Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When life give you make soup:Cauliflower-Pear Soup

Friends are away in Ireland and we’re in charge of their cat. On our first visit we found a note in the kitchen: “There are pears and celery in the refrigerator to take home.”
It immediately reminded me of when my mother would leave for vacation and present us with the few perishables left in her ‘fridge: the remaining milk, bits of this and the last of that (a strip of red bell pepper? Really?).
Alas, we are not fans of pears. There was one particular night of dining that involved an intermezzo of pear sorbet presented to us on little cones. Sorbet courses were big back then. “Palate cleansers” they were called but this sorbet was anything but palate cleansing. It was gritty and way too sweet. Not to mention the embarrassment of sitting in a white linen environment nibbling on little cones of sorbet. It was a culinary misstep at the midpoint of a meal that had yet to reach its disastrous zenith.
I figured I would use the celery and pears in soup. And with the mercurial nature of spring-it’s hot one day, cooler then next-I wanted a soup that could be served either cold or hot. It’s a riff on the classic leek and potato soup with the pears lending a sweet touch.
Since this is soup, measurements don’t need to be precise. I list amounts as the guideline of what I used. But do make sure the pears ripe. How do I tell if a pear is ripe? A ripe pear will give when pressed at the top near the stem. Peel the pears and slice them in half lengthwise. Remove the core and the fibrous bit that runs from the stem to the core. Cut the pears into pieces.
Leeks tend to be sandy so they will need to be rinsed. Trim off the bottom of the leek. Cut away the greenest parts of the leaves at the upper end of the leek. Any trimmings can be frozen for stock. Cut the leek in half lengthwise then slice the leek crosswise, using the white and pale green parts of the leek. Rinse the slices under cold water to loosen and remove any sand.

Cauliflower-Pear Soup
4 cups sliced/chopped cauliflower
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced (3 cups)
2 stalks celery, sliced (1 cup)
2 pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
salt and ground black pepper
1 to 2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
6 cups cold water
½ cup light cream (optional)

1. Place a large (2 quart) sauce pot onto the stove over medium heat. When hot, swirl in the olive oil and the butter. When the butter has melted, add the leeks and celery to the pot and stir together; season with a little salt. Cover and lower the heat and let the leeks and celery begin to soften, about five minutes.
2. Add the cauliflower and pears to the pot. Pour in the water and season with a teaspoon of salt. Cover the pot and raise the heat. When the soup comes up to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool before pureeing the soup using either a blender (puree the soup in batches) or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the light cream and taste for seasoning (it will need salt), adding some ground black pepper (if you are a purist, use ground white pepper). Serve the soup either chilled on a warm day or hot on a cool day.  We’ll leave some of this in our friends’ freezer for when they return home.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chorizo Tacos with Radish Slaw

Listening: Miles Davis Quintet: "Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival"

Consider the radish.  I doubt that you have ever been asked that before and I can understand. It’s just a
radish, the stubby red root relegated to adding crunch and heat to a salad or a crudite plate. It’s usually playing a supporting role and not much more. Not too exciting. No one has ever said, "Hey, I've got this new recipe for radishes!"
We’re most familiar with the chubby, round red variety. But if you are a dedicated radish grower, and I assume there are plenty out there judging from all of the seed catalog offering, you might be familiar with other varieties such as round or icicle shaped white radishes, or the Japanese daikon, or black Spanish radishes (black on the outside, white on the inside), or Chinese varieties in green, rosy pink or those that have a purple center. There’s even a Munich beer radish.
Then there is the current favorite among chefs, the French breakfast radish, a milder, slender and elongated variety often found among the offerings at a farmer’s market. They’re treated like an exotic specimen, much like the French exchange student that steals your attention away from the high school girls you see every day who you suddenly find lack a certain je ne sais quoi, shall I say?  Plus you shouldn't eat a French breakfast radish in the way you would eat an ordinary radish. It should be served spread with butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. It’s French, after all.

Lately I have been seeing radishes creep into Mexican food, as a garnish of course but still, there they are. And it does make sense since radishes impart a spicy kick similar to the hot chiles in a salsa. (And now for the science!)  The “bite” comes when you chew and combine a chemical compound in radishes (glucosinolate) with an enzyme (myrosinase) and form a “new” compound, allyl isothiocyanate, which is mustard oil. (The mouth as chemical reactor!)
This is also the way that horseradish and wasabi get their pungency.
For this recipe I dispensed with the usual uninspiring shredded lettuce that often finds its way into tacos and replaced it with a cabbage slaw studded with radishes.
This is quick and easy. While this is written for serving two people, the recipe can be increased to feed whatever sized crowd you have on hand. While I added crumbled goat cheese and avocado, you can shape this to how you like your tacos. The slaw would be great with fish tacos.

Radish Slaw
Add the radishes to the slaw right before serving. If they sit in the dressing too long, they will lose their sharpness. You want the bite.
¼ head small green cabbage, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 cup thinly sliced radishes (halve the radishes first, then slice)
½ jalapeno, seeds removed and sliced
juice of one lime
1 teaspoon salt
½  teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1. Place the cabbage and jalapenos into a bowl. Add the lime juice, salt, ground black pepper, and sugar. Mix well to combine. Cover the bowl and set aside for at least 30 minutes. Right before you are ready to serve the slaw, mix in the radishes.

Chorizo Taco Filling
½ pound (or so)* chorizo sausage (raw, Mexican-style sausage)
½ cup  chopped onion
Olive oil, for cooking
1. Remove the chorizo sausage from the casings. Place a medium-sized sauté pan over medium-high heat. Swirl  two tablespoons of olive oil into the pan. Add the chorizo to the pan and break it up into pieces. When the chorizo appears to be cooked half way, add the onions, stir, and continue cooking until the chorizo is completely cooked. Taste the chorizo; if the chorizo isn’t as spicy as you like, add some dried chili flakes. Set aside and keep warm.
To assemble:
Corn tortillas
1 cup crumbled goat cheese
one ripe avocado, sliced
1. Warm the corn tortillas in a dry, hot sauté pan or wrapped in foil in a low oven.
Layer the warm chorizo mixture onto a tortilla. Add the crumbled goat cheese and an avocado slice or two. Top with the slaw. Repeat. And repeat again. You get the idea. Get out the napkins and open a cold one.

*I used three sausages, which was a little over 9 ounces. Sausage rarely comes in the exact mount you want.

Radish photos from W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Split Pea Soup-At Home in the Spring

Most people, at least those of us here on the East Coast, would associate split pea soup with winter but  I am making this on a warm spring day. Split pea soup is usually made with a smoked ham hock with the hock contributing its smoky flavor to the soup as it cooks. When the peas are soft, you remove the ham, remove the meat from the bone, shred it, and return it to the soup. I had some leftover ham to use up so I omitted the ham hock, adding the diced ham at the end of cooking. Preparing it without the ham hock makes a case for making a vegetarian version of the soup. If you miss the smoky flavor, you could add some mild Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton).
There are green and yellow varieties of split peas. Use whichever you like. I was raised on the green variety. Split peas are high in protein and fiber. Perhaps that’s why General Sir Arthur William Currie decided that pea soup was the perfect food to feed his French-Canadian troops during World War I, resulting in the French-Canadians being called “pea soups” by the English soldiers. The nickname still prevails. Pea soup runs deep with the Quebecois. (And that's this week's CanCon, accomplished without having to resort to Rush or Gordon Lightfoot).

Split Pea Soup, with or without (the ham, that is)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot
2 ribs celery, diced
1 ½ cups split peas
6 cups water
olive oil, for cooking
1 small smoked ham hock
salt and ground black pepper

1. Place a 3 quart sauce pot (or similar) onto the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl two tablespoons olive oil into the pan. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and stir. Season the vegetables with some salt. Cook the vegetables for 4 to 5 minutes to begin softening the onions; lower the heat if necessary.
2. Pick over the split peas to look for any stray bits then rinse the peas under cold water in a colander. Add the split peas to the pot and stir them into the vegetables. Add the cold water and the ham hock (if using). Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook the split peas for 30 to 40 minutes until they have softened. If you are using a ham hock, remove it from the soup and let it cool before shredding the meat away from the bone. At this point if you have an immersion blender you could puree the soup, either a little or almost completely, depending on your preference. Return the ham to the soup. Taste for seasonings; add salt and ground black pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, it can easily be thinned with some additional water. And a little hot sauce is a good option, too.
I know this soup is right at home on a winter’s night, but it’s perfect on an spring evening.