You know when you're hiking and everything is beautiful and peaceful, but then you start to feel panicky because you realize it's been way too long since you saw a trail marker? If you don't see one soon that's going to be a disturbingly long u-turn, at best. And then all of a sudden there it is:the beloved marker! You immediately relax, you aren't lost at all!
That's what today felt like for me on a metaphysical level. See for the last few days I have spent my every free moment thinking about soup. I'm working on a cookbook and recently I have taken a sharp turn down soup alley. Am I seriously writing a book on soup?! is something I keep saying to myself. But I keep hiking because it feels right. And today I saw a trail marker.
So here is what happened. I live in a little guest house, a casita, right next to my work. The little house doesn't have a full kitchen, just a mini-fridge, a coffee maker, and a sink. Just as I was leaving work for the afternoon I realized that I forgot to eat lunch. Of course since I'm a Chef I would never bother cooking something nice for myself, so I grabbed a container of leftover cooked vegetables in the fridge and headed back to the casita. As soon as I got there I started to scold myself. Cold vegetables for lunch? That's sad. You're sad. What the heck. I don't want to eat that go back to work and at least heat them up. But no, it's a whole 4 minute walk so that was definitely not going to happen.
So I sized up my available mise-en-place. I basically keep no food in the house but I did have the bare essentials. In my case, fish sauce and limes. And I had the coffee-maker. I doused the vegetables in lime and fish sauce, heat water through the coffee-maker, poured it over the vegetables and stirred.
Literally it was the best vegetable soup I've ever eaten. You can see from the picture how clear the broth was. How tender-crisp the vegetables still are. It was such a revelation, such a perfect addition to any desk lunch rotation.
This is a good technique for reasons beyond convenience. See, the second benefit of this recipe is that when you cook your vegetables separate from your liquid you allow them to remain independent from one another. Not always an ideal thing for soups, but in the case of fragile vegetables it can be. The vegetables are never agitated so they don't have the opportunity to make the water/stock cloudy/coloured. And the liquid has less of a chance to overcook the vegetables. Everyone wins!
Want to re-create this lunch? I've written the recipe below. If fish sauce isn't your jam you can use soy sauce instead. Or salt , pepper, and lemon for a more Mediterranean flavor profile.
1 cup broccoli, 1" pieces
1 cup zucchini 1" pieces
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup kale, chiffonade
1/2 jalapen, sliced thin
1 cup fresh mint, parsley and cilantro
salt, to taste
fish sauce, +/- 2 teaspoons
lime juice +/- 2 teaspoons
Saute the broccoli and zucchini in olive oil with a bit of salt for a few minutes- until slightly softened. Add the ginger and garlic, jalapeno, and kale and cook until the water is nearly evaporated. Turn off the heat, stir in the herbs. Season aggressively with fish sauce and lime juice. When ready to serve put the vegetables in a bowl, pour hot water over top..
View of the casita from the back. Jungle heaven!
Poached chicken is one of the most underrated ways of making chicken,
and yet one of the easiest, and lightest. It's as close to effortless and foolproof as
you can get, requires no added fat, always produces the most moist
chicken imaginable, and you get a bonus chicken broth out of it too.
It's the ideal meat for anytime of the day, but particularly lunch as it lends itself so well to salads, noodle bowls, and tacos.
Thighs and breasts make the best poached chicken. Boneless breasts will give you the greatest, most effortless yield, bone-in thighs give you the moistest, most flavorful meat. Personally I use a combination of breasts and thighs. There's one very important difference between poaching breasts and thighs. With boneless breasts you have to watch them, because even though you're cooking them in liquid they will dry out on you if you let them cook even one minute too long. Thighs are much more forgiving and will only get more tender. If you are using breasts be very mindful of this. As soon as the meat isn't pink anymore get them out of the broth. Don't be afraid of undercooking them, you can always cook them again, but you can't rehydrate them once they are overcooked.
Poaching chicken doesn't really require a recipe. Basically you simmer your chicken in a flavorful liquid until it's done. Honestly, in a pinch you could poach them in salt water. Here is the important part though: when you cook meat in liquid, you need to cool meat in liquid. If you remove your hot chicken from the hot broth and let it cool on the counter it's going to dry right out. So here's what I do. Pull the meat from the pot, put it in a heatproof bowl, ladle a few scoops of broth on top, and then cover it in ice. Adding broth to the ice bath ensures that your chicken stays flavourful, adding ice to the broth ensures that your chicken doesn't overcook. once the chicken is cooled you can pull the meat off with your fingers and shred it.
It is now ready to eat on your salads and noodle bowls. If you want to make pulled chicken for tacos or burritos simply saute the chicken for a few minutes in oil, and more seasoning until it gets a little crispy.
Below I've described the basic technique and included a few broth suggestions. In this case I haven't listed quantities because I don't want you to be limited by them. Sometimes you want your chicken to be bold, and sometimes mild. Make the broth accordingly. The only thing that is important is that the broth has a nice flavor, and that it is salty enough. It's salty enough if you could eat the broth out of a mug without wanting to reach for more salt.
Let me know if you have any comments or questions, I love to hear from you!
Poached Chicken Non-recipe
Assemble your broth, bring to a gentle simmer, taste and re-season. Add your chicken. Simmer gently until just cooked through. Remove chicken, place in a heatproof bowl, and ladle hot broth on top, just enough to cover the chicken. Now cover the chicken in ice, and allow it to cool.
Once cooled, shred the meat with your hands. If you've used meat with bones return the bones to the pot of broth, turn the heat back on and simmer for an hour. Now you have chicken broth and pulled chicken.
Keep in mind these ingredients are just suggestions. With poached chicken the key is effortlessness. Use what you have on hand, don't get bogged down in details.
white wine and or lemons, peeled
herbs: any combination of rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley
soy or fish sauce
star anise, cloves, and or cinnamon
fresh chili, whole
paprika or achiote paste
cumin and or coriander
I grew up in one of the most northern cities in North America. Up there winter bleeds into fall and spring, making the equinoxes nearly meaningless for us. I always found these shoulder months to be the most challenging to get through. In October and November it seems the rest of the northern hemisphere is thoroughly enjoying sweater season and fall colours, whereas for us the leaves are gone by mid-September, the first snow fall right behind it. As kids we always had to cover our halloween costumes up with winter coats, boots, and toques, and couldn't understand why the kids on tv didn't. It's the same story for spring. Already this week my instagram account has been blowing up with early spring photos in Europe. It's artichoke season in Italy already! In February! For northern Canadians this is not only depressing it's unfathomable. Up there there won't be anything coming up from the earth until June. There will be snow on the ground at least until April, and possibly well into May. In fact, people don't even start planting their garden until the third week of May, lest their crops be destroyed by lingering frost. My Mum always said February is the shortest month on the calendar, but the longest month for the soul.
It probably won't surprise you that for most of Canada strawberry season is limited to July and August. Thankfully frozen strawberries are available all year round, picked at their peak of ripeness, and a delicious way to get through early spring. (Yes we can also buy fresh strawberries from California any time of the year but those taste more like the ghost of strawberries than anything else).
Strawberries aren't very common in Nicaragua, where I live now, but when I can find them I always buy them because to me they taste like home. This week I made a beautiful batch of strawberry sorbet in honour of my freezing Canadian friends and I would like to share it with you. Crank up the thermostat, put on your shorts and pretend it's summer!
You've got this Canada, home stretch!
Strawberry basil sorbet
yields 2 Litres
If you aren't familiar with sorbet then you might be surprised that the recipe calls for hard alcohol. The reason for this is that alcohol has a much higher freezing temperature than water. Adding alcohol is what keeps your sorbet soft and scoopable. If you want you can replace the basil with fresh mint, or skip herbs altogether for a more classic flavor.
2 pounds strawberries, fresh or frozen, stems removed
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
1/3-3/4 cup lime juice
2 ounces vodka or white rum
1 cup basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well, adjust the lime and sugar levels according to your taste. I personally use the minimum amount of sugar and the maximum amount of lime. It ends up tasting like strawberry lemonade.
Walk away for an hour, allowing the berries to marinate and absorb the sugar.
Pour everything into the blender, blend well., pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Pour into your ice cream machine and turn it on.
One of my favorite things about visiting new places is discovering new fruit. All food, yes, but fruit in particular. It’s just so… effortless. When I go someplace new the local market is the first place I want to visit, and when I move somewhere new my relationship with my local produce vendor is the one I’m most focused on developing, over and above anything else. You may say that I am obsessed but I know I’m not the only one.
Sapote, Zapote in Spanish, is among my favorite fruit discoveries since moving to Nicaragua. Sapote is a fruit whose flavor profile tends to hang out in the deeper realms of the musical charts. Bassy, mellow flavors that lack tartness in all ways. If I were assigning musical instruments to fruit I would say the sapote is best represented by the upright base. The papaya, for comparison’s sake, the cello. Pineapple, the viola, lime the violin. There you have your string quartet, and you can eat it too.
Cut into a sapote and you’ll detect notes of burned sugar, like a blackened marshmallow. But not just that. It’s floral notes are unmistakable, as though it has been kissed by lavender. Texture wise it is like a perfectly cooked sweet potato that has been blended with a avocado. You can see from the pictures how drop dead gorgeous it is. Plain brown on the outside, yes, but look at the hue of orange. Sunset, in the palm of your hand.
Sapote is a fruit that is very amenable to dairy and coconut-milk based desserts, such as creme brulee, custards, puddings, ice cream and mousses. Just add them to favorite existing mother recipe and away you go. It’s also excellent in smoothies and raw desserts, and I have listed two such recipes down below for you to try should you be fortunate to find yourself in a place that grows sapote. And if you aren't then perhaps it's time you come visit me in Nicaragua, and let me make you a smoothie here!
Sapote Pie or, raw vegan 'sweet potato' pie"
In my opinion this is more suited for breakfast than for dessert, but you can eat it any time you wish.
2 cups ripe sapote, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon agar-agar
1/2 teaspoon oil, such as coconut, or vegetable
1 cup cashews
1/4 teaspoon vanillla
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
Pulse the ingredients in the food processor until all the ingredients come together to form a ball.
Line a pie pan with parchment. Grease the parchment with oil.
Press the nuts into the the pan.
Fill with the filling, chill until set.
1 cup sapote, chopped
1/2 cup papaya, chopped
1/4 cup carrot, chopped
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup ice
Blend everything but the ice. Once blended add the ice and blend again. If it's too thick add more ice and blend again.
This is a salad I created quickly and without a lot of forethought, as an attempt to add more calories and colour to an otherwise delicious though remarkably light, in both senses of the word, lunch. It wasn't until it was gone that I realized how lovely it was and how much I wanted to share it with you.
While this salad is not a revolution by any means, it does include a couple of small potential revelations for you.
The first being that avocados work beautifully with Asian cuisine. I find that we often limit ourselves by associating them mostly with Latin American fare not realizing how applicable they are to Asian flavors too. One of my favorite interpretations of "guacamole," for example, is: avocado, soy sauce, garlic, and chili garnished with toasted crumbled nori. In lieu of corn tortillas I serve it with brown rice crackers or chips.
The second revelation is that avocado is not just an excellent component in salad, it is also a unique way to add more substance and creaminess to dressing. Introducing an avocado into your vinaigrette will transform it from a thin summer dress to a cozy winter cardigan. Your diners are comforted, not smothered. Sated, not stuffed.
If you're wondering if all this avocado is overkill the answer is that it is not. To begin, the fat in the avocado allows you to use less oil than you typically would. More importantly, the avocado disappears into velvet, it's flavour and colour overtaken by the other ingredients. All that remains is je ne sais quoi.
"What is in this dressing?" They will ask you. And this, my friends, is always good. Mystery.
shaved avocado peanut salad with with avocado soy dressing
salad, serves 4 as a side dish
2 medium sized avocados
juice of 1 lime
3 roma tomatoes
handful toasted peanuts or cashews
Peel the avocados, and slice them on a mandolin. If you don't have a mandolin you can use a peeler, or a knife. The point is just to get them as thin as possible. And do be careful., the softeness and slipperiness of avocados makes them a little bit resistant to shaving. But be firm with them and they will behave. Drizzle with lime juice to prevent browning and move on.
Slice the tomatoes as thin as you can with a serrated knife.
Peel the cucumbers, then slice on the mandolin or with a knife.
Slice the scallions on a bias as thin as you can. This is a great practice in patience, and an excellent knife drill for yourself. How fine can you go?
Assemble all the vegetables on a platter in layers, garnish with nuts and scallions. Serve the dressing on the side.
1 medium avocado
1 2" piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
fresh chili, optional, to taste
1/4 cup coconut oil
Blend the avocado, ginger, garlic and lime juice in the blender. Add the soy, honey, chili (if using) and blend until creamy. With the blender running, drizzle the oil in slowly to emulsify. If the dressing is too thick you can thin it out with water. Adjust the seasoning and voila.
Gravad Lax, or gravlax, is Scandinavian cured salmon. It very closely resembles lox in flavor and texture but not in effort to prepare. While Lox is cured and then cold-smoked Gravlax is merely cured. Cold-smoking requires a smoker, and frequent monitoring depending on how sophisticated your smoker is. It's a satisfying project but will keep you home all day. Gravlax on the other hand is almost effortless. She only requires 10 minutes of active time from you. The curing process is 48 hours but you aren't really involved in this process. She's got this.
Swedes enjoy their gravlax on crisp bread with mustard sauce and for dinner with salad and boiled potatoes. But gravlax can also step in wherever lox works and add her own spin to your familiar favorites. In the photo below you'll see I've served it with bagel crostini, mustard butter, and lemon pepper cream cheese, a sort of homage to Sweden and New York, both places I used to call home.
For this recipe you will need high quality wild salmon. I've used Chinook (Spring) and Coho (Silver) and both worked well. I will say I slightly prefered the results better with coho because the texture holds up a little better. I've also used wild arctic char with great results.
A note on tradition: you'll see that I've listed some ingredients as optional. While juniper and horseradish are traditionally optional, dill and white pepper are not. If you want to make proper Scandinavian gravlax use white pepper and dill. However if you are trying to simulate a more lox-like experience, or if you prefer vanilla to rocky road, then you might like to try it with just salt and sugar. The flavor of the salmon really stands out with this variation, making it my favorite route.
If you try this I'd love to hear how it goes! Happy New Year!
3 pounds of salmon in 1 lbs filets, or left whole. Bones removed, skin on.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 Tablespoons white or black pepper optional
2 bunches fresh dill, coarsely chopped optional
2 teaspoons juniper berries or prepared horseradish optional
If you know me at all you know that I don’t believe in the usefulness of shame, particularly when it pertains to food. I really do believe that life is short and that indulgence can be a facilitator of joy. And isn't joy the point of all of this?
I’m one of those people who wants to cram as many experiences into my life while I can even if it means food comas, hangovers and indigestion. I’m the most out of control anytime I return to Canada from long stints in Nicaragua, where I live most of the year. All of my expat friends are the same way. We fly home to our various developed lands, are inevitably over-bowled by grocery stores, restaurants, and home-cooking and we all come back 10 pounds heavier than when we left. There are just so many things we miss from back home that abstaining while we are here is the only thing that isn't on the table.
So this is all fine and good until you wake up one morning and realize that you can’t possibly bear any more ‘life experiences’ because you’ve gone and done it again: your liver is pickled and your blood is moving so slowly through your body that you can barely stay awake let alone participate in life. It’s called a food hangover and that my friends is the state I found myself in yesterday.
Times like this call for huge volumes of green vegetables and nothing more. It has nothing to do with self-control or wanting to reduce your waistline. That is never the point. It’s about something more essential- feeling good. Every bite tastes like medicine- and I’m not talking cherry cough syrup kind of medicine. I’m talking banana penicillin medicine. Does anyone else remember how delicious that stuff was and what a silver lining it was to being a sick child? This is the grown up equivalent. Mas o Minus.
Not only is spinach high in vitamin A, iron, and chlorophyll, it’s also known to be effective at moistening dryness of the body. This is excellent if you’re hungover and essential for surviving dry northern winters. I use a lot of parsley in this recipe because it’s extremely high in nutrients including vitamin A and C, calcium, magnesium, iron, and chlorophyll. Both spinach and parsley are dear friends of our kidneys, liver, and digestive system as a whole. I do have to be clear here: when I say it's good for our digestive system I mean it cleans your digestive system. You understand what I'm saying right? Ok you've been warned.
For this recipe I use frozen, not fresh spinach. I realize this doesn't sound very sexy but spinach has an extremely high shrinkage factor and there is nothing sexy about that. If you do choose to use fresh leaves you’re going to need bags and bags of it and plenty of patience. Frozen spinach has been pre-wilted so while it will still shrink down (more than you expect) the loss won’t be quite as emotional.
This recipe in itself is very simple, affordable, and straightforward. It only involves 10 minutes of active time and about 30 minutes of cooking time. You can play with it as much as you want. Add cumin, coriander, and turmeric at the onset to make it Indian stewed spinach. Replace half the parsley with dill for a more Scandinavian flavor, and excellent pairing with salmon. Replace the water with a can of coconut milk for a cleaner interpretation of Jamaican Callaloo. Hold the water and add plenty vegetable broth and you’ve got soup. Add potatoes and/or lentils, or top with a fried egg and you’ve got more substance. Not detoxing? It’s perfect for that too: slather this stuff on garlic toast, eat it with steamed jasmine rice and toasted pita, or even mix it with feta, throw it on phyllo and bake it into spanakopita. It’s a springboard recipe is what I’m getting at. You feel me?
You’ll notice I ask you to add salt 4 times. Seasoning your food in steps is the best way to develop flavor. Throughout the cooking process you want the dish to be adequately salted. Taste it. Taste it again. And yet again. This is the path to greatness.
Without further ramble here is your recipe:
Yields 4-6 servings
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, small dice (1/4”)
1 head garlic, minced
3 X 10 ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed
1 cup of water
1 head parsley, minced
salt, pepper, chili flakes, lemon juice as you wish
plain yogurt or kefir, optional
Feta cheese, optional
Put the oil into a medium-sized pot and turn the flame on low. Add the onion, and some salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions turns golden, about 15 minutes. Don’t rush this step, you’re building flavor here.
Add your garlic and more salt, mix well. Add the spinach, more salt and a cup of water. Turn the heat up to medium-low and cook just until the spinach begins to darken, about 15 minutes. If the mixtures dries up before this happens add a little more water. Don’t cook it until it’s army green, but do wait until the vibrancy begins to dull. As far as moisture content, you're going for stewed, not souped. You definitely want some liquid in the pot but not too much that you couldn't eat this with a fork if you were inclined.
Off the heat and stir in the parsley and seasonings to your desired taste. Top generously with plain yogurt/kefir and/or feta.
Hold the wine, serve with kombucha.
Game. Set. Match. You're cured.
No that's not a filter, these noodles really are blue! I accidentally dyed them when I tossed them in the red cabbage. Now even though it was a rookie mistake blue does symbolize peace, tranquility, security, loyalty, trust and truth: so maybe this is kind of the perfect mistake for Mother's Day?
Whether you buy that or not these Chilled Noodle Bowls w. ginger-soy sauce, peanuts, fresh mint and shredded raw zucchini, savoy and purple cabbage were the perfect dinner on this sticky 33C evening. #mum #bluenoodles #nofilter #nicaragua#mothersdaygonewild
Here is the recipe, Happy Morther's Day!
1/2 cup peeled chopped ginger
1 head peeled garlic
1/2 a cup of agave
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup lime juice
1 Tablespoon hot sauce (or more)
1 cup soy sauce or fish sauce
1 cup water
1/2 cup neutral tasting oil, such as a mild olive, vegetable, or sunflower
Blend everything together except the oil. Once uniform, add the oil slowly to emulsify. Adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Prepare rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, and shock with ice water to cool the noodles down. Toss the noodles together with lots of julienned raw vegetables- I like to use a 3:1 ratio for veggies to noodles, but play around with it. Use whatever veggies you have on hand. (but be careful with red cabbage unless you want blue noodles!!) Drizzle the sauce on, and toss it all together. Let the veggies soften in the sauce for 10 minutes.
Transfer to bowls, garnish with toasted peanuts, and fresh mint and tell your Mother dinner is ready.
If you like you can serve this bowl with the additional of any kind of protein from poached egg to fried tofu to pulled pork. True story.