Breakfast&Brunch

Spring Soup by Anne Livingston

Why is it so hard to get—and stay—healthy with food in this day & time (& place)? It’s a question I ponder almost daily. Our country is so bizarre when it comes to food. How do we navigate all the pyramids, diets, charts, supplements, and plans? How do we do it cheaply, quickly, without too much thought? I guess we can’t, that’s the thing. But sometimes, we can.

When Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page said at IFBC last year that one of the hottest food trends in the U.S. is vegetables, I was optimistic. No chart or diet or plan will disagree: vegetables are where it’s at, man. Of course, they always have been, but making them sexy to the general public could lead to some interesting culinary developments. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years in restaurants, cookbooks, and grocery stores. Let’s watch it develop together.

So meanwhile, vegetables! There’s never a bad time to eat them, but now that it’s spring, it’s an especially good time. According to both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic principles, now’s the time to be extra nice to your liver and gall bladder after a long winter of heavy comfort foods and hibernating. I have been studying Chinese 5 Elements and nutrition, so I’m starting to understand some ways to support those parts of the body.  Right now we need to focus on foods that are:

  • GREEN  all the green vegetables. Leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, kale, and fresh herbs
  • RISING QUICKLY – If it grows quickly or shoots up as it grows, it’s great for spring. Asparagus, bamboo shoots, and radishes
  • ACIDIC/SOUR – citrus, vinegars, pickles, kimchi
  • YOUNG – young shoots or roots, such as mung bean sprouts, baby carrots or beets

All this sounds like a chance to pull out the blender and make a green smoothie, right? Yes, if you live in southern California or Arizona, where it’s already hot. But if you are like me and live in cooler climes, our bodies need it warm and cooked until the weather warms up some more.  This will ease our digestion and ultimately give us more energy. We need something like a green smoothie in our regular rotation, but cooked. And delicious, of course.

This “recipe” is easy, quick, and has interchangeable ingredients. I’ve mixed and matched several soups and have loved them all. I also throw in a few young (unsprayed!!) dandelion leaves from the front yard. Being a wild food, dandelions are beyond ridiculously good for you in the spring, although they’re also intensely bitter, so be sparing if you have a sensitive palate. Shiitakes or other mushrooms also enrich this soup as a garnish. The soup pictured above is asparagus, with a few sauteed shiitakes sprinkled in at the last minute.

I also have some edible flowers growing in the garden, so I use them for festive garnishes. In case you didn’t know, dandelion petals are edible! It takes no money to be fancy around here.

SPRING SOUP

Serves 4 | Start to finish: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

  • About 1 pound green vegetables, such as trimmed asparagus, spinach, chard, or broccoli
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion, scallion, or shallot
  • 2 cups stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup assorted herbs, such as parsley, chives, dill, mint, and a few dandelion leaves
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup yogurt or crème fraîche, plus more for garnish
  • Sea salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook the vegetables and onion with the stock for about 10 minutes over medium heat, or until just cooked and still bright green.
  2. Place the fresh herbs, cream, and yogurt into a blender, and pour the stock and vegetables over the top. Place the lid on the blender, remove the inner “plug” to allow steam to escape during blending, and cover the hole with a kitchen towel to avoid splattering. Blend until completely smooth.
  3. Pour into bowls and garnish with edible flowers and more yogurt or crème fraîche. 

Tomato Fried Eggs: A Chinese Comfort Food by Anne Livingston

How much comfort can you get from a different culture’s comfort foods? I wondered this when I started cooking at a girls’ international boarding house a couple of years ago. I distributed questionnaires to the girls and chatted with them about their favorite “homesick” foods. 

With the Chinese girls in particular, I was impressed by the depth of our culinary differences in their answers. Chicken feet! Preserved duck eggs! Fish balls! Beans for dessert! So many wonderful things they listed were beyond what I’d even heard of. Although I had trouble wrapping my mind around preparing a couple of dishes (prepping the chicken feet the first time was difficult), I loved almost every new dish I tried cooking, with the help of the girls’ advice, YouTube videos, and the kindness of a couple of Chinese women. I never fully mastered any one dish.  At least, however, I developed an appreciation and respect for real Chinese food, as elusive as it still is to me.

One of the dishes that came up in conversations and questionnaires was something called “tomato eggs.” I looked it up online, but as simple as the recipe sounded, I wanted real-life help. The school’s Mandarin teacher graciously came in to show me how to cook it while she was in between classes. Thanks to her and a few practice runs with good response from the girls, I feel like I have the hang of at least one authentic Chinese comfort food recipe, using ingredients found in many American kitchens.

And how is it as a comfort food? Oh, it hits the spot just right. Luxurious texture. Bold flavors. And yet the simple preparation and the short ingredient list make it as comforting as a plate of mac & cheese. You’ve got to try this if you like tomatoes and eggs. When prepared properly, the sum is so much greater than its parts.  Give it a whirl sometime this summer when you have extra tomatoes and want to try something new for breakfast (or lunch! Or dinner!). I feel like making it again, right now.

Tomato Fried Eggs

Serves 3

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup high heat oil, such as canola or sunflower
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 3 or 4 roma tomatoes, or 2 larger tomatoes, chopped in large chunks, about 3/4”
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

 Directions:

  1. Beat the eggs with the soy sauce and the white pepper. In another small bowl, whisk the cornstarch in with 2 tablespoons of water.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the scallions and the eggs. Stir the eggs and scallions around quickly with a spatula, until almost completely cooked. Remove the eggs to a plate.
  3. Wipe out the wok or skillet, return it to the burner, and add the remainder of the oil. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle the salt and sugar over them. Cook for 1 minute, stirring with the spatula. Stir in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the juices, about 30 seconds.
  4. Return the eggs back to the pan, gently stir them in with the tomatoes, and serve immediately.

Layering Flavors by Anne

thyme.and.thyme.I It’s not an actual secret or anything, but I like to think of layering flavors as an ace in my pocket.  It's a trick that may be obvious, but doing it intentionally makes me feel like a cooking genius.  Hey, I'll take it.  At this moment, the kind of “layering” I’m talking about is actually the repetition of a flavor in different ways.

For example, you could include both the fresh and dried version of an herb, or mushroom, or fruit, in your recipe.  Using both fresh and dried can make a flavor impact that is more than the sum of its parts. You can also layer a flavor by repeating it over the course of the cooking time—such as adding onions at different times during the cooking of a soup.  Also, adding a flavor in different forms, such as incorporating it within a sauce and then adding it to another part of the dish, can augment that flavor.  And of course, garnishing with one of the key flavor elements of a dish will also enliven it.

I have a mushroom and leek crêpe filling (that could also fill omelets beautifully) that uses all of these concepts, and they result in a deep and savory, mushroom-y experience.  Thyme is repeated three times and is both fresh and dried.  Mushrooms are also both fresh and dried, and even the liquid from rehydrating the mushrooms is used in the sauce.  The gruyere cheese also participates in three different places—within the filling, the sauce, and atop the two.  Hmm, what else.  Oh yes, butter is everywhere.

Layering the flavors in this filling takes a bit of extra time, but it is deeply, deliciously worth it.  In fact, if you like mushrooms, I’d call this filling an ace in your pocket.

Mushroom Leek Filling for Crêpes

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 3 T butter
  • 3 leeks, white and very green parts sliced in thin half-rings
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • Several thyme sprigs
  • A total of 1 lb mushrooms – one part of them dried and rehydrated.  Best if some of the dried mushrooms are morels.  Portabella mushrooms make good additions for fresh, especially if you cannot get your hands on morels.  When gathering your mushrooms, note that the packaging on dried mushrooms will usually indicate what the fresh equivalent weight will be once rehydrated.
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: a few tablespoons of port or sherry
  • 2 T cream
  • 4 to 5 ounces Gruyere, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups).  If you cannot get Gruyere, try two parts Jarlsberg to one part parmesan mixed together.

Ingredients for the sauce:

  • 3 T Butter
  • 3 T Flour
  • The liquid from soaking the dried mushrooms (above)
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • Some of the cheese from ingredients above

Directions to make the filling:

  1. Place dried mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl.  Pour boiling water over mushrooms to cover, plus a little more.  Mushrooms will likely float to the top, so place a saucer, lip side down, over the mushrooms to keep them pushed down into the water.  Also, cover the bowl with a large lid to retain the heat.  Steep the mushrooms for about half an hour to an hour.
  2. During this time, slice leeks lengthwise, wash any dirt from between the layers, and slice thinly into half-rounds.  Set aside.  Chop fresh mushrooms into a small dice, about a half-inch square or less.  Remove enough leaves from thyme sprigs to make about 2 teaspoons’ worth.  Set aside into a small bowl.
  3. When dried mushrooms have finished steeping, remove mushrooms from liquid and keep liquid handy.  Chop rehydrated mushrooms and add to fresh mushroom bowl.    Place steeping juice in a small saucepan and boil over medium heat until reduced to ½ cup of mushroom broth.   Set aside.
  4. In a large pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add leeks and thyme and sauté for 3 minutes, or until leeks are soft.  Bring heat up to high, and then add mushrooms (and port or sherry, if you are using it).  Stirring frequently, cook until mushrooms have given off their liquid—about 10 minutes.  Turn heat off, and add the cream, 1 tsp of fresh thyme, ¼ cup of the grated cheese, and black pepper.  Set filling inside.

Directions to make the sauce:

  1. Briskly whisk together butter and flour over medium heat for 3 minutes, continuously whisking.
  2. Add the mushroom broth and the milk, whisking as you gradually pour in the liquids in a small stream.  Continue to whisk over the medium heat until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add about a cup of the cheese into the sauce, and continue to stir until the cheese is melted.

Assembling Crêpes with Mushroom Filling

A saucy filling like this one needs a crêpe fold that contains it well.  This one fits the bill.

To fill crêpes:

mushroom.crepe

  1. Place a crêpe on a flat surface, with its’ best-looking side facing down.  Once its folded, it will be the part that shows.
  2. Place 2 - 3 T of mushroom filling in the center of a crêpe (Make a test one to see if you like the crêpe-to-mushroom ratio).
  3. Pour 2 – 3 T of sauce over the filling (use best judgment—you don’t want to overwhelm your filling with sauce, but you don’t want it to be dry, either).
  4. Sprinkle a few cheese flakes and a few thyme leaves over the top. This makes a difference!

To fold crêpes:

folding.crepes

  1. Take the bottom edge of the crêpe and fold it up over the filling.  Then fold in the two sides flaps over the first one, and over each other.   Finally take all the folded parts and fold the whole crêpe and filling over on top of the last flap, so that the bulk of the crêpe is sitting on top of the final flap.  You should have a neat little square or short rectangle.
  2. Repeat this for all the crêpes, making an effort to fill and fold them in a consistent fashion so that they look good together.
  3. Arrange your crêpes on a large rectangular serving platter or on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, wax paper, or foil.  These crêpes can be served at room temperature, or you can warm them up for a few minutes in the oven at a moderate temperature. Cover the crêpes with foil if you do this, so that they don’t dry out when heating.
  4. You can garnish the top of each crêpe with a sprig of thyme, or at the very last minute before serving you can add a bit of the sauce to the top of the square and place thyme on top of that.  The sauce should hold the thyme in place.

Makes enough filling and sauce for 12 to 15 crêpes.