BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Play it Cool

One of life’s great ironies is that summer brings in the widest selection of the most tempting produce, but also oppressive heat that makes it a less than appealing proposition to turn on the stove or oven to cook with it. To get the most bang for your vegetative buck, chilled soups are the way to go. Little prep work yields lots of flavor and something that can be enjoyed even as the mercury pushes 100. Though easily the most recognizable cold starter on the block, there’s so much more to the category than the classic gazpacho.

That’s where my creamy cucumber concoction comes in. Featuring my favorite vegetable of all time, the saying “cool as a cucumber” has withstood the test of time, and truly makes this soup the best food for impossibly hot afternoons or evenings. Ideal for both parties or solo servings, it takes almost no effort to whip up, and will keep in the fridge for at least three days, gaining a more complex and harmoniously melded flavor in time. The balance between creamy, soothing yogurt and the sharp punch of horseradish makes each bowlful much more exciting than the pale appearance might let on. Taking inspiration form tzadziki, a generous handful of fresh dill lends a garden-fresh flavor that brightens the whole dish.

For a satisfying, no-cook summer soup, think beyond gazpacho- Save the tomatoes for garnish this time around.

Cucumber-Yogurt Soup

3 Pounds Cucumbers (About 4 Medium Cucumbers)
1/4 Cup Shelled Hemp Seeds
1 Clove Garlic
2 Cups Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Prepared Horseradish
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Chives
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Dill
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Medium Tomatoes, Seeded and Diced

Peel and slice the cucumbers in half, removing watery seeds if necessary. Finely dice 1 cucumber, and set aside. Chop the remaining cukes into medium-sized chunks, and toss them into your blender, along with hemp, garlic, “yogurt,” vinegar, olive oil, salt (starting with the lesser amount), horseradish, and pepper. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. If using a low-powered blender, be patient and give it plenty of time to break down the seeds, straining if necessary. Add in the chopped herbs, and slowly begin to blend again. Incorporate the stock slowly while the motor runs, until it reaches your desired consistency.* Give it a taste, adding more salt if needed.

Stir in the reserved diced cucumber by hand, in addition to the seeded and diced tomatoes. Serve immediately or chill for up to three days. For best flavor, chill for at least three hours before enjoying. Stir in additional stock after chilling if needed, as it does tend to thicken as it sits.

*You could also keep it very thick, omitting the stock, to serve it as a dip.

Makes 6 – 7 Cups Soup

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White as Springtime Snow

White gazpacho has been something of an enigma to me ever since I first learned of its existence. Thick, rich, and creamy, it seemed the absolute antithesis of the light but bold, veggie-packed tomato gazpacho I already knew and loved. Both are chilled soups, but the similarities ended there. Like the differences between spring and summer, it can sometimes be difficult to discern where one ends and the other begins, but it’s as clear as night and day when viewed from a distance.

Deceptively light and refreshing, the paler version of this old school soup is far richer and more satisfying than such a simple preparation would lead you to believe. Perfectly suited to warm, muggy days, but still hearty enough to hold an overwintered appetite in check, it’s the best thing for days betwixt and between two (or three) seasons. I could hardly do such a classic, straightforward recipe as written though- Especially not when the short-lived white asparagus beckoned from nearby grocery shelves. Rather than using stale bread or green grapes to make up the bulk of the base, I opted to feature the subtle vegetal flavor of these precious blonde stalks. Standard green asparagus could make a fine substitute in terms of flavor, but naturally, you’d end up with a green gazpacho instead.

For added flair, freshly plucked violets or other edible flowers are completely optional, but instantly liven up the otherwise monochromatic color palate with style.

White Asparagus Gazpacho

1 Pound White Asparagus, Ends Trimmed
1/2 Cup Sliced or Slivered Almonds
1 Small Shallot, Diced
2 Cloves Roasted Garlic
1 Medium Cucumber, Peeled and Chopped (Seeded if Necessary), Divided (Reserve 1/4 Cup for Garnish)
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper
1/4 Cup Avocado Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 – 1 1/2 Cups Vegetable Stock

Truffle Oil, to Garnish (Optional)
Additional Slivered Almonds, to Garnish

Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil. Dunk in the prepared asparagus very briefly, for about 1 – 2 minutes, in order to blanch. Drain and immediately immerse the stalks in an ice-water bath to cool them down as quickly as possible and arrest the cooking process. Drain once more and roughly chop before tossing the pieces into your blender. Puree the asparagus along with all of the other ingredients, except for the oil, water, and garnishes. Once smooth, slowly drizzle in the oil while the machine continues to run, to emulsify the mixture. Repeat this process with stock, adding enough until it reaches your desired viscosity. Note that if you make this soup in advance and store it in the fridge, you will likely need to thin it out further after it sits. Serve immediately or chill for a more refreshing, ice-cold soup, and top portions with the reserved chopped cucumber, additional almonds, and truffle oil, if desired.

Serves 4 – 6

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Winter Warmer

Not yet winter, you say? I dare you to repeat that after this last week in stormy New England. Losing power for 2 1/2 days in the sub-freezing temperatures would have been bad enough, but the cherry on top of this snow sundae was sliding on the ice and crashing my car into a telephone pole. Minimal at worst, the air bags didn’t even deploy, and yet the damage somehow totals upwards of $4,000. Completely incomprehensible to this car-illiterate new driver.

The point is, it’s never too early for some comforting winter dishes that can warm you up from the inside, especially when it’s damn near apocalyptic outside. I may have lacked the resources to make this particular soup in my moment of greatest need, but the craving for a bubbling cauldron of savory stew reminded me of this previously unpublished recipe.


Please excuse the dark, mediocre photo… It’s almost a year old and I haven’t had a chance to shoot a new one!

Inspired by saag paneer, and Indian dish with gently stewed spinach and cubes of soft cheese, this vegan version utilizes kale, the leafy green of the moment, and achieves a silkier texture through the use of pureed potato. A stunning one-bowl meal, complete with greens and protein, not to mention a crave-worthy spicy flavor profile, my hesitation to share it stemmed from impatience. Factoring in the time it takes to press the tofu, bake the tofu, and simmer the soup, it’s not one to make on the fly.

However, thanks to the new tofu innovation from Nasoya, their latest vacuum-packed Sprouted Tofu cuts the prep time in half. Packaged and sold already pressed, the firm, dense texture is perfect for this application, as well as any other dish that calls for pressed tofu. Thanks to this simple improvement, I can see many repeat performances for my green monster of a soup coming up in these colder months!

Kale Saag Soup

Tofu Paneer:

1 16-Ounce Package Vacuum-Sealed Sprouted Tofu, or Extra-Firm Tofu, Pressed for 1 Hour
1/4 Cup Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Zest and Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Kale Saag Soup:

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
2 Small Yellow Onions or 1 Large, Chopped (About 1 Cup)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
2 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
3 Cups Water or Vegetable Stock
1 Medium Potato, Peeled and Chopped (About 1 Cup)
1 Bunch Kale, Stemmed and Chopped
1 Cup Coconut Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste

Fresh Parsley or Cilantro for Garnish

First things first, preheat your oven to 350 degrees so that you can get the tofu “paneer” going. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes, and toss them into an 8-inch baking dish along with the remaining ingredients. Mix well to coat the tofu, and then arrange the cubes in one even layer, so they’re not overlapping (touching is fine.) Bake for 45 minutes until just barely golden around the edges. I don’t recommend tasting them plain; on their own, the “paneer” Will taste fairly sour and salty, but can balance out the soup (or most other dishes you want to throw them into) beautifully.

Meanwhile, get the soup going by melting the coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the chopped onions, and saute until softened and translucent; about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and garlic, continuing to cook until the onions take on a tinge of golden-brown color, which could be around 5 – 8 more minutes. Throw in all the spices next, and saute with the other aromatics for just a minute or two to bring out the flavors, but be careful not to burn anything.

Pour in the water or stock, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly to loosen and incorporate anything sticking. Follow that with the potato, and cover the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a lively simmer. Let bubble away for about 15 minutes, until the potato pieces are fork-tender. Mix in the chopped kale a little bit at a time so that it can wilt down and fit properly in the pot. Cover once more, and simmer for a final 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add in the coconut milk. Either transfer the soup to your blender in batches to puree, or hit it with an immersion blender, until very smooth. Add salt to taste.

Ladle your smooth kale saag soup into bowls, and top with cubes of tofu paneer and the chopped fresh herbs of choice. Serve piping hot.

Serves 4 – 6

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It’s What’s Pho Dinner

Would a noodle soup by any other name be less soul-soothing? Pho may be a relative newcomer to the American melting pot, but a craving for those distinctive flavors paired with slippery rice noodles has quickly taken hold of the nation’s appetite. Redolent of exotic spices with a certain savory richness ever-present in the background, it’s traditionally meat that brings the umami element to the party, but vegan alternatives abound. The largest stumbling block for recreating this unfamiliar flavor profile in my own kitchen was one simple spice: Anise. A lovely, licorice-like, naturally sweet warmth, by no means is it a despised ingredient in my eyes, but I can’t help but approach it with great hesitation. A powerful component of any dish, it can quickly overwhelm, even when added with the lightest hand. No matter how I tried to trust the plentiful online recipes, I couldn’t bring myself to attempt them faithfully.

For the pho-fearing, there is at last an easy, approachable answer. Pacific Natural Foods, purveyor of a whole world of soups and stocks, has just unveiled their new Vegetarian Pho Soup Base, a blank canvas for your very own Vietnamese noodle soup masterpiece. Built upon a foundation of mushroom broth, it has savory flavor to spare, with comforting, familiar undertones capable of supporting any combination of toppings and hearty additions.

What really makes most servings of pho, however, is the myriad condiments that you choose to complete your bowl. Aside from noodles and tofu, chilies, hot sauce, lime juice, beansprouts, mint, basil, cilantro, green onions, and/or shallots are all fair game, depending only on a matter of taste. Taking a more sparing route to better taste the broth in question, there was nothing to obstruct the unique seasoning of this surprising soup. Immediately struck by the clear anise essence, at first, it was just as I had feared. Within a few worrisome moments however, it transformed into something entirely new to my palate, a highly nuanced and complex amalgamation of both sweet and hot spices. Not for the timid, it was somewhat sharp upon my initial slurp, but still nothing to dive into a bucket of non-dairy milk over. Impressively fearless for a commercially available packaged offering, regardless of authenticity, I was thrilled to get such a bright, bold kick right from the first spoonful.

Forget about that plain Jane “chicken” noodle next time you’re craving comfort; Pho delivers all that heart-warming familiarity, plus an exciting bouquet of delicate but highly flavorful Vietnamese seasoning all in the same bowl.


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Back to Reality, and Tomato Soup

After a long weekend at Vida Vegan, with nothing but the best catering options and free-flowing coconut milk beverage all day long, supportive and smiling faces everywhere you look, and let’s not forget the communal nooch bowl, the transition back into the real world would have been challenging in the best of circumstances. That was a given for everyone who participated in this shared dream of a blogger meetup. What I wasn’t prepared for was the rough landing back at home, and I don’t mean on the airplane. Pitch black, shockingly frigid for a late August day, a vacant house with no electricity sat waiting where I remember leaving my welcoming, loving home. A shell of what it should have been, fallen trees had cut the mainline; the patient had long bled out and died on the spot. We could only pick up the pieces now.

All the reports indicated that Irene was largely over-hyped, there was little serious damage, and so why should I have expected anything else? No one was hurt, no windows broken, and only minor flooding to be found, but the real devastation remained silently waiting in the kitchen- more precisely, the fridge.

Working up my courage, and with one deep breath, I yanked open the fridge door as fast as possible, like tearing off a stubbornly adhered bandage. Puddles of water accumulated on the floor in seconds, and immediately a rancid odor polluted the air. Spoiled. Rotted. Beyond saving. Anything perishable, had clearly passed on long ago.

Notable exceptions were found, after sifting through the wreckage. Glorious heirloom tomatoes stuffed hastily in the fruit bin remained blemish-free, and a few heartier veg also miraculously survived. With a few solid pantry staples and a trusty gas stove, my mission was clear: electricity or no, there was soup to be made.

Generous spices amped up this ordinary offering, lending a warmth that higher temperatures couldn’t deliver alone. Ordinary, unremarkable, but so incredibly comforting when the very ground itself seems to be shifting underfoot. Moroccan seasonings were the inspiration, but only in a very loose interpretation did they emerge in the final dish. Measurements for those spices are approximate, so taste frequently as the soup bubbles along.

Such a small effort served us all well; I had a big bowlful right then and there, and later on in the day, my mom dished it up as a sauce over pasta.

Thankfully, the power did finally go on yesterday afternoon, and normalcy is slowly returning to the everyday routine. I’m still mourning the loss of no less than eight homemade ice creams, but if that’s the worst of it, I’d say we got off pretty easy on this natural disaster.

Spicy Tomato and Chickpea Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Stalk Celery, Finely Diced
3 Large Tomatoes, About 3 Cups Diced
1 1/2 Cups Water or Vegetable Stock
1 2.8-Ounce Tube Sun-Dried Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce or Tamari
1 15-Ounce Can Chickpeas, Drained
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crumbled
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Basil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Standard soup procedure here: Heat the oil in a medium-sized stock pot, and add in the onions and garlic first. Saute for about 5 minutes, until softened and translucent, and add in the chopped celery and tomatoes. Cook for 5 more minutes before adding in the water or stock. Stir in the tomato paste, soy sauce, chickpeas, and all of the spices and herbs until thoroughly combined. Allow the mixture to simmer away, melding the flavors and concentrating the tomato-y goodness, for 45 – 60 minutes. It’s perfectly edible once merely heated through, but given enough time to mature, the flavor improves noticeably. Finish with enough salt and pepper to satisfy your own personal preference.

Serves 2 – 4

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Soup Kitchen

Left alone and given half a chance, my daily personal menu could easily be reduced to little more than soups and stews. Quite frankly, it’s incredibly that there’s any savory food that makes it onto this blog besides those more liquid edibles, for as much as I make and eat them! Perhaps its the fact that they often defy recipes, one of their most attractive features in the first place, that my love for soup isn’t properly documented. Experience has shown that whatever you’ve got lying around in the fridge, waiting to be used up, is what tastes best in soup. Truly! The more desperate it is to be used, the smaller the scraps that can find no other culinary destination, they are what you should put in you soup right this moment. Besides, how many people need to be told how to put a mirepoix, some beans, and a handful of spices into a big pot with plenty of water? Even the most inexperienced and reluctant cooks can figure that procedure out, no recipe required. It feels silly to spell it out, and yet, there are some creations that beg to be recorded and shared.

An unlikely combination even in my eyes, I didn’t expect that leftover can of coconut milk to embrace the green, vegetal flavor of asparagus nearly so harmoniously. Brightened with zippy bites of lemon, ginger, and pepper, it’s a departure from my standard soup spicing, and just the breath of fresh air I so deeply needed in my soup routine. Although it may still be fairly basic, I’ve conquered my resistance to sharing what seems simple; A recipe needn’t be complicated to be worth talking about.

Asparagus and Coconut Soup

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Medium Leeks, Sliced Lengthwise, Chopped, and Thoroughly Cleaned*
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
12 – 16 Ounces Trimmed Fresh Asparagus, Roughly Chopped (About 1 Bunch)
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
4 Ounces Spinach or Other Leafy Greens (Such as Kale, Collards, etc)
1 Cup Coconut Milk (Full Fat, Don’t Skimp!)
Zest of 1 Lemon
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

1/4 Cup Finely Fresh Chives and Chive Blossoms, or Scallions
Avocado Oil or Extra-Virgin Olive Oil for Garnish (Optional)

*Typically, I slit my leeks down the center and then shake them out under cold water until clean, but these were particularly dirty. Thus, I fully sliced them and placed them in a colander with fairly large holes. Tossing them around in the colander under cold water, more of the inner leek was exposed, and I could wash away the excess dirt more easily. Whatever you do, be thorough! These unsuspecting alliums can hold on to a ton of grit, and that will not make for the most pleasant soup.

Pour the oil into the bottom of a medium soup pot and set it over moderate heat on the stove. Once the oil is hot, add in the leeks and ginger, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the leeks are soft and the ginger is aromatic. Sprinkle in the salt, followed by the asparagus and stock. Bring the brothy soup to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it’s at a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and let cook until the asparagus is tender and bright green; about 8 – 10 minutes. Add the spinach or other greens, and continue to cook just until wilted, only 2 – 4 minutes more should do it.

Turn off the heat and finally incorporate the coconut milk, lemon zest, and pepper. Working in batches if necessary, transfer soup to your blender and thoroughly puree until smooth completely. Alternately, hit it with an immersion blender while still in the pot. You can either serve the soup right away while still hot, or chill it for at least two hours for a more refreshing blend. Top individual bowls with chives, chive blossoms, and a tiny drizzle of oil, if desired.

Serves 2 – 4

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