Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posting again! Squash soup
Funny how one can get out of the habit. But a 3+ month hiatus deserved some attention. Perhaps a little daydreaming.
Daydreaming is where a lot of my cooking ideas come from. What's in the fridge? What's in the freezer? What have I had lately? What have I read about? What have I been wanting to play with for awhile? Then, slowly the ideas start to form.
Squash. I saw the cubed squash in the freezer the other day. What the heck was I going to do with that? I love roasted squash, but I was afraid that defrosted squash would lose it's structural integrity, and just turn to mush. Turn to mush, eh? How 'bout if I just go with that idea? If it's going to turn to mush anyway, just mush it some more. And I get to use my immersion blender -- bonus!
Cilantro. There was cilantro in the crisper, leftover from over a week ago. But hanging in there pretty well in an open plastic bag with a paper towel. (Note to self -- that's a good way to keep cilantro.) But it's not going to keep forever, so what can I make that uses a LOT of it? I could see putting a good fistful of cilantro into a squash soup.
Peas. A sad bag of peas in the freezer, constantly passed over. Wouldn't those green peas look nice floating in a sea of orange?
Onions. Of course. And garlic. I almost went with part of the bag of leeks in the freezer, but didn't feel like dealing with defrosting those too and figuring out how to use them. Onions and garlic, sauteed in olive oil.
Flavoring. I originally thought of a cumin-coriander theme, but then when I actually got down to the cooking, saw some Ras el Hannout in a tower of spices Shira brought for us from Sofra. "North African spice blend. Use on chicken, meat and bean or vegetable stew." Squash soup seemed like it was in the genre. And there was a knuckle of ginger shriveling up in the fridge, needing to be used or tossed. Perhaps I can salvage a bit.
And tamarind. I sent Margie a recipe today for eggplant stew with tamarind. I have a jar of tamarind paste in the fridge that I rarely if ever use. Tamarind will be a project one of these days. Tamarind is in the fridge because of the interpreter of food desires. Whenever I'd ask him what's in this dish, it was a pretty good bet he'd say "tamarind" at some point. The sour notes of tamarind would work well with the North African Spice and the ginger.
And a pinch of cayenne, just to make things interesting.
Brightening. Lemon. Always good to brighten things up a bit. And Beverly had just told me the correct way to use my new lemon squeezer.
This all seemed like enough to go on. Probably not enough for a meal on its own, but with some crackers and cheese and salami, it would do well for an after-workout meal, with enough left over as a first course. So...
3 cups cubed winter squash
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp Ras el Hannout
4 cups boiling water
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 cup cilantro leaves, reserving some for garnish
2 tsp olive oil
1 pinch cayenne (or to taste)
1 tsp salt
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add the ras el hannout and toast in the oil, onion, garlic. Add squash, and saute for 10-15 minutes, until barely tender. Add the water. Add the cilantro leaves. When the squash is tender, use an immersion blender to puree (or, put into a blender, in batches, not filling up more than 1/3 of the way to avoid hot stuff splattering all over you).
Add the peas. Then start tasting to see what you've got. Add salt. Taste. Add the tamarind. Taste. Add lemon juice. Taste. Add cayenne. Taste. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Serve with cilantro leaves on top for garnish.
While tasting along the way, I was concerned that this was going to be a flop. Adding salt helped, but it was pretty flat. The tamarind was a wild card -- I was afraid to use too much. And I probably added a little too much lemon -- I just got carried away with the lemon squeezer. Go a little easier next time. But the bitter notes of the extra cilantro floating on top did a lot to counteract the sour of the lemon, and the sweet pop of the peas helped balance things out as well. So all in all, I think I got the flavor balance about right.
Things to vary -- lots of ideas. Go the cumin-coriander route. More ginger. Lots more. That was my original idea, but the poor shriveled ginger knuckle I was working with gave me as much as it could, and no more. More cayenne if you like things hot. Add a dollop of yogurt. Add some cream. Or coconut milk.