Monday, February 21, 2011

Asparagus Chowder

A few months ago, John Perry, a member of Bulls Head Friends Meeting who frequently eats my soup, ask me, "What is your favorite soup, Vonn?" I had to think about it for a moment because I have lots of favorites, but then I answered, "Asparagus Chowder."

This is a soup that I only make in the springtime, when fresh asparagus is available. It must be spring somewhere, because when I went to the store yesterday, they had fresh asparagus on sale. I try to be a locavore as much as possible, but it's February, it's been a long hard winter & I've been sick for much of it, so a taste of spring is exactly what I need.

This soup was inspired by the tastes of my grandmother, Jean Fisher's cooking. She had a big patch of asparagus growing by the back door of her kitchen. She'd send me out to cut off the young spears and then, using fresh cream she had milked from own cow that morning, she would make a rich creamed asparagus. The flavor of the asparagus infused the cream, spiked with black pepper. As a child, I could eat this as a whole meal.

My asparagus chowder is lighter than my grandmother's creamed asparagus, but it's still luscious, savory, and rich.

I started this batch by scrubbing 5 medium white potatoes and chunking them into bite-sized pieces. I then covered them with ample cold water in a saucepan, added a large cube of Knorr vegetable bouillon and cooked them until fork-tender.

While the potatoes were cooking I prepared 2 pounds of fresh asparagus. I know that many people favor the very skinny asparagus spears, but I like the fat ones. They actually aren't any tougher and they have more tender flavorful insides. No matter the diameter, asparagus can be fibrous and woody at the bottom of the stalk. Fortunately it's very easy to separate the tough part from the tender part. Just grasp the tough end and snap it off - like magic, it breaks in exactly the right place. How cool is that?

As I broke all the tough parts off, I continued snapping the asparagus into pieces about an inch or so long. Isn't it beautiful!

I peeled and chopped 2 small onions. I heated some olive oil in my soup pot and added the onions and 2 cloves of minced garlic. When the onions were translucent and the garlic was beginning to brown, I stirred in 1 pound of fresh sliced mushrooms.

When the mushrooms had released much of their water, I stirred in about 3 Tbs of all-purpose flour. The flour browned and formed a thick paste around the mushrooms, onions and garlic.

Very gradually, in small batches, I poured the cooking liquid from the potatoes into the soup pot. I stirred well as I added the liquid to incorporate it into the paste without allowing it to form lumps. After all the liquid was added and bubbly hot, I added my asparagus pieces and let them simmer until they were tender but not mushy.

I added the cooked potatoes and some lowfat milk, stirred it together and let it heat through gently. I seasoned the soup with a shot of Bragg Liquid Aminos, a healthy dose of black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I garnished my bowl with some grated pecorino romano cheese. mmmmmm. My sweetie stopped by just as I was finishing the photo shoot and liked it so much she ate 3 bowls!

Dahl V1.0

I'm naming this week's soup Dahl V1.0 because this is my first attempt to make a dahl. It was fun and easy and turned out well so I expect I'll keep playing around and making more variations on the theme.

I've had dahl in Indian restaurants and at the home of a friend and I really like it. I've always thought of dahl as a thick, spicy soup but as I do a little research for this blog post, I am learning that 'dal' or dahl refers to any legume that has been split and the outer skin removed. So, there are many varieties of dahls and the soups that can be made from them. Look for Dahl 2.0 and more in the future here.

I was cooking this weekend at the home of my sweetie Wahabah so I could hang out with her and dip into her spice stash at the same time. She was cooking a lamb curry and an apple pie at the same time - there were some excellent smells coming from her kitchen.

To begin the dahl, I first assembled the lovely array of spices I will use: cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ginger, coriander, black pepper, cloves, and fenugreek.

I chopped a couple of large onions and heated some olive oil in my pot. I think that authentic Indian cuisine would use butter or ghee, but I'm cooking for some Friends who don't eat dairy, so I'm using olive oil instead. I saute the spices and onions together in the oil. This is when the aroma filled the apartment. Wow! I wish you could smell it.

When the onions were translucent, I added some red lentils, water, and salt. First I had to admire the beautiful color of the lentils.

As they cooked, the lentils thickened the broth. I added more water several times. When they were mostly done, but still individuals, I rinsed some kale, tore it into bite-sized pieces, and added it to the soup. When the lentils had disintegrated into a thick mush, the kale was done too.

Wahabah & I enjoyed this soup too much. When I got home and looked in the pot, I realized there wasn't enough left to take to meeting with me in the morning.

I put it back on my own stove and added some yellow split peas (since I had used up all my red lentils) and water. When they were cooked, I added some frozen, chopped spinach. Dahl 1.1. By the time I took the soup to meeting on Sunday morning, it was green. The picture above was taken of Dahl 1.0 at Wahabah's. I think I liked it better then because the split peas overpowered the gentler flavor of the red lentils.