Is A Creamy Vegan Soup Possible? – Vegan Corn Chowder

July 30, 2011 § 10 Comments

I love making soups. They are usually super easy to put together and you rarely need to follow a recipe. Soups are perfect too for using the last bits of leftover vegetables in the fridge. I’m not sure why, but I’ve really been on a corn kick latley. I’ve wanted to put it in everything: salads, tacos, everything, and I’ve been thinking of this chowder for a while. This chowder is inspired by a shrimp and corn chowder I make a lot and learned from my mom. I love how silky and rich it is – it’s perfectly comforting – but calls for all sorts of non-vegan ingredients like cream and seafood so I figured I wouldn’t get to have it anytime soon. But, I figured out a way!

Doesn’t that chowder look all creamy and silky? You’re thinking surely there is at least a touch of cream in there – nope, not a drop! What’s the secret to that rich creamy base? Roasted cauliflower! And what’s best about this soup – not only does it not have any cream – but it doesn’t leave you with that heavy feeling a traditional chowder does.

As I said the beauty of this soup and any soup really is that there are no rules. If you don’t have one of these ingredients handy or want to switch it up, go for it. Experiment and see what it gives you. Soups are very forgiving – it’s really hard to mess them up. The key is seasoning. That’s really the only way to mess up a soup.

As I said the secret to this creamy delicious soup is the roasted cauliflower. You could do this the day before to speed up this easy weeknight dinner. Roast with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper at 425 until tender and the cauliflower has a little color.

This chowder starts with the traditional onion, celery, carrot base. Saute the onions until translucent in some olive oil then add the celery and carrots. I happened to have shredded carrots in my fridge which worked great here. Since you end up blending everything together it doesn’t matter. I love adding peppers to all my soups – and really just about anything. Sometimes I’ll do a duo of red and yellow but for this soup I just used a red pepper. If you wanted a little heat you could definitely add some jalapeno but I’d wait until later in the cooking. Then add the diced potatoes, roasted cauliflower, and season with a little salt and pepper.

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Next add the stock. To keep it vegan, I used vegetable stock but if you’re not eating vegan you could use chicken stock which will give it great flavor. I actually only had one 32 oz. package of stock which I knew wasn’t enough to cover all the ingredients. I was a little nervous to add another 32 oz. of water but it still had fantastic flavor. I threw in a bay leaf and generous amount of salt and pepper to season.

While the soup simmers, prep the corn. Set the cut corn aside. You simmer the soup just long enough to ensure the potatoes are fully cooked through. Once the potatoes are cooked, the soup is ready for blending. I used an immersion blender which is so easy and takes just minutes to blend this into that beautiful creamy base. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can easily use a regular blender. Now, before blending you want to remove the bay leaf like the pros always caution. But don’t worry, if you don’t, I learned it blends nicely. I forgot to remove it and didn’t even notice.

Once the soup is blended smooth, add the cut corn and let it heat through for a few minutes. Taste test and season with more salt and pepper as needed. I promise you’ll be licking the bowl clean!

Update: See my posts on five tips for reducing dairy intake and 10 tips for a 30-day vegan challenge.

Vegan Corn Chowder
Serves about 8 bowls

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 4 carrots (can use shredded as I did)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 6 small potatoes (red or new)
  • 2 32-oz. cartons vegetable stock
  • 4 ears corn
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cut up head of cauliflower into small florets. Coat well with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 until tender.
  2. Dice onion, celery, carrots, and red pepper. Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat and saute onions until translucent. Add celery and carrots and saute a few minutes, then add the pepper. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  3. Dice the potatoes and add to the mixture. Add enough stock to cover the vegetables. Add the bay leaf and season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. While the potatoes cook through, cut and prep the corn. Once the potatoes are cooked through, remove the bay leaf and then blend the soup until smooth. Add the corn to the blended soup. Taste for final seasonings.
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The Ever-Elusive Chicken Noodle Soup

December 28, 2010 § 6 Comments

I think the day I master the Chicken Noodle Soup I will have “made it” in my culinary exploration. It’s a dish I make often but can’t quite seem to perfect. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for new variations. I learned to love this soup from my mom creating it many times and it was used to cure many colds and disappointments throughout the years. She’s known to make a complex version that takes hours of simmering and involves hand-made egg noodles.

My husband wasn’t feeling well today so I decided to make a chicken noodle soup for him for tonight’s dinner. Recently we were at a local Cuban restaurant, Numero Uno, where I ordered a bowl of their version. As expected, it was comforting and delicious and had a strong golden yellow color, likely from saffron. I searched for a recipe that I thought would be close to this one and to my surprise, finding one was quite challenging. I even searched in Spanish “Sopa de Pollo” and didn’t find one that caught my eye. After reading a few it appeared the common theme was boiling the chicken with green pepper, onion, tomato paste, and saffron. I had never thought of tomato paste in this soup; however, recently a Cuban friend of mine told me how to make Cuban Chicken which called for tomato paste so I assumed it would be ok.

I filled the pot about half way with water (a little too much as it turned out because drops kept trickling out from under the lid) and brought to a boil. To the water I added a chopped up chicken, 2 tablespoons chicken granules, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, 3/4 large chopped onion, 1/2 large green pepper, pinch of saffron, 4 garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. I debated on adding salt and pepper at this stage with the chicken granules and decided to hold until the end. I reduced the heat to medium and let it simmer away.

After an hour and a half I strained the mixture and reserved the clean broth – it was darker than the chicken soups I’ve made in the past, due to the tomato paste, but I was still confident. I added chopped potatoes and carrots and let them cook while I shredded the chicken and before the very end added some noodles. After a quick taste test I added some salt and pepper – it was still a bit off but I figured surely with all the other ingredients together it would be great.

In the end I served the shredded chicken in the bowl, added the broth with veggies and noodles, topped with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime. My poor husband by this point was ravished and eager to eat. I served it proudly – sure this would be delicious and he was very impressed with the look of the soup. I sat down to reap the benefits of my 2 hours of labor, and there it was –  the taste of disappointment when you don’t know what went wrong. It had many layers of flavor, but lacked something that I still cannot put my finger on.

So, the hunt continues for the perfect bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup. If you know of a great recipe – would you please share?

Update: See my attempt at making home-made chicken broth

Pasta Worthy of a Cafe in Italy – Fresh Pasta with Tomatoes and Garlic

December 27, 2010 § 5 Comments

I have only been to Italy once and it was to the very small coastal city Trieste – a beautiful little port city with wonderful people. It was five plus years ago but I can still remember the extreme pleasure I felt sitting in an outdoor cafe, enjoying a very simple bowl of home-made pasta and of course, a glass of the lovely table wine. I’ve wanted a pasta roller for some time now so that I could create my very own delicate strips of carb goodness. I think I only mentioned this once or twice before Christmas, not even on purpose, but my wonderful husband figured it out and I was delighted to find it under the tree at Christmas. One of my best friends is home for the Christmas holiday and I wanted to invite her and her husband over to see our new home. I wasn’t sure what to serve and decided, it was a good a time as any to give the brand new pasta roller a shot.

I looked online for some “hand-made pasta” recipes but was actually having a hard time finding any – they all were in grams and I don’t have a scale. Luckily, my friend happened to attend a culinary class in none other than Italy so she guided me through the process and it was quite easy. We decided on a 2:1 ratio of flour to egg with a dash of water. First fill the bowl with flour, make a well in the middle, add the egg(s), and mix the center first slowly making the circle larger to incorporate the surrounding flour. Add water or flour as needed – the dough will eventually stop sticking and that’s the right consistency. We kneaded the dough a bit, divided up into manageable pieces, and rolled out.

I have to admit, the pasta roller was a little daunting at first. It has two parts – the roller and the cutter. First you roll the doll through several times, tightening the space between the rollers until you reach the desired width. My pasta roller has settings from 0-9, 9 being the smallest width. For this round, we stopped on 4 which produced a pretty hearty pasta. I enjoyed it but also want to try the higher settings for a more delicate texture. After you get the dough to the desired width, you can roll through cutters for either fettuccini or spaghetti. I thought once cooked the pasta wouldn’t grow too much since it was fresh but it actually did grow quite a bit.

My friend showed me how to make a delicious sauce she learned to prepare in Italy. We sautéed about 4 cloves of sliced garlic in some extra virgin olive oil to which we added grape tomatoes which had been cut in half. To season, we added some salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and a few dashes of Italian seasoning since I didn’t have any fresh basil on hand. We tossed the pasta in and let it absorb the delicious sauce. To serve, we topped with shaved parmesan. That was it! Simple and delicious.

It wasn’t as fast as throwing in a box of pasta, but it was a lot of fun and made a great memory. I look forward to creating many more delicious home-made pastas.

Update: See how I made a delicious home-made pasta with shrimp and truffle butter

A Christmas Feast

December 26, 2010 § 4 Comments

This was my third Christmas with my husband and our second year ever hosting a holiday meal. We hosted Christmas Eve dinner the first year we were married in 2008. Last year, Christmas just wasn’t the same as my mom was in Kansas City taking care of her very ill father who since passed away. Thus, hosting Christmas Eve this year with my mom back home and my grandma now living here was very special to me. To make it even more special, my husband and I have been in our very first house just two months so this was our first Christmas here.

My mom always prepares a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, sweet potatoes, etc. so I really wanted to find unique recipes to try.  I knew I wanted to incorporate this Sweet Potato Ravioli my friend’s mom had made years ago that I still remembered. The protein is usually difficult for me at times like this – since I don’t like much other than chicken there aren’t that many options. I perused the usual Epicurious and Food Network for inspiration as well as flipping through probably 10 cookbooks. In the end I decided to try a Cornish hen recipe with cranberry and thyme sauce that looked different and festive. I love cornish hens and my mom has made them for me since I was younger so I was excited to try this recipe. It probably wasn’t the brightest idea to do my shopping the day of Christmas Eve, but that’s what I ended up doing. Luckily, I didn’t have any problems with finding everything for my menu with the exception of the cornish hens. Alas, there were none and as tempting as it was to go on a city-wide search, I opted for a traditional fryer chicken and asked the butcher to cut in half as the recipe called for the cornish hen. In the end, I landed on the following festive menu:

We started our evening with the Sweet Potato Ravioli with Brown Butter and they were a huge success! Using the wonton wrappers the recipe calls for is so simple and much easier than making your own pasta sheets on such a time crunched day. The filling was very basic, just mashed sweet potato with a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg – but coupled with the delicate wonton wrapping and rich brown butter sauce it was divine. I actually ran out of balsamic vinegar so I was only able to add a splash but I didn’t miss anything. I definitely want to try these again and see what they taste like topped with just a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper for a lighter version. For a holiday though – this was decadent and everyone enjoyed them. I did have some leftover and thought perhaps I could freeze them to make at later date – this didn’t work for me though. I’m not too big on freezing things but when I make empanadas, I freeze them in a single layer on plates and then put them in a plastic bag once they are frozen so they don’t freeze to each other. I thought I could do this with these ravioli but the delicate wontons froze to the plate and when I tried to pull off they all broke apart. Next time I’ll just make less as two ravioli per person were plenty as a nice appetizer.

The other favorite of the night were the brussel sprouts and green beans. Green beans are one of my favorite foods but I actually hate brussel sprouts. I bought them at the market though because everyone else in my family loves them. I started looking for recipes and saw many with bacon that I thought would work nice. I cooked the bacon until crisp and removed with a slotted spoon. To the bacon grease I sauteed several chopped shallots, one chopped onion, and a few minced garlic cloves. After a few minutes I added the brussel sprouts (cut in half to cook quicker) and green beans (I had blanched these earlier to speed up the cooking process), some chicken stock, and let that simmer for about 20 minutes. In the haste of cooking everything I forgot to add salt and pepper but these veggies were so good they didn’t even need it! As I said, I don’t eat brussel sprouts but I tried these and they were fantastic. I really enjoyed them and look forward to making them like this again.

As for the rest of the meal – the chicken turned out pretty nicely. It obviously needed to cook substantially longer than the hens would have needed but it still worked out fine. I didn’t follow the sauce to the “T” but used the recipe as a guideline. I only added a very small bit of flour and the sauce actually thickened very nicely. As it turned out, I guess I don’t care of acorn squash. I’d bought them because they looked so interesting at the market, but turned out I don’t care for their texture. (Surprised me as I’m a butternut squash fan). Everyone else enjoyed it though.

Now for the best part – or so I’d hoped – dessert! I love a rich chocolate cake so this recipe sounded amazing – Orange Scented Bittersweet Chocolate Cake. I’d made the cake the evening before and with each ingredient I added, my confidence rose. However, as I made the batter it continued to grow and I couldn’t imagine how it would all fit in the cake pan. It fit “perfectly” though – almost to the top which I now realize I should have just poured half the mixture. The batter was absolutely delicious – I couldn’t stop licking the bowl! I had high hopes for my chocolate cake. At the end of its cooking time though the center was still completely wet and it needed to have “moist crumbs” so I continued cooking it. Another 15 minutes in the oven and it still had not cooked all the way in the center but I hated to risk overcooking it. In the end, it was a dense chocolate cake and a bit overdone. Although everyone assured me it was quite tasty, I was disappointed with the texture. Oh well, I’ll try another chocolate cake recipe sometime – or I’ll just make the batter again and lick the bowl because it was so good 🙂

After my cake looked like it might not be a success I decided to make the pumpkin flan – I’d made it a few times before and it was a hit so I figured it would be a good backup. This recipe is really easy and quick to make.

In the end, it was a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner – a happy first in our new home with hopefully many more wonderful Christmas Dinners (and cooking experiments) to come!

 

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