Tag Deborah Madison

Winter = Soup Season = Great Vegetable Stock

Winter is soup season. OK – every season is soup season. But still, even if you aren’t trudging through snow to get home, a warming soup is a the best welcome home on a cold day. And I’ve cooked a lot of soups this winter: Deborah Madison’s lentil minestrone; Martha Rose Shulman’s pureed butternut squash and white bean soup (more on that soon); Mark Bittman’s sweet potato chowder (ditto); Yotam Ottolenghi’s Savoy cabbage and Parmesan rind soup (ehh …); and an utterly forgettable parsnip soup. Some have done well by The Professor;  others not so much. But here’s what I’ve learned: in most cases, the stock more than matters – it’s the deciding factor in whether a vegetarian soup is truly satisfying to a meat-eater. So what is the best vegetarian stock?

One year ago, I spent the better part of a day gathering, peeling and chopping ingredients (17 in total, including collard greens and lemon grass) to make Cooks Illustrated‘s Ultimate Vegetable Stock. The recipe’s creators were aiming for “a nicely balanced, robust vegetable stock recipe that vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike would consider making.” And the stock was certainly more complex and flavorful than any packaged option.Though 5 hours and 17 ingredients better? I’m not so sure.

Since then, I’ve been using a stock based on Superior Touch’s Better Than Bouillon, embellished with a few teaspoons of soy sauce. In general, The Professor has been happy with the flavor that it adds, but I keep wondering if there is a simple home-made alternative. If you have a great recipe for home-made vegetable stock, send it to me and I’ll include it in my vegetable stock taste test.

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Deborah Madison’s Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables

After cooking Deborah Madison’s delicious lentil minestrone soup yet again last week, I decided to go back through her best-selling Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone in search of other recipes. I cracked open the book one morning and 609 pages later, I had several ear-marked pages and my menu for the night: Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables with a Pastry Crust and a side of Catalan-Style Greens.

Vegetarian Pot Pie

And yes — you would be right to think that after 609 pages I might have found a recipe that didn’t involve nine of the same ingredients I’d diced, minced and tossed into the lentil minestrone. Spicy stir-fried tofu with coconut rice, anyone? Wild rice with walnut and scallions saute? But you see, I am still trying to earn ten A’s and I knew lentils had typically done well by The Professor. Plus, it gave me a chance to use my ramekins, which would otherwise sit in the basement until blueberry season.

Deborah Madison's recipe for stewed lentils

The recipe is straightforward and you can cook the lentils and vegetables ahead of time and let the flavors blend, which only makes the dish tastier. I did make a few adjustments to the recipe: I used black Belugas, which, like the French green lentils the recipe called for, hold their shape better than regular brown lentils. I added a several sprigs of parsley and thyme to the lentils, tying the herbs up with the bay leaf in a bouquet garni. I mixed a tablespoon of vegetable bouillon into the lentil’s cooking water. And, because I am genetically incapable of using just one clove of garlic in any dish that calls for it, I added two.

When I returned to the kitchen at 6:00, I spooned the lentils into the ramekins, topped each with puff pastry, and put them in the oven. While they baked I sauteed the spinach.

“So we’re having an experiment for dinner?” The Professor asked, as he entered the kitchen.

“Yes — it’s lentils and vegetables topped with puff pastry,” I told him.

“You mean like a lentil pot pie?”

I didn’t really like the sound of it though I had to admit it was a more straightforward description and I offered a grudging, “Um … sort of.”

In any case, the dish came within a lentil of earning an A-. “If the beans had been a little bit juicier …” The Professor said, as he delivered the B++. “The lentil stew was tasty and the flavors worked well with the pastry, which helps with its interestingness,” he added. Of course, anyone who’s eaten a pot pie already knows the magic of marrying savory and buttery. Not to mention the cubes of sweetness delivered by the carrots.There’s a reason pot pies are called “comfort food.”

In any case, next time I make a “lentil pot pie” I’ll add more stock, which I think will push both taste and satisfaction grades into the A range. And I’lll try a different side — The Professor, to my surprise, didn’t like the Catalan-Style Greens, aka spinach sauteed with pine nuts and golden raisins. Which left him hungry after eating one ramekin clean but not hungry enough to dig into a second. Instead he ate the remaining lentils with wine-glazed carrots out of the pot.

Based on Deborah Madison’s Green Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables with a Pastry Crust

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups French green lentils, sorted and rinsed (I used black Beluga lentils)

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 celery rib, diced

2 garlic cloves, mashed

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2/3 cup dry red wine

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons butter or EVOO

2 teaspoons parsley, chopped

puff pastry

Directions

1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with 3 cups water, vegetable bouillon (if using), 1 teaspoon salt, and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and then let simmer until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the vegetables are browned — about 10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute.

4. Add the wine, bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid is syrupy and the vegetables tender — about 10 minutes.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

6. Stir in the mustard and add the cooked lentils, along with their broth.

7. If the mixture is too soupy, simmer until the stock is reduced.

8. Stir in the butter or olive oil and season with pepper.

9. Spoon the lentil mixture into four ramekins.

10. Roll out the puff pastry to 1/8 inch thick and cut out four pieces, each just a little bit bigger than the ramekin. Make a few small cuts (for the steam to escape) in each and put them on top of the ramekins.

11. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.

Deborah Madison’s Lentil Minestrone

Deborah Madison’s recipe for minestrone soup with lentils was perfect for what turned out to be a cold spring day. Some weeks ago I’d bought some black beluga lentils — “the caviar of beans,” according to the bag — and left them sitting next to my bowls of onions and garlic on my chopping table.  And yesterday, when we were all in the mood for a warming dinner, I flipped through my cookbooks for a lentil soup.

Lentils, because of their small size and thin seed coats, cook faster than most other beans. But because it was a first-time recipe, it took me longer than it should have to get the soup on the table, and by the time I was ready the NBA play-off game that The Professor had planned to watch last night had already begun. Nevertheless … he gave the dish an A- — a rarity for a first attempt!

The Professor liked the flavors. The recipe begins with cooking the onions until they brown and that, combined with a generous amount of garlic, lots of diced carrots and celery and a good handful of bay leaves, parsley branches and sprigs of thyme, gave the broth a richness that is often missing in vegetarian soups.

“It almost tastes like it’s been cooked in a meat stock,” he noted. “I wouldn’t want this soup in the middle of summer,” he added. “But it’s good.”

He also liked the different texture of the pasta, which I’d cooked separately, run under cold water a minute shy of its full cooking time, and and then added to the soup before serving.

“The lentils gave it a nice substance,” he said on the issue of satisfaction, “And it was more interesting than the average lentil soup because of the greens and pasta.”

He paused while I scribbled down his comments, and then added, “Though if there were a few cubes of ham in here, it would be the bomb!”

I ignored the final comment and turned to Ella, who had been trying to get in on the conversation. “The lentils are good with the pasta,” the three-something said seriously. “They would also be good with purple.”

With that said, here’s the recipe:

Lentil Minestrone
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra virgin to finish
2 cups onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I didn’t have tomato paste on hand so I added a half cup of chopped tomatoes.)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 cup diced celery or celery root
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed ( I used black beluga lentils, which are similar in size)
Aromatics: 2 bay leaves, 8 parsley branches, 6 thyme sprigs
9 cups water or vegetable stock (it will look like too much liquid but add it anyway)
Mushroom soy sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch greens—mustard, broccoli rabe, chard, or spinach (I used chard)
2 cups cooked small pasta (I used lumache, which my “Italian mother” calls little snails)
Thin shavings of Parmesan (be generous!)

Instructions
Heat the oil in a wide soup pot with the onion. Saute over high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, parsley, celery, garlic, vegetables, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook 3 minutes more.

Add the lentils, aromatics, and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper. If it needs more depth, add mushroom soy sauce to taste, starting with 1 tablespoon. (The soup may seem bland at this point, but the flavors will come together when the soup is finished.) Remove the aromatics.

Boil the greens in salted water until they’re tender and bright green, then chop them coarsely. (Or, add the chopped greens to the soup while the pasta is cooking.)

Just before serving, add the greens and the pasta to the soup and heat through. Serve with extra virgin olive oil drizzled into each bowl, a generous grind of pepper, and the Parmesan.

Fried Tofu … A Tale of Woe

Last night I made soy-ginger udon noodles with mushrooms … and tofu. I have often served the Asian noodles topped with roasted salmon, and that’s been a hit.

Udon Noodles topped with Salmon

But because my ultimate goal here is to find or develop great vegetarian (rather than pescatarian) dishes, I’ve been trying to create a version with fried tofu.

Sigh.

For my first attempt I bought cubes of fried tofu from my local Whole Foods. They were tasty and not too fried, so they didn’t sit like lead in your stomach. But they were also big — so big you couldn’t comfortably get some noodles and a whole cube of tofu into your mouth at the same time.

For my second attempt, I thought I’d just fry up the tofu at home. I diligently pressed the tofu to squeeze out the water, sliced it, heated up a few tablespoons of peanut oil, and tossed the little cubes into the pan. “It will take a few minutes for the tofu to turn golden,” Deborah Madison had advised. So I cleaned some mushrooms while they began to fry. When I turned back to the stove to flip the cubes, I found they were sticking to the pan. Hot oil was spattering, the baby was crying, and eventually I ditched my tongs for a metal spatula and began scraping the little cubes off of the pan’s surface.

My first attempt to fry tofu

Was the pan too hot — or not hot enough? Had I not dried the tofu off enough? Or should I have just used a non-stick pan? I don’t yet know.

On the positive side, the slight crunch of the somewhat overcooked tofu added a nice texture to the dish. That said, next time I think I’ll try baking it.

What Good to a Nook Is a Hook Cook Book?

The New York Times‘ recently predicted that, while books aren’t going anywhere, “there is one area where printed matter is going to give way to digital content: cookbooks.” The article continues:

Martha Stewart Makes Cookies a $5 app for the iPad, is the wave of the future. Every recipe has a photo of the dish (something far too expensive for many printed cookbooks).

Complicated procedures can be explained by an embedded video. When something needs to be timed, there’s a digital timer built right into the recipe. You can e-mail yourself the ingredients list to take to the grocery store. The app does what cookbooks cannot, providing a better version of everything that came before it.

Yet cookbook sales rose 10% in the US and Europe last year, and 20% in Asia and Latin America, according  to Fast Company,. Moreover, the best-selling non-fiction title of 2010 was a cookbook — Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minute Meals!

I must admit that I’ve been on a bit of a cookbook-buying streak of late, though maybe when The Professor’s iPad2 arrives I’ll make the digital leap. In the meantime, here are a few of the titles I’ve bought to help me meet The Professor’s cooking challenge:

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison. Madison is, of course, the founding chef of Greens restaurant in San Francisco. She’s also the author of some nine cookbooks, including this bestselling classic.

 

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

Power Foods: 150 Delicious Recipes with the 38 Healthiest Ingredients. I’m not sure I’ll ever convince The Professor to like quinoa, but it’s worth a shot.

 

Power Foods

On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. This tome about cooking contains no recipes, but is filled with little-known facts about the science of cooking, the history of eating, and the etymologies of common food names. It might not make me a better cook, but it will enable me to distract you, dear readers, with the history of ketchup and an explanation for why almonds don’t taste like almond flavoring.

 

On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee