Categories
Dinner Party Gluten Free Index Soups Vegetarian

Chilled english pea soup, made with pea shell consommé

[one_half][S]mall details often tell you a lot. For instance, you can usually tell someone’s really into clothes by checking out their accessories. Shoes, socks, belt, watch. Someone who doesn’t care will figure, No one’s looking at my socks. On the other hand, are they kinda funky? Like in a cool way, not an odiferous way? Yeah. Didn’t happen by accident. You kind of have to go out of your way to buy funky socks. That’s someone who’s not capable of letting it slide. Same goes for food. When I’m at a restaurant, I know the kitchen is totally geeked out when they send out an absolute killer soup or salad. Doesn’t happen all that often, actually. Sure, if you’re going high end and paying at least eighty bucks for your meal—it better be good. But what about a more casual spot, like a neighborhood restaurant, or a bistro? How many lentil soups have you had where you honestly thought, This is the bomb… ? Whenever that happens (and for me, that was perhaps once), I’m really excited about the rest of the meal, because I know that kitchen’s too proud to send out another fucking chunky, flavorless lentil soup with carrots.

Given my opinion of soup-as-window-to-a-kitchen’s-soul, perhaps it was a bit ambitious for me to decide, on the day of my (already overly ambitious) dinner party, to add english pea soup to the menu. I had originally bought the peas for a salad, but was concerned that most of the peas would simply accumulate at the bottom of the bowl and then be eaten separately from the greens, or not eaten at all. Then I remembered this cool post on Eatfoo about making a consommé out of pea shells. I wanted to try that, so I decided to wing it with a soup recipe and see how things went. Had I ever made soup before? Of course not. OK, my first post was about soup. But I think Korean soups are a different animal. I mean, to my knowledge, no one makes creamy, pureed soups in Korea. If so, those people have not immigrated here and served said soup to me.

At some point that day, I had what I thought was a pretty good soup. Then I thought, You can never add too much sour cream. Apparently you can. Just barely. I had to make a judgement call as to whether it was OK to send the course out. It didn’t taste awful—it was just out of balance. I hadn’t bought enough peas, so the flavor kind of disappeared in all that sour cream. I went back and forth about this, but ended up serving it. Here it is—this pale, pathetic-looking thing:

Reactions were decidedly mixed. Marc says he liked it. Bernadette ate the whole thing, but didn’t comment. I knew I would get an honest opinion from Naya, their nine-year-old son. Eh. It’s so-so. Thanks, kid. That’s actually the answer I needed, but understandably did not get from the grown-ups. But I knew there was a great soup in there. I tasted a glimpse of it during prep, and I felt certain I would have to go back and try it again.

* * * * *

The week after my dinner party, I was on a mission to find more peas. I knew they wouldn’t have any at my local grocery, so I turned to  The Mission Bay Farmers’ Market, which has been a welcome addition to our culinary wasteland of a campus. It’s small and doesn’t have the most exotic ingredients, but does have reliably good produce. I make it a point to stop by every Wednesday to take a break from endless meetings and benchwork. What I found weren’t the prettiest shells I’d ever seen, but the peas themselves were fresh, and still a bit sweet. This time I bought 4 lbs, to make certain that I wouldn’t run out.

Last spring at around this time, Erin made the Zuni Cafe’s Pasta alla Carbonara, and was excited to have found fresh english peas for the occasion. A couple things stood out to me about that experience: (1) In this context, the fresh peas tasted pretty much the same as frozen peas. (2) For a one-and-a-half-year-old, Esme was pretty good at shelling peas, and seemed to really enjoy doing it. She’s always been a busy kid. I try to allow my daughter to “help” me cook whenever I can. She insists on pouring the dry oatmeal into her bowl before I microwave it, wants to have her hand on the measuring cup as I add water, etc. I thought she would get a kick out of helping shell peas again, despite likely not remembering the work she did last year. So I let her have at it.

At first, she was shelling like a champ. She’d sometimes miss the peas in the corner of the pod, but went about her work at an impressive clip. She particularly liked throwing the empty shells into the large mixing bowl, where I had been collecting them. So much so, that she eventually just started throwing intact pods in there. I had to gently distract her, so that I could go back, fish out the good ones (which was not trivial), and finish the job.

* * * * *

A worthwhile decision to make, though I didn’t see any mention of this in any of the recipes I read online, is whether to use your peas raw or cooked. To some extent, it depends on the freshness and age of the peas. If they are mostly on the small side and are tender, juicy, and sweet, I am very much in favor of using them raw. I like being able to highlight the more delicate flavors that elude us for 3/4 of the year. If the peas are more mature, large enough to fill most of the volume of the pod, or are at all starchy, you probably want to cook them. Either method will yield a fine soup, and a good portion of the flavor will come from your shell stock, which you can’t get from the frozen section. Cooking them accomplishes two things. First, it improves the yield of the recipe. Unless you have an extremely powerful blender, a purée of raw peas will leave behind a significant amount of pulp. This will accumulate in your strainer and less will make it into the soup. Secondly, cooking, even a little bit, tends to mellow out the flavors. Raw peas can be a bit grassy-tasting, but a quick blanch can take that edge off. A superficial benefit to cooking the peas is that (as long as you don’t overcook them) you can get more vibrant color. Something to keep in mind is that any amount of cooking begins to summon the richer, split-pea flavor that is for the most part absent from fresh snap peas, english peas, etc. The longer you cook, the bigger role that family of flavors will play, so it depends on what you want.

Let’s start with the consommé.

English pea shell consommé

about 4 lbs fresh english peas in the shell
water
kosher or sea salt

Make sure to pop a couple of the pods open at the market and taste the peas. They lose flavor rapidly after picking (and even more rapidly after being shelled). Ideally, you want peas that you would have been happy to eat raw. I’ve made this with young, immaculate shells as well as the slightly wizened shells pictured here. I couldn’t tell a big difference, so don’t be put off by discolored shells. Remove peas and reserve. (You may want to enlist a small child to help you with this.) Rinse shells thoroughly. Go through the spent casings and discard any obviously rotting or excessively dirty ones. If there are a lot of woody stems attached to the end of the pod, as there were here, I would go through with a pair of scissors and cut those off. For really young pods, this isn’t really necessary.

In a large stock pot, barely cover the cleaned and trimmed shells with water and bring to a boil, optionally adding about 1/2 tsp of salt. Immediately lower heat and simmer for 20 mins. Remove from heat and strain solids. At this point, the stock will be dilute and very lightly colored. Reduce at medium-low heat until the stock becomes golden and intensely flavored. For me, this happened at about 1/4 to 1/3 of the original volume. (You can mark the original level with a rubber band on the handle of a wooden spoon to track how much you’ve reduced the stock.) Periodically taste the stock and add salt, if desired. Be careful not to add too much at the beginning, since the stock will continue to become more concentrated. You can cook it down quite a bit more, if you want. In the Eatfoo post where I saw this recipe, David reduced the stock by 20-fold. Yowza!

Starting from 4 lbs of peas, this made 6 – 8 cups.

Incidentally, this consommé would be a fantastic vegetarian option to use as a stock for my kong namul guk recipe. For the soup itself, I consulted quite a few recipes, but ended up essentially adapting the Chilled Pea and Tarragon Soup from Bon Appétit.

English pea soup

about 1 lb of shelled english peas (I didn’t weigh them, but I think 4 lbs of pods yielded about 4 C of peas)
2 T butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
salt
4 C english pea shell consommé
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 T heavy cream
2 T sour cream
freshly cracked black pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until bubbles subside and sauté shallots at medium heat until tender, but not brown (about 3 mins). Add consommé and bring to a boil. Add peas and salt and boil until peas are bright and just tender (no more than 3 – 4 mins). Remove from heat and add to blender along with tarragon, both creams, and several turns of black pepper. Purée until smooth (do this in small batches if you have a small blender—safety first!) Correct seasoning and strain through a fine sieve or chinois. I prefer not to force the contents through the mesh, because then you end up forcing fibers through that you were trying to strain out on the first place. If it’s going too slowly, you can tap the sieve and/or use a spoon to stir and redistribute the unstrained fraction. I can’t resist eating the pulp, but you can also just throw it away. Allow soup to cool and serve chilled or at room temperature. If desired, garnish with fresh tarragon and some sour cream. If you use heavy cream, as I did for the top photo, it creates a “slick” on top of the soup, which you may or may not find disturbing.

* * * * *

The Esme rating

Try as I might, I could not convince Esme to taste the soup. She may have had flashbacks to her first experiences with solid baby food. Puréed peas were the first thing that she absolutely hated. My mom got such a kick out of watching Esme grimace with disgust (and perhaps a sense of betrayal?) that she kept feeding it to her to elicit that reaction. Esme does like frozen peas, however. Not just peas that were once frozen. She likes them straight out of the freezer.

Esme, do you like these peas better, or frozen peas?

Frozen peas. But these are pretty good, too. They’re too crunchy.

Did she like the fresh peas enough to eat more than a few? Hard to say, really (see left).

* * * * *

The Ben rating

So Erin and I recently went to this cool restaurant in the Mission called Schmidt’s (as in Christiane Schmidt, of Walzwerk). They sell these light-as-air pea pancakes that beautifully juxtapose deep-fried crunchies with peas so fresh I find myself wondering whether fryolator is their natural habitat. Anyway, after all this, I saw a pea soup with lemon and mint on their menu. I had to order it and check out the competition.

All’s I’m saying is that the head-to-head score is Ben/Esme: 1, Christiane: 0. Not even close, actually. Though I’m sure she’ll come back to haunt us in the braised red cabbage category …

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Pescatarian Soups Vegetarian

Inaugural post: Kong Namul Guk (soybean sprout soup)

[one_half][I]f you’ve read my About page or been over to our house for the dinner hour, you know that my 2-year-old daughter Esme is what our pediatrician calls a “small eater.” We’ve been reassured several times that she’s getting plenty of nutrition, is just showing age-typical behavior, yada yada. Whatever. As a parent, all I can do is wonder where my daughter summons the energy to do anything when she barely eats. I try to keep things in perspective, but it definitely stresses me out. I can’t help it—it’s the Asian mom in me. So imagine my delight when Esme, after eating the solids from a soybean sprout soup that my mother made, picked up the bowl and drank the broth. I had to get her more of this stuff.

Energized by my new I’m-going-to-be-a-great-Dad-and-start-cooking-for-my-family-so-watch-out attitude, I picked up the phone and asked my Mom for the recipe. “Just boil it!” was her reply. True to her Korean roots, my Mom’s not so much into recipes. She pokes fun at me for measuring things, and shoots me suspicious glances if she senses that her actions at the stove are being mentally recorded.

“You just want to measure it!”
“I’m just trying to determine, when you say ‘add x,’ whether you mean 1 tablespoon or 100. I know it doesn’t have to be exact.”
“Just taste it! You’ll know!”
etc.

So I did a little digging, and found that making this soup is a bit more complicated that just boiling the sprouts. Fortunately for me, it’s not much more complicated. So I offer my take on it below. Just so I don’t get dirty looks at daycare from my friend Amy over at Kimchi Mom, I’ll tell you up front that I don’t cook a ton of Korean food.Yet.

* * * * *

The first important thing to know about making soybean sprout soup is that it’s made with soybean sprouts, and not the visually similar and more readily available mung bean sprouts. They are typically available at Korean grocery stores (though, oddly, not at Park’s Farmer’s Market in the Inner Sunset, where I live). Occasionally, I will see them at Chinese markets, so if you live near one, it’s worth a look.

At the market, inspect the sprouts for freshness. They should be clean-looking and crisp. The heads should be evenly yellow and the shoots silvery-white. If they look at all dodgy, then forget it. Try again next time. You can’t recover from bad produce, and the next step will take far too long. If they look good, then you’re in business. You’ll need about a pound for this recipe. Keep in mind that they have a very short shelf life, so be sure to cook them on the same day.

The first step is to clean the sprouts. This is by far the most time consuming step. Rinse them several times in cold water. Go through and pick out any obviously bad/rotten ones (there are bound to be a few). Trust your instincts here. If you see browning or liquifying of the shoot, dump it. Here are some groddy-looking ones that I picked out, as well as what they should look like when clean:

You’ll notice that the clean, unbroken sprouts still have a thin root attached to the end of each shoot. I’m told that some people snip those off. Hey, if you’ve got that kind of time, more power to you. I leave them on, and my Mom claims “that’s where all the vitamins are.” There will also be a lot of yellow heads that have broken off and accumulated at the bottom of your bowl. I usually toss these, as well. I don’t like getting a spoonful of just heads, and they don’t look as good in the soup. At first I was self-conscious about wasting them, but remember that you’ve paid about $1 for all of those sprouts. You can let the loose heads go.

* * * * *

The one major decision you’ll want to make is whether to used canned or homemade stock for your soup. This soup works very well with chicken, beef or anchovy stock. (I’ve never tried using vegetable stock, but presumably that would also be OK. **Update 24 October, 2010: Made this with pea shell consommé, and can confirm that it still rocks.) You may be familiar with Michael Ruhlman’s rant against canned stock, in which he famously encouraged people to use water instead. While I admire Michael’s culinary purism, I’ll warn you that this dish does fall into the 10% of cases where canned stock is probably better than water. It used to be that you could make this soup with water, but with mass agriculture the way it is, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have soybean sprouts with enough flavor to carry the soup by themselves. So to summarize, with this soup:

homemade stock > canned stock >> water

Fortunately for you, stock is ridiculously easy to make. Many of you are aware of this, but still resist. So to prove my point:

Chicken Stock
5-6 lbs meaty chicken parts (not just the necks and backs—dark meat works best, or a whole chicken)
3-4 quarts of water (to cover)
1 carrot, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
1 rib of celery, cut into 4 pieces
1 large yellow onion, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 bay leaf
2 sprigs parsley
1 tsp kosher salt

Rinse the chicken. Put the ingredients in a stock pot that holds at least 8 quarts. Start warming the pot on the stove while preheating the oven to 180-200 degrees. When the pot has barely reached a simmer, put the pot into the oven. Take it out in 3 hours. Strain it very well. Cool it down. Remove the fat (you can skim it, but it’s easiest to wait until it’s refrigerated, and remove the solid fat from the top).

That’s it. I used to make it on the stove, monitoring the heat with a thermometer, but Ruhlman’s tip on using the oven makes it super easy. Don’t have all the ingredients? Doesn’t matter! The most important parts are the chicken, water and salt. You can more or less improvise the rest of it without doing much harm. Want to get crazy? Don’t put the vegetables in until the last hour. That’s honestly as complicated as it gets, and using your own stock will drastically improve your soup. Oh yeah, and don’t throw away the chicken meat. I usually remove the skin (which has become rubbery and gross) and eat the wings right away with a little bit of salt. The rest of the meat is great on salads, or dipped in yangnyum soy sauce, which I’ll tell you how to make below.

Still not convinced? OK, use low-sodium chicken stock from a box. But you’ll always wonder… (**Update 21 February, 2011: Though it can’t compete with homemade stock, I do find Imagine Chicken Cooking Stock—NOT the Chicken Broth, which is disgusting—to be usable, in a pinch.)

* * * * *

Now that you’ve sourced your sprouts and made your amazing stock, the rest is relatively easy. In a large stock pot, saute 2 cloves of freshly minced garlic in 1 T of sesame oil for about a minute. Which sesame oil? The one with the dragons on it, says my Mom. That’s the good sesame oil.

Add the sprouts  (1 – 1.5 lb), toss them a bit in the oil, and then add 6 – 8 cups of stock. Cover the pot and turn the stove to medium-high heat. When it has become clear that the stock is boiling (steam shooting out from beneath the lid), allow the contents to boil with the lid on for 3 – 5 minutes. It is important not to uncover the pot, because, by some unknown mechanism, prematurely uncovering the pot will impart an off-flavor to the beans. I have not done a rigorously controlled experiment to verify this, but it suffices to say that it’s very easy to just leave the lid on, so I do it.

Once this crucial time has passed, it is safe to uncover the pot and lower the heat. Taste the soup and correct the seasoning (salt). The sprouts should still be slightly crunchy, but if you’d like them cooked longer, cook them longer. The soup is basically done. At this point, I usually prepare a dressing to make a salad with half of the cooked sprouts. Whether you want to do this is completely up to you. You may like the ratio of sprouts to liquid as is, which is fine. I like cooking with a lot of sprouts because they flavor the soup, but I end up putting a lot of liquid in the bowls, so if I don’t do something else with them, I’m left with a lot of sprouts at the end.

* * * * *

Again, the following step is completely optional, but you may find the recipe useful. Kong namul is a classic banchan, or side dish. If you want to make the salad without the soup, boil the sprouts in 1/2 C of water instead of stock.

Kong Namul (seasoned soybean sprouts)
adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook

roughly half of the sprouts from the soup you made above
1/2 T soy sauce
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 T sesame oil (pref. from a bottle adorned with dragons)
1 green onion, chopped
sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds
black pepper to taste (opt.)
red pepper flakes to taste (opt.)

At some point (e.g., while you’re waiting for the soup to boil), add the above ingredients, minus the sprouts, to a medium-sized mixing bowl. When the soup is done, remove about half of the sprouts and drain thoroughly, reserving the broth to return to the soup. Add the sprouts to the bowl, toss, and refrigerate.

Note that the dressing for this recipe is essentially yangnyum ganjang, or seasoned soy sauce. This is a wonderful dipping sauce, which I use on pa jon and muk, as well as leftover chicken from stock, leftover beef shanks from stock, leftover brisket from stock, etc.

* * * * *

Now you’re ready to serve the soup. I like to garnish the bowl with some chopped green onion, and season with black or red pepper. I particularly like the red pepper flakes typically found in Japanese noodle shops—S&B Ichimi or Nanami Togarashi. Here they both are, nestled among my various red spices in the fridge. If you look closely, you can see a small ziploc bag of Korean kochu karu peeking out from behind them (Yes; I am a traitor).

So there you have it. Not only is this dish a big hit with by daughter, but with barely more effort than boiling water, I can now recreate one of my favorite dishes from childhood. It’s both comforting and light, and (I’m told) a mean cure for hangovers.[/one_half]

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soybean sprout bag
Yes
mung bean sprout bag
No
funky, rotten soybean sprouts
compost
cleaned soybean sprouts
keep

sesame oil with dragons

kong namul ingredients

kong namul mixing

kong namul plating

togarashi and other red pepper
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