Thai soup heaven

chiang mai noodle soup

It wasn’t until I went to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai that I appreciated how a single soup can make a destination live forever in your memory. I was in my twenties, backpacking across Southeast Asia with my travelling buddy Anna. We had escaped Bangkok’s sauna bath heat and planned to make Chiang Mai just a quick layover – until we dipped our spoons into the creamy, golden contents of a certain noodle soup.

I swooned. Anna did, too.

Thai Basil

Thai basil

Then we quickly rallied our reinforcements, digging in with chopsticks now, pulling out a tangle of soft, pliable noodles bathed in coconut milk and spiked with a litany of flavours. We slurped and gobbled, one part spoon, two parts chopsticks, making a crazy mess of ourselves, crowded around a makeshift stall, sitting on wobbly stools perched on a dirt floor.

Like everyone around us, we were immersed in our soup, digging out deep licorice Thai basil notes, spiked by the fire of bird’s eye chillies. To our right and left, slurpers stopped only to reach for a lime wedge, giving their soup a slight spritz. We followed suit and could taste fish sauce undertones lift up new, indecipherably delicious flavours.

Limes, basil, green onions and fresh coriander sold in Thai fresh market.

Limes, basil, green onions and fresh coriander sold in Thai fresh market.

It was chicken noodle soup unlike anything we’d encountered from Campbell’s. Every morsel had such a cacophony of flavor. Did someone turn up the volume control on our tastebuds?

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Here is my rendition. You can prepare everything in advance for this soup, except the noodles- then it’s a breeze to serve as a quick dinner or lunch.

Coconut milk and curry paste

Purchase a 525 ml can of coconut milk- it’s just the right size for this recipe. Be sure to buy my favourite brands of Aroy-D coconut milk and Maesri curry paste, pictured above.

 

Chiang Mai Noodle Soup

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp chopped garlic

1 sweet red pepper, diced

1/2 cup coconut cream

3 tbsp red curry paste

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 lbs. boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced

1 3/4 cup coconut milk

3 1/2 cups chicken stock

15 basil leaves

2-3 chopped bird’s eye chillies

3 tbsp fish sauce

2 tsp sambal oelek chili sauce

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp lime juice

1/2 lb Chinese egg noodles

1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander

4 green onions, chopped

In a large pot on medium-high, heat the oil. Add garlic and stir-fry 30 seconds or until golden. Add diced red pepper and stir-fry 2-3 minutes or until tender. Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Open the can of coconut milk and gently spoon off half a cup of the thick cream on top. Using the same pot, warm the coconut cream at medium-high, whisk in curry paste and turmeric and continue to whisk until coconut cream starts to separate slightly and glisten with oil. Add chicken and stir-fry 1-2 minutes or until chicken is browned and covered with paste. Add reserved red pepper and garlic, remaining contents of coconut milk can, chicken stock, basil, chillies, fish sauce, sambal oelek, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes or JUST until chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, boil egg noodles for 2 minutes or until just tender. Drain.

Place one-sixth of the noodles in each bowl and ladle over with hot soup. Garnish with coriander and green onions.

 

Buttery Banana Bread

IMG_6129Oh, the trials and tribulations of banana storage! Buy a big bunch and they all reach the right eating ripeness at the same time. There’s that two-day “perfect banana” window, then black dots start to hit those yummy yellow specimens like a rash. Before you know it, you’ve got some sorry, black and withered bananas languishing in the fruit bowl.

Don’t toss them.  Freeze ’em.  Peel and all.

Better still, keep them in a communal freezer bag and once there’s a crowd, get ready for a most scrumptious banana bread. IMG_1096To defrost, simply soak them in a bowl of warm water for five minutes, drain and peel. Use a hand masher or immersion blender to create a chunky or smooth puree ready for this recipe.

Buttery Banana Bread

  • Servings: Two loaves
  • Print

Whenever bananas turn black and over-ripe in your fruit bowl, toss them in the freezer and start storing for this recipe that requires seven really ripe bananas and makes two delicious loaves. These loaves have a nutty, buttery flavor (thanks to the addition of Kamut flour) and rise beautifully. I usually make one chocolate chip loaf (adding ½ cup semi sweet chocolate chips) to half the batter after I have poured the other plain half into a loaf pan.

1/2 cup vegetable organic canola or sunflower oil

1 1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup milk

2/3 cup yogurt

2 cups all purpose organic white

2 cups kamut flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

7 overripe bananas, peeled and mashed

½ -1 cup semi sweet choc chips * optional

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl or mixing bowl, beat oil and sugar together until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add milk and yogurt and stir until combined.

In another large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: all purpose flour, kamut flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Pour wet ingredients into dry, folding gently, then add mashed bananas, making sure the mix is well combined but not over-mixed.

Pour half the mixture into an oiled loaf pan, add chips to the remaining mixture and pour that into the remaining oiled loaf pan.

Bake in the middle rack for 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out smooth.

Pour into 2 oiled bread pans and bake at 350 for 1 hour or until tester comes out clean. © 2016 Madeleine Greey

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And the beet goes on

Every January, fresh vegetables finally get the attention they deserve. My beet buddies, whether they have billowing green leaves, long tapered roots or roly-poly bodies, are finally  back in vogue! All it took was the excess of the holidays to help nudge all those colours and shapes back into the healthy eating spotlight.IMG_9401 copyWhile I don’t like to play favourites, beets make me particularly happy, appealing not just to my palate, but my parsimonious nature. Where else do you get two vegetables for the price of one?

But the redness factor in beets – both in the roots and the greens – can distract. Not everyone can abide by the faint red juice that accompanies a sauté of beet greens and garlic. And even I, vegetable lover that I am, almost fainted when presented with a crimson bowl of borscht at the age of 13 while visiting the home of a classmate. Barely over the shock of my girlfriend’s father wearing an apron and cooking the soup from scratch, I followed her serving suggestion and placed a dollop of sour cream in the middle of what looked like a pool of blood. When I swirled the two together, I had visions of Pepto-Bismol and wondered if anyone would notice if my soup went stealthfully, spoon by spoon, into the African violet on the ledge behind me?

IMG_9546My children, now in their 20s, still won’t go near a beet. Who cares?! I’m tickled to reap more of my share of beet rewards. Besides, these babies take time. To roast, simply wrap unpeeled, individual beets in foil and bake at 350 F  for an hour or until tender. Or boil unpeeled roots in salted water for 45 min (or until a knife slips through the flesh with no resistance). Once cooled in an ice-bath, a beet’s skin slips off effortlessly.

There’s a reason you’ll find vacuum-packed, cooked beets sold in most European markets and in some upscale Toronto ones, too. Once cooked, you can slice them into a zillion different salad combinations.

But if time is of the essence, peel a raw beet and pull out the box-grater. Shredded (or even spiralized) raw beets are a delicious addition to salads or can be sautéed in olive oil with seasonings such as ginger, shallots, garlic or lemon zest.

Citrus is a fine companion for beets both visually and texturally. Think finely sliced grapefruit rounds stacked with cooked, sliced beets bathed in a piquant dressing with chives.IMG_9412

Another winner is goat cheese. Try roasting peeled beet wedges, cippolline onions and whole garlic cloves in olive oil and salt at 400 F for 45 min. Toss warm with goat cheese, arugula and torn basil, dress with olive oil and a small splash of sherry vinegar and serve to your best, beet-loving friends – year round.

© 2016 Madeleine Greey

Beet and Cabbage Borscht

This soup feeds an army.  I like to serve it fresh (ideally the day after, since the flavours intensify) and freeze the rest. A dollop of dairy such as sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, sprinkled with chives or chopped green onions and chili flakes is an irresistible garnish.

  • 2- 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 onion
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 6  red beets, peeled and diced into ½ inch cube
  • ½ small green cabbage, sliced
  • ½ small red cabbage, sliced
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 8 -10 leaves Tuscan kale, stem removed and thinly sliced
  • 1 small can (400 ml/17 oz) of cherry tomatoes and juice
  • 2  garlic cloves, pressed or finely grated with a rasp
  • 1 tsp smoked hot paprika
  • Salt (1-2 tsp)
  • Pepper
  • ¼ cup red vinegar

Heat oil in a large soup pot and sauté leeks, onion and celery with a sprinkling of salt until soft and fragrant.  Add diced beets, sliced cabbage, bay leaves, stock, cherry tomatoes and Tuscan kale.  Bring to a gentle simmer and season with finely grated garlic, paprika, salt and pepper.  Simmer gently for 45 min to 1 hr. Finish with vinegar.     © 2016 Madeleine Greey

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Beet and cabbage borscht

No more silver balls

IMG_5845We take three, basic dough flavours – gingerbread, chocolate and vanilla – cut them into little shapes, layer them on bigger shapes and before long, we’ve got tri-coloured cookies made into stars, Christmas trees and circles. Some have silver balls. Others have squiggles of royal icing.

The sugary conclusion is brilliant. These cookies are beyond adorable. And nothing shocks us two cookie makers more because, well, David and I are not always compatible in the kitchen.

“You forced me,” he whines after half an hour of bumping elbows at the crowded kitchen counter.

I ignore him.

So he retaliates, forcing the dough, bearing down on the chilled chocolate mass until it melts and crumbles under his strength, sticking to the rolling pin in big, gluey patches. With the edges cracking and splitting, he rolls out (gasp) an uneven slope, one end of the dough half a centimetre thicker than the other.

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“A little thick?” he asks, cutting out a cookie the size of a Crispy Crunch bar.

No comment.

He’s holding a rolling pin and I’m not.

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Besides, Kitchen Boss would rather stamp out stars at her end of the counter in peace. My perfect creations are no thicker than a cotton napkin and I’m thoroughly pleased with myself as I balance freshly cut dough on the side of a chef’s knife and gingerly transport them to the parchment-lined baking sheets.

Then a point from my gingerbread star breaks off and flutters to the ground.

“Damn!”

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Two grumps forging cookies like miners blasting granite. Gone is the sweet softness of baking alongside my easy-going best friend or happy-to-please-me niece, this project is like pushing a massive rock up against a wall until suddenly, ever so magically we fall into a graceful rhythm and rows of cookies line the parchment paper, looking like Nutcracker toys and fairies and edible elves. The sight of them gives me goose bumps and I can feel the tap of kitchen gods alighting upon my shoulders.

Miraculously, a smile creeps over David’s face.

I keep up with the simple job of cutting shapes, be it Christmas trees, snowflakes or plain old circles keeping my distance from David who is working on design, across the way. He’s got his space and I’ve got mine. It frees him to dive in and find all the right angles and lines. He centers a star inside a star or lets a circle surround a snowflake. His touch is deft. His eyes are intent. Each cookie is a tiny, layered story and they are cute beyond cute.

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We revel in some 20 minutes of creative bliss until I wreck it with two simple words.

“Silver balls?”

I’m looking at David. It’s got to be his job. Only he has the dexterity and patience to pinch a single sparkling orb between his thumb and forefinger and find the perfect venue for it. It can be the light at the top of a tree… or the belly button of a circle… or, hey, he can put a silver ball on every tip (there’s only five!) of a star.

After ten applications, he’s groaning. After 30 he’s moaning. After 60 he’s delirious and screams out “I’ve got no more balls.”

Cookie baking, some might say, is not a manly affair. David wants to tear his hair out but his hands and butt are covered in flour, the second an easy observation of his formerly black jeans.

We are two hours into this project before the first couple of trays slide into a 350 oven. A tattered array of both chocolate and gingerbread dough remains are still scrambled across the counter’s surface. I collect these leftovers, scrunch them into a warm ball and re-roll for the fourth, fifth and sixth time. The last star is stamped out of a small square that barely reaches beyond the cookie cutter’s edges. Unable to waste, I layer the last matchbox-size sheets of vanilla, chocolate and gingerbread on top of each other to create a reversible cookie with a stripe along its edge. Such is my ingenuity.

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We fall asleep that night in each others arms, sugar floating through the air and the voluptuous aroma of baked cookies – some seven dozen fashioned from a ridiculous 18  – filtering through our dreams.

Dawn arrives and a thought nags. The cookies have not been iced.

I lumber, pre-caffeinated, down two flights of stairs to the kitchen robotically filling the kettle with water, searching through the clutter for my coffee filters, spooning the fine grounds into the cone religiously. It’s all a blur until the first, jolting sip.

Something in my kitchen is different. Our Christmas cookies are adorned in white! Each one is the benefactor of a line, a branch, a dot, or a squiggle. Each cookie has a final finish, like little masterpieces all framed. David has risen before me and decorated the flock.

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I find the used piping bag and decorating tip all scrunched up in a corner of the kitchen counter, the bag one-quarter full of royal icing, a tray nearby covered with creamy droplets and splashes.

A single tiny tree stands out in this sea of decoration. It is smudged with a thick coat of icing crowded with six silver balls.

I knew it. David really does have balls.

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Celeriac who?

Soup taught me to cook: how to combine ingredients, calibrate seasonings and troubleshoot along the way. I made my first soups as a twenty-year-old vegetarian on a student budget. Simmering pots of liquid wonders were always on my white electric stove top as I read thick texts of mind-twisting Buddhist philosophy or endlessly copied vertical lines of Chinese characters.

Soup kept me going. I was either hungrily looking forward to my next bowl or lulled into sated fullness, sopping up the last drops with a piece of spongy bread. There was always some potage-in-progress on the stove top – or getting even better in the fridge, abiding by soup’s cardinal rule: Today’s soup always tastes better tomorrow.

To this day, some of my happiest hours are spent nurturing soups. First that frenzy of washing, draining, rinsing and mad chopping. Then, a whoosh of diced onions, carrots and celery slides off the cutting board hitting the hot oil with a sizzle. Wafts of flavor emanate from the pan, tickling and teasing, upping the suspense.

Who’s next? Shall it be potatoes and cauliflower, or beans and pasta, or a symphony of greens? Will I keep it chunky or search for a velvety, soft puree? Will the broccoli be done if I put it in near the end or do I let it disintegrate into a mysterious mélange? When does the cheese go in? Is there enough salt? Have I remembered to remove the bay leaf?

IMG_5811There is only one answer to all of this. Again and again, I dip my spoon in and taste-test, waiting for all the flavours to meld into a perfect harmony. Then I stop tinkering and call it a soupe du jour.

These December days in Toronto call out loudly for soup. Luckily, huge, gnarly balls of celeriac sit in piles in produce stores, ready to make it a magical equation.

My friend Randy recently sent me a text, looking for advice on this oddity.

“What should I know?” he asked.

“Acidulated water,” I replied, withholding the secret of soup.

Randy was taking a big honking celeriac and turning it into latkes. But he worried that all that lemony-water-soaking would make for mushy pancakes, so he raced through the grating portion of his project, forgoing the acidulation step to rush right into frying, creating crisp celeriac latkes with more pizzazz than your average spud can ever deliver.

But back to soup and that secret. Celeriac (also known as celery root) will never disappoint a soup. It adds a je ne sais quoi, a layering of flavor, piquant notes and an aroma like no other. Simply paired with leek and potatoes, celeriac will make one of the most luscious creations you have ever dunked a soup spoon into.

IMG_5800There’s one catch. Before there’s soup, you have to deal with celeriac’s dreadful countenance: a twisty-turny knotted skin with dirt dug deep into the crevices. Pshaw to those who say “vegetable peeler”. Get out your sharpest chef’s knife and slice your celery root in half, place the cut portion on a board for stability and slice off all the offending skin in huge chunks to reveal a white, pristine core that is wont to brown the second it’s exposed to air.

That’s where a little squeeze of lemon juice in a big bowl of cold water comes in handy. Toss your celeriac dice in there and save the whiteness as you prep the rest of the soup.

And if there’s any root leftover, grate it up fast with a couple of carrots and toss with Dijon mustard, a handful of parsley, a dash of vinegar and a dollop of mayonnaise to create a quick and cheerful rimoulade salad that will make you go ooh la la all over again.

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Creamy Carrot and Celeriac Soup

Celeriac thickens a soup like potatoes without tipping the GI Index scales. I like to garnish this soup with a splash of cilantro chili oil.

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
  • ½  celeriac, diced
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oil in a large pot at medium-high until hot add leek and ginger and cook, stirring for two minutes or until fragrant and soft. Add celeriac, carrots, ground coriander and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft and breaking down. Use an immersion blender to puree. Add honey and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of cilantro chili oil (below).

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Cilantro Chili Oil

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 fresh green chilies, sliced lengthwise and seeded
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Pinch sea salt

Heat oil in a small saucepan. Add chilies and garlic. Take off heat and allow to cool. In a blender or food processor blitz oil, chilies, garlic, fresh coriander and salt until smooth and satiny. Store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to a week.

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Red pucker power

It’s hard not to think of cranberries this time of year. Little red orbs that they are, cranberries are synonymous with the festive season. Rare is the turkey that’s served without glistening, ruby pools of cranberry sauce.

But there’s a little problem with these berries – they are pucker-up tart and not easy to eat straight. Yes, they mellow with a little cooking and indeed, become more palatable once sweetened, yet it’s the raw, nude cranberry that delivers the most health benefits.

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An age-old remedy, cranberries were used by Native Americans to help heal urinary problems, wounds, fever and stomach complaints. Now science affirms cranberry’s curative properties, as they are loaded with proanthocyanidins (PACs) which prevent certain bacteria from clinging to the epithelial cell lining of the urinary tract and causing infection in the body. These same PACs may also prevent stomach ulcers, stopping Helicobacter pylori bacteria from adhering to stomach lining.

Besides PACs, cranberries have a bundle of nutrition to offer. They’re a very good source of fibre, manganese, vitamin C and a good source of vitamin E, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin K.

But still, who can chow down on them raw?

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Cranberry Bog Photo credit: Ocean Spray

Cranberry farmer Janina Mey of Lavaltrie, Quebec chops up fresh cranberries and tosses them into her breakfast cereal, sometimes adding apples or pears. For a healthy taste of decadence, she ups the health quotient by adding dark chocolate shavings to her granola.

While Mey has plenty of access to fresh cranberries during her harvest from mid-September to mid-November, she encourages consumers to reach for frozen berries year-round, tossing them into smoothies, sprinkling on top of salads or tucking them into a bowl of hot oatmeal.

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Photo credit: Ocean Spray

Few people love sour enough to simply munch on naked cranberries. Instead, a bland counterpoint can help mellow their bite. Think rice, pasta, bread even mashed sweet potatoes. All offer a blank slate ready for the zing of a cranberry.

Or capitalize on their tart smack and make a salsa. Chop two cups of cranberries in a food processor, sweeten with a little maple syrup or honey, spice up with a chopped jalapeno and/or chili flakes and add chopped cilantro, lime juice and a little salt.

Cooking makes for a more mellow cranberry. Toss 2 cups of cranberries with a tablespoon of olive oil, chopped fresh thyme, a diced shallot and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and cook in a 400 F for 20-25 minutes or until caramelized. Serve with roast chicken or pork chops, or layer on mashed potatoes or let it cool and serve on greens.

When all else fails, keep a bag of Craisins on hand. Yes, they are loaded with sugar (a whopping 29 g or 7 tsp of sugar per ¼ cup serving) but make a delicious addition to baking. I make my own blend of trail mix combining Craisins with nuts and seeds and am happy to tuck a Craisin or two into a dark chocolate levain dough to bake up bread that’s more like dessert than anything else.

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Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

If you like crunchy, crisp biscotti that can stand a good dunk in your coffee, this is the cookie for you. It will store for weeks in a Mason or cookie jar and makes a terrific holiday gift.

¾ cup shelled pistachio

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat or spelt

1 ¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tsp               baking powder

½ tsp              sea salt

4                      large eggs

3 tsp               vanilla

¾ cup             Craisins

Flour

Granulated sugar

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Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To toast pistachios, arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, tossing once halfway through. Allow to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla.

Pour egg mixture into flour and combine to create a sticky, heavy dough. Mix in pistachios and Craisins. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Dust countertop lightly with flour and roll out 2 logs (13 in x by 2 in for big biscotti) or 4 logs (13 in x 1 in for small biscotti a.k.a. “cantucci”) and arrange on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Sprinkle a large pinch of granulated sugar over each log.

Bake on middle rack for 30 minutes or until golden and firm. Completely cool logs on a rack (1 to 1 1/2 hours). Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise into 3/4 inch wide slices. Arrange -cut side down- on baking sheets and return to 350 ° F oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden-brown and crisp.

© 2016 Madeleine Greey

 

 

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