Coconut Two Lentil Soup

Astronomers travel a lot.  Even if you ignore the frequent trips to telescopes half-way around the world, there is always a conference or two in some tempting location.  Perhaps there should be a disclaimer for astronomy graduate students: if you don’t like travel, you might consider a different profession.  Sure, you can get away with only one trip or two a year in grad school (or even less in the first few years), but if my adviser’s schedule is any indication, you could easily find yourself traveling almost every week, at least during quarters when you don’t have to teach.  Fortunately this was more of a pleasant surprise in my case, especially when I realized it was completely normal to take vacation time in said exotic location before returning back to work.  This time it was Hawaii for observing.  Unfortunately the observing part didn’t work out too well as there was an ice and snow storm on the mountain when we arrived.  Fortunately, however, I was traveling with someone who knows how to have a good time (swimming, snorkeling, hiking, you get the picture) and our subsequent vacation made the long plane rides worth it.  In the near future I will post plenty of details of my trip to Hawaii, but in the mean time, here is the result of my recent obsession with coconut (did you know they make coconut syrup in Hawaii to eat on pancakes???).

This soup is inspired by a recipe from 101 Cookbooks for Coconut Red Lentil Soup.  After eating in restaurants for an entire week, I was desperate to get back to the kitchen, but lacking inspiration; it’s hard to both be content with eating restaurant food and reading food blogs.  My initial intention was to follow this recipe to the letter, having had good results with past recipes from Heidi Swanson, but eating from one’s garden is a lesson in inventiveness (that and not having a fully-stocked pantry), so there were a couple serious substitutions that I will outline below.  One other thing to note is that I made homemade curry powder for this recipe that knocked my socks off.  After toasting the spices I stood in the kitchen just smelling it in an olfactory trance.  Peter can tell you all about it, because I shoved it in front of his nose too.

Coconut Two Lentil Soup (adapted from Coconut Red Lentil Soup)
1 cup red lentils
1 cup brown lentils
7 cups water
2 small purple-top turnips, diced
1 medium red beet, diced
2 tablespoons curry powder (see recipe here)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons butter
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/3 cups raisins (I used large plump purple ones from the farmer’s market)
1 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14 ounce can coconut milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cups cilantro, roughly chopped

Rinse the lentils well and mix with the water in a soup pot and bring to a boil.  Add the diced turnips and beet, and let the soup simmer for 20-30 minutes as you do the rest of the stuff.  Make the curry powder and then toast it in a small dry sauce pan just until wonderfully fragrant.  Be careful not to let the curry powder burn!  Set the curry powder aside with the ground ginger.  Melt the butter in the sauce pan and then add the green onions and raisins, cooking for 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes to the butter/onions and cook for another two minutes.  Add the curry powder and ground ginger to the butter/onions/tomatoes and mix well, then add it to the lentils that have been simmering.  Finally, add the coconut milk and salt to the lentils and let simmer a couple more minutes until the lentils are soft.  Add more water if you would like a soupier consistency.  Serve the cilantro on top.


Chickpea and Tomato Soup with Sourdough

This soup is the evening equivalent of my morning mug of earl grey tea.  Peter can tell you how grumpy I get when we are either 1) out of black tea or 2) out of milk (to put in said tea).  It’s not pretty.  A similar thing happened this week with the chickpea and tomato soup with sourdough.  First we were out of sourdough bread (this one’s on Peter) and then we were out of oregano (this one’s on me).  And I stubbornly refused to make the soup any other way.

In the last few weeks there have been plenty of chickpea soup versions, but I realize now that the only truly key ingredients are as follows: chickpeas, tomatoes, sourdough bread, good broth, oregano, onion-family vegetable, root-family vegetable.  Not once have I had all the ingredients called for in the original recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, but who cares when I’m willing to make a soup that takes two days?  Now don’t panic, the only thing that takes an extra day is cooking the chickpeas, but if you use chickpeas from a can then the whole thing takes under an hour.  Closer to half an hour if you don’t get distracted by cute animal photos (can’t. help. myself.).

Chickpea and Tomato Soup with Sourdough
1-2 cups dried chickpeas (or two small cans of cooked chickpeas)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil for the pot
1-2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
4 or more cups of good broth (I use homemade chicken broth)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Sourdough bread cubes, stale or fresh, as long as it was good to begin with

Your first thought may be that the previous list of ingredients was rather inexact, but this is because you will most likely not have the exact quantities lying around or have soup preferences of your own.  For example, I get picky about the amount of chickpeas compared to other ingredients–it doesn’t make sense, but there you go.

 To cook the chickpeas:

Soak the chickpeas for 4-8 hours (or overnight) covered with water to at least two inches above the top of the beans.  I have started soaking my beans in the fridge so I don’t have to worry about forgetting about them.  The beans will expand quite a bit during this soaking period.  Then, rinse the beans and cover with new water in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for 1-2 hours, or until the beans are nice and soft.  It is rather difficult to overcook chickpeas, so I often don’t keep a very close eye on them.

To make the soup:

In a soup pot, saute the onion in the olive oil until softened a bit.  Add the carrots and celery and cook until they are slightly soft too.  Add the tomatoes, herbs, sugar, cooked chickpeas, and broth.  You will probably also want to add some water to make the soup of a soupy consistency.  I like this soup closer to stew-like, but remember that the sourdough will absorb some liquid at the end.  Bring the soup to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes or so.  Either while serving or during the last few minutes of cooking, add the sourdough bread cubes and mix them into the soup.

Optional garnishes: drizzle of olive oil, dollop of yogurt or sour cream, minced green onions or chives.


Potato, Carrot, and Leek Soup + Baked Apricots

June has slipped by more quickly than I could have imagined.  This Friday I leave for Europe and Peter leaves for a wedding.  Most of the travel arrangements are finally made, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve forgotten something.  Once Peter joins me in Europe, we will try to post photos from Copenhagen, Florence, and Paris.  I am determined not to forget the camera.   Do you have any suggestions for things to see or eat in these three cities?  There’s still a lot to do before we leave, so I made a big pot of potato, carrot and leek soup and some simple baked fruit for dessert.

I have made this potato, carrot, and leek soup many times using a wide range of ratios between the different vegetables.  I have used only water and butter, so as to make it vegetarian, and, this time, made it with homemade chicken fat and chicken stock.  Since my chicken stock was flavored with rosemary, I added a little more rosemary to the soup.  A bay leaf might also be a nice addition, as would fresh tarragon in place of rosemary.

Potato, Carrot, and Leek Soup
2-3 large potatoes, chopped
4-6 medium carrots, chopped
2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced
Chicken broth or water
Butter or chicken fat
Salt and pepper
Begin by preparing the vegetables.   Both the white and light green parts of the leeks can be used, as long as all the dirt is carefully washed from between the leek skin layers.  In a soup pot, cook the leeks in the butter until soft, 5 minutes, keeping the pot covered to trap steam and keep the leeks from browning.  Add the potatoes, carrots, and chicken broth, plus enough water to cover the vegetables.  Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 20-40 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.  If desired, puree the soup with a food processor (hard and messy) or immersion blender (easy).

These baked apricots are just softened through and have released lots of delicious juice.  The point isn’t a thick syrupy pie filling, but rather a hot, simple fruit dish that depends almost completely on the fruit for flavor.  Luckily, unripe or just not very flavorful fruit can be improved in this process.

Baked Apricots with Almonds
(per person)
2-4 apricots, pitted and sliced
1-2 tablespoons coarsely sliced raw almonds
Drizzle of honey
Pat of butter plus enough for buttering the baking dish
Dash of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  If making more than one serving, bake each serving in its own dish so that everyone gets their fair share of the fruit juices.   Line the glass or ceramic baking dish with butter, and add the apricots and salt.  Top with the sliced almonds, a drizzle of honey, and a pat of butter.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the white sides of the sliced almonds are beginning to look golden.  Serve warm for dessert or save in the fridge for breakfast.

Smooth Butternut Squash Soup

In addition to canning paraphernalia, I also received a purple Cuisinart immersion blender for my birthday.  And oh my, what fun!  I had previously reserved myself to only making chunky soups, but what another world now awaits!  Somehow it took an entire week to finally find the time to make something blendable, but can I just say that smooth squash soup is perfect?  That it can be made with a million variations (pears, apples, curry spices, caramelized nuts) and thus with the random vegetables still left in my kitchen at the end of the week is, perhaps, the real reason it won the blender lottery.  Below is the simple version I made, but next time there will be fruit!  And maybe sweet potatoes, as I’m still in love with the squash soup we ate at Thanksgiving.

Smooth Butternut Squash Soup
(Enough for 4 people or more)
1 onion, finely diced
4-6 medium carrots, chopped into disks
1 medium butternut squash, pealed and diced into dice
Chicken stock or bouillon
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
In a large soup pot, melt the butter and add the onion.  Cook until the onion is softened and then add the carrots, squash, chicken stock, cayenne, salt, pepper, and enough water to make a good soup consistency.  Cook, covered, on low heat until the squash and carrots are very soft and the broth has good flavor, 30 minutes to an hour.  When the soup is done, blend with an immersion blender or carefully transfer to an normal blender in batches.  Serve with fresh ground pepper, grated cheese, and perhaps some fresh herbs.

Roasted Vegetable Soup

These were some of the last of the summer vegetables: little Japanese eggplants, summer squash, and bell peppers.  They were in my fridge for far too long, perhaps because I was afraid of what their absence might mean (a whole 6 months of eating winter vegetables).  There are still the occasional summer vegetable at the farmer’s market, but they look tired now, and misshapen.  With the chill of the last few days I want my food hot, and I want an excuse to turn on the oven.

Roasted Vegetable Soup
2-3 tomatoes fit for broth, diced
1 onion, half diced and half coarsely chopped
2-4 Japanese eggplants, cut into coins
1-2 summer squash, cut into coins (or equivalent size)
1-2 bell peppers, cut into strips
Olive oil
Dash of red wine vinegar or red wine
Salt and cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Mix the coarsely chopped onions, eggplant, squash, and peppers with olive oil, salt, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Put the dressed veggies on a tray to bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, turning the veggies after 20 minutes.  The roasted veggies should be shrunken, golden brown around the edges, and smell heavenly.  While the veggies are roasting, saute the diced onion in olive oil in a soup pot.  When the onion is soft and golden, add the diced tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down.  This process is faster if you salt the tomatoes.  Add the dash of red wine or red wine vinegar (I use leftover red wine that’s been sitting on the counter for months) and around 6 cups of water (or however much you gauge will fit in your pot to give the consistency of soup you want once you add the veggies).  Let this tomato broth simmer, perhaps with some additional herbs (bay leaves, thyme, oregano?).  Once the roasted veggies are done, add them to the broth and cook for a little longer.  I like eating this soup with a bit of yogurt in it, and plenty of salt.

Toasts and Corn Soup

Dare I say it, but it’s almost like fall is really here.  The mornings have been gray and chilly, clearing up for crisp sunny late afternoons.  My first fall in California I waited and waited for the seasons to change.  I did everything possible to evoke the autumn, but finally my mom had to send me a box of colorful fall leaves for me to feel content, or maybe just pacified, as I don’t think I’ve registered a new season once since coming here.  Now I barely notice, except a couple times this summer when I smelled freshly mowed grass and really felt it was summer.  Any hint of cold now, and I just assume it’s fall.  And with fall comes soup.  I’d been thinking of corn chowder for a while, but never looked up a recipe.  The result was creamy, but in a vegetable kind of way, and some wonderful mixture of summery corn and wintry potato soup.  As with all soups I make, they tend to just contain every vegetable in my kitchen, except this time I used some self-restraint: no tomatoes, garlic, or red peppers, although I think it could have been good with all three.

Fresh Corn Soup
1 medium candy onion, diced
3-4 medium potatoes, diced into 1/4-inch cubes
3 small stalks celery, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
3 ears-worth of fresh corn kernels
2 bay leaves
Dash of cayenne pepper, or to taste,
Salt and pepper
Olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon butter
In the soup pot, heat oil and butter and add onions, cooking until the onions are tender.  Add the diced veggies (everything but the corn) and stir to coat with the oil and butter.  Add enough water, or chicken broth if you prefer, to the pot to cover the veggies by an inch or more.  I often add more water if necessary later on, and never measure (sorry!).  Add freshly ground pepper, salt, bay leaves, and the dash of cayenne.  Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes or so.  Add the corn kernels and cook for another 20 minutes, or until the soup broth tastes “done”, which I realize is a very imprecise term.  I find that there is a transition in soup broths that happens after a certain amount of cooking: before the transition the soup broth is watery, and afterwards it is infused with flavor.

I was so pleasantly surprised by how this soup was exactly what I wanted, that I had to eat a mug of it for dinner, even though there were toasts in the oven.  (And yes, mugs are most excellent soup containers, and are beautifully featured in Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen.  I’m quite jealous of the ceramic mugs especially.)  Perhaps I should better explain what I mean by toasts: delicious things on toasted bread, my favorites being cheese, onion, basil, tomato, garlic, leafy greens, and roasted vegetables.  These get a bold recipe title even though an ingredient list is kind of absurd, since pretty much every ingredient could be served on bread.

Toasts with Cheese, Shallots, Basil, and Tomatoes
(all amounts depend on the number of toasts to be made and the hunger of the cook)
Slices of good bread (sandwich bread not ideal here, go for something with a legitimate crust)
Thin slices of melty cheese, such as cheddar, jack, gruyere, or mozarella
Fresh basil leaves
Thin slices of young shallots (not the dried-skinned variety) or slices of green onion or sweet red onion
Thick slices of juicy, flavorful tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Put the bread slices on a baking sheet with the slices of shallots or onion on top.  Bake them for 10 minutes or so for the onion to lose its punch.  Top the toasts with cheese and bake again just until the cheese is melty and browned a bit, another 10 minutes?  Top the finished toasts with basil leaves and tomato.  I like rubbing the tomato slices into the bottom of the toast to make it slightly soggy, don’t ask me why.  I alternate whether the bread is toasted with the tomatoes on top or not, but when the tomatoes are truly fabulous they probably deserve to be eaten raw.