Monthly Archives: January 2010

Soup Part Two: Onion

Tuesday 19 January 2010 at the Macrobiotic Cooking Club

Time can turn simple ingredients spectacular. Miso, sourdough bread and onion soup are all examples of this phenomenon. Last week at cooking club we made onion soup, “French” style, by caramelizing the onions long and slow.

Cutting the Onions

There are many fine ways to cut an onion. How you choose to cut your onions should depend on how you’ll cook them. If you want the onions to disappear into the dish, mincing or grating them works well. For crunchy quick-cooked onions, thick slices are ideal.
For onion soup, make thin uniform slices. They’ll caramelize evenly. The onions shouldn’t totally dissolve into the soup, but they shouldn’t hang six inches off the spoon either. For short curves of onion, use the technique I learned from the chef at Rico’s:

1. Cut both ends off the onions, and cut the onions in half vertically. Peel each half.

2. Now slice each half vertically, rather than horizontally, into thin pieces. All of the pieces should wind up the same size, as opposed to when you cut horizontally and the slices on the ends are smaller than the slices in the middle.

Use a sharp knife when you cut onions; the layers will separate maddeningly under a dull blade.

Caramelizing the Onions

Start with a generous pool of oil in a heavy, hot pan. Toss in the onions, stir them up and sprinkle on some salt before you close the lid. Use just a small amount of salt, remembering that the onions shrink a lot and so the salt will concentrate.

Keep the closed pot over high heat, opening it occasionally to stir the onions. They will start to get softer, smaller and more see-through. If you are stirring them often enough, they will gradually turn light gold brown, then darker and darker. At this point, leave the lid off the pot and turn down the heat to a more moderate level. When you stir, the moisture from the onions will at first be enough to clean any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. After a while, the onions will lose enough moisture that you will have to add water or stock as you stir.

This is where the French onion style comes in.
Each time the onions threaten to burn on the bottom of the pan, stir them and add a ladle-full or so of stock (or water) to clean the browning parts off the bottom of the pan. Incorporating this browned onion residue also incorporates the deep, rich and sweet flavor associated with onion soup.

Continue cooking, then stirring and moistening, then cooking, then stirring and moistening, until the onions are very dark brown. They will reduce in volume to perhaps 1/10th of their original volume. The whole caramelizing process may take two hours, for really dark brown rich soup. Be patient.

Once the onions are caramelized, all you have to do is add the rest of the water or stock and let it simmer for a little while to infuse the flavor. The result is dark as beef stock and nearly as ‘meaty’ but sweeter, too.

French Onion Soup
6-8 servings
This is based loosely on a recipe from Mother’s macrobiotic cookbook, “The Macrobiotic Way” by Michio Kushi

10 sweet yellow onions, medium sized
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil, or more to taste
sea salt
1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, more or less to taste
tamari soy sauce
1 bunch scallions (green onions), garnish

1. Peel the onions and slice them into thin, even pieces. Heat a large, heavy soup pot and add 3 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and caramelize them according to the instructions detailed above.

2. Meanwhile, remove the stems from the mushrooms and slice them as you wish. Heat the remaining Tablespoon of oil in a separate soup pot and cook the mushrooms, stirring, until they are brown. Add 3 quarts of water, more or less, to the mushrooms. Simmer over low heat, tasting periodically and seasoning with tamari as you caramelize the onions. Use this liquid to deglaze the onion pan, as detailed above.

3. When the onions are fully brown, add all of the mushroom broth (including the pieces of mushrooms) to the onion pot and allow the mixture to simmer at least 1/2 hour. Add more tamari or sea salt as needed. It shouldn’t taste like soy sauce, but the tamari soy sauce lends a unique ‘brown’ flavor that sea salt lacks.

4. Garnish the soup with thin-sliced scallions atop each bowl. Float croutons in the soup if you like. Or, eat it as we did, with fresh crusty sourdough to dip in the broth.

At Meeting Thirteen of the Macrobiotic Cooking Club, we accompanied that onion soup with the following:

Buckwheat Sourdough

Butter and Red Leaf Salad, with
Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Radishes, Blanched Snow Peas and
Orange-Sherry Vinaigrette

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Soup Part One: Miso

Tuesday, 12 January 2010 at the Macrobiotic Cooking Club

There are certainly more solid parts per million in my breakfast French press than in a bowl of miso broth. But, coffee isn’t broth, no matter how thick, and so miso remains the simplest, most energizing soup I know.

The traditional base for miso soup is dashi, which is made from bonito (flaked dried fish) and seaweed. Its flavor is delicate and delicious. Aveline Kushi writes that, ideally, soup does contain both sea vegetables and either miso or tamari, “which simulate the salty composition of the ocean from which primitive life evolved.” (Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking for Health, Harmony, and Peace).

Don’t let dashi-making deter you, though. Use good unpasteurized miso (typically sold in 4- to 16 oz. tubs or jars from refrigerated cases in health food stores) to turn even plain water into a satisfying soup.

Ryan taught me the best way. My cookbooks have recipes for batches of four or more helpings, but if you’re cooking for one or two it’s better to soup miso by the bowl. Made with rough and aged South River miso, this broth is the most satisfying light meal there is. Serve it with thick bread or brown rice.

Simplest Miso Broth
per bowl

1-3 teaspoons miso
boiling water, left to cool for a few moments
scallions, rinsed and sliced thin (green and white parts)

1. Put the miso in your soup bowl and mix in a little warm water to soften it. Gradually add more water until the miso is the texture of mustard. (This should take less than 1/4 cup water).
2. Add hot water, a few moments off the boil; use as much water as you want soup. Stir the diluted miso and the water together and top with sliced scallions.
Note: The amount of miso depends on your taste, the type of miso you are using, and the amount of water. Only experimentation will determine the amount you’ll like best.

Seasoning With Miso

Besides making a meal on its own, miso is good for seasoning any soupy dish or broth you have. We mixed miso into the seitan cooking water last week at cooking club. The seitan was cooked in broth seasoned with tamari and dulse, tasting like the sea, and just a couple of teaspoons of chickpea miso made it into soup.

Soften miso as for soup, and add it to cooked beans for a savory treat. Miso may also be diluted and poured over greens or other vegetables as they cook, although it is best not to boil miso if you can help it. When miso boils, the flavor doesn’t change but the living ferment is destroyed.

Consider the saltiness of miso when seasoning with it. Some dishes may require both sea salt and miso for the proper flavor, while others will taste just right with only miso. Try some of your miso plain or on a slice of toast to find out just how salty it is.

The reason for diluting miso with a little of the water before adding it to soupy dishes is, if you do not dilute the miso it stays lumpy. The Sous Chef at Pure Food & Wine used to add wads of hatcho (soybean) miso to family meal soups, for heartiness. He did not temper the miso, though, so the soup was mostly bland but with biggish lumps of concentrated salty flavor in a few of our bowls.

Besides Chickpea Miso in Seitan Broth, at the Twelfth Meeting of The Macrobiotic Cooking Club, we had:

Carrots Baked Fish Style
Rolled Sushi with Seitan, Cucumber and Sprouts
(Green Tea)

Arugula with Curly Endive, Celery Root and Walnuts

Tuesday, 5 January 2010 at Macrobiotic Cooking Club

Boxed greens are irritatingly convenient, but it is muddy bunched arugula and feathered heads of curly endive that are irresistible. For a small winter salad, the task of cleaning them is not so tedious after all. I learned from reading Deborah Madison’s The Greens Cookbook and The Savory Way. Madison admits of pre-washed greens’ contribution to a speedy salad, but encourages her readers more towards garden toil and countryside gathering. Far from being a nuisance, “Handling the tender, delicate leaves,” she says, “…is one of the keenest pleasures in the kitchen I know.” (The Savory Way)

To make eight small salads:

1 smallish celery root
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch arugula
1 head curly endive
3-4 Tablespoons raw walnuts (halves/pieces)

3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
3 Tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1/2-1 teaspoon toasted walnut oil
1/2 cup cold water

(Heat the oven at 350 degrees F to toast the walnuts.)

1. Peel the gnarly outer layer off the celery root. Use a vegetable peeler to make thin shavings of the inner root. Toss the shavings in salt and set them aside in a small bowl to ‘quick pickle’ while you prepare the rest of the salad.

2. Wash and dry the arugula, removing any tough stems and wilted or yellow leaves. Trim the base off the curly endive and wash and dry the frilly leaves. Set these aside while you prepare the walnuts and the dressing.

3. When the oven is heated, toast the walnuts just until crisp and very lightly brown. Check them every 5 minutes, as they are easy to burn. Once they are toasted, set them aside to cool while you prepare the dressing.

4. This light dressing is based on Aveline Kushi’s Tamari-Lemon Dressing. Combine the lemon juice, tamari, walnut oil and water. It is easy to shake them all in a jar together, then store any extra dressing in the same jar.

5. Add cold water to the bowl with the celery root and swish it around to wash off the extra salt. Taste it and rinse again if it is still too salty. Drain off the water.

To Serve:

1. Divide the curly endive between eight small plates.

2. Toss the arugula with dressing to taste. Divide it between the plates, mounding it atop the endive. Use half again as much arugula as endive.

3. Place several strips of quick-pickled celery root atop the arugula on each plate; to equal about 2/3 the volume of endive.

4. Roughly chop the toasted walnuts and sprinkle them onto the salads.

About Celery Root and Curly Endive

The French enjoy both of these vegetables. Flying to Paris from New York aboard an AirFrance airplane, I tasted celery root for the first time. Shredded and dressed, as it was, in vegan remoulade, it tasted like a delicate and string-less version of the ribby, stalk celery. It is actually not the same vegetable at all, but, according to Larousse Gastronomique, an entire other “…variety of celery grown for its fleshy whitish root, which can weigh…(1 3/4-2 1/4 lb).” In France, it is called celeriac, or celeri-rave.

Celery root is adaptable to cooking styles ranging from the near-raw remoulade and quick pickle, above, to steaming, braising or stuffing. Curly endive, however, with its “very thin and serrated” leaves, is “…eaten mainly in salad.” (Larousse Gastronomique). The Chef at a French restaurant I worked in pointed it out in the salad mix we used, saying he wished he could buy it alone. Similarly, many American restaurant guests pick it out of the salad mix and leave it on the corner of their plates. To each their own, as they say. Those who wish to buy curly endive alone should look at Whole Foods, where I chose mine from a row of the small, individual heads. It may also be called frisee or chicory.

Four of us cooked and ate at Meeting Eleven of the Macrobiotic Cooking Club. In addition to salad, we had the following:

Red Lentil Dahl
Arame and Onions
Brown Basmati with Spinach
(Red Wine and Green Tea)

Next week we’re making sushi.

Post-Hemming-And-Hawing: Burdock

I expired my hems and haws for burdock.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tenth meeting of Cooking Club. The original three members; Laura, Ryan and Hilary (myself). Here’s burdock on the menu:

Quick-Pickled Cucumbers
Kinpira Burdock
Wheatberries with Lemon and Scallions
Homemade Seitan
Roasted Beets with Onions
Miso-Tahini Sauce

It was a feast! We drank Vinho Verde (the Portuguese “Green Wine”) and, after dinner, green tea.

Fright Root

You never know how to cook a vegetable until you’ve done it, so here’s some inspiration to try burdock.

“This long, thin brown root vegetable has a firm texture and gives very strong energy. Although eaten year-round, burdock is especially warming in winter. In Japan, we grew burdock in our garden at home. It was cultivated in raised hill beds…in order to make harvesting easier. In many regions, burdock also grows wild and is more strengthening than the domesticated variety. …[I]n New England we’ve foraged for wild burdock many times…” –Aveline Kushi

“…In cooking, the fleshy roots are prepared like salsify or asparagus.” –Larousse Gastronomique

That “domesticated variety” is easy to find in Asian markets. Course and hairy, like a coconut pulled to the length of your arm; it’s intimidating, but inexpensive. The clerk broke mine in half to fit it on the scale, then I closed it in the vegetable drawer for three weeks while I got the nerve to cook it.

Now that I’ve cooked it, I know how.

To Prepare Burdock

1. Use a vegetable peeler or small paring knife to remove the dark brown skin. It’s cruddy and shreds as you go. The pale inner root will darken as quickly as it is exposed to air, but that’s OK. When you cook it, it turns mushroom-brown.

2. Cut the peeled burdock into julienne or matchstick pieces, or any other small and thinnish style. Slice surely. Burdock is questionably fibrous raw, but once cooked, the root reveals its smooth and toothsome nature. Immerse the slices in a bowl of fresh water. The water, also, will darken. I rinsed my burdock in several changes before cooking it.

Kinpira

This Japanese and Macrobiotic cooking style is especially good for burdock, or burdock-and-carrots, but also can be used to cook turnips, beets, parsnips or any other root vegetables you might have around.

1. Heat a wide, heavy pan over high heat and add a little oil. I used toasted sesame oil for the burdock kinpira. Add the sliced root vegetables and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes to color.

2. Add water to half cover the vegetables, and a splash of soy sauce. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the roots are soft and have absorbed all of the water.

Traditional kinpira also includes sake, mirin or dashi as part of the cooking liquid. This water version is plenty delightful, but if you have those ingredients you can try adding some.