Tag Archives: soup

Slow Cooker (& Back to Reality) Smooth Black Bean Soup

mexico 2013 2Last week, we to back from our first mid-winter beach vacation. It was also a first-ever for me and Otto. I joked that I had to wait 35 years to have one, and here’s Otto getting one at 18 months!I don’t have much time to go into details–Mexico in a house with a bunch of friends/family and their kids and lots of time to do nothing at all is all that’s important for now–but let’s just say it was complete bliss. The feeling of aaaaah across all of our faces all week long, to say nothing of being off of snowsuit duty, was worth it.

And last Saturday, at about 9:31 PM when a cold wind whipped against us as we walked out of Newark Airport to a car, it was back to reality. Adam and I let out a collective ‘ugh’ and Otto was more vocal with his ‘aaaaaaaagh’ (not to be confused with the aforementioned ‘aaaah’).

Sometime the next day I got to thinking how it should be part of my vacation planning to make sure I have ingredients for something good waiting for us at home. In the case of coming home from Mexico, that should be tortillas, the best fish sticks we can find, a head of red cabbage, limes, some sour cream, and sriracha sauce. That’s all it takes to make some pretty acceptable fish tacos, which we could have eaten every single day we were on vacation. I wasn’t so organized, of course, so I had to run out and buy everything but the cabbage (did you ever notice that red cabbages keep for weeks if not months, even as you cut away little slivers? Love that about them..).

Along with my fish tacos, I made a big pot of black bean soup. I like to think of this as the soup that bridged the gap between our warm-weather lunch and dinner favorite and the wind/rain/snow/finally-hint-of-spring that we got this week. It’s also something that can be made with a bunch of pantry staples for all of about $5. Which is good because we’ll have to pinch pennies to make this happen again next year–beach vacays don’t come cheap!

This recipe is based on a few that I had. One was from my cousin Juli’s Junior League of Houston cookbook; it was for smooth black bean soup and that’s where I got the idea to go with minimal vegetables, tomato paste, and scallions. Other recipes call for carrots, peppers, and much diced tomatoes, but I really wanted something that could be pureed and not be too fibrous in the end. This recipe didn’t call for too many seasonings, and I’m guessing that’s the case because it did call for bouillon cubes and beef stock. So then I went to look at other recipes and found this one, which is how I determined what spices and herbs to use. I also followed the directions to cook the beans in the slow cooker first, then add the rest a few hours later. I stuck with water to keep the soup vegan, but you could use stock, if you’d like. And one last thing I did with this recipe is based on something I saw some chefs do in Mexico (we were so lucky to have ‘house chefs’ we could hire to come and treat us to home-cooked dinners!): the black beans they made were so simple but flavorful…they just simmered them in a whole onion that was quartered. Again, all the flavor but none of the added bulk of the onions to get in the way of the smooth beans. Continue reading

Shrimp Soup made over


It’s been a long while since I’ve posted a baba-inspired soup (that’s her at my sister Valya’s wedding a few months ago, looking all chill!). Today I’m taking a quick break from work to share this one–a fusion of her shrimp soup and schav. I love schav, but got to thinking one time how it was missing just another layer of flavor. Shrimp did it. I imagine this could work well with a mild fish, as well, although I’m not sure the fish would impart that seafoody flavor that comes from shrimp. But perhaps some clam juice added in would help? Thoughts?

Now back to the genesis of shrimp soup. I remember the first time I had this. My baba was telling us how shrimp was on sale at Meisel’s (pronounced My Zells, and, I should point out, it has gone through several owners and name changes over my lifetime, but we still always call it Meisel’s), the little grocery store in downtown Broadalbin, so she picked some up and this was the result. Simple enough. Last year my cousin Juli e-mailed me the recipe, which is beyond simple. First, I’ll share that one with you, all verbatim from her email. After that, I have a little twist.

Shrimp Soup, the original recipe (serves about 4)

Peel, devein and cut 1 lb. shrimp into bite size pieces. (Make sure you rinse them thoroughly.) Cook them on low until they are cooked. (Add enough water to fully cover them. You can’t add enough, as this will be the broth you use to cook the soup.)

Add chopped up dill and precooked rice. Add salt and pepper to taste then sour cream.

A few sides notes: Baba normally makes this with cooked shrimp, the shrimp flavor isn’t as intense if you do this. If you do prepare with cooked shrimp then add water or seafood stock or shrimp bouillon w/ water to a pot and bring to boil. Then add shrimp, dill, salt, pepper, sour cream.

Shrimp Schav

Follow my recipe for schav, but add in the following step after you’ve brought the broth to a boil: Add in whole, uncooked, peeled shrimp. Frozen is fine. Boil gently until the shrimp is pink and cooked through. Remove from the broth and place on a cutting board to cool slightly. Turn down the broth to a minimum. Chop up the shrimp into bite-sized pieces (or if you prefer, leave whole, but I like having a bit of shrimp in every bite). Add back into the broth, then follow the remaining steps.

Egg Drop Soup

I have comfort food on my mind this week, and thankfully, this is one dish that takes almost no time at all. I’ve been starting meals with egg drop soup for as long as I can remember; I think it may well be the very first of my baba’s soups that I can recall.  Hers is different from the kind you get from the Chinese takeout. While the Chinese kind has thin, silky noodles, the Ukrainian version has just the slightest bite, and a handful of dill and a few sliced carrots brighten it up nicely.

I don’t have a picture of this soup…it’s not really one that photographs well for amateurs like me, I’m afraid. But I do have this picture of my upside-down Mason jars. I learned a tip from my mother about keeping broth in the fridge for a longer period of time. Place freshly-made broth–or any hot soup (note: it MUST be hot, and I avoid this method with soups that contain dairy, just fyi)–in a clean Mason jar (I don’t go so far as to sterilize, but I do run them through the dishwasher extra long). Close tightly and flip upside down. Allow the contents to come down to room temperature. Flip right side up and put in the fridge (not the cupboard…this isn’t canning!). The whole process here forms a seal on the jar, and this way your soups will last much much longer (I can’t say how long, but I usually use them up within a month), and when you make a big pot of something, you’re not stuck eating it for days. Continue reading

Schav, Part II

The weeks before Otto arrived, I spent plenty of time in the kitchen cooking and filling our freezer with food. Five months later, we’re still working through the last remnants. One thing that was forgotten was the base for the schav I had prepared. I wrote a post about the first steps and now I’m happy to share–five and a half months later!–the second installment.  I wish I had made this sooner….it came together in all of 10 minutes and so comforting, which is exactly what I needed yesterday. Here goes! Continue reading

French Canadian Pea Soup à la Habitant

This post is for all of my displaced Canadian friends….a recipe for something resembling Habitant French Canadian Pea Soup. I was lucky to discover this canned soup as a broke university student, and I know I wasn’t the only one in on the well-kept secret. This soup was so good and filling and could often be found on special for a few dollars a big can. That’s less than a dollar a  meal! But as much as the price made it appealing, so did the comfort factor. I can still remember Saturday afternoons in a cold Toronto winter, walking home to my cold and damp apartment after the morning shift as a receptionist at a spa. I’d heat the soup, butter a toasted rosemary bagel, fill my belly, and get into my futon for a long nap.

When I first moved to New York, I would bring back cans when I could. That got cumbersome, and really, it was a little silly of me to bring back canned soup, right? I also hauled back canned tuna because I was convinced the Canadian kind was better. Anyway, I really didn’t start experimenting with my own concoction of something resembling the Habitant Pea until recently. Google French Canadian Pea Soup and you’ll find plenty of recipes. This is the one I put together based on a few of them. I make mine in the slow cooker, but a few hours on the stove would work fine too, I’m sure. Now here’s the recipe: Continue reading

Basic Borscht

I have been meaning to post my Basic Borscht recipe for months. When I saw these pictures of my brother, Nikolai, winner of the Borscht Off on a farm on Vancouver Island, I had to share both. Look at that victory hat with the beet in the brim! And my little nephew Orest! (I can’t wait for the adventures of Otto and Orest to begin, by the way…) As the winner, he got to lead the parade around the farm, along with the cow. And there appeared to be an oompah band. I love me a good oompah band.

Nikolai was quite excited to share the news with baba, and baba was equally excited to call everyone (we call it the Baba News Network) to spread the word. He used her secret ingredient, which I’m not sure if I should share. But I will. It’s in the list of ingredients below, and to keep it somewhat secret, I won’t identify it as the secret ingredient. But really, it’s kind of obvious.

This is not my baba’s recipe, though. If I were to ask her for it, the answer would probably be something along the lines of ‘a bit of this, a bit of that, beets.’ My recipe is adapted from Healthy Cooking for Two (Or Just You) by Frances Price, the first cookbook I bought when I moved to New York. Back then, I really only knew how to cook for a minimum of 8 people, it seemed, because my chilis, soups, and pasta dishes would never. go. away. I found this book really helpful in learning to scale back, and I still use it and recommend it.

With borscht, I suggest starting with a basic recipe, and then make it your own with add-ons. For a while, I added in chickpeas and mushrooms; then everything was pureed into a thick, hearty soup. I love the flavor combination of beets and eggs, and adding a hard-boiled egg to each bowl makes it into more of a meal. Or instead of the egg, I might add a generous dollop of sour cream. But not when there’s an egg in there. For some reason the two together would seem strange, although I’ve never tried it so maybe I’m wrong. I hardly ever make borscht with a ham bone, but some–like this big&tall man from Ukraine named Oleh that lived with us one summer–say it’s not the real deal unless you do.

Here’s my recipe–very loosely adapted from Frances’ book–which makes 4 servings…the perfect amount so you don’t grow tired of leftovers, and enough for you to figure out what you might do to make it unique. Continue reading

Schav, Part One

I only know of two uses for sorrel: a soup called Schav, and Sorrel Rum Punch. My niece and nephews would offer up a third use: eating the tangy leaf right off the plant in their backyard, and daring the neighborhood kids to do the same. (Those three are persuasive…they’ve even managed to get their friends to snack on pickled herring and potato chips–a perfect pairing, by the way.)

Part One of my recipe for Schav is the base. My sister, Larisa, suggested I make it before the baby arrives. And the timing is perfect, since sorrel is in season right now. Quite simply, you make a pesto-like mixture that you freeze in a container. When it comes time to make the soup, all you need is a few spoonfuls to get the flavor and color you need.

Here’s what you do: take two big bunches of rinsed sorrel and finely chop (I include the stems, too). Melt a stick (1/4 lb.) of butter in a large skillet and add the sorrel. Cook until very wilted. Cool and place in a freezer container. (I know that it seems like a lot of butter, but my brother-in-law, Kenneth, says that’s what you must do to make sure it’s scoopable in its frozen state.) Like pesto, this will keep in the freezer for months.

The next step: you’ll see in a few weeks when my mother comes to perform her baba-ly duties! I’ve never actually made Schav, so she’ll have to show me how.

Tuscan White Bean Borscht

My baba always starts her meals off with homemade soup–on cold rainy days and hot, sunny ones. How very French of her, except she’s not French and I really don’t know the reasoning behind it. I’ll have to ask her. What I do know is that she has a repertoire of about a dozen soups–egg drop, mushroom barley, something wonderful called ‘schao’–and an infinite number of improvised soups inspired by whatever needs to be used up.

This soup reminds me of something she would whip up. I had plenty of beans left from my dried beans experiment, and I had been thinking about this easy Tuscan white bean soup I watched Giada de Laurentiis cook a few weeks ago. And then I had another thought. I always add some beans to my borscht; this time, I thought I’d add just a few beets to the bean soup. The result: a sweet, creamy, slightly garlicky and sagey soup colored a pinkish-red with a few beets. Something unexpected and pretty…and a tasty way to avoid wasting a glut of beans.

For this soup, I ever so slightly adapted Giada’s recipe. To make the soup vegetarian, I used water instead of chicken stock (although I do remember her saying stock made for a richer soup, so feel free…). To allow room for the beets, I reduced the amount of beans slightly. Continue reading

A Family Casserole, Reinvented

To this day, one of my favorite brunch dishes is broccoli, egg, and cheese casserole. Growing up, it was an after-church mainstay. Bound together by gobs of cream of mushroom soup, this casserole may well be my original comfort food. And I know certain siblings of mine feel the same way. Valya once wrote about it for an English class assignment so mouthwateringly well that the teacher asked for the recipe. (I’m guessing my mother found it on a soup can label: combine cooked broccoli, boiled eggs cut in half, a can or two of soup, and sprinkle with cheddar and bake until bubbly.)

Fast forward to sometime last year when I was on a bit of a hard boiled eggs in soup kick. I got to thinking how good a broccoli and creamy mushroom soup would be with eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches for dipping. I finally made it a few weeks ago after getting dumped on by a deluge of rain. It was the perfect antidote. Where a casserole was nice for a sunny Sunday meal, this would become my dark rainy night version.

As easy as it could have been to combine some sort of broccoli soup with a few cans of mushroom soup, I gave myself the added challenge of creating a homemade version of Cambell’s goodness….something with more mushrooms and organic milk. Turns out I didn’t have to work too hard; this recipe (thanks Amy!) worked like a charm, although for my purposes I split the recipe in half and used more mushrooms so the flavor would really come through when blended with the broccoli. (If you have a family recipe that involves cream of mushroom soup–and let’s admit it, everybody does–this should work for that too.)

On another note, how ridiculously good does that sandwich look?! I have to toot my horn here, I’m afraid. It was that good. I finally made Jim Lahey’s bread and don’t think I can use anything else for my sandwiches. Continue reading

A few ways to fall for frozen peas

It took me years and two Brits to get over my dislike of peas. My mother, while she is and always has been a fantastic cook, subjected us to canned peas as children , and it wasn’t so much the flavor as the texture that really put me off. (Just to clarify, this does not include fresh peas, which I would eat straight from the plants in my baba’s garden. And another thing, I’m sure that without six little mouths to feed, my mother is off the canned variety too.) I assumed frozen peas were just as bad, until I saw Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver use them with such flair. And something I only recently realized: like my lentils, I enjoy my peas either pureed or with a bit of bite.

Given that there’s just about nothing green at the farmer’s market these days, bags of Trader Joes frozen peas are keeping me from going completely pale (or broke…I think they’re just $2 a bag!). Here are a few of my favorite recipes….do you have any to share?

Nigella’s recipe for Pea and Pesto Soup was what got me over the pea aversion.

Jamie uses frozen peas all the time, and although I haven’t tried the Pasta Shells with Bacon and Peas, I will soon enough.

This recipe for Minty Pea Dip is inspired by Jamie. We had something very similar during the cocktail hour at our wedding….I loved the taste and the color!

Mashed Green Peas go with just about anything, and these come together much faster than other mashed vegetables.

And finally, my own combination: whole wheat pasta, goats cheese or ricotta, peas (barely cooked, of course), and garlic scape pesto (which I froze last June). Any pesto–mmmm, maybe a minty one?–will do.

(Image via Flickr)

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