Spring Vegetable Soup with Sour Cream and Dill

 

Quick poll: if you could travel anywhere in the early spring, where would you want to go? Ok, results are coming in… Looks like the most popular response is “any place warm,” followed closely by “the beach” and “the Caribbean.” In a shocker, no one said: “Someplace overcast and cold, where there is still snow on the the ground and the high temperatures are just barely breaking freezing. Like Russia. Yeah, Russia would be awesome in March.” And yet, I recently came back from a week and a half in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and let me tell you: it was amazing.

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Vareniks (dumplings), pickled vegetables, and garlic toast at Varenichnaya No 1.

So, why Russia? I have to admit, it wasn’t really on my radar until one of my best friends from college and her family moved to Moscow last April, with the plan to stay for just a few years. I wanted to visit while they were still there, so another good friend and I made the trip out in mid-March. We thought we had packed enough winter clothes—long underwear, knee-length down coats, wool socks…—but it still took us about three days to figure out how to dress so that we were not miserably cold. A short week later, though, as temperatures soared into the low 40’s and the sun came out, we were already shedding our hats and gloves and exclaiming about how great the weather was.

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Splurged on a 1st-class train ticket from St. Petersburg to Moscow and am not (too) embarrassed to admit how giddy I got about it: the half-bottle of wine served at 9am (hey, I waited until 11:00 to open it), the real glasses, the white placemat for the tray table!…

I went in knowing little about Russian food, having low but uninformed expectations, and joking around about how I was going to survive on potatoes, caviar, and vodka. I did get to have caviar once (thank you, fancy brunch at the Hotel Metropole), and my friends and I of course enjoyed some obligatory vodka before falling back on our usual beer or wine.

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The spread that accompanied the post-tour vodka tasting at the Cristall Vodka Distillery. Our guide said that you’re supposed to have salty foods with vodka, and that it’s acceptable to drink more if you eat while you drink. Done and done!

Here is what I experienced: You can indeed get cured herring and potatoes in many restaurants, and it’s darn good. Dark bread (rye or wheat) with plenty of butter is a staple. Dumplings (especially pelmeni) are ubiquitous, and veal seems to always be offered as a possible filling. They are big on blini and crêpe-style pancakes. I tried borscht and it was delicious (this is coming from someone who thinks that beets taste the way that dirt smells), and there is also a beef soup called solyanka/solianka that is equally outstanding. And lastly, it’s practically impossible to get a meal that doesn’t include either a sprinkle of dill or a side of sour cream. The only disappointment was that fromagicide is real, and most of the cheese I had was pretty bland.

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I came home with matryoshka dolls, adorably wrapped Alenka chocolate, and onion-dome Christmas ornaments, plus a raging sore throat from my friend’s kids and a serious craving for some restorative soup like the brothy ones I’d had in Russia. In the freezer, luckily, were four Ziploc bags of homemade chicken stock from this winter, just waiting to be turned into something good. What better way to use them than to make a soup with spring vegetables? I didn’t want to waste the homemade stock on something that it would just get so lost in that you couldn’t appreciate it, and I wanted to use it up before the weather got too warm.

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I went with red-skinned potatoes, carrots, asparagus, and (not pictured) frozen peas for the vegetables in this soup. I am sure that fresh peas would be great; if you’ve got them, use them, but frozen peas worked just fine for me. I cut the potatoes the way I’d had them in my borscht and solyanka: sliced into short, thick matchsticks instead of chunks.

This result is a brothy, light soup that is nevertheless full of flavor, thanks to the homemade stock and also the fresh dill and sour cream that top it off. Obviously, to get the full experience, you have to enjoy it with with a slice of dark bread, spread generously with salted butter.



Note: This soup is pretty simple, and I am convinced that the homemade chicken stock played a big role in making it flavorful. My usual stock method is: in a stockpot, place a chicken carcass and 2 large carrots (cut into 3″-4″ sticks), 2 large celery stalks (cut into 3″-4″ sticks), one small yellow or white onion (peeled but root intact, quartered lengthwise), 3 large garlic cloves (peeled and smashed with the flat edge of a knife), plenty of salt (don’t be shy), a handful of whole black peppercorns (easier to strain later), and 2 dried bay leaves, plus a few springs of fresh herbs (I aim for parsley and sage but rosemary and/or thyme work too). Cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for as long as you can stand it—3 to 4 hours, preferably. If too much liquid evaporates, throw some more water in the pot. Taste it and adjust your seasoning—if you could drink a cupful plain, it’s good. Strain, then cool overnight in the fridge. Skim most of the fat off the top. Use in the next few days or freeze.


Spring Vegetable Soup with Sour Cream and Dill

makes about six 2-cup servings

  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. diced white or yellow onion
  • 1/3 c. diced celery
  • 1/3 c. diced peeled carrot (about 1 large)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 c. homemade stock
  • 3/4 lb. red-skinned potatoes (about 3 medium)
  • about 4 medium carrots (1 c. sliced)
  • 2 c. frozen petit peas, unthawed
  • about 1 medium bunch of asparagus (2 c. chopped)
  • sour cream, for serving
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh chopped dill, for serving
  1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the minced onion, celery and carrot (the minced carrot, not the carrot slices!) and the kosher salt. Sauté for about 15 minutes, or until really soft and starting to caramelize.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté just until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  4. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  5. Prep the potatoes and carrots while the broth is coming to a boil: cut cut the potatoes (no need to peel) into 1″ lengths that are about 1/3″ thick. (Basically, you want the potato sticks to be the same size and shape as your chopped asparagus.) Set them aside in a bowl. Peel the carrots and slice them diagonally into 1/3″ coins. Put them in a second bowl. Measure out your peas in a third bowl. Trim your asparagus, cut it into 1″ lengths, and place it in a yet another bowl. Why? These veggies cook at different rates, and you don’t want your peas to turn into mush while your potatoes are still raw.
  6. Once your broth is boiling, set your timer for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the carrots when your timer says 8 minutes. Add the peas when it’s down to 5 minutes. Add the asparagus at the 3-minute mark. When your timer goes off, kill the heat and remove the pan from the burner.
  7. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Before serving, top each bowl of soup with a dollop of sour cream and 1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill. Serve with warm bread (if you want to go homemade, I highly recommend Heidi Swanson’s black bread) and butter.

 

 

 

 

 

Butternut and Cannellini Bean Soup with Sage

Last week brought the type of fall weather that is so gorgeous that it makes me sound like Goldilocks: September is too hot, and November is too cold, but these sunny, cool October days are juuust right. Made for snuggling up in a sweatshirt in the evening. Ideal for jogging outside in long pants and a short-sleeve shirt. And, of course, perfect for getting excited about enjoying my favorite fall foods (/drinks): soup, butternut squash, and red wine.

I ended up with a butternut squash in vegetable garden sort of by accident. I had saved some kabocha squash seeds and planted them, but the first couple of seedlings got destroyed by a strong storm and a puppy running through the garden.  I figured I’d just have to wait until next year to try hard squash, but then I noticed that the compost bin was sprouting all sorts of veggies. I tried planting some of the sprouts that looked like squash, hoping one would be a kabocha, and instead I got a very healthy butternut. I swear I did not fertilize this thing more than once or twice; I’ve grown butternut before, and they did not turn out this gargantuan. The first one I picked was pushing 8 pounds and made me seriously consider entering a county fair for the first time ever.

So, feeling thankful that butternut freezes well, I set about making a soup with at least part of this enormous squash. I love the classic butternut-sage combo, so I used some fresh sage (and parsley) from the garden. Since I wanted the finished soup to be super smooth and not have little pieces of herbs floating in it, instead of chopping up the sage and parsley, I tossed the sprigs in whole while the soup simmered and removed them later.

Instead of peeling the raw butternut, I first roasted it unpeeled and then removed the peel, for two reasons. First of all, any hard squash can be a pain to peel when it’s raw, but it’s a piece of cake once it’s cooked. But besides that, handling butternut gives me that awful skin reaction pretty badly, and minimal touching of the raw squash helps avoid it.

I wanted the soup to have a least a little protein and heft without adding milk or cream, so I used a can of cannellini beans, liquid and all. They are super soft and creamy and blend up beautifully without adding a strong bean flavor to the soup.

For serving, some Parmesan gets grated on top because grated Parmesan makes almost any soup better, right? Also, although I did want the soup itself to be as smooth as possible, it’s nice to have a little crunch too, and a handful of roasted pine nuts does the job nicely.



Note: The soup could turn out thicker or thinner if the ratio of squash to broth is changed. I used a scale and weighed my squash, but that was 3 pounds of  pure, solid squash flesh, no seeds at all.


Butternut and Cannellini Bean Soup with Sage

serves 4-6 (I got 5 main-course servings out of this)

  • 3 lb. butternut squash (or a little more if you’re weighing a whole squash with seeds—see the note)
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided, plus more
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 1 15.5-oz. can of cannellini beans
  • 2 sprigs of fresh sage (about 20 leaves total)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground white pepper (black pepper is fine; it’s just not as pretty)
  • about 1/2 c. finely grated fresh Parmesan
  • about 3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
  1. Preheat the oven to 425º. Cut the butternut into medium-sized (3″) chunks. No need to peel it. Place the chunks on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with the melted butter, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of the kosher salt. Bake until tender, about 30 minutes. It’s ok if the squash is not not 100% cooked because it’s going to simmer in the soup for a while. When the squash is cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to remove the peel from the chunks.
  2. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium to medium-low heat. When the oil is warm, add the shallot and the remaining 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and sauté until golden brown, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic. Stir constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the beans (with the bean water—no need to rinse and drain), the chicken stock, the peeled butternut chunks, the parsley, and the sage. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Take the pot off the heat. Remove the sage and parsley sprigs. Add the nutmeg and brown sugar, and let cool for a little while.
  6. Puree with an immersion blender until completely smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a food processor or regular blender, puree the soup in batches, and return to the pot; just make sure that the soup is plenty cool before you do this because the steam released when you blend hot liquids can blow the top off your blender and make scalding soup splatter all over you (I say from prior experience…).)
  7. Taste the soup. Season with white pepper and add more salt to taste.
  8. Just before serving, top each bowl of soup with about 2 Tbsp. of the Parmesan and a small handful of the toasted pine nuts.

Chicken and Vegetable Soup with Butter Beans

It’s time for a recipe that uses the Twizzler-celery I mentioned in the About section.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted because I’ve been out of town. I spent most of the week of Christmas at my parents’ house, and I helped my family make and eat deliciously unhealthy holiday food, but we left all the extras with my parents. I also went to California for a friend’s (3-day Indian-American celebratory extravaganza that was simply called their) wedding, where the guests were all generously fed the most amazing Indian food for 3 different meals.

Dinner on the night of the sangeet ceremony.

So when I got home for good about a week ago, the cupboard was pretty much bare, except for some 2+ week old celery. I thought I should cook it since it obviously wouldn’t be bringing any crunch to anything if I left it raw. Soup sounded good because yes, like pretty much everyone else, I’m motivated to be a little healthier after the holidays. Also, the polar vortex has come back in full force, and I am refusing to consume anything that will make me feel even colder. Soup instead of a sandwich, red wine instead of white… You might even find me drinking lukewarm water.

That's right. I'm going to cook with this.

That’s right. I’m going to cook with this.

This soup is one that we had regularly when I was growing up. When I was in college and asked my mom to send me the recipe, the answer she gave me on the phone was something like, “Uhhh…well…(imagine a genuinely concerned sigh of stress here)…I don’t really have a recipe but I can tell you what I generally do.” So, this is the first time I’ve ever actually measured out the ingredients while making this soup. In any case, these are the elements that absolutely have to be a part of it if we’re going to refer to it as the chicken and vegetable soup that I grew up with:

  1. Homemade chicken broth.
  2. No pasta. This is not chicken noodle soup.
  3. The vegetables must be onion, carrot, celery, tomato, potato, corn, and….
  4. …lima beans. But who wants to eat lima beans? They sound so unappetizing, right? Whoever did the marketing to get people to start using the term “dried plums” instead of “prunes” needs to jump on the lima beans goldmine ASAP because they really should be called butter beans. Or, if you’re my grandma, “buttah beans.” Mmmm…butter beans…doesn’t that make it sound like they’re going to be rich-tasting and creamy and savory? (Which they are.) I like the bigger ones, but you could use the small ones. They will probably be in a bag labeled “lima beans,” but don’t let that turn you off.

The broth of this soup is really important because it’s where most of the flavor comes from. It will take a while to make because you will need to leave it on the stove for a long time if you want it to end up tasting really good. I usually make it a day or two ahead of time, or sometimes I just freeze it and then it’s ready to go when I want to make soup.

When I make broth, my goal is to have something I could drink a cup of plain and enjoy. I want it to be herby and garlicky and salty. And most of all, I want it to congeal so much after I put it in the fridge to cool down that it is scoopable instead of pourable.

After the broth is done, the rest of the soup comes together pretty easily. You just have to chop, sauté, and simmer. I would highly recommend serving this soup with fresh homemade biscuits topped with a warm pat of salted butter and then a spoonful of apple butter, but maybe that’s just nostalgia talking.



Note: You can freeze this soup, as long as you don’t mind that the potatoes will probably break down a little bit when you defrost it. Also, for the broth, you might notice that the photos don’t look like they have the same amounts of garlic and celery that I listed below. I used more garlic because my cloves were quite small, and I used the celery heart and the leafy tops for the broth because I didn’t have a ton of celery and wanted to save the stalks for the soup. For the broth, I like to put the crushed peppercorns and allspice in a metal tea infuser ball, which works like a cheesecloth but is easier to use. Lastly, I cooked this in a bigger pot than I normally do, and it made 3 1/2 quarts, which is about 1 quart more than usual. When I cook it in my smaller soup pot, I think I use 2 potatoes, maybe 2 cups of butter beans, and about 3 cups of chicken. Probably a little less stock, too. 


Chicken and Vegetable Soup

For the broth:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 14 c. cold water
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, root end left intact, peeled and quartered
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 2 medium carrots, cut once lengthwise and once crosswise
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into about 4″ lengths
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. whole allspice, lightly crushed
  • a few springs of whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. I used rosemary, thyme, and sage because that’s what was still alive in the garden. Parsley and oregano would work well too.
  1. Rinse the chicken and remove the gizzard/organs. If you have a dog and want to make her an especially happy puppy, boil those innards and then chop them up and mix them into her dog food.
  2. Put the chicken, water, and all other ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a bare simmer. Simmer gently for about 2 hours. Flip the chicken after an hour or so if it’s not fully submerged.
  3. After about 2 hours, the chicken should be falling-off-the-bones tender. Use a pairs of tongs to remove the chicken from the stockpot, but keep the stock simmering. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pick all of the meat off of it, but don’t throw away the bones and skin. Set the meat aside—put it in container and stick it in the fridge or freezer. You’re going to put some of it back in the soup later.
  4. Add the chicken bones and skin back to the stockpot. Partially cover the pot with a lid and keep it at a bare simmer for another 3 hours or so.
  5. Strain the broth into a bowl or large container. I ended up with a scant 8 cups of stock. Let it cool for a little while, and then refrigerate it overnight, or until the fat on top has congealed. Remove as much or as little of the congealed fat as you want. The broth can now be used or frozen.

For the soup:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 c. chopped yellow or white onion
  • 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 3 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced about 1/4″ thick
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced about 1/4″ thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 14 oz. whole tomatoes in juice
  • 8 c. of the broth you made
  • 1 16-oz. package frozen butter beans
  • 3 medium Yukon Gold or other boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 15-oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
  • about 4 c. shredded or diced meat from the chicken you made the broth with. I like a combination of light and dark meat, but use whatever you like.
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • freshly ground pepper
  1. In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, 1/4 tsp. of the kosher salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the oregano, tomatoes, and the remaining 1/4 tsp. kosher salt. Break the tomatoes up with the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Add the bay leaves and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.
  5. Add the butter beans and simmer another 10 minutes.
  6. Add the potatoes and simmer until almost tender, about 10 more minutes.
  7. Add the corn and chicken and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.
  8. Before serving, remove the bay leaves and adjust seasoning season to taste.