mandu will have ground pork or beef, often with mung bean sprouts and kimchi. This lady made hers with bean thread noodles, no kimchi, and were served crisp, dunked into a fiery soy-based sauce.
Since I've failed with the toast, I thought I would take a different tack for the dumplings; aiming instead for mandu that were similar, but different enough to save from comparison.
In went kimchi. (I love kimchi.)
That kimchi, hot and nose-pricklingly perfect as it is, tinges everything else in my chosen filling — the aforementioned bean noodles, some enoki, crumbled tofu curd, green onion and garlic —- an unfortunate pink hue.
I'll be the first to say it, the filling doesn't look like much in the bowl. Give it a chance.These mandu are entirely about texture, not looks, plus the stuffing gets folded up and crimped in a cover, anyway.
Steamed or boiled, the dumpling wrapper has a bland, rubbery chew that gives way to an unexpected lightness within. The slick crunch of the kimchi and aromatic sting of the onion is mitigated by the spongy nubs of mushroom, while the tofu, wrung out of its moisture and mashed, is mild and balancing. The vermicelli is smooth and delicate, and the sesame oil adds a subtle, thrumming richness that runs through everything else. When fried, the contrast between exterior and interior is even more apparent.
The Asian market I went to the other day was just opening; one of the ladies who runs the shop was still pulling off the newspapers they use to cover the refrigerator cases at night. Below the dumpling wrappers there were trays of quail eggs, which were too cute to pass by. What's more, the combination of salt and chili and yolk isn't one to pass up either.
What I did pass up was a small rectangular tin, in between the boxes of Pocky and bottles of Kewpie mayo, shining blue and brass in an intricate pattern and the impressive label of Gourmet Powder. At the register I found out it was MSG. Still, I'm tempted to make another trip to pick it up, for the packaging alone.
After all, it's only 10 minutes away.
KIMCHI TOFU MANDU (Korean dumplings)
My own recipe. Vegan, though the eggs to serve are certainly not. Easily adapted for those who prefer gluten-free, in which case please see link below for homemade wrappers.
FOR THE DUMPLINGS (makes about 65)
- 12 1/2 ounces / 350 g firm tofu
- 8 ounces / 225 g cabbage kimchi
- 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g bean thread noodles, prepared as per package
- 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g enoki mushrooms, trimmed and blanched for 30 seconds
- A small bunch green onions, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
- 1 pound round dumpling wrappers, conventional or gluten-free (link to recipe)
TO SERVE (enough for approximately 32, serving 4 to 6)
- 1/4 cup / 60 ml tamari or soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon natural cane or golden brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- A good pinch gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes), optional
- Pea shoots
- Soft-boiled eggs, optional
Pat the tofu dry. If it still feels wet, wrap in a clean, lint-free tea towel and place a cutting board on top to press out water. Let stand for a few minutes. In a large bowl, mash the tofu with the back of a fork. Squeeze excess liquid from kimchi, chop finely, and add to the bowl. Do the same with the noodles and mushrooms, and stir into the tofu kimchi mixture, along with the green onions, garlic, sesame oil and tamari. Taste for seasoning, adding more oil or tamari as needed; the mixture should be quite dry. If you have time, cover and refrigerate for an hour or so to let the flavours develop.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust with cornstarch. Lay a few dumpling wrappers out on a work surface, and cover the rest with a damp, lint-free tea towel to keep from drying. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the centre of each of the arranged wrappers, then use fingers or a brush dampen the edges with a bit of water. I find it easiest to lay each filled (but open) wrapper across my palm, forming the dumpling between my hands, that might not be the case for everyone. In hand or on the counter, fold each dumpling in half, pushing out all the air and pressing the edges together to seal. Wet the corners and bend inwards to bring them together, overlapping slightly. Pinch gently to secure. Place on the prepared sheet and cover with another piece of parchment. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
If not cooking right away, freeze the mandu on the baking sheet, making sure to leave some room in between. Once firm, transfer to an airtight container for storage.
To cook, steam, boil in water or broth to make soup, sauté, shallow fry, or fry/steam for potstickers. (For specifics on potsticker technique, Heidi has instructions.) Since there is no raw meat involved, the filling simply needs to be warmed through and the wrappers cooked and tender, which should take only a few minutes.
When ready to serve make a sauce by combing tamari, water, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds and gochugaru in a bowl. Arrange cooked mandu on a serving plate, surrounded by pea shoots or other greens, and eggs, if using. Drizzle with some of the sauce and divide the rest among smalls bowls for dipping.
A completely unrelated p.s. — Nikole wrote about a ice cream cake I made for a story we did with Michael for Kinfolk magazine last year. If you're interested in the mint-and-vanilla details, be sure to check it out.