Sunday, July 20, 2008
Soups For Soupy Weather
Even in the middle of July, we enjoy a cool, moist climate here, near Patzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico . We are blessed by an altitude of about 2,200 meters above sea level. So, except in the hotter, dryer months of April and May, a soup is nearly always appropriate.
I had an abundance of vegetables purchased at the mercado; calabacitas, potatoes, carrots, green beans, chayote; two liters of light chicken stock, and an abundance of fresh basil in our garden. What could be more appropriate than Soupe Au Pistou?
I did a web search for a simple version of this Provençal soup, and the one on Food Network looked optimal. I only had to make a few small changes. I especially appreciated that their pistou or pesto had no tomato paste in it, which, although it might be "authentic", detracts from the fresh, herbal taste of a nice basil pesto.
This is their ingredient list:
1/3 cup dry white beans (navy or Great Northern), washed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only
1 cup (4 ounces) freshly grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese
2 small red potatoes, with skins
1 large carrot, peeled
1 small onion
1 small zucchini, with skin
1 small yellow crookneck squash, with skin
1 stalk of celery, peeled
1 large tomato, peeled, and seeded
1/4 pound green beans
8 cups chicken stock or canned broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
(For instructions, follow the Food Network link).
I subbed 1 chayote (mirliton) for the crookneck squash, essentially doubled the vegetable quantities, used sliced canned "stewed" tomatoes for the fresh tomato; for the beans, I'd previously cooked several cups of large white alubias, seasoned with salt, olive oil and a couple of bay leaves. Some of the cooking broth from these beans went into the final soup.
I cooked the green beans separately, to give me better control of its doneness, and besides, I had more green beans than the soup needed.
I also cooked some short pasta shapes in a separate pot; putting a few large spoonfuls of the cooked, drained and rinsed pasta in each large bowl, then generously ladling vegs and soup over, and finishing with a dollop of pesto.
The soup itself is "nice", a bit bland, but the pesto, redolent of garlic, Parmesan type cheese and especially, fresh basil, lifted it beyond the mundane.
A few days before, I composed a Michoacán version of a Vietnamese soup, Pho Gai.
It was was another sterling creation, combining principles of Southeast Asian cuisine with a Mexican chicken and a bag of reddi-2-cook soup vegetables. The latter are a great convenience food for soups, freshly cut vegetables in a bag, purchased in the mercado for prices varying from a few pesos to $15 pesos.
First, I made a seasoned stock from carrots, scorched onions and garlic, sliced fresh ginger, celery and a few spices. Black pepper, star anise, allspice berries, a few cloves. Then juice and rind of a small lime. Some Southeast Asian Fish Sauce. Brought to a boil and simmered 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another pot, I put half of a cut up chicken in with some cold water and (belatedly), some sea salt. I brought this to a boil, simmered less than 10 minutes, and turned off the heat. I left the chicken in this covered pot about 2 hours, then removed it. When cool, skinned and boned it. I reserved that cooking liquid for a later use: the Soupe Au Pistou.!
Next day, I reheated the spiced vegetable stock, adjusted seasoning with more salt, Fish Sauce and a dash of white wine vinegar. When it came to a boil, I tossed in the contents of the bag of reddi-2-cook vegs. Simmered until almost tender, then in went large shreds of cooked chicken plus cooked carrots.
Meanwhile, in another pot of boiling water, I dropped in a 14 oz. bag of tapioca noodles. Thick rice noodles are more usual, but to me, the tapioca noodles taste about the same: neutral. I was surprised at how long these took to get tender. But after cooking about 12 minutes, I just let them soak in the hot water, and they were fine. Then drained and rinsed with cold water.
Meanwhile, Susan prepared the two salad plates: on one plate, fresh Romaine lettuce leaves (lechuga orejona); on the other, fresh mint, basil, cilantro, sliced knob onion. separately: lime halves and further separate, one sliced green chile serrano.
We served the soup and noodles, and had Sriracha and Hoisin Sauces for those who wanted. None of us put Hoisin sauce in. For me, it's just too overwhelming for a Pho.
It was very pleasant and herbal; satisfying without being heavy. I had a small bowl again for supper, and on the following day, we had it for breakfast.
(Photos from other Web sources.)