Sunday, January 18, 2015

Aneta's Minty Egg and Lemon Soup

(3-4 servings)

This simple soup is absolutely wonderful on a cool winter evening. I think it's especially good for those who feel a bit under the weather. The fragrant mint and tangy lemon are very soothing. The chicken broth gains a bit of substance from the rice without becoming heavy. 

Aneta, a friend in Toronto, showed me how to make this delicious soup many years ago. To this day it remains one of my favorites, which I make frequently during the cooler months.

4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup uncooked long grain white rice
3 tbsp fresh mint, chopped or 1 1/2 tsp dried mint
2 large eggs
2-3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper, if needed

Heat the broth in a saucepan. Add the rice and mint, cover and simmer gently over low heat about 15 minutes or until the rice is tender.

Whisk together the eggs and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.  Stir in about 1/3 cup of the hot broth (to temper the egg mixture), then pour back into the saucepan. Cook for about a minute over low heat only to heat through. Don't allow the soup to come to a boil or it will curdle. It should look smooth and creamy.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed. Add the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice at this point if you prefer a tangier soup.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Paprikás Csirke; Chicken Paprikash

(4 -5 servings)

There are those who insist lard is necessary when preparing chicken paprikash. My paternal grandmother who was Hungarian used lard exclusively in her kitchen. She would have used it in this dish.

Whenever I make chicken paprikash, I use skinless and boneless chicken thighs. I don't even bother frying them. I just lay the chicken over the vegetable mixture which has been sauteed in butter or olive oil. This time I used regular bone-in chicken pieces and I wanted to fry them over high heat in order to crisp up the skin. I used lard, curious if it would make a difference in terms of flavor. I only used a small amount; about two teaspoons or so because the skin rendered plenty of additional fat.

When the paprikash was finished I couldn't tell the chicken had been fried with lard, the flavor also didn't come through the following day when I reheated the leftovers. Perhaps I needed to use more lard, but I didn't see the point. I prefer using the least amount of fat or oil and chicken paprikash is often finished with sour cream which renders this dish plenty rich.

Whether you use lard or oil, chicken paprikash is easy to prepare and very delicious. It's often served with tiny dumplings called spätzle or noodles. I like it with rice.

6-8 chicken thighs, (about 3 lbs)
salt and pepper
up to 1 tbsp lard or coconut oil
1 very large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 lb)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped (seeds removed)
1 tbsp double concentrated tomato paste
3 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
2/3 cup chicken broth

1/2 tsp *tapioca flour (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream

Rinse and pat dry the chicken thighs. Trim off any excess fat or skin. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the lard in a large pot (with lid) over medium-high heat. Carefully add the chicken thighs, skin side down in a single layer (you might have to do this in batches although mine all fit nice and snug) and fry until the skin is crispy and golden; about 4-8 minutes. Flip them over and fry another two minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter and set aside.

Drain off all but a teaspoon or two of fat from the pot.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion and garlic.  Saute until the onion softens; about 5 minutes. Add the chopped bell pepper and cook another 5 minutes or until that has softened.

Stir in the tomato paste, paprika and chicken broth. The mixture will be very thick. Don't be tempted to add more broth, the sauce will thin out once the chicken has braised for a while. When the vegetable mixture begins to simmer, reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Place the reserved chicken on top, skin side up and cover the pot tightly with a lid and cook for about 1 to 1 1 /2 hours or until the chicken is very tender. I like to cook it until the meat is ready to fall off the bones.

Remove the chicken to a serving bowl and cover loosely with foil.

Combine the tapioca flour (if using) with the sour cream. * I like to add a small amount of starch because it keeps the sour cream from curdling if the temperature gets too high. If you decide to omit it, then take care to only heat the sauce through after stirring in the sour cream. Do not allow the sauce to simmer.

Temper the sour cream mixture by stirring in a few large spoonfuls of the hot sauce before adding the sour cream to the pot.

Cook over low heat while stirring until the sauce thickens slightly; about 3 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, if needed


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Prosciutto & Gremolata

(4 servings)

I often don't bother to puree my butternut squash soup because I prefer a bit of texture. The crispy bits of prosciutto and gremolata topping add interesting flavors to this delicious winter soup.

1 medium butternut squash, about 2 lbs
salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup lean prosciutto
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cardamom
a pinch or two cayenne
3 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup half and half

2 tsp lemon zest, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Wash, then cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Place the squash onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake the squash for about an hour or until the flesh can easily be pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the squash from the oven and allow to cool until it can be handled.

While the squash is baking in the oven, begin making the soup on the stove top.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and fry until crispy. Remove the prosciutto bits with a slotted spoon and reserve for later (leaving what remains of the olive oil and fat in the pot) .

Add the carrots, celery and onion to the pot. Adjust the heat as needed and cook the vegetable mixture, stirring from time to time until softened. Stir in the thyme, cardamom and cayenne and cook for another minute or two.

Stir in the vegetable or chicken broth and bring the soup to a simmer. Set the heat to low and cover the pot until the squash is ready to add.

Using a spoon, scrape out the flesh from the baked squash. Discard the peel. Mash up the flesh with the spoon and then add it to the soup. You can puree the soup using an immersion blender if you like. I prefer my soup a bit chunky, so I don't bother with this step. Cook the soup (covered) for about 20 minutes.

Prepare the gremolata by combining the lemon zest, garlic and parsley. Stir the gremolata into the reserved prosciutto.

When you are ready to serve the soup, stir in the half and half and cook for another minute or two. Check and adjust the seasoning, if needed. Divide the soup between 4 bowls. Sprinkle each with the prosciutto and gremolata mixture.