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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spring Garlic Potato Soup

I have to admit that this is the first season I have cooked with spring garlic. And, while I'm at it, I also have to admit that the first time I saw spring garlic at the farmers market I mistook them for spring onions. But now I know better and I know how fun they can be to cook with. Now that I know, I am passing along one of my favorite ways to prepare them.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I love soups. I find them comforting and, when prepared well, can pack a ton of flavor in every bite. I usually prepare chilled soups when the weather is crazy hot, as it has been in NYC lately, but last night I had this hot soup on the menu so we closed the windows, cranked the A.C. and just went for it. Served alongside multigrain bread and a fresh, herbed olive oil dip, and a crisp white wine and it was just right.

If you haven't seen spring garlic at any markets near you, you can substitute leeks or spring onions. But I really feel that my spring repetoir has been greatly enhanced with this fun little crop. Spring garlic, which also goes by green garlic, is a fresh, young garlic bulb and stalk. It can be used almost anywhere you would use leek, onion, or well, garlic, which is why I had the idea to use it in place of leek in the old favorite, Potato Leek soup.

There is one thing I do want to point out regarding the preparation of this dish. If your spring garlic is a little more on the mature side, it may be beginning to develop the skin around the individual cloves, which can texturally be a little "woodsy" and unpleasant. While doing a little research on this ingredient, I read a curious review that was written in response to another online spring garlic recipe. The reviewer said that he and his wife felt like there were fish bones in their food. I thought that seemed like quite an unusual thing to say but, before when I tasted the pre-strained soup this time around, I totally got it. So, unless your spring garlic is especially young and tender, don't skip the step of straining the pureed soup through a chinois or fine sieve. It just takes a couple of minutes and may make the difference between a memorably delicious soup, and one where people are asking you what kind of fish you put in it.

But I shouldn't finish on that note. Definitely don't let that extra step deter you from cooking with this ingredient; the rich, mildly sweet flavor it imparts in this soup is so worth it.

Spring Garlic & Potato Soup

2-3 spring garlic bulbs (with stalks still attached)
2 Tbs. butter
1/2 c. dry white wine
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 lb. yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2. cream
squeeze fresh lemon juice
chives or scallions, minced (for garnish)

Slice the spring garlic bulbs and light green part of the stalk thinly (discarding the green leaf ends). Heat butter over medium-low heat in a heavy bottomed pot. Add sliced garlic and saute until it is softened and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Raise heat and deglaze the pot with white wine. Cook over high heat until wine is evaporated. Add stock and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are very tender.

Remove the bay leaf and puree in blender (since it is hot, be sure to puree in batches!). Pass the pureed soup through a fine sieve or chinois into a separate pot and keep warm over low heat.

Stir in the cream and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with minced chives or scallions and a crusty whole grain bread.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Quinoa with Fresh Peas, Cucumber, Mint & Feta

Five years ago, quinoa was relatively unknown outside of health food stores and the Andean region of South America. Today it is available in virtually every supermarket, and for good reason. Due to its balanced set of essential amino acids, is an unusually complete protein source, especially among plant species. It is a wonderful food choice for vegetarians or people like me who are trying to cut back on their animal product consumption. And this little grain does not lack in the flavor department either. It has a mild, nutty taste and, when seasoned well, is downright delicious. I have recently been substituting quinoa for pasta and rice in many of my favorite dishes, but my favorite way to prepare quinoa is in a salad. During the colder months, I toss it with nuts, dried fruit and hardy herbed vinaigrettes (such as my Quinoa Salad with Apples, Cranberries & Rosemary Vinaigrette), but during these oh-so-glorious spring months, I replace hardier ingredients with fresh, sweet, and of course seasonal, ingredients.

The credit for this particular combination of ingredients goes to my mom, Cheryl. She called me last week and told me "you are going to love this salad I just made". So of course I made it two nights later, and (not surprisingly, since my mom has great culinary taste) it was lovely. The sweetness of the fresh peas, the saltiness of the feta, the crunch of the cucumber and the brightness of the fresh mint paired just perfectly together. Dressed with a bit of fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and enjoyed with a glass of dry rose and your have yourself a fabulous springtime meal.

Since quinoa is a complete protein this salad really doesn't need anything else, but if you are feeling indulgent, top with this with a few seared wild shrimp or scallops. Or, since it is served at room temperature and can be prepared ahead of time, it would be a great side dish to bring it with you this weekend to a Memorial Day barbeque. Make way, pasta salad!

Quinoa with Fresh Peas, Cucumber, Mint & Feta

serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

1 c. quinoa
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 c. fresh peas, shelled
1/2 of a large cucumber, diced
2/3 c. fresh feta
1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Rinse the quinoa well to remove the waxy coating (saponin). Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add quinoa and toast for about 1 minute, stirring to make sure all the grains are coated in oil. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 13 minutes.

After the quinoa has cooked, fluff with a fork and transfer to a sheet pan to cool.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, cook peas for about 30 to 60 seconds, and then drain and set aside. I know it seems like far too little time, but they cook quickly and there is nothing appealing about a mushy pea (outside of a British pub, that is).

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Toss the quinoa in the dressing and then gently fold in the peas, diced cucumber, mint and feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.