soup

I’m currently sitting at my computer with a blanket and a cat on my lap, and wearing a hoodie and house slippers for the first time this year. Sounds like the perfect time to break out a stew recipe.

Pichelsteiner is a very typical stew, found in similar shapes and sizes all over the world. There are several stories to explain its invention, a common trait among stews. One folk tale details how a farmer’s wife fed the stew to a group of marauding soldiers, saving the day (and her family) with this new culinary invention. Another tale explains how a Bavarian chef prepared Pichelsteiner for party atop Büchelstein mountain (allegedly, the name of this dish morphed from there). Finally, the small Bavarian village of Regen, along the Czech border, claims ownership of this dish as well, which they have communally served at the anniversary of their church’s dedication in 1874.

Pichelsteiner shares another feature with other regional stews: it serves as the solution to those pesky leftovers that creep up in the fridge. As truly communal fare, the stew incorporates a spectrum of ingredients available to pre-industrial Germans: mushrooms, onion, carrots, leeks, cabbage, potatoes, and three types of meat. So if you don’t have all the ingredients, or if you have a couple extra that aren’t listed below, don’t fret – there’s a lot of wiggle room here.

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The weather is starting to cool down, so it’s time to share one of the many soups in my repertoire.

Caldo Xóchitl is a simple chicken soup from Mexico, a carryover of traditional, pre-Columbian fare, when soup (and corn) were dietary staples in the region. The word Xóchitl itself means “flower” in the Nahuatl (Aztec) language, but the original meaning behind this name is lost to history. I’ve read that this soup may have originally coincided with the daysign Xóchitl in the Aztec and Maya calendars; think of it like the astrological or Chinese zodiac signs, based off a specific day of the year that is governed by the goddess Xochiquetzal. Another, perhaps more practical theory is that squash blossoms may have simply been added to the soup when in season.

While chicken is more commonly served in this soup today, chickens were likely first introduced after Columbus’ voyage to the Americas in 1492 (there is some evidence that there were chickens in South America, via Polynesia, but that debate rages on). Either way, turkeys were available, so if you’re up for it, use turkey meat instead. We’re going to season the soup broth with a few New World spices, to give just a hint of depth to the recipe.

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I’ve been in a Thai food mood lately, as evidenced by last month’s Green Papaya Salad recipe. The flavors that are ubiquitous in Thai cooking – namely coconut, fish sauce, lemongrass, and lime – make for excellent summer eating.

Tom Kha Gai is a soup that often takes a backseat to its hot-and-sour sibling, Tom Yum. Both share several ingredients, but today’s recipe also contains coconut milk, which gives the soup a smooth flavor and tends to be a bit more filling, too. I first developed this recipe in partnership with my friends Brent and Heather for their blog, That Paleo Couple, and liked the results so much that I added a tweaked version to Paleo Takeout in 2015. The recipe you find below is what appeared in the book.

As its translated name (“Chicken Galangal Soup”) implies, this soup is best experienced with galangal, a rhizome (underground root) that is most similar to ginger. Ginger will work in a pinch, but consider buying dried galangal if you don’t have access to the fresh variety; dried galangal keeps well and works great in soups like this Tom Kha Gai. Same goes for kaffir lime leaves, which are easily reconstituted in warm water.

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To truly understand the beauty of Erdäpfelsuppe, I’m going to run you through a quick language lesson. When Columbus first encountered the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean in the late 15th century, they presented him with the sweet potato–batata in the Taíno language–which he first brought to Europe. But on subsequent trips, explorers returned with the white potato, first cultivated in the Andes mountains–papa in the Quechuan language–and people started confusing the two. In truth, it was a little unfair to introduce two very similar tubers, with similar names, to unsuspecting Europeans. This confusion endures today; the Spanish word patata, and English potato, are the result of compounding both batata and papa.

But as the potato traveled across the continent, filling the bellies of hungry Europeans along the way, people perceived the vegetable differently. For example, the Italians first supposed that the potato looked a lot like a truffle–tartufolo–and the sentiment spread to Eastern Europe (examples include the German kartoffel and the Russian картофель).

Personally, I think the French had the most elegant interpretation. Although they first went the truffle route, with the word cartoufle, they eventually switched to pomme de terre (“earth apple”). You see, the concept of earth apples isn’t new – the phrase had been used throughout history for various vegetables, including cucumbers and melons, as documented in Old High German, Old English, and Middle Dutch. And the French weren’t the only one to make this connection, because the word Erdapfel appears in Switzerland, Austria, and Southern Germany–all used to describe potatoes.

So in reality, today’s Erdäpfelsuppe is not really different from the more famous German Potato Soup (Kartoffelsuppe), but it’s an excellent moment to highlight the connection that many of us shares at the dinner table…no matter which name we use.

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As I mentioned over Instagram the other day, our youngest son recently came down with a fever, the first of his life (he’s only 11 months old, but still, I like saying that). Four airplane rides over the course of seven days will do that (we traveled to my home state of Washington for Thanksgiving last week). No problem regarding the fever, though – chicken soup to the rescue, and he was back to his usual, trouble-making self the following day.

I think the Instant Pot pressure cooker craze has reached a fever pitch this year; in fact, it was on heavilty discounted during both Black Friday and Cyber Monday this past week on Amazon (I mentioned the sale in my periodic newsletter – which you’re signed up for, right?). So it seems right to share a simple pressure-cooker chicken soup recipe with you folks today.

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Like I mentioned last week, I’m on travel for work – right now I’m enjoying sunny (but a little chilly) Naples, Italy. And just like last week, I’m using today’s post as an opportunity to share a favorite recipe from one of my cookbooks; this time I’m sharing one from my debut, The Ancestral Table. From the book:

Borscht (Борщ) is a hearty soup most commonly associated with Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. Its name likely comes from the Slavic name for hogweed (Borschevik), which was often used to flavor soups. Although potatoes were a later addition, the foundation of borscht as we know it today dates back at least to the 9th century. This recipe is the popular Russian version, which is served hot and with meat. To cut down on the cooking time, you could make this soup with premade broth, or even make it vegetarian by using just water. Instructions for each variation are provided below.

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It’s been a couple months since my last soup post, so this one is long overdue. Soups are a vital part of my diet; they are versatile, easy to prepare, and a seamless way to integrate more homemade broth into my eating routine. Today’s lettuce soup is a nice change of pace, and a unique way to avoid the incessant crunching and chewing that comes from eating a plateful of lettuce.

There are two main cuisines with a history of enjoying lettuce in their soup. In Chinese cuisine, it is added as a finishing vegetable, much in the same way you’d add herbs like cilantro or scallions; for example, our local Vietnamese restaurant serves its Chinese-inspired Hu Tieu soup with lettuce on top. Today’s recipe favors the French preparation of lettuce soup, which is often blended (or run through a sieve) and flavored with cream.

Any lettuce will do for this recipe, with the exception of iceberg, because it probably won’t add much flavor. This dish is served both cold and hot, and we prefered the hot version. Lettuce soup has a flavor that’s hard to describe – earthy but not dirty, sharp but not biting. I’ve found that cooking down a leek in the chicken broth enriches and balances the soup; adding a few sprigs of parsley and some lemon zest help brighten its top notes as well.

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We’re in the thick of tomato season (June to September in the US), which means it’s time to share one of my favorite simple soups.

Tomato soup is a common comfort food here in the US, and has a similar association in many western countries; Poland, I’ve found, is particularly fond of the soup, as it is the first thing young chefs learn to make (a quick Google search of “Zupa Pomidorowa” yields 1.5 million results).

Tomatoes are relatively new to the Western palate; first imported from Mexico to Europe by Spanish explorers, they were initially considered poisonous and used as ornamentals. In 1789, Thomas Jefferson introduced them to the United States – he was Secretary of State at the time, which leads one to wish all Secretaries of State were judged by the deliciousness of foods imported during their tenure. In the US, tomatoes were not commonly eaten until the 1830s, and the first record of tomato soup was written by famous American author Maria Parloa in 1872. Joseph Campbell’s condensed tomato soup cemented its comfort-food status in 1897.

The English word tomato is on loan from the Spanish tomate, which was lifted from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word tomatl. The first tomatoes were probably yellow, which makes sense when considering the other common word for the savory fruit, derived from the Italian pomodoro – a pairing of pomo ‎(“apple”) +‎ d’oro ‎(“golden”).

This soup takes about an hour to make with fresh tomatoes, slightly faster when using canned tomatoes, and significantly quicker with the help of my favorite kitchen appliance, the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker (instructions for each method below).

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Nakji Jeongol (낙지전골) is a Korean octopus stew that deserves a bit of primer, since the world of Korean soups and stews can be pretty intimidating. In Korea, most meals are accompanied with some form of soup, categorized into two main categories: soups like guk or tang, and stews like jjigae or jeongol.

Soups are typically thin, simple, and simmered for extended periods. In general, guk are meatless, and a little watery; last year I posted a recipe for the popular Gul Guk (Oyster Soup). Tang are, you guess it, made with meat (a favorite of mine, Gamjatang, is made with pork neck and potatoes – it appears in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table).

Stews are more ornate, adorned with fresh vegetables, and served in large, family-style dishes. Jjigae are typically made with a single defining ingredient; Kimchi Jjigae and Sundubu Jjigae, the latter made with curdled tofu, are the most popular. Jeongol contain a variety of ingredients, and are a little more elaborate; historically, jeongol were served for members of the royal court, while jjigae were for commoners.

Today’s Nakji Jeongol has a fair amount of add-ins, but the basic recipe is very simple: marinate the octopus, prepare the soup base, throw it all together. There is no single set of add-ins, so feel free to throw in whatever you have available to you (for example, I used cilantro because the more traditional herb, perilla, is hard to find where I live). Frozen packages of pre-cleaned octopus can be found in most Asian markets, or you can get some fresh (and likely cleaned, but here’s a quick video if needed) from your local fishmonger.

One fairly uncommon ingredient in the soup base is doenjang, which is the Korean version of miso paste; if you’re not able to find it locally, it is sold online, or red miso paste will work in a pinch. If you’re curious as to my thoughts on fermented soy, here is something I wrote earlier this year (spoiler alert: I think fermented soy is fine).

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You know, I really thought I was done with soup for a while. The weather has been nice and warm down here in the Florida panhandle, balmy in just the right way – never so cold that a light jacket won’t do the trick, and never too hot for pants. But then last week I visited my old stomping grounds in Maryland, and the weather was distinctly cooler; in other words, it was soup weather.

Garbure is a peasant’s soup originally from the Aquitaine (southwest) region of France; its defining ingredients include cabbage, meat (typically ham or duck), and seasonal vegetables like beans or peas. The consistency of the soup varies – some are nice and thick thanks to copious beans or chunks of bread (a good Garbure, I’ve read, should allow to spoon to stick up on its own), while others let cabbage provide the soup’s body.

My recipe takes cues from the second idea of Garbure, partly because I don’t typically cook with beans or chunks of delicious French bread (yep, there are definitely drawbacks to a Paleo-minded lifestyle), but also because I really enjoy cabbage soup.

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