It has been a busy June, celebrating our farm community’s 50th year. I’m behind in blogging, but have been cooking quite a bit. Now that the huge party is over, hopefully my focus can return. So far this week I only managed to take a few slightly blurry photos (again, focus needed)… I cook a community dinner every Wednesday, and this week I made a big pasta salad with yellow summer squash, sundried tomatoes, olives, fresh parsley & basil, green peppers, cukes, & roasted garlic. This meal also included cukes with shredded beets & fresh dill & tarragon, strawberry-apple cobbler, local cheddar, kale salad with kimchi, and a chili leftover from the cookout. What better describes summer nosh than cold salads studded with fresh, colorful veggies?
Cream of Anything Soup
To make a cream base for whatever kind of cream soup you’re planning, start by sauteeing a diced onion and couple diced cloves of garlic in some butter or oil. Once they’re soft, add milk to fill the pan with some room left for veggies, plus salt and pepper to taste. If you can, use a ratio of three parts whole milk to one part cream. If you want a lower fat version, skim milk can be used instead of cream. Warm the milk on medium-low, stirring often.
Now for the fun part: which vegetables do you have around that are worthy of this solo? My favorites are asparagus, broccoli (with shredded cheddar), mushrooms, roasted garlic & squash, celery, or greens. Whatever vegetable(s) are the filling to this cream soup, it’s best to mostly pre-cook them in a bit of water or sautee before adding them to the cream pot. To prevent burning, this soup doesn’t get boiled much – so veggies won’t cook fully on their own.
Stir a bit of cornstarch with some cold milk in a separate small bowl, using a whisk to break up any clumps. Once the soup is near boiling (steaming, not quite yet rolling), pour the cornstarch mixture into the soup while whisking the soup constantly for a few minutes to prevent clumps and sticking to the bottom. The soup should thicken within a few minutes as the soup starts to simmer. Now, taste: does it need more salt, or anything else? Serve with a hearty bread – cream soup is great for dipping!
Chowder comes in many forms, varying by region across New England. Manhattan style chowder is a tomato-based variety. But what most people think of as “chowdah” is creamy, chunky, and if you’re in Maine, most definitely contains a sea of fresh clams, mussels, lobster, or white fish. Here on the farm in Virginia, in the absence of such luxuries, chowder comes in the form of fresh farm veggies like corn and summer squash, potatoes, chard, and sometimes savory woodland treats like wild mushrooms (chicken-of-the-woods, shiitake, oyster). Sautee all veggies in the bottom of the chowdah pot with a couple of bay leaves & some thyme, add the potato cubes & corn and just enough water to cover, and pre-boil til tender. Pour in the cream & milk, bring nearly to a boil, add the cornstarch mixture to thicken. Serve with oyster crackers and bread.
Borscht is fun to say and nutritious! There are many ways to make borscht, with different styles ranging from chunky to smooth; vegan or with beef stock; hot or cold; sweet, sour, or savory; raw or slow-cooked; from Poland to Turkey to Russia to California. Start with fresh beets and dill, and go by what you like from there. Here is my personal favorite borscht:
Chop beets into small cubes. Chop half a cabbage into 1-inch pieces. Slice and caramelize onions, then add cabbage and two bay leaves and saute til soft with a bit of olive oil (or butter). Add beets and beef broth, plus some crushed tomatoes, a pinch of dill & tarragon, splash of vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Boil until beets & cabbage start to fall apart, about an hour & half. Ladle into bowls, scoop a generous dollop of sour cream on top, and garnish with more dill.
To make a Thai-flavored Borscht, use handfuls of fresh cilantro instead of dill. Round off the flavor with a sprinkle of cardamom, fresh lime, and coconut milk. Add chilies if you dare.
For a smooth, vegan, naturally sweeter version of Borscht, boil peeled beet chunks in water with a pinch of dill & tarragon & mint. Optionally, add some pear chunks for more sweetness! Add a dollop of olive oil, minimal salt, pepper, and puree the soup using either a blender, food processor, or immersion blender. Chill until cold, and serve with more fresh dill, tarragon, & mint on top.
What if you don’t have all day to make a soup? Try Soup-in-a-Jar!
This soup takes less than half an hour to make, and if you’re on the go, only needs boiling water added. I make up a few jars ahead of time so they’re ready to go. I take a quart jar and fill it with thin rice noodles, spices (ginger, turmeric, pepper, salt, oregano, thyme, garlic powder), a spoonful of nutritional yeast, a spoonful of sesame oil or olive oil, plus dried seaweed and dried mushrooms. Cover with boiling water, replace lid and gently shake, and let sit for about 20 minutes until the soup is ready to eat.