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Passover mid-week: what’s for lunch?

With the best will in the world, there is only so much matzah anyone really wants to eat in a day. Even whole wheat. Yes, it’s crunchy. No, you don’t have to run the toaster oven. Yes, you should eat something else, and not just macaroons or gefilte fish from a jar. Or more hard-boiled eggs. Yeesh. Something lighter, please.

Salad

If you can get tomatoes of worth yet (it’s been a pretty long winter across much of the US), cut up some tomatoes and cucumbers, some red bell pepper, splash a bit of olive oil and vinegar on, maybe some Greek yogurt, some dill or basil, a bit of scallion and some feta or an olive, If good salad veg is scant but you can get cabbage, shred it and toss with some fresh or dried dill, thyme or oregano, maybe mint, oil and vinegar, a bit of lemon juice if you’ve got it, a couple of Greek-style olives. Or make a mix of oranges–slice them and serve with vinaigrette and lettuce or chopped cabbage, maybe a scallion and an olive or so, to brighten the last of winter and the first of spring.

Microwave melts and other vegetable and cheese combos

My standard eggplant microwave “melt” combo, with peppers and/or artichoke hearts and mozzarella/feta sandwiched between two slices of microwave-steamed eggplant. Salsa or shakshouka or even plain tomato sauce if you’ve got it, but jazz it up with hot pepper flakes and/or smoked paprika, or if you don’t have sauce then at least some hot pepper flakes, paprika, and basil or oregano–something.

Fish

Tuna salad is pretty classic, obviously, even though if you keep kosher it means scouting out kosher-for-Passover mayonnaise, making your own, or using plain yogurt instead (my current preference; my experience making mayo from scratch is more vast than I care to admit, and I don’t even like the stuff).

But if you have leftover cooked fish, especially tilapia or salmon, or you’re willing to cook a pound of it specifically for a batch of quick fake-smoked-whitefish-style fish spread, go ahead and microwave it a couple of minutes until cooked through, then drain off the liquid and mix with fat-free plain (!!!) Greek yogurt (add cautiously by spoonfuls so you don’t get too much and make it gloppy), plus or minus tehina if you eat it at Passover and like it, plus some lemon juice and grated or finely chopped onion or scallion, a bit of garlic and dill, and either a couple of drops of liquid smoke or a good dash of smoked paprika, with salt just to taste at the very end. Let it chill and it’ll solidify a bit overnight in the fridge. Good again with Greek olives and some salad (and okay, a little–but only a little–matzah). If you’re going for a meat meal and want to keep it nondairy, do a little more lemon juice and some olive oil as the binder and leave out the yogurt.

Fake-smoked tilapia salad on matzah

Fish Salad Rellenos?

But you can take it further, as I discovered. I’ve never actually loved gefilte fish, and even though Joan Nathan swears that fresh homemade gefilte fish is much better, I have chosen all these years not to believe her because it’s a big to-do and an even bigger mess, plus all the matzah meal and eggs mixed in–it’s basically a fish meatloaf full of stretchers. No. In my book, if you can get real fish, you should eat real fish as a main course and treat it with respect.

Leftovers, maybe, if you don’t just want to eat them straight–but not with yet more matzah and eggs. For crying out loud.

And all leftovers have to be good enough to eat on their own merits. Whatever you do to them should improve them or at least not degrade them.

I live in warm–sometimes way too warm–territory near Los Angeles, so the Armenian and Latino corner greengrocers always have good veg for cheap. Both are into peppers of varying shapes, sizes, colors and burn factor, a plus in my book. Passover can really use a hit of ta’am (flavor) and some vegetabalia to go with it.

A bag of Hungarian peppers–pale green, mostly-mild, thin-walled, good for quick-pickling–was going for 50 cents a pound this week, and they’re long like Anaheims but nice and boxy at the stem end, not flat, so they’re easy to core and stuff without parcooking first. Fill them with the fish salad, I discovered, and you can microwave them a couple of minutes on an open plate or in a snaplock container with a lid until the peppers are cooked just to tenderness on both sides. I sliced one of them crosswise into inch-thick pieces and got this:

salmon-stuffed peppers

A decorative sprinkle of smoked paprika over it and not only was it good for a hot lunch, it would also be a quick and pretty southwestern take on gefilte fish as an appetizer, one or two slices per person, without all the traditional filler or grating and boiling and carp in the bathtub and so on, but with some actual flavor and freshness.

B’te’avon (bon appétit, mangia bene, eat nice) and Chag Sameach (happy Passover)!

Chocolate Quickie: Unromantic but Reliable

It’s Valentine’s Day again–midweek, busy, too many items still on the list from last week to want a lot of fuss–or even be able to guarantee that my husband and I will both get home a reasonable time for dinner in a reasonable frame of mind to celebrate romance by cooking, or eating, something fancy. Last night I spied way too many people at the Trader Joe’s heaving large bars of chocolate and multiple bouquets of hothouse roses toward the cash registers. That’s okay–I’m not raining on anyone’s actual romance, but I have to admit I’m not feelin’ the official holiday symbols this week. Chocolate is good, don’t get me wrong. Flowers are pretty but require a vase and a pair of shears–usually right when I’m trying to cook dinner.

Last year we actually managed éclairs, and it was fun if a bit much–even though I managed to strip it down considerably with the microwave. Microwaveable ganache truffles are also easy, quick and fun if you’ve got the time to feed them to someone you love.

But with a kid who’s now waiting for college acceptances (and us parents anxiously figuring out both taxes and how to get around the outrageous Estimated Family Contribution)–well, we could all use a smallish midweek-style treat that doesn’t involve even that much effort to make–or work off afterward.

Lately I’ve been digging around in my cooking “blank books” from the last couple of decades. Part diary, part notes to self with or without illustrations in scratchy pen and occasional bragging, political satire, or outright swearing as the situation demands–when you’re writing cooking instructions for yourself, why not? I started these books long before the era of the blog, and hunting through them takes me back to what I was doing at the time.

Half the recipes I came up with are from before I figured out how to work a microwave, but I seem to have gone overboard as soon as I got enough of an introduction. One of the more unusual finds that worked really well a couple of years ago in a birthday dessert emergency (why do I tend to have these?) was a small but rich-tasting dessert halfway between cheesecake and flourless chocolate cake. The best parts:

  1. A limited and very simple ingredient list and
  2. You microwave it in 3 minutes. Seriously. Also,
  3. It’s small, and there are no leftovers. Sometimes that’s a plus.

This would probably be a decent rescue option if you had to make dessert with whatever’s in the cupboard and the fridge, and you’d left things till the last minute…or even a little later than that. As slapdash as this quickie is, it’s got big, big advantages over anything storebought–time, taste AND chocolate. Also, modest calorie and carb counts.

Not everyone has a grocery that carries labaneh, which is kind of a Middle Eastern cross between sour cream and yogurt cheese. Nowadays, though, a lot of mainstream supermarkets are carrying plain Greek yogurt, which also works pretty well, even nonfat. And not every doctor approves of cheesecake in any quantity, much less huge. Damn, as I’ve said before, my cholesterol-packin’ genes (also jeans, but that’s another matter). The completely nonfat version of this dessert works fine and tastes good too, now that I’ve retried it, and all the ingredients are real.

So–whomp the ingredients together in a bowl, nuke it about 3 minutes, cool it, stick it in the fridge. Serve it with raspberries, peaches, cherries, whatever goes with chocolate in your book. Or jam (raspberry, apricot or sour cherry would be great on this, and so would marmalade…).

Chocolate Quickie

Serves 3-4 in smallish wedges if you don’t care how it looks–otherwise (probably smarter) pour it into small single-serving ceramic cups before microwaving. If you double the ingredients, it’ll need another minute or so in the microwave. Definitely serve with fruit.

  • 4 T cocoa powder (20 g by weight; 8 g carb)
  • 4 T sugar (60 g, all of it carb)
  • 1 lg egg
  • 1/2 c. (112 g by weight) labaneh, preferably 1/2 the fat, or else fat-free or 2% plain Greek yogurt. (about 3-5 g carb for any of them; about 7 g saturated fat and 10 g total fat for the full-fat labaneh, much less for the yogurt)
  • 1/4 c. water (yes, really. It’s 60 grams or mL if you’re weighing it out)

Whisk everything together until smooth in a microwaveable ceramic dish (big soupbowl is fine), or else mix and then pour into small microwaveable coffee or flan cups for individual servings (more attractive and probably less prone to serving mishaps where it falls apart when you cut it and lift it out). Microwave uncovered on HIGH 3 minutes for the big bowl, maybe 2 minutes for the individual cups, checking progress and adding extra time in 20-second increments just as needed so you don’t overdo it. When it’s done it’ll be a little dry around the edges and just pulling away from the bowl or edges of the cups. Cool to room temperature, cover and chill until it’s time to serve. Cut in wedges with a sharp knife if you went with the single bowl version. A pie server would probably help it keep its shape long enough to dish up.

Variations–add some grated orange peel or marmalade to the mixture; add a spoonful of almond extract, vanilla, amaretto, or hazelnut liqueur; add espresso instead of water…?

Carb counts: about 17 g apiece for 4 servings, 23 g each for 3 servings, all of it in the form of sugars.

Microwave Tricks: Black Beans

microwaved black beans

Cooking seasonally is a tricky thing–especially if your season currently includes hurricanes or extreme heat. Pasadena has finally cooled down to 80s/90s with a bit of cloud cover, but last week’s 105-degree afternoons were a serious challenge. It was so bad the only time to go out for a walk was about 5:30 in the morning. Hard to think school has been in session for a month, it’s already September, and Rosh Hashanah is a week and a half away. Running the oven is, to put it bluntly, not an option, and the stove top isn’t much better in my small and easily overheated galley kitchen.

Microwaving is a powerful way to cut the time and pain (and airconditioning bills) for bulk cooking of things like vegetables, rice, pasta…and dried beans, which are much cheaper and more versatile (and much lower in sodium) than canned. Make a bean stew or chili and you can zap a portion of it at will later in the week. Plus bean salads can be served cold–a plus for weeks like the ones we’ve had recently.

But for microwaving, you usually have to adjust whatever method is spelled out in a recipe to your oven, your containers, your food quantities. Microwave times are sensitive to all of those factors, plus how much water you have (water’s the main molecule microwave radiation acts on) and whether or not you’ve got a lid.

Most people don’t try to make changes based on their first-run results and most cookbooks never really explain how to make useful adjustments. Predictably, most microwave cookbooks end up in the Last Chance bin at your local Friends of the Library booksale.

It’s a shame, because once you’ve got your timing and so on down, you can repeat it with reliable results.

Over the years I’ve posted basic heat-to-simmer-and-let-sit-to-absorb microwave methods for cooking split peas, chickpeas, lentils and other bulk dried beans. Lentils and split peas always did work out well without needing to soak them first–they tend to be easier to cook quickly by standard stovetop boiling too. Chickpeas work okay if you presoak them or hot-soak in the microwave (heat briefly in water just to cover, let stand 15 minutes or so and let them swell up) before the main cooking, and adding a dash of baking soda to the soak water really helps. Same with gigantes (giant favas)–which I’ve now decided cook better with the skins left on, same as if you were boiling them, and they’re certainly a lot quicker and easier to peel afterward–also more fun.

But some beans just seem to toughen if you don’t presoak overnight or if you microwave them too long. Black beans and kidney beans have given me more trouble than they seem to be worth–and I’m a bit reluctant to post this because it’s fussier than I like to admit even after adjusting the method successfully. Microwaving isn’t supposed to take more time and fuss than straight boiling on a stove, or working with a pressure cooker, if you have and trust yourself with one.

But this is a good illustration of how to use a microwave as a workaround when you don’t, and it shows you how you might think about making adjustments based on what the food is doing or not doing.

I microwave because I want something relatively safe, that doesn’t heat up the kitchen, and that turns itself off when done because, let’s face it, I’d rather be reading or writing than waiting for a pot of water to boil or jumping up at the whistle to avert an explosion. And I want the beans properly cooked and tender in less total microwave time at the least and without having to boil them afterward on the stove. I’ve done that before and I’ll probably do again if it ever cools down enough, but I’d rather not have to. The prior microwaving steps still shorten the stovetop time to maybe half an hour, but really, I’d rather it were all microwave, no fuss (I can dream, can’t I?)

So after a rethink of my previous methods, I’ve made some changes to the way I cook black beans from scratch by microwave. It also works for things like brown rice, steelcut oats, and other tough, uncut, unpeeled whole grains like farro or pearl barley when you’ve forgotten to put them up for soaking overnight, and at least for the rice it’s quicker than the 45 minutes or so of my previous brown rice method–maybe 20-30 minutes for a pound or two of brown rice. For the beans, maybe an hour of time total, with sitting and rechecking. Maybe less if your beans are fresh enough and/or you remembered to soak them overnight first.

Cracking the method

It starts with the water. I had been covering a pound of dried beans (or brown rice) with more than an inch of water and heating it all, or else heating that much water by itself (more than a quart) and then tipping in the rinsed beans to soak for a bit. But since the water molecules are what the microwave heats up first for preference, the more water you have, the longer it takes for the Continue reading

Microwave Tricks: Quick-Pickled Peppers

Microwave Hungarian pickled peppers

This is what happens when I get to the corner grocery or (more occasionally) the farmer’s market at the end of the day: I’ve already got a basket full of stuff, ripe, bursting with aromas it would take most supermarket produce days, weeks or forever to achieve. But there in the last-chance corner is a bag of very pale green, very contorted Hungarian peppers, about 10-15 of them for a last-chance dollar. They’re in good shape, maybe one or two has a couple of minor wrinkles, but that’s it. I can’t resist.

At first I thought I’d use them to stuff with corn kernels and feta and scallions, which I haven’t done for a while. But when I got them home, they were obviously too twisted to stuff, and very thin-walled at that. And unlike Anaheim or pasilla chiles, not really spicy enough to set off the corn. What then?

I’ve been feeling my nonexistent Italian and Greek roots lately, so I thought, pepperoncini? Well, why not? I did pickled green tomatoes last year, and it was incredibly easy (except for finding the green unripe tomatoes, which even my local Armenian corner store doesn’t provide often, and especially not at the height of the summer Fresno tomato frenzy).

But I didn’t want to wait two whole days for the peppers to ferment. And I didn’t want them quite as salty as actual pickles. So I decided to microwave-marinate them the way I make marinated artichoke hearts.

Yes, you can always just buy a jar of pepperoncini. My greengrocer definitely has them. But if you have the fresh peppers and they’re dirt cheap and you just want them right now, not necessarily every day for the next three months, microwaving them takes all of five minutes, and the result is surprisingly good.

It also brings out the full flavor of the peppers quickly–even a hint of spice, though they’re still not hot, and you can limit the salt to your own taste. Continue reading

Green Beans Get Serious

If you’ve gone to the supermarket the last couple of weeks, and seen huge haystacks of green beans on sale for under a dollar a pound, you might be wondering to yourself how much green bean casserole can any one family take? Pretty bad that Thanksgiving only has one sanctioned green bean recipe, and that no one can think of anything better to do with them over the holidays.

Not that I’m against plain and simple green beans, as long as they’re actually still green. Fresh, lightly steamed or microwaved or stir-fried, not boiled to death. Although frankly, I often prefer them raw and fresh as something to just wash and nosh, like carrot sticks or celery.

Even frozen green beans are fine if you treat them gently and cook them a bit less than you would fresh ones–the freezing and thawing break down all vegetables slightly, and you don’t want them to go to mush or turn brown.

Just not the dank, slimy brown horrors that emerged from a can every once in a while when I was a kid, and which my mother insisted, against all reason, had once been something living. Canned green beans are the zombies of the green bean world.

But with a bounty of cheap greens in winter, what to do with them is a pretty good question, and one that begs a three-minute solution, especially when most green vegetables are getting harder to come by. You want to stock up but you don’t want to be eating the same old, same old for a month.

My best solution for a quick green bean dish–other than the grab-and-go raw snack vegetable business above–is of course to wash and trim the tough ends from a bunch of green beans (I usually grab about a pound at a time). Stick them in a covered container or between two microwaveable stoneware or Corelle dinner plates with a drizzle of water (anything from a couple of tablespoons up to about a quarter-inch in depth) .

Three minutes on HIGH should cook a pound of rinsed and trimmed green beans to that crisp-tender ideal where they’re still green and just cooked but still have a bit of bite to them. Basically like blanched or steamed, but without the big stockpot of boiling water (which I hate to wait for and which seems a waste), the strainer, or the ice water bath (another wasted bowl).

And you can do it right before dinner as a last-minute thought, just enough for that meal so they stay green. Drain and serve them ASAP for best results. Don’t give ’em a chance to go brown.

If you want to keep them green for later, microwave them a little less, maybe 1.5-2.5 minutes per pound, just until they begin to turn jewel green, rinse them under a cold tap as soon as they’re done, drain and chill. Do not add anything acidic to them until just before you serve them so they don’t turn olive-brown.

Yes, it’s pretty plain–which is handy if you want it versatile. You can serve them hot with a mustard garlic vinaigrette or other salad-type dressing to dip into or drizzle over them. Or the richer (but not saturated-fat) sauces, tehina with lemon and garlic (and either water or plain yogurt), or Asian peanut sauce with chile, garlic and ginger are also good.

If you want something a little fancier-looking and vaguely French (we’re going for “day in Monet’s Garden,” not “tacky tourist café with haricots verts side dish that turns out to be nothing more than buttered overcooked green beans”) you can arrange the green beans in a covered stoneware platter or bowl, with thinly sliced onions and a bit of thyme and minced garlic strewn around to get a fairly nice-looking and savory microwave-to-table kind of dish that still only takes a few minutes to throw together and zap to perfection.

greenbeanswithstuffedcriminimushrooms

Slice some mushrooms over the green beans or nestle mushroom Continue reading

Microwave Tricks: Shakshouka

IMG_0458

Marinara plus a pepper makes a good start.

Sometimes during Passover you just can’t take any more matzahnola. Or matzah with jam, or matzah brei. Or cake. Or macaroons. Anything for breakfast that doesn’t involve at least one vegetable (other than yourself, before coffee). Your tolerance for sweet stuff has been exhausted, and as for the leftover gefilte fish and hrein…no. We are not going there. No matter how much my husband insists it’s “perfectly good” (and I notice he hasn’t schlepped the rest of the jar with him to the office!)

Forget all that. There’s a pretty good cure for the Pesach blahs–you need some chile peppers and you need them now. Not in 20 minutes, no major cooking involved. You have a microwave, some cheap microwaveable soup bowls or the like, and you’re not afraid to use ’em for an increasingly popular Israeli brunch dish–shakshouka. Which is basically the Jewish version of huevos rancheros, only without beans or potatoes. Or lard.

Yotam Ottolenghi has made shakshouka popular and photogenic in at least one of his famous cookbooks, probably prettier than what I’ve got here. But it takes longer too, and I’m impatient.

To make shakshouka, you usually need a frying pan, olive oil, some tomatoes, peppers and onions, plus garlic, cumin, chile peppers, maybe a couple of oregano-or-thyme-and/or-cilantro-type herbs–sounds like the makings of salsa, no?–and some fresh eggs to crack into the resulting sauce. The sauce takes some 20-30 minutes to cook down, the eggs another 5-7 to cook more or less sunny-side-up in the middle of the sauce. That’s a lot of time for breakfast. I wanted a shortcut this morning.

Most jarred salsas are not kosher for Passover–it’s the distilled vinegar thing. That’s okay, because yesterday in a fit of domestic planning (uncharacteristic, I swear) I decided to make a batch of microwave marinara from some unsalted canned tomatoes. I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover food processor this year, though, so I decided, after trying to chop up some pretty tough Roma tomatoes (even with the skins off!) that I should just do as the Sicilians do and break them up with my hands as Tony Danza advises. A little chunkier than usual, but just fine. And actually ideal as a base for shakshouka–both its readiness for a mid-morning fridge scrounge and its rusticity made for a good start. A good dollop in a microwaveable soup bowl.

What else do you need? Maybe a bell or Anaheim-type pepper that needs to get used up. Cut it up (I got whimsical, you don’t have to potschky around with flower shapes). Add more onion if you feel like it; I didn’t. Stick it in the microwave for a minute or two to wilt the pepper and possible onion pieces.

IMG_0461

Then crack an egg or two into it, sprinkle on a bit of feta or panela or queso fresco as desired, maybe a pinch or so of chile pepper flakes or z’khug (I’d run out) and/or chopped cilantro as desired.

IMG_0463

Put another soup bowl on top as a lid, and microwave another minute or two until the eggs are cooked to your liking–check and add 30 seconds if you think it’s still got a raw spot somewhere, and/or leave the lid on for a few minutes and let it finish cooking in the residual heat of the sauce.

Obviously if you’re having people over for brunch, the standard frying pan method is better and quicker–more eggs and salsa means more time in the microwave, and no one wants to sit around as you microwave individual portions. But if it’s just you, or you and your partner, the microwave method works pretty well. Just add a little time (maybe another minute or so in 30-second increments) for four eggs as opposed to two.

IMG_0464

Hafla! (celebratory remark when there’s something good on the table and you didn’t have to wait an hour for it) Grab some matzah and a cup of hot coffee and b’te’avon (mangia bene/bon appétit/eat nice)!

Maximum Flavor in a Minimal Broth

minimal carrot onion soup

My kid had the flu just in time for President’s Day (and both Friday and Monday off from school). How does this happen in a place where it actually hit 90 degrees one day??? How annoying! But her classmates had been catching it right and left all through January and coming back to school still iffy. She and I had both gotten the flu shot a couple of months before, achy arms and all. The prevention rate this year isn’t all that good; only about 23%. And people have naturally been grumbling if or when they catch the flu anyway.

But I’m still pro-vaccine, and here’s why: The minute she woke up with fever, I called and got an appointment with her pediatrician for that morning, no being palmed off on the advice nurse (or the muzak they put you on while waiting half an hour). When you’ve got a diabetic kid with flu, you take a deep breath, channel your Brooklyn-raised mother and elbow your way through to get seen before the kid has a chance to develop nausea and vomiting, which makes it trickier to manage food, insulin and so on safely. I mean, we’ve done it, it’s doable, and we’ll probably have to do it again at some point, but it’s a total pain.

Luckily for me, the pediatrician is also from Brooklyn and doesn’t take offense. She and the nurses had been run off their feet, and yet she was glad we got our act together early enough for Tamiflu to do some good, because the poor kid just ahead of us at the clinic was wobbling and actually fainted just as he got into the exam room. Five days his family waited and he had serious fluid in his lungs. So I stopped feeling selfish and stupid for bringing my kid in when she was mostly okay except for a fever. And I hope the other kid’s better by now.

So I wanted to pass this on: the doctor told us the best-bet recommendation is still to get a flu shot. Why? Because even though you might still catch flu, the severe hospital-level cases this year with pneumonia and worse, at least in Southern California, are turning out to be almost all unvaccinated patients. That’s a result you might not have expected. You need that insider perspective to see there’s a more serious benefit hidden behind the obvious numbers. And the serious cases are pretty bad. So if you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, go get one now.

And my kid did indeed get better by the time school started up again, and my husband and I managed not to catch the flu from her, which was good, because with a snarky bored teen home on a 4-day weekend, the last thing either of us needed was to catch it from her just when she was finally back at school.

But we needed soup in a big way. And with a sick kid in the house I had less time to go shopping. I imagine (because we had the fluke 90-degree day, I have to imagine it or else talk to my poor mom in Boston) that people caught in the big snows back east also have these problems of limited shopping mobility, patience and scant last-ditch vegetabalia in the house. What did we have left that was soup-worthy?

Well…there’s always the can of tomato paste for nearly instant cream-of-tomato, which my daughter likes when she’s sick. The real cream-of-tomato, made with actual tomatoes, is more voluptuous but takes 45 minutes on the stove and involves baking soda to tame the acidity before you add cream, plus the use of a stick blender which I aspire to but don’t yet own. Tomato paste doesn’t have much acidity to start with, so you could just skip the baking soda and heat with milk instead of water if you wanted to. We generally leave milk and cream out and add a dash of vinegar to restore some semblance of tomato flavor.

–  –  –

Tomato Soup in the Microwave (AKA, “bonus” recipe for what it’s worth)

  • 1/2 can tomato paste (no recipe EVER specifies a whole can, as far as I can tell…must be some kind of culinary superstition, much like “the Scottish play”…so just scoop the rest into a ziplock baggie, squeeze the air out, and throw it in the freezer for next time…)
  • 1-2 c. water (enough to bring it up to the thickness you like best for soup)
  • small splash of vinegar, any kind
  • small clove of garlic, minced, mashed or grated
  • pinch of cumin or thyme, optional
  • salt to taste after cooking
  • splash of milk or half-and-half, if you like it

In a microwaveable bowl, use a whisk or fork to mix the water gradually into the tomato paste until it reaches the thick-but-not-too-thick consistency you prefer for cream-of-tomato soup. Add the garlic, vinegar, and cumin or thyme, cover the bowl lightly and microwave 2-3 minutes or until heated through. If you want to add a little milk or half-and-half afterward, you probably could, just don’t add it and then heat or it’ll curdle from the vinegar (or leave the vinegar out to start with if you want it bland).

–  –  –

But down to business with the “not-chicken” vegetable broth. I’ve already gone about as far as I can go with bok choy and shiitake broth, up to and including hot-and-sour soup. Plus we didn’t actually have any bok choy left. Feh.

So the usual carrot-onion-celery not-chicken broth should have been next…but no celery either. Double feh. And no fresh dill–dry we had, but you know fresh makes a world of improvement. So it wasn’t looking all that good in the clear soup department this week. And I needed some for me, even though I only had a head cold and a bad temper and a sassy, feverish bored teen at home watching cartoons.

(BTW: if you luck out with a fresh bunch of dill that’s too big to use up quickly, wash the rest well, twist off the stem ends, stuff the dill into a ziplock sandwich bag with the air squeezed out and freeze it–it’ll stay good for a couple of months minimum, and you can just quickly crumble a frozen bit into whatever dish you want, then toss the bag back in the freezer. Or in Boston, just leave it out on the porch and rediscover it sometime in April.)

Normally I’d say onion and carrots alone aren’t enough for a soup; you have to have something else in there or when you add garlic it’ll just be about the garlic. Which is fine for me, of course, because my motto still seems to be, “If there’s no garlic, is it really food?”

True, the Italians have acqua pazza (“crazy water”), which is basically garlic broth. I think both Spain and France have similar offerings. But normal people might want something a little more complex or at least balanced.

My usual MO for vegetable soup and bok choy broth is just to microwave the base vegetables to wilt them and then bring them up with a bit of water, add garlic, herbs, and any other appropriate flavorings, and heat again. Pretty basic, and very quick–5 minutes, maybe 10 for a couple of quarts that will last me a week. But with such a limited vegetable base as onion and carrot, I was going to need something more.

So I scrounged again in the fridge. Carrots and a red onion…and a clove of garlic. A sprig of thyme–well. A little leftover white wine. Yes. OK.

It would all be kind of blah and pale, though, if I just dumped it in a bowl with some water and hit the nuke button. When you have so few main ingredients and they’re both boring when simply boiled or nuked, you have to strategize a little to get the best out of them quickly. Continue reading

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