Anna Thomas’s Sopa de Poblanos

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from Love Soup, pp. 70-71.

Oh, the weather is gloriously, snuggily foul. Rain descending in sheets, wind gusts between 40 and 50 miles per hour, and I’m nearly recovered from the flu but not so much that I can’t luxuriate under a thick throw on the couch. It’s the perfect weather for soup.

One of my dearest friends gave me a new cookbook of vegetarian soups whose title, I must admit, struck me as so saccharine that I didn’t look through it until the flu imposed on me time to read idly. Anna Thomas has collected 160 soup recipes, of which I counted over 20 that I intend to make. The recipes embody creative and bold combinations of flavors unusual, in my experience, in vegetarian cooking. Even the variety of vegetables broths seem feasibly flavorful. I admit I cheated, though. Instead of using a vegetable broth here, I pulled out of the freezer one of the bigger tubs of frozen chicken stock. It had the predictable effect of enriching the flavor at the expense of poultry’s lives. The only other change I made was to substitute fresh pasillas for the poblanos, since this week that was all I could find in the stores. More fiery than the poblanos but still edible for a capiscum-wimp like myself.

Serves 6

about 6 fresh poblano chiles (1 1/2 lbs; 700 g)

Shadowcook: As I wrote above, I used fresh pasillas, which are hotter than poblanos. I also saw fresh Anaheim chiles in the market, but regardless of the heat they would be a sacrifice in color.

1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter

1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil

2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped (1 lb; 450 g)

1 clove garlic, minced

sea salt

6 cups (1 1/2 liters) basic light vegetable broth

Shadowcook: Or chicken broth dare I say.

1/2 cup (20 g) chopped cilantro

5 or 6 fresh epazote leaves or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried crumbled epazote

Shadowcook: Not surprisingly, the only place I found this was in my local Latino mercado in the produce section. Wikipedia has a little article on it.

4 oz (120 g) creamy white goat cheese

3 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts

Roast the chiles under a broiler, in a dry skillet over high heat, or on a charcoal grill, turning them from time to time until the skin is charred and blistered all over. Place them in a paper bag for about 10 minutes to let them sweat and then peel off the skins and remove the stems and seeds. cut the peeled chiles into strips; you should have about 1 1/2 cups of peeled poblano strips.

In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the butter and olive oil and sauté the onions, stirring often, until they are translucent. Add the minced garlic and some salt and cook over low heat, stirring often, until the onions are golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

When the onions and garlic are very soft, combine them in a soup pot with the chile strips, broth, cilantro, and epazote. Cover the pot and simmer everything for about 20 minutes, then puree in a blender, in batches, or with an immersion blender until the soup is perfectly smoooth.

Shadowcook: Yes, well, my blender got a little excited, even though the container was less than halfway filled. As the soup finished up on the stove, I was wiping down my kitchen wals and counters. Lots of liquid. Be careful.

Add the goat cheese to the pureed soup, stirring over low heat until the cheese has melted into the soup. Taste, and correct the seasoning with a pinch more salt if needed.

Shadowcook: Oddly, I thought the soup needed a lot more salt. Add the salt slowly, but don’t be surprised if it absorbs quite a bit more than the recipe calls for.

Serve the soup hot, with lightly toasted pine nuts scattered over each bowl. Because of its deep, intense flavor and spicy edge, this soup is best served in smaller portions as a first course — although people may ask for more.

Shadowcook: And pass around the kleenex for mopping the brow… But absolutely worth it.

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Rick Bayless’s Chilied Tortilla Soup

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from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, pp. 117-18.

Continuing on my tear through Mexican cookbooks, I decided to make one more recipe from Bayless’s book before moving on to Diane Kennedy, a cookbook author who has always intimidated me. But I feel ready, now that I have located several markets where I can reliably obtain the ingredients both Bayless and Kennedy call for.

Update, after dinner: Flavors in this soup achieved a balance that I didn’t expect. The chard beautifully complemented the toasted chile- and tomato-based broth. Really delicious.

Let’s start right in:

Makes about 6 cups, servings 4 to 6

4 to 6 corn tortillas, preferably stale store-bought ones

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 to 5 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces total) dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 medium-large round ripe tomato

1 medium white onion, sliced 1/8 thick

6 cups good broth, preferably chicken

Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon, depending on saltiness of broth

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Mexican Chihuahua cheese, or other melting cheese such as brick or Monterey Jack

1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges

4 cups loosely packed, thinly sliced (preferably red) chard leaves (you’ll need about 2/3 of a 12-ounce bunch)

Shadowcook: Two comments here. Mexican cheese comes in various styles. The Cacique brand appears to be ubiquitous. Since I could not find any cheese that hailed from Chihuahua, I settled for Cacique’s Oaxaca style cheese, whose wrapper assures me is suitable for melting. The only other point to make is that I did not shred the chard for the photo above. The image above, I confess, is stage to take advantage of daylight.

1. Getting started. Slice the tortillas into 1/8-inch-wide strips. Heat 1/3 cup of the vegetable oil in a medium-size (8-to-9 inch) skillet over medium-high. When hot, add about 1/3 of the tortilla strips and fry, turning frequently, until they are crisp on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Fry the remaining strips in 2 batches.

Shadowcook: Because I was multi-tasking during this first step, I allowed some of the tortilla strips to turn browner than I should have let them get. Next time, I’ll pay closer attention to them while they fry.

Cut chiles into rough 1-inch squares using kitchen shears. Reduce the heat under the oil to medium-low, let cool a minute, then fry the squares very briefly to toast them, 3 or 4 seconds; immediately remove and drain on paper towels. Place 1/3 of the chiles in a small bowl, cover with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water. Set aside the remaining fried chiles.

Shadowcook: The pair of rubber cooking gloves that I keep in my utensil drawer came in handy here.

While the chiles are soaking, roast the unpeeled garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, about 15 minutes. Cool, then slip off the papery skins.

Roast the tomato on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened and blistered on one side, about 6 minutes; flip and broil the other side. Cool, then peel, collecting any juices.

2. Simmering the broth. In a medium-size (4-quart) pot, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-low. Add the onion and fry until brown, about 10 minutes. Place the rehydrated chiles in a food processor or blender along with the roasted garlic, tomato and 1 cup of the broth; puree until smooth. Raise the temperature under the pot to medium-high, and, when noticeably hotter, press the tomato-chile puree through a medium-mesh strainer into the fried onion. Stir for several minutes as the mixture thickens and darkens. Mix in the remaining 5 cups of broth, then simmer uncovered over medium-low, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season with salt.

Shadowcook: I did not press the puree through any strainer. As was the case in the other Bayless recipe I made, I did not object at all to the texture of the result. But one of these days I’m going to make a concerted effort to find a medium-meshed strainer and see if it makes a difference.

3. Finishing the soup. Set out the garnishes: Make mounds of the fried tortilla strips, fried chiles, cheese and lime on a large platter.  Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the sliced chard and simmer until the chard is tender, 5 or 6 minutes. Ladle into warm soup bowls and pass the garnishes for each guest to use al gusto.

Advance preparation — The soup itself can be prepared several days ahead. The fried tortillas will keep for a day wrapped in foil on the counter. Reheat the broth and set out the garnishes just before serving.

Shadowcook: Bayless has a very appealing variation involving beans and greens, but you’ll have to buy the book to to find it!

Saveur’s Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)

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Saveur Magazine, no. 118, March 2009, p. 38.

It may seem redundant to offer here a recipe that not only can you find easily on the web, but I directly provide in the link above. But this recipe deserves as much publicity as it can get. I don’t subscribe to Saveur. I’m starting to wonder why. I pick up a copy now and then without ever doing much with it. I decided to buy this issue when I noticed that it contained sixteen recipes for artichokes and a Viennese cookie (The Amadeus Cookie) that will be next week’s Holy Grail. The goulash caught my eye as I leafed through it once I got the copy home. Paprika, marjoram, caraway seeds and garlic intrigued me. So, I made it last night — advancing my project of clearing space in the freezer for the additional cuts of pork to arrive on Monday — with the last of the chuck roast. When it was ready to eat, I was startled at the vivid colors. The flavors were unexpected: caraway — I should have had a slice of rye bread. The addition of the tomato and red pepper at the end brightened the flavor of the soup. And despite the author’s caution that “real” goulash contains no flour or sour cream, I added a dollop of créme fraiche. If it isn’t traditional, it ought to be. The taste of cream melded beautifully with the earthier spices. Gorgeous soup.

As it appears in the magazine and on-line…

4 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil

2 yellow onions

1 1/2 lbs beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 1/2″ cubes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup paprika

2 teaspoons dried marjoram

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2″ cubes

2 medium parsnips, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 1/2 lbs medium new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 tomato, cored and chopped

1 Italian frying pepper, chopped.

1. Heat oil in a 5-qt dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to high. Add beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, stirring only once or twice, until the meat is lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in paprika, marjoram, caraway, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add carrots, parsnips, and 5 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium. Simmer, covered, until the beef is nearly tender, about 40 minutes.

2. Add potatoes and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and peppers; cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with rye bread, if you like.

There’s nothing not to like about the recipe…

I can’t think of anything to add — unless you’re wondering what an Italian frying pepper is. I had to look it up. It’s a conical sweet red bell pepper. I’m not sure it makes a difference.

Get yourself some créme fraiche and ignore the traditionalists.