World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Soups

Lobster Chowder.


Farmers markets at this time of year can be overwhelming, in the best kind of way. Corn is in super abundance and at a very good value. I easily over bought. So what does one do with corn for many and you dine as one? Time to turn out a summer favorite of mine–corn chowder.

After steaming and removing the kernels I decided to simmer the corn ears by just covering with water and adding a few sprigs of fresh basil, garlic, and dried chili peppers for about 50-60 minutes. I portioned off enough to replace the water called for in the recipe.

Recipe is a variation from a lobster fisherman as published in Yankee Magazine. In advance, I steamed the lobster versus a par-boil and could not see using all that butter as I have plans next week! Find the master version over here. And no, I do not know why his is red and mine is not. Hmmm.

Overall a win in taste as the lobster was sweet; the broth possessed a slight heat. I froze the remaining corn.

Note: The corn stock method is from the August issue of Bon Appetit. Photo is mine and taken with the one that is never far, the i-device.

Jack o’ All Squashes


When is a pumpkin a pumpkin and when is it not?  Or are they the same?  Pim wondered aloud here and as she prepared a beautiful French fall soup with potimarron.  Curiosity got the better of me (as it often does) as it seems that there are so many new varieties at the markets these days.

Part of the confusion can be cleared up with the definition, pumpkin really only means "large hard-skinned squash."  Beyond this the meaning is mostly arrived at by cultural usage of the term.  What is considered a pumpkin changes as you travel around the globe and also regionally. Here in the U.S. pumpkin typically refers to the rounded orange squash of any size that is carved for Halloween or pureed for Thanksgiving pie.  Bottom line…pumpkins are a type of winter squash.

I then began to wonder about the difference between summer and winter squashes.  After looking through a few gardening books,  I learned that summer squashes are eaten when the fruit is immature and the skin tender. On the other hand, winter squashes are allowed to mature. Usually these varieties are baked, as their flesh is typically hard and mild in flavor. 

Pumpkins are in the cucurbita family which includes squash and cucumbers. While there are many species of squash for this investigation we’ll need to just leave that to the gardeners to sort out.  As a general rule the home chef can usually swap one for the other in recipes.   The chestnut-flavored potimarron Pim uses in her soup originated in China and is now widely used throughout France.  It’s also known elsewhere as the Hokkaido squash.  Its skin is soft enough that it is doesn’t need to be peeled.

Calabaza or Cuban Squash, Caribbean pumpkin or West Indian Pumpkin is raised in warmer climates and can be found year round.  It can be found freshly chopped and packaged in Latin markets as it is very difficult to chop. It is a central part of the of the Latin American diet.

Another commonly found squash variety is Kabocha, this is the Japanese word for squash which falls into the buttercup squash category.  Many recipes I found while researching, call for taking the typically dark green,  five pound-ish squash and removing the top to reveal the bright orange flesh, cleaning out the seeds and stuffing and baking  it with a mix of ground meat, onions, seasonings and dressing with grated cheese. Often in Japanese restaurants you’ll find this as tempura.

Living solo, I like the Delicata or sweet potato squash. This type runs about 3 inches wide and 8 inches long with thin green stripes running lengthwise. It’s size is perfect for one and ideal for baking or stuffing.

Back to the pumpkin.  Although native to the Americas, it has traveled around the world to become a staple in dishes as diverse as Asian porridge, East Indian curries, and Italian ravioli.  Today it is grown everywhere but Antartica. Early settlers of New England made pumpkin pie by filling a hollowed shell with milk, honey, and spices, and baking until done. Ninety-nine per cent of pumpkins are used for decoration. Which means that most of us reach for the can of pumpkin puree for our pies, breads and soups. The largest processor of pumpkins is Libby.  And while there is an unsubstantiated Internet rumour that canned pumpkin puree is really butternut squash according to the company their canned puree is made from Dickinson pumpkin, a sugar-pie variety. 

Cooking Guidelines

One pound of winter squash yields about 2 cups of cooked, mashed squash.

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IMBB #19 -Vegan Tom Yum


Sam of Becks & Posh is hosting IMBB #19 Vegan, a great event to launch World Vegetarian month (October) perfectly perfect but Sam is one smart vegan cookie.

Lately, I’ve become curious about Asia cuisine in particular Thai food.  Needless to say the intersection of this new study with that of having to cook a vegan dish presented a challenge.  Just about every dish has that essential ingredient fish sauce or nam pla.  Truly this is the single most important flavoring for authentic Thai. An adequate substitute can be found in soy sauce although not in equal parts due to its strength.

So although this soup recipe from Real Vegetarian Thai, by Nancie McDermott in her own words, veers “away from the framework of authenticity” she is a realist.  Thailand, McDermott writes, “lacks a strong indigenous vegetarian tradition.”  There are religious practices such as Terawada Buddhism and Sino-Thais (Thais of Chinese descent) that have long traditions of traditions of vegan fasts and cuisines. It’s interesting to note that the Thai concept of veganism is stricter than Western interpretations in that many stimulating spices, onions, garlic and alcohol are excluded from the vegan diet.  These items are said to inflame passions.

In Phuket there is a 9-day Vegetarian Festival in early autumn where the center of town becomes a showcase for Thai-style Chinese vegetarian cooking.

This version of a popular soup, Tom Yum is a spicy lemongrass soup with mushrooms and tofu.  More commonly found is tom yum goong, which contains shrimp. Nahm prik pao, roasted chili paste fortifies the broth. Lemongrass permeates the broth and offers a delicate and ethereal note to the taste.  A more rustic, northeastern Thai version of this soup uses pieces of fish such as catfish or salmon.  After making this soup and serving this soup and telling my dinner guests that it was vegan S and W replied with a well we thought it “rocked the house.”  So really this dish convinced me that good tasting food, regardless of a vegan classification is just that, food that rocks the house and comforts the soul.

Final Dinner Menu (Semi-Vegan

Tom Yum (V)

Organic Greens with Spicy Thai Citrus Dressing(V)

Chicken Satay (Not V)

Satay Peanut Sauce (V)

Tom Yum
Spicy Lemon Grass Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu


Serves 4 –6

4 Cups Vegetable Stock

3 large stalks fresh lemongrass

12 wild lime leaves (optional)

2 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

3 slender green onions, cut crosswise into 1" lengths

1 fresh green jalapeno chili

8 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1” cubes

1 cup well-drained, whole canned straw mushrooms

2 tablespoons roasted chili paste

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan bring the stock to a boil over medium heat.  Meanwhile, trim the lemongrass stalks.  Cut away and discard any hard, dried root portions, leaving a smooth, flat base just below the bulb.  Trim away the tops, including any dried brown leaf portions; you should have handsome stalks about 6” long, including the bulbous base.  Using the blunt edge of a clever blade or heavy knife or the side of an unopened can, bruise each stalk, whacking it firmly at 2” intervals and rolling it over to bruise on all sides.

When the stock is boiling, add the bruised lemongrass stalks and half of the lime leaves 9if using), and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.  Cook until the stock is fragrant and the lemongrass has faded from bright green to a dull khaki, about 5 minutes.

While the soup simmers, combine the lime juice, the remaining lime leaves (if using), and the green onions in a serving bowl large enough to accommodate the soup.  Remove the stem from the jalapeno and cut the chili crosswise into thick rounds; add 2 or more of the rounds to the serving bowl; the amount depends on you love of chili heat.  Reserve any leftover chili for another use and set aside.

Scoop out the lemongrass form the stock and discard it.

Raise the heat to high and add the tofu, mushrooms, chili paste, sugar, soy sauce, and salt and stir well.  When the soup boils again, remove it from the heat and quickly pour it into the serving bowl.  Stir to combine the lime juice and herbs with the soup and serve at once. 

Note:  Adjust taste with more lime juice, chili paste desired.  Serve at once.


Stage 18 – Panadae for the Peloton


Image: AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati

Here’s a lesson. Don’t rely on technology too much. Today’s post was completed, saved as a draft and when I returned this morning "poof" it was gone. Hours of research on this little known region wiped out.  I was angry to say the least.  And then on a whim I entered in a central word from this post-Cantal-into Google Desktop Search, et voila, there it was in the cache. This is an amazing computer accessory if you rely heavily on your computer.  And it’s free.  While your there download Picasa also.

I was incredibly late to work today by two and a half hours!  But we’re in the home stretch with three days to go until Paris mon ami! 

Albi to Mende – Distance: 189 km/118 mi

Along the route today is the Cantal or Auvergne region. While not a well-travelled gastronomic stop it is home to quintessial country cooking.  Dishes such as tripoux a minced mix of "frasie de veau", bacon, onion, garlic, salt, herbs and spices in a pouch of Veau. It is cooks five to seven hours. Another regional specialty is pounti  is similiar to a ham loaf often found studded with prunes.

Five of the 41 French A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) cheeses are produced here: Cantal; St.Nectaire; Bleu d’Auvergne; Fourme d’Ambert; and Salers. World famous and also one of the oldest known cheeses Cantal is named after the mountain range in the Massif Central. This pasteurized cow’s milk is used in two regional potato dishes. Truffade is a baked mixture of sliced potatoes and aligot, a potato purée made with the hard cheese along with garlic. It looks very simple and plain but it has a pleasing taste and texture and is loved by many.

Tdf_bilberries Bilberries or myrtilles, are a central ingredient for tarte aux Myrtilles.  These wild blueberries grow wild on the mountains in the Cantal


I love soups and this one gives great comfort. Granted this is more of a winter recipe for most of us in the States.  Our friends down under will want to prepare it on a cold, rainy day soon! 


excerpted from The Slow Meditterean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert

3 large (white and light green parts only), chopped

1 red onion, chopped

5 green garlic shoots or 8 to 10 garlic cloves, sliced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


1-pound loaf stale chewy bread with crust

1 1/2 pounds (about 10 cups) mixed leafy greens (sorrel, chard, parsley leaves, arugula, spinach, and watercress), deribbed and shredded

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Freshly ground pepper

Grated nutmeg

3 cups whole milk, heated to simmering

1/2 pound Cantal or Gruyère cheese


Measure the leeks, onion, and garlic to be sure you have about 1 quart.

In a 7- or 8- quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Slowly stew the leeks, onion, and garlic for 10 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook for 5 more minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C).

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. You should have about 2 quarts. Spread the cubes in one layer on an oiled baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, or until just golden. Let cool and store until ready to use.

Add the greens to the pot, cover, and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Uncover and boil away excess liquid. Allow to cool. Add the lemon juice, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Correct the salt. (Up to this point the recipe can be prepared 1 day in advance. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)

About 2 1/2 hours before serving, oil a deep 3-quart casserole, preferably earthenware. Place one-third of the bread cubes in the dish, top with half the greens, and repeat, ending with the bread cubes and patting lightly to make an even topping. Gradually pour the hot milk down the insides and over the top of the panade so everything is moist. If necessary, add 1/2 cup water. Cover with the grated cheese and a sheet of foil.

Bake in a preheated 250°F (120°C) oven for 1 3/4 hours. Raise the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C), uncover, and bake 20 more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to relax for about 10 minutes before serving.

Fertile Fruit


Buy the pomegranate when it laughs —
its laughter reveals the secret of its seeds.
The garden answers the laughing pomegranate with bloom;
In companionship with the friends of God
you will bloom as they do.


Rich garnet-colored pomegranate juice is seductive. Some might even say it’s not worth the trouble due to the work involved breaking through the leathery skin and then tearing through the bitter membrane to find your reward—pockets of seeds containing juice. With patience and effort reward is close. But we are as a culture don’t have a lot of experience with this particular fruit so maybe this is why most pomegranates wind up as decorative accents in wreaths and holiday centerpieces. Today, with freshly bottled pomegranate juices readily available we can easily endeavor to experiment with the cooking of Armenia, Georgia, Morocco and Iran where the practice of pairing meat and fruit in a meal is common.

The tree and it’s fruit is Native to Iran and popular throughout the Middle East and as far as Northern India. Since ancient times it has been widely cultivated in the drier parts of Southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. Spanish settlers introduced the tree into California in 1769. Up until recently it has been grown in the U.S. primarily for the Latin population particularly for chiles en nogada, a stuffed poblano chiles with walnut sauce that is served on September 16th to commemorate Mexican independence from Spain. The pomegranate seeds are used to symbolize the red in the Mexican flag.

Pomegranates, the name comes from the French “pomme garnete” or “seeded apple” have a wide cultural history. In Greek mythology, Hades, the god of the Underworld, kidnapped Zeus’s daughter, Persephone carrying her into the underworld. He offered her a pomegranate of which she ate a 6 pieces of the seeds. This action condemned her to spending half of the year with Pluto (winter) and half with the world of the living (summer). Religious scholars also now believe that it was a pomegranate, not an apple, which Eve was offered in the Garden of Eden. In Judaism, the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility and prosperity, relating to the first commandment of the Torah, to be fruitful and multiply. Pomegranates decorated the pillars of the Temple of King Solomon, and they still decorate the handles of Torah scrolls today. In Christian art they symbolize hope. In Arabic folklore and poetry, it is a symbol for the female breast. In modern Greece, they embody agatha, the good things of life. The red color, the resemblance of its juice to blood, and its many seeds link pomegranate to fertility in many cultures.

Many cultures such as the Middle and Near East, Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America have many uses for all parts of this fruit tree. The rind is used to produce an indelible dye, and the root, bark and flower, produce tannins for curing leather and medicines.

Pomegranate fruits are typically presented as a juice. If you can’t find the nifty new bottled juice called “Pom” you’ll need to work on your technique for prying one open. This is done by first cutting off the crown end; score the skin in quarters from top to bottom and break the sections apart; gently scoop the seed clusters into a bowl; remove any pith.

Alice Waters has a technique where you can break open the pomegranate underwater; the plump seeds will then sink to the bottom while the membrane and pith floats to the top. This also helps to prevent stains.

Photo: Purdue Horticultural Department

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Greek Chicken Soup


Olympic fever, at least in my world, reached its pitch yesterday. Tyler Hamilton was finally number one in pro cycling. Awarded a gold medal for the men’s individual time trial yesterday he’s back on top after withdrawing from the Tour de France (TDF) and suffering the loss of his buddy, Tugboat, his golden retriever days into the TDF. Although Tyler isn’t currently a member of the USPS team, he’s a former teammate of Lance. He’s got courage, game and he hails from my home state of Massachusetts. It should also be mentioned that the bronze was captured by fellow American Bobby Julich. Go USA. American pro cycling has never looked better!

Last night having arrived home late and nursing the start of a summer cold I accompanied my Olympic viewing with a classic Greek chicken soup—avgolemono (pronounced ahv-goh-leh-MAH-noh).

This is a very tasty and easy Greek soup which may be served cold or hot. Served cold, it is wonderful on a hot summer day. I prepared my soup warm as summer in San Francisco, well, that means gray, chilly and foggy days. Avgolemono is also the name for a warmed Greek sauce made with, egg yolks and lemon. It is often used to dress dolmades-stuffed grape leaves or lamb meatballs.

The preparation of this dish is remarkably simple. In preparing this dish it made me think of an easy Italian soup I like to prepare, brodo con straciatella. As a point of comparison it would appear that the only difference between Greek and Italian cooking is a matter of technique and lemon juice.

For this soup the whites are folded into the broth first with the lemon juice, and the yolks are added on a very low heat that mustn’t reach boiling point or it will curdle. Finally a knob of butter is floated in each bowl to serve.

I started with a recipe from James Peterson’s Splendid Soups simply because this chef-author is one thorough professional. In the text of this book he writes of several well-known avgolemono variations. One from James Villas using orzo and oysters; another made with lamb broth and one more from Morocco that flavors the soup with saffron, cinnamon and uses cilantro instead of the parsley.

As orzo is a Greek pantry staple I substituted the rice Peterson calls for with it. I also had some left over poached chicken that I shredded and added in at the end. As I love the fresh, clean taste of lemon I also added in some zest at the end. The following recipe was what I ended up doing.


Greek Lemon Soup

Serves 2-4

1 quart chicken broth
1/2 C partially cooked orzo
2 eggs
Juice of 3 lemons
5 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
little lemon slices
Lemon zest
Optional – shredded cooked chicken
Freshly ground salt and pepper

Bring first 2 ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Cover and simmer until orzo is tender. The goal is to infuse the orzo with the chicken broth flavors while finishing the cooking of the orzo. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, beat the eggs until fluffy. Add and beat in lemon juice and parsley to the eggs.

Slowly stir about 2 cups of the hot broth into the egg mixture and whisk vigorously. Pour back into rest of soup over very low heat whisk until slightly thick. The soup must not come to a boil or it will curdle. Add shredded cooked chicken and lemon zest if using.

Serve hot or refrigerate until cold. Garnish with lemon slice.

Serve with Kalamata olives and bread for a complete meal.