dipping into soup

There is something so very gratifying about making soup again —  despite the sweltering August heat. The kitchen garden is busting with basil, tomatoes and zucchini. Meanwhile, the fridge is crowded with leftover this and that, daily harvests tucked into bags and fresh produce splurges found on sale.  

I open the crisper and am determined to find a destination for a clutch of golden beet greens that are still fresh and vibrant a whole week after their yellow orbs were removed. Wouldn’t these greens taste fine in a vegan bean soup? I pounce on two cups of leftover bean dip:  the genesis.  Laced with lemon, rosemary and smoked paprika, this luscious dip on the blog last week will be this week’s soup base.  

I yank out a medium pot, heat it on medium-high, waiting a minute or two before drizzling the base with two tablespoons of olive oil. Next up, a chopped yellow onion and two stalks of celery sprinkled over by a confetti of golden beet leaf stalks. 

Down in our basement, where the rat once lived, I survey the contents of my standup freezer door where each of the four shelves is lined with green-lidded yogurt containers.  Most are full of chicken or bean stock.  Others contain soup. Some are pasta sauces. All are meticulously labelled. I grab two white bean stock containers and climb up the rickety wood stairs.

In a flash, a soup base is born. It’s strange to spoon my cold bean dip into the caramelized onions, celery and beet stalks but magic happens when I pour in the broth and a cloudy, creamy liquid swirls beneath.

More veg! I cut a yellow bell pepper into mouthfuls and a dozen grape tomatoes into quarters. A cob of corn is sliced into a pile of niblets that are shoved with my chef’s knife into the mix. I find a small patty pan squash and a zebra-striped zucchini from today’s harvest and chop them up. 

I fiddle with seasoning, starting small with salt — just a  teaspoon — then lashings of ground black pepper, a big pinch of chilli flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika.  On with the cover and a low simmer for 10 minutes or so. 

Another taste of this soup-in-the-making tells me lemon from the dip is too loud.  I blunt it with tomato paste.  I don’t open a can, I find a flattened sheet of tomato paste frozen into a thin, easy-to-break sheet from the flavour drawer in my kitchen freezer. Baggies full of frozen bay laurel and kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, chopped herbs, galangal, whole Thai red chili peppers and lime juice cubes are just a reach away from stovetop soups, curries and sauces.

I toss in a square inch of paste along with another 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and a sprig of basil, pinched from the garden just moments ago,

Another taste. This soup is still asking for more…

I give it a wallop, smashing two cloves of hard-neck garlic just harvested by a Cowichan Valley young farmers’ collective. The smash is so sticky, papery thin garlic skins become glued to my fingers. Sticky garlic can only mean one thing: Rich, garlicky bite. I sprinkle the sticky crumble over the bubbling soup’s surface and chuckle and natter on to myself, laughing like a witch.

Last step and we find ourselves at the beginning again. Those beet greens. I slice then slide them off my cutting board, the green mound melting instantly into a sea of beans. I turn off the heat.  It’s done. Soup again. 

Garden Vegetable Bean Dip Soup

Totally unorthodox, this soup’s success rests on humus or bean dip. Clean out the contents of your fridge with this nutritious brew, substituting any of my additions with your own fridge or garden finds. 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cooking onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 bunch golden beet stalks, minced 

2 cups bean dip

6 cups white bean vegetable stock

1 yellow bell pepper, cubed

1 small zucchini, 1/2-inch dice

1 patty pan squash, sliced

4 small boiled potatoes, cubed

6 grape tomatoes, quartered

Niblets from one cob of corn

1-2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Big pinch chili flakes 

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

Beet greens, sliced 

Heat a medium pot on medium-high. Add oil, onion, celery and beet stalks and saute until tender. Add bean dip and stock.  Bring to a boil.  Add bell pepper, zucchini, patty pan squash, potatoes, tomatoes and corn. Season with salt, black pepper, tomato paste, paprika, chilli flakes and simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and beet greens and cook a final minute or two.

White Bean & Rosemary Dip

Let’s take the pulse on pulses. I’m talking dried legumes that grow inside pods, be it beans, peas or lentils. 

So much value in every bite.  Full of protein. Packed with fibre. What kitchen can survive without these yummy little packages?

Open my pantry and you’ll find shelf upon shelf of peas – like chickpeas, green peas and black-eyed peas. 

Then there are beans. Kidney-shaped in black, red and white. Black ones, often called turtle and fermented into a salty Chinese condiment. Italian variations like cannellini (white kidney) beans or ceci (chickpeas) beans, borlotti, butterbeans, lupini beans and fava. 

We haven’t even mentioned lentils! Small red ones (also called Egyptian) are one of the quickest you can cook, while green and brown lentils take a few more minutes. But those French babies dubbed Le Puy are my favourite. 

Indian cuisine revels in pulses and you’ll find the largest selection with the most confusing appellations in ethnic food aisles and Indian grocery stores.

Many turn to canned beans instead of dried, for convenience sake. I like to soak and cook pulses in bulk. Once they’re tender, drained and cooled, I freeze and label in two cup containers.  

No matter which pulse moves you the most, your health (and the earth) will thank you if you eat them regularly. 

White Bean and Rosemary Dip

This easy dip needs a food processor to become sublime.  Yes, you can hand-mash canned beans into a delicious affair but I like to use cooked dried beans, which provide more flavour and texture but call out for strong maceration. Do NOT use a blender. Dried beans you hydrate and cook yourself are not only cheaper than canned, but contain zero sodium compared to the oodles found in canned.

1 garlic clove

2 cups cooked white beans such as kidney, navy or cannelinni

Juice of one lemon

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (aprox 5-inch sprig)

1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2-1 tsp kosher salt

1-2 tbsp water * optional

Freshly ground black pepper

With the food processor blade running, drop garlic clove down the tube to mince. Add beans, lemon juice, rosemary and paprika and mix until well combined.  Pour oil through feeding tube while the blade is running.  Add water, if needed, to make the puree the right consistency.  Season with salt and black pepper. Serve in a bowl, garnished with a whole sprig of rosemary, a light drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of Vancouver Island flaky salt.

Corn Salsa Salad

Corn Salsa Salad

This colourful summer salad is full of spunk thanks to key salsa notes: lime juice, garlic, chilli flakes and a big handful of cilantro. For the best optics, chop all your veggies the same size. This salsa/salad holds well in the fridge for 2-3 days if you have any leftovers.

2 cobs fresh corn

1/2 large red onion, chopped

1 medium cucumber, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

10 grape tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup chopped honeydew or cantaloupe

1 Tbsp olive oil

Juice of one lime

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1/2-1 tsp chili flakes 

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

Bring a medium pot of unsalted water to boil and cook corn 8 minutes. (Salt toughens the kernels). Remove corn and set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the kernels and place in a large bowl, mixing with cucumbers, red bell pepper, tomatoes and melon. Toss with oil, lime juice, garlic, salt, chilli flakes and cilantro.

Nettle quiche

My first bite of nettle quiche was a take-out slice from Duncan’s Garage Bakery and Cafe. Every mouthful was a culinary revelation. Dark chunks of earthy greenness couched among creamy eggs, mushrooms, salty feta and buttery, flaky pastry –  this quiche bewitched. 

It did something else.  It tapped into my brain’s ever-pulsing cooking lobes, prompting synapses to pop like corn. I had to make this. 

The next day, my beleaguered husband is inevitably involved. We’re on Stony Hill Trail and I’ve sniffed out some nettles. Stinging nettles. David is holding a large plastic bag open as widely as he can, while I clip and clip, wearing gloves and laughing. These wild plants are the kind I’ve seen posted on Instagram inside rich, green, layered cakes slathered with icing. The kind that can leave a prickly sensation on your skin for hours, if not days. David is leaning as far away from me as he can,  knowing the sting from this nettle too well. Years ago, he’d picked an innocent bunch of leaves to vigorously wipe bicycle grease from his hands only to inflict a painful 48-hour reaction. I notice a sideways grimace from him as I stuff each bright green bundle perilously close to his bare hands and arms. 

IMG_9836Once home, I carry my two bulging forest bags into the kitchen. I climb a step stool and reach for the tallest pasta pot I can safely lift down without breaking my neck. Once boiling and salted, the water is ready for my nettles to take the plunge.  I put my muddy garden gloves back on. I’d wear clean oven gloves were it not for the dexterity the tongs required.  

In and out. Quickly. Each plunge was a messy affair, stems and leaves flying left and right as I pushed them into the water (not unlike squirming live crabs or lobsters who have seen the same fate.) But nettles die instantly. Each thorn is annulled in a nano-second ready to be pulled out limp from the black-grey water, as I inhale the rich, vegetal aroma. 

“Like spinach, but better,” opines my fellow spinach-lover as we dine.   

That’s after we pick up four dozen eggs at our favourite farm stand on Richard’s Trail.  Promise Valley always has their red cooler out, usually packed high with egg cartons and a big, blue freezer block wedged inside. Only once have we found the cooler empty,  our disappointment dashed by the appearance of the farm’s two pet goats pressing up against the fence their long, silky ears and wet noses begging for a scratch.

Just a week before that fateful nettle-filled bite at Duncan’s Garage, I was invited by dairy farmer Caroline Nagtegaal into Promise Valley’s hen house to witness “afternoon chores.”

“Want it?” asked this tiny blond woman in very tall boots as she smiled and giggled, offering me the handles of a large, wired egg basket.  We were standing with the hens, the air a cackling, bawk-ing din, intermingled with saw dust and chicken shit.  

IMG_0224“I’ve been doing this since I was five, but I still yelp when they nip me.”

Her hand was tucked under the rump of a Highline Brown, sitting proud and unruffled in one of a long line of boxes. Some boxes were empty, others occupied. All were lined with straw, tamped down into a nest-like well. Not all of Promise Valley’s 190 hens were inside that afternoon, but Rocky the Rescue Rooster was standing among a particularly talkative clutch collected around my ankles.   

IMG_0227I chickened-out and made a tentative reach into an unoccupied box to find five or six abandoned eggs.  Brown and beige, these eggs were room-temperature to touch except one that radiated such warmth, it must have been freshly laid. 

Of course, that wasn’t my first instinct, holding that egg.  It felt like eggs I have cooled after hard-boiling, warm but ready to shell. Seeing the hen house, helping Caroline collect the eggs as she does every afternoon every single day, was a privilege for this city girl who is always thinking about food, its whereabouts and how it can be transformed into something delicious. 

Like quiche and nettles. 

I reach into the freezer and pull a small bag of dark, green frozen nettles, the product of my nettle forage with David. Each bulging bag’s forest-fresh contents had been flash-boiled, transferred tong-by-tongfull into a large ice bath and drained. I had removed all the stems, squeezed handfuls over the sink to remove excess liquid and bagged up my nettle cache for the freezer. 

Asparagus was roasting in the oven while chopped onions sizzled in butter on the stove-top.  I grated a chunk of white cheddar and beat half a dozen of Caroline’s eggs.  I dumped the eggs into a four-cup glass measure containing milk, seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne and freshly grated nutmeg. 

I defrosted half a nettle bag’s contents in a bowl of cold water, then dispersed little mounds  along the bottom of my Einkorn and Red Fife pastry covered with soft, fragrant onions, followed by a showering of cooled roasted asparagus and grated cheddar. 

Once the quiche was safely tucked inside the oven, sitting on a rimmed baking sheet in case of  any run-off, I could relax and dream. Promise Valley is making the transition to organic and will soon be offering Guernsey milk and cream-top yogurt at their farm stand. When they open their doors I will be first in line, conjuring up more tasty recipes to share here at Mado Food.

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Nettle and Asparagus Quiche

If you don’t have stinging nettles substitute with spinach and pretend. 

2 tbsp butter

1/2 large cooking onion, chopped 

1 cup defrosted frozen nettles

6 spears cooked asparagus, sliced into 1- inch pieces

1 cup grated old cheddar

6 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk or cream

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp cayenne

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Heat butter in a frying pan and sauté onions until soft and fragrant. Set aside and cool. 

Arrange onions, nettles, asparagus and 3/4 cup of the grated cheddar on the bottom of the pie pastry crust that you have made (see recipe below) or bought frozen.

In a medium bowl or 4-cup measure, combine milk, eggs, salt, nutmeg, cayenne and freshly ground pepper.  Pour into the pie crust and top with remaining cheese.  

Bake on a rimmed baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 50-60 min or until the centre of the quiche is golden brown, set and the middle won’t jiggle when gently shook.  Remove from the oven and wait 10-20  minutes before serving (to further set and slice up well).

 

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Einkorn and Red Fife Pastry

This flavour-forward pastry dough is adapted from Flourist and will taste best if you use freshly ground, local grain. If you are stuck with supermarket-only options, use whole wheat pastry flour instead of Red Fife and white pastry flour instead of Einkorn and cut down the ice cold water to 1/4-1/2 cup. Yields 1 double crust pie pastry. Freeze the leftover single crust for your next quiche adventure.

1 2⁄3 (230g) cup True Grain Sifted Red Fife Flour

1 cup (138g) cup True Grain Whole Einkorn Flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (227g) butter, cold and cut into cubes 

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

3/4-1 cup ice cold water, or as needed

Pulse flour and salt In a food processor bowl once or twice to combine. Sprinkle over with cubed butter and process on high for 30 seconds or more, until butter is the size of small peas. Pour vinegar and ice cold water through the tube with the motor running, adding water by the tablespoon until it adheres into a mass. 

Transfer to a large sheet of waxed paper and press the crumbly mess into a round disc. Wrap well and refrigerate two hours or until firm. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the disc and arrange in a deep (5-cup/1.25L) pie dish.

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Shanghai Bok Choy

Whether it is green stemmed Shanghai bok choy or “regular” white-stemmed bok choy this vegetable is meant for the wok. Baby or full size, bok choy stir-fries beautifully when it is washed and chopped in similar sized pieces. Stir-fry the thicker stem portions first and toss in the chopped green leaves afterwards. Because greens release a lot of water while cooking, no extra water or stock is needed, but you will need a cover to steam until just done. 

2 tbsp oil  

1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 lb/400g bok choy

1/2 tsp sea salt

Wash and prep the bok choy and ginger, arranging in bowls or plates beside the stove-top. Heat the wok on high.  Add oil, swirl to cover the sides of the wok and toss in ginger. Using a large Chinese spatula, stir for 10 seconds then add the chopped bok choy stems and sprinkle with salt. Stir-fry about 2 minutes or until slightly tender. Add all the chopped leafy ends, mix and cover. Leave to steam 1 or 2 minutes or until leaves are wilted and stems still firm but deliciously tender.

Smeared Cauliflower

Ginger Turmeric Smeared Cauliflower

Make this a vegan one-pan meal with the addition of chickpeas.  Serve with hunks of whole grain bread and a leafy green salad. 

Paste: 

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp water

1 cooking onion, small, peeled and quartered

1 inch ginger, coarsely chopped

I inch turmeric, coarsely chopped

1 large clove garlic

1 tsp coriander powder

¼ tsp hot chili flakes

1 tsp cumin seeds

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1 head cauliflower, rinsed whole, cut into steaks, loose greens

6-8 grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1 cup chickpeas * optional

Preheat oven to 400 F

Whirl oil, water, onion, ginger, turmeric, garlic, coriander powder, hot chilli flakes, cumin seeds, salt and pepper in a small food processor.  

Brush oil evenly over the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet. Scatter cauliflower steaks and pieces and smear on paste with a spoon or basting brush. 

Bake 40 min. flipping halfway through.