PHILOSOPHY/WHO WE ARE/WHAT WE DO
Recipes, well yes, that’s what this is all about, but please remember, none of this is written in stone. I don’t cook from recipes, I cook from ideas and inspiration. I use my trips to the Feria and the visits I make to my farmers as the sources of my recipes. I will substitute when it makes sense, and if and when it works there is great rejoicing; when it doesn’t we all hope to learn from it. I hope that you will feel free to do the same.
I certainly won’t be offended. Look at these recipes as jumping off places.
The only recipes I try to adhere to are those for pastries and cakes. Baking is chemistry; cakes rise and pie crusts hold together for a reason. Admittedly, desserts are not the strongest part of my kitchen “game”, and for that reason I pay close attention to my amounts and measurements. I am not a good enough baker to start making changes.
I began serving a small cup of a chilled soup early on in my time at La Cusinga. I wanted to offer something more than our basic three course menu, but didn’t want to concoct an ever changing roster of bocaditos that would clash with the generally unadorned flavors that our food contains. A cold soup, a pure expression of flavor, was just the thing to cool and greet the hot and well traveled dinner guest before the larger plates arrived. It opens his palate and provides a glimpse of the simplicity and trust in the ingredients that we believe in. There is no dairy in any of these soups; they are simple, rich purees of fresh vegetables.
This basic recipe has become a staple of my kitchen and the core technique of roasting the tomatoes has found its way into a number of other recipes. I adopted this technique when called upon at various times and in other places to have to extract flavor from unripe tomatoes. The process of roasting vegetables (or fruit, for that matter) at a medium high heat concentrates the sugars, causes caramelization and increases and intensifies flavors. It’s as simple as that.
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
12 Ripe Tomatoes; cored and cut in half;
2 Large Yellow/White Onions; peeled and cut into ½” rings;
12 Whole Peeled Garlic Cloves
½ Cup Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
Pour ¼ Cup of the Olive Oil onto a baking or cookie pan (it will need to have raised edges) and tilt the pan to spread it evenly. Place the tomatoes on the pan, cut side down. Put the onion rings in and over the tomato halves; you want them to be tucked down into the tomatoes so as not to burn. Sprinkle the garlic cloves over all and tuck them down in among the tomatoes as well. Pour the other half of the olive oil over all and put the pan into the oven. Roast the tomatoes for 30-40 minutes or until the tops begin to shrink and turn a golden brown color. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to work with, transfer them to a blender (or you can use an immersion “stick” blender, making sure to get all the liquids and scraping the pan to remove all the stuck-on bits. Add 1 Cup of Water and puree the soup until smooth. Using a spoon, check for flavor (s&p) and consistency. You may want to wait to add water until the soup “sets”. I like to allow this (and all my) soup to cool overnight to wait for the flavors to develop. This is your basic tomato soup, to be served hot or cold.
There are a number of flavor options you can use to bump up or change the flavor of this soup and the flavors I prefer most are acids. Because you have concentrated the sugars in your tomatoes, you have cooked away the acids and now you can add them back for additional depth.
Because I always serve this soup as a cold first course, I like to give it a bit of a bite and to do that I add the fresh juice of a couple of mandarinas or limes (add the juice bit by bit, it can creep up on you). Or, for a more refined taste I’ll add a couple of dashes of sherry vinegar. Another option is to add whatever kind of hot sauce you like, or combine any of the above flavors.
When I have leftover marinated tomatoes from my salads, I will wait until the next day, when the tomatoes have broken down a bit and then puree them and the marinating liquid into the chilled “set” soup. I also like to add a quarter to a half cup of extra-virgin olive oil to the chilled soup with the blender running, to add a rich suaveness to the soup. The options are plentiful once you have mastered the basic recipe.
This is quite a simple soup, but the combination of the curry and the cauliflower is a perfect match. When I puree this soup at the restaurant, heads turn as the smell of the curry is so pervasive. The intensity of flavor in this soup is achieved by making sure the curry powder gets cooked.
2 Yellow/White Onions, diced;
2 TBS Light Cooking Oil;
2 TBS Fresh* Curry Powder;
1 Head Cauliflower, rough chopped, green parts removed;
1 Baking Potato or 2 Medium White Boiling Potatoes, peeled and cut in large dice;
Heat the cooking oil and add the onions, curry powder and salt. Sautee until the onions are bright yellow and appear to have absorbed the curry powder. Add the cauliflower pieces and stir until they are coated and yellow. Add 4 Cups of Water and set heat to high. Add the diced potato to the liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a medium simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender. Let the soup cool until it can be handled without danger and then puree in batches to smooth.
Like all the soups I make, I recommend allowing this to sit overnight before correcting the seasoning (salt) and before thinning. It will need to be thinned, as the starch from the potatoes will thicken it naturally overnight. All you will need to do is stir in water until you reach a consistency you like.
* When I say “fresh” I am referring to curry powder that has not been in your pantry for a year or more.
This is one of my favorites soups both to make and to eat. I love making it because the smell that the cooking ginger and the Thai curry paste are rich and deep when the heat gets to them. As for eating, this soup has such a brightness of flavor that it seems to jump on your palate.
I started this soup off as a simple and classic carrot-ginger puree and it just kept growing. I wanted more color and since I get beautiful organic beets that I pickle for salads, they were always around and seemed so obvious. When I wanted just a hit more complexity of flavor, the Thai curry paste (which we also keep around the restaurant) was right there as far as complimentary flavors. And lastly, after I’d made this a few times I realized that I wanted to amplify the sweetness just enough to catch the eater’s attention, so I began using orange juice and then finally, orange-carrot juice for the pureeing liquid.
2 TBS Light Cooking Oil;
2 Large Yellow/White Onions, diced;
12 Carrots (it is not necessary to peel them), cut into oval rings (oval rings don’t roll on the cutting board);
1 Chunk of Fresh Ginger (about the size of your thumb, or a bit bigger), peeled and grated;
1 Tsp Thai Curry Paste (red or yellow is best, but I also like massaman);
1 Large or 2 Medium Beets, peeled and cut into large dice;
1 Qt. Orange-Carrot Juice (straight OJ is a suitable substitute)
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Heat the cooking oil in a heavy pot and add the onions, ginger, curry paste, salt and pepper; sauté until the smell is strong from the curry paste and the onions are translucent. Add the carrots and stir well to coat. Cover the vegetables with 4 Cups of Water (just to cover, you don’t want them swimming) and bring to a boil. When the liquid has boiled, add the cut beets and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to a medium simmer and cook until the carrots are quite tender and the liquid is just at the level of the vegetables. Remove from heat to cool.
When the soup is cool enough to handle without danger, puree it in batches, using the juice to augment the liquid remaining in the soup pot. If it appears that there is lot of liquid left, don’t be afraid to pour a bit off. You want to be able to use enough of the fruit juice to impart some flavor.
Again, I encourage you to let this soup sit overnight for the flavors to “marry”. Although I like it cold (after all, I live in the tropics) I’m certain it is wonderful served hot on a cold night. Apt accompaniments or garnishes to this soup are sour cream or a natural yogurt. I buy a goat’s milk yogurt from the Mennonites at the Feria here that is great with this soup. At the restaurant, however, I serve it unadorned.
I have always liked spinach soups and when I was faced with the bushels of wild spinach (espinaca local) that grow all over our property here at La Cusinga, the soup making decision was an easy one. There is nothing like putting spinach into a soup to help reduce its volume. This soup has a beautiful deep jade green color but to preserve that color, it is important not to cook the spinach too long.
My first attempts at this soup were thin and lacked the body I wanted. I had been using just our big green onions (the size of small leeks) to accompany the spinach and it occurred to me that this could almost be a potato-leek soup (classic vichysoisse) but with huge amounts of spinach pureed into it. I added the potatoes early on in the cooking process and Voila (or perhaps, Ole, here) the potatoes added the starch and thickness that I wanted.
2 Bunch Leeks or Green Onions; sliced in thin rings;
8 Cloves of Garlic, chopped;
2 Oz. Light Cooking Oil
1 Large Baking Potato or 2 Medum Boiling Potatoes, peeled and cubed;
4 Bunches of Fresh Spinach, at least partially stemmed
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper (this soup will require more salt than you think)
Pour the oil into a large heavy pot and bring to heat. Add the Leeks/Green Onions and Garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add Salt and Pepper and 3 Cups of Water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling add the potatoes and cook until tender. When the potatoes are tender, add all the spinach and stir it into the hot liquid. Put a lid on the pot and let it stand for at least five minutes. When the soup is cool enough to handle, puree it in batches and tasting for salt content. Allow to cool overnight and retaste.
This is another soup that would take nicely to a bit of sour cream or yogurt if you feel that you’d like something more. If you decide you want to serve this soup hot rather than cold, just barely bring it to heat and do not boil it. If it boils it will become bitter and the color will change.
Roasted Summer Vegetable
Honestly, I developed this soup as a way to use up left-over Ratatouille, the classic Provincal preparation of eggplant, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. I discovered, somewhat by chance, that when pureed and thinned, it made a great soup. Now, rather than sautéing the vegetables, as I would for the Ratatouille, I toss them in a bit of olive oil and roast them to develop yet another level of flavor.
I use a salting and pressing technique to remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant that you may not need if you have them fresh from the garden or market. After the eggplant are peeled and cubed, toss them with a tablespoon of salt and place them in a colander with a weighted plate on top. The water in the eggplant (which contains the bitterness developed once it is off the vine) will drip out and you can squeeze out more after ten or fifteen minutes of pressing.
Preheat Oven to 450
1 Eggplant, peeled and cut into 1” dice; salted and pressed;
2 Large Zucchini, cut into 1” dice;
2 Red Bell Peppers, cut into 1 “dice;
1 Large Yellow/White Onion, cut into large dice;
3 Ripe Tomatoes, cored and quartered;
12 Cloves of Garlic, peeled
½ Cup Good (not extra virgin) Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Toss all the vegetables with the Olive Oil, salt and pepper and spread them on a sheet tray. Roast in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, stirring every ten minutes; or until the vegetables are beginning to get crisp browned edges. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle safely, puree in batches using 2 Cups of Water to make the pureeing easier. Let the soup rest overnight and check for thickness and seasonings.
This soup is great hot or cold. Hot, I like it with pesto swirled into it and cold it is great with a drizzle of basil or chive oil (bring a ¼ cup Olive Oil to heat, add chopped herbs, turn off, let cool and puree).