Vegetarian French Onion Soup

One of the greatest joys of Paris, in my limited experience, is to enjoy a meal at a table on the sidewalk just outside one of the many temples of gastronomy scattered throughout that great city. On my first visit to Paris, we took a train from the airport, changed to Metro, then walked a few blocks to a tiny (and cheap) hotel, where we checked in. Embarrassingly, I had placed a reservation beginning the day before, forgetting that our plane arrived a day later than it departed. “We expected you yesterday, Monsieur…,” said the haughty clerk. A pair of Parisian eyes rolled to the ceiling. Mildly annoyed and amused at the idiotic American, he gave us our key and gestured at the toy elevator. Filling the deathtrap with our small bags and ourselves, we took our first (and only; the stairs seemed more sensible from then on) trip upstairs in the carpeted coffin. We dropped our bags in the comically small room and headed out into the streets.

It was around noon, it was November, and the sky was gray and low. I was tired, hungry, and somewhat disappointed, but the streets were crooked and narrow, and the chilly wind seemed to guide us to the river. After a mile or two of wandering, it appeared, brown and turbulent, confined by concrete walls. We crossed a small bridge and found a small bistro with tables outside. They were empty. We ducked inside the old wooden door, and in my crappy French, I asked if we could eat outside. “Bien sur que oui, Monsieur,” said the waiter, and he picked up a couple of menus and followed us out to a round table where we sat, still in our big wool overcoats. I ordered un ciquante of vin Bourgogne and some water, the waiter nodded and went back inside, and we applied ourselves to the menu. The waiter returned with the wine and water, we ordered, and, shivering, he disappeared again. The wine was unbelievably good, rich and fruity and wet. The waiter returned with a plate of paté de campagne, accompanied by a pile of the tiniest, sourest cornichons; a big plate of greens covered with foie gras, duck legs confit, and gizzards; a basket of baguette chunks that, for me, forever defined the concept of French bread: crispy, chewy, fluffy, full of holes, and barely salty; and a bowl of ridiculously fragrant onion soup, topped with a huge beret of molten cheese. I thanked the waiter, he smiled, and he returned to the comfort inside. It was still cold, still gray, still windy. I was still tired. But as I ate that meal, I had an epiphany. I was home again. For the first time.

Traditional French onion soup is normally made with long-simmered beef stock, and it is that rich stock that defines the authentic recipe. However….if you ever wanted to enjoy something very close to the original, but wanted a vegetarian version….well, here it is. It is, of course, still important that the stock be rich. I’m still perfecting my own vegetarian stock recipe, and one day I’ll put on HA, but until then, you’re on your own.

Vegetarian French Onion Soup
makes about 3 quarts

3 tablespoons olive oil
6 pounds yellow onions, peeled & sliced thin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 cups white wine
2 quarts rich vegetable stock

In a large French oven, heat the olive oil over low heat and add onions, salt, & sugar. Stir, uncovered, every 5 minutes until they are, as Julia would say, “the color of walnuts.” A nice light brown. The time required depends on just how low you set the heat and how big your French oven is. For me, it takes about 2-3 hours. I keep the heat high enough that there’s just barely a sizzle, but not high enough to brown too quickly.  Don’t burn it.

Add the wine & stock and simmer, uncovered for another hour. Taste for salt and serve.

Although you can certainly serve the soup plain, it’s obviously much better if you do the whole French thing. Preheat oven to 425º, ladle soup into oven-proof bowls, top with toasted bread (hearty French or multigrain is best), slices of Gruyere, and finely grated Parmagiano Reggiano. Place in upper middle of preheated oven on cookie sheet; remove when cheese is nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes.

 

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Kimchi

Kimchi is, quite definitely, a bit challenging for the novice taster. Although the flavor is a wonderful explosion of sour & sweet & salty carried by a succulent crunchy bite, the aroma is enough to clear the room. A Korean favorite for centuries (there were once over 60 varieties of kimchi), it is a mixture of cabbage and/or root vegetables fermented with flavorings and enjoyed as a side dish. I find it a perfect foil for a cold, hoppy beer. Traditionally, one form of kimchi was buried in the ground in a ceramic pot for weeks before being dug up and consumed. Now that the 21st century has arrived, of course, you can keep your hands clean by using this $1149 electronic kimchi maker. Somewhere in between is the following recipe that allows you to practice the magic of kimchi on your own kitchen counter. I’ve been tinkering with it for a couple of years now, and I think the results rival much of the commercially made kimchi I’ve tried. For you culinary history buffs, here’s a little kimchi background.

Kimchi
makes about 2 quarts

1 large head Napa cabbage, quartered, cored, & leaves chopped into 2- to 3-inch pieces
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 thumbs of ginger, peeled & minced
1 ripe D’anjou pear, peeled, cored & chopped
2 teaspoons nước mắm (Vietnamese fish sauce)
1/2 cup Korean coarse red pepper powder

Dissolve salt in 2 cups water.  Don’t worry if the salt doesn’t completely dissolve; just keep stirring until most of it is dissolved.  Pour water (and any undissolved salt) over cabbage in large bowl.  Toss to combine well.  Let sit at room temperature for 3 hours, tossing every 30 minutes.  Cabbage bulk will deplete by about half.

Drain cabbage in large colander and rinse well.  Rinse large bowl and dry.  Squeeze water from cabbage in double handfuls, then place back in large bowl.  Add all remaining ingredients and toss to combine.  This works best if you use your hands, but NB if you have any cuts on your hands/fingers, they WILL sting.  Use latex gloves if you’re a wuss.

Compress cabbage mixture into two 1-quart plastic takeout containers (like these) with one or two tiny holes poked in tops.  Store at room temperature for one week, shaking once a day.  Refrigerate for a day, then enjoy.  Keeps, well, for a long time, I think, but I’ve never been able to stop eating it long enough to really test that.  It does get a little more pungent with age.  And by pungent, I mean quite stinky.   Yummmm.

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Brussels Sprouts Salad

I first started making this recipe a couple of years ago, after having it for dinner at the home of my kitchen idols, Shelby & SJ.  They served it as a first course, as I recall, with little comment.  I was, to say the least, blown away.  Raw Brussels sprouts?  Who would eat that????  Obviously I still had (have) a lot to learn about fine dining.  Granted, this is not a dish for vegetable haters.  In fact, its audience is probably quite select.  I mean, Brussels sprouts sure must sit high atop the list of hated vegetables, even for people who eat and enjoy most vegetables.   If, however,  you enjoy Brussels sprouts, and you are still reading this, you must add this dish to your repertoire immediately.  It is a perfect starter for a multi-course winter meal, but it would also make a perfect side for a rich, braised meat.  Pair it with a potato salad and ceviche, and you have a wonderful midsummer’s brunch.  Go crazy.  I keep leftovers in the fridge & dive in whenever I crave something less healthy.

BTW, if you haven’t yet noticed the strange “LYTRO” tag in the lower right corner of the photos, do so.  It’s a “living photo.”  Click on different areas in the photo, and you should be able to change the focus.  Fun, hunh?

Brussels Sprouts Salad
 serves 6 as a side dish or first course

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, quartered & sliced thin longitudinally
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (the best you have in the house)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 cups pecans, toasted & chopped
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

In medium bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with lemon juice, then with olive oil, then with cheese, then with pecans, then with salt.  Refrigerate, covered, for one hour, then allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Taste for salt and serve with freshly ground black pepper.

 

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Sour Cherry Crumble

If there are sour cherries at the farmers markets, it must be midsummer, and if you love cherries, you owe it to yourself to pick up a couple of quarts and make something yummy. A pie is an obvious vehicle for these little red beauties, but if you’re not in the mood to fool around with rolling out pastry dough, why not try a crumble? It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s oh-so-tasty.  A lot of cherry recipes include spices or vanilla or almond extract, but I thought I’d try something different.  The Cognac adds a little hint of flavor, but it’s very subtle, allowing each bite to burst with cherry flavor, and the cornmeal and buckwheat make the crust just interesting enough to challenge the cherries.

Sour Cherry Crumble

2 quarts fresh sour cherries, pitted
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons Cognac

1 cup oats
1/2 cup white flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup melted butter

Combine cherries, white sugar, cornstarch, & Cognac; mix well and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Combine remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Add butter and blend with wooden spoon until crumbly. Pour cherries in 13″ X 9″ baking pan and cover with oat topping. Bake in 375º oven until topping is nicely brown (about 45 minutes).

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Maryland Crab & Corn Soup


Here’s my annual farewell-to-summer recipe. The end of the fresh corn and the last few beautiful tomatoes join with a pile of juicy crab to make this gorgeous bowl of soupy goodness. If you really want to boost the Maryland-ness of the soup, you can add more Old Bay. Sad as the end of summer is, the bright side is, of course, the arrival of autumn: apples, slow-braised hunks of meat, crazy squash shapes, and hot, crusty loaves of kitchen-baked bread.

Maryland Crab & Corn Soup
makes about a gallon and half (freezes nicely)

1/4 cup butter
1/4 pound shallots, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 quart beef stock
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, diced
6 ears’ worth of kernels from fresh corn
1 pound crab meat
1 baking potato, washed & diced
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups skim milk
1 tablespoon Herbsaint

In large stockpot, sauté shallots & pepper in butter until softened. Add remaining ingredients and heat gradually to a slow simmer (don’t boil). Simmer until potatoes are done, taste for salt, and serve.

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Grilled Wahoo with Green Remoulade


Wahoo, also known in Hawaii as Ono, is a fantastic fish for grilling, with its rich, flaky, super-succulent meat. It’s found all over the world, in warm water, and is generally not susceptible to overfishing because it doesn’t swim in tight schools and is usually caught only via hook & line. This also tends to make it a scarce offering at most seafood markets, but ask around & you may get lucky. Remoulade is a family of sauces originating in France, but appropriated and amended by culinary cultures everywhere. My version for this recipe borrows a bit from the New Orleans tradition, but I think I can safely say you’ve never had anything quite like it. Green and tart and creamy and piquant, it is a dashing accompaniment to the grilled wahoo.

Grilled Wahoo with Green Remoulade
serves 2

1/3 cup (firmly packed) flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup green onion, chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded, pithed & chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled & chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons creole mustard
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 half-pound wahoo steaks

Purée all ingredients in blender or small food processor (this one works great); should make about 3/4 cup of sauce. Marinate wahoo in half of sauce for 1 hour & reserve other half for plate. Grill wahoo over high indirect heat until just done, about 10 minutes, turning once. (Painting the grill with a bunch of oil-soaked paper towels will aide in the turning). Pour remaining sauce on two plates and turn plates to distribute sauce to your liking; add wahoo & serve.

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Grilled Garlic Scapes


More of an idea than a recipe, here’s another one for all of you garlic lovers out there. A scape is the green stalk that rises from a garlic bulb. Although they’re usually cut to avoid depleting the bulb of its mass, if scapes are allowed to grow unmolested, they will become long, curling tendrils before eventually straightening out and producing a flower. This flower matures to create garlic bulbils, featured in my last post, Lamb Shanks Braised With Garlic Bulbils. Scapes are tasty when raw, but even more so when grilled; their tender texture and mild, sweet flavor suggest a cross between asparagus and Chinese long beans. Serve them as a nice side for grilled meat or fish, or as part of a grilled vegetable platter. Scapes can be hard to find, but they keep for 2 weeks or longer in the fridge, so if you see them for sale, snap them up, even if you’re not going to use them immediately.

Grilled Garlic Scapes

olive oil
garlic scapes
salt

Rub olive oil into scapes until well-coated, then grill over hot fire until tender & slightly browned. season with a little salt.

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Lamb Shanks Braised With Garlic Bulbils


No, that’s not a typo. Bulbil: “In botany, tiny secondary bulb that forms in the angle between a leaf and stem or in place of flowers on certain plants. Bulbils, called offsets when full-sized, fall or are removed and planted to produce new plants. They are especially common among such plants as onions and lilies.” The definition is from Encyclopædia Britannica. The actual articles are from Russian Red garlic plants, proudly sold to me by a farmer at the Del Ray Farmers’ Market in Alexandria, Virginia. This recipe is a more conventional version of my pressure cooker lamb shanks recipe, and one perfectly suited for those of my readers who have yet to pick up their very own pressure cooker. Rich, fragrant lamb, cooked low and slow in a gentle bath of wine, stock, rosemary, and the aforementioned garlic bulbils, this dish is a wonderful way to experience the alchemical properties of braising. The wild characteristics of inexpensive cuts of meat (tough muscle, chewy sinew, and rubbery cartilage) are tamed over the low fire of a braising and presented to the willing diner as an elegant, delicious, and meltingly tender treasure. [And don't worry if you don't have a ready supplier of bulbils; an equal number of garlic cloves will suffice.]

Lamb Shanks Braised With Garlic Bulbils
serves 2

2 lamb shanks
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoon flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup veal or chicken stock
1 cup diced tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
8 garlic bulbil heads, large husk removed, but unseparated (unpeeled garlic cloves may be used instead)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

Salt and pepper shanks, then dredge well in flour. In French oven, heat olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking. Add shanks and brown well on all sides, about 10 minutes. Stir in onions and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, scraping bottom of pot to release fond, cover, and bring to boil. Reduce fire to low and simmer very, very slowly, for two hours, turning shanks once or twice. Uncover, increase fire and simmer quickly, until sauce reduces a bit, about 30 minutes. Serve with some good bread, a lemon-scented salad, and a nice Amarone.

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Chocolate Cherry Clafoutis


Fresh sour cherries are not something you can usually find at your local grocery store. They are delicate, spoil easily, and do not suffer long truck rides well. Their season, a maddeningly brief interlude at midsummer, is, however, the occasion for many a farmers’ market zealot’s bright-eyed happy dance. In the DC metro area, each farmers’ market may have only one or two vendors selling them, and the harvest is usually just enough for a lucky (early) few to score enough for a pie or two. I try to make one cherry pie every summer, using Martha Stewart’s excellent recipe, and this year’s was especially good. I found some more cherries this past weekend, and decided to try something a little different. Clafoutis is a French dessert, a crustless fruit custard in which cherries are often added, unpitted, so some claim, because of the richer flavor imbued by the pits. Though that seems to me somewhat unlikely, the pits of sour cherries are quite small, and easy enough to eat around, so I leave them in. I suspect that without them the clafoutis will taste quite similar, but the resultant collapse of the spherical structure of cherries may make the appearance less dramatic. Most cherry clafoutis are flavored with almonds and lemon, but I think chocolate makes a wonderful addition.

Chocolate Cherry Clafoutis

1 pound fresh sour cherries
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cocoa

Toss cherries in 2 tablespoons sugar & cornstarch. Place in buttered deep-dish pie pan. Whisk eggs, milk, & vanilla, then whisk in butter & remaining sugar. Separately, whisk flour & cocoa, then whisk into egg mixture until well combined. Pour over cherries. Bake 1 hour at 325º. Serve room temperature or chilled.

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American Carbonara


Spaghetti Carbonara, the famous Italian pasta dish, has a somewhat murky origin (here’s a little discussion, as a well as a more traditional recipe), but one thing is certain: When it came to America, some of the versions ended up a bit heavy. Cream, I believe, is the culprit, and though some genuine Italian recipes do include cream, I think that creamless Carbonara is the way to go. Pancetta, the traditional meat in the dish, can be hard for some Americans to find, so bacon is commonly used; the smokiness of bacon turns off some purists, but I think it’s perfect to represent the Yankee spirit in this Old World dinner. Use the best eggs you can find, and fancy applewood-smoked bacon is always a nice treat.  I prefer boxed pasta in this recipe for its tooth, and linguine’s extra heft seems to suit the sauce more than spaghetti. It’s simple, easy to make, and surprisingly light.  Eggs and bacon for dinner?  Yes, please! ["And don't forget Thanksgiving," says CT]

American Carbonara
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 eggs
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound dried pasta

In a medium nonstick skillet, sauté bacon & red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium flame until bacon is barely crisp. While bacon is cooking, bring salted water to boil in a large stock pot. Cook pasta according to al dente; drain, then return to stock pot and stir in bacon, accumulated oil, and parsley. Whisk eggs & Parmesan in medium bowl, then stir into pasta. Serve in warmed bowls.

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