Celebrating Spring with Mint & Mango

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Fresh-tasting split pea soup with mint & mango (& other green herbs: thyme, parsley, sage, tarragon, celery, plus turmeric & white pepper). Surprisingly delicious, savory combination! We happened to get a surplus stock of 20 cases of very ripe mangoes… time for smoothies & mango salsa!

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Deep dark loaf: whole wheat, oats, rye, buckwheat, molasses. Sweet & Earthy.

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The courtyard in bloom, complete with kitty & lilacs

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First rhubarb harvest of the year! Mango-rhubarb jam?

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The Many Faces of Tofu

At the farm, we make a lot of extra-firm tofu – it’s a business of ours, so we eat a lot of it too! We had a website which had posted some of my recipes, which is being redesigned right now. I thought I’d lost the recipes, but come to find out I did end up making a backup of it! Tofu is such a blank slate that really, a lot of creative possibilities exist. Here are a few of my favorite recipes I’ve developed over the years of dressing up tofu. Really, any kind of sauce could be put on it after baking it for 15-20 minutes, sliced or cubed. Honey-mustard, BBQ, marinara, pesto, spicy peanut, orange glaze…

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Honey-Walnut Tofu

tofu, plain extra-firm, 1 Lb
oil for baking, about 2 Tb
coconut milk, half a can (shaken)
honey, half cup
lemon juice, 2 tsp
water, 3/4 cup
canola oil (gmo-free if possible), 1 Tb
salad mustard, 2 tsp
fresh ginger, 1 tsp grated
salt to taste, quarter tsp perhaps
cornstarch, 2 Tb
walnuts, half cup

Cut the tofu into bite-size pieces, such as cubes or triangles, about a half inch thick. Toss the tofu pieces in oil to coat them. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes, until golden and crispy on the outside, but still moist and chewy inside. Toast the walnuts in a cast-iron skillet, no oil, on medium-high heat. Stir them frequently for 5-10 minutes, until they are browned and aromatic, and set them aside. To make the sauce: in a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with 4 Tb of the water til smooth, and set aside. In a separate sauce pot, combine the coconut milk, honey, lemon, remaining water, oil, mustard, ginger, and salt. Heat on medium-high heat to a low simmer. Whisk the cornstarch liquid into the rest of the sauce. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens slightly (about 1 minute), then remove from heat. Stir together the baked tofu, walnuts, and sauce. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the tofu to absorb some of the sauce. Serve over rice, best with white basmati cooked with a little shredded coconut.

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Cardamom Cream Tofu Soup (similar to the Thai Tom Kha soup)

serves 4

1 lb. tofu, plain extra firm
1 quart whole dairy milk (or almond milk)
1 can coconut milk
1 cup water
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 dash fresh-ground black pepper
a few sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped

Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes. Toss all other ingredients (except the parsley) into a soup pot, and heat until just below a simmer. Do not allow to boil. Add tofu cubes and heat on low, 15 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle fresh parsley on top.

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Mu Shu Tofu

Vegan, gluten-free

serves 4-6

1 lb. tofu, plain extra firm
1 head of cabbage
2 carrots
half an onion
5 florets of broccoli
4 oz baby bella mushrooms
4 oz woodear mushrooms (optional)
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
3 Tbsp non-GMO canola oil
approx. dozen mu shu pancakes, or flour tortillas
1 jar of plum sauce, or make your own, recipe follows

Shred the tofu by hand using a grater. A mandolin is perfect for slicing the cabbage, carrots, onion, and broccoli very thinly, but if you don’t have one, either grate them or slice super thin. Slice the mushrooms thinly too.

Heat the oil in a pan or wok. Add all the veggies, tofu, and ginger and stirfry until quite soft. Gently warm the tortillas. Serve the stirfy inside a wrap with plenty of plum sauce.

Homemade Plum Sauce

1 cup dried prunes (fresh can be used too, if flavorful enough – taste first)
2 cups water
half cup soy sauce
half cup molasses
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried ginger, to taste

Boil the prunes in the water until very soft, about 15 minutes. They should be mushy and plump. Let cool slightly, then place plums and their juice in a blender or food processor. Add all other ingredients, and puree until smooth.

Soup Sequel

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

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.

Soup Season

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Yes, soup season is upon us at last! Chilly days present an opportunity for Hygge, just as summertime ag jobs wind down and we seem to start reconnecting with each other on the farm. Rainy grey days bring some of us indoors, stoking the first fires of the season to warm ourselves while weaving hammocks. It’s this season that I look forward to, standing stirring steaming soup cauldrons. Some days I start a stock early in the morning, and build the soup over the course of the day. Paired with a hearty oat bread, soup can be filling and fulfilling. Cooking for approximately 100, two or three varieties (meaty, creamy, and vegan) in 4-gallon pots feels plentiful. Here are several of my favorite soups to make lately, with very general as-you-go recipes. Substitutions may be made anywhere needed – just use what you’ve got. Lots of beets? Make borscht. Lots of squash? You know what to do. But first, how to make the base layer of soup:

Great Broth

Whether you’re making vegetable broth or meat, start with whatever still-technically-edible (nothing gross, just using up veggie scraps) vegetables are around, like carrot tops, onion skins, wilted greens, that old celery, those tiny green peppers picked the day before first frost, mushroom stems. Add handfuls (or spoonfuls, as the case may be for smaller batches) of herbs: thyme, oregano (both contain thymol, a natural antibiotic), rosemary, sage, peppercorns, bay leaves, and any other flavors you favor. Best, add whole stalks of fresh herbs from your garden. No need for chopping. If you’re in an area with wild nettles, or if you have some dried nettles for tea, it can also be added to broth to deepen the flavor. Don’t forget a bit of salt!

Soup is a chance to use up and extract food from bits of things that might not otherwise get used, that need an extra long, slow time to cook. Especially beef or chicken bones, which both contain marrow and cartilage which heal our joints and more. “Chicken soup for the soul,” a great broth can heal deeply. This is an opportunity to use those rivetting giblets that come inside bought chickens, or get saved by our friends who do the brave slaughter. I usually find a mix of chicken necks, hearts, livers, and bones do the trick, if I don’t have a full chicken or two. Fresh, whole chickens can get boiled for a couple hours til it’s nearly falling apart. I strain the broth, setting the chicken bits aside to cool enough to sort through. Fondly, chicken’ pickin’ is a chance to sit down and attend to sorting out the bones and the good meat (no cartilage), which I look for in every nook and cranny as time allows. Good meat goes back into the broth with chopped carrots, potatoes, etc, while the bones & scraps can get boiled a second time for more broth. Remember not to give chicken bones to pets, as they can splinter and be dangerous.

For beef, use up bones leftover from t-bone steaks, or find some soup bone cuts (which are usually cheap & are cut open to reveal marrow), chunks of chuck stew meat or other tougher cuts, pot roast, heart, or tongue all make very tasty broth. Beef bones take longer than chicken bones and don’t really break down as much. These bones I prefer to start boiling as soon as I wake up, or if you have a crock-pot or safe setup for overnight boiling, I recommend 10-14 hours for beef bone stock, stirring & adding more water every hour or few.

Roasted Sweet Potato & Garlic Soup:

Cube sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Place them in one layer (not too crowded) on a baking sheet pan, and into a 350-degree oven. Roast for about 40 minutes, watching for that sweet spot in doneness that has the potato cubes caramelizing and browning but not burning. During the potato roasting time, take a few (to taste, which for me is a lot) whole, peeled garlic cloves, and toss them in a bit of olive oil and onto a pan for roasting about 15-20 minutes, until they soften and turn golden. When both the sweet potatoes and garlic are done, scrape them and all the yummy oil/caramelized goodness you can from the pans into a soup pot. Add salt to taste and a chopped sprig of fresh rosemary, and water to cover and boil until the roasted items start to break down and wash all their yummy roasty caramel goodness into a broth. Employ a potato masher to break up the contents even more, and boil, stirring, until the broth becomes silky and thicker with still a few chunks of sweet potato left. Savor that sweet spot.

Another vegan roasty-goodness soup – made with roasted green peppers, green tomatoes, chickpeas, and cilantro:

Chop up the green peppers any old way, removing the core and top. Only jullienne if you feel like it 😉 Toss in oil, and roast on a baking sheet in a 325-degree oven until soft and starting to brown, about 35 minutes. Chunk an equal amount of green tomatoes into small pieces, and chop a couple handfuls (to taste, of course) of fresh cilantro. Add all ingredients to a soup pot, cover with water, add a can of chickpeas, salt and pepper to taste, a pinch of coriander & cumin, and boil til soft, about 1 hour. Puree the soup using either a food processor, blender, or immersion blender til smooth as possible. The soup should be a lovely green color! Garnish with more fresh cilantro on top, and enjoy this savory-sour treat!

Stay tuned for more soup recipes, including creamy chowders, borscht, mushroom rice noodle soup, and a discussion of regional soup traditions. In the meantime, here is one more delicious & easy vegan soup recipe I created with Twin Oaks Tofu: http://twinoakstofu.com/bridgets-tom-kha-tofu-soup