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Thursday, November 19, 2009

When in Doubt, Make Soup

The making of soups and stews is a culinary technique, a health practice, and a way to save time and money in the kitchen. Cooking ingredients together in a watery base makes their nutrients eminently available for the body, maximizing the ease of digestion. A batch of soup can be cooked and will improve over a few days’ time, or can be frozen for future meals. Soup in a thermos is easily transported to work or school and can save you a lot of money on dining out!
My studies and experiments in soup and stew making over the years have led me to discover the five elements of soup. All the elements need not be present in every good soup, yet most good, traditional soup recipes contain at least three. They are:

The high notes:
· Spicy/aromatic: These flavors and aromas brighten the energy of a soup, and hit your palate first. Onions, garlic, pepper, celery, fennel, leeks, spices such as curry, and red and black peppers are aromatics. Sometimes they are cooked into a soup, sometimes they are sprinkled on at the end. (LUNG organ/METAL element in Chinese medicine)
· Bitter: Bitter greens lift and lighten flavors and awaken the appetite. Stir in spinach, arugula, kale, watercress in the last few minutes of cooking, or sprinkle on parsley, cilantro, citrus zest, etc. as a finishing touch. A great way to work more greens into your diet. (HEART/FIRE)
· Sour: Can give a lift, or a kick to the top end of a soup. Lemon, lime, or best yet, ferments like sauerkraut or unpasteurized vinegar, are wonderful here. (LIVER/WOOD)
The middle tones:
· Sweet: the body of the soup. Most likely, the middle tones are whatever you used most of in the soup, carrots, chicken, potatoes, carmelized onions, etc. Many of these foods are complex carbs with a sweet flavor. Or they may be thickeners, such as rice or noodles, which give a broth body and make the soup a meal. (SPLEEN/EARTH)
· Fat: is the carrier of flavor. It may be used in sautéing the ingredients, as in ghee, coconut oil or lard, or it may be used as a finisher, such as crème fraiche or butter swirled in at the end of the process. (LIVER/WOOD)
The baseline:
· Salty/umami: is derived from the flavors of mineral-rich stock or bone broth, miso, tamari, fish sauce or seaweed. It gives depth to the soup, making it satisfy and nourish us, literally, to the bone. (KIDNEY/WATER)

White Bean Kabocha Stew
1 cup Great Northern Beans or other white beans
1 strip kombu seaweed, about 6”
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil, ghee or pastured lard
1 cup coarsely chopped leeks
1 cup tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 cups Kabocha squash, chopped into 1 1/2” cubes
½ cup coarsely chopped celery leaves
1 tablespoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup green beans, trimmed
2 pinches crumbled saffron threads (saffron is a digestive aid, fights inflammation and “seems to convince human cancer cells to induce their own death”)
Garnishes: watercress, cilantro, basil, pesto…

Soak the beans overnight in cool water. Place them into a 2-3 qt. saucepan with the kombu, bay leaf, carrot, celery, and onion, with water to cover by about 1 ½ inches. Bring to a boil and simmer until the beans are almost tender, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid, and remove the bay, carrot, celery and kombu. In a heavy soup pot, heat the fat. Add the leeks and sauté until they are beginning to turn golden, then add the tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes. Pour in enough water to cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the Kabocha, celery leaves, salt and a few grindings of black pepper, and reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or so. Now add the green beans, the white beans and their cooking liquid along with the saffron. Simmer for 15 minutes or until all is tender. Correct the seasoning, and serve with the optional garnishes. You can use almost any seasonal vegetables in this dish.

Curried Chicken Coconut Soup
Like many chicken soups, the inclusion of chicken meat in this is totally optional. The really beneficial part of the dish is in the broth, made by long-simmering a chicken carcass in water with a splash of vinegar. Of course, you could use veggie stock for a vegetarian version. In that case, substitute some miso for the fish sauce to get the important umami tones.
2 tablespoons coconut oil, ghee or lard
1 red onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2-3 slices ginger, cut in tiny matchsticks
1 cup shitake, maitake or other mushrooms, sliced
1 qt. chicken stock (or Magic mineral broth or other stock)
1 yam, diced
1 daikon radish, sliced
¼-1 tsp Thai curry paste
1 can coconut milk (not lite!)
1-2 teaspoons fish sauce or tamari
1 Nappa cabbage, sliced thin
1 bunch watercress, coarsely chopped
Juice of 1-2 lemons or limes
Garnish: cilantro, basil, chili oil, etc.
Heat the fat in a large soup pot, then add the onion, and begin to sauté until it is turning golden. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for a few moments more. Next, add the mushrooms and cook and stir until they begin to slightly brown. Add the stock and bring the soup to a boil. Add the yam and daikon and simmer for 10 minutes or so until they begin to get tender. Meanwhile, dissolve the curry paste in a little of the coconut milk, then add this and the rest of the can to the soup. Simmer 5 minutes more or so, and then add the fish sauce or tamari and cabbage. When the cabbage begins to wilt, taste and correct the seasonings. Stir in the watercress and lime juice at the last minute, serve chopped with any of the optional or other garnishes. Variations? Endless.

Bone Broth
Start by collecting bones. A chicken carcass, the center bone of a lamb roast, small bones from chops, big bones by the bag from the Farmer’s market or your meat CSA, any or all of these will do. Put them in a big plastic bag in your freezer. Whenever you eat sustainable meat or any meat, add those bones to your collection. If you are shy when dining out, tell them the bones are for your dog. When you have enough to fill your crock pot or stock pot ½ to 2/3 full with bones, go ahead and empty your bag into the pot, cover with cold water and add 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Let it sit at room temperature for an hour, letting the acid begin to bring all those good minerals out of the bones and then bring to a boil and simmer for a really long time. For mostly chicken bones, cook at least 24 hours. For mixed bones or others, 2-3 days is good. Let your stock cool a bit and then strain. Don’t worry if it looks disgusting at first, strain in a fine strainer and then place the stock in a container in the fridge until the fat hardens a bit at the top. Scoop most of it out, as this is not the finest fat from the animal (I give the extra fat to the city for composting) and pour the stock into jars, old yogurt containers or ice cube trays and freeze, labeled for later use. With stock and cooked beans in the freezer I know that soup, the staff of life, is always close at hand.

I'll be co-teaching a soup workshop in December:
Cooking at the CoG: Ways with Soup
Friday Dec. 4th 7pm
Join CoG members and cooking teachers Vanessa Barrington and Nishanga Bliss in an exploration of the many ways of making economical, nourishing, delicious soups. Veggie stocks and bone broths, the wonders of miso, cream soups and bean soups, soups and fermentation, recipes, and much much more! Bring a mug and spoon for tasting. FREE! Visit for more info.

About my co-conspirators: Vanessa Barrington is a writer, a chef, and a CoG member.Read her blog here: Susan Fleming is a graphic designer, a food enthusiast, and a CoG member.Visit her design studio here:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall Foods to Strengthen the Lungs

Fall is the season which Chinese medicine associates with the metal element, the lung organ, nad the energy of letting go. This time of year we prune away the excesses of summer like we prune a fruit tree after it bears, consolidating our energy, focusing on what is most important, and preparing for winter. It is also a time of year when our lungs are vulnerable, and it is easy to catch a cold or flu. The flu shot is just one of many ways to protect yourself. I've been eating a lot of the wonderful Shoo Flu sauerkraut our neighbors at Cultured make with star anise and gouji berries for immune enhancement.

Many of the foods we find at the farmer’s market at this time of year help our bodies fight the effects of breathing polluted air and exposure to pathogens. Onions, garlic, and other naturally spicy foods are thought to be protective to the respiratory system. Dr. Irwin Ziment, a professor at UCLA, based on the finding that Hispanics who smoke in the polluted Los Angeles area have a surprisingly low rate of lung cancer, routinely prescribes chilies for respiratory problems (Pitchford, 2002). In addition to chilies, radishes, turnips, ginger, cabbage and white pepper are considered mildly spicy in flavor in Chinese medicine and will help strengthen the lungs. Modern research has validated the age-old remedy of chicken soup for fighting respiratory infection and it is even more effective with the addition of garlic and chilies (Ziment, 2006). Many common culinary spices, like turmeric, ginger, fennel and rosemary, have been found to have cancer-fighting properties as well (Aggarwal & Shishodia, 2004). Pears and Asian pears are another traditional remedy for lung irritation from illness or pollution, and can help soothe a dry cough.

The fall season brings the nut harvest. Fresh nuts are wonderful sources of vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Vitamin E has been shown in numerous studies to help protect the lungs from the ill effects of breathing contaminants. Look for walnuts, almonds, pecans or other nuts that grow in your area, and buy them freshly shelled or shell them yourself to get the most benefit. Soaking nuts overnight before roasting, grinding or cooking them into foods will make them easier to digest and increase their nutrient value. Cold-pressed oils such as sesame, olive and walnut, avocados and freshly ground whole wheat flour (available at the farmer’s market in my area!) are other good sources of vitamin E.

Selenium is an immune-stimulating, cancer protective mineral. It is found in many whole foods, especially those grown in selenium-rich soils. Good sources include whole wheat, liver, butter, lamb, nuts, and brown rice. Ellagic acid, related to flavonoids, blocks the cancer-causing actions of many airborne pollutants, but is destroyed by heat. It is abundant in raspberries and blackberries and also found in other berries, most fruit, and nuts, such as walnuts and pecans. Fiber is found in most whole foods and helps to eliminate some pollutants, although excess fiber, as from fiber supplements, can block mineral absorption. And of course mushrooms of all varieties are well known immune enhancers. Mushroom soup anyone?
Keeping our diets focused on whole foods from quality sources like the farmer’s market will help keep you healthy into the winter months.