Tag Archives: soup

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A Leftover Ham Bone Makes Amazing Soup

I’ve decided the best part of Thanksgiving leftovers isn’t the turkey, it’s the ham bone (assuming you have a ham).

My cousin Vivian sent me home from Thanksgiving a few weeks ago with a hefty, meaty bone. I don’t often go out and buy a ham bone or hock, so this was a treat, and I put it to good use.

Soup!

I anchored the bone in the middle of the pot and simmered the soup of pinto beans, kale and spinach for about an hour and a half, until the meat was ready to fall off.  Then I removed it from the pot.

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Stripped off the meat and put a small amount back into the soup. The rest went into plastic bags and into the freezer for future use.

Gave the soup a taste. Ohhhhh, happy day!  It was one of the richest, most flavorful soups I’d ever made, and it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with that ham.

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Christmas is next week. Save the ham bone. Always save the ham bone.

 

Tried, But Still Can’t Get Into Gazpacho

I’d like to start off by saying thank you to all of you who have emailed me this week with well wishes. Even though we’ve never met, we share a connection through our love of food, and that makes us something more than strangers. I’m so appreciative of your emails; it’s nice to know how many thoughtful readers are out there.

It hasn’t been too terrible finding soft foods to eat.  So far I’ve had yogurt, oatmeal, eggs, beans, tofu, fruit, and a giant pot of chili — which in retrospect, maybe wasn’t the best choice in this sub-Saharan heat wave we’re going through.

Tonight I decided to go for cooling and refreshing.  I made gazpacho.

Gazpacho’s never been my cup of tea. It’s the idea of it: “Cold soup.”  Kind of grosses me out.  Soup should be hot; if it’s cold, my first inclination is to throw it in the microwave.

But this seemed like the perfect time to revisit gazpacho, and I found a recipe on the Bitchin’ Camero blog that looked promising. I left off the recipe’s crunchy toppings, and stuck with the basic soup with croutons.

1 1/2 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
4 cups cubed stale bread
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 jalapeno, seeded
1/2 bell pepper (not in the original recipe)
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic

The whole thing’s a 10-minute process, start to finish.  Blend all the ingredients until smooth, let it sit for five minutes, and adjust for taste.  Chill until ready to serve.

I made the croutons with the extra stale bread, tossing them in olive oil until browned.

And sprinkling them on top of the gazpacho.

The problem isn’t the flavor.  The flavor’s great — bright, tart and garlicky, with the right amount of acid and the taste of the fresh vegetables shining through.

No, my problem is with the essence of gazpacho itself: the temperature.  I just can’t get past the fact that it’s cold. Doesn’t seem natural, like drinking a soup that’s been sitting on the stovetop for too long. The croutons helped a lot, but after two bowls, I was done.

Oh, well.  You can’t like everything, and now I know for certain gazpacho’s not for me.  I still have a ton left over.  Who wants some?

Rice and Spring Pea Soup

I’d venture to guess that peas are a vegetable most people never eat fresh.  I think it’s the convenience factor — frozen and canned peas are easy and inexpensive — and the fact that frozen can sometimes taste even better than fresh, because they’re picked at the height of sweetness before the peas turn starchy.

This spring weather has me searching for all kinds of recipes using peas. Nothing jumped out until I found this recipe in my Lidia Bastianich cookbook for Risi e Bisi — rice and spring pea soup. Lidia says it’s a typical spring soup of the Veneto region of Italy.

Here it is:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups fresh shelled peas, or 10-ounce box frozen peas
1/2 cup celery, chopped
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
1 cup Arborio rice
Parmesan cheese for grating

Heat the olive oil and butter (I used 1/2 tbsp) over medium heat and cook the onion until soft. Then add the garlic, stir in the peas and celery, and cook for a few minutes.  Season with fresh black pepper (and salt if necessary, but I don’t think you’ll need it.)

Add the stock and bring to a boil.  Then simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the rice and cook until tender, stirring occasionally.  My rice took about 15 minutes before it was tender but still had a nice bite.

Remove from heat and grate the Parmesan to taste.

The soup surprised me because it doesn’t require many ingredients, but has a ton of flavor — unlike the vegetable stews I made recently that used twice the ingredients but were flat and bland.  And it’s light enough to be a spring meal before the temps get too warm.

So break out those bags of frozen peas and enjoy!

In Pursuit of Hot and Sour Soup Perfection

Hot and sour soup sounds so deceptively simple.  Hot. Sour. How difficult can that be?  Well, plenty, at least for this home cook.  In the past when I’ve made the soup, it’s turned out, ehh. A few problems emerged: the delicate balance of hot and sour was off, or the color was not quite right, or there was a general lack of deep, rich flavor.  Basically, my hot and sour was not great, not terrible, certainly nothing I’d be proud to serve to other people.  Just… okay.

It’s always made me a little crazy that as a Chinese-American, I haven’t mastered this signature soup.

But then, neither have many Chinese restaurants, and they make this stuff every day.  The situation is especially dire at Chinese takeout spots, whose representatives I’m convinced are all meeting in some clandestine location to pass around the same awful hot and sour recipe, that starts off, How to make a hot and sour soup that’s neither hot nor sour.

So what makes for an exceptional hot and sour soup?  For me it boils down to these essential elements: Rich, velvety dark color; a smattering of tofu, wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots and shredded pork; a zing of vinegar that penetrates the nostrils; peppery heat that intensifies at the back of the throat.

And if it takes the rest of my life, I’m gonna perfect this soup, dammit.

I’m getting closer, pulling together components from different recipes.  This resulting recipe works pretty well.

(Note: I left out the pork, but if you use it, cut some pork tenderloin into shreds and marinate it in sherry, sesame oil and a pinch of sugar.)

4 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp minced ginger
1/2 cup shredded bamboo shoots
1/2 cup wood ears
1 block soft tofu, cut into strips
4 scallions, minced
3 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chili oil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper (or more depending on taste)
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 egg, beaten

First, hydrate the wood ears, which come dried in a package. They go by different names in Asian groceries, like wood ears, cloud ears, tree ears, and the most unappealing, black fungus.

Soak them in warm water for about 20 minutes until softened. They’ll expand in the water like gummy bears, so a small handful goes a long way. (Am I the only one who put gummy bears in water as a kid just to watch them double in size?)

Combine the vinegar through cornstarch in a bowl.

Bring the stock to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and add the ginger, pork (if using), tofu, bamboo shoots and wood ears.

Bring the liquid back to a boil, pour in the vinegar mixture and stir.  The soup should start to thicken (but not too much) from the cornstarch.

Here’s the fun part.  Turn off the heat, and kind of stream the beaten egg into the soup while stirring with a chopstick.  If you do it right, it should form these little strands.

Sprinkle in the chopped scallion and give the soup a taste. Needs more sour?  Add a splash of vinegar.  Needs more hot?   Add a touch of chili oil and extra black pepper.

I’m liking the balance of this recipe a lot, and the soup has a nice glossy sheen, but even still, there’s a last little oomph that’s missing — that depth of flavor you taste in a hot and sour soup at a good Chinese restaurant.  I’m not sure what the secret is — maybe a bit of garlic? The quality of the chicken stock?

The tinkering continues.

Shrimp Wonton Soup

If potstickers are origami, wontons are paper airplanes: 10 times simpler to construct. That’s partly because the shaping and crimping of potstickers is more intricate than the folding of wontons, and partly because rather than make wonton wrappers from scratch, many people, myself included, use the packaged wrappers that are available in any Asian grocery store.

I think my sister was the one who once brought up this question: How come wonton wrappers, which should be perfectly square for folding purposes, are actually not?  They’re slightly rectangular, creating imperfect folds.  It’s a good question.  I’m going to have to call a wonton wrapper manufacturer to get the answer.

Anyway, wontons are often filled with pork, but this shrimp filling is a nice change of pace with great texture and flavor.  The water chestnuts add a pleasing crunch, and the cilantro adds that distinct flavor that only cilantro can.  If you despise cilantro, you can substitute scallions.

Filling:
1 lb shrimp, minced
2 tbsp water chestnuts, minced
1 tsp sesame oil
1 egg white
1 tbsp ginger, minced
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1 package wonton wrappers
6 cups chicken stock

Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl and bring the stock to a boil.

There are many, many ways to wrap a wonton, but this is the method my mom taught me.  It’s quick and easy:

First, lay the wrapper down with a point facing up, and place about a tsp of filling in the center.  Using your finger, wet the upper two edges of the wrapper with water.

Now fold the wrapper down to form a triangle.  The wet edges help make a tight seal.

Take some more water and wet the front side of the left corner, and the back side of the right corner. Pinching the wonton, fold the right corner over the left corner and seal tightly.  It should end up looking like a little hat.

That’s it!  Repeat until the filling is used up.

Drop the wontons into the boiling stock and give them a gentle stir so they don’t stick.  Shrimp cooks quickly — you’re looking at about 4-5 minutes.

Give it a dose of freshly cracked pepper and a garnish of cilantro, if you like.

And you’ve got yourself shrimp wonton soup, that perfect marriage of silken, pillowy wonton skin and savory filling.  Makes for some truly good winter eating.