Archive for the ‘Soups and Stews’ Category

Slightly Southwestern Corn and Tomato Soup

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Late summer has arrived, and I’m ambivalent. Part of me adores the golden light, the bursting tomatoes and cucumbers, and the crisping air.

Another part of me knows that soon the light will be replaced by darkness, the tomatoes and cukes will yield to empty vines, and the crispness in the air will give way to chill.

I’m determined to take advantage of every moment of warmth and yumminess before those “soons” arrive.

This soup helps. It takes advantage of the full, ripe tomatoes and corn I can’t stop bringing home. Its ingredients and flavor pretty much embody freshness. And it can be frozen to be enjoyed in the winter.

The mixture is flexible. If you like corn more than you do tomatoes—or if you have more corn than you do tomatoes—up the corn content. If you have tomatoes about to get too soft, use more tomatoes. Add other vegetables if you have them in the house; a few beans or a little carrot won’t hurt. If you don’t have broth on hand, use water instead but increase the salt and cilantro … and maybe toss in a little cumin seed.

In short, be at ease and enjoy making and consuming your soup. And enjoy what’s left of this glorious season.

The Soup

Ingredients:

for the soup:

2 cups corn
2 cups tomatoes (if you have the patience to dip them in hot water and peel them, you’ll avoid having little pieces of tomato skin in your soup; if you don’t, live with the skin!)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 bell pepper, roughly chopped
seeded jalapeño peppers to taste (I used two when I tested the recipe, which made for a slightly spicy soup; I would probably add at least 1 more next time!), roughly chopped
a handlful of fresh cilantro leaves
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste (how much salt depends on how salty your broth is)

optional garnishes:

sour cream or Greek yogurt (just a little bit makes the soup creamy)
grated store (Cheddar) cheese
tortilla crisps (corn tortillas cut into small strips and fried briefly in canola oil)
more cilantro leaves

Instructions:

In a large pot, combine the soup ingredients. Bring the soup to a boil; then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender (about 30 minutes).

Cool the soup slightly, and puree it in a blender or food processor. Serve with or without the garnishes. (I like them!)

Serves 6 to 8.

“Seinfeld” and the Soup Nazi

Friday, April 6th, 2012

If I had to pick one series to represent American network television in the 1990s, it would probably be Seinfeld.

I personally only watched two episodes of this comedy program during its network run. Nevertheless, I was aware from dinner-table conversations in communities with populations that ranged from the hundreds to the millions that the show revolved in quasi-autobiographical fashion around the stand-up comedy of an upper-west-side New Yorker, Jerry Seinfeld, and his onscreen friends: explosive ex-girlfriend Elaine, neurotic best friend George, and so-weird-he-might-have-been-from-Mars neighbor Kramer.

The program debuted slowly, starting with the pilot’s airing as filler in the summer of 1989. It grew in time to enchant critics and then millions of viewers before it went off the air with great brouhaha in 1998.

In Seinfeld: The Totally Unauthorized Tribute (not that there’s anything wrong with that), David Wild of Rolling Stone enthuses, “’Seinfeld’ is one of those rare redeemers of popular culture; like Sinatra, pasta or the Beatles, ‘Seinfeld’ shows that sometimes the masses get things exactly right.”

Episodes became instant classics among baby boomers, rapidly gaining the sort of status previously enjoyed only by favorite segments of I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners.

I heard immediately after they aired, for example, about the controversial subject matter of “The Contest” (an episode, for anyone who missed the discussion, in which the principal characters compete to discover who can refrain the longest from masturbation) and the biting culinary humor of “The Soup Nazi.”

Naturally, the latter, which aired in November 1995, speaks to me. Like many episodes of Seinfeld, “The Soup Nazi” contradicts the popular conception that nothing happens in this series. In fact, Seinfeld is very much of its era in that it often features multiple, intersecting plots.

In this episode, one subplot revolves around the Nazi of the title and his soup emporium. Another involves George’s attempts to persuade Jerry to desist from displays of affection with his latest girlfriend. The last features the efforts of Elaine to acquire an armoire for her apartment.

Perhaps the program’s “nothing” reputation stems from the fact that plot in Seinfeld is less important than the absurd conversations of its characters. Perhaps it stems from this situation comedy’s tendency, inherited from the stand-up comedy form of its star, to jump from one plot point to another in non-sequitur fashion, making the trajectory of the plot(s) hard to trace. In any case, the narrative soup here is quite deliciously thick.

The main plot of “The Soup Nazi” features the efforts of the program’s principal characters to place successful orders with the fierce owner of a small take-out establishment that sells ambrosial soup. Jerry tells George and Elaine, “You can’t eat this soup standing up. Your knees buckle.”

Unfortunately, he warns them, the highly temperamental chef, “secretly referred to as ‘the Soup Nazi,’” does not allow customers to deviate from his strict ordering procedure.

As most fans know, the character of the Soup Nazi was based on a real New York chef notorious for his delectable soup but less than delectable kettle-side manner.

As it does in the program, the line of potential customers regularly extends around the block from Al Yeganeh’s soup store. In fact, my sister-in-law lived two blocks from this establishment, the Soup Kitchen International, for years and never tried Yeganeh’s soup because she never had time to wait in the line!

Yeganeh apparently detested the Seinfeld tribute (if that’s the right word) to his reputation.

He told People in 1998, “The show really destroyed my personal life and my emotional and physical well-being. Because of this TV show, customers think I’m going to kill them and they panic. But the line must be kept moving!”

Typically, the “Soup Nazi” episode uses Yeganeh’s alter-ego more to shed light on the personalities of the regular cast members than to make any statement about the vagaries of New York restaurateurs.

Jerry, the only character with a successful career, masters the tense ritual of ordering from the Soup Nazi quickly and emerges victorious from the store with a bowl of crab bisque.

George is less fortunate. His bleating requests for bread to accompany his soup force the Nazi first to raise the price of George’s lunch and then to utter the dreaded words “No soup for you.”

Elaine, ever the free spirit, appears to view the establishment’s stringent rules as a challenge. She dawdles over her order so obnoxiously that the Soup Nazi banishes her from his kitchen for a full year—and I for one don’t blame him.

Interestingly, Kramer, who generally seems to operate on a different plane from the other characters, is the only person in the group to whom the Soup Nazi warms up—mostly because Kramer is just weird enough to understand the Nazi’s attitude toward the ordering process.

He views the chef’s desire for “perfection” in his customers as a natural extension of his quest for perfection in his cooking. “You suffer for your soup,” Kramer says sympathetically. Clearly, Kramer’s heart as well as his taste buds will suffer at the episode’s end, when the Soup Nazi announces that in light of Elaine’s threats to reveal his recipes to the world he plans to decamp for Argentina.

Over the course of the episode, the viewer is introduced to a number of soups on the Nazi’s menu, including turkey chili, jambalaya, gazpacho, cold cucumber, corn and crab chowder, and wild mushroom. I have chosen to make mulligatawny, the favorite flavor of Kramer, who calls the Soup Nazi “one of the great artisans of the modern era.”

Soup Nazi Mulligatawny

Make sure your spices are fresh and pungent for this soup. I recommend curry powder and cumin seeds from Kalustyan’s (or Foods of India in New York, two stores at which the Soup Nazi might well have shopped.

If you want a vegetarian mulligatawny, feel free to omit the chicken and to substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. You’ll still have a lovely, warming concoction.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, mashed in a mortar and pestle just enough to release flavors
1-1/2 tablespoons curry powder (or more you love curry)
1 cup lentils, washed and drained
6 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tomato, cut up
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
cooked rice to taste (optional)
cream to taste (optional)
fresh, chopped coriander (optional)

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, and sauté the onion, garlic, and carrot until the onion turns a light golden color. Stir in the cumin and curry powder and heat for a minute as a paste, adding a bit of the chicken stock if it threatens to dry out completely. Quickly stir in the lentils; then add the stock, salt, lemon juice, and tomato.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer covered for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken, and simmer for another half hour partly covered, stirring frequently.

Cool the mixture for at least a half hour, and then puree it in batches in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate the soup for several hours (overnight if possible) to let the flavors meld. Then heat the mixture in a large saucepan until warm, stirring constantly to keep the thick soup from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Your soup may be served plain or with cooked rice. Some people prefer to add a bit of cream to their bowls, and many like a hint of coriander sprinkled over each bowl just before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Larry Thomas, who portrayed the Soup Nazi, still sells personally signed "No Soup for You" photos on eBay.

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Country Ham and Potato Soup

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Fall calls out for hearty soups, and they don’t come much heartier than this one! I know, I know, “hearty” is a code word for fattening, but I served it to company so I didn’t have to sip it all myself.

My mother’s dear caregiver Pam gave me the recipe when she saw that I had leftover ham in the house, along with leeks and potatoes from our farm share.

Pam explained that she made the soup frequently when she cooked in the cafeteria at the local high school, where our friend Vicky worked as a baker.

One day Vicky tried the soup. She immediately asked, “Pam, will you marry me?”

It may not make you propose marriage—but it will certainly warm you up … and fill you up as well.

Pam’s Soup

Ingredients:

3 cups diced potatoes
5 slices bacon
3 leeks (mostly white part), cleaned and diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart warmed chicken broth
2 cups chopped ham
pepper to taste
1 cup milk
cream to taste

Instructions:

In lightly salted water bring the potato pieces to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes for 10 minutes. Leave them in the water while you prepare the bacon.

In a heavy Dutch oven fry the bacon until it is crispy and brown. Remove the bacon pieces from the pan and set them aside. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat, reserving the remaining fat as well.

Use the bacon fat in the pan to sauté the leek pieces until they soften.

Push the leeks to the side of the pan and add 2 to 3 additional tablespoons of bacon fat. Whisk the flour into this fat to make a roux. Whisk for at least a minute or two to let the fat and the flour combine.

Gradually stir in the chicken stock; then stir in the ham, the potatoes, and 1 cup of the potato water. (You may discard the remaining potato water now.)

Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1/2 hour. Add the milk and a little cream to thin and lighten the soup.

Serve with the bacon (crumbled) as a garnish. Serves 6.

Flu Season Chicken Soup

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

 
This recipe comes from Loyce Cofer of Tyler, Texas, a loyal reader of this blog.
 
Loyce is 70 and lives in East Texas with Don, her husband of 51 years. I asked her about her life, and she replied that the pair had sometimes had to struggle to make ends meet. “We’ve managed with a lot of perseverance,” she added.
 
Loyce can’t cook or get out as much as she used to since she suffers from diabetes and neuropathy in her feet. She is also a seven-year survivor of breast cancer. Despite her aliments she is grateful for every drop of rain in her dry area and for the gifts of life, friends, faith, and family.
 
“My life as a stay-at-home mom was rewarding in a way as I loved our sons so much and strived to make it warm and welcoming,” she wrote. Obviously, this chicken soup—perfect for the cooler weather and the season of colds and flu –would contribute to the literal and figurative warmth of that home.
 
“I’m a recipe hound as you know and do love to cook with herbs and spices, even wine occasionally but not a gourmet,” Loyce told me. She sounds like a woman after my own heart. “I make this for my husband and myself since our sons live out of state but I would make it for friends that are feeling poorly.”
 
Loyce makes her soup with a tablespoon of Wyler’s chicken bouillon granules. I had the bones and leftover meat from a small chicken leftover in the house so I added them to the soup instead of the granules. If you don’t have leftover chicken, do try her method. (Of course, this coming week most of us will have leftover turkey.)
 
The recipe may be increased or decreased as needed. 

Here’s a tiny photo of Loyce with her husband Don taken during the spring flower display in Tyler, a town famous for its azalea trails.

 
Loyce’s Flu Season Emergency Chicken Soup (slightly adapted by Tinky)
 
Ingredients:
 
1 chicken carcass with some leftover meat (or 1 tablespoon bouillon granules)
enough water to cover the chicken (plus a little to spare)
garlic to taste; Loyce used minced dried garlic, but I used 2 cloves of minced fresh garlic
1 onion, diced
2 medium diced carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, peeled of fiber and diced
parsley to taste and other herbs like thyme and rosemary (fresh or dry; I used fresh parsley but dried thyme and rosemary)
salt to taste
pepper corns to taste
 
Instructions:
 
Place all the ingredients in a stock pot and slowly bring them to a boil over medium heat with the pan covered. Watch the pot so it won’t boil over.
 
When the water comes to a boil reduce the heat and cook the soup, ALMOST covered, for 3 hours, adding water if needed.
 
Loyce skims the fat from the soup as she cooks. I’m not very good at this so I waited until it was done (see below).
 
Remove the ingredients from the pan and strain the stock away from the sold ingredients. Save the pieces of chicken (without skin), carrots, and (if you like) the onion and celery bits; mine had given their all so I discarded them.
 
If you haven’t skimmed the fat off, refrigerate the stock and other ingredients until the fat solidifies at the top of the stock pan. Remove the fat, add the saved bits of chicken and vegetable, and bring the soup to a boil again. Let it cool slightly before pouring it into bowls. 

Serves 4 to 6, depending on the size of your chicken pieces and the amount of water you added. Loyce likes to serve this with cornbread.

Ain’t Dat Sumpthin’!

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Spencer Williams Jr. as Andy Brown (Courtesy of Time/Life)

 

Thanks to Netflix I have recently been watching the television version of the classic radio program Amos ‘n’ Andy. This TV series lasted from 1951 to 1953 and stirred up considerable controversy.

 
It continues to raise questions about how African Americans (or indeed any ethnic group) should be portrayed on television.
 
Amos ‘n’ Andy had debuted on radio in 1928. The show was actually a remake of a program called Sam ‘n’ Henry, which went on the air in 1926.
 
Both radio shows were the brainchildren of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, white men who had met in 1920 while working for a traveling minstrel show.
 
Sam and Henry were working-class black men who, like many African Americans of the era, moved from the rural South to a northern city (in this case Chicago) to look for work.
 
When they were revamped as Amos and Andy for a rival station (the program quickly achieved network status), the protagonists had similar characters and backgrounds.
 
Amos Jones was hardworking and sincere. Andy Brown was good natured but lazy and easily led astray by a con artist or a beautiful woman. Neither was overly smart. The program regularly featured such mangled verbal expressions as “I’se regusted” and “Ain’t dat sumpthin’.”
 
In the late 1920s Amos ‘n’ Andy became hugely popular. It started out as a nightly ten-minute program performed Gosden and Correll alone. Other actors were added as the years went by. By the 1940s, the program ran once a week for half an hour and followed a typical situation-comedy format.
 
In addition to the title characters regulars included George Stevens, the Kingfish of Amos and Andy’s lodge, the Mystic Knights of the Sea; Kingfish’s shrewish wife Sapphire and Sapphire’s Mama; and a shady lawyer named Algonquin J. Calhoun.
 
Several characters were portrayed by black actors, although Correll continued to voice the part of Andy, and Gosden played both Amos and Kingfish.

When the program moved to CBS television in 1951 black actors were hired for all the major roles. Those roles continued to conform to a large extent to the characters created by Gosden and Correll.

This signed postcard of Gosden and Correll was recently for sale on ebay.

 
Andy had not changed greatly over the years, but Amos had become a wise, steady family man; he therefore narrated the television programs but didn’t participate much in the comedy. Center stage was enjoyed by the wily Kingfish.
 
Almost immediately the program attracted criticism. The NAACP in particular saw it as demeaning to African Americans and tried to organize a boycott.
 
The boycott didn’t succeed. Melvin Patrick Ely noted in his 1991 book The Adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon (from which I gleaned much of the information in this essay) that many black Americans either enjoyed the program or deemed a comedy show the least of their worries in a still largely segregated society.
 
Nevertheless, the series remained a thorn in the side of CBS and was canceled at the end of its second season, although it lingered in syndication. The controversy made the networks reluctant to feature an all-black cast for years to come.
 
As I watched several episodes of the program recently I was pleasantly surprised.
 
Some of the storylines get a little tedious. One wonders how Andy can fall for Kingfish’s schemes week after week. Generally, however, the plots are clever and the acting first rate. 
 

Tim Moore as Kingfish (Courtesy of Time/Life)

 
The first thing that struck me about the series was how colorblind it appeared to my 21st-century eye. Amos, Andy, and their friends lived in an almost all-black community (supposedly Harlem) where race was never mentioned.
 
Andy and Kingfish drew criticism, perhaps justly, for perpetuating the image of the unemployed African American, and Lawyer Calhoun came in for particular scorn as just about the only black attorney visible on television.
 
Scores of bit players belied stereotypes, however, by speaking in standard English and giving Americans their first televised view of African Americans who weren’t servants or Pullman porters.
 
Amos, Andy, and Kingfish encountered professionals in all walks of life—realtors, police officers, storekeepers, and bankers—who just happened to be black.
 
I don’t know what I expected from the show. It was not this sense of being comfortable in one’s own ethnicity.
 
My favorite episode so far, “The Happy Stevens,” focuses on two of the strongest actors of the ensemble, rich-voiced Tim Moore as Kingfish and the graceful yet strong Ernestine Wade as his wife Sapphire.
 
The two are addicted to a radio program in which a white husband and wife engage in highfalutin “chit chat” about elegant doings in New York society. When Kingfish and Sapphire quarrel, they go to the radio studio to ask the couple’s advice—only to find that their idols are even more quarrelsome than they.
 
The Happy Harringtons get into such a knock-down-drag-out fight, in fact, that Kingfish and Sapphire are conscripted to do that morning’s radio program in their stead.
 
It’s a perfect domestic situation-comedy plot, cleverly written and acted. And it has very little to do with race.
 
I don’t want to dismiss the criticism of Amos ‘n’ Andy or to discount the NAACP’s position. It’s very possible that I didn’t see the racist stereotypes in the program because I wasn’t brought up on those stereotypes.
 
Other writers have traced the resemblance between characters in Amos ‘n’ Andy and standard figures in the minstrel tradition.
 
It’s hard not to note that Freeman Gosden’s first theatrical engagement was at a fundraiser for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
 
And certainly Gosden’s reference in the clip below to Spencer Williams, who played Andy, as a “boy” sticks in one’s craw.
YouTube Preview Image
 
And yet ….
 
Henry Louis Gates Jr. may have best summed up the mixed message of Amos ‘n’ Andy in a 1989 New York Times essay.
 
“The performance of those great black actors … transformed racist stereotypes into authentic black humor,” Gates wrote. “The dilemma of ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy,’ however, was that these were the only images of blacks that Americans could see on TV.”
 

 
 
My dish today was inspired by a two-part episode of Amos ‘n’ Andy called “Getting Mama Married,” in which Sapphire’s Mama moves in with the her daughter and Kingfish. One of the ways in which the two women make Kingfish miserable is by criticizing his manners as he tries to pass peas at the dinner table.
 
The peas in question look much more substantial than standard green peas so I am inferring that Sapphire made a pot of black-eyed peas. Here is a recipe she might have used.
 
Ingredients:
 
1 pound dried black-eyed peas
a small amount of extra virgin olive oil or bacon fat for sautéing
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 10-to-14 ounce can tomatoes with green chiles
2 ham hocks or 1 good-sized pig’s knuckle
extra smoked sausage, chopped and lightly sautéed (optional)
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
2 teaspoons chili powder
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
 
Instructions:
 
Wash and sort the peas, and soak them in cold water. Ideally, they should soak overnight, but if a couple of hours will do if you’re in a rush! Drain them when they have finished soaking.
 
In a 4-quart Dutch oven heat the oil or bacon fat, and use it to sauté the onion, garlic, and celery over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, pork, stock, water, and seasonings.
 
Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to make sure it is well blended. Skim off as much of the bean scum as you can.
 
Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the mixture for at 1 to 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the peas are tender. (The best way to determine this is to taste them!)
 
Remove the ham hock or knuckle. Tear its meat into shreds and add the meat to the pot of peas, discarding the fat and bone.
 
Serve with rice. This is best served the day after it is made. Serves 8 to 10 generously.
 

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