Leek and Cabbage Soup

Friday, April 27, 2012


Since we are now familiar with leeks from this post, let's get busy. As promised, today's recipe is for a leek and cabbage soup. As mentioned in the previous post, leek greens are very flavorful and too often end up in the waste basket. But today we are using both white and green parts of the leek, as the cooking time is long enough for us to get away with it.


In this recipe I use a fresh, small, green cabbage head, which is slightly sweeter and not quite as bitter as some more mature cabbages tend to get as they get older (similar to some people, I suppose).


The overall cooking time for this soup is about 35-40 minutes active time. I use a splash of wine in the recipe, which I find complements most soups heavy on the onion family, such as the French onion soup. The use of wine is entirely optional, however if you're not using it, I suggest adding a tablespoon or so of white wine vinegar or something similar instead. The acidity helps break down the cabbage quicker and gives the soup a very pleasant mild hint of sourness, which goes well with the overall flavor.


Leek and Cabbage Soup
(Serves 4)

You will need
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 leeks (white and green parts), trimmed and finely sliced
1/2 head small young green cabbage, shredded
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
4 cups vegetable stock (vegan, gluten-free)
1/8 tsp ground pepper, or to taste
1 tbsp finely chopped chives

1. Heat oil in a medium stock pot. Sauté shallot until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add leeks, and cook, stirring frequently until leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook, stirring, until cabbage begins to soften, about 10 minutes more. If using, stir in the wine, and cook until most of it is evaporated, 2-3 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until cabbage is soft, 15-20 minutes more. Serve and enjoy, sprinkled with chives.


How to Clean and Prepare Leeks

Thursday, April 26, 2012

As someone who writes about food and is surrounded by people who are very knowledgeable about it, it's easy to forget that what may be obvious to a kitchen geek is not actual common knowledge. From its inception the point behind this blog was to make cooking approachable to anyone: from a busy mom, to a working couple all too familiar with late-night take-out, to a reclusive bachelor who eats nothing but beans which he heats on the stove top in a can (hopefully with the label removed). Making cooking approachable does not work if someone does not know what to do with a particular ingredient. For example, a recipe may say: leeks, greens removed, chopped. What does that mean? Do I remove all of the green parts, leaving nothing but a three inch white stump? And why am I eating sand?

So today we are getting down to basics. This will be our first stand-alone "what to do with" or "how to prepare" series and today we are starting with leeks.


Leeks, garlic, onion and chives are all part of the same plant family (for nerds like me, they even share the same genus: allium). A leek looks like a giant green onion. If you've ever picked up a leek you may wonder why it's always so dirty as it has sand and dirt in-between each leaf. This is not because someone forgot to clean them before delivering them to your supermarket or because they grow in a place where someone constantly shovels dirt on them. This problem arises from the very structure of the leek. Unlike the green onions that it resembles, the way the leek grows is different. With the former, the green stalks are like little tubes attached to the white bottom which will grow into a tight bulb. The leek, on the other hand, is not a bulb plant; it is composed of sheaths which grow by pushing upwards from the ground. As a result, the dirt gets in not only between the green leaves but also in-between the layers of the white base.


Most recipes call for using only the white and light green part of the leek, as the dark green part is very fibrous. As a result, it is better to select leeks with longer white stems, rather than stubby short ones. The dark green parts are edible, they simply have to be cooked long enough for them to soften sufficiently. The dark green parts are also extremely flavorful (they are similar to the stalks of green garlic). While the green parts may not be usable if the recipe calls for a quick sauté, they can be used where the method of preparation is long enough for the fibrous leaves to begin to break down, such as a soup. And as a result, the dish will have a much richer flavor.

To prepare the leeks, first chop off the root end. Then cut off the dark green section right where the leaves begin to separate, and either discard it if not using, or set it aside.  


Slice the white base lengthwise in half, or even quarters if the stem is very fat.


As you can see, there is dirt hiding right in-between the leaves, thus it is impossible to wash it away by simply rinsing a whole leek under a stream of water.


After you've sliced the leek in half, there are two ways to clean it, depending on individual preferences. You can simply rinse out each base half under a stream of cold water, helping to separate the layers with your fingers to wash away the dirt. This is my preferred method since I don't like chopping dirty vegetables (I'm not alone, Alton Brown describes it as nails on a chalk board in this video).


The second way to clean a leek is first to slice the white base in half, as with the previous method. Then, without rinsing, slice each part into half-circles, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide (or whatever the size your recipe calls for).


Fill a large bowl with cold water and place the chopped leeks in it. Swirl them around with your hand to help separate the dirt from the leeks (the dirt will sink to the bottom). Then carefully transfer the leeks into a colander placed over another bowl to dry.


In either case, if you are also using the green leaves which you've previously chopped off, discard the outermost leaves, trim off about an inch off the top, then rinse and chop them.

Now that your leeks are all clean and chopped, you are ready to cook them. Leeks are great in soups, sautéed, or they can be used raw in salads in a similar way to an onion. You can try this recipe for rutabaga and zucchini soup which uses leeks, a version of the vichyssoisse with beets, or you can come back for a leek and cabbage soup recipe which will be posted tomorrow.


Mexican Ceviche with Shrimp

Friday, April 20, 2012


It's getting quite warm around these parts. Instead of April showers, there is a sort of a drought, and the temperature resembles that of June. In this weather, cold dishes that don't require any cooking always seem like a good idea to me, so I decided to make a ceviche.

If you're a ceviche beginner like me, don't be scared off by the name. The dish itself can be extremely easy. Ceviche (pronounced seh-VEE-cheh) is a cold dish usually made with raw fish. Although it is likely to have originated in Peru, today it is prevalent across most of South and Central America. The dish varies by region, with each having its own way of making it. One common thread is how the fish is prepared. Since it is usually served raw, the fish is first heavily marinated in lime or lemon juice and salt (in addition to other seasonings which are sometimes used, including chilis). In a sense, it is like a quick pickling process. But unless it is extremely fresh, I am usually skeptical about serving raw fish, so to make this recipe even simpler, I used cooked shrimp.


Ceviche is served in Mexico along the beaches, with ingredients like jalapeño, onion, and cilantro tossed together with lime juice and shrimp or fish. Since the dish is so variable, there is no one correct way of making it, so feel free to use the recipe below as a loose guide to suit your own palate.

Because I like to go all out, I served it on top of a coarsely mashed avocado with a cilantro-based sauce. To make the arrangement in the photo (I've had tuna tartare served in a similar way at a sushi restaurant, which inspired this), you can use a round cookie cutter or a metal tube of some sort, like a can with top and bottom removed.


Place the cookie cutter in the center of the plate and fill it with mashed avocado. Lift the cookie cutter slightly, using it to hold the shape as you spoon the shrimp mixture on top of the avocado. Once everything is in place, lift and remove the metal piece.


This appetizer is absolutely perfect on a warm night: cold, citrusy, tangy, chewy, creamy, with an added bite of a hot pepper. I made it about an hour before Tony came home from work, so I refrigerated it after photographing it. Serving it chilled made it extra refreshing, kind of like a strange seafood and avocado ice cream.

If you prefer a cold dinner instead, double the recipe and serve it with rice or taco shells and make it a meal.

Mexican Ceviche with Shrimp
(Serves 2)

You will need:
1/2 cup medium shrimp, cooked, peeled, deveined and finely chopped
4 tbsp lime juice, divided
1/2 roma or plum tomato, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, cored, finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and coarsely mashed
Salt, to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine finely chopped shrimp and 2 tbsp lime juice. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Marinate, covered and refrigerated, for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2. Combine the marinated shrimp with chopped tomato, jalapeño, shallot and cilantro. Add 1 tbsp lime juice and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt.
3. In a separate bowl, combine avocado and 1 tbsp lime juice. Divide the avocado between two appetizer plates and serve topped with the shrimp mixture, with cilantro sauce (recipe below).

Cilantro Sauce
(Serves 2)

You will need
1 scallion
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leave
2 tbsp lime juice, or to taste
1/8 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor combine all of the ingredients and process to a consistency of a purée. Serve on the side with ceviche or by itself with tortilla chips.


Whole Wheat Chocolate Yogurt Muffins

Monday, April 16, 2012

Do you remember Poker Face by Lady Gaga? It was released in 2008 and almost as soon all the bars and clubs were playing it. It seeped into your car through the radio and then into your brain. Before long, you knew precisely what the next line was going to be because somehow, inadvertently you knew all of the lyrics. The song is full of puns like "bluffin' with my muffin." Do you ever wonder what she really meant by that?


While the lyrics still puzzle me, it turns out you can legitimately bluff when it comes to muffins. Case in point: how can you make chocolate muffins healthful while preserving the almost sinful taste and the velvety, moist, crumbly texture?

You bluff.


Use whole wheat flour (stone ground, for grainier, more wholesome texture), unsweetened cocoa, low-fat yogurt, and coconut oil. My actual reason for making these was simply that this is what I had on hand. I ran out of all-purpose flour, I had a full tub of low-fat yogurt but no milk, and I had a neither-here nor-there amount of coconut oil left from my vegan tartlet experiments from earlier. So I decided to make these for breakfast, and at the last minute I thought that cocoa would be a nice compliment to the coconut oil, at least in theory (as I mentioned before, coconut oil is rather tasteless).


They are grainy, delicious, filling and not too sweet. One of the things I love about homemade muffins is that you can always wrap any left-over ones in plastic wrap and grab one for breakfast the next (and the following) day as you're running out the door.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Yogurt Muffins
(Makes 12)

You will need:
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup water or milk
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted to a clear liquid
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a 12-muffin pan with paper liners. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl whisk together yogurt, egg, and water or milk. Add coconut oil and vanilla, and whisk until the oil has blended with the other ingredients. Fold the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture. Distribute among the 12 muffin cups. Bake for 20-23 minutes, until tops are a rich dark brown and lightly crisp. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Serve, or wrap each muffin in plastic wrap and grab as needed for snack or breakfast on-the-go.


Yam and Potato Pancakes

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If you remember my post on pirozhki, I mentioned an interestingly common culinary occurrence around the world: meat cooked in dough, having different names and different methods of preparation, makes an appearance in those countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America.


I may have stumbled on another curious culinary conundrum of sorts. Shredded, fried potato cakes. Potato fritters. Latkes. Potetkaker. Deruny or draniki in Ukrainian and Russian respectively (both meaning something shredded). These have traveled from Eastern Europe to United States to Norway and back, although not necessarily in that order. What conclusion can we draw from this? I can only see one. They must be good.


My mom used to make these when I was little. The version I made is with young gold potatoes, which burst with juices and add more freshness, and yams, which add a sweet complexity to the cakes. As an added bonus, they are also gluten-free. These savory and sweet cakes are tasty by themselves, with a dollop of sour cream or low-fat yogurt, or as a side dish for dinner (providing a deliciously simple way to get away from the usual suspects like mashed potatoes or rice).


Yam and Potato Pancakes
(Makes about 8 pancakes)

You will need:
2 large young gold potatoes
1 medium yam
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp freshly chopped dill
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp pepper, or to taste
1 1/2 tbsp potato flour
2-3 tbsp canola oil

1. Peel and grate potatoes and yam and place in a bowl. Add the egg, dill, salt and pepper and mix. Sprinkle with potato flour and mix well to combine. Form the potato mixture into eight flattened patties (about 3 inches across). Heat oil on medium heat in a large pan and add the cakes, working in batches if necessary. Cook the cakes until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. As an option, serve with chopped scallion and sour cream or low-fat plain yogurt.


Scandinavian Eggs Benedict with Yogurt Sauce

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Have I got a treat for you. This recipe is for Scandinavian Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon (sometimes called Eggs Hemingway, Eggs Scandinave, or Eggs Royale) and a mock Hollandaise sauce made with yogurt.


I've always liked Eggs Benedict when going out for brunch. Before long we started making our own and soon there was hardly a reason to go out for brunch. But I wanted to make it lighter, so we started using smoked salmon instead of Canadian bacon. The only remaining issue was the Hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise is considered one of the "mother" sauces of French cuisine, a base sauce. From the mother sauces you can make many other variant "child" sauces. Making Hollandaise from scratch requires time, moderate skill, and a double boiler of some sort (you can use a heat-proof bowl over a pot). The sauce is made with, among other things, egg yolks and butter, which are heated in the double boiler taking care that the yolks do not curdle and the sauce is sufficiently thickened and perfectly smooth. With eggs, butter, double boiler, and sauce-making skills, this mother was a hog on time, patience, and calories.

In this recipe, the mother was replaced by a brand new, skinny hot step-mother. This is a mock-Hollandaise sauce made with low-fat Greek yogurt. The hint of yellow comes from a pinch of turmeric. This yogurt-based sauce is quick and easy to make. In fact, the only ingredient it has in common with Hollandaise is lemon juice. But the taste is divine, and it goes extremely well with the smoked salmon.


Now, the only thing left is to poach the eggs. If you've never poached an egg or have had some trouble with them in the past, do not fret. It's quite easy and takes about ten minutes altogether.

Bring a wide-mouthed pot filled with about 1 1/2 inches of water to a simmer, with bubbles rising up from the bottom (if the water comes to a rolling boil, turn down the heat and return to a simmer). Stir in about 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar and bring back to a simmer. Crack each egg into an individual ramekin or small bowl. Then, one at a time, pour each egg into a ladle. Partially submerge the ladle with the egg in the simmering water. The egg white will start to turn a snow-white color.


Carefully release the egg, easing it ever so gently into the pot so that it maintains a somewhat round shape (the egg white should be compact and not flop about like jelly fish tentacles). Repeat with the remaining eggs.


Return to a simmer and cook 3-4 minutes for a runny yolk. For a hard yolk, cook about 3 minutes more. With a slotted spoon carefully remove each egg, one at a time, and let it rest on a plate lined with a paper towel until ready to serve.


Then, halve and toast English muffins, top them with smoked salmon or some young spinach leaves for an even healthier option, followed by poached egg and yogurt sauce. Enjoy.


Scandinavian Eggs Benedict with Yogurt Sauce
(Serves 2)

You will need:
1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
1/8 tsp powdered turmeric
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp horseradish
A crackle of white pepper
Salt to taste
2 whole wheat English muffins, halved and toasted
4 slices of smoked salmon
4 poached eggs (for how to poach an egg, see above)
Optional: chopped chives for garnish

In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt and turmeric until yogurt turns a pale gold color. Then stir in dill, lemon juice, horseradish, pepper, and salt, until combined. Leave it at room temperature for a few minutes as you cook the eggs. If you would like the sauce warmer, put it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Top each toasted English muffin half with a slice of smoked salmon, a poached egg and a dollop of yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with chopped chives for garnish. Repeat with remaining muffin halves. Serve and enjoy.


Miniature Tartlets (Vegan)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Oompa Loompa, doom-pa-dee-doo,
I've got a perfect puzzle for you.
Oompa Loompa, doo-ba-dee-dee,
If you are wise, you’ll listen to me.
What do you get when you guzzle down sweets?
Eating as much as an elephant eats.
What are you at, getting terribly fat?
What do you think will come. Of. That?
I don't like the look of it!

Oompa Loompas are on to something. I love their wonderful advice, and their reasoning for it too (my favorite is for not watching TV - you get no commercials). Anyway, I've made a sweet. But it's Oompa Loompa sized, and dairy free. Topped with a berry so you get your vitamins too.


I've made tartlets before. I've made vegan dessert before. But never vegan tartlets, I figured, well, why not? For the tartlets I used coconut oil instead of butter, with coconut milk-based cream.

This was my first time working with coconut oil. I've had the idea for these in my head for a while, but the problem was butter in the short crust (short crust is basically just flour and butter with a bit of water). Then I saw a jar of coconut oil in the store. So I bought it (expensive!) without knowing much about it, but it looked to be of solid consistency and it said it can be used in baking. I did some online research (if Googling things is considered research) and stumbled upon Chef Marcus Samuelsson's blog post on coconut oil (I previously bought his Aquavit cookbook for my in-laws; plus the whole Scandinavian thing is near and dear to my heart). The post said you can use it in place of butter, simply to make sure the consistency is the same as that which is called for with butter (i.e. softened or solid). So I decided to give it a go.


The oil itself is actually rather flavorless and odorless. As a result it works really well as a butter substitute (there was no coconut flavor to the crust at all). The crust came out well. After baking, the crust was of the same consistency and quality as it would have been with butter.

Some notes: it is a lot more heat sensitive than butter. At room temperatures it is a goopy, really thick oil (ideally, for short crust, the fat should be firm). I popped it in the freezer for about ten minutes, but it still ended up being part goopy while parts of it solidified around the edge like cement. When working it into the flour, however, it easily formed into dough. Like buddah.


I then made the mistake of letting the dough rest in the fridge, as I would with butter-based dough. When working with butter, you simply take the dough out, give it a knead or two (Julia Child suggests hitting it with a rolling pin if it gets too hard). When taken out from the fridge, this dough was rock hard. But it quickly thawed after I started working it with my hands and became kneadable again. I would suggest letting it rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes rather than letting it rest in the fridge.


After I rolled out the dough and was pressing it into the molds, the dough became greasier as the oil melted further from the heat of my hands. At that point I was afraid it wouldn't bake properly, but to my surprise it baked just as regular short crust, and easily came out of the molds.

As a result for me the difference was in preparation, due to the differences in its consistency and ability to change states (solid to thick goop or vice versa) much quicker than butter. I followed my old short crust recipe here (with step-by-step pictures), substituting butter with coconut oil. For the cream, I modified my recipe from here, as I wanted it sweeter for the tartlets.


Miniature Tartlets (Vegan)
(Makes 24-30 tartlets)

Vegan short crust
You will need:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for dusting
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
10 tbsp coconut oil (slightly colder than room temperature)
2-3 tbsp ice-cold water, more if needed
Miniature tartlet molds (you can use brioche molds, or miniature muffin molds)

1. In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add coconut oil, and quickly work it into the flour with your fingers to form a crumbly texture. Add water, 1 tbsp at a time, until dough starts to form. Then on parchment paper, take 1/4 of the dough and smear it across the paper with the heel of your hand to blend the ingredients together. Repeat with remaining dough. Then form into a single ball, cover and let stand for 15 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease each mold with coconut oil. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin dusted with flour on dusted surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. With a small inverted glass or a round cookie cutter slightly larger than the widest diameter of your molds, cut out circles. Then place the circles inside the molds, pressing the dough to conform to the mold's shape. Roll a rolling pin on top or press with your hand to remove any dough spilling over the top.
3. Bake the tartlets for 7 minutes. Then prick the bottom of each with a fork to prevent from rising. Return to oven and bake 8-13 minutes more (15-20 minutes total), until the tartlets are pale golden brown. Please note baking time will vary depending on the size of your molds.

Coconut Cream Frosting
You will need:
1 15 oz can coconut milk, refrigerated for 24 hours
2 cups confectioner's sugar

After refrigerating the coconut milk for at least 24 hours (refrigeration separates the solids from the liquid), open the can of coconut milk and carefully spoon out only the solids into a mixing bowl. Discard the liquid or use elsewhere. Add sugar and beat with an electric mixer until well-blended and the mixture is thick, 2-3 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the tartlets
Spoon the frosting into each shell. Top with a berry. Serve and enjoy.

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