Greek Salad – Horiatiki

horiatiki_greek_salad.JPGThe actual Greek name of the ubiquitous Greek salad is Horiatiki, which means, roughly, “village salad.”  As I mentioned in my general post on Greek food, one Greek restaurateur told me that the primordial Greek salad was just feta, onions, and olive oil, and that traditionally the cucumbers and tomatoes are flourishes added only in the summer months.

There are really only two things you need to know to make superlative Greek salad.  The first: for this dish more than maybe any other you need to use amazing ingredients.  Greek salad with pale tomatoes and thick-skinned cucumbers and canned olives is really one of the saddest things you can eat.

I use the following:

  • Gull Valley vine or cherry tomatoes (or in late summer tomatoes from the garden…)
  • Hothouse cucumbers from Doef’s greenhouse.  I prefer the smaller varieties as they have tender skin.
  • Vlahos feta – This is a cow’s milk feta made in Camrose by Tiras Dairies.  It is available at Greek grocery stores like Omonia Foods, as well as the Italian Centre Shop.
  • Marinated kalamata olives from Olive Me.

My second bit of advice: even though this is a very “elemental” salad, and we want the ingredients to speak for themselves, this doesn’t mean we should shy away from seasoning and dressing the salad.  I season the cucumbers and tomatoes a good while before mixing the salad.  The traditional dressing is just olive oil, but I always add wine vinegar, too.  Fresh herbs like parsley and oregano are also nice.

My only other suggestion is to be judicious with the onions.  A good spike of raw onion is a beautiful contrast to the juicy fresh veggies, but a little goes a long way.

Because we are dressing this salad it is best served with bread, to soak up the tomato juice and vinegar and oil left at the bottom of the bowl.

Horiatiki – Village Salad

Ingredients

  • 300 g fresh cucumber
  • 350 g fresh tomato
  • 20 g red onion, finely minced
  • a big pinch of salt
  • sugar (maybe)
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • feta

Sauerkraut

This post was originally published on September 17, 2013.  I’m re-posting it todayfor those that attended my session at Eat Alberta 2017.

 

Shredding cabbage to make sauerkrautKraut is German for cabbage.  It was also a derogatory term for Germans during the Second World War.  Sauerkraut means sour cabbage, or possibly a German curmudgeon.  Ukrainian, Russian and several other eastern European languages use the word kapusta to refer to fresh cabbage, cured cabbage, and various dishes made with one or both of those.

Sauerkraut is a miracle preparation.  Cabbage and salt.  That’s it.  Somehow liquid appears from thin air and submerges the cabbage.  Over a few weeks, though neither cabbage nor salt are acidic, the mixture develops a piquant tanginess.

I had never eaten sauerkraut before moving to Alberta when I was a teenager, unless maybe once I accidentally got it on a hot dog at a baseball park.  In Edmonton there seems to be a house every couple of blocks that has a big crock of sauerkraut in the basement.  I first learned the process from Yolande at Tipi Creek.

While I’ve made sauerkraut a few times over the past couple years, this was the first year that I went all in and filled a 10 gallon crock.  The ever-resourceful Judy had found us an old Medalta[1] crock, as well as a wooden cabbage shredder, pictured above.  The latter is basically a mandolin with three sets of serrated blades that make quick work of a trimmed, quartered cabbage.  The last piece of the puzzle fell into place on a balmy Saturday morning when I saw that August Organics was selling 50 lb bags of cabbage for $25.

The freshly sliced cabbage, about to be mixed with salt35 lbs of shredded cabbage had the crock brimming, though the volume falls by more than half once the salt is worked in.

The specifics of the preparation are discussed below.

Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 100% cabbage, thinly sliced, roughly 1/16″ wide and  2″ long
  • 1.89% kosher salt
  • optional: spice, usually either caraway or juniper, to taste

The percentages above are equivalent to 18.5 g of salt per kilo of cabbage, or roughly 3 tbsp of kosher salt for every 5 lbs of cabbage.

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bucket or crock.  Let stand for one hour, then mix vigorously until liquid is pooling on the bottom of the container.  (Letting the mixture stand for an hour makes the mixing and liquid extraction easier; you can proceed directly to the mixing, but you’ll have to work harder to get the liquid from the cabbage.)
  2. Once there is enough liquid, use a plate that is slightly smaller in diameter than the bucket to cover the cabbage.  Weigh the plate down (a smaller bucket filled with water works well) until the cabbage is submerged in liquid.  Cover the entire operation in a kitchen towel and secure with an elastic band.  Store at a cool room temperature, maybe 18-20°C.  Most basements are this temperature.
  3. A white scum will slowly form on the surface of the liquid.  For the first week or two, skim the surface every day.  Afterwards, skim whenever you remember that you have a crock of sauerkraut curing in your basement.
  4. After three weeks, starting tasting periodically.  The sauerkraut is done when it has a sharp-but-manageable acidity.

A jar of sauerkraut

 

1. Medalta, short for Medicine Hat Alberta, was once a large ceramics factory in that town.  They produced plain but distinctive pottery that can still be seen in kitchens and flea markets across the province.  One advantage of setting up such a factory in Medicine Hat was the large oil and gas reserves that could cheaply fire the kilns.  In fact it has been said that Medicine Hat has all hell for a basement.[2]  The site of the old factory is now a historic district housing modern ceramics studios and a museum.

2. Most know this phrase from the Big Sugar song All Hell for a Basement.  When that song was first played on the radio, my cousins in Ontario started asking if we had basements out in Alberta or what the deal was.  The song is actually the ballad of an itinerant worker moving to Alberta to find work.  Big Sugar is quoting Rudyard Kipling, who when touring southern Alberta, wrote, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”

The Big Sugar line is: I have lost my way / But I hear tell / Of a heaven in Alberta / Where they’ve got all hell for a basement.

Great lyrics…

Perogies

This post was originally published on January 6 (Orthodox Christmas!), 2013.  Re-published today for those that took my session at Eat Alberta 2017.  The only difference between what we did at Eat Alberta and the recipe below is that we used Sylvan Star medium gouda instead of orange Cheddar.

 

Perogies!There are as many recipes for perogies[1] as there are babas in the world.  Some pillowy perogies have potato in the dough, as well as the filling.[2]  Others are made with a simple dough of flour, sour cream, butter, and eggs.  This is what I prefer…

This afternoon I made perogies, then ate four dozen of them, giving me ample opportunity to contemplate their mysteries.

The Dough.  Full recipe is below.  I whisk together the sour cream and eggs, then slowly add the melted butter while whisking.  The flour goes into the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  I slowly add the liquid mixture to the flower as the paddle attachment stirs on the lowest speed setting.  As soon as a fairly smooth dough has formed we’re done mixing.  I then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for at least two hours.

Cooking the Potatoes for the Filling.  This is one of many recipes that requires cooking potato, milling or ricing it while it’s hot, then chilling thoroughly before further processing.  You’ll notice that steam billows from the potato as it breaks up.  This is good.  We want to get some of the moisture out of the potato before we make the perogy filling.

I use a food mill, the kind that has a hopper with a screen on the bottom, and a slanted, rotary blade that pushes the potato flesh through that screen.  There are also devices called ricers, that have pistons that push the potatoes through the screen.  Both work well, provided the potatoes are cooked all the way through.  If undercooked, the final dough won’t be perfectly smooth.

Milling the baked potatoes to make perogies

Once milled, I spread the potatoes out on a sheet tray and let them cool in the fridge.

The Filling.  Apparently the traditional filling is cottage cheese, but in North America cheddar is king.  The cheese is mixed with potatoes to give the perogies a structured filling.  I mix finely grated cheddar with the milled potatoes in a stand mixer.  The paddle kind of smears the cheese into the potatoes to make a homogeneous paste.  I also add sour cream for moisture, acidity, and to help bind the filling.  And salt.  Even with all the cheese, this filling needs salt.  The filling should be seasoned quite assertively so that it can be tasted through the dough.

The filling should be quite stiff when cold, otherwise it will run from the finished perogies when you cut into them, or worse, when you boil them.

Shaping.  Once the dough is well rested, I roll it out to 1/8″ thickness.  I use a 2.5″ ring cutter to punch circles out of the dough.  (As a side note, I’ve seen some women shape their perogies without a cutter!  They put a dollop of filling near the edge of the rolled dough, then lift and stretch the dough over the filling, and cut off the perogy from the sheet, leaving no trim!)

Once I have the circles cut, I put a bit of filling on each.  I’m always surprised by how little cheese stuffing it takes to fill the perogies, maybe a tablespoon, about 10 grams by weight.  Then simply fold the dough over the filling and pinch it off into the characteristic half-moon shape.  If the dough is dry, a bit of water brushed on the surface will help it bind.

Shaping the perogies

 

Perogy Trim.  Using a round dough cutter will invariably create trim.  This trim can be combined, and re-rolled.  The re-rolled dough is a little harder to work with.  Even after letting it rest, it will be tougher and springier than the original dough.  It will resist rolling, and the perogies will not close up as easily.  Perogies made from re-rolled dough will be slightly chewier, but it’s worth doing one re-roll, because about 20% of your original dough weight will be left behind as trim.  I wouldn’t do more than one, as the dough becomes pretty much unworkable.

A friend told me that there are traditional Ukrainian dumplings made by reshaping and boiling perogy dough trim.  He called them babaikas, (“ba-BYE-kahs”), but I can’t find any mention of them online or in my cookbooks.  I made these from the trim from my re-roll.

Freezing and/or Cooking.  At this point the raw perogies should be either frozen or boiled.  They freeze beautifully.  Just line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly dust with flour.  Lay the perogies out on the tray and put it in the freezer.  Once they’re frozen through, you can bag them.  Using this method will keep the dumplings from sticking together.

To boil, fill a large pot with cold water.  Season liberally and bring to a vigorous boil.  The old adage is that when dumplings float in water, they’re done.  Hervé This actually disproves this in his book Molecular Gastronomy, but it’s a bit of a “the bumblebee flies anyway” situation.  After about two or three minutes in boiling water, fresh perogies will float, and they’re done.  Frozen perogies obviously take longer to start bobbing.

Boiled v. Fried.  Once boiled, consume immediately with onions, bacon, and sour cream.  Once boiled, you can chill them and keep them the fridge for a few hours or days, just toss them in a small amount of oil to prevent them from sticking.  Then simply pan-fry the cooked, chilled perogies to thoroughly brown and crisp the exteriors.

Here are the actual numbers I use.

Cheddar Perogies

The Dough

Master ratio – 5 parts flour : 2 parts sour cream : 1 part butter : 1 part eggs

  • 1 kg flour
  • 400 g sour cream
  • 200 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 200 g eggs

The Cheddar Filling
Master Ratio – 4 parts cold mashed potato : 2 parts finely grated cheese : 1 part sour cream, by weight. And a generous amount of salt.

Ingredients

  • 400 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 200 g finely grated cheddar, the orange kind
  • 100 g, sour cream
  • kosher salt to taste

Another extremely handy ratio is that you need about 10 g of filling to stuff 20 g of dough.

 

Pan-fried perogies with onions and bacon

 

Footnotes

1.  You’ve no doubt noticed that there are about one hundred different spellings of the word “perogy” in common usage.  This is because many of the countries from which perogies come, places like Ukraine and Russia, use a different alphabet than us.  Rendering the word “perogy” is often an issue of transliteration, not translation.  If you hear a baba pronounce the actual Ukrainian word пиріг, they are clearly using sounds that don’t exist in English – how can they be transcribed?  The Polish alphabet is much closer to our own.  They spell it pierogi (that’s the plural form).  I think the entire point is mute.  It’s safe to say that perogies have been naturalized, and are part of Canadian prairie cuisine.  I defer to the Ukrainian churches of Edmonton, who, when advertising dinners on signs, usually (but not always) use “perogy.”

2.  If this style of perogy dough interests you, try this out for a dough recipe:

Ingredients

  • 680 g all-purpose flour
  • 420 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 50 g unsalted butter. melted
  • 50 g egg (one large egg…)
  • 230 g sour cream
  • 5 g kosher salt

 

 

Dandelion Crowns

We’ve tried a lot of things with dandelions.  The leaves are great.  Hopefully everybody knows that by now.  I’ve made syrups with the flowers, but truthfully they don’t have much flavour and are only good for their sunny colour.  The roots are delicious roasted and useful in bitter infusions, but they are such a bitch to harvest I rarely bother.  The flower buds can be pickled, but while they look a good deal like capers they don’t actually have much flavour of their own, and certainly don’t have the distinct mustard-like pop of their Mediterranean look-alikes.

Dandelion crowns might be the tastiest part of the plant.

The crown is where the root transitions to the stalks.  It is only slightly easier to harvest than the root, and probably more difficult to clean, but it delivers a serious flavour payoff.

Fresh dandelion crowns.

 

Pan-roasted, dandelion crowns remind me of rutabaga: soft, savoury, and faintly bitter.

The dish below was entirely conceived and executed by my partner Lisa.  She sautéed the crowns, then added a bit of water to the pan and covered.  Once the crowns were tender she added dandelion greens and cooked until they were wilted but still vibrant green.  She finished the dish with balsamic vinegar.

A dandelion dish: sautéed crowns with wilted greens.

 

Squash Blossoms

Originally published August 17, 2011.

A squash blossom, still on the plantIf any food can be described as ephemeral, it’s squash blossoms. They’re only around for a short while, and once picked they deteriorate rapidly, which is why you usually can’t get them at grocery stores, only farmers’ markets and neighbourhood gardens.

Squash plants actually produce two different types of flowers: male and female.  The male flowers grow on the end of long, slender stems.  The female flowers grow on thicker stems that buldge where they meet the flower.  This bulge is what will eventually become a squash.

Generally there are more male flowers than female.  The male flowers can be picked without affecting the production of fruit, so long as a few are left behind to pollinate the females.  Some sources say to remove the stamens from the interior of the male flowers before eating.  I don’t.  I hope it’s not a safety thing.  Picking the female flowers will prevent fruit from developing on that stem.  Even so, it’s worth picking a few females, especially once the buldge on the stem has grown into a tiny, malformed squash.

The flowers of both summer and winter squash are edible.  (Summer squash are varieties that are picked young, and therefore have tender, edible seeds and skin, like zucchinis and pattypans.  Winter squash are varieties that are mature when picked, and therefore have tough, inedible seeds and skin, like butternut squash and pumpkins.)

While they can be eaten raw, squash blossoms are usually lightly battered and fried.  They can also be stuffed.

Below are some blossoms from a zucchini plant.  The female flowers are distinguished by the tiny zucchinis attached to their bases.  The male flowers have their characteristic long, slender stem in tact.

In the final picture below the blossoms are filled with a homemade cottage cheese (something my ancestors would have called “clabbered milk”) mixed with green onions and a bit of lemon juice.  I used a piping bag to stuff the flowers.

The batter is just skim milk with flour and salt.  The flowers are lightly coated with the batter, then fried in canola oil at 350°F.  You can shallow fry in a straight-sided pan (just add enough oil to come about half way up the side of the flowers) or deep fry in a pot.  Once the batter is crisp and the interior hot, maybe one minute, remove the flowers to a bowl lined with paper towel.  Season and consume immediately.

August on a plate:

Male blossoms, and some female blossoms with the nascent sqash

Squash blossoms, filled with cottage cheese and onions, battered and fried

Horseradish

A large piece of horseradish rootThe gnarly root pictured at left is horseradish.

Horseradish is a hearty plant; it can flourish almost anywhere in our fair city.  I remember when I was in culinary school I would catch a bus at the intersection of 118 Avenue and 106 Street, and there was a perfectly healthy horseradish plant living in a crack in the sidewalk.

Horseradish could in fact be described as invasive.  It doesn’t spread too fast, but once it’s established, it’s nearly impossible to remove.  I hack enormous chunks out of the root system of my plant and it always recovers.

The root has a pungent flavour very similar flavour to its relatives mustard and wasabi.  (Actually most of the “wasabi” that you’ve eaten with your sushi is actually just horseradish powder dyed green.[1])  It can be finely grated and eaten raw for delicious, mustardy pangs of flavour.  I first saw this way of serving horseradish in Austria, where they grate fresh horseradish into a snowy heap to accompany boiled beef and cured pork.  Before that I was only familiar with prepared horseradish, which is grated horseradish that has been treated with vinegar and jarred.

Horseradish, like mustard, only develops its hot pungency once its cell walls are ruptured by grating or crushing, at which time an enzyme liberates the irritant molecule.    Acid slows the enzymes and to a certain extent and “sets” the pungency, so the longer you wait to add vinegar after grating horseradish, the hotter your preparation will be.

I mix roughly one part each of grated horseradish and cider vinegar by weight, then add a bit of salt and white sugar.  This mixture stores well in the fridge, though it will slowly discolour and turn grey without the addition of preservatives.

Some homemade prepared horseradish

As an aside, the leaves of the horseradish plant are also delicious.  They have the same sharp flavour as the root.  They are best enjoyed in spring, as they get tough and fibrous later in the year.

Horseradish greens

 

Sources

1. This according to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking.  Page 417 of the first Scribner revised edition 2004.

How to Cut Bell Peppers

For most applications the inside of a bell pepper, the pale membrane holding all the seeds, needs to be removed.  In my experience most home cooks do this by cutting the pepper in half, then scooping out the seeds with their fingers.  Frankly this is barbarous: it’s a slow, clumsy method that will always leave seeds behind.

Your knife is faster and more fastidious than your fingers.  Here’s a quick and thorough way to separate the core from the flesh.

Cut the top and bottom off the pepper.

topping_bell_pepper.JPG

 

Make a vertical cut through the wall of the pepper, then run your knife along the inside of the wall, like so:

seeding_bell_pepper.JPG

 

In this manner you can quickly remove the core of the pepper in one piece without having to fuss over each individual seed.  You also now have a perfect rectangle of crispy, juicy bell pepper that can be cut into uniform strips.

seeded_bell_pepper.JPG

 

sliced_bell_pepper.JPG

 

A visual summary of what we just did.

cutting_bell_pepper.JPG

 

The stem of the pepper can be composted.  The core has some flavour to it, and is most welcome in vegetable broths, especially those being used in corn chowder.

Chives

Chives emerging in early spring.Chives are prized for their pure allium flavour, blessedly devoid of the harsh burn of raw onion.

Here are some other awesome things about chives.

They are hearty perennials, which means they re-appear every spring and require very little attention.  In fact, they grow as weeds in many parts of Edmonton, including downtown parking lots.  I don’t mean that you should harvest them from downtown parking lots; I just offer that as evidence of their gumption.

They are one of the first edibles to appear in spring.  This year the spring thaw came early, and my chives were a few inches tall by the end of March.  It was seeing this enterprising green growth that inspired me to write this post.

Chive blossomsTheir flowers are both beautiful and delicious. Most flowers with that light purple colour, like lilacs and violas, have very little flavour and are nowhere near as versatile as chive blossoms.

My chives usually bloom in June.  The tiny, bell-shaped flowers are easy to harvest because they grow on round umbels.  Just pick the entire flower head from the stalk, pinch the hub where all the stems meet, and you can remove all the blossoms in one motion. They are much more robust than most culinary flowers and can be kept in the fridge for days.  The green stalks that hold the flower heads are woody and should be reserved for stock.

They can be super-fly elegant.  When cut properly chives are like happy green confetti.

How to cut chives for fine dining applications: a photo essay.

Harvest the chives by cutting the stalks close to the ground with sharp scissors.  Gently bundle the stalks together and lay them on a cutting board.

Whole chive stalksCut the bundle in half.

Chive stalks cut in half

Flip one half onto the other so that the cut ends are all on the same side.  Use the side of your knife to line up all of the cut ends.

Chive stalks with cut ends flush

Cut the chives so that their length exactly equals their diameter.

Chopped chives: happy green confetti

That’s just a fancy technique to keep in your back pocket.  Chives don’t need to be precious.

Chives are usually added to dishes fresh, shortly before consumption, as lengthy cooking destroys their delicate flavour.  They are extremely versatile.  I like them best on eggs, potatoes, and marinated vegetables.

A bowl of potato salad, with lots of chives

 

Chives are borderline invasive because after the flowers mature and dry they each release dozens of little black seeds.  These are edible, delicious, and easily harvested.  Simply pick the dried flowers and shake out the seeds into a jar or paper bag.  They have the same onion flavour as the stems, and a bit of a chewy texture.

Dried chive flower heads with seeds

Introduction to Soup

Split-pea soup with ham hock and crème fraîcheThere is something medieval about soup.  It is often made from bones.  It takes time to prepare, and to eat.  Soup is slow and simple and primordial and the opposite of modern.

I consider the promulgation of soup a personal mission.  Most of the formal meals that I prepare for friends or at work include a soup course.  Burns supper, for instance, begins with Scotch broth, Thanksgiving with squash soup, Viennese dinners with pancake soup.

Types of Soup

This is the kind of rant I usually relegate to the footnotes of a post, but I want to talk about soup classification.  In culinary school our standard text was called Professional Cooking for Canadian Chefs (PCCC).  I learned a lot from this book, but some parts of it are seriously whack.  One of the most annoying things in PCCC is its classification of soups. There are, it says, four types of soup: clear, thick, international, and specialty.  Isn’t that ridiculous? Gumbo (a thick soup) was classified as an “international” soup, because it had a specific regional origin (Louisiana).  Gazpacho (a thick soup with a specific regional origin) was classified as a specialty soup, because it is served cold.  Ridiculous.  It’s like saying there are four types of cars: red, blue, fast, and Italian.

So, let me correct the matter and say that there are two types of soup: clear and thick.  Many of those soups have specific regional origins.  A few of them are served cold.  But they are all either clear or thick.

 

Clear Soups

Chicken noodle soup!Clear soups are made with transparent stock or broth, through which is distributed various garnishes such as vegetables, meat, and starches.  Chicken noodle soup is a clear soup.

The principle aesthetic consideration when preparing clear soups is the colour and clarity of the stock.  Adherence to these basic stock-making principles will result in a clear, flavourful stock with an appetizing colour.

Converting good stock into a soup can be as simple as adding some chopped vegetables and leftover meat.  I typically lightly sauté my vegetables in butter before adding the stock.  This is strictly for flavour.  Be sure to use a scant amount of fat to sauté your vegetables.  It’s nice to have a few spots of fat floating on top of a clear soup (the French call these spots “eyes”), but you don’t want so much that it forms a mat of grease.

If the clear soup will contain a starch such as pasta or rice, cook the starch in a separate pot of water.  These garnishes leach starch into the liquid as they cook, so they would cloud your soup.  Think about what water looks like after you’ve boiled pasta in it.

 

Thick Soups

When the liquid body of the soup is opaque and viscous enough to coat the diner’s spoon we describe the soup as thick.  Thick soups can get their viscosity in a number of ways.

Purée Soups.  Purée soups experienced a minor renaissance about ten years ago when a marketing genius started selling ready-made butternut squash soup.  Before that, most people in our part of the world only knew of stodgy “cream soups” like cream of mushroom and cream of potato.  I know that’s a pretty sweeping generalization, but this is a blog not an encyclopedia and I get to write things like that.

The most important thing to know about purée soups is that they must contain some sort of starch.  Broccoli, for instance, contains little starch, and will not make a cohesive, voluptuous purée without the help of a starchy companion like potato.

I would like to discourage three common practices when it comes to purée soups.

The first is the idea that you need stock to make soup.  This is a lie invented by classical French cuisine.  Stock is helpful (but not essential) in clear soups, but more or less useless for purée soups.  For starters, the full body of a rich stock is completely lost in the starchy mass of the purée.  Also I think the goal of a purée soup should be to taste perfectly like the ingredient it is made from.  If I make a potato soup, I don’t really want it to taste like chicken and mirepoix.  You can make very, very flavourful purée soups using only water.

The second is born from the idea that a soup or sauce has to simmer for several hours to develop flavour.  This isn’t true.  In fact, vegetables have the most flavour when they are just, just cooked.  After this the flavour wanes.  Vegetables should only be cooked to the point of complete tenderness before being puréed.

Finally is the idea that you must finish a purée soup with cream.  There is a time and a place for cream in soups, but it has a tendency to mute other flavours.  In some cases it also kills the colour.  I like to use cream with potato soups and mushroom soups.  I would never add cream to a squash soup, as it would turn the vibrant orange to a muted yellow, and muddle the natural, sweet flavour of the vegetable.

The way to really distinguish a purée soup is to make it as smooth and velvety as possible.  Nothing will get vegetable mash as smooth as an upright blender like a Vitamix.  Food processors, even powerful commercial varieties like the Robot Coup, and immersion blenders just don’t circulate like an upright blender.  Start blending the soup and forget about it for maybe five minutes, then run the soup through a chinois.

Purée soups should not be stodgy; a spoon dragged along the surface shouldn’t leave a trace.

 

Purée Soup Case Study: Squash and Apple Soup

Pumpkin soup with cream and Styrian pumpkinseed oil

This is a magic soup of subtle architecture that perfectly bridges savoury, sweet, and tart.

Sautée sliced onions and garlic in butter until the onions are becoming translucent.  Add cubed squash and apple and sauté briefly.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a simmer.  As soon as the squash is tender, transfer the soup to a blender.

Season.  Don’t feel shy about adding a bit of sugar to reinforce the natural sweetness of the squash.

Finish with pumpkinseed oil.  Not to knock North American producers, but nothing compares to the Styrian variety.  I’ve written about it before, but it has a deep forest green colour and a knockout aroma of roasted nuts.  The best that I have had in North America was imported by a company from Montreal called Green Gold.  Not sure if it will be available in stores in Edmonton.

Other appropriate garnishes: heavy cream, roasted pumpkin seeds.

Roux-Thickened Soups.  Roux is the traditional way to thicken several classic soups, including chowder and gumbo, but it has fallen from favour in recent decades.  In fact, some of the chefs I have worked for have explicitly banned roux from their kitchens.  There are a few reasons for this.  First is the ever increasing phenomenon of gluten sensitivity.  More generally, roux is seen as stodgy.

I love roux.  I always have butter and flour in my kitchen.  It tastes good.  I use it in mac and cheese and corn chowder and even tourtière.

If for some reason you can’t use a roux in a chowder, you can make the soup as if it were a clear soup, then separate a portion, puré it, and mix it back with the rest of the soup.

A Quick Note on Cold Soups before we go

I think the two most common cold soups are tomato (“gazpacho”) and cucumber.  Many have tried these and decided they’re gross and then sworn off cold soup for the rest of their lives.  A better gateway into cold soups is the starchy varieties like potato and leek (“Vichysoisse”) and those containing fruit (the squash and apple soup described above).

My favourite cold soup is parsnip and pear:Bowl of parsnip and pear soup, garnished with toasted hazelnuts and chervil

 

In conclusion, I’ll reiterate that soup is the very essence of frugality and comfort.  Let it be a part of your life.

Roast Pumpkin Seeds

A lil' bowl of roasted pumpkin seedsRoast pumpkinseeds are a very rustic North American snack.  While pumpkin seeds are relished in several far flung parts of the world, including central America (pepitas) and Austria (kurbiskern), I think ours is the only civilization that eats pumpkinseeds in their shell.  Pumpkinseed shells are woody.  Frankly they are just barely edible, and certainly not digestible.

But I do like them.  Lengthy chewing promotes contemplation.  Rumination, even.

And though you can eat pumpkins throughout the fall and winter and into early spring, growing up I only ever ate roast pumpkin seeds at Hallowe’en.

A nifty trick for separating the seeds from the stringy pumpkin guts: throw the whole mess in a large pot of water.  If you rub the mass between your hands, you loose the pumpkin flesh from the seeds, which float to the top and can be easily skimmed off.  Dry them on a bake sheet lined with paper towel overnight.

Toss with oil.  Over the years I’ve flipped and flopped between oven-baking and pan-frying.  Certainly the oven is more gentle: it takes longer, but browns the seeds more evenly.  Pan-frying is more aggressive, and quick.  Right now I’m leaning towards pan-frying.

Traditionally salt and sugar and nothing else.  Paprika might be good, too.

Happy Hallowe’en.