Holidays Delayed

Feeling festive, or just faking it? If you fall into the latter camp, you’re not alone. I’ve been keeping a seat warm for you by the fire here, just waiting for until the holidays blow over. As much as I adore the merriment, the traditions, the seasonal treats, it’s hard to remain so jolly when it’s Christmas approximately six months of the year.

Beyond the standard Christmas creep, publishing deadlines mean I need to think about pecan pies and pinwheel cookies in June, at least. I’ve already had at least two Thanksgiving dinners before fireworks go out for the 4th of July. When it’s finally December, at long last, the best I can do is plaster on an ugly sweater and retreat for burgers after everyone else gets their second plates of glazed ham roast and gravy.

I love the holidays. I relish those early photo shoots and brainstorming sessions, garnishing my apartment with tinsel remnants after putting away all the other props. I just need a little palate cleanser, okay?

Before we dive head-first into the all-singing, all-dancing days of holly jolly revelry, let’s just take a breather. Clear the table of all the wrappings and bows, set aside menus for feast soon to come. Schedules are packed with events, work still needs some cursory attention, but I promise, there will be time. Right now, let’s just sit down to a bowl of soup, shall we?

It’s the kind of soup that hits the spot anytime, which makes it just so perfect for this moment. Hearty but not heavy, savory and soothing, it can lift the spirit for scrooges and saints alike. Tender, toothsome black lentils pop like caviar amidst a brothy base of simmered vegetables, tinted red with tomato and smoky paprika.

Whole almonds make an unexpected cameo, slightly softened from the heat, still bearing a resounding crunch at the core. It’s an unconventional addition I first (and only) encountered during my stint baking for a cafe, where the soup of the day was largely open to creative interpretation. I don’t know who first whipped up this idea, or if maybe it was an accident in the first place, but I happen to love the surprising combination of textures and tastes.

Don’t let the holiday season bully you into forced gaiety. One thing I’ve learned from years of crushing FOMO and endless deadlines is that if you take a moment to hit the reset button, start in on something completely different, and allow your mind to wander where it desires, ultimately, you’ll come back to the intended path stronger. Happier. Merrier. And in this case, with a full, and fully contented stomach.

Continue reading “Holidays Delayed”

Advertisements

General Admission

I hope this isn’t like debunking the myth of Santa Claus for ruining Christmas for some sad child, but I have bad news to break, and it’s about General Tso. Oh, no, he was a real person! It’s completely true that General Tso, otherwise known as Tso Tsung-t’ang, was a 19th-century general of the late Qing dynasty. Living on through epic tales of his prowess, crushing revolts, capturing rebels, and cultivating one of the most fearsome army forces in the world, his heroic might knew no equal. Lesser known are his efforts towards civil peace and stability through educated, prosperous citizens.

A complicated, stone-faced man, much remains unknown about the storied general, but one thing is for sure: General Tso had nothing to do with any sort of dish involving deep-fried chicken tossed in a tart-tangy-spicy-sweet brown sauce with broccoli. The eponymous leader never tasted the dish that keeps his name as part of the modern lexicon across the globe. For all we know, he didn’t even like broccoli – Because who’s really going to tell a war lord to eat his vegetables.

Sorry. The truth hurts.

Born in the good old US of A, General Tso’s chicken first appeared in the 1970, given the breath of the wok by a Taiwanese chef specializing in Hunan cuisine, no less. He was just a fan, a real history buff, I suppose, and also an excellent recipe developer. Riffs on this original formula proliferated faster than rabbits, coast to coast, introducing many American’s to their first taste of “Chinese” food.

So, my real point is this: Does knowing that an overweight bearded man won’t come slithering down the chimney at night to force coal into your stockings actually take the joy out of Christmas? Does learning that your favorite takeout might not be 100% “authentic” whatever that means, make it any less delicious?

Not a chance! Now, pass the plum sauce and wonton chips, please.

My take on General Tso’s is a departure from the typical composition. Replacing syrupy garlic sauce with a lighter, brighter soup broth spiked with vinegar and chilies, the results are richly invigorating well beyond greasy takeout. Crisp baked tofu perches at attention atop a coil of buckwheat noodles, tender and toothsome all at once.

One of two new vegan, gluten-free offerings from the JSL Foods line of Fortune Asian noodles, a package of Soba Buckwheat with Shoyu Flavor is the foundation of this unshakable recipe revamp. These new noodles can be found at Albertsons, Von’s, Lucky’s, Safeway, Carr’s, Dierbergs Markets and Cub Foods. Answering the call for their Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge, this fiery, bold, and somewhat sassy little beauty is my proud submission.

I’ve been burned out on contests lately, but I think that my General Tso, revived and injected with new life for more contemporary tastes, can take the heat. Go ahead and fight me for the title! Check out more inspiration from JSL Foods via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Continue reading “General Admission”

Sip and Slurp Through Summer

Chill out. Strawberries might sound like an unconventional addition to the classic red tomato gazpacho, but they’re nothing to lose your cool over.

Given a surplus of the highly perishable rubies and an oppressive heatwave to contend with, my tastes quickly skewed toward the fast, easy, and refreshing side. Gazpacho must always be on hand for days like this; it was a natural, perhaps inevitable combination.

Balancing sweetness with savory undertones, the subtle bite of vinegar, and fresh verdant pop of basil, it’s a delicious study in contrasts. Don’t let the fruity feature scare you off! It’s not a vegetable-forward smoothie, but you may still want to drink it straight from the blender.

Continue reading “Sip and Slurp Through Summer”

Purple Prose

Setting the table for Passover with the good China, the candle sticks from generations past, the weathered old Haggadot that still bear politically incorrect gender pronouns, the trappings of the holiday are almost as ancient as the occasion itself. The millennia-old story of attaining freedom in the face of impossible odds resonates in a renewed tenor, filtered through more contemporary events. It begs the question, why not update the script for a modern audience?

Honoring tradition while revitalizing the predictable Passover Seder with a colorful new twist, I’m throwing a splash of purple onto the table with an unconventional first course. Deviating from the original offerings of lamb shanks and eggs on the Seder plate to begin with, as roasted beets and avocados are perfectly acceptable alternative symbols, it’s not a far stretch to consider more diversity on the menu itself, too.

I wouldn’t dare suggest replacing the irreproachable matzo ball soup. Perish the thought! Rather, I think there’s room at the table for another dumpling darling. “Kneidlach” is generally accepted as merely another word for the unleavened flatbread staple, yet it carries none of the weighty connotations. These doppelgangers might be made of potatoes or even almonds, and most scandalously, there might not be any matzo in the mix at all. Such is the case with my purple potato dumplings, making them suitable for gluten-free diners as well.

Delicious well beyond the scope of Passover festivities, their heftier chew is more reminiscent of gnocchi than fluffy matzo balls, which means they’re prime candidates for side dish servings as well. Boil as directed and then saute briefly in a bit of vegan butter and onions for a real savory treat. The hint of herbaceous fresh dill is like a kiss of spring sunshine, paired with the very subtle sweetness of the purple potatoes. You could also use regular orange-flesh sweet potatoes in a pinch, to create a more golden glow.

Continue reading “Purple Prose”

Pho-Nomenal

Robust, deeply savory broth spiked with equally bold and nuanced spices are the defining characteristics of any successful bowl of pho. Rice noodles are an essential component, soaking in those carefully honed, painstakingly crafted layers of flavor, but never the stars of the show. It all comes down to the soup itself, sometimes simmered for hours, if not days, built upon generations of family secrets.

Celebrated across Vietnam and now the world at large, that same passion for the process sometimes gets lost in translation, especially when searching for a vegan option. Pho Chay, born of Buddhist traditions that take all forms of meat off the dinner table, is all too often a sad, watered-down tease. Plain vegetable broth is not an adequate substitution for this edible art, but if you don’t know any better, how can one possibly get the delicate seasoning right?

With as many recipes as there are cooks that make it, happily, there are no hard and fast rules for building a better broth. That’s why even a blatantly “inauthentic” rendition can still soothe those soulful soup cravings.

Inspired by the uniquely aromatic blend of cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom found in Stash Chai Spice Black Tea, Pho Chai is both a crafty play on words and a delicious departure from the norm. The blend of strong Assam, muscatel Darjeeling, and well-balanced Nilgiri found in every sachet add surprising umami flavor along with unexpected sweet Indian spices. Energetic notes of cardamom and ginger brighten this bowl, harmonizing beautifully with the fresh spray of herbs piled on top. Perhaps the concept is dubious on paper, but unquestionably compelling on the tongue.

You’ll want to stock up on this warm, spicy tea for more than just soup. Head over to StashTea.com and use the promo code BITTERSWEET-SC to get discount off your purchase, and don’t forget to follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for both sweet and savory tea inspiration.

Continue reading “Pho-Nomenal”

Souped Up

Tracking watery footprints all through the kitchen, there was no use pretending to be tidy. Saturated socks dripped with every step, more absorbent than the sponge idle in the sink. Washing away drought warnings, the rainy season has come to drown the bay area once again. Punishing storms drop gallons of water in an instant, drenching everything unfortunate enough to be outside at that inopportune moment. Of course, this is inevitably the time I would chose to venture out, certain that only light drizzle would fill the skies. Wrong, wrong again.

Cold, wet, clammy, and seeking comfort, I won’t even bother removing my jacket before banging a stock pot onto the stove. Soup is the only thing that can make the situation better; the simpler, the better. French onion is at the top of the list, rich and soothing, without any challenging preparation to contend with on a day that’s already difficult to endure.

In an Ayurvedic twist inspired by sweet golden milk, Golden Onion Soup glows with gilded turmeric and ginger-laced broth. Creamy coconut milk swirls throughout, lending body to this soulful bowlful, ensuring a satisfying experience down to the last spoonful.

So bring on the rain, I say! With a bare handful of pantry staples and a bit of restorative time in the kitchen, we can weather this storm. Just make sure you have an extra pair of dry socks at the ready.

Yield: Makes 6 - 8 Servings

Golden Onion Soup

Golden Onion Soup

In an Ayurvedic twist inspired by sweet golden milk, Golden Onion Soup glows with gilded turmeric and ginger-laced broth. Creamy coconut milk swirls throughout, lending body to this soulful bowlful, ensuring a satisfying experience down to the last spoonful.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil
  • 4 Sweet Vidalia Onions, Quartered and Thinly Sliced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1/2 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Garbanzo Bean Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
  • 1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
  • 2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
  • 4 – 5 Cups Vegetable Stock
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Instructions

  1. In a large stock pot, melt the butter or coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat for about 30 minutes. The onions should be lightly caramelized and highly aromatic.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, and salt, sauteing for 30 minutes more, stirring every 5 minutes. The mixture should be very soft and amber brown.
  3. Add the garbanzo bean flour and turmeric, stirring to incorporate. Saute for just 2 – 3 minutes to lightly toast the flour before deglazing with the coconut milk.
  4. Whisk the miso paste into 4 cups of stock, until fully dissolved, before adding the liquid in as well. Bring the soup to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes.
  5. Season with black and cayenne pepper and add more stock, if needed, to reach your desired thickness.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 197 Total Fat: 11g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 15mg Sodium: 2020mg Carbohydrates: 21g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 12g Protein: 4g