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If January was the month of fun and indulgence, then February has definitely been a time for taking care of business. Self reflection. Home improvement. Getting shit done. It feels like the right time.
But first I had to recover from my annual bout with bronchitis. I had been fighting off a cold for a few weeks, but it finally caught up with me and everything went downhill from there. I wasn’t much in the mood to cook, but I wanted a bowl of soup in a bad way. Since I couldn’t deal with a whole lot of prep or slaving over a hot stove, I busted out my crock pot (which I had only used once in my life and involved turning canned condensed milk into dulce de leche).
I also came across some red lentils that I had bought a few months ago and forgotten about, and decided that it was a lentil soup kind of day. Then I remembered a lemony lentil soup that Sara and I had talked about a few weeks earlier. And then I started thinking about the jar of preserved lemons in my fridge. I started googling.
That night I had lentil soup with preserved lemon for dinner. It didn’t take long to find exactly what I was looking for – a recipe that requires very little prep and is packed with flavor. One cup of lentils, one carton of veggie broth, half an onion, and a few cloves of garlic transform into something hearty and satisfying while you spend the day in bed. The crockpot does all of the work for you. I could totally get used to this.
lentil soup with preserved lemon
adapted from Mosaic Kitchen
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over
½ medium onion, diced
½ cup thinly sliced carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
4 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon preserved lemon rind, diced or fresh lemon zest, plus more for garnish (recipe here)
Salt and pepper to taste
fresh grated parmesan for garnish (optional)
Add the vegetable broth, lentils, onion, carrots, garlic and ground coriander seed to a slow cooker pot. Stir together, cover, and set on low for 8-10 hours. The lentils should be very soft.
Stir in the spinach, lemon juice, and preserved lemon. Cover and continue to cook for 20 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish individual bowls with chopped preserved lemon and/or parmesan. Serve hot.
You can also make this on the stovetop:
Soften the onion and carrots in 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the bottom of a 3 quart soup pot. Stir in the lentils, vegetable broth, garlic, and coriander seed. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are very soft. Stir in the spinach, lemon juice, and preserved lemon or lemon zest, cover and continue to simmer for 10 minutes longer. Salt and pepper to taste.
So, I know that June isn’t typically soup season. But here in the Bay Area, the rain is lingering. It ain’t right. But it is a good excuse for soup making.
Let’s talk split pea soup. Split pea is one of my favorites, but I rarely order it in restaurants because it tends to be on the salty side. So I really only eat it if it’s homemade. I’ve always loved my mom’s split pea soup. It is among the dishes that Jansy makes best. For as long as I can remember, she would make white bean or split pea soup whenever there was a ham bone in the house. And I’ve followed suit.
Every now and then I get my hands on a ham bone. And when I do I like to make a pot of split pea soup. It’s usually a pretty low key affair. I throw the split peas in a pot with the ham bone, sauteed onion and carrot, a few sprigs of thyme, and water. Then I leave it alone for an hour or so and it turns into a super flavorful, hearty soup.
This time around, I wanted to try something new. A few months back, I had bookmarked a recipe in Ad Hoc at Home and have been waiting patiently for springtime English peas and a ham bone to come my way. Finally, the time had come.
This is split pea soup, Thomas Keller style. In other words, it’s fancy split pea soup. I love how this man can transform even the most humble of dishes into elegant fare. This soup is pureed until silky smooth and finished off with a little creme fraiche, fresh peas, and mint, which take it to a whole new level. It’s a bowl of soup that is all at once comforting and totally refreshing. I think it’s kind of perfect.
split pea soup with fresh peas and mint
adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
2 cups coarsely chopped leeks
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
1 smoked ham hock ( I used a ham bone)
3 quarts chicken stock
1 pound (about 2 cups) split peas, small stones removed, rinsed
1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
freshly round black pepper
2 cups fresh English peas, blanched (frozen peas will work fine)
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
Heat the canola oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the carrots, leeks, onions, and generous pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a parchment lid (a round of parchment paper cut to fit your pot), and cook very slowly, stirring occasionally, for 35-40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove and discard the parchment lid.
Add the ham hock and chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the stock into a bowl, discard the vegetables, and reserve the ham hock. Place the bowl of stock over an ice bath and stir to cool.
Return the cooled stock and ham hock to the pot, add the split peas, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour, or until the peas are completely soft.
Remove from the heat, and remove and reserve the ham hock. Season the soup with 1 tablespoon vinegar and salt to taste. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup (if using a regular stand blender, puree the soup in batches). Taste for seasoning, adding vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
Remove and discard the skin and fat from the ham hock. Trim the meat and dice into 1/2-inch pieces.
To serve, reheat the fresh peas in a little water. Drain and stir half the peas into the soup. Garnish the soup with the remaining peas, creme fraiche, ham, and mint leaves. The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Add a bit of water or stock when reheating if the soup becomes too thick.
September has left the building. And I’m feeling a bit wistful. September is hands down my favorite of all of the months. For one thing, September in San Francisco is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a sort of last call for summer and a sneaky peak at fall. It also happens to be my birth month, which may be the reason why I just want September to linger.
Because we here in the Bay are experiencing a later than usual summer, there is still a ton of amazing summer produce in the markets, like peaches and plums and early girl tomatoes. Last weekend at the farmer’s market, one vendor had so many early girls that they were selling twenty pound flats for twenty bucks. I’m not one to pass up a deal, but I had to stop myself for a second to contemplate this purchase. What the hell was I going to do with twenty pounds of tomatoes? I walked away so I could obsess and do some number crunching while I did a lap around the market. It was insanely hot. I was sweating. I bought the tomatoes. I really cannot pass up a good deal.
When you come home with twenty pounds of early girls, what happens is this: You eat tomato salads with basil, olive oil, and burrata. Alotta burrata. And you make sauce, half of which gets eaten almost immediately, while the other half goes into the freezer so that you can enjoy it in a few weeks when the early girls are a thing of the past. And then you try your hand at canning, which doesn’t go quite as smooth as you had hoped because your jars are a little too big for the job since you didn’t read the recipe before hastily buying them. Lastly, you make a pot of good old tomato soup, nevermind the fact that it is 96 degrees outside. And even though its the end of September and impossibly hot, your bowl of tomato soup could not be more perfect. It’s silky and has an incredibly pure tomato flavor. And that drizzle of olive oil makes it extra luscious. And just in case you were wondering, it does in fact serve very nicely chilled if you feel so inclined.
early girl tomato soup
adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
makes about 1-1/2 quarts ; serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small leek, white and green parts, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 pounds ripe early girl tomatoes, washed, cored and sliced (or whatever tomatoes you have on hand)
1 scant tablespoon white rice (optional)
1/2 bay leaf
1 small sprig of savory, thyme, or basil
1 cup water
Warm a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, onion, leek and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook until soft but not brown. If necessary, add water to keep from browning.
Add the garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes, rice, bay leaf, choice of herb and a large pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes fall apart. Add water and remaining tablespoon of butter.
Continue cooking for another 10 minutes, until the rice is tender. Remove the herb sprig and bay leaf. Carefully ladle the soup into a blender or food processor (or use an immersions blender). Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Pass the pureed soup through a strainer to remove skin and seeds. You can also use a food mill, which purees and separates the skins and seeds simultaneously. Taste for salt. Add more water if the soup is too thick.
Omit the rice for a thinner soup.
Garnish the soup with crème fraîche and mint, or with buttered croutons, or with torn basil or finely cut chives and olive oil.
tomato basil salad with olive oil and burrata. word.