Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meal for Aji: Sweet Potato-Ginger Soup, Soft Curried Vegetables, Brown Basmati Rice

I realize that today's is a long post on my blog, so let me start off with the way I made the dishes today. There is ample discussion following this :-) .

Sweet Potato-Ginger Soup (makes about 3 cups)

  1. Chop a medium or large sweet potato quickly into maybe a half dozen chunks to allow it to cook faster, and put in boiling water; it should be mostlly cooked (a fork can go into the flesh relatively easily) after about 5 minutes, after which you should drain the potato; add the potato to a VitaMix blender (you can try another kind of blender)
  2. Add to the blender half of a medium tomato (ideally, a heirloom variety; for color, try to use red or yellow, and avoid (mature) green tomato varieties like green zebras
  3. Add to the blender half of a large apple (I used Pink Lady, perhaps our favorite variety)
  4. Put in to the blender a medium carrot, quickly hand broken into quarters or so
  5. Add a teaspoon of fresh ginger, a little hot pepper (I used about a fifth of a habanero pepper but was careful to not touch the pepper; certainly a quarter jalapeno would have been a fine choice, as well), and one shallot (with the skin removed!)
  6. I like soups thick, so added about 1/4 cup of raw cashews to thicken this soup, but the cashew could be left out
  7. Finally, add a vegan bouillon cube and 1 1/2 cups of water, along with a dash or two of salt
  8. Blend on low (I used "4" on VitaMix's 10-point scale) for 15 seconds or so, and then run on high for 5-6 minutes till steamy
  9. Serve with a little freshly ground black pepper

Changes I'd make next time: I loved the soup but would make it just a little less hinting of sweetness by using less than a half apple - perhaps a quarter apple. The soup had a subtle ginger flavoring, but optionally could use a little more ginger. I loved the habanero flavor and was happy that the pepper was perhaps not so hot as habaneros are reputed to be. A small pinch of ground cumin might be beneficial. I wonder if a little crushed peanut on top would be good. But the soup was also great as I made it this time!

Soft Curried Vegetables (for 3-4 people)

  1. Cut up about 10 small red potatoes into a fine 3/8" dice and put them into boiling water.
  2. About 2 minutes later, add a crookneck squash cut into 1/4" slices then quartered
  3. After another 2 minutes, add about 18 okras, sliced to 1/2" thick sections
  4. When the potato is cooked (after a total of about 12 minutes), remove the vegetables from the heat and drain
  5. In a saute pan, saute half of an onion that has been cut to a 1/4" dice
  6. A minute later, add half a dozen cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/4" thick
  7. Cook another minute or so, then add the drained vegs
  8. Add 1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger and 1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds; a little jalapeno can be added (I didn't), as well
  9. Cook another minute or so, then add 1/4 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1/8 teaspoon paprika, and a pinch of salt
  10. Cook 2 or 3 minutes till the vegetables are softened even more as the water has been absorbed, then serve.

Brown Basmati Rice

  1. Put a ratio of 1 part rice to 2 parts water into a heavy-bottomed pan.
  2. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 45-50 minutes.
  3. Let stand a few minutes then fluff and serve.

We had a very nice long weekend Friday-Monday in the lovely town of Asheville in the mountains of Western North Carolina. There are many restaurants that we love there; our "must visits" are our previous favorite, Laughing Seed (the longest-open vegetarian restaurant in town, a nice, delicious place), Nine Mile (not a vegetarian restaurant but one which offers most dishes that are already or can be vegan - it's a really neat place that makes Jamaican-inspired pasta), Firestorm Cafe and Books (opposite the pub underneath Laughing Seed, a worker-owned radical bookstore and vegan cafe), and one we missed this time, Rosetta's Kitchen (an informal vegetarian restaurant that stays open most nights till 11p and Friday / Saturday nights till 3a!).

We were excited to keep up the last few months with news of the upcoming opening of a brand new gourmet vegan restaurant, Plant! We were pretty sure that this would take Laughing Seed's place as our favorite Asheville restaurant, and I think it has! Plant's head chef is Jason Sellers, who was a vegan chef for Laughing Seed for some years. Owners Alan Berger and Leslie Armstrong put together a beautiful space with a great menu of Jason's, and it just opened on August 16th, ten days before our trip to Asheville. We had our first meal in Asheville there, and were quite impressed.

Anyway, the purpose of the trip was to have a first annual family reunion on my wife's side. (It was a very nice reunion - my wife has such a nice, accomplished, soft-spoken, and kind family! Plus my daughter has a cousin who is six days older than she is, and they had a blast together!) Part of the plan was to bring Sangeeta's cousin's grandmother (Aji, or grandmother in the Marathi language) home with us for 2 nights; she is such a sweet and gentle person. She seems to be having a good time with us, but I was a little nervous cooking for her because I know she likes Indian food, which I do cook on occasion, but which isn't a specialty, and because I heard she likes very spicy food and can't chew well, so needs soft food.

She is only here for one dinner, and that was tonight. I thought I'd make a curried vegetable dish and make sure that the vegetables were cooked enough to be soft, and serve it with brown Basmati rice. Why not a soup, as well?

I had a few sweet potatoes on hand, and found a VitaMix blender recipe for Sweet Potato Soup that I decided to try out. I've noted in the past that some of my early experimentation with ad hoc soup recipes didn't come out well, but recently I've also noted some success. So I felt reasonably confident that I could try making some changes.

The recipe called for blending for 5-6 minutes till steamy: a baked sweet potato, a Roma tomato, 1/2 of a large apple, a medium carrot, 2T tomato paste, a vegetable bouillon cube, and 1 1/2 cups of water. This makes 3 cups of soup. I didn't have a Roma but did have a heirloom tomato, which I am sure added more flavor. I didn't want to open a can of tomato paste just for 2T and, besides thickening, didn't see what benefit the paste would have (I like thicker soups, so was planning on adding cashews, anyway).

Our home-delivery farmer's market service delivered three habanero hot peppers carefully wrapped separately in a plastic bag - I've never considered using or even touching these peppers that measure 100,000 and over on the Scoville scale, but Aji is said to like hot food, so I thought I'd put a little in the soup - and I'm glad that I did.

The verdict: my wife and I enjoyed the entire meal. Aji said she loved the soup and wanted the recipe. She seemed to like the vegetables but not as much as the soup. I'd love to make this soup again!


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