Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Corn 101

Me oh my, hasn’t corn been getting a bad rap recently? Freaking Micheal Pollan and his “we’re all just corn people,” preaching.

To fill in my non-Pollan readers. From a review of his New York Times bestselling book:

“Readers of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" will learn that the bulk of the American diet comes from one plant: corn. Grown on massive farms, oceans' worth of the golden kernels and green stalks are then processed, deconstructed, and reassembled in factories into everything from a Chicken McNugget to salad dressing. We eat so much corn that, biologically speaking, most Americans are corn on two legs.”

The Mayans agreed with this idea. Sorta. They believed that they were created by gods who added their own blood to flour made from corn, thus considering themselves the children of corn and worshipping accordingly.

Me and Alayna? We just enjoy ourselves an ear of corn when the time is right. Like it is right now in the summer. I’ll admit buying six ears of corn in Key Foods on Avenue A while being mildly assaulted by an ambitious beggar isn’t the most ideal place to buy corn—I prefer a veggie stand you swing into on your way to the seashore...

Wherever you get your corn get ready for a treat. This seemingly basic soup is loaded in flavor. Granted Alayna and I are not used to waiting an hour while the soup simmers, which is why I should add a bottle of wine to the ingredient list.

We’ve also had a tub of plain yogurt from the cucumber wonder soup a few blog posts back and have since realized a dollop or two of yogurt on top of most soups is pretty tasty. So throw it on unless you are trying to impress your vegan buddies.

Enjoy corn friends.

Alayna, corning around.

Sweet Corn Soup
  • Take half of one large white onion, cut it into quarters and put into the pot
  • Roughly chop about a half pound of carrots and add to the pot as well
  • Crush 3-4 peeled cloves of garlic with the flat part of your knife, and throw those in the pot as well
  • With a serrated knife, cut the corn away from the cobs of 6 ears of sweet corn, and set aside the kernels
  • Throw the cobs into the pot with some (light!) salt and pepper and fill about halfway with water
  • Bring the entire concoction to a boil, and then let it simmer for an hour... at the end of the hour, add more salt and pepper to taste and turn off the pot

  • In a separate pan, saute two cloves of garlic (chopped) and the other half of the white onion (also chopped) in olive oil with a sprinkling of turmeric
  • Once the garlic and onion are transparent, add in the reserved corn
  • Cook covered, stirring occasionally, until the kernels are cooked through (I don't know how to describe it, but if you taste, you'll know
  • Once the corn is done, take the cobs out of the soup pot, and add in the kernels... let it sit for a few minutes, and then blend as smoothly as possible
  • Optional: Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream if you still have some left from the past two weeks, because that really is going to go bad soon :)

Corn kids!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sopa Peliroja / The Art of Travel

*Alayna wrote this post. Thanks Alayna:

Alayna and Mary Lorraine in Corsica, trying to open a bottle of red wine without a bottle opener.

One of the reasons that this blog exists is that Mary and I both had that un-ingnorable urge when we were in our early twenties to throw caution to the wind, give up our homes and friends, jump on the next flight and go somewhere, anywhere, that sounded good in a story. When we met, we’d both had a few backpacking trips under our belts, and were ready for something a little less controlled than the rolling hills of Southern France, so we would take our breaks in Morocco and Croatia instead of Paris and London. By the end of college, neither of us knew what we wanted to do or be now that we were ‘grown-ups’ and, in a series of jokes gone too far ended up moving ourselves to Thailand, for Mary, and Costa Rica (followed by Panama, and after a sojourn in New York, Mexico), for me.

Both of us were working in ‘community development’, a vague term that, for people working in the field, implies many mornings, afternoons and evenings sitting at someone elses’ kitchen table eating their food, sitting on their porches drinking the local cold (or hot) beverage of choice and thinking of what you could possibly say next. The rare occasion when you can cook for yourself, you want something that reminds you of your past, of who you are when you’re not The American, but just the friend of so-and-so, that girl from class or someone’s room-mate’s coworker. Something that makes your current residence seem a little more like home.

A week ago, my friends Alice, who I worked with in Mexico, and Chelsey, who I know from New York through my dear friend Mojdeh sent me a message from Nicaragua. They’d been, through a series of accidents, placed together to head a project for Amigos de las Americas and realized that they both knew me and were both Monday’s Soup followers. Their request was simple: make a soup that they can make in Nicaragua that will remind them of home. This is a bastardized version of Sopa Azteca, a delicious Mexican soup that’s perfect for the chill of a rainy day, but light enough to have when it’s hot out too. And no, it doesn’t require blending, so you can make it on a hotplate too. Last but not least, this soup is all about the toppings, so it’s great to have with a group of people where everyone might want a personalized bowl.

So ladies, this is it. I can’t remember who’s veg, but you can also make the soup with more tomatoes instead of chicken.

  • To start, buy one small, plain rotisserie chicken and debone, pulling pieces into bite-sized pieces and leaving the skin on… place in a bowl and set aside
  • Dice about 8 cloves of garlic and sautee in vegetable oil
  • Add about 4 dried Chilies Anchos (or Chiles Pasillas, which are traditionally used… Chipotles would probably also be good), chopped with the seeds removed, and 2 red hot chilies (chiles de arboles)
  • Add one small yellow or white onion, chopped
  • Once everything is getting well cooked, throw in the chicken meat and about 4 roughly chopped tomatoes
  • Cook covered until warmed through
  • Cover with chicken broth and bring to a simmer, adding the juice of two big limes and a handful of cilantro, and cook about 5-10 min

    • In a separate pan, heat vegetable oil and then lightly fry sliced tortilla strips until golden brown, draining on a paper towel and putting aside
    • In separate bowls, have sour cream (or plain yogurt, or crema, depending on what’s available), sliced avocado, shredded cheddar (or oaxaca, or whatever kind is available) cheese and some more hot peppers and let everyone mix them in their own bowl


    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    Cucumber Melon Heaven / Soul of a Soupie

    Ladies and gentlemen, ladles down! The Soupie Contest is now closed for 2009. I would just like to thank everyone for their enthusiastic responses. I am now proud to announce the winner of our first ever Soupie Contest. And that is (drum roll) ... Mrs. Anna Jane Sabbagh!

    (Insert audience applause here.)

    I was excited to interview A.J. about her soup philosophies. Below is a bit of the soul of a Soupie.

    Anna Jane, known to many as A.J., was named after her paternal Grandmother. She began cooking when she moved into her own apartment when she was 25 because, as she put it, "I was hungry."

    A.J. especially likes to cook holiday meals or any sort of dish that's traditional and with a history. A.J. believes soup is particularly special because "you can be creative without being too smart or knowledgeable." Amen, sister.

    However, A.J. admits that these days she doesn't enjoy cooking as much. "After these many years, I have run out of ideas." (Have you ever made Cucumber Melon Heaven, A.J.? I think I just gave you a new idea!) She also explains that her husband, Jim, is less enthusiastic about eating these days. So she says, "Cooking is less rewarding."

    "Cooking is most enjoyable when you have an appreciative audience," A.J. believes. I agree. I just made a casserole and there is nobody here to eat it. I don't think food fills you in the same way when you aren't able to share it. This is actually something I'd like to think about further. And I would be interested to hear your comments on why community is so tightly woven in the art of Cooking.

    A.J. finishes up her interview by gushing over her Soupie award. (Do you blame her?) "I must say this is one of the highlights of my life, or at least my summer. Just in case there will be a red carpet event, I am going to practice The Walk."

    Thank you, A.J.! A.J. is turning 74 on Thursday, so we'll consider this her birthday blog post. Happy Birthday! I hope you like melons and cucumbers!

    cucumber melon soup
    For this soup, you only need a big bowl, a chopping block and a blender!
    Obviously, all of these ingredients won't fit into the blender at once, so as you chop and add (and it gets full), empty half of the blender into the bowl, leaving enough liquid to keep it easy to liquefy everything else.

    Defrost a small bag of frozen sweet corn, drain and set aside
    Blend about half of a container of plain yogurt with 3/4 cups of creme fraiche (we used lemon flavored and it was lovely... try not to eat it all before you blend)
    And 3 chopped garlic cloves in a blender until the garlic is nice and smooth
    Add in two large cucumbers, roughly chopped, one very ripe medium to large sized honeydew melon (roughly chopped) and your defrosted sweet corn

    Hint: Honeydew is ripe when it sounds hollow.

    Once everything is blended and in the bowl, season with salt and pepper
    In a separate bowl, mix about 8 red radishes,roughly chopped, a small handful of torn fresh mint,
    some snipped chives and the juice of one lime
    Serve the soup with a dollop of yogurt and the radish on top!

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    The Highest Nutrient Soup You Can Make

    If you know me you know I love nutrition. The 700-page "Alternate Nutrition," is my bathroom book. I go to the Health Section first on the Times online. And I have some weird thing for Martha Shulman. Not to be confused with Martha Stewart- whom I also have some weird thing for, and have since I was the weirdest eight year old of all time. Alison Smith, please feel free to testify to this.

    So as you can imagine this soup excited me plenty. Ever reach for the processed filled not-real-food snack in your cubicle on a Thursday afternoon. Stand up for the first time in 6 hours and hear your legs creak like an 85-year old then get on the over-crowded subway to have people cough on you- you get out at that dive bar in the East Village and drink watery beer? I know and I have. And it doesn't make me feel healthy. (As I write this out I can almost hear my I-live-in-a-town-that-has-a-much-higher-quality-of-life friends shake their head with that satisfaction. I geeeeet it.)

    Okay, sorry, distracted, the reality TV boy of the moment is about to realize he's gay. And there those friends go. The friends who don't own TV. The friends who write, "TV, what's that?" on their Facebook TV show interests (And don't get me started on the friends who don't even have Facebook to begin with.) Whatever, Alayna is flipping between "NYC Prep" and "16-and-Pregnant" right now. I know what you're thinking, "16-and-Pregnant!" That's too far! That's unethical! Whatever. Okay. I'm getting off point.

    Soupie contest! It's going on for another week. Alayna and I just didn't have the time to go through all our soupie submissions. Now that we're famous in Dubai those are starting to roll in in addition to our United States fan base. And Alayna and I are like, Shoot, now we have to translate Arabic. So anyways, if you, say, didn't have time to submit your entry about your favorite soup today is lucky your day because you have another week! And trust me the prize is going to be awesome!

    ...Oh my gosh, the 16-year old is actually having the baby. Right now. Alayna looks like she is about to cry but she keeps turning back with this sad-like-amusement. "Sad-like-amusement," really, actually, sums up the way I see most things. Ohhh, you and your TV-less satisfication head shakes are endless.

    Regardless of where and how you live friends, hope you're in the mood for a bowl of fiber filled natural health. Salud.

    Your Bowl of Feel-Better-Ness

    • First, put 2 ounces of dried porcini mushrooms into hot water and let soak for about half an hour while you start up the rest of the soup
    • Peel and chop two sweet potatoes and a handful of red potatoes into bite-sized pieces and boil in a separate pot
    • Roughly dice 6-8 cloves of garlic and saute in olive oil until translucent with some hot pepper
    • Add a handful of carrots, chopped, and cover
    • Add the leaves of a full bunch of kale to the pot
    • Slice 2 yellow squashes and halve the pieces and add to the pot
    • Add a handful of shitake mushrooms, sliced, and a box of baby bella mushrooms
    • Once everything is getting soft, add the strained porcini mushroom juice (you might want to squeeze out excess juice... they are delicious) and cover the rest of the veggies with chicken (or vegetable) broth
    • Simmer until things are getting soft, adding the potatoes when they are easy to put a fork through
    • Blend and serve!

    We were so excited about health we broke our blender. Over our heads. Holla.

    That's how Amal looks when she is really excited about Health.

    There you go. A bowl of 10 more years to your life. Enjoy.