Sunday, September 16, 2012

Friday Soup

Although the temperatures are still in the high 80s here and will continue to creep into the 90s for a little while yet, it feels like autumn, and that makes me want soups and stews. A couple of days ago I made an old favorite recipe that I found several years ago in Mark Bittman's "Minimalist" column in the New York Times. I'm pretty sure it was the first of his recipes that I tried; now I have two of his big cookbooks: How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World.  This fish soup is so fast, so easy, so good, so healthy, that it's a great choice for a quick, satisfying after-work dinner, especially if you happen to have cooked rice on hand and put a half-cup in the bottom of the bowl before ladling in the soup. (Joe usually makes a pot of brown rice on Sunday so we have it for lunches to take to work or quick dinners after work - with beans or curries or stir-fries and then leftovers the next day for lunch - or even for breakfast, heated in the microwave and eaten like oatmeal.)
West Lake Fish Soup - serves 4, takes half an hour

2 T. peanut or canola oil
1/2 cup peeled and chopped shallots or onion
6 cups chicken or other stock
3 T. soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
1 tsp. (at least) ground pepper
1 cup peas, thawed if frozen (I've also used snow peas when I have them)
3/8 to 1 pound plain white fish, roughly chopped (I used 1/2 pound of pollock here, 
        which is often quite inexpensive frozen)
2 T. cornstarch
2 egg whites, lightly beaten (or 1 egg, or 1/4 liquid egg substitute, which is made from egg whites)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (or any tender green, but cilantro is best)

Put oil in saucepan large enough to hold all ingredients and turn heat to medium. Add shallots or onion and cook till golden brown, adjusting heat so they don't burn.
Add all but 1/4 cup of the stock and turn heat to medium high. When contents begin to steam, add soy sauce, pepper, peas, and fish, and cook at a gentle simmer (adjust heat as necessary), stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and fish is falling apart, 5 to 10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup stock with cornstarch.

Drizzle egg whites into saucepan, stirring constantly. Stir in cornstarch mixture. When soup thickens, stir in cilantro. Taste and add more pepper or soy sauce if you like. Serve immediately.

     If you don't like the idea of fish soup - and I know some folks don't, though this doesn't taste at all "fishy" in the disagreeable way some people object to, you can use chopped shrimp or leftover chicken or tofu. The basic recipe will be good with any of them.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

In a Pickle

These are the Asian pears we picked at Apple Annie's on Thursday (see my previous post). No, I'm not making pickles of them! They're just so lovely and delicious that I wanted to put up another photo of them. And now that I've done that, let me tell you what I did yesterday.
     As I've mentioned before, we gave up on our squash this summer - the yield didn't begin to justify the work (or the water bill). However, one of the local markets, El Super on South 6th Avenue just south of I-10, has great produce specials on Wednesdays; this week they had Mexican gray squash, which as you can see are interchangeable with zucchini (the peel isn't quite as dark but the flavor is, I think, superior - and I speak as a lover of zucchini) for 3 pounds for $1.
 One thing I love to make from zucchini is relish; it's always better any sweet pickle relish you can buy in a jar.  This recipe comes from the Better Homes and Gardens "Canning" book/magazine I've cited before. Go back a few posts to see a picture of the cover; it's still on the newsstands at the checkout counters in some markets here. I doubled the recipe to make 5 pints instead of 5 half-pints; it might get us through the winter. This is the recipe exactly as it appears in the magazine.

Zucchini Relish
5 cups finely chopped zucchini (5 small)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (3 medium)
3/4 cup finely chopped green sweet pepper (1 medium)
3/4 cup finely chopped red sweet pepper (1 medium)
1/4 cup pickling salt (I used Morton's Kosher salt - never use iodized salt for pickling)
Cold water
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 or 2 drops green food coloring (optional)

1. In an extra-large non-metal bowl, combine zucchini, onions, and sweet peppers. Sprinkle with salt, toss gently to coat. Add enough cold water to cover vegetables. Cover and allow to stand at room temperature for 3 hours.

2. Transfer vegetable mixture to a large colander set in the sink. Rinse with cold water; drain.
3. In an 8- to 10-quart stainless steel, enamel, or nonstick heavy pot, combine sugar, vinegar, the 1/4 cup water, celery seeds, turmeric, and mustard seeds. Bring to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves; reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Add drained vegetable mixture and, if desired, green food coloring. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Ladle hot relish into sterilized half-pint (or pint, if you double the recipe as I did) canning jars, leaving a 1/2" headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.
5. Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (start timing when the water returns to a boil). Remove jars from canner; cool on wire racks. Makes 5 half-pints.

*Note: I chopped the zucchini and peppers by hand for this relish because I like the look of the neat little squares. It took a little more time than using the food processor, but I'm happier with the result. (I did chop the onion in the food processor.) Here's the 1/4 cup or so that was left after filling all the jars,
 and here's one of the jars. I think it's just lovely. Of course, if you've followed my canning adventures, you know  I tend to think anything that's put up in a jar like this is just lovely! The turmeric gives it that wonderful golden glow, as well as terrific flavor.
 Relish isn't all I made yesterday. Joe loves bread and butter pickles, and zucchini make amazing bread and butter pickles. Again, I think they're much better than those you can buy. I'm going to give you that recipe too, but first a note - well, almost a rant - on ingredients.
     First off, I'm never quite sure what recipe writers mean by small, medium, large, etc. The relish recipe says 5 small zucchini chopped will yield 5 cups. Okay, maybe, but you'd better measure to be sure, especially if you want to fill the designated number of jars.
     But 3 medium onions to get 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions? Really? The next picture shows the 1.4+ cups thinly sliced onion I used in the bread and butter pickles. (I'm giving you the recipe as it's in the book; I increased it to get 7 pints instead of 5, because a canning kettle holds 7 jars so it makes sense to me to go ahead and can 7 jars. We like the stuff. We'll eat it or maybe give some away at Christmas.)
 So, my point is, again, measure! I don't know where the BH&G cooks found their puny onions, but I got well over 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion from just 1/2 of a large white onion! (The candle helps to dissipate the onion fumes so you don't weep so much - some onions are so strong I've thought I might go blind!)
     Many Mexican cooks prefer white onions over the usual yellow or brown ones, and El Super also had them on special, 5 pounds for a dollar on Wednesday, Miercoles de Frutas. (El Super also has Jueves de Carnes, meat specials on Thursday only. They have all the usual stuff plus cuts you're unlikely to find at Fry's or Safeway, and the meat section is so clean you could probably eat raw meat off the floor, if you were so inclined!) El Super also has specials on produce and meats, etc. that run all week.
     Now here's the second part of my diatribe on ingredients, particularly spices. Everything you see below except the cayenne, which is just there for illustration purposes, went into yesterday's pickling projects. I had to go to the market for celery seed and I would have bought yellow mustard seed too, but it was ridiculously expensive and I already had brown mustard seed at home (it's in the jar with the gold lid, next to the cayenne). Less than an ounce of McCormick celery seed cost $4.69 at our neighborhood Albertson's, though I could have paid more if I'd bought Spice Islands or one of the other brands. Mustard seed was the same price, give or take a dime, so you can see why I didn't buy any.
There are much better and often more interesting places to buy spices and herbs. Even in Albertsons and other mainstream groceries, there's usually a Hispanic section where they are sold in cellophane packets, like the cinnamon on the far left (89¢ at Food City) or the cayenne on the right (69¢ at Albertsons). The big 8-ounce jar of Turmeric was $1.99 at the 17th Street Market here in Tucson, which carries Indo-European spices, etc., as well as Rani Indian spices and seasonings. The Rani brown mustard seeds were $1.69 for 3.5 ounces, compared to nearly $5 for less than an ounce of McCormick! Not everything comes in the cellophane packets but more does than you might think, and if you run out of, say, ginger, keep the jar and refill it from the packet. I also like to shop at LeeLee, a huge Asian supermarket in NW Tucson (at Orange Grove and La Cholla) that carries all kinds of spices, etc. (and much, much more), including the Rani line and I think the Indo-European line as well, but if you don't have access to such stores, at least look in the Hispanic section before shelling out the big bucks for tiny quantities.
      Okay, now back to pickles. This is the recipe as published, to make 5 pints of:

Bread and Butter Zucchini Pickles
3 1/2 pounds medium zucchini
1 cup thinly sliced, halved onion (1 large)
3 Tbsp. pickling salt
Crushed ice (I don't have an ice crusher; I think the cubes worked fine)
2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. celery seeds
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

1. Wash zucchini. Slice off the stem and blossom ends. Cut zucchini crosswise into 1/4" thick slices. Measure 12 cups zucchini slices.
2. In an extra-large nonmetal bowl, combine the 12 cups zucchini slices and 1 cup onion slices. Sprinkle with salt; toss gently to coat. Top with 2 inches of crushed ice. Weight down mixture with a heavy plate. Allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
3. Remove any remaining ice from zucchini mixture. Transfer mixture to a colander set in a sink and drain. (Note: it doesn't say to rinse! I didn't, and the pickles were perfect.)
4. In a 5- to 6- quart stainless steel, enamel, or nonstick heavy pot, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric, and peppercorns. Bring to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add zucchini mixture. Return to boiling, stirring frequently; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

5. Ladle hot mixture into hot, sterilized pint canning jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.
6. Process filled jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner; cool on rack.

They will look like this:
While I was finishing the bread and butter pickles, Joe made a run to the store and came back with these:
It's certainly nice to be appreciated!