Umami for you, umami for me

We’ve been flirting with springtime for several weeks here in New Mexico. I’ve been lightening up the menu since early February, accented by the occasional heavier stew or soup when needed.

 

Now we are about to touch upon some much warmer days and I know that May will usher in a long and lovely hot summer. But no matter how hot is gets, I am a dedicated, all-season soup lover!

The secret to great soup is the broth.

 

A warm weather soup can be more challenging than autumn’s squash bisque or winter’s hearty bean and root veggie soup.  A summer soup calls for a broth that is both light and deeply flavorful. A successful soup broth will rend a delightful soup.

Umami for you, umami for me.

 

I have heard this word “umami” a lot in the past few years and decided to check out what it really is. Believe it or not, there is a website called “The Umami Information Center” which was enlightening. Seems the Japanese word “umami” has to do with the taste imparted by glutamate.

I react to that piece of information as if they said a bad word.  Glutamate?  As in Mono Sodium Glutamate?  No way I’m using that in my food!

Turns out glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods which can be used in cooking to create the coveted Umami flavor.  Some of the foods on the list I absolutely knew were umami-rich. Others, I hadn’t thought of before.

“Wow!” I thought, “This is enough to keep me souping in my kitchen all summer long!”

Without a doubt, the best umami, the best food, the best meal comes from your own kitchen. Even if you are a novice.

 

Okay I will get to the soup recipe. I promise! But I’ve gotta take a little side trip here.  I’m going to make a umami-rich broth made with real food ingredients and condiments. It is not difficult and it can even be considered economical because one way to get a highly-flavored soup broth is to save the cooking water from boiling or steaming other veggies and voila! you have umami.  Or, you can consciously decide to create umami from specific foods that you choose just for your soup recipe.

Either way, the point is–cooking for yourself with real food in your own kitchen wins flavor-wise and health-wise every single time over buying soup in the store (natural food store or not) or ordering it in a restaurant. Forty plus years of savoring my own cooking versus even the best dishes in the best restaurants has taught me that.

Lemon Fennel Soup

 

Making the umami-rich broth:

2 quarts spring water

4-6 inch piece of kombu seaweed

1 head of nappa cabbage (sometimes called Chinese cabbage)

Naturally brewed soy sauce (“Nama” brand is far and away the best flavor and the most umamiful.)

  1. Quickly clean the dried kombu by brushing it off with a clean, damp paper towel or vegetable brush. Place the kombu in the bottom of a large pot and add all the water. Bring this to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile wash a head of nappa cabbage, cut it in half and again in quarters. The core may be cut out and separately sliced fine. Cut the cabbage into 1-inch pieces. If you don’t want to use all the cabbage at once, just use the amount you will probably eat.  The cabbage itself will not wind up in the soup. It will be served separately as a lightly boiled salad.
  3. Put the cabbage in the boiling water and cook for just about a minute or until the green parts become bright green. This may take less than a minute!  Immediately remove the cabbage into a colander to cool.
  4. Continue allowing the broth to simmer with the kombu for about 15 minutes, then remove the kombu. (Save the kombu for another use or to slice up and add to another dish.
  5. Strain the soup broth so there are no solids in it.
  6. You now have a light, flavorful broth that delivers umami flavor.

 

Putting the soup together

1 large fennel bulb

1 shallot

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lemon

chili flakes (optional)

  1. Wash the fennel and separate the bulb from the rest. Save the feathery fronds for garnish.  Thinly slice the fennel, about 1/4 inch slices.
  2. Slice the shallot
  3. Heat a pan of your choice (I use cast iron) and add the sesame oil.
  4. When the oil is hot add the shallots with a pinch of salt and saute until they soften.
  5. Add the fennel slices and another pinch of salt and continue sauteing until the fennel is well-cooked.
  6. Put the sautéed fennel and shallot into the soup  broth. Season lightly with soy sauce, add and let it all simmer a few minutes.
  7. Just before serving, zest your lemon and add to the soup.  I use a zester that produces thin little slices of zest. In that case I’m going to add about 2 Tablespoons of this.  If you are zesting your lemon with a microplane that produces grated zest, you may want to use less. Experiment with this!
  8. Serve the soup garnished with fennel fronds and a few drops of lemon juice.

 

Some more soup broth tips:

Keep in mind that some veggies, like carrots, have a very definite flavor and color.  Others, such as white daikon radish taste very different when cooked than when raw. Think  with the flavors to get the broth you want. Sometimes you just want lots of flavor and it doesn’t matter too much what you use. If you make a vegetable soup, you can add all kinds of things together. But if you are going for a more delicate taste like the fennel soup, then choose ingredients for the broth that will enhance but not interfere with your finished product.

Sauteing vegetables helps bring out their flavor and sweetness. Decide, however, what oil you will use based on the flavors of that oil. At first I was going to use toasted sesame oil to saute the fennel and shallots but that would definitely have brought in a flavor that might have taken over too much.

Dried vegetables, such as dried shiitake mushrooms have a concentrated flavor that provides a lot of umami, even though you will reconstitute them by soaking first. See more about shiitake and kombu in my 2013 post, “Rejuvenation and Dashi.”

Apparently tomatoes are considered to yield a very high level of umami.  Hmm, sun-dried tomatoes. Gotta play with that!

 

Advertisements

Creamy Moroccan Chickpea Soup

I was out looking for a fast dinner one night and picked up some “Moroccan Creamy Soup” to try. Somehow I got the impression that it was a vegetarian soup, but darn, I think it was made with chicken broth. The soup was nevertheless delightful especially in its consistency and the way it was seasoned.

The main ingredients were chickpeas and spinach and I could taste cumin and perhaps cinnamon. There were onions and some garlic in the soup as well. The creaminess of the soup I bought came from milk or cream and that didn’t thrill me.

So I decided to make my own version of this soup using a vegetable broth, chickpeas, spinach, onions, garlic mushrooms, spices and for added creaminess–a little coconut milk.

Luckily I was able to save this last little serving for a photo!

Luckily I was able to save this last little serving for a photo!

Moroccan-Style Creamy Chickpea Soup

No need for much of a recipe here. I didn’t measure anything. I just constructed the soup this way:

  • Cooked chickpeas in vegetable broth, partially blend leaving at least half the beans intact. I used 2-3 cups of cooked chickpeas.
  • Dice an onion and saute in olive oil with some salt until the onions are translucent and sweet. Continue to saute to caramelize the onions. Add this to the soup.
  • Add garlic and mushrooms.
  • I added some seitan chunks since I didn’t want chicken. Seitan is made by creating a dough from whole wheat flour and then washing out the starch and the bran. The protein (wheat gluten) is left. I will show you how to make this in the near future.
  • Add the coconut milk until it is creamy enough for you
  • Season with salt, pepper, cumin, thyme, allspice and a bit of cayenne. Taste. Adjust. Taste again.
  • Add spinach at the end. I was making about 2 quarts of soup and used about 2 cups of chopped spinach.
  • I garnished my soup with a few slices of Preserved Lemon Rinds, which some of you know I just love to use! If you don’t have this, try a thin strip of lemon peel.

I served this yummy soup with a side of olives and a simple salad. It got almost all eaten up before I had a chance to take a picture for this post! I finally ensconced the last little serving to the back of the refrigerator and we had our “photo shoot” today.

I wanted to see if I could capture steam in the photo and I did just barely. Can you see it? I can probably because I know it’s there!

Maybe if I circle my steam in bright pink you can squint real hard and imagine you can see it!

Maybe if I circle my steam in bright pink you can squint real hard and imagine you can see it. Hey! That sort of works!

I have not even reached the “amateur” status in food photography just yet but I’m working on it. However my soup cookery is quite good!

Creamy Salmon and Corn Chowder (Non-dairy)

I’ve been transforming a lot of leftovers into new concoctions creations lately. This is because I have a strong aversion to throwing away perfectly good food and with only two people to cook for most of the time, there is a higher possibility of having to do just that– what with our crazy ever-changing schedules that often result in never making it home for dinner.

When I can interest myself in finding a way to use leftovers, I must say, I usually come up with something interesting and delicious. Invariably it is also something we’ve not had before!

My last post was about using lotus root and I mentioned that I served a lotus root stir fry with a creamy salmon and corn soup.  So I thought I’d share what I did with you because it came out so hearty and delicious.

Creamy Salmon and Corn Soup

Creamy Salmon and Corn Chowder. Not especially pretty but boy was it good! When the “Soup” is thick, creamy and chunky, we call it “Chowder!”

CREAMY SALMON AND CORN CHOWDER (Serves 4)

  • 2 cups cooked salmon
  • 1/4 cup yellow corn meal grits
  • 1 liter vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup diced white onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 6 cloves of roasted garlic or 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup organic frozen corn kernels
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • parsely

The whole idea started because I had grilled two lovely pieces of salmon for dinner on Friday night which I intended to serve Saturday night. (I often have to cook ahead.) Saturday night came and went and we didn’t get home for dinner until very late and ended up eating some take out food.

So Sunday I decided to flake the salmon off the skin. I easily did this by scraping the skin off with a fork. Next, I heated up a liter of vegetable stock. No, it wasn’t home made but sometimes it is very handy to have a good vegetable stock on hand for quickly creating something.

One thing I would caution you about is to find a brand that does not have any sugar or cane juice in it.  So many of the aseptic packages of soup and soup stock have sugar! You really have to read the label and don’t buy soup flavored with sugar. The other caution would be to get a vegetable stock that is not heavily flavored with squash. It’s fine if this is the flavor you’re looking for, but if you don’t want a basically “squash soup,” then find a stock without squash in it. Mine just had filtered water, carrots, onion, celery, salt and seasonings.

In fact, just because you are my friend and I care very much what I recommend, I dug the box out of the garbage so I could tell you it was Imagine Natural Creations Organic Vegetable Cooking Stock.

Put the stock in a 3-quart pot and add the corn meal grits and about a 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Stir the corn meal and stock constantly over a medium heat being careful not to let the corn meal sink to the bottom and burn.

There are many things you can use to thicken a soup like this such as millet (I was out of millet), cous cous or rolled oats (didn’t want that flavor with the salmon) or soy milk (but that wouldn’t have been thick enough). The yellow corn meal worked very well with this because 1) I didn’t use too much and when it really cooked in I got the creamy-but-not-like-porridge consistency that I wanted and 2) the color was nice with the salmon.

Once the corn meal and soup stock was softened and didn’t need constant attention, I added some leftover roasted garlic cloves. These were something I made for New Year’s Eve and it had kept very well in an airtight container in the fridge. I plopped these right into the thickening soup stock. If you don’t happen to have roasted garlic on hand, use fresh garlic only much, much less of it. I’d probably also add a dash of olive oil into the soup, too.

Separately I diced the onions and celery and sauteed them in olive oil in a little cast iron frying pan.  I used an immersible hand blender to churn up and smooth out the soup stock, corn meal and garlic.  Then I added the sauteed veggies and the salmon.

At this point, turn down the heat to a low simmer and if you have a flame deflector to help keep it from burning, use it.  If you don’t have one I highly recommend you get one from Amazon. Sometimes they’re called “flame tamers.”

Throw in some organic frozen corn kernels. Use organic only here because then hopefully you are not adding genetically modified corn to your meal! Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley.

I know this is uber-simple and probably you could come up with something of your own, perhaps with more herbs and seasonings. But it came out very, very well and was very satisfying. I was able to use my salmon, use the last of my roasted garlic and use the small 1/4 cup of corn meal grits I had sitting in my pantry.

All around success I would say!

I hope I have inspired you to use up what’s in your pantry and fridge. What have you created from leftovers lately? Do tell!

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.

*******************************

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...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

************************************

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.)