fennel and pea soup

fennel and pea soup

The best way to describe snow day this week, would be to call it interesting. Having the stairway to your front entrance completely layered with several inches of snow was probably the craziest way to wake up. Snoopy didn't mind and he ate his way through, we on the other hand had to figure out where the steps were. Still we had so much fun in the snow. It was really nice to get the day off from work and use the time to relax. Those of you that were hit by the storm, I hope you stayed warm and safe with your loved ones. We drove down to the farm this weekend and already had another bout of snow but everything looks beautiful and white out here in Virginia. (I'll be sharing photographs on Instagram and Facebook). As much as I complain about cold weather, I am always amazed by the breathtaking beauty of snow laced mountains and hills in the countryside.

fennel

Fennel is one of the most aromatic and wonderful vegetables that I really enjoying cooking with. It is simply delicious and the shape intriguing (I'm always thinking of those crying baby Mandrakes from Harry Potter when I look at them). This soup is light, clean and healthy with very few ingredients that give it a delicious flavor. There is a luxurious creaminess to this soup without the need for heavy cream to but instead it simply relies on the peas to give that extra level of richness.

oven roasted fennel and peas

I used a two-step process to cook the vegetables by first caramelizing the natural sugars of the vegetables in the oven and then cooking them in water to make a flavorful stock. I also season the olive oil by infusing the hot oil with some fennel seeds and drizzle that over the soup. The garnish is completely optional but it really is worth it!

creamy fennel and pea soup


fennel pea soup

yields: 4 servings

ingredients

1 fennel bulb with stems, fresh
3 cups peas, fresh or frozen
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups water
juice of one fresh lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, for garnish
a few fresh fennel leaves, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 400F and place a wire rack at mid height of the oven. Slice the stems off the fennel and quarter bulb. Place the fennel and peas in baking tray and toss them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Roast the vegetables in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the bulb turns lightly brown.
2. Transfer the vegetables to a large stockpot. Add the water and bring the contents to a boil on a medium-high flame. Cook until the vegetables are completely soft and tender for about 20-25 minutes.
3. Remove the stockpot from the stove. Using an immersion blender, blend the ingredients until creamy and smooth. Alternatively, transfer the vegetables and half of the liquid to a food processor or blender and pulse until completely smooth and creamy. Transfer the contents back to the stockpot.  Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Cook on a medium-low heat with occasional stirring. 
4. Heat the remaining olive oil in a small saucepan on a medium-high flame for 45 seconds, as soon as the oil gets hot add the fennel seeds and cook them for 10 seconds. Remove from the stove and drizzle the fennel and olive oil seasoning over the soup. Alternatively, you can also garnish the soup in individual bowls and drizzling them with the seasoning. Garnish the soups with a fresh fennel leaves. Serve warm with slices of toasted bread.

lentil and tahini soup

lentil and tahini soup

I'm finally back from Charleston and as always the Holy City always pleases with its charming Southern culture and delicious food. My friends had a beautiful wedding and I had a wonderful time celebrating their special moment with them. I'm always excited for vacations and short getaway trips but I have to be honest, I am always excited to come back and relax in the comfort of my own home. What I love to do the most when I come back home from any trip is to kick back in my pajamas and read a book. 

lentil

While we are on the subject of comfort, I should tell you that soups are one of my favorite comfort foods. This particular soup has quickly become a quick and tasty way for us to enjoy the cold weather  while we stay warm indoors. It's packed with nutritious lentils and flavored with fresh dill. The richness of the soup comes from the lentils and the natural creaminess of the tahini. I keep a jar of tahini on hand in my kitchen at all times. It's my magic ingredient for many dishes because it can take a simple dish and infuse a whole new level of complexity to your meal. Tahini is flavor and awesomeness on wheels and a little bit goes a very long way!

dill

You could probably use any type of lentil in this soup, I've used split mung (moong) lentils that have their outer green skin removed, consequently these lentils appear yellow in color. This soup is best eaten the day it is prepared because the flavors are fresh and bold. You can always up the amount of chili flakes to increase the heat in the soup. As the lentils tend to thicken the soup as time proceeds (even on storage), you can always add additional water to thin it out, just taste and season if necessary. 

lentil tahini soup

lentil and tahini soup

yields:

4 - 6 serving

ingredients

1 1/2 cups (11 5/8 ounces) yellow mung/

moong (split with skin removed) 

lentils 

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves minced

1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

6 cups water**

2 tablespoons tahini

2 limes

1/2 cup fresh dill + 2 tablespoons for garnish, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1. Clean the lentils and remove any visible stones and dirt. Rinse the lentils in cold water, drain and keep aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on a medium high flame. Add and stir the garlic and chili flakes in the hot oil for 30 seconds. Add 4 cups of water and the washed lentils to the stockpot. Bring the contents of the stockpot to a boil and then immediately reduce the flame to a medium low. Cover the pot with a lid and allow the lentils to cook until tender. This will take about 40-45 minutes. **If the soup gets too thick, you can adjust the consistency of the soup by adding more water. 

3. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and mix in the tahini. Make sure the tahini is completely mixed into the soup. Squeeze the limes and stir in the lime juice, 1/2 cup of chopped dill and salt. Taste and adjust the salt if necessary.

4. Remove the pot from the stove and serve the soup warm garnished with a little of the extra chopped fresh dill. 

sriracha pumpkin soup

Hot Sriracha pumpkin soup

It's the season for all things warm and hot when it comes to food. Whenever, fall weather kicks in, I start to fill my kitchen up with warm soups and hot meals. It's my thing, soups and cold weather, I can make a bucket load, refrigerate, so I have plenty for the entire week and that way I can catch up with whatever needs to be done at home. You know what I mean, those one-pot-meals can be life-savers and a time-savers. 
Suagr pie pumpkin

I've also picked up a great new time-saving habit, buy a sugar pie pumpkin, cut the hard skin off, grate it in the food processor and then divide and freeze in bags. It's working out wonderfully! The two of us at home can't eat that much in one sitting even if we wanted to and I love that I can now have raw pumpkin whenever I need. The longest I've kept it frozen is three weeks and it is still delicious just like it is here in my first soup recipe of this autumn season.

Pumpkin soup with Sriracha

I've developed this soup to be simple yet full of flavor. For heat, there's a generous addition of my favorite hot sauce, Sriracha and a little jalapeno pepper. Fried oregano makes the perfect garnish on top of this warm pumpkin soup. For a little more protein in the soup, I've added a bit of greek yogurt to the soup, whisk it in at the end and never boil the soup once the yogurt is added or the protein will coagulate. To reheat, I recommend warming it on a low flame slowly with constant stirring and avoid the boiling point.

Sriracha pumpkin soup

siracha pumpkin soup

yields: 6 servings

ingredients

4 cups raw pumpkin pulp, grated  (I used a sugarpie pumpkin)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 jalapeno
4 cups vegetable stock (low sodium)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 generous tablespoon of sriracha
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1 cup beaten plain non-fat greek yogurt

1. Puree the pumpkin pulp, garlic cloves, jalapeno and about half of the stock in a food processor. Add more stock if necessary to get a smooth puree. Keep aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large thick bottomed stockpot with a lid on a medium high flame. When the oil is hot, add the oregano and cook for 40 seconds, remove the oregano from the pot with a silicone spatula or spoon and reserve for later. 
3. In the same stockpot add the pureed pumpkin, the rest of the stock, sriracha, salt and the turmeric. Stir the ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil on a medium high flame. Once the soup starts to boil, reduce the flame to a gentle simmer, cover with the lid and cook for 45 minutes until the pumpkin puree tastes completely soft. 
4. Remove the soup from the stove and whisk in the yogurt to mix completely. Adjust the amount of salt and siracha if needed.
5. Serve the soup immediately and garnish with a little extra virgin olive oil and the fried oregano from earlier.

aduki bean and black lentil soup

Aduki bean and black lentil soup

All I can think about right now is Mardi Gras! The parade, the music, the food, the drinks, and of course a nice holiday (only for the folk of NOLA), these are the specifics of what I miss. Unfortunately, I will not be in NOLA this year to celebrate this fantastic tradition with my friends. However, we did get a little close to eating some King Cake last Sunday for the Superbowl, my friend Tom baked a delicious Ravens/49'ers themed King Cake stuffed with chocolate at one end and sweetened pecans at the other end. Of course, a cake like that was gone in a matter of a few hours at our Superbowl party. I'll be honest, I am not a big football person and I watch the Superbowl mostly for half-time and the advertisements.Once that passes , I get a little bored but thank goodness for all the food and friendly company! 

We did a Cajun themed football meal this year and I prepared a spicy Cajun crab dip and a spicy shrimp remoulade from my copy of the Brennan's cookbook. If you haven't visited Brennan's in NOLA, you should! The first NOLA parade that I was christened with, was an Irish-Italian parade where they tossed several staples of the Irish pantry to the crowd: potatoes, cabbages, and carrots. I distinctly remember my friend Wendy getting knocked over when an errant cabbage accidentally flew her way and struck her in the face. Thankfully, she was perfectly fine but it was amusing when a lady came up to her and asked if she could have the cabbage. Her response, "Why waste free vegetables!".

Warming Spices for Winter

For the past few weeks, I have been craving warmer ingredients and flavors in my meals. Soups that are rich in legumes and lentils have a delicious earthiness to them and the addition of warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric are so wonderful in winter. Cinnamon has a beautiful aromatic scent and when heated   the aromatic oil in the bark is released and the air is filled with a sweet fragrance that is both warm and comforting. I remember an early food biochemistry lab in graduate school where we studied some of the active aromatics in ingredients such as vanilla and cinnamon. It was probably the best experience of that class, way more fun than remembering all those complicated benzene rings and other crazy concatemeric structures!

Black Lentils

I've based my soup on an old recipe that I watched my maternal grandmother make several years ago. This soup would be made pretty much every day during the week and served as an appetizer a few hours before dinner. I remember her chopping her vegetables ever so fine on her cutting board. Nana would sear her aromatics along with a huge beef bone in hot oil and then sweat the rest of her vegetables before adding the liquid components. This soup is based on her original technique but every time I make it, I change one or another of the ingredients to give it a slight makeover. You can use any type of beans in this soup such as garbanzo, cannellini, pinto, etc. would all work great. I've been hunting for aduki beans for a while now and was thrilled to find some at the local grocery store. Black lentils are by far one of my favorite lentils to eat, so of course they made their way in here as well. To me this soup is comforting with its rich tomato, leek and onion base. After a busy day at work, there is nothing more comforting to sit down with a warm bowl of hearty soup to relax and nourish your mind and body. 

What are some of your favorite soups that you find comforting?

Tomatoes and Garlic


aduki bean and black lentil soup

servings:

ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups leeks, thinly sliced
1 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup black lentils, cleaned and rinsed
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
5 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 15 ounce can of aduki beans, rinsed and drained
salt and freshly  ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh flat or curly parsley leaves, chopped
shaved parmesan cheese, optional

1. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or a stock pot with a heavy lid on a medium flame. Add the leeks and onion to the oil and cook for 5 minutes until they have softened. 
2. Reduce the flame and add the turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir continuously for 1 minute.
3. Fold in the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, and lentils and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir this frequently to prevent the spices and garlic from burning. 
4. Add the vinegar and stock to the pan, increase the flame and bring it to a boil. Once the contents of the pan begin to boil, reduce the flame, cover with the lid and allow the soup to simmer for 35-45 minutes until the lentils are completely cooked.
5. Stir in the aduki beans and season the soup with salt and pepper. Bring the soup again to a boil by increasing the heat and then reduce to a gentle simmer, cover with the lid and cook further for another 10 minutes.
6. Just before serving the soup, garnish with the freshly chopped parsley leaves and perhaps a little shaved Parmesan cheese. 

chicken sweet-corn soup

Chicken sweet corn soup

I  miss spring/summer and all the fresh produce that comes with the notes of warmer weather. However, till then I realize that I need to buck-up and work with what comes my way on the East Coast. Of late, I have been craving all sorts of delicious foods from all over the globe. Some new to my palate and others familiar friends to my taste buds. Bombay/Mumbai is a melting pot of several different cultures and even countries, consequently this has led to the fusion and evolution of several different cuisines. One of my personal favorites, is Indo-Chinese food, where Indian flavors and spices come together with some Chinese dishes that make them wonderful and unique. There are a couple of places in NYC that do serve this authentic menu, one of them being Chinese Mirch. The food here is great and worth stopping by.Whenever wet and cold weather strike, I always turn to this soup. Chicken sweet corn soup is a very popular dish in Indo-Chinese restaurants in India and is also one of my favorites. I remember waiting to pick up our takeouts from the restaurant that was a few blocks from our house in Bombay. Watching the chefs,  stir-fry the food in their large woks while they quickly tossed sauces and seasonings into the sizzling hot pans was such a fascinating treat for me. Their hands moved with such finesse and speed that it was literally a magic show of sorts. 

Sweet Corn

Here is my take on the chicken sweet-corn soup that I fondly remember and miss. This recipe works great with left-over shredded chicken (if using left-over chicken, then use 2 cups of cooked shredded chicken) and fresh or frozen sweet-corn. I like to use leeks to flavor the soup because they give a robust flavor to the stock and also brighten the color. If you like this soup a little hotter, then add a few more thai peppers to it. While preparing the leeks, I find it useful to slice them in half lengthwise and then slice them finely. I then rinse them under cold water to remove any sand particles that might be trapped within the spaces of the stem.

Chicken and Leeks

chicken sweet-corn soup

servings:

ingredients

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium lean chicken breasts
1/2 cup finely sliced leeks
1 cup frozen sweet-corn (fresh corn can also be used)
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup low-sodium soy  sauce
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1 finely chopped thai chili pepper
1 heaped teaspoon cornflour
3 to 4 tablespoons of water
1 large egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste
a few scallions and/or green thai chili peppers, finely sliced for garnish

1. Heat two tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large stockpot on a medium flame. Pat each chicken breast with a clean paper towel to absorb any liquids and then season the breasts with salt and pepper on each side. Add each breast to the hot oil in the stockpot. Cover the pot with a lid. Cook the chicken breasts on each side until the meat is tender. This should take about 20 minutes. Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked, reduce the flame to a low simmer, remove the chicken breasts and keep them on a plate to cool. Drain and collect any liquids from the stockpot and keep side (this can be added back to the soup to give a flavorful stock). When the chicken is cool enough to be handled, shred the meat and keep it covered so it does not dry.
2. In the same stock pot, heat the rest of the oil and add the leeks. Fry the leeks in the oil for about 3 minutes till they soften. 
3. Stir in the corn to the stockpot and cook for another 3 minutes on a medium flame. 
4. Now add the chicken stock and the left-over liquid that was drained from the chicken in step 1. Mix in the shredded chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, and chili pepper. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes.
5. In a small bowl, make a slurry of the corn flour in the water and add it to the soup stirring briskly.
6. Bring the soup to a boil and then with constant stirring add in the beaten egg. The egg proteins will coagulate immediately to form threads.
7. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and season with salt and pepper.
8. Serve the soup hot. You can garnish the soup with freshly chopped scallions or some chopped chilies. 

apple and carrot soup with cilantro-peanut chutney

carrot and apple soup

I started my holidays a little earlier than anticipated since we decided to finally take on our pending bathroom remodeling project and I'm relieved that it's finished. No more drilling and hammering noises and pesky dust issues!  Since, I've stayed at home for the bathroom project, I decided to finish up wrapping all the gifts that we need to take down with us on our trip this weekend. Honestly, I am not a big fan of wrapping gifts, sometimes I get them right and on other occasions, I simply don't. It would be much easier if there was a standard rectangular shape box for every gift versus all the other random shaped toy cartons that I have come across. 

carrots and apples

With all the hustle and bustle of the calorie loaded holidays parties, I've been opting for very simple, easy, and refreshing meals at home. This is one of my favorite recipes that I have grown to love and appreciate this year. This apple and carrot soup has all the fresh flavors of the season. The soup by itself is very delicious but it gets a pretty bold kick of heat from the Thai chili peppers in the crunchy peanut and cilantro chutney.

cilantro and apples

To give this pureed soup a silky and smooth texture, it is essential to simmer all the vegetables for at least 30 minutes. It does not matter how long you small you dice the apples and carrots because they will get soft and tender during the simmering stage. If you can't find black sea salt or "Kala Namak" (you can find it at most Indian grocery stores) then I would recommend using regular Kosher sea salt. You can thin the soup as much as you want to with water but don't forget to adjust the salt and pepper. While making the chutney, I like to use fresh lemon juice and I also leave the seeds inside the chilies. If you like the chutney less hot, then remove the seeds and only use the skin of the chilies. A little drop of the chutney goes along way in this soup. Another tip with the peanuts, I eliminated the need for using raw peanuts, since pre-salted and roasted peanuts are so easily available. The little crunch bits of peanuts in the chutney against the smooth silky soup makes for a wonderful and delicious texture. As an added bonus, the chutney can also be used as a dipping sauce.

carrots garlic and pot
onion

apple and carrot soup with cilantro-peanut chutney

yields: 4-6 servings

ingredients

for the apple and carrot soup

2 medium sized Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced 
2 lb carrots, peeled and diced 
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
juice of half a lemon
ground black sea salt (or regular sea salt) to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

for the cilantro-peanut chutney

1 cup of fresh cilantro leaves 
2 tablespoons salted roasted peanuts
2 green thai chili peppers
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

for the apple and carrot soup

1. Heat the olive oil in a thick bottomed stock pot with a lid on a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes with constant stirring. The onions will become translucent and light pink in color. Now add the carrots and apples, stir for a minute and cover with a lid. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of water and bring it to boil. Once the water boils, reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and cook for another 30 minutes until all the vegetables are soft. Switch the flame off and let the contents cool for about 15 minutes.
2. Add the contents of the stockpot to a food processor and pulse until completely smooth. Add the pureed vegetables back to the stockpot. Add the rest of the water to the puree along with the cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Heat the soup on a medium flame and bring to a boil with constant stirring. Then reduce to a gentle simmer and keep warm until ready to serve.
Note: If you prefer the soup to be thinner, then add a little more water to it and accordingly adjust the salt and pepper.

for the cilantro-peanut chutney

1. Grind all the ingredients for the chutney to get a coarse paste. The peanuts should be coarsely ground.
2. Season with salt and pepper as per taste.

serving suggestion:
Top each bowl of soup with 1 teaspoon of the cilantro-peanut chutney.

butternut squash with ginger root and noodle broth

Egg Noodles

Thank you so much for all the well-wishes and emails, the hurricane might have been bad but we were fortunate to have power and gas and were not hit as badly as some of the other areas that received the major brunt of Sandy. Tuesday was still a terribly rainy day but the winds had died down and I think some of the worst things that happened in our area, were the big tree that fell down and a couple of traffic signs that had moved or been yanked out of the ground. Things are pretty much back to normal here but it is getting cold, terribly cold. 

Butternut Squash and Noodle Broth

This soup tided me over the crazy hurricane days. It was hot and laced with tons of ginger to keep me warm and happy. Normally, I use tender lemongrass stems when I cook but I had the opportunity to use some fresh  leaves from my neighbor's garden. In this soup, the lemongrass flavor works well because it is mild while the ginger is strong and delicious. Of course try and use fresh ingredients for this soup, it will make it wonderfully aromatic. As you might have noticed, I am extremely partial to ginger, it's one of those important mainstays of my kitchen, that I always keep at home in fresh, dried, and crystallized forms. So yeah, I have one too many recipes here with a bit of ginger! I will admit that I am not a big fan of peeling and cutting pumpkins and butternut squashes. I tend to lean towards roasting these tough guys so it is easier to get the pulp from the skin. However, this particular soup required chunks of the butternut squash, so I saved some time and  tears by purchasing the pre-cut stuff from the store. Sometimes, it really is good to let others help you.

Ginger and Lemongrass

A couple of pointers when preparing this broth. Use a large stockpot or wok as you need to mix the noodles and squash in the broth, this will make it easy to toss things around and create less of a mess in the kitchen stove. I like to tie the lemongrass leaves in a tight knot and then add them to the broth when cooking. I then discard the leaves once the soup is done and the knot makes it easy to remove the entire bunch at one instance. I enjoy the complex flavors in soy, fish, and oyster sauces and I also love adding a little bit of soy sauce to the boiling water that I cook my noodles in because it gives them a nice flavor, though this is completely optional. Do not over saute the ginger or lemongrass or you will lose the aroma and flavor of these delicate ingredients. I do hope you get to enjoy this hot and gingery soup on a cold winter day! 

Soup and butternutsquash

butternut squash with ginger root and noodle broth

yields: approximately 4-6 servings

ingredients

3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2  bundles of Chinese egg noodles
2 cups peeled and chopped butternut squash
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 peeled and finely minced shallots or 1/2 cup finely minced red onion
1.5 inches peeled fresh ginger root
1 bunch fresh lemongrass leaves (this should be about 1/4 cup chopped or packed leaves)
2 chopped Thai chilies (use either green or red, both work well here)
5 cups water
2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
few fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
salt and white pepper to taste

1. In a pot bring 3 cups of water to boil. Add the salt and soy sauce to the water. Break the bundles of dry egg noodles in half and then add them to the boiling water. Cook till the noodles are almost tender. This will take about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain the water and keep the noodles aside.
2. While the noodles are cooking, take a separate wok or stockpot add the oil, and heat on a high flame. When the oil is hot, toss in the butternut squash and cook completely till the inside of the squash is tender. This should take about 14-15 minutes.
3. Remove the squash from the wok, cover and keep aside. In the same oil add the shallots/onion and cook for about 3 minutes till translucent.
4. Peel the ginger root and julienne into 1/2 inch strips. Reduce the flame to medium heat and toss in the ginger and cook for another two minutes. 
5. Add the lemon grass, chilies and cook for another minute.
6. Add the 5 cups of water, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and lemon juice to the wok and bring to a boil. Once the broth begins to boil, reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and add the cooked squash. Discard the lemongrass leaves at this stage.
7. Transfer and stir in the drained noodles to the simmering broth.
8. Season the broth with salt and pepper, according to taste. Stir in the chopped cilantro to the broth. Prior to serving, garnish the broth with a few whole cilantro leaves in individual soup bowls. Serve hot.

Hurricane Sandy in D.C.

chilled mint yogurt soup


It was pretty exciting when one of the editors at the Huffington Post asked to feature my chocolate mint cake on their website, this was a great start to the holidays! With summer in full swing, we slipped away to Fire Island in New York for a week with a couple of friends. We were super lucky to have missed most of the heat wave and the electric shortage that hit D.C. during that entire week. Fire Island is a long and narrow barrier island that is surrounded by the bay with some beautiful beaches and wildlife. Its also a fun summer party spot. Beaches on the North East have waters that are a bit too cool for my liking, so I tend to spend more time on the sand. Fire Island is very interesting, there are boardwalks that connect the entire island, except for golf carts and water taxis you won't find any gas propelled vehicles. The island is also National Park which is where some of these rules stem from. 


I am sharing some of my favorite random moments on this holiday. A life-size Superman adorned the entrance to a house on the boardwalk. You always run into deer on the island that are neutralized to humans (which does not mean you should feed or touch them), they will walk right next to you and go about their business. Its fascinating bit a bit unnerving. Since there are no lights at night, it does get pretty dark, we almost walked into a doe on the boardwalk but thankfully it was smarter and crossed over to the side and let us pass. I was secretly hoping to see some foxes but unfortunately either I missed them or they missed me. 


The house we rented was wonderful. You could see the bay and watch the sun traverse its way across the horizon. There aren't too many restaurants to eat at Fire Island, so you tend to cook a lot. The kitchen had all the basic amenities and we grilled and barbecued almost every day. I got a chance to cook some fresh scallops and shrimp and there is nothing better than fresh seafood with a glass of wine. The week passed us by so quickly and by the time we were back in D.C. we were greeted by temperatures over 106F and high humidity levels! I was still glad to be back since I began to miss Snoopy and his licks. We spent the rest of our weekend readjusting (recovery and rest) before we got back into the grind. Snoopy was exhausted from playing at his daycare and slept all weekend. It looks like everyone had a good time!


This is the perfect recipe for a hot day when you don't feel like spending too much time in the kitchen and need something soothing and light to cool you down. Though you do need to chill the soup for at least two hours. If you are running short on time, you can rest the soup bowl into a larger bowl containing crushed ice to chill it down faster. Inspired by middle eastern cuisine, this recipe uses refreshing mint in both dried and fresh forms to brighten up the flavors of the soup. Garlic adds a little bit of a kick to the soup. Sometimes, if I feel that the garlic might be too strong (especially if we plan to go out later - the dreaded garlic breath), I will tone the intensity of the garlic down by sautéing it gently with some olive oil. However, if you prefer you can use the garlic directly in the soup without cooking it.


chilled yogurt soup

yields: 4-6 servings

ingredients

1 large persian cucumber (about 1 1/2- 2 cups)
3 cups plain non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried ancho chili powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried mint 

1. Coarsely grate the cucumber, squeeze the liquid and keep aside. 
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the yogurt gently for a minute. Finely mince the garlic and sauté it gently for 20 seconds with half of the olive oil on medium-high flame in a small saucepan. Add the garlic, cucumber, fresh mint, ancho chili, and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. 
3. Chill the soup for at least two hours before serving. Garnish with the dried mint and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread.


roasted tomato soup and a cookbook giveaway


This originally began as an episode of cleaning out the refrigerator but what I found ultimately ended up as a  soup. I went a bit festive here, the soup has strong Indian and Portuguese influences. I seasoned the soup with fragrant cumin seeds that are a mainstay of many Indian dishes and a little Portuguese chorizo sausage. An avocado and a Thai chili were added to give this tomato soup add a bit of coolness and a bit of heat. If you are vegetarian, skip the sausage or try a vegan chorizo sausage. I've tried a couple of vegan brands of sausage and there are some truly delicious varieties that really do taste no different than regular meat and are sometimes even better. The nutty flavor of the roasted cumin seeds bring the flavors the tomatoes and the garlic together with the other ingredients. I like a hint of cumin with tomatoes, it does something magical to the sweetness and acidity of the tomato. The avocado cream adds a bit of freshness and lightness to the soup.


I have some exciting news, A Brown Table is finally hosting its first giveaway. Its been long overdue but I wanted to thank everyone for visiting my blog and sending me their support and well wishes. For this contest, I will be sending the winner a copy of one of my favorite books on sandwiches "The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches" by Susan Russo. Not only are the recipes fun but the photographs are absolutely delicious. The rules are simple, all you need to do is;
1.Visit my Facebook page and click the "Like" button and then share the page with a friend(s)
2.Then shoot me an email at nikarama [at]abrowntable[dot]com with your name and email, so I can contact you if you win.
This contest is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada and will end on at February 6th, 2012. The winner will be chosen randomly and I will announce the winner's name in a post soon after. Good luck to everyone!


roasted tomato soup with avocado cream


ingredients


3 lbs tomatoes 
2 links of chorizo sausage
2 cups water
1 garlic bulb
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 thai chili 
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
1 medium sized avocado
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 450F. Slice the tomatoes in half and spread them on a baking sheet. Take the garlic bulb and slice it in half and leave the skin on it. Put the garlic on the baking sheet and then drizzle one teaspoon olive oil and cumin seeds on the tomatoes and garlic. Roast the tomatoes and the garlic in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pod and transfer them along with the tomatoes into a blender. Add the chili, water and blend till completely smooth. In a stockpot, add the rest of the olive oil and heat on a medium flame. Remove the sausage meat from the casing and scramble the meat in the stockpot. Cook the sausage till it browns, then add the tomato puree, the sugar, turmeric, vinegar and bring the contents to boil. Immediately reduce the flame and let the soup reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover with a lid and cook for another 15 minutes. In the meantime, grind the avocado, 1 teaspoon of the cilantro, lemon juice to a smooth creamy paste. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the avocado cream as a dollop on top of the tomato soup in individual bowls or on the side.  


Note: As always you can adjust the consistency of the soup by adding more water and controlling the heat by using less chili and/or discarding the chili seeds.



chestnut and crab soup with arugula and feta cheese salad


How fast time flies! We're almost half way through the first week of the new year and I can't stop thinking about spring, summer and the next Christmas. It appears that at least in my case, one can never have enough of warmer temperatures and good times. You see, cold temperatures can make me a tad bit lazy! 


A roasted chestnut soup with crab meat turned out to be just the meal for this lazy lad this week. When cold, I turn to hot meals like soups and stews. Soft and sweet roasted chestnuts ground together with earthy mushrooms simmering with fresh crab meat were all that we needed for our evening supper. 


Though chestnuts are not a mainstay of Indian cuisine, this soup has few key spices that are tempered to brighten up the flavors of the soup and give it a little kick. Fragrant fennel seeds and tarragon give a fresh flavor to the soup while a hint of chili gives the soup a little heat.


I couldn't resist breaking into my stash of fresh homemade feta cheese from Shelly's goats up at the farm. Shelly packed me a batch of her fresh cheese that she makes herself along with her soaps before we came back home and I needed an excuse to break into my dairy treasures. There is a huge difference in taste between fresh and store bought feta cheese, the former being less intense but at the same time creamy and delicious.The arugula and goat cheese salad is simple and easy to make. The peppery flavors of arugula with feta and sweet cranberries make this a delicious accompaniment to the chestnut and crab soup.



chestnut and crab soup


ingredients


1/2 cup crab meat
1 cup chestnuts, roasted and shelled
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced (I used button mushrooms)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
4 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups of water
1 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste


Coarsely chop the chestnuts and add them to a food processor with the mushrooms with 2 cups of water. Pulse till almost smooth. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel and chili flakes. Heat a stockpot on a medium flame and warm up the oil. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or till you smell the garlic infuse in the oil, which should be quick. Add the fennel and chili to the hot oil, followed by the ground chestnuts and mushrooms. Stir in the the rest of the water, stock , lemon juice and tarragon. Add more water if necessary to adjust the thickness. Bring the contents of the pot to bubble and then reduce to a gentle summer with continuous stirring. Stir in the crab meat and let the soup simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot with toasted bread.


arugula and feta cheese salad


ingredients


4 cups packed arugula
1/4 cup sweetened craisins 
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon spicy wholegrain mustard
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper


In a bowl, whisk the oil, mustard and lemon juice. Keep this aside. Mix the arugula leaves and cranberries in a mixing bowl with the dressing. Sprinkle the feta cheese on the salad. Refrigerate  the salad for 10 minutes before serving.



Note: Roasting chestnuts is easy in your oven. Wipe the chestnuts clean with a damp cloth and using a paring knife make a cross cut at the tip of each chestnut. Immediately, splash the chestnuts with water and place them on a baking sheet or pan and add  roast them in an oven at 425F. This takes about 30-40 minutes. The nuts will expand along with the crosses on the shell. Place a warm chestnut between the folds of a towel and peel the shell off.