Category Archives: Soups

Polish Salt-Brined Cucumber Soup with Coconut Milk

cuc_souppAs soon as I wrote the title of this post I realised that probably for the majority of my dear readers salt-brined cucumber sounds much more unusual than coconut milk, but I was so pleasantly surprised to see how such geographically distant products go well together, I decided to post this international version. Anyway, whether it’s coconut milk or the traditional cow’s cream, this is one of the most delicious soups I know and I hope some of you will be tempted to make it. Maybe due to its tanginess or maybe due to the refreshing presence of the dill, I consider it a perfect springtime dish.

Since it’s a very popular soup, every Polish cook has her/his own method. I have based the instructions below on my mum’s recipe with, as always, my own slight modifications, including a lightened option (see the TIPS). I have experimented here with coconut milk instead of adding the traditional cow’s cream, but both options are equally delicious. Though not heavy at all, it’s a nourishing soup with potatoes, so, depending on the amounts served, it can be considered as a full meal (you can serve it with bread).

TIPS: Salt-brined cucumbers are fermented/pickled in a mixture of salt and water, with herbs and spices. They become sour, but not as harsh as vinegared ones. They are also relatively healthy (they have vitamin C, absent in raw untransformed cucumber), unless they contain too much salt of course. They cannot be replaced with vinegared pickles. Apart from Polish, Russian and Ukrainian shops, salt-brined cucumbers can be found in some German or Austrian shops too and I know they are also sold in “normal” organic grocery shops. Not to mention online sources.

If you cannot find fresh or frozen dill, forget this recipe (I must be very strict here because without dill it’s just not the same soup, while dried dill is almost as useless here as dried basil in a caprese salad…). It’s used here in big amounts, so its presence is very important. If dill is not used in your country’s traditional cooking, you might still find it at farmers’ markets and even in some Asian shops (I see it regularly in my Vietnamese/Thai shop). The good news is chopped fill freezes very well, so if your farmers market or Asian shop is far away, buy a big bunch, chop it and freeze. (It also grows very very easily from seeds, even on a window sill). Dill is also very popular in Greek cuisine, so you will find many ways to use your frozen batch.

I always remove fat from my stock, so here, once the stock was ready, strained it and put into the fridge. After several hours the fat will solidify at the top and thus will be easy to remove. You don’t have to follow this procedure of course!

Preparation: minimum 3 hours (depends on the choice of meat and fat removal or not, see TIPS)

Ingredients (serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a starter):

2 chicken legs (I prefer skinned) or the equivalent of other meat (pork/beef), preferably with bone

4 big salt-brined cucumbers (see the TIPS)

leek leaves

1 big carrot+1 to be added at the end

1/4 celeriac (or 2 stalks celery)

(optional, but worth looking for: 1 small parsley root)

4 medium potatoes

salt, pepper

coconut milk/cream or cow’s liquid cream (2-3 tablespoons per person)

1 big bunch of fresh or frozen dill

Put the meat, the leek leaves, the carrot, the celeriac and parsley root (if you can get it) into a big pan. Cover with water, add some salt and simmer, covered, until the meat falls off the bone (the time depends on the meat, but it’s minimum 3 hours to make sure the stock has deep flavours).

In the meantime grate the salt-brined cucumber (vegetable grater, not the one with smallest holes). Do not throw away the brine! You might discover you prefer your soup even more sour and add it later on.

Place the grated cucumber into a small pan, cover with water and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Put aside.

Once the stock is ready (or rather the meat is tender enough), remove the meat and the carrot. Strain the stock and throw out the remaining cooked vegetables (unless you like them).

Here you can either refrigerate the stock in order to remove fat (see TIPS above) or continue the preparation without the fat removal.

Remove the bones and cut up the meat into bite-sized pieces.

Cut up the cooked carrot and grate the raw one.

Peel the potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Put back the stock into the pan, add the potatoes and cook until soft.

Then add the grated cucumber, the meat, the carrots and let it simmer for about five minutes.

Adjust the taste with freshly ground pepper, salt and, if you find the soup not tangy enough, add some of the brine from cucumbers.

Just before serving chop some dill to every plate, add a splash of cream or coconut milk and serve.

Kimchi Stew with Chicken, Poached Egg and Konnyaku Noodles

kimchi_konnyaku_Just like every year when I go on my Japan holidays, I promised myself to keep on blogging from my hotel room and… once more somehow it didn’t work. I hope you will excuse me this long absence here and from my friends’ blogs. The trip was, as always, very enriching (especially since this time I made a short stop in Seoul too!), so I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of most recent food inspirations and discoveries in the future.

This loose interpretation of a kimchi soup is a delicious, filling but very light – or even diet! – dish I made several times before my holidays. It is not a traditional Korean recipe (especially since it contains Japanese products…), but in my opinion it shows very well the complexity matured old kimchi adds to hot dishes. In fact, the flavours are so rich, there is no need to have stock or even to think of any additional seasoning. Slightly spicy, slightly salty, tangy… the result is always perfect and the preparation effortless. Whether you add the konyaku (aka “zero calorie”) noodles or any other kind of noodles, the stew is delicious, warming and light. In short, perfect for cold days, especially when one isn’t keen on speding hours in the kitchen. Now that I’m back I sincerely regret having no more kimchi in the fridge…

If you have never heard about konnyaku (or shirataki) noodles, they are made from konjac (Amorphophallus konjac, also called devil’s tongue) by drying its corm, which is then reduced to flour and mixed with water to obtain a gelatinous substance, formed into noodles, blocks, “gnocchi”, ball-shaped products… all sold in plastic bags filled with water (although konnyaku powder also exists and can be added to drinks). Konnyaku products are all very rich in fiber and help digestion (they are called “broom for the stomach”… so don’t exaggerate and don’t have them for every single meal!). Due to their high water content konnyaku is known as “zero calorie”. All the derived products have become famous outside of Japan (especially among people who want to lose weight) and nowadays can be found in many “standard” shops too, but watch out: some have tofu, vegetable extracts or other ingredients added which might change their nutritional values. In this stew I have used udon-shaped konnyaku noodles, i.e. thicker and chewier (my favourite of all the konnyaku products)and you can perfectly replace them with normal udon or any noodles of your choice.

TIPS: If you have never used konnyaku products, take them out of their bag and rinse well. (Don’t be put off by the fishy smell. It will disappear.) Put the noodles (or any other konnyaku product) into a pan of boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Rinse well under cold water and put aside. Now they are ready to be added to your stew or stir-fry.

The poached egg is not an obligatory item here of course, but as a big egg lover I was thrilled to discover dolsot (the Korean pot you see above) in which I can cook my soup, poach my egg and then bring to the table. In short, if you want the egg white to set in your soup, you will need either dolsot or a Japanese nabe dish or a small cast iron casserole/dutch oven (make sure it can be safely used on the stovetop, not only in the oven!).

If you don’t have any of these, I advise making the soup in a normal pan and poaching the egg in another one (or frying it), then adding it to the serving bowl. If you don’t mind the egg white being still wobbly and transparent, you can break the egg to your bowl just before serving.

You don’t have to stir-fry the chicken pieces, but I think it improves flavours of both the soup and the chicken meat.

Preparation: 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

1 teaspoon oil

1/2 small chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 small onion or shallot, sliced

3-4 heaped tablespoons of old (very sour) kimchi, cut into pieces

some kimchi juice (depends on how hot you want your stew)

500 ml – 750 ml (about 2-3 cups) hot water

1/2 portion of konnyaku noodles, rinsed and parboiled (see the TIPS above) or a whole package if you manage to eat it

1/3 courgette, 1/2 small sweet pepper or any vegetables of your choice, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 egg

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

green onions, chives or edible chrysanthemum leaves (I used these here)

Heat the oil in your bowl or casserole.

Stir-fry the chicken pieces and the onion slices at medium heat until the chicken is half cooked.

Lower the heat and add the kimchi.

Stir fry for a minute.

Add the water and the noodles and let the soup simmer for ten minutes.

(TIP: If you want your vegetables soft, you can add them now, but if you want them to remain crunchy, add them at the same time you break the egg into the dish).

Afterwards, add the vegetables, make a “nest” in the middle of the dish and delicately break an egg into it.

Cover with a lid and cook until the egg white is half-set (it will continue cooking, so if you want your yolk to remain runny, take the dish off the stovetop at this stage).

Sprinkle with chives, green onion or edible chrysanthemum leaves and add a teasponful of sesame oil just before serving.

I have also sprinkled some furikake (Japanese rice topping) on top. You can use freshly ground black pepper instead or powdered chilli or shichimi togarashi (Japanese spicy seasoning).

Sour Indian Tomato and Black Pepper Soup

sourtomatosouppI know what you think. I also almost never think of hot soups during the summer, but this tone is very special. First of all, as every tomato soup, is never tastes as good as when made with fresh ripe tomatoes. Secondly and above all, it is sour, the quality which for me places it among the dishes I typically crave when temperatures go up. It is also particularly light, easy and quick to prepare, three additional characteristics that make it a perfect summer soup. One of my favourite discoveries from Rick Stein’s India.

As usually, I have made some modifications, the most important one being the use of homemade chicken stock instead of water and I must say, even though it’s not a genuine Indian touch, it makes the final result even better. Make sure you check the original recipe in Rick Stein’s unique book I consider among several best cookery books.

TIP: If you think the tomato taste is not strong enough, add some tomato paste, as I did.

Asafoetida is sold powdered in every Indian shop in my city, so I guess it’s not difficult to find. It has a very strong aroma and changes the flavours considerably.

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as the main course):

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 dried chilli torn into pieces (the best will be Kashmiri chilli)

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

a small handful of curry leaves

4 big tomatoes

3 fresh green chillies

about 1 heaped teaspoon grated ginger

3 tablespoons red lentils

3 cm piece of tamarind block

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

salt to taste

500 ml homemade chicken/vegetable stock or water

(1 tablespoon tomato paste)

coriander leaves

1 tablespoon oil (I didn’t have the ghee, indicated in the recipe)

Chop the tomatoes. Slice the chillies diagonally.

Pour 50 ml hot water it onto the tamarind piece. Leave for fifteen minutes. (In the meantime start preparing the masala paste and the curry). After this time, mix it well and strain leaving the seeds.

Fry the first three ingredients in a tablespoon of ghee or oil  until the mustard starts popping.

Add the black pepper and asafoetida and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Add the rest and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes or more (until the lentils are tender).

Sprinkle with coriander leaves just before serving.

 

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Galangal and Chicken Soup) with Oyster Mushrooms

tomkhagai_Galangal, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, coriander root, chilli, lime juice… In this famous soup Thai flagship ingredients’s flavours are perfectly recognisable, one by one, creating a recurrent mixture of sour, salty and hot flavours, embellished with a typical sharp aroma. This dish perfectly illustrates the elegance and sophistication of Thai cuisine one might not necessarily see throughout years of eating sloppily prepared curries, served in so many restaurants in Europe (and maybe elsewhere too).

“Tom kha gai” means roughly a dish with galangal (tom kha) and chicken (gai) and this soup does contain a particularly high dose of galangal root, which slightly dominates it. I have followed here the recipe from David Thompson’s Thai Food (a most extraordinary cookery book I recommend to every Thai food lover) and as the author suggested, apart from the chicken, I added also some delicate-tasting mushrooms (oyster mushrooms proved perfect). (In the meantime I made a test with cultivated button mushrooms (aka “cremini”, when they are brown) and their taste was too strong).

I tried to make this dish as close to the original as possible, but I won’t pretend it is (mainly due to what I did with coconut milk and cream). I have cut down the coconut milk amounts and skipped the coconut cream, replacing both liquids with more chicken stock. The original version was just too fatty and rich for me. (In fact I do this very often in Thaï dishes, just like I cut down on cream and fat in Western cuisine). I have also added more chicken meat and more mushrooms in order to make it a very filling one-course meal, easily served with rice or bread; not to mention the amounts adapted to a dish for two. I encourage you to check the extraordinary David Thompson’s Thai Food for the original recipe.

TIPS: This dish is a good way to test if you are able to cook certain genuine Thai dishes… because its ingredients appear in almost every curry (and I assume curries are what most Thai food lovers try to make at home first). In short, if you can find fresh (or at worst frozen) lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, galangal root and coriander roots, then you are almost ready to buy David Thompson’s book without being utterly frustrated (there are some other products, such as fresh peppercorns, Thai basil, holy basil, grachai, makrut lime zest… but these aren’t used as often as former ingredients). From my experience, the smallest damage through freezing is done to makrut lime leaves and coriander roots. Lemongrass and galangal become mushy and the galangal’s taste changes, but it’s still better than using dried versions.

Coriander roots are particularly difficult to get for some people, but I have recently read on a forum a fantastic trick: buying a potted plant in a gardening shop! Of course, if you are able to grow your own herbs on a balcony, windowsill or in a garden, finding roots should no longer be a problem. You can also ask a farmers’ market vendor to bring you next time coriander with roots or only roots (I’m sure many would happily give them for free).

If you use frozen makrut lime leaves (I can find them here only frozen), double the amount because they are less aromatic (in general, if using frozen vegetables in Thai dishes, I increase their amounts).

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

400 ml chicken stock

250 ml coconut milk

1 big chicken breast (skinned)

250 g oyster mushrooms, tough stalks removed (or other delicately flavoured mushrooms)

7 thin slices of fresh galangal

pinch of salt

1/2 flat teaspoon palm sugar

1 big thick stalk lemongrass or two thin stalks (whole, only the tough end trimmed)

2 small Asian red shallots (I have used 1 medium European shallot)

1 big coriander root

2 red bird’s-eye-chillies + 2-3 more for the final serving stage

2 makrut (also known as kafir) lime leaves (if you have frozen lime leaves, see the TIPS)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (or more)

1 tablespoon lime juice (or more)

coriander leaves

Pour the stock and the coconut cream into a pan.

Bring to the boil.

In the meantime wash the mushrooms and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Slice very finely the chicken breast and sprinkle with salt (do not add too much salt).

Put aside.

Place the shallots, the lemongrass stalk, the coriander root and the bird’s-eye-chillies in a mortar and bruise them with a pestle. You can also do it, placing them on a cutting board and using an ice “pestle” for cocktails (this is what I did) or any other heavy object.

Put aside 2-3 chillies for the final serving stage.

Place the remaining bruised vegetables into the boiling stock, adding salt, palm sugar, galangal and lime leaves.

Let it simmer for about ten minutes.

Add the mushrooms and after 5 minutes, the finely sliced chicken breast.

Continue simmering until the mushrooms and the chicken are done.

Mix the lime juice, the fish sauce, the additional bird’s-eye-chillies and the coriander leaves in an empty serving bowl. Pour the soup over it, stir well, adjust the taste – the author says it should taste rich, salty, sour and hot, though if you have “thinned” the stock, as I did it won’t taste very rich – and serve.

I prefer dividing the sauce, the juice, etc. into individual bowls and then putting the fish sauce and a piece of lime on the table, so that I can still adjust the taste.

Korean Kimchi Stew with Canned Tuna and Tofu

tunastewpNot so long ago putting canned tuna into a soup would have never crossed my mind. Yet, together with “scary” tofu and matured, very sour kimchi, it creates one of the most delicious and quickest soups I know. No wonder I now make it sometimes twice a week!

I first heard about this kimchi stew from my friend C.. I must say the first time I read “tuna”, I understood raw fish and found it very surprising its canned version was involved, but my friend was so enthusiastic, I decided to try it as soon as possible. The result has exceeded all my expectations (which, given my friend’s sophisticated taste, were quite high already…). The flavours are so complex, you will find it difficult to believe there is no stock and chilli flakes as the only – moreover optional – seasoning. The canned tuna brings something “meaty” but also slightly fishy (in the positive sense of the word), while the tofu mellows all the flavours and becomes – at least in my opinion – an obligatory ingredient. In short, the mixture of ingredients is just perfect.

If you have never tasted kimchi (김치), it is a Korean preparation of seasoned fermented vegetables, the most popular being Napa (Chinese) cabbage and daikon (white long radish). Apart from the fiery kimchi there is also a mild, chilli-free version, which is however less popular. Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated with anything unpleasant (my fellow cheese fans, think here about smelly matured cheese!). It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetable preparations, very healthy. High in fiber, low in calories and fat, it is packed with vitamin C (thanks to the fermentation) and carotene. It also contains several other vitamins, helps digestion, is said to prevent certain cancers… In short: it’s wonder food. Its importance in the Korean cuisine cannot be compared to anything in any European food culture I know.

Kimchi is not only eaten as a side dish, but also – especially at the mature, “older” stage  – put into warm dishes, for example fried rice or… soups. If you have only “young” kimchi, you can also prepare this soup, but older, very sour and strong kimchi will definitely be better here. I have been making kimchi for several years now and – since I prepare the “lazy”, easier version – I consider it one of the easiest things in the world. I no longer weigh or count the ingredients, adding them at random and the result is always delicious, the best flavours being obtained with very fresh and firm vegetables. Here you can see my adventures with Kkakdugi 깍두기, or Cubed Radish Kimchi and Mak Kimchi, or Easy Chinese Cabbage Kimchi)

Going back to the stew, or “kimchi jjigae/chigae”, its traditional version is made with pork and tofu, but of course canned tuna is a perfect emergency, last minute substitution and suits so well this dish, for now I am not tempted yet to try it with pork. Among the numerous sources for this popular recipe I chose the infallible Food and Cooking of Korea by Young Jin Song, one of my best buys among cookery books. I have skipped the shiitake mushrooms and adapted the amounts to a dish for one, so I encourage you to check this fantastic book for the original version. As my own – maybe also crazy – touch, I have sprinkled the bowlful of soup with raw red chilli slices for a fresh additional hot kick. I also like a splash (about one teaspoon per person) of toasted sesame oil added just before serving.

TIPS:

I have chosen to use water here, but the author gives also vegetable stock as an alternative. In my opinion kimchi is so rich with flavours, no stock is necessary, but feel free to substitute with good quality stock, if you have it.

Whether you add chilli flakes or not depends on how hot your kimchi is and of course on your preferences. Apart from the heat, chilli flakes add a beautiful hue and more taste too, so if you like fiery dishes, don’t skip them.

Preparation: about 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves 1):

half a can of tuna (about 60g, drained; I prefer by far the white albacore tuna, but any canned tuna is ok)

1 small garlic clove, chopped

1 teaspoon oil (sesame oil is the best here)

250 ml (about 1 cup) loosely packed, matured Chinese cabbage kimchi, cut into bite-sized pieces + some kimchi juice (I have added about 50 ml)

about 50-60 g (about 1.8-2 oz) firm tofu

Korean medium-hot chilli flakes (skip them if your kimchi is very hot or if you don’t like very hot dishes)

300 ml/ about 10 fl oz water

chopped green onion

(fresh red chilli to garnish, sesame oil)

Drain the tuna and cut up into several pieces (don’t shred it).

Stir-fry the tuna and garlic in sesame oil for 30 seconds.

Add the kimchi (and chilli flakes, if using) and stir-fry it for one more minute.

Add the water, the tofu and simmer the stew for 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle with green onions and serve. (You may also sprinkle it with fresh red chilli slices and with a splash of sesame oil).

Serve either with bread or steamed rice.