Greek Taco Salad

Greek Tacos?  Is that possible?  Is that against the rules? Who ever heard of that and what exactly is it?

Yes, let’s hope so, no (What rules? There are no rules!), and keep reading!

I certainly never heard of Greek Taco Bowls before so I have created them right here. My son and daughter-in-law sent me a Christmas gift with a card saying they hope their gift will inspire me for my blog.

It did! They gave me a set of special pans to make fluted taco or tortilla bowls! You put the soft taco or tortilla into them and bake and you get a free-standing bowl to fill with your ingredients.

I enjoy Mexican food but I wanted to start with something different. What else could be shaped into these cool bowls?  Phyllo dough!

GREEK TACO BOWLS (Serves 4)

  • frozen whole wheat phyllo dough (sometimes spelled “fillo”)
  • 2 cups romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup diced, seeded cucumbers
  • 1 cup diced, seeded tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup diced red onions
  • 15-20 pitted, chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese (or non-dairy cheese if you don’t eat feta)
  • 1 cup white Navy and/or garbanzo beans (cooked or canned)
  • mint leaves (Parsley can be substituted if you don’t have or want mint)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Preserved Lemon Rinds

Make Your Phyllo Bowls

Follow the directions on the package for using the phyllo dough.  It is necessary to defrost frozen phyllo dough in the refrigerator for about 7 hours and then bring it to room temperature which takes 1-2 hours.  The unused dough can be re-frozen. I used eight sheets of phyllo dough. Phyllo dough is thin as paper and dries out fast. Once you have gotten your sheets out, keep them covered with wax paper and work fast.

You’ll need at least eight layers in each pan to make a bowl that can stand up to being filled. If you don’t have special taco bowl pans, you can use individual pie pans, ramekins, oven-safe soup bowls, tart pans or even a muffin tin. You may need to do a little more shaping to get the bowl looking the way you want it to.

I used the back of a baking sheet to work with the large sheets of phyllo. I oiled the surface of the sheet with olive oil and folded it in half, then oiled the exposed surface and folded in half again. That made four layers. I repeated the process so I had two sheets–eight layers in all–for each bowl. Tuck the edges under to help shape them.

OIL THE PHYLLO 2

Once you’ve got your pans layered, bake them (unfilled) as directed on the package.  Mine baked at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  They are done when they are firm and lightly browned.  Let them cool completely before carefully removing them–they are delicate!

UNFILLED BOWL PAINT

Prepare Your Salad

Wash the cucumbers and tomatoes.  I don’t peel my organic cucumbers.  I do like to remove the seeds for this dish, because I don’t want the extra liquid making my phyllo bowl soggy.  To do this, slice the cucumber in half the long way and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.  To remove the tomato seeds, cut the tomato in quarters and use your fingers to gently push out the seeds and extra liquid.

Dice the cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. Chop up some olives. Drain the beans. Slice the lemon rinds.  If you don’t have these, check out how to make them and you’ll have them for next time.  For this time, use a bit of lemon zest instead.

Wash and dry the lettuce and break into bite-size pieces.  If you are making this with small bowls such as an individual muffin cup, break the lettuce very small or shred it. Set the lettuce aside.

Wash the mint leaves and remove the stems. Pile the leaves on top of each other and roll them up lengthwise.  Use a sharp knife to thinly slice the roll and you get a nice pile of thin slivers of mint.  This method is called “chiffonade.” and is also useful for slicing things like basil leaves. If you used parsley instead, just wash it and give it a rough chop.

Crumble your feta cheese. Mix the cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, beans, olives, feta, mint and preserved lemon rind or lemon zest together (Not the lettuce).  Dress the mix with a simple combination of 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1-2 crushed garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the salad.

Assemble

Plate your phyllo bowls.  Fill the bowls 1/3 full with lettuce, then pile the dressed salad mix on top. Garnish with mint leaves and a little extra feta.

GREEK TACO SALAD

Obviously there is an infinite variety of ingredients for this kind of dish!  Our thoughts wandered way, way off track toward ice cream with espresso or dark chocolate balsamic vinegar on top. What combination would you like to try?

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Seize the Chocolate!

My 2013 venture into Dark Chocolate Mousse has already taught me a few things! For instance, I had been wondering whether the texture of my first mousse, after it was chilled, was meant to be so firm.

In my search for future recipes, I came across the term “seize.”

I shouted, “Seize the Chocolate!” (Or in Latin thanks to Google Translate, “Carpe Socolate!) ” My definition: “Seize” is what one does immediately after it is cool enough to eat.

Or perhaps this is something the Red Queen said at Easter when she spied a chocolate bunny.  She said, “Seize the Chocolate and bite off his head!”

(Photo credit: http://www.candyblog.net)

(Photo credit: http://www.candyblog.net)

No, that can’t be what they mean. Honestly, I had not heard “seize” used like this before and didn’t know what it meant as a cooking term. Hmmm . . . maybe I ought to know since it seems to be about chocolate.

Here’s what I found on www.recipetips.com:

As a culinary term, it refers to chocolate that becomes a stiff thick mass when being melted. It is a result of just a tiny amount of liquid or steam coming in contact with the chocolate when it is being melted, causing it to harden and become clumpy. The seized chocolate can be salvaged by adding a very small amount of cocoa butter, clarified butter or vegetable oil and stirring until the stiff mass smooths out. Do not add more than one tablespoon of the butters or oil per six ounces of chocolate. If the salvaged chocolate is going to be combined with other ingredients, realize that the texture of the finished product may be affected.
On another site, dinnerwithjulie.com, I read:

If the mixture starts to seize or break down, immediately stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of the whipped cream to smooth out the mixture.

I had a feeling that seizing chocolate was undesirable. I don’t recall if my dark chocolate came in contact with any steam or water, but you can be sure future melted chocolate will be protected from seizing at all costs!

This is a very handy tip, don’t you think? What is your advice on cooking with chocolate? (I need all the help I can get!)

And here’s another question:  If your chocolate seizes, do you say it had a seizure?

Roasted Garlic Trio

I’d like to share my family’s New Year’s Eve tradition with you.  It’s not an old tradition for us because I’m the one that started it. (And I am not old, I swear!) But it seems to have taken hold in our family circle and I certainly plan to continue making and eating it.

What can I say?  I make no excuses.  Some people jump into icy water with their Polar Bear Club every New Year’s Day–I eat garlic.

ROASTED GARLIC WITH BLACK OLIVE PASTE CANAPES (Serves 4-6)

  • Three whole bulbs of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Black olive paste or black olive tapenade (found in gourmet and specialty stores)
  • Crackers–your choice

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the top off the garlic and drizzle olive oil into the inside of the bulb.

Cut the top off the garlic and drizzle olive oil into the inside of the bulb. (Photo credit: Patty Allread)

Find well-shaped, full bulbs of garlic, and wipe the outside clean with a damp cloth.  You can remove any loose outer skin but we aren’t going to peel the garlic.  Make a horizontal cut across the top of the bulb so the tip of each clove is trimmed off 1/4 to 1/2 inch.  Place the garlic bulb root end down in a baking dish.  If they don’t stand up well, try using a muffin pan or individual ramekins.  The trimmed end will be face up.  Drizzle olive oil into the bulbs of garlic, getting the oil into the crevices of each clove – about 2 teaspoons per bulb of garlic.  Cover the bulbs tightly with aluminum foil and roast them for 40-60 or more minutes.  Start checking it after 45 minutes or so. Cooking time depends on the size of the garlic.

These bulbs were very “tight” so about half-way through the cooking when they had loosened up, I drizzled a little more olive oil into them.  They took one hour to finish cooking.

The cloves will be very soft when they are done.  Stick a fork or chopstick in it to test.  They are so soft, you can squeeze the roasted garlic paste right out clove by clove.  When the garlic is done roasting, let it cool off enough to handle without getting burnt fingers.

Spread some black olive paste on a cracker and squeeze a garlic clove onto it.  Voila!  This is a delicious treat and goes well with beer or champagne. (I will serve this with my favorite sparkling mocktail)  You could prepare the garlic ahead of time and assemble all the crackers with the toppings just before your guests arrive.  We just sit around the table, each with a bulb of roasted garlic and do it ourselves while we wait for the Times Square Ball to drop.

Midnight Snack (Photo credit:  Patty Allread)

Midnight Snack (Photo credit: Patty Allread)

Roasted garlic is quite sweet and nutty and rich.  This is very different from raw garlic that is minced or chopped because the more you chop or cut garlic, the more allicin is released. Allicin is what gives you bad garlic breath and when you cook the garlic cloves whole, there is much less allicin.

But I must say, if you eat enough of it (such as a whole bulb in one sitting) you may exude garlicky aroma from every pore of your body for a day or two. Remember–the best defense against having a garlicky odor is, after all, for everyone else to have it too! So invite (your friends, your neighbors, your boss, your customers, your spouse, your date, your Aunt Bessie) to join you!

The simple combination of roasted garlic and black olive paste on a cracker is absolutely divine.  You should try it! If you do object to smelling like a South Philly Neighborhood Italian Bistro, eat some parsley to help counteract the garlic. (Honestly, it would take a lot of parsley.)

If the idea of noshing on garlic cloves does not appeal to you at all, there are lots of other ways to use the roasted garlic such as roasting it and extracting the soft cloves to be added to mashed potatoes or to make a unique version of garlic bread or roasted garlic soup. (Now there’s an idea!)

ROASTED GARLIC SOUP (Serves 4)

  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 3-inch piece of dried kombu seaweed, wiped clean
  • 6 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 quarts of spring water
  • 1 head of escarole, cleaned and chopped into approx 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup of roasted red peppers, packed in water or homemade
  • 1 bulb of roasted garlic, extract each clove
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • traditionally brewed soy sauce if desired
  • parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil

Broth:  I prefer to make my own vegetarian broth for this soup but you can use any broth you like.  I think many people would choose a chicken broth or broth made from their leftover turkey carcass.

For vegetable broth there are two ways to go–1) use the cooking water from whatever veggies you have steamed or boiled or 2) intentionally create a broth.  Mine is usually a combination depending on the flavor of the vegetable cooking water I have.

Today I had some boiled cauliflower and to that boiling stock I added a large sliced onion, several chopped stalks of celery and a three-inch piece of dried kombu seaweed.  I avoided anything that would color or darken the water too much such as carrots or winter squash because I want a clear(ish) broth. I also avoided any vegetable with a very strong character of its own, such as asparagus, because of how it would influence the taste of the stock.

I simmered the onions, celery and kombu for about a half hour and strained out the vegetables and seaweed.  The kombu, by the way, adds a great deal of minerals and flavor to the broth. The strained veggies and kombu can be used as a base for another soup or just the veggies–perhaps pureed–as a base for a sauce.

Note we are starting off with two quarts of spring water.  By the time you have made your broth and your soup you will have a little more than a quart left.  To get a deep enough flavor for this soup, do not add more water unless it becomes absolutely necessary.

Assemble the soup

Chop the red peppers into bite-size pieces.  Saute the escarole in olive oil and a pinch of salt until wilted.  Add the red peppers and saute a minute or two.  Add these to the soup stock.

Take the flat of your knife blade and crush each clove of roasted garlic.  You don’t have to do more than just crush each clove open.  Add the garlic to the soup.  Salt and pepper to taste and/or add a bit of soy sauce.  I usually don’t complicate the flavors further by adding herbs or spices to this soup, but you should feel free to experiment. (And let us all know if you find something you liked!) I could be convinced to add a little basil.

Simmer the soup a few minutes to let the flavors get to know each other.  Another good way to do this is to turn the heat off and just let the soup rest with the lid on, then gently reheat.

Serve with a garnish of parsley and maybe a chunk of crusty bread.  If you like to use cheese, try a sprinkle of parmesan.  There is nothing more warming on a cold winter’s eve than roasted garlic soup.  I will probably pair this with traditional Hoppin’ John, Collard Greens and some cornbread for New Year’s Day.

To finish off this Garlic Fest, here is something I created while writing this post.  That’s right! Many times when I cook I create blogs and when I blog, I create recipes.  The final recipe is for salad dressing.  I would use this on a green salad, on a warm wilted salad such as wilted spinach and mushrooms, or you can take leftover steamed or roasted veggies and dress them as a chilled salad.

ROASTED GARLIC DRESSING

  • 3 or more cloves of roasted garlic
  • oil of choice (I’m thinking avocado or extra-virgin olive oil)
  • fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • a touch of apple cider vinegar to brighten things up
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • celery seeds (just a pinch)

To start, you want 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar/lemon juice.  Volume depends on how much you want to make and as you may know if you’ve read my recipes before, I don’t measure, I “eyeball” it. Thoroughly crush your roasted garlic into the mixture and add the seasonings.  Whisk these together until they are emulsified*. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

This is a hearty enough dressing to use on a main course salad.  If you’d like to make it the centerpiece of the meal, try the wilted spinach and mushrooms mixed with cooked shell pasta and either cooked tempeh, soy-based sausage or (if you eat meat) cooked Italian sausage.  Top with toasted pine nuts.

* Emulsified:  When two liquids that would normally separate (like oil and vinegar) are mixed together in such a way that they don’t separate.  Some emulsions like this vinaigrette are temporary and some, like mayonnaise, are permanently mixed.

Here’s an additional blog post on garlic that I thought was excellent by fellow good blogger, Jovina. 

The Pot Thickens

FOUR WAYS TO ENRICH YOUR MENU

Are you wishing you could eat a nice, thick, creamy bowl of soup without sacrificing your diet? Does your mouth water when you see smooth, rich desserts even though you know you shouldn’t indulge? Do you “pass” on the gravy?

Let me show you some ways to enjoy rich, thick textures in your meals that are guilt-free and nutritious without cramping your style. These methods can be used by anyone even though my particular recipes here are vegetarian.

1. Agar Flakes: You might recognize the name “agar agar” as something used in laboratory experiments and you’re right—it is used in petri dishes. Agar comes from seaweed. Food-quality agar is usually a blend of sea vegetables that have strong thickening properties. Agar is great for making gelatin-type dishes like aspics, desserts and pie fillings and it can be molded. It also comes in bars but I much prefer the flakes because they are so much faster and easier to use. To use agar flakes, add them to hot liquid and stir often until it is dissolved. Stirring helps prevent it from getting too thick and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the agar flakes are dissolved and have simmered about ten minutes, the mixture will thicken as it cools down. For the best taste and consistency, let your agar-gelled dish cool down outside of the refrigerator so it doesn’t get rubbery. After it is cooled, you can refrigerate it, covered. Like all sea vegetables, agar contains minerals–sodium, potassium, calcium, iodine, magnesium and iron are some. Agar is also considered to have medicinal properties and may relieve constipation if eaten several days in a row. Agar is good for vegetarians and vegans to know about as a replacement for gelatin which comes from pigs’ hooves or sometimes from other animals. If you are substituting agar flakes instead of gelatin in a recipe, you’ll need much less agar than you would gelatin.

One tablespoon of agar flakes has 10 mg of sodium, 10 mg of potassium, 1 gram of carbohydrate and 1 gram of dietary fiber. It has no calories, no fat and no cholesterol. Here is my favorite summer pie recipe using agar flakes:

Strawberry Blueberry Pie
(Given to me by Claire Kauffman from Meredith McCarty’s American Macrobiotic Cuisine with a few of my own notations)

• Single Pie Crust, baked and cooled. You can use pastry, graham cracker, etc.
• 2 Pints, Strawberries
• 1 Pint, Blueberries
• 1/2 tsp. sea salt
• 1/2 c cup rice syrup (you may substitute other sweeteners such as agave or honey and adjust for the right sweetness)
• 1/2 cup agar flakes

Wash all the fruit and remove the stems and leaves. Cut only the large strawberries in half and leave the rest whole. Put the strawberries in a pot, sprinkle them with sea salt and pour the syrup over them. Add the agar flakes. Cover and simmer until the agar flakes are dissolved.  This takes about 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to gently combine the ingredients.  If necessary to get the agar fully dissolved, you may add a tablespoon or so of water.  No other liquid.  Add the blueberries for the last five minutes of cooking.  Pour the fruit mixture into the baked and cooled pie crust and let it set.

Strawberry Blueberry Pie

2. Kuzu: If you’ve ever been in the deep south of the U.S. you’ve probably seen these prolific vines with big leaves. They are so hardy and grow so fast they can take over an entire stand of trees in one season if they aren’t constantly cut back. The kind of kuzu (or kudzu) I use for cooking is a starch derived from the root of the plant. It comes from Japan in the form of white powdery lumps and is sometimes referred to as “wild arrowroot.” Kuzu can be used to thicken soups, sauces, desserts and even a hot drink. To use kuzu, crush the lumps up with the back of a spoon before measuring it and dissolve it in a little cool water or liquid first. You will need about a tablespoon of kuzu for every cup of liquid you want to thicken. When adding the dissolved kuzu into a hot liquid, stir constantly to prevent lumps. The dissolved kuzu will look cloudy at first, but as you stir and cook it will become clear. When it’s clear, it’s done. If the end result is not thick enough, add more kuzu. Add more liquid if your result is too thick. Kuzu does not have a strong flavor itself, so you can use it in many dishes without the kuzu interfering with the taste. Kuzu can be very soothing and is sometimes used in certain medicinal remedies for digestive troubles.

Српски / Srpski: Kuzu prah, koristi se u kuhin...

Image via Wikipedia

 One tablespoon of kuzu has about 30 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrate and 2 mg. of calcium. It has no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and no sugars. Here is a very basic recipe for using kuzu to make a quick, soothing drink:

 Kuzu Apple Drink

Gently heat a cup of apple juice and a pinch of sea salt in a sauce pan. Bring this to just below a boil and take it off the burner. Dissolve about a teaspoon of kuzu powder in a quarter cup of water. Mix the kuzu and water into the apple juice while stirring constantly. Return the mixture to the stove and heat for a minute or so and serve. If you like, you can dress it up with a cinnamon stick.

3. Whole Grain Helper: We’ve all heard that eating whole grains is better for you. This is a great way to start incorporating them into your daily menu and introduce yourself and your family to the wide variety of types and uses for whole grains. I’m sure you aren’t new to the idea that cooking with grains can produce a thick and hearty soup or stew, such as a barley stew. Many grains can be used as thickeners including brown rice, oats, buckwheat and millet. Sometimes I use the whole grain and sometimes I use a milled or flaked version. An added plus is that when you use whole grains along with beans in a dish, you get what is known as a “complete protein.” In otherwords, a food that has all the needed requirements to provide good, useable protein to your body.

One of my favorite grains to thicken the pot with is millet. Millet is an ancient grain that comes from Africa and India. You might recognize the tiny yellow balls of millet in your favorite birdseed mix! Millet is an excellent grain for people to eat. To help you know more about millet, you can check out this information: http://chetday.com/millet.html .

One half cup of millet has approximately 378 calories, 4 grams fat, 8 grams fiber and 11 grams of protein. It has no sugars and is a decent source of iron. To demonstrate how grains can be used as a thickener, here is my recipe for hearty Navy Bean and Millet Soup:

Hearty Navy Bean and Millet Soup
Serves 6 – 8

Hearty Navy Bean and Millet Soup

• 2 cups of cooked or canned navy beans (If you use canned beans, I recommend organic ones that have been cooked with kombu seaweed. The seaweed makes the beans more digestible.)
• 1 quarter onion sliced ¼ inch thick
• 2 stalks of celery sliced
• 1 carrot cut in half moons. (Wash the carrot and slice it in half lengthwise. Then slice the halves on an angle, about ¼ inch thick.)
• 2 Tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cup millet
• 2 cups spring water
• 2 cloves garlic
Sea salt (You can add other spices and herbs that you like. Last night I used black pepper and oregano)
• Naturally brewed soy sauce

Put the millet into a bowl and rinse with cold water, draining the water off and rinsing again. Use your hand or a sieve to keep from losing the millet when you drain the water. Put the millet in a small pot with 2 cups of water and a pinch of sea salt and bring it to a boil. Simmer the millet until it is soft, 20-25 minutes. If the water is gone and the millet needs more cooking, just add more water. You want your millet to be soft and somewhat wet.

While the millet’s cooking, begin sautéing the other vegetables in a 3-4 quart pot. Heat the olive oil and sauté the onions first. Put in a pinch of sea salt and sauté the onions until they are translucent and sweet-smelling, then add carrots and another pinch of sea salt and sauté them. Last, add the celery, another pinch of salt and sauté that. Add four cups of water, your cooked beans and any seasonings or herbs and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Blend the cooked millet until it is smooth and creamy. I like using an electric hand blender because you can blend right in the cooking pot and you’ll have less to clean up. Add the creamy millet and stir to incorporate it into the soup. If it is too thick, simply add a little bit more water. Season with a couple teaspoons of soy sauce. Voila! You have a thick, creamy protein-rich soup or stew. Serve with a garnish of parsley, sliced scallions or if you use dairy products, some grated parmesan cheese.

4. Reduction: Ooh La La! The very name “reduction sauce” sounds so haute cuisine! It is really very easy to make and can have a nearly unlimited variety of flavors. A reduction sauce is made by simmering liquids down in order to slightly thicken them and intensify their flavors. It is most often done after cooking meats by simmering the cooking juices with other things such as wine, vinegar, or cream and getting a very rich concentrated sauce. But reduction sauces are by no means limited to meat juices. You can reduce many kinds of liquids including fruit juice by simmering them in an open pan (no lid) and letting the liquid evaporate until you have the desired finished product.
Here is a recipe for Savory Mushroom Reduction Sauce:

 Savory Mushroom Reduction Sauce

• 6 medium portabella mushrooms, sliced
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed in a press
• Sea salt
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon of barley malt syrup (or substitute a small quantity of a sweetener of your choice)
• 1/2 cup of water

Heat the olive oil up in a heavy skillet and add the garlic, quickly followed by the mushrooms and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté the mushrooms until they start to get tender. Add balsamic vinegar, water, soy sauce and syrup or sweetener and stir to combine them. Let the mushrooms and liquid simmer until the sauce has thickened to your liking and turn off the heat. Use this as a sauce for grain dishes, cooked tofu dishes or steamed or boiled vegetables. I like it on steamed fresh green beans or asparagus.  This makes about a half cup, enough for 2-3 servings.

Asparagus with Mushroom Balsamic Reduction Sauce

I think you can see that these methods and ingredients for adding texture, richness and of course thickness to your menu are healthy and nutritious. They are useful for any type of diet—omnivore, vegetarian or vegan. You don’t have to rely on heavy cream, flour and butter when you’ve got these alternatives.

Purchase items such as kuzu, agar flakes, naturally brewed soy sauce and whole grains at a natural foods store or order them online if you can’t find them locally.

I’d love to hear about your experimentation with these ingredients and methods and if you want to share your own recipes, that would be wonderful too!

NEW!!

For additional free recipes using these techniques, you are invited to join PATTY’S CLUB!  Just go to my new Patty’s Club Page https://mycookinglife.com/pattys-club/ and follow the directions.

Souper Bowl Sunday

When I hear “Super Bowl,”  I think:  Souper Bowl.  That’s because I absolutely love soup!

Soup became one of my favorite types of food when I was very young and the Campbell’s soup company was offering a “Campbell’s Kid” doll if you sent in labels from your soup cans.  My flavor was tomato and I ate lots of it to get that doll.

Other than that, I pretty much ignored the existence of soup until I studied macrobiotics and we had miso soup for breakfast every day.  Really?  Soup for breakfast?  How odd was that! Turned out miso soup is incredibly satisfying to make and eat and is a wonderful thing to start your day out with.  It gets your digestive system going, it alkalizes your blood, and there are unlimited variations you can create in the way of miso soup!

Miso Soup

Image via Wikipedia

So I learned how to make that and found out I really, really love soup.  I also learned as a cooking student to make lots of other soups to serve as a starter for dinner as well as for breakfast.  Bean soups, whole grain soups, veggie soups – seems we never ate the exact same soup twice.  That’s because the world of soups is infinitely variable!

I used to make huge batches of eight different soups for my local health food store to sell.  That was back in the 80’s. I had a five-gallon soup pot!  I found out that soup is one type of dish that is very easy to make in large batches without much trouble.  That’s probably why we have “soup kitchens” for the homeless or unfortunate.  You can feed a crowd with soup!

Coco Eating His Soup, 1905, by Pierre-August R...

Image via Wikipedia

Soup-making solves many family diet issues and it is economical.  You can get people to eat more veggies by putting them in soups.  You can get people to eat more complex carbs by using beans and whole grains in soups.  Soup can be comfort food.  It can also be food a sick person is willing to eat when they don’t want other foods.  A young child can quickly become very handy with a spoon if he or she is given some not-too-hot soup to eat.

You can make your soups light or hearty, or start with a light soup and make it richer later on and vice versa.  You can also use up your kitchen leftovers and last wilting bits of veggies from the bottom of your refrigerator crisper by putting them into soup.  And of course you can make enough soup to last a few meals or freeze the soup for later.

Soup is easy too.  There are lots of recipes around for soup and if you haven’t tried making your own soup then I recommend starting with a recipe or two until you get the hang of it.  Mostly you may want to know about the broth for the soup and how to get that.  That is the only part that may seem a bit labor intensive.

Most of my soup broth comes from saving the water I used to boil vegetables.  I don’t always even use a special broth and just make the soup using water and using seasonings to bring out the delicious, natural flavors of my ingredients.  Sometimes my “broth” consists of bringing spring water and a 2-inch piece of kombu seaweed to a boil.  The seaweed adds plenty of minerals and a mild flavor to the water.

My only caution on the subject of soups is to be alert if you’re buying soup that’s already made or in a mix.  Even in the natural food store, you really have to read the labels because cane sugar juice is in a lot of the canned or pre-packaged soups and broths.  You can also buy powdered miso soup mix and soups that only require adding boiling water.  All of these are pretty salty and the quality of the ingredients is definitely not equivalent to what you can make at home from fresh ingredients.  I don’t recommend these salty mixes.  Same goes for the “ramen soup” mixes you can buy in the dollar store.  Read the ingredients sometime and you’ll see what I mean.

Probably I should include a recipe or two here.  I hesitate because there are so many good ones around and my recipes are very simple.  My soups (and yours) become unique by how they are varied, how high-quality the ingredients are, and in the care and attention given to preparation.  So before I slap down a recipe, I’d like to give you my top five tips on soup-making:

1. The broth is the basis of the soup and should be of the highest possible quality.  If you are using water, make it spring water.  If you are buying pre-made broth, don’t buy one with sugar in it and make sure it is organic.

2. If you are going to make soup with beans in it, use kombu seaweed also.  The minerals in the seaweed help you digest the beans without getting flatulence.

3.  I love an immersible hand blender!  You can make a creamy soup without cream by blending the soup especially if it is something like a winter squash soup.  Some grains, beans and even vegetables can be blended into a nice, creamy consistency.  This also works for a cold cucumber soup.

4.  To make a richer-tasting soup, try sauteeing some of the ingredients before adding water or broth.  Sauteed onions and garlic, for instance, can really change the taste of the soup.

5.  Garnish your soup.  You can use parsley, ginger, sliced scallions and many other interesting touches.  These add another layer of flavor to your soup and make the presentation beautiful and appealing.

And here are a couple recipes to start out with:

Miso Soup

4 cups of spring water

4-6 inch piece of wakame seaweed

1/8 small onion (organic)

1 large kale leaf (raw) or ¼ cup of cooked & sliced kale (organic)

1/8 cup of firm tofu (organic)

½ – 1 Tsp. barley miso

1 scallion

Put the spring water into a small pot.  Soak the dried wakame seaweed in the water for about 2-3 minutes until it’s soft enough to cut.  Take out the seaweed and cut the thick spine off.  Cut the spine into small pieces and add back into the water.  Cut the leaves of the seaweed up and put them back into the water.  [Alternative would be to buy pre-cut pieces of wakame and just add a tsp of that to the water.  No soaking or slicing is needed then!]

Slice the onions into very thin slices.  Bring the water and wakame seaweed to a boil and add the onions.  While the onions are cooking, wash and cut the big kale leaf into small pieces.  You want everything in the soup to be small enough to pick up with the spoon when you’re eating it, i.e. bite-size.

Cut the tofu into small bite-size cubes.

When the onions have become translucent and sweet-smelling, add the kale.  When the kale starts to turn bright green (this only takes about a minute) add the tofu.

Simmer all this for a few minutes until the kale becomes tender.  Just simmer, no heavy boiling.  Meanwhile take the miso paste and dissolve it in a little of the soup broth so there are no lumps of miso.  You can use the back of a spoon or anything you have that works.  I use a special Japanese bowl called a “suribachi” that comes with a special masher called a “surikogi.”  This works perfectly and I have them because I make miso soup very often.

When the soup ingredients are tender, turn the soup down so it isn’t boiling at all.  Then add the miso dissolved in hot broth.  At this point you can turn the stove off and the miso will cook in the hot broth.  The miso will break down and look cloudy and it is done.

Serve it out garnished with a few slices of the white end of the scallion.  This makes 2-3 servings.

You can add small, thin cuts or slices of your favorite vegetable(s) to vary the soup recipe as you like and experiment from there.

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Hearty Barley Soup

1 cup rinsed barley

2-inch piece of kombu seaweed

pinch of sea salt

5 shiitake mushrooms

2 quarts of spring water

2 onions, diced

1 cup of diced parsnip

1 cup of diced rutabaga

1/2 cup of minced parsley

3-4 cloves of garlic

soy sauce to taste

sliced scallions as garnish

English: Close-up of a piece of homemade seita...

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1 cup of diced seitan (vegan “wheat meat”)

Optional protein: diced beef or chicken if you are not vegetarian

Bring the water, kombu and shiitake mushrooms to a boil.  Simmer the stock until the mushrooms are tender.  Remove the mushrooms, discard the stems and dice the mushroom caps and add them back to the pot.

Add the onions and simmer until sweet and translucent.  Then add the garlic, parsnip, rutabaga, seitan and barley in that order.  Simmer the stew with enough water to cover the barley until it is tender, about one hour.  Add a little more water to get your desired thickness.  Add the parsley at the last minute and season with soy sauce to taste.  Serve in a bowl with scallion garnish.  Some lightly boiled greens or a salad with some whole grain bread would go well with this dish.

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So I say make every Sunday “Souper Bowl Sunday!”  Take some time to make a great soup that you can eat all week!

(No offense to you football fans, but Super Bowl Sunday means to me that we have but a few short months before Opening Day of Baseball Season.)

Where are Grandmother’s Wine Cookies?

Plenty of people bake over the holidays and give wonderful hand-prepared gifts as presents. Though I am not much of a baker except for occasional pies, I remember making all kinds of cookies with my Mom at Christmastime when I was a kid. We had all the usual stuff—the cookie cutters, red and green sugar, those little silver balls, nuts, powdered sugar and recipes.

It was one of the few occasions during the year when I spent an entire day just with Mom and doing some real cooking. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and even though I was young, I was already motivated to cook my little heart out.

Mom’s cooking typically involved any new food products that came out and at the time she was completely impressed with frozen foods—frozen TV dinners, of course, and frozen vegetables, and anything else that could be pulled out of the freezer and made ready to eat in minutes. And if it wasn’t frozen, then it came out of a can. Except for salad, which was always iceberg lettuce and tomato topped with and only with French’s French Dressing. Not too exciting for a budding cook, so the chance to make real cookies with real ingredients including real flour instead of “Wondra” was special indeed!

[Mom: “Look! They’ve invented flour that can be mixed with cold water to make gravy!” Me: “What do you usually have to mix it with?” Mom: “Hot water. But now you don’t have to heat the water up!” Me: “?”]

This was a time when my mother and I always got along better than usual and we would talk about all kinds of things. She would tell me stories about her Christmases as a child and about our family—many of whom I had never met. I loved hearing about my grandmother who was apparently a genius Christmas cookie maker and had handed down a sacred recipe for “wine cookies”—better known as “Grandmother’s Wine Cookies.”

The Wine Cookie recipe was on an aging, brown little scrap of paper in my grandmother’s faded writing. It was a beautiful work of art with her scrolled writing and the nearly parchment look to the paper. It had decades’ worth of little spots and stains from butter, molasses and of course, dark, red wine.

My first fascination with these cookies was that they had wine in them. That’s not a cookie ingredient! That’s not something I’m allowed to have! You mean I can have a cookie with wine in it? Can you taste the wine? What is wine?

My second fascination was that this was a type of lace cookie that bubbled up when you baked it and became a delicate, thin, lacey-looking wafer with a slight sheen to it. Each cookie seemed intricate and one-of-a-kind like snowflakes.

And they were absolutely delicious! And you could taste the wine quite a bit!

We made these every single year and every year my mother said she would hand this recipe down to me which was an idea I savored as much as I savored the cookies themselves.

As the years passed we eventually stopped doing the cookie marathons, I grew up and moved out and got a family of my own. I hadn’t tasted Grandmother’s Wine Cookies for many, many years. When my mother passed I looked and looked for this beautiful piece of paper. Sadly I never found it. I asked relatives if they knew the recipe but never found someone who did. And every single Christmas since then, I think of these cookies.

So now, fifty years later, I’ve decided to find my Grandmother’s Wine Cookies somehow! They had flour, lots of butter, salt and were sweetened with molasses which mixed with all the butter gave them that ability to bubble up and look like lace. And of course they had dark, rich, red wine. (No idea what type of red wine.) They may have also had sugar but I’m not sure.

Seems like I could re-invent these! But it would be great if I can first find a good recipe for this cookie or even a good recipe for molasses lace cookies that I can transform. Can anyone help me with that? Can you help me with your own recipe or guide me through The Power of the Internet to a recipe that’s a close match?

Can anyone help me find my Grandmother’s Wine Cookies?

Much love,
Patty