Soupe de la Semaine: Vegan “Sofrito” Soup [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Leaves you “sofrito” experiment.

This is not going to be so much a recipe for a soup (although there will be one) as a roadmap to soup. Please keep all your appendages inside the vehicle while it’s moving.

Like many people, I occasionally find that I have a few vegetables in the fridge that really call for imminent use, lest they turn into science experiments. Today, that happened to be a two-pound package of carrots, some celery, a yellow bell pepper, and the better part of a bunch of cilantro, plus an onion that was in the unrefrigerated veggie basket. Because February is traditionally a vegetarian month for the bride and me, I decided to fold the ingredients into a soup, rather than use them as a sofrito/soffritto, mirepoix, refogado, or Suppengrün for a meat or poultry dish. [The terms in italics are all variants on the same concept, which is that a group of chopped vegetables can serve as a flavour base for stews, gravies, sauces, and the like. Ingredients and proportions vary from country to country (and from kitchen to kitchen), but not so widely that they aren’t all kissin’ culinary cousins.]

Here’s where it gets interesting: with the possible exception of the cilantro, all the vegetables can easily be enhanced to make soups that will fit in a variety of culinary traditions. For example, if I’d added lemongrass, ginger, and soy sauce to the soup (even keeping the cilantro), it would have taken a turn for Southeast Asia. Some garlic, basil, oregano, rosemary, and marjoram would have pushed it toward Italy. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, and cumin would lend it an Indian or Sri Lankan vibe. I decided I wanted something else, a kind of mutt — er, hybrid — cuisine with elements of both Spanish and Tex-Mex.

And while this can definitely be made on the stovetop, it would take way longer than it does in a pressure cooker (Instant Pot® to the rescue again!). Basically, you’d follow all the main steps, but I would chop the vegetables into much smaller pieces to soften them more quickly. I’m guessing that 45 minutes to an hour in the stock at a high simmer (just below boiling) would do it. Then purée the vegetables and adjust spices as in the directions below.

WARNING: I like, and am accustomed to, spicy food. I would advise anyone trying out this recipe to cut the pimentón de la Vera and chipotle powder IN HALF to start. You can always make it spicier later in the process, if you wish. [If you cut the spices, you will also need only about half of the carob molasses as a consequence.]

Vegan “Sofrito” Soup
Makes about 10 cups (about 2¼ liters)

Carrots of many colours.

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs. / 1kg carrots, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery (need I say roughly chopped?)
1½ cups / 30g chopped fresh cilantro
5 cups / 1.25 liters vegetable stock (I used Better Than Bouillon and water)
1-2 teaspoons / 2-4g hot pimentón de la Vera (or smoked paprika)*
½-1 teaspoon / 1.5-3g chipotle powder (or other chili powder)*
1½-3 tbsp. / 33-66g carob (or regular) molasses*
½ teaspoon / 1g cumin
½ teaspoon / 3g salt
½ tbsp. / 8g apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar, or lemon juice)

Chopped up, mixed up.

DIRECTIONS [Instant Pot®]

Chop vegetables and cilantro and add them all to inner cooking pot. Add vegetable stock, pimentón de la Vera*, and chipotle powder*.

Lock lid (making sure the vent is set to “Sealing”), select “Soup,” set pressure to “High,” and time to 20 minutes. When finished, you may allow pressure to release naturally before unlocking lid, or you can do a “quick release” by turning the vent to “Venting.”

[At this juncture, the soup will look like you left your vegetables in dishwater overnight. Don’t be discouraged!]

Process soup with immersion blender or in batches in a blender/food processor. [If you’re using either of the latter, drape a towel over the input tube or lid to allow the steam to vent.] Add cumin, carob molasses, salt, and cider vinegar. Stir and allow soup to sit for a couple of minutes before tasting and adjusting spices. It’s at this juncture that you would add the remaining half of the pimentón de la Vera, chipotle powder, and carob molasses, should you choose.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a little extra chopped cilantro. I forgot to reserve some and wound up using bread crumbs and chopped parsley for the photo. If you’re not concerned about being vegan, a dollop of sour cream and/or a sprinkle of cotija cheese would go nicely. Cashew cream is a fine vegan alternative.

*Please read the warning in red in the fifth paragraph; it’s there for your own good.

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P.S. I’m perfectly happy if you want to replicate this recipe step by step, but it would bring me (and you!) greater joy if you use it as a “serving suggestion” instead, playing around with spices and quantities so that you can truly make it your own. Plus, you can clean out your fridge a bit in the process.

Here Comes That Grain Again: Vegan Kamut® Bowl With Peppers, Greens, and Toum

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The bride’s keen on grain bowls lately, and I’m about 47.8% less enthusiastic about quinoa than she is, so I have been poking around for alternatives. While at the store, ostensibly to pick up some farro, I saw this thing in the grain section that looked like a sibling (of farro’s, not of mine): Kamut®. I had no idea what Kamut® was, but that didn’t stop me from bringing it home like a stray culinary puppy. Long story short, it’s a variety of wheat, whose journey out of Egypt was perhaps less tortuous than, but nearly as interesting as, the Jews’.

Allow me to quote from the trademark owner’s website:

    The story of KAMUT® Brand khorasan wheat began in 1949, when Earl Dedman, a US Airman stationed in Portugal, received some unusual looking grain from a friend who claimed to have taken it from a tomb in Egypt. More likely, the friend had purchased it from a street vendor in Cairo, Egypt with the story that it had come from an ancient Egyptian tomb. Earl sent thirty-six kernels of the wheat to his father, R. E. Dedman, a farmer near Fort Benton, Montana. Within six years, the elder Dedman had grown the small number of seeds into 1,500 bushels, calling it “King Tut’s Wheat.”

In 1977, it fell into the hands of Robert Quinn, who tried unsuccessfully to get the people who make Corn Nuts to manufacture a wheat version of the snack with this grain. But Quinn and his dad continued to grow it on his family farm, which went completely organic in 1989. The following year, the USDA recognized the grain as a protected variety officially named “QK-77,” and the Quinns registered Kamut® as a trademark to guarantee that the original grain would remain unmodified and always be grown organically. From there, it got licenced to dozens of producers and is used in products from cereal to pizza… to this grain bowl.

This recipe follows a general formula I’ve developed for grain bowls: grain, some roasted/pan-fried vegetables, an element to add at least a bit of crunch to the texture, wilted greens for a little bitterness, some salt, and an acid (tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar, or, in this case, toum) as a brightening agent. Please don’t shackle yourself to this recipe! It was created and modified on the fly, riffing on literally dozens of other options I sifted through from Pinterest pages and Google searches.

Instant veggie stock enhances the water.

A NOTE ON COOKING KAMUT®: A little searching on the Internets yielded some insight on how to cook it in an Instant Pot. Much like dried beans, the typical method for preparing Kamut® is to soak it overnight in water (or, in my case, vegetarian bouillon), but I didn’t have the time for that, and I — quite fortuituously — did have an Instant Pot. Much thanks to cookbook author Kathy Hester, whose The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot: 80 Easy and Delicious Plant-Based Recipes That You Can Make in Half the Time yielded the info that if you press the “Adjust” button once after having set the Instant Pot up on the “Multigrain” cycle, “it will look like it’s going to cook for a normal 60 minutes. But on this setting — only on the multigrain 60-minute cycle — the grain first gets a 45-minute warm water soaking before the 60 minutes pressure cooking time. It’s great for Kamut® and other long-cooking grains.” If you don’t have one of these marvelous devices, you can just soak the grain overnight and prepare it according to the directions on the package. That method works just fine, even if it’s a little (well, a lot) longer. [Reminder from Russ Parsons, former LA Times food editor: “Rinse thoroughly. I mean thoroughly. In a strainer under running water.”]

One cup of dry Kamut® looks like this when cooked.

A NOTE ABOUT TOUM: Toum is a garlic-based Lebanese dipping sauce not far removed from aioli or the Ligurian agliata. The best recipe for it that I’ve found is at the Tori’s Kitchen website (she even thoughtfully includes step-by-step photography). If I deviate from her recipe at all, it’s usually to add more garlic, the cowbell of the pantry. There’s just never enough. When you’re making it, be sure your water and lemon juice are really cold, or the sauce might break up. But it’s super tasty, simple to make, and you will discover a million applications for it, from grilled veggie sandwiches to tater tots to pasta.

A Cuisinart full of toum.

Vegan Kamut® Bowl With Peppers, Greens, and Toum

INGREDIENTS:

For the grain:
1 cup / 225g dried Kamut® khorasam wheat
3 cups / 700ml water
1 tbsp. / 15ml Better Than Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base (or other vegan bouillon cube)

For the bowl:
2 cups / 325gm cooked Kamut® khorasam wheat
12 baby bell peppers or 2 medium sized regular bell peppers (red/orange/yellow, chopped)
1/2 onion, finely diced
5 oz. / 1 cup / 150g cashews, preferably roasted and salted
sea salt to taste
5 oz. / 140g coarsely chopped greens (this time it was kale, baby spinach, and arugula)
2 tbsp. / 30ml olive oil

For the toum:
3 1/2 – 4 cups / 700ml sunflower or canola oil, chilled
1/2 cup / 70g / about 1 head peeled garlic cloves
1/2 cup / 120ml lemon juice, divided
1/2 cup / 120ml ice cold water, divided
1 3/4 / 10g tsp salt (preferably Kosher salt, fleur de sel, or sea salt)

I was generous with the toum.

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cook Kamut® according to instructions (see A NOTE ON COOKING KAMUT®, above). Set aside.

Make toum according to instructions (see link in A NOTE ABOUT TOUM, above). Set aside.

Chop onion and bell peppers, place in bowl, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large pan on high heat until just about smoking. Add cooked Kamut® and toast, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes or until slightly browned. Lower heat to medium and stir in onion and peppers. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until veggies have softened, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, wash and chop greens. When vegetables have softened, add chopped greens and stir until wilted. Add cashews, stir, and salt to taste. Top with toum and serve. Serves 2-3 as main or 4-6 as side dish.

Soupe de la Semaine: Roasted Pepper Soup with Cilantro Cream

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My pal Beth, herself no slouch around the kitchen, dropped a UXB (UneXpected Book) into our mailbox earlier this week: Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Soups. It boasted a number of recipes that will serve as inspiration during soup season — which is all year, of course, but especially in the winter. I had my eyes set on a celeriac, fennel, and apple chowder for the opening salvo, but the bride had other ideas, and she wins.

Over the course of due diligence (I almost never cook a recipe without scanning the Interwebs to see if someone has concocted a more interesting version), I came across the Cookie + Kate blog, in which she lays out several entertaining reasons for not making this soup. Long story short, it’s not particularly cheap to make (unless you grow your own peppers), and the pepper roasting process is both time-consuming and a wee bit tedious. That said, just like her, I concluded that this soup is so tasty that any quibbles about prep were overcome mere nanoseconds after the intersection of tongue and spoon. [All the original recipes I consulted to arrive at this one called for red bell peppers, but the local supermercado‘s red peppers looked a little sketchy, so I made it with orange ones instead. I presume yellow bell peppers, or a mix of all three, would work equally well.]

For those of you who are interested, the recipe is easily vegan-adaptable (see notes below); while the half and half is a tasty touch, I tasted the puréed soup prior to its addition, and I could easily have stopped there, ingredient-wise. Recipe yields 4-6 large servings.

INGREDIENTS

Cilantro Cream

    3/4 cup / 170g sour cream (or soy yogurt for vegan version)
    2 tablespoons / 30ml half and half (or cashew cream for vegan version)
    2 tablespoons / 5.3g fresh minced cilantro leaves
    zest of 1 lime, plus juice from half of that lime (approximately 2 tablespoons / 30ml)

Soup

    8 red (or orange, or yellow) bell peppers, roasted, skins removed, and chopped
    1 tablespoon / 15ml olive oil (I used basil-infused EVOO) (double if making tortilla strips)
    2 medium garlic cloves, minced
    1 medium red onion, chopped
    1 teaspoon / 2.5g ground cumin
    1 teaspoon / 2.5g smoked paprika (I prefer Spanish pimentón de la Vera, and I used picante/hot rather than dulce/sweet)
    3 tablespoons / 50g tomato paste (or 8 oz. / 227g tomato sauce)
    1 tablespoon / 10g potato starch
    4-6 cups / 950ml-1.4l vegetable broth; start with smaller amount, adjusting for consistency as desired
    2 bay leaves
    1/2 cup /120ml half and half (or 100ml cashew cream + 20ml coconut oil for vegan version)
    2 tablespoons / 30ml dry sherry
    2 tablespoons / 5.3g minced fresh cilantro
    salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish (optional)

    3 corn tortillas, sliced into thin, 2-inch long strips, fried in oil until crispy

INSTRUCTIONS

For the Cilantro Cream:
Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until serving.

For the Crispy Tortilla Strips:
Cut tortillas into strips about 2″ (5cm) long and 1/4″ (2/3cm) wide. Warm 1 tablespoon / 15ml olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add tortilla strips and salt. Stir to coat the strips with the oil, and fry until both sides are golden and crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to cool. NOTE: If you are making the vegan version, be sure no lard was used in the tortilla manufacture! Corn tortillas are gluten-free, if you are concerned about that.

Peppers pre-peeling.

Peppers pre-peeling.


Post-peeling pepper perfection.

Post-peeling pepper perfection.

For the Soup:
Roast the peppers: Spread peppers on an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet, skin side up, in a single layer (you may need to repeat this step several times to roast all your peppers). Place cookie sheet about 3″ below broiler element. Roast until peppers are blackened across the top, around 10 minutes.

Transfer roasted peppers to a medium-sized bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing them to steam for 15 minutes. Using your fingers, peel off the charred top layer of skin and discard. Take peeled pepper slices and give them a rough chop (they will be puréed later, so no need to be fussy about it).

Cook the soup: In a 3½ quart or larger Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, warm olive oil and minced garlic on fairly low heat. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the garlic gets a little foamy and sticky, about 6-7 minutes. Increase heat to medium, add onions and sauté until softened and turning translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the cumin and smoked paprika/pimentón de la Vera and cook for about 30 seconds to release aromas. Add the potato starch (or flour) and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add the tomato paste (or sauce) and gradually whisk in the stock, stirring to prevent lumps. Add the peeled red/orange/yellow peppers and stir. Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once your soup is done cooking, remove it from heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.

Blend the soup: Transfer soup to a blender or Vita-Mix (do NOT fill it over halfway, unless you wish to decorate your walls and person with hot soup); drape a kitchen towel over the blender (so the escaping steam doesn’t build up or burn your hands) and process in batches. Transfer puréed soup to another pot and continue until all of the soup is blended. Alternatively, use an immersion blender to blend the soup in the pot. Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If soup is too thick, add vegetable stock to achieve desired consistency.

Transfer soup back to cooking pot and rewarm gently on the stove; add the half & half (or vegan substitute), dry sherry, and chopped cilantro. Divide soup into individual bowls, and drizzle in cilantro cream. Top with crispy tortilla strips (optional) and serve.