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!

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Cannellini Bean Pot Pie

I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed about how thoroughly I have watched The Office. Our family has watched every episode at least once (the good ones upwards of 2-3 times) and all it takes is one four beat measure of the theme song to be heard before Aidan and I run into the living room because our unspoken rule is “leave no episode unwatched.” One of my favorite episodes is the one where Michael microwaves and eats an entire family sized frozen chicken pot pie at the office and them promptly falls into a deep food coma-induced nap. The rest of the office workers—namely Jim and Pam—then run around changing all the clocks to read five in the evening before Michael wakes up and announces the work day is over.

Every time I see a reference to a pot pie, I think of that episode. Pot pie has never really been a huge draw for me because it’s almost never vegetarian, and the filling is often deadened by a creamy sauce that does nothing to marry the flavors of the various vegetables and herbs. Then I developed a recipe for perfectly creamy cannellini beans with just the right amount of garlic and rosemary and knew that they were just begging to be combined with a quick sauté of shallots and mushrooms that would support a tender whole-wheat and chive biscuit topping. It’s nothing like the sodium-laden monstrosity that sent Michael Scott into a stupor, but I can guarantee that though it’s tastier and lighter, this pot pie is still a hearty and comforting meal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few episodes of The Office to watch.

Cannellini Bean Pot Pie

Serves 4

Filling:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 carrots, diced

8 oz. button mushrooms, slices

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups rosemary cannellini beans

1/2 cup water

Biscuits:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons thinly sliced fresh chives

3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

1. Prepare the filling: Heat the olive oil in a 10 inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. If you do not have a 10-inch cast iron skillet see the note below for a substitution. Once the oil is hot, sauté the shallot for 2 minutes, until translucent. Add the carrots, mushrooms, and salt, and sauté until the mushrooms are golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the biscuits.

2. Prepare the biscuits: Preheat the oven to 450F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and chives. Add the butter and work the butter into the flour with your hands until the butter is the size of small peas. Pour in the buttermilk and fold gently with a rubber spatula until a cohesive dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into an 8-inch round, then cut the round into 8 even triangles by cutting into quarters, then eighths. Place the biscuits on top of the filling in the skillet, leaving a little room between the biscuits to allow for rising. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the beaten egg, then place in the preheat oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven, portion into individual serving bowls, and serve.

Note: If you do not have a 10-inch cast iron, prepare the filling in a skillet, then transfer it to either a 9 inch pie plate or an 8 x 8 inch baking pan, then top with the biscuit dough as directed in step 2, then bake.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Tofu Lettuce Cups

A few months ago a shopping bag ordinance was put in place; plastic bags are no longer offered at grocery and retail locations and all paper bags cost 10 cents each. I love this new rule, I think it’s a great way to reduce our impact on the environment and it gives the city a little additional revenue. It has, however, increased the incidence of what I call “grocery bag casualties.” Local parking lots are full of individuals running after dropped cans and heads of lettuce with their arms full of food, too stubborn to pay 10 cents for a bag. I guess it’s not very fair to laugh at shoppers furiously chasing a rolling yogurt container on their way to the car when this happens to me all the time, but it’s too hard to resist.

It’s the worst when I stop by the grocery store on my way home from school with a heavy backpack. I walk out of the store with produce bags hanging off my elbows and bags of flour tucked under my arms (I promise I have a few typical teenager characteristics, their just hidden under a thick layer of butter and sugar.). This happened again recently when buying ingredients to make these tofu lettuce cups for our regular Friday night dinners. Fortunately, no tofu or mushrooms were harmed in the making of this recipe.

I’ve made tofu lettuce cups for dinner about half a dozen times, and it’s one of my favorite summer meals. Made with tofu and complementary vegetables, they make for a healthy and refreshing appetizer or main dish. Sometimes I prepare them with water chestnuts and Hoisin sauce for a more classically Chinese variation, but my favorite way to make them is with tofu, mushrooms, and a chili-lime sauce, for a more Southeast Asian spin.

Understandably, most people are intimidated when they first cook tofu because at face value it’s a bland and floppy white block. The trick to making great tofu is to use its mild taste and soft texture to your advantage. Once seared in a hot pan, tofu becomes chewy, yet still manages to absorb lots of flavor from any sauce that’s used for flavor. In this dish, the bright lime juice, chili-garlic paste, and soy sauce permeate the tofu, mushrooms, and roasted cashews for a spicy dish full of vibrant flavors and contrasting textures.

These are excellent appetizers for a party, but they’re especially fun for dinner with some rice on the side. Everyone can make their own and use the dipping sauce to adjust the heat according to personal preference. Try these for an end of summer dish, and don’t forget to remember your reusable grocery bags.


Tofu Lettuce Cups

Serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a main dish with rice

Sauce:

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili-garlic paste)

Filling:

1 head butter lettuce

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

14 oz. firm or extra firm tofu

8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves minced

1 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili-garlic paste)

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

¼ cup salted, roasted cashews, chopped

  1. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Remove the outer leaves of the lettuce and reserve for another use. Carefully separate the individual leaves and wash and dry them, then set aside.
  2. In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil and once hot, add the tofu in a single layer. Cook until golden brown on one side, 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook for 3 more minutes until golden brown. Remove tofu from the pan and set aside. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, then add the mushrooms and cook for 8-10, stirring occasionally, until brown. Add the garlic, sambal oelek, soy sauce, and lime juice to the pan along with the tofu and stir to combine until the liquid has reduced and everything is hot.
  3. To serve, spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the filling into a single lettuce leaf, top with a few cashews and a drizzle of the sauce, then eat immediately.

Note: If you do not have sambal oelek, you can use ½ teaspoon of sriracha or red pepper flakes for every teaspoon of sambal oelek. If you eat gluten-free, you can use a gluten free soy sauce. I have tested gluten free soy many times and found it to be an excellent substitute for traditional soy sauce. It is often labeled as wheat-free Tamari.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!