November 28, 2010

holiday detox part 2: leek and greens soup

Let me begin by saying that I like to get my holiday on. I go for it. It's not too likely that you'll overhear me at the dinner table saying 'hold the stuffing' or any such thing. I listen to what my body needs, and on the last Thursday of November, it needs (er, okay, we could debate need vs want here, I suppose) herbed apple and chestnut stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, bourbon pumpkin custard, and apple galette. With whipped cream, of course. And a glass of wine (or two). All in good fun.

That said, after the festivities I aim to regain my equilibrium as quickly as possible. So, the day after any meal that involves the leaden trinity of bready stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pastry crust, you'll probably find me in the kitchen chopping and simmering my way to a post-holiday recovery soup chocked with greens, ginger, and garlic. After all, 80% of the immune system resides in the mucosal lining of the gut (aka gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT), and when we keep all those T and B cells happy the whole system functions more efficiently.

A few years ago I read French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano. The part I remember best is her description of the Magical Leek Soup Weekend. Once a season or so, French ladies in-the-know whip up a big pot of leek soup and spend an entire weekend consuming nothing else  -  drinking its broth during the day and eating the solids for dinner. Relaxation and gentle stretching and homemade facials are also involved, if I recall correctly. Sounds rejuvenating, no?

Thus far I have not been able to conjure up enough discipline to do an entire Magical Leek Soup Weekend. But thanks to Mireille I will forever associate leeks with detoxification and cleansing -- which probably explains why yesterday, after a generous lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers, I was magnetically attracted to the lovely, fat leeks on display at the market. In no time, a steaming pot of leek and greens soup was simmering on the stove, and I was sipping a lemon ginger brew (which I have just declared Holiday Detox Part 1) and feeling better already.

Flavorful yet light on the palate and on the stomach, the soup gets a nice hit of heat from ginger, garlic, and red chili, the ultimate cleansing trio. Coriander and fennel seeds have a cooling effect on the body and help soothe the digestive tract (and also make a lovely digestive tea, 1/2 teaspoon of each steeped for 20 minutes in 8 ounces of boiling water).  Collards and broccolini provide ample amounts of chlorophyll and fiber, and the soup is given an extra mineral boost from kombu (also an excellent detoxifier). I added shiitake mushrooms too, for their wonderful earthiness and immune-enhancing abilities. Built upon a foundation of the aforementioned leeks, carrot, and fennel, this soup is exactly what my body craves after holiday indulgences.

To avoid becoming overly virtuous, alongside today's lunchtime soup I nibbled on a wedge of nutty, crusty rye levain bread topped with a tangy, crumbly raw-milk cheese called Jean-Louis from NJ-based Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse. The folks at Bobolink are creating some phenomenal artisan breads and cheeses -- if you live in the NY/NJ area definitely check them out at the greenmarket, or visit the farm for a tour!

leek and greens soup
I used collards and broccolini as the green elements in the soup, but any greens will do -- try kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, or any other favorites. The soup is tasty on the day it's made, but like most things simmered in a pot it's even better after a night's rest in the fridge.

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek
1 or 2 sprigs fresh parsley
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 fennel bulb, diced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 to 1 dried red chili (depending on your heat preference)
3 or 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and thinly sliced (save the liquid)
small piece of kombu (dried kelp), about 2 inches square
3 cups thinly sliced collard greens (about 5 leaves)
1 small bunch of broccolini, chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 Tbsp)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut off the tough green leek tops and rinse them well. Place parsley sprigs inside the leek leaves, roll up, and secure with twine, creating a bouquet garni.
2. Slice white part of leek lengthwise, then cut into 1/4-inch half-moons. Submerge in cold water to remove any grit, and drain.
3. Add olive oil to a large soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks, carrot, fennel, and a pinch of salt, and cook until vegetables begin to soften, 5 to 8 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, coriander and fennel seeds, and crushed black peppercorns, and stir for another minute or two.
4. Add the bouquet garni, red chili, shiitake mushrooms and their soaking liquid, and kombu to the pot. Pour in enough water to cover the vegetables (4 to 5 cups). Toss in a big pinch of salt.
5. Cover pot and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and broth is flavorful. Add the collards and broccolini and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni, stir in lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

November 26, 2010

lemon ginger cure-all

Happy Day After Thanksgiving!

We're officially in the midst of the holiday season; does anyone else feel like her head is in a vise?

It seems like yesterday my feet were sinking into warm sand...

But now snow drifts and boots are right around the corner. Brrr!

So it's time for a lemon ginger cure-all. Alkalizing, digestion-balancing, immune-boosting. Magical stuff.

Sore throat? Upset tummy? Headache? Lemon ginger cure-all. Cranky? Stressed? Tired? Lemon ginger cure-all. 

About to have a meltdown? General grogginess from holiday overindulgence? A sneaking suspicion that your relatives were trying to poison you at that awkward family dinner? Lemon ginger cure-all. 

A pattern is beginning to emerge.

Whenever I begin feeling under the weather I crave a steaming cup of this spicy, tangy, bracing brew. And regardless of the ailment, it always does the trick. Recently it occurred to me that this could be even more effective as a preventative tonic, taken on a daily basis. So I've been drinking a cup first thing every morning, before coffee. My parents tell me that both of my Italian grandfathers (one Sicilian, the other Neapolitan) drank hot lemon water every morning. Worked for them. 

So, boil some water and fill up your favorite mug. Add freshly squeezed lemon and ginger juice to taste. (I like the brew to be quite potent, so for 8 ounces of water I use the juice of 1/2 lemon and the juice squeezed from roughly 1 tablespoon of grated ginger.)

(One of my favorite kitchen gadgets - a porcelain ginger grater. Far superior to a microplane or regular grater to break down the rhizome's fibers and release its potent juices.)

You can also add a pinch of ground turmeric (helps support the liver and therefore perfect for recovery from holiday overindulgence), cayenne (its capsaicin reduces pain and inflammation, especially soothing for a sore throat), or any of your favorite spices. Stir in a drizzle of raw honey or maple syrup if you prefer a sweeter brew. 

Sit. Sip. Relax. Make an extra cup for that cranky holiday-hater in your life. We will all be feeling better soon. 

November 12, 2010

autumn travels and a kabocha & quinoa salad

It's fall! My favorite season! Yay! Wow, that was a lot of exclamation points.

But aren't you in love with autumn too? The chill that drifts in, not cold, exactly, but just cool enough to have an excuse to pull the cute hats and scarves (and my new favorite, fingerless gloves) out from the far reaches of the closet. The scritch-scratch of red and gold leaves rustling along the streets and sidewalks. Pumpkin patches. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Good stuff.

The Yogi (previously known as Meat and Potatoes Man) and I took a late-October road trip up to Newport, Rhode Island, where we spotted this gang of pumpkins on a church lawn.

And saw this spooky decoration on the gate of a shop on Thames Street (I know, it's a little late to be posting Halloween-related stuff. But humor me.)

We stayed at the cozy and uber-professionally run Marshall Slocum Inn. Well situated to explore much of the town on foot, the inn has nicely appointed and spotless rooms, and a friendly and low-key innkeeper, with previous experience at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, who makes a tasty breakfast. (This is in no way a paid advertisement - merely a friendly endorsement! Just saying.)

The weather was all over the place that week: torrential rain for our arrival, then a warm day that saw the coast shrouded in fog and our faces coated with a layer of mist.

Then the wind kicked up and blew the fog away, bringing in cooler temperatures and blue skies for our last day. Ah, fall in New England. It was good to see the ocean again before winter arrives.

Okay, back to food! After a summer of gorging on juicy heirloom tomatoes, fresh corn, pattypan squash, berries, and peaches, I'm ready for - welcoming, actually - a return to the comfort foods of the cooler months. Time for apple baking, root vegetable roasting, all-day simmering of soups, stews, and braises. The start of this period of grounding, turning inward, slowing down (when we can - these days so many of us neglect this traditional element of the winter months). In all, a much-needed contrast to the expansive and outwardly directed energies of spring and summer.

Lately my fruit and vegetable basket has turned appropriately fall-like, with a concentration on apples and winter squash in particular. Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, is my current favorite squash variety (and is pictured at the top of this post). With its dense, creamy, sweet flesh, and tender, edible skin, the kabocha is a ringer in the cold-weather kitchen. Great pureed into a soup, baked and mashed with butter, or simply steamed and drizzled with an Asian-inspired combination of shoyu, mirin, lemon juice, garlic, and ginger. Kabocha pie, anyone? I'm thinking it might be a nice addition to the Thanksgiving line-up this year.

And how about roasted kabocha in an autumn-inspired warm quinoa salad, tossed with cubes of crisp apple, savory baked tofu, and pumpkin seeds, and kicked up a notch with freshly crushed cumin and coriander seeds, minced green chili, and slivers of scallion? It's yummy. I threw this together one morning to bring to work for lunch. Quick to prepare (little more than 15 minutes if you've roasted the squash in advance) and with a satisfying complexity of flavors and textures in each bite - spicy, savory, sweet, creamy, tender, crisp -- this makes a tasty one-bowl meal or side dish.

(please excuse the fuzzy picture - taken with my mobile in my office, right before I gobbled it up.)

roasted kabocha, apple, and quinoa salad
Unless you use an especially small squash, you will probably end up with more roasted kabocha than you'll need for this dish. Save the rest for a soup, mashing with butter and cinnamon, or just random snacking (I am all about random snacking. Just ask the Yogi). If you can't find kabocha squash near you, substitute delicata (also has an edible skin) or butternut (better off peeling this variety, as the skin tends to be tough).

1 kabocha squash, seeds removed, cut into bite-sized cubes
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 Tbsp)
juice of 1 small lime (about 2 tsp)
1/2 fresh green chili, minced (such as jalapeno, serrano, or green cayenne) (about 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 apple, diced (about 1 cup)
1 small slab of baked tofu, cubed (about 1/3 cup)
2 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
2 Tbsp pepitas (raw, green pumpkin seeds), toasted
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.

2. Place kabocha cubes on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt and black pepper, and toss to combine. Arrange the squash chunks in a single layer. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender and starting to caramelize, stirring halfway through.

3. Add the quinoa to a medium pot with 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until quinoa is tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon and lime juices, green chili, cumin and coriander, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the quinoa, 2 cups of the squash, apple, baked tofu, and scallions to the bowl and toss to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve warm or at room temperature.