wonton soup

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January has been a roller coaster. It hasn’t been entirely bad – there were some fun nights out with friends and a fancy belated birthday dinner at Acquerello. But there have been some less than thrilling moments. I am so ready for it to be over.

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My dad had emergency colon surgery at the beginning of the month. And while his surgery went well considering the circumstances, it really magnified all of his other existing ailments. So it’s taken the majority of the month to nurse him back to health. It has been an eye opening experience to say the least. Getting old sucks. And realizing your parents are getting old sucks even more.

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The man hadn’t eaten real food since late December. The days following his surgery he was only allowed one cup of ice chips every eight hours, then eventually moved on to a clear liquid diet of juice and broths. When he was finally allowed solids, I was horrified by what he was fed in the hospital. Standard issue hospital food is just plain nasty. There. Someone had to say it. So when he was released from the hospital, I was determined to feed him in a healing, healthful way. But feeding someone who has just had colon surgery can be challenging. Especially if that person has other dietary restrictions on top of being a somewhat picky eater. It involves a low fiber, low fat, low everything diet. Vegetables and fruit cooked into submission. No carbonated beverages or alcohol. It requires some thought and creativity. 

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I figured out that soup was a good place to start. I made a pot of chicken soup the first day. But I could tell he wasn’t that excited about it, even though it was made entirely from scratch, with extra TLC, including the chicken stock (I personally thought it was one of my best soups). I made applesauce. We made him try yogurt for the first time. When he started to regain his strength, he requested jook, then winter melon soup. That’s when I realized that my Western low, low everything  diet was not really his jam, and what he wanted was Chinese comfort food.

How about some wonton soup?

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I’d never made wontons on my own, but I helped make them as a kid. I had to watch a Youtube video to learn how to fold them. I actually had to watch it a couple of times before I really got the hang of it. Once you’ve got the folding down, it’s easy peasy. It’s kind of therapeutic.

The beauty of wontons is they’re kind of a twofer. You can toss them in a pot of stock for soup. Or you can throw them into some hot oil if you’re in the mood for some crispy fried goodness, which is what my sister and I did with the leftovers. They’re super satisfying either way.

On a lighter note, Happy Lunar New Year, folks!

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wonton soup 

adapted from about.com

makes 30-40 wontons

1/2 pound boneless lean pork

1/2 pound shelled and deveined medium shrimp

3 whole water chestnuts, or about 1/3 cup sliced, finely chopped 

1 tablespoon finely minced ginger

3 green onions, sliced thin, plus more for soup 

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine, dry sherry or rice vinegar

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

a few drops sesame oil

ground white pepper, to taste

wonton wrappers

6 – 8 cups chicken stock 

cilantro, for garnish

Finely chop the pork and shrimp. Combine the pork and shrimp with the water chestnuts, minced ginger, green onions, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper. You can also do this in a food processor by pulsing a few times until just combined.

To fill the wontons, lay one wonton skin in front of you. Cover the remaining wonton skins with a damp towel to keep them from drying out. Moisten all the edges of the won ton wrapper with water. Place a heaping teaspoon of wonton filling in the center.

Fold the wonton wrapper in half lengthwise, making sure the ends meet. Press down firmly on the ends to seal. Use thumbs to push down on the edges of the filling to center it. Keeping thumbs in place, fold over the wonton wrapper one more time. Push the corners up and hold in place between your thumb and index finger. Wet the corners with your fingers. Bring the two ends together so that they overlap. Press to seal. The finished product should resemble a nurse’s cap. Repeat with remaining wontons.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the wontons, making sure there is enough room for them to move about freely. Let the wontons boil for 5 – 8 minutes, until they rise to the top and the filling is cooked through. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the wontons and bring the soup back to a boil. Add green onion, remove from heat , and add a few drops of sesame oil, stirring. Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with a few leaves of cilantro.

**Deep-frying the wontons: Heat oil for deep-frying to 360°F. Add wonton in small batches and fry, turning occasionally, about 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

lentil soup with preserved lemon

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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.

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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).

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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.

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lentil soup with preserved lemon 

adapted from Mosaic Kitchen

serves 4

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.

Alternatively…

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.

split pea soup with fresh peas and mint

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

serves 6

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 cups thinly sliced carrots

2 cups coarsely chopped leeks

2 cups coarsely chopped onions

kosher salt

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

mint leaves

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.

cream of cauliflower soup with red beet chips

I totally forgot how much fun laryngitis is. Not. It was actually really exhausting this time around. So I drank a lot of ginger tea. And loaded up on Ricolas and tracked down my favorite cough syrup. I tried my best to speak as little as possible (especially after my father said I sounded like a man) and kept my alcohol consumption to a minimum. I was beginning to think that my karaoke days had been numbered when, finally, on day eleven my voice returned. It’s still a bit hoarse, but what a relief!

While I was nursing myself back to health, I spent some quality time in bed with Thomas Keller, I mean, Thomas Keller’s AdHoc at Home, a Christmas gift from my mom. The recipes in this book are far more approachable than the others in the Keller collection. Plus, there are a ton of kitchen tips and tricks throughout the book that can be applied to your daily cooking (like making and using parchment paper lids). I have been glued to the pages.

I pretty much flagged every recipe in the soup section of the book. One of the recipes that immediately caught my eye was the cream of cauliflower soup, which surprised me because I’ve never been a huge fan of cauliflower. I think it’s fine, though I don’t typically go out of my way to cook it or eat it. But I was very intrigued by this particular recipe. I think it might have been the fried beet chip garnish that sealed the deal for me.

Since it’s January and everyone is still trying their best to stick to their diets, I wish I could tell you that this is a healthy vegetable soup. But I would be lying. This soup is decadent. It is rich and velvety smooth and has a slightly earthy, full bodied flavor. And it’s garnished with browned cauliflower florets and garlicky croutons and crispy beet chips, which are the perfect contrasts in texture. The soup is also pretty amazing without all of the fancy accoutrements; just a drizzle of olive oil and you’re good to go. But I do love those beet chips. Almost as much as I love this soup. You’ve been so good this year. Treat yourself!

cream of cauliflower soup

adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

serves 6

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 heads cauliflower (4 to 5 pounds total)

3/4 cup coarsely chopped leeks (light green and white parts only)

3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon yellow curry powder

kosher salt

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

2 cups water

peanut or canola oil for deep frying

1 medium red beet

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

freshly ground black pepper

garlic croutons

for the soup:

Remove the outer leaves of the cauliflower, and cut out the core. Trim off the stems and reserve them. For the garnish, trim 2 cups florets and set aside.

Coarsely chop the remaining cauliflower and the stems into 1-inch pieces to that they will cook evenly. You will need 8 cups of cauliflower.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, curry and chopped cauliflower, season with 2 teaspoons salt, cover with a parchment lid. Cook, stirring occasionally,  until the vegetables are almost tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard the parchment lid.

Pour in the milk. cream and water, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off the foam from time to time.

Working in batches, transfer the cauliflower mixture to a blender of food processor. Puree until smooth and velvety. Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed. Transfer back to the saucepan and keep warm. (The soup can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

for the garnish:

Fill a small deep pot with 1 inch of oil and heat over medium heat to 300°F. Set a cooling rack lined with paper towels over a baking sheet.

While the oil heats, peel the beet and slice off about 1/2 inch from the top. Using a mandoline, slice the beet into rounds that are slightly thicker than paper-thin.

Carefully add a few beet rounds to the oil and fry, turning them with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon as the edges begin to curl, pressing gently on the chips to keep them submerged.  When the bubbling stops, after 1 to 1-1/2 minutes, the beets will be crisp. Transfer the beets to the prepared cooling rack and season with salt. Fry the remaining chips in batches. The chips can be kept warm in a low oven.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the vinegar and the reserved cauliflower florets and blanch until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, swirling pan occasionally, until the butter turns a rich golden brown. Add the florets and saute until a rich golden brown. Set aside.

to serve:

Reheat the soup if necessary. If it seems to thick, add a little water to thin to the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the soup into bowls. Top each serving with croutons, a few cauliflower florets and a stack of beet chips. Sprinkle with pepper. Serve immediately.

early girl tomato soup

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)

salt

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.

Variations:

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.