Carrot-Ginger Soup

A few weeks ago, I got a text from a friend asking what I had been cooking over break. I immediately sent him a picture of this carrot-ginger soup, and got a recipe request in response along with the accusation that I had “staged” the photo. True, I did set up this picture on the floor of our kitchen near a full-length window, but nothing about this soup is fake–the flavor of carrots is as prominent as the orange color suggests, and the texture is perfectly silky without any milk or cream to deaden the spice from the ginger.

What makes this recipe so revolutionary is the addition of just one simple pantry ingredient. Cooks’ Illustrated came up with the recipe of course, seeing as the test cooks there remained unparalleled in their use of kitchen chemistry in recipes for the home cook’s advantage.  Just half a teaspoon of baking soda added to the simmering carrots raises the pH of the soup enough to break down the cell walls of the carrots in record time. It’s the same trick that I use to make stir-free polenta, tender braised green beans, and nutty broccoli pesto.  Twenty minutes later, the carrots get pureed into an unbelievably silky soup that is quickly brightened up with a splash of cider vinegar, which is added at the end of cooking to keep the pH in the basic range. The short cooking time has advantages beyond just saving time, too; having the soup simmer for less than half an hour prevents the flavor and heat from the ginger from fading into the background. No fussy straining or special techniques are needed, just sauté some aromatics in butter with ginger before adding the rest of the ingredients, then blend the soup quickly and serve, preferably with a grilled cheese sandwich made with good bread and sharp cheddar.

I made this when I was in the always-temperate Palo Alto, but I would love a bowl of this to combat the twenty degree weather in Massachusetts. No matter the weather outside your house, this soup is a simple, healthful meal that everyone will love.

Carrot-Ginger Soup

Serves 6

Adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (If you need to make the soup vegan, use canola oil or another similarly neutral cooking oil, such as grapeseed.)

2 onions, diced fine

1 ½ tablespoons grated fresh ginger (store your ginger in the freezer to make it easy to grate)

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick

5 ½ cups water, divided

2 sprigs fresh thyme

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

  1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, fresh ginger, garlic, two teaspoons table salt, and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened but not browned, 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Increase the heat to high, and add the carrots, 4 ¾ cups water, thyme sprigs, and baking soda. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered until carrots are very tender, 20-25 minutes.
  3. Discard thyme sprigs. Puree the soup in a blender in two batches until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Return soup to a clean pot and stir in remaining ¾ cup water and vinegar. Return to simmer over medium heat, then serve. Soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Black Rice Shiitake Salad with Peanut Sauce


The inspiration for this salad came from one of my favorite Southeast Asian dishes: spring rolls. I love the way the chewy rice paper wrappers yield to the mixture of fragrant herbs, vegetables, and meaty mushrooms that fills the rolls and is enhanced by a flavorful peanut sauce. I wanted to build the same intensity of flavors in a dish without the labor intensive process of filling the spring rolls.

For the base of this salad, I cooked a batch of black rice, which is identical in size to regular long grain rice, but has a black exterior and a more complex flavor than white rice. Black rice is just as nutritious as brown rice, but cooks at the same speed of white rice, giving it the best of both worlds in terms of convenience and nutrition. A pan of golden brown shiitake mushrooms, peppers, and carrots that’s flavored with a potent mixture of garlic, ginger, chilies, basil, and mint is added to the black rice, along with some lime juice and soy sauce. A quick peanut sauce is drizzled over the rice and the whole dish is topped with a generous amount of crispy shallots. This dish was a huge hit at our annual Christmas party—it may not be a traditional holiday dish, but I have a feeling that it may be making a reappearance next year.


Black Rice Shiitake Salad with Peanut Sauce

Serves 4-6 for lunch

1 ½ cups black rice

2 ½ cups water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp minced ginger

1 Serrano chili, minced

3 tablespoons soy sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1 cup grated carrots

1 cup sliced red bell peppers

2 tablespoons chopped mint

1 tablespoon chopped basil

3 tablespoon salted, creamy peanut butter (the only ingredients should be peanuts and salt)

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon brown sugar

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the black rice and water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, covered, until the water is absorbed. Take the pan off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can cook the rice in a rice cooker.
  2. While the rice cooks, heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat, and once very hot, add half of the shallots, tilting the pan so that the oil collects to one side and mostly covers the shallots. Fry the shallots until crisp, 2-3 minutes, then lift them out of the hot oil and let drain on paper towels. Add the rest of the shallots and repeat the frying process. Set the shallots aside, and turn the heat down to medium-high.
  3. From the remaining oil in the skillet, remove 2 teaspoons and set it aside in a small bowl. Add the shiitake mushrooms to the remainder of the oil in the pan, and sauté over medium-high heat until golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and serrano to the mushrooms and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the carrots and bell peppers and cook for another 2 minutes until the vegetables have just begun to soften. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.
  4. Add the soy sauce and lime juice to the bowl with the reserved oil and stir to combine. Take 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce mixture and add it to the mushrooms, along with the cooked rice, mint, and basil, and toss to combine.
  5. Take the remainder of the soy sauce mixture and whisk in the peanut butter, water, and brown sugar until smooth. Transfer the rice mixture to a platter, then drizzle with the peanut sauce. Top with the fried shallots and serve at room temperature.

Note: To make this dish gluten-free, use wheat free soy sauce.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!


Tofu Noodle Bowls with Peanut Sauce

Readers of The New York Times Sunday Magazine may remember the addition of “reduced-sodium soy sauce” to the meh list on October sixth. The meh list, according to the Times, is a compilation of items that are “not-hot, not-not, just meh.” Well, I thought that listing reduced sodium-soy was somewhat of a low blow, and I would like to prove to you that it is anything but “meh.”

Soy sauce has very high glutamate levels, which means it contributes a well-rounded, savory depth of flavor to recipes. It has 780mg of glutamates per 100 g of soy sauce, which puts it above the glutamate levels of most meat products such as chicken or oyster sauce. Reduced sodium-soy sauce transforms vegetarian tofu dishes, without dehydrating your dinner companions. But before you start pouring soy sauce on all the tofu you can find, take a few minutes to press the tofu, because tofu’s delicate texture needs all the help it can get.

To press the tofu, wrap it in a double layer of paper towels and place it on a sturdy plate.


Next, wrap it in a dry dishtowel and return it to the plate. If your dishtowel has all the crowns of the British royal family, all the better.


Now grab the heaviest object you can find, and place it on top of the wrapped tofu block for about half an hour. An AP Physics book is highly recommended, but you could substitute textbooks on AP biology, chemistry, or United States history. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could probably use War and Peace or Moby Dick, but as I have not tried those options myself, I cannot vouch for their success. In case you’re wondering, a Kindle will not have the same effect.

Once the tofu is pressed and sliced, it’s lightly browned in a pan and then coated with a combination of reduced-sodium soy sauce and molasses that reduces and caramelizes on the exterior of the tofu. Once a white, bland block, the tofu is now crispy, chewy, and perfectly flavored. Some quickly pickled carrots, a simple peanut sauce, and some pad Thai noodles turn the tofu into a nutritious meal that is most definitely not “meh.” Take that, New York Times.


Tofu Noodle Bowls with Peanut Sauce

Serves 2-3

Tofu:

1, 14 oz. block firm or extra firm tofu

1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon molasses

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon canola oil

Noodles

1 carrot, shaved into curls with a vegetable peeler

2 tablespoons rice vinegar, divided

4 oz. pad Thai rice noodles

A tea kettle of boiling water

2 teaspoons creamy peanut butter

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili-garlic paste)

1 ½ tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

½ teaspoon honey

¼ cup roasted, salted cashews

  1. Wrap the tofu block in a double layer of paper towels, followed by a clean dishtowel. Place the tofu on a plate and place a heavy weight on top. Let the tofu press for 20-30 minutes.
  2. While the tofu is being pressed, combine the soy sauce, molasses, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the carrot curls and 1 tablespoon of the rice vinegar.
  3. Once the tofu has been pressed, unwrap it and slice it into ¼ inch thick rectangles. Heat the canola oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then add the tofu and let cook until golden brown, 3-4 minutes per side. Pour the soy sauce mixture into the skillet and gently shake the pan to coat all of the tofu. Let the sauce reduce, flipping the tofu after 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.
  4. While the tofu cooks, bring the tea kettle of water to a boil and place the rice noodles in a large bowl. Pour about 3 cups of the boiling water over the noodles, stir to loosen them, and let sit for 5 minutes, until al dente. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, peanut butter, garlic, sambal oelek, soy sauce, and honey. This will form the sauce for the noodles. Drain the noodles and place them in a bowl, then toss with the peanut sauce. Divide the noodles onto serving plates, top with the glazed tofu, carrot curls, and cashews, and serve immediately.

Note: If you don’t have any sambal oelek, substitute ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or sriracha.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Carrot-Walnut Pizza


I think I can guess what you just said to yourself. Is it, “What! Carrots and walnuts don’t belong on a pizza?” Well, actually, they do. I wish I could take credit for this incredible combination, but it actually comes from a pizza place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While working as a TA during graduate school, my dad tried it during a pizza-fueled marathon exam grading session. Years later, it has become a mainstay for our homemade pizzas. Unfortunately, I think we’re the last surviving makers of Carrot-Walnut pizzas—we haven’t been able to find the pizzeria that sells such a pizza in Cambridge, and I will never know what the original tasted like.

Once baked, the grated carrots get firmly anchored to the crust and cheese and blister slightly under the intense heat of the oven. The walnuts, too, toast gently and taste sweeter alongside the carrots, which manage to minimize the traditionally bitter mouth feel of walnuts. And the best part is that when sliced, the toppings stay on the pizza. My biggest pizza pet-peeve is when the cheese refuses to stay on the pizza. Luckily, that is nowhere near the case for this recipe.


Underneath the toppings is a thin layer of a freshly made tomato sauce, full of garlic and basil. It only takes a few extra minutes of work to make homemade sauce, and it is worth it every time. Delicious toppings and a phenomenal sauce only need one more thing for this pizza to reach restaurant quality, and that is a pizza stone. Once preheated, it works quickly enough to allow the crust to be crisp on the bottom yet not cracker-like.


If I still haven’t convinced you that Carrot-Walnut pizza is worth your time, maybe my brother can. Every time we make pizza, his only toppings are carrot and walnuts, and after devouring the entire pizza, he sits back and remarks, “I am always amazed by how well carrots and walnuts go together on pizza. It’s just so good.”

Who knows, maybe someday these toppings will be back in action at local pizzerias, but for now, I hope you’ll try it at home.

Carrot-Walnut Pizza

Makes 4, 12 inch pizzas, which will serve 4 teenagers or 8 adults

Dough

1 ½ cups warm water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups all-purpose flour (try to get a low protein flour like Pillsbury or Gold Medal)

2 teaspoons table salt

Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt

28 oz. can diced tomatoes, pulsed until smooth in the food processor

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Toppings

Cornmeal, for dusting the pizza peel

16 oz. part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater

3 carrots, grated on the large holes of a box grater

1 cup walnuts, chopped

  1. For the dough: Mix the water, yeast, sugar, and oil in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Let the yeast proof until bubbly for 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt and mix on low to combine, then increase the speed to medium and knead until smooth and shiny, 6-8 minutes. Cover and let rise until doubled in volume, 45-60 minutes.
  2. For the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic cloves and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes and salt and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Off heat, stir in the basil and set the heat aside.
  3. 30-45 minutes before baking the pizza, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500F.
  4. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured work surface and divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll each dough ball out into a 12 inch circle, then transfer to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Spread ½-2/3 cup sauce into an even layer onto the dough, leaving a ¼ inch border along the edges. Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella in an even layer on top of the sauce. Next, spread ½ cup of the grated carrots all over the pizza, then finish with ¼ cup of chopped walnuts all over the carrots.
  5. Slide the pizza from the peel onto the preheated baking stone, then bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown, rotating halfway through baking. Transfer to a cutting board, let sit for about a minute, then slice and serve. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the remaining ingredients to make 3 more pizzas.

Note: If you do not have a pizza peel or a pizza stone, spread a baking sheet with cornmeal, then place the rolled out dough on the baking sheet and top as described in step 4 and continue with the rest of the recipe.

Carrot Cake Quick-Bread

What do you do with a 5 pound bag of Costco carrots? (Besides sending out an APB to all neighborhood rabbits.) Resist the urge to eat them all plain (you’ll turn orange) or bake them into a cake (you’ll turn into a giant orange version of yourself).

Instead, try them in a quick-bread, where shredded carrots and whole wheat flour combine with the warming spices of cinnamon and ginger. The result is a tender loaf that makes a healthy breakfast just that much more enticing.

Thick slices of this are reminiscent of carrot cake, but the minimal sweetness and heart healthy ingredients are something you can feel virtuous about. For all of you that closed the tab because you felt threatened just at the thought of fiber invading your baked goods, don’t worry. Buttermilk is a two-pronged attack on dry and dense bread. The reaction between the acidic buttermilk and the baking soda creates bubbles of carbon dioxide gas within the batter, which help to lighten the crumb. Secondly, the thick texture of the tangy buttermilk keeps the dough from becoming too dry. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand because really, who does, I have a quick solution.

Combine regular low-fat milk with some type of acid, and let it sit for a few minutes. (I prefer lemon juice, but white or apple cider vinegar works as well.) In order to further the success of this quick-bread, as well as any other quick-breads you may make, gently stir the batter until everything is just incorporated. Overly zealous stirring creates more gluten, which will make this bread dense and dry.

Admittedly, this is more work that pouring a bowl of cereal at 7 am, but once you get a taste of this tender, slightly spicy treat, you won’t regret any of the time spent making it. It’s hard to imagine anyone’s morning not improving with toasted slices of this bread. Try it spread with jam or almond butter and start your day off on the right foot.


Enjoy!

Carrot Cake Quick-bread

Makes 1 9″ x 5″ loaf (8-12 slices)

1/2 cup milk

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups grated carrots

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and brush a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan with oil.

2. Mix the milk and lemon juice and set aside to thicken into a faux-buttermilk, for 5 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs. Next, whisk in the oil and “buttermilk.”

4. Stir in the grated carrots until well combined.

5. Add the cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flours to the bowl and fold in gently until just combined.

6. Gently fold in the walnuts, making sure that all the flour is incorporated.

7. Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan and smooth it into an even layer.

8. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 55-65 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Let cool the bread in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then remove from the pan and let finish cooling on a wire rack.

Note: This bread freezes very well, so if you did buy a 5 pound bag of Costco carrots, you can double the batch and wrap one loaf in a double layer of plastic wrap, put it in a plastic bag, and freeze for up to 2 months.