Cucumber Soup with Mint

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A while ago I was at the New York Vegetarian Festival. It takes place once a year and the objective is for branded vegetarian food items to get showcased. So you can find anything and everything related to vegetarian cooking. It was at that expo where I discovered the VITAMIX. That machine can do it all. It makes smoothies, soups, ice cream, nut butters…. you name it. I was sold.

Since then, every opportunity I get to pulverize down the proliferation from my CSA, I pull out my Vitamix and hit, pulse. One week this passed summer, I received 6 giant cucumbers. (Sorry for the late post, just found these photos in my camera) While cucumbers are a welcome respite from the hot summer months, it was just too much of a good thing. That’s when I decided to stir up this cucumber mint soup. I grow mint in my garden and use it regularly when I want to freshen up a dish and it especially pairs nicely with yogurt. What I love about this soup is its simplicity and yet its layers. The ginger and cumin seeds form the undertone in the soup, with just the right amount of bite, while the yogurt cools you down with its creamy tang. As in all soups, it’s best slurped the day after, when the flavors have had a chance to marry.

From the Silk Road, I present this chilled cucumber mint soup.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds
3/4 cup scallions (green onions), finely chopped
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
4 medium sized cucumbers
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
Freshly grounded black pepper, to garnish

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the cumin seeds and cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the scallions and grated ginger and saute for about 5 minutes or until the scallions have turned a dark green color and wilted.
  2. In a blender, like a Vitamix, combine the cucumbers, yogurt, fresh mint and salt. Slowly stir in the scallion mixture and blend until smooth.
  3. Chill the mixture for a least 2 hours in the fridge and serve with freshly ground black pepper and a few sprigs of mint.

Tom Kha Kai – Thai Coconut Soup

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Since I was ten years old, I have been traveling to Bangkok to visit my parents, who were once living there. We usually ate at home with the cooks preparing a dish that my mother taught them in Central Asian style, usually made vegetarian, because kosher meat was hard to find. Being so young, I did not venture out on my own in Bangkok and just ate what was served at home.

In my late teens, when I returned to Bangkok to visit my parents, I had more of a social circle and would go out with my father’s clients. My father operated a vast gemstone business where he would broker deals between the miners and purchasers. At that time, the Holiday Inn on Silom Road opened up, and looking to try some Thai foods, I ventured over there. There was a restaurant overlooking Silom Road on the top floor of the hotel. I caught my eye on the Thai Coconut Soup called, Tom Kha Kai. It’s a coconut broth soup with seasonal vegetables, that is spicy with lime and usually made with seafood or chicken.

I explained to the waitress that I would like this soup made vegetarian, since the menu stated “with chicken”. It’s very standard for Asians to put fish broth in almost everything they cook. So when I explained to her that I was vegetarian, (because Thai think that fish broth is vegetarian), I also told her that I am allergic to any fish and meat, and I will choke and need hospital care if there is any flesh in the soup. I had to make this point clear, even though I over dramatized it. She obliged and told me, “no problem”.

Twenty minutes later, came out this lemon scented coconut rich soup that was permeating the surrounding air. I had a sip, and it was AMAZING! I loved the juxtapositions of flavors that just worked. Spicy, sour and sweet, all at the same time. Years later, being now, I have replicated this soup. It is so easy to make and so flavorful.  It will impress all your friends. Trust me. Since I am in full fledged CSA season, I have just added the vegetables that I had available. You can add any vegtable like, even tomatoes work.

A note about the noodles and lemongrass. You may have heard of Zero Noddles, which is the same as Tofu Shiritake. It’s a traditional Japanese noodle made from the konjac plant, which contains high amount of fiber and zero carbs. It has no taste and like tofu, absorbs the flavors of the surrounding ingredients. You can find it in any Asian supermarket or health food store. Lemongrass is prevalent in Thai cooking, and is optional in this recipe, but if you have it or can get your hands on it, it makes the difference and adds more of a citrus zing to the soup, which also is great for colds and flu.

Tom Kha Kai

Serves 4

Ingredients

8 ounces tofu shiritake
2 (14-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk

1 (14-ounce) can water (use the coconut can to measure)
1-2 stalks minced lemongrass, optional*
2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated
3 large minced shallots
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt, or to taste

Lots of seasonal vegetables, for example this pot had:
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
16 ounces shiitake mushrooms
3 scallions, sliced
Garnish with squeeze of fresh lime juice and handful of fresh cilantro into each bowl

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot over medium high heat, bring the coconut milk, water, lemongrass (if using), ginger, shallots, red pepper flakes and salt to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for five to ten minutes.
  2. Add the seasonal vegetables to the simmering coconut milk, and cook until just tender. Depending on the vegetables used, it can be anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
  3. Drain the noodles from the bag and mix into the soup. Cook an additional 7 minutes.
  4. Ladle the soup into bowls and finish with a generous squeeze of lime and lots of cilantro.

* You can find fresh lemongrass in most Asian food and grocery stores. It is usually located with the other fresh produce, and is often sold in bundles of 2 or 3 stalks. When buying fresh lemongrass: Look for stalks that are fragrant, tightly formed, and of a lemony-green color on the lower stalk (near the bulb). The softer, fleshier part of the lemongrass – which is what you want to use in your cooking – is located under the tough outer leaves. Peel away these layers with your fingers and discard. What you will uncover is a pale yellow stalk that is softer and easier to slice. Cut off two inches from the bulb and make thin slices up to 2/3 of the stalk. Stop slicing when the stalk is no longer yellow and “fleshy”. Because lemongrass is so firm and fibrous, it helps to process the slices a little further. Place the lemongrass in a food processor (or chopper) and process well on “high”, OR pound for a minute or two with a pestle & mortar. Now it’s ready to use in your cooking. You can store leftovers in freezer bags and store in the freeze for up to six months.

Leek Soup with Dill Oil

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Growing up in Forest Hills, NY, there used to be a quaint french restaurant on the main street, called La Fondue. I think every week for months, on the weekends when I was 13 years old, I would enjoy my favorite soup – Onion Soup soaked in french bread and topped with overflowing melted burnt cheese. I stopped cold turkey and then restarted this onion soup obsession of mine when I was pregnant. Relax…. it was years later! I was craving onion soup like a mad woman on the edge. I can’t tell you why, but it settled the nausea. Probably something subconscious – like regression, fetal position, womb, soup…. get it ?  what ever, sounds psychological.

In any event, as you know (or not) I have been a member of a CSA for years now, so am always on the lookout for interesting recipes that speak to me. This soup does just that. It’s a Mediterranean version of my long lost love onion soup, only this version is made with leeks and is much healthier. Leeks originally came from the Mesopotamian region and yet somehow became the national symbol in Ireland. In Ireland, leek & potato soup is a staple in their diet. The leek soup presented here is also made from a leek and potato base, but then spruced up with some forest green dill oil, Parmesan cheese and toasted almond flakes for crunch.

I made the dill oil by pureeing fresh dill and olive oil, then used a portion of it in the soup base, and the remaining as a drizzle across the tops of the soup. Soup aside, the oil is also great drizzled on just about any kind of egg, or crackers with cheese and even as a base for a salad dressing.  Be sure to slice the leeks lengthwise and clean in between the leaves to make sure there is no dirt hiding. I regularly find pockets of mud layers in. It’s sneaky like that, and you really don’t want it in your soup. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I cleaned the leeks properly only to find myself chewing on grit later on. It’s especially embarrassing when I have guests over, and they are wandering if the grit is part of the meal. Thanks to 101 Cookbooks for sharing this recipe.

 Yields 8-10 servings

Ingredients

1 small bunch of fresh dill
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3.5 pounds ( 1.5 kg) leeks, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons unsalted vegan butter
Sea salt
2 large, thin-skinned potatoes, thinly sliced
3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 1/2 cups (1.5+ liters) vegetable broth
toasted almond slices, for topping

grated Parmesan cheese, for topping

Directions

  1. Use a food processor to puree the dill and olive oil into a creamy emulsion. Set aside.
  2. Cut the dark, tough green leaves from the leeks, trim off the roots, and rinse well. You can slice the leeks lengthwise to get in between the layers.
  3. In a large soup pot, heat the butter and 5 tablespoons of the dill oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, stir in the leeks and a couple big pinches of salt. Stir well, then cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks soften up, 6 – 8 minutes. Now, stir in the potatoes and garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring regularly, for another 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are very, very soft. If the leeks at the bottom of the pot are starting to burn, lower the heat and scrape the bottom of the pan when you’re stirring. Stir in the hot broth, and use a hand blender to emulsify. Bring back to a simmer, serve topped with almonds, grated cheese, and a generous drizzle of the remaining dill oil.