Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin King Stew

As I sit down to write this week's blog post, I'm thinking about the ends of things. Last night I heard news of the death of a member of Bulls Head Meeting. The second of our small community to die this month. I'm remembering Adam with fondness.

This week also marks the end of the growing season in this part of the world. Our last regular CSA pick-up was on Tuesday, though there will be a special Thanksgiving share that I'll get next month. This morning, I went to the last Hyde Park Farmers' Market of the year. Last night we had a frost and the weather guys declared an official end to the growing season. There is still a bit of green on some of the trees, but as many of them are bare now too. I love the crisp feel of the air and the way the light filters through the autumn leaves this time of year.

Because I'm thinking of making something really nurturing for the Meeting as we deal with another loss; because I'll be traveling a lot in November and won't be around to make soup for the meeting for the next 3 weeks; because I'm enjoying filling my home with the warm smells of cooking; and because my CSA offered me all the pumpkins I could carry this week, I'm making an extra-special soup. This is more complicated than I usually do, but what the heck, I'm feeling inspired.

I have a bunch of pumpkin already cooked and smashed, like for pie. Here's how you do it:
  • Get a good pie pumpkin - either a 'sugar' or 'Long Island Cheese' variety.
  • Cut it in half longitudinally.
  • Scoop out the seeds (see below on how to make the seeds into a tasty snack).
  • Put the pumpkin halves face down in a baking dish with a bit of water.
  • Roast at 350F until they are soft.
  • Let them cool a bit and then scoop out the tender flesh with a spoon. If it's watery, that's ok for soup (for pie, you squeeze out the water).

I also roasted a bunch of autumn veggies to add to the soup at the end. I cup up into large bite-size pieces: 1 onion, 3 large carrots, 2 large parsnips, 5 cloves of garlic, and a baby pumpkin. The pumpkin I cleaned the same way I described above, and then I peeled it and cut it up like the other veggies. Everything went into a large glass roasting pan.

I made this marinade:
Mixed it well, drizzled it over the veggies, tossed them around until the were all coated and put them in a 425F oven to roast and caramelize for about 30 minutes. Check often if you try this, I didn't pay very close attention to the time and not all veg cooks at the same rate.

Aside: This marinade is wonderful on any winter squash. I use it on delicata and red curie squash and eat them skins and all and on tougher-skinned squashes like butternut, blue hubbard, and pumpkins after peeling and chunking them. This makes a wonderful, warm, savory-sweet dish right out of oven and if you want a real treat, try saving some left-overs and mixing them with scrambled eggs for breakfast the next morning. I did this with some red curie squash just a couple of days ago and still have some leftovers that will also go into this soup.

Back to the Soup: I decided this soup would be a good opportunity to provide at least one answer to a question that lots of CSA members have this time of year: what to do with the celeriac. Also known as celery root, celeriac is one of the ugliest vegetables you'll ever meet. It's so ugly that lots of people I know are afraid to eat it. That's too bad, though because it is actually quite interesting. After you wash and peel it - and I peel it with a crude and aggressive touch - really just trimming off the outside parts with my knife, the inside has a consistency kind of like a parsnip with a flavor like mild celery. I cubed the celeriac and put it in a saucepan with water to cook over medium high heat until very tender.

Putting it together: It's finally time to bring out the soup pot. I trimmed, washed, cut up and washed again (you can't be too careful with leeks, they're dirty little guys) 2 leeks, heated a little olive oil in the bottom of my soup pot and sauteed the leeks. While the leeks were sizzling I took the garlic cloves out of my roasted veggie mix and, using an electric blender, pureed the celeriac (in its cooking liquid), the garlic, the smashed pumpkin (about 4 cups total), about 2 Tbs of red miso, and water, in batches. As the leeks were becoming tender, I poured the puree mixture in and stirred well. The thickness is like a nice, thick, smooth soup because I adjusted the amount of water while blending. After tasting the result, I hit it with a squirt of Bragg Liquid Aminos and a tsp of Chinese 5 spice powder. I left this on the stove to simmer for a little while to finish cooking the leeks.

Finally, I gently folded in the roasted veggies and my leftover red curie squash. There was some lovely caramelized stuff in the bottom of the roasting dish, so I rinsed it with a little water, scraped up the deliciousness, and poured that into the soup pot.

The color is a deep yellow/orange and the richness in the mouth is wonderful. The pureed celeriac adds a bit of intrigue and the 5 spice powder a bit of the exotic.

As promised above, how to make toasted pumpkin seeds: Use your fingers to remove the seeds from the pulp. Put them in a strainer and rinse them. Put them in a pie pan and sprinkle with Adobo seasoning (or salt) and black pepper. Toast in a 325F over, shaking/agitating often. Take them out when they are dry and crunchy but not too dark.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Super Soup

I'm calling this one Super Soup because it is full of 'super foods' that are loaded with nutrition - lentils, kale, parsley, and carrots to name a few. It also tastes great.

The basis for this soup is lentils, specifically green lentils. Lentils are a legume (bean family) and are high in protein and fiber and low in fat. Unlike other dried beans they cook quickly which makes them easier to use - you don't have to plan ahead with soaking time and long cooking time. They are also CHEAP. I paid 79 cents per pound at a regular, run-of-them-mill grocery store. That's the dry weight. After you cook them you have a large quantity of food. Yes, it is possible to feed a family of four for less than one dollar. In this economy, your food budget really can be manageable.

I started this soup by heating a bit of olive oil in the bottom of my soup pot. As much as I love to cook, I hate to clean up, so most of the time, I'll make everything in one pot. That mean everything that needs to be sauted, browned, or caramelized goes in first.

I peeled and chopped 4 cloves of garlic and 2 onions, threw them in the hot oil and stirred them around. I chopped up a bunch of celery, including the leaves and threw that in too. This is locally grown, organic celery from my CSA, which doesn't have very much resemblance at all to grocery store celery. Actually, I find it too strong from my taste to eat raw, so this soup is a good excuse to use it up. Finally I trimmed and chopped up 4 carrots and threw them in too. I gave it a good stir from time to time as these aromatic veggies cooked and their flavors blended.

I rinsed 2 lb of dried green lentils with cool water and stirred them around with my hand to wash them. Sometimes you'll find a bit of debris in dried beans so its good to look them over as you rinse. They went into the pot with enough water to cover a couple of inches over the top. If you had a nice stock on hand, you could use that instead of plain water for extra flavor.

To season this soup, I added a healthy squirt of Bragg Liquid Aminos, black pepper, and a healthy Tbs of Italian Seasoning blend of culinary herbs (Garlic, Basil, Fennel, Oregano, Parsley, Thyme) from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village.

Some people get Shakers and Quakers mixed up. Shakers were a communal religious order that had its heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries. They lived and worked together, lived celibate lives and are famous now for the furniture they made and some of the songs they wrote (Simple Gifts is one). As I once heard a middle school Friend (Quaker) in Florida explain, "Shakers had better furniture but they didn't have sex, so there aren't very many of them left." Sadly, there are only 3 left and they live at Sabbathday Lake in Maine.

I was about to declare the soup finished when I got a call from a neighbor who had a surplus of produce and was offering it to me. I came home with a bundle of parsley and kale which I knew would go perfectly in this soup. So while the lentils were cooking, I chopped up the parsley and tore the kale up with my hands, rinsed them both and threw them into the pot. YUM.

This soup is turning out really thick, like a condensed soup, which is ideal for sharing with members of my meeting. When I fill their containers tomorrow, I'll tell them to add some water or stock when they heat it up.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thai Curry Pumpkin

It's autumn in North America and that means that it's pumpkin time. Most of the Americans I know treat pumpkins as Halloween decorations. If it's eaten at all, it is as pie filling from a can. I feel like shouting from the rooftops, "Pumpkin is FOOD!" Wonderful food, too.

My CSA has a pumpkin patch with several varieties of pumpkins that I've been free to pick for the past several weeks. In the photo, you see 2 of them. The one on the left is a Blue Hubbard squash (did you know that pumpkins are squash?) and on the right is a variety called Long Island Cheese. Both are known for being really good to eat.

I wish you could smell this soup. It's so fragrant and rich.

I started this afternoon by cutting open a big Long Island Cheese pumpkin and roasting it in my oven. My oven is so small and the pumpkin was so big that I had to do it one-half at a time. I put it cut side down in a baking dish with a little water and baked it at 350 until I could poke a fork into it easily. I pulled it out of the oven, turned it over, scooped out the flesh and put it in a mixing bowl where I smashed it up with a potato masher.

By the way, I also scooped out the seeds, separated them from the inside goop, washed them, tossed them with some Adobo seasoning and cayenne pepper and toasted them in the oven for about 8 min while the squash was baking - an excellent and healthy snack.

For the soup, I chopped up 4 cloves of garlic and 4 small onions and caramelized them over pretty high heat in the bottom of my soup pot in some olive oil. I had some sweet red peppers so I cut them up and when the onions were pretty brown I through them in to saute a bit too. So far, everything has been locally-grown, organic produce from my CSA.

There was some good oniony stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan so I added just a little water, stirred it around and then added some more water. In went the pumpkin and a can of coconut milk, & a rough tablespoon of Thai green curry paste. I shop a lot at my local Asian market. I've never lived in a town that hasn't had at least one, even when I was growing up Kansas, so chances are good that there is one near where you live too.

At this stage, I tasted the soup and it was a little too spicy, but the pot was only half full so by the time the rest of it was filled up it would be just about right for most people.

I knew I needed to add some water, but I wanted to bulk up the soup a bit and add some interesting texture to it. So I heated up a couple of cups of water and then threw in a couple of packets of bean thread noodles to let them hydrate. Bean thread noodles, also know as cellophane noodles, are great for soup because they can sit in hot liquid for a long time and not get mushy. They are made from mung beans so people on wheat-free diets can eat them. Also they are fun to eat because you can see through them. After they were hydrated, I drained the water and chopped them up.

The soup was close to ready, but when I tasted it, it needed a bit of saltiness and a bit of tang. Because this I'm using Thai seasonings, I departed from my usual vegan ingredients and added a healthy shot of Thai fish sauce and a squeeze of lemon.

Tastes great. I thought about adding a bit of peanut butter to add richness, but I was a little concerned that it would overpower the other flavors, so I dished up a small bowl of soup for myself and stirred in a spoonful of peanut butter. Sure enough, too much. It was a good call to stop when I did.

Before it goes into the fridge to go to meeting tomorrow morning, there's some yummy pumpkin soup for me for dinner (with extra hot peppers) and I have enough pumpkin left over to make a pie tomorrow.

Recipe Please?

I've been doing the Ministry of Soup for 5 months now, and I have to say my soup is pretty popular. Quite often, I get asked for a recipe for the soup I've just made.

Here's the deal about recipes - I don't have any. I cook the way I love to play music - free improv!

During the time of year when my CSA is in season, I basically make up the soup by looking at what vegetables I have a lot of and then concocting something around that. As harvest time comes to a close I expect that my approach will change. I will have a concept in mind and then will obtain ingredients around that.

I learned a lot about cooking from my grandmother, Jean Fisher, who was an old-fashioned Kansas farm cook. Instead of measuring things, she'd eyeball quantities and then taste the results. I do own a set of measuring spoons and cups, but they're somewhere in the back of my utensil drawer. I prefer to throw things in the pot and let my nose and mouth tell me when I've gotten it right. Soup is pretty forgiving that way. I also remember her saying, "If the kitchen isn't a mess when you've finished cooking, you haven't put enough heart into it." One of these days I'll post a picture of my kitchen in the aftermath of a soup project. You'll see that plenty of heart goes into the soup. Sometimes I stir in some extra love too.

Because folks keep asking for recipes, I've decided to make this blog as a way to share about the soups I've been making. Keep in mind that I'm sharing ideas and experiences of soup-making & soup-sharing rather than recipes. I hope that if you are intriqued by any of the soups, you'll start your own experiments. I suppose it's possible to mess up a pot of soup, but not easy.

What is the Ministry of Soup?

Nearly every Saturday will find me in the kitchen concocting a big pot of soup. On Sunday morning, I take it with me to Quaker meeting to share with Friends. I started making soup for my Quaker community when we noticed that our small meeting has a lot of members who are seniors, caregivers for loved ones, and who also find it difficult to ask for help. As we were talking about how we might support one another, someone said that we should do, "what we love, when we can."

I love to make soup. That came as a surprise to Friends who knew me primarily as a computer geek, website designer and musician. Making soup has helped me feel more like an integrated member of the community and more of a 3-dimensional character in the life of the meeting. It has also given Friends something to talk to me about in addition to asking computer questions.

The way it works is that Friends voluntarily 'sponsor' the ministry of soup. $20 pays for 2 weeks worth of soup. This is pretty informal. Friends just hand me a $20 and I use it to buy groceries. Right now, I have the next 5 weeks sponsored. On Sunday morning, everyone who would find it helpful to have soup in the coming week is welcome to take some home. It's not only the elders and the caregivers who take home soup. People who have a busy schedule coming up and even though who are intrigued by what I might have done with red lentils and quinoa take some too. Friends bring their own containers, and we've amassed quite a collection of yogurt containers in the meetinghouse to use for distribution to those who forget.

One of my challenges has been to account for all the dietary restrictions that our meeting has - we have Friends who are vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, wheat-free, and nightshade-free, so almost all the soups are either vegan or nearly vegan. Sometimes I even manage to make something that meets everyone's requirements. Another challenge is that I personally like my food highly seasoned and am especially fond of spicy foods that would cause pain to the average palette, so I've had to tone things down a lot.

If you ever visit Bulls Head Meeting in the Hudson Valley of New York state, be sure to bring a container. You might want to leave with some soup.

Starting in October 2011, my attentions have shifted to providing meals for Occupy Poughkeepsie.   I've been inspired and made hopeful by the Occupy movement and have been discerning how I am led to be a part of it.  I'm clear that I am NOT led to sleep in an encampment, but that my talents as a soup-maker, web-designer, musician, and political organizer can come into play to support this movement as I am led.  I'm currently seeking how to balance my desire to spend much of my time supporting Occupy with my need to continue to operate a viable web design business and to maintain a healthy spiritual discipline.