Tag Archives: light

Creamy Herbed Pea Soup

15 Aug

Ask my mother what my favorite vegetable is, and she’ll loudly proclaim: ‘SWEET PEAS!’. Well, she’d actually say ‘zveet peez!’, what with her having learned English by watching subtitled episodes of ‘The Golden Girls’ and all. (On a side note: they eat surprising few peas those golden girls!).
I’ve been in love with crisp fresh English peas for decades. Seeing them happily clinging together in their tiny pods, reminds me of lazy Summer weekends hanging out on the porch and sipping ice cold tea with your best girl friends. I know it’s a stretch, but stay with me…

With pea season arriving right around the time the winter chill leaves the early morning air, there’s nothing that stops me from planting my pajama-clad ‘derriere’ in one of our floral cabana patio chairs, armed with a mug of coffee and a bowl of fresh English peas for hulling. With the canopy of a big fat loquat tree shading our patio, I usually get the company of a few humming birds whizzing about and/or house finches, chirping loudly over who gets to perch on the top tier of our birdfeeder. These kind of lazy Sunday mornings are my favorite. The ‘house men’ are night owls and tend to sleep in late, so I have our cozy apartment all to myself, with the cats snoozing in the morning sun somewhere inconvenient or doing their cute feline chit-chattering thing to the birds in front of the open window, secretly plotting for you to break a leg as you try to avoid stepping on them when you walk back inside with a bowl of hulled peas.

I like hulling peas. Seeing them bounce around on the bottom of the bowl as they come cascading in with the help of my thumb, I can’t help but think it must feel like a roller-coaster ride to them… I’ve always had a vivid imagination. It doesn’t help much that my office cubicle overlooks the take-off & landing strips of Los Angeles International airport, and I occasionally find myself day-dreaming about being sprawled out in a polka dot bikini on an exotic white sand beach with coconut palms swaying back & forth… That is, until the roaring engine of Air Tahiti Nui’s flight #85 approaches and thunders by my 6th floor office window, which usually sets off an overly sensitive car alarm or two. I’m instantly reminded that Century Blvd isn’t even remotely near Tahiti, and if I dare squeeze my curves into a tiny polka dot bikini, I’d risk getting a ticket for bringing the human form into disrepute. But we were talking about peas… See what I mean with vivid imagination?! Sheesh.

Last Spring, I came home with a 5 lbs bag of fresh English peas from the farmers market. We pretty much ate pea-anything that week. It was as if we were on a 7-day pea cleansing program, which I’m sure exists somewhere here, in Beverly Hills or so. Among many other green adventures, I made the Summer soup below. It’s served cold, like gazpacho, and it’s such a refreshing dish on a hot Summer day, but if you like, you could eat it warm too… Aren’t peas just awesome?!

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CREAMY HERBED PEA SOUP
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 large shallot, diced
– 1-2 Tbsp of grapeseed oil (or light olive oil)
– 2 3/4 cups of chicken broth
– 1/4 cup of Pinot Grigio (or other crisp white wine)
– 1.5 lbs of fresh peas (or equal amount of frozen peas)
– 1/3 cup of heavy cream
– 1 Tbsp of fresh mint, chopped very finely
– 1 tsp of fresh tarragon, chopped very finely
– 2 Tbsp of fresh parsley, chopped finely
– 1 Tbsp of fresh chives, chopped finely
– zest of 1 small lemon
– salt & pepper, to taste
– crème fraiche, for garnish
– 1/2 leek, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)

In a sauce pan, add oil and sauté shallots over medium heat until softened, but not browned! Add broth, wine and peas, and simmer until peas are mostly tender but still bright green. Remove from heat and add lemon zest. In a blender, or with a hand-mixer, blend the soup so it’s smooth and lump-free. It should be a fairly thick but liquid consistency. Pour blended mixture into a bowl and set in iced cold water to cool the soup quickly and retain its bright green color. (Make sure the ice water won’t pour into your soup!)

When soup feels cool enough to the touch, add cream & herbs. Season with salt & pepper to taste, and serve in bowls. Swirl a dollop of crème fraiche through it and sprinkle with a few of the shavings of leek, for garnish.

Pairs really nice with smoked salmon toast or cold shrimp. Yum!

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Princess Slaw

31 Jul

I would be lacking proper patriotic pride if I didn’t feature something ‘witlof’ on here. After all, this bitter leafy vegetable ‘is’ Belgium’s pride, so much so, that it is commonly referred to as Belgian Endive in English. Like Vegas brides, witlof was discovered entirely by chance. The story goes that it was someone at the Botanical Gardens in Brussels who happened to store chicory roots in a dark cellar, and then later discovered that they had produced fragrant white leaves. Like so:

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In 1872 some of this ‘witlof’ was sent to Paris, where it was later show-cased in an exhibition… and everybody lived happily ever after! Well, maybe not everybody.

As a child, I was never a big fan of raw witlof. Braised, these little cabbages caramelize and turn somewhat sweet, but left raw, the white leaves have a rather bitter crunchy bite. At the time, my juvenile palette wasn’t ready to embrace this without a fight, especially not considering there were sweeter salad options available. Nonetheless, mom loved endive salads and so we ate them. As odd as it may sound to America’s culture of coddling its brood, Belgian children typically grow up eating whatever the adults eat around the table, give or take the prerequisite portion control or cutesy approach to prevent excessive sulking. Being a foodie herself, mom was particularly insistent on expanding our palettes and exposing us to different flavors and foods from around the globe. Her tenacity in this fiercely rivaled my stubbornness, to the point where she once cooked spinach 4 days in a row and fed it to me with each meal, simply because I refused to eat the required 3 spoonfuls for good measure. Four whole days!!! If I even remotely hinted that I was hungry, I’d be at the table with my darned reheated bowl of spinach. I endured four days of ‘spinach prison’, before my young brain grasped the concept that I wasn’t going to win this one… um, yeah. Not that I’m stubborn or anything.

But, we digress… Yesterday, my Flemisch childhood friend Hadewych private-messaged me over Facebook to sing praise about my blog (she’s very pretty AND intelligent!), and asked if I was going to feature witlof and root vegetables, as these are true Belgian staples. She shared a recipe for a delicious, crisp witlof salad with red beets and happened to mention, tongue-in-cheek, that she calls it ‘Princess Slaw’ since the beets give the salad a pink hue and her young daughter Sam is easily bribed with anything pink and/or “princess” these days… Hadewych: 1 – Sam: 0.

With Belgian Endive costing you your first born an arm & a leg over here, and our finances seriously challenged, I got creative and played around a bit with Hadewych’s salad recipe. However, originally this slaw is made with thinly sliced witlof, rather than fennel. My more budget-friendly version below is still pink, so I’m sticking with ‘Princess Slaw’. In honor of a little blue-eyed girl named Sam.

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PRINCESS SLAW
(Adapted from super-mom Hadewych’s recipe)
– 1 large red beet, roasted (*)
– 1 tart apple, like Granny Smith
– 1 small/medium fennel bulb
– 2 Tbsp of good plain mayonnaise
– 3 Tbsp of Greek yogurt (or crème fraiche)
– juice & zest of 1 lemon
– 1 tsp of good mustard
– 1-2 Tbsp of chopped fresh parsley
– salt & pepper, to taste
(*) When working with beets, it is good to know that they will stain not only your hands, but also any porous material you place them on. If you don’t like your equipment or hands turning a bright pink, use a plate to cut them. The color will wash off of your hands after a few washes, but you could also wear latex gloves.

Heat oven to 400F. Cut stems off of the beets (no need to peel the beets!), and wash them so you get rid off all the dirt. Wrap each beet individually in aluminum foil. Place in the hot oven and roast until beet is fork-tender. For a tennis ball-size beet, this will be approx. 45 min.
Take beet out of the oven, and let cool until able to handle. Unwrap and rub beet under cool running water. The skin will slip right off without much effort! Chop into small cubes.

While the beet roasts, zest lemon and squeeze juice into a small bowl. Add mayo, yogurt, mustard and salt & pepper, to taste. Stir until you get a smooth dressing. Set aside and let flavors develop a bit.

Cute stems and ends of the fennel. Remove outer layer, and cube fennel heart in very small dice or slice thinly. Peel & chop apple into small dice as well.
Add chopped beet to bowl with fennel & apple. Pour dressing over the top and stir to coat everything. The slaw will turn bright pink. Sprinkle some roughly chopped fresh parsley over the top.

If you are a fan of raw beets, which I am not so much, you can also roughly grate a raw beet and the apple with your box grater, and combine it with with the thinly sliced witlof or fennel. Enjoy!

Curried Zucchini Cakes

29 Jul

My good friend Glynis posted a picture of her delicious home-grown zucchini crop on Instagram the other day, and freely confessed she had been on the hunt for zucchini recipes on Pinterest lately. My mind instantly went to a stack of curried zucchini cakes I whipped up months ago. I think last time I thought about frying up zucchini cakes in my skillet was probably when one of my colleagues arrived at my desk with a bag of monster-squash. She had grown them from seedlings and – by the sentiment in her voice – I could tell she felt comforted knowing her squash babies’ were going to someone who would love them as much as she did… I thanked her for sharing her glass house crop, and promised her I’d turn them into something magically delicious for lunch. Like Mary Poppins. Almost.

I’m not sure if these things happen to just me or everybody else, but at times I think my brain just randomly archives itself when it reaches system overload on all the foodie stuff. There are certain dishes I love and vow to put on regular rotation, and then, for some bizarre reason, I completely forget about them for months! Zucchini cakes are one of them. Every time I fry them up I fall in love with their crisp deliciousness and that token dollop of tart crème fraîche that goes on top, but somehow it nearly always takes some sort of a visual stimulus, like Glynis’ Instagram picture, for me to go “oooohhh, zucchini cakes!”.

I figured that I should post these forgotten gems on my blog, and hopefully I won’t forget about them anymore. Right.

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CURRIED ZUCCHINI CAKES WITH GOAT CHEESE & PINE NUTS
– 4-5 small zucchini, grated (approx. 2 cups)
– 2 small carrots, grated (approx. 1/2 cup)
– 1/2 of a small onion, grated
– 2 Tbsp of finely chopped fresh dill
– 1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
– juice of 1 lemon
– 1 cup of flour
– 3 eggs
– 1.5 Tbsp of sweet curry powder
– salt & pepper, to taste
– olive oil, for pan-frying
– mild goat cheese (*)
– toasted pine nuts
(*) Soledad‘s lemon-lavender goat cheese is delicious with these fritters!

Grate zucchini and place in a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and lemon juice, and let drain for 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, take zucchini and squeeze excess out of the vegetables. Place in a large bowl.

Add grated carrot and onion, eggs, flour, feta cheese, dill, and curry powder, and combine into a chunky batter. Add salt/pepper taste.

In a heavy skillet, heat olive oil until nice and hot (but not smoking) over medium heat. Place a hefty scoop of batter in the pan and press down a bit to flatten out. Cook until brown & crisped, +/- 4 minutes. Flip over and brown the other side.

Transfer to a 200F oven to keep warm, while you cook the rest in batches.

In a separate pan, toast pine nuts for a minute or so. Be careful, cause they burn easily!

Serve the zucchini cakes while still warm & crisp, with a dollop of goat cheese on top and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.

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