Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Curried Spinach and Cilantro Soup

The spinach recipes continue!  

This is a perfect meal for a scorching summer day.  The creamy texture of coconut milk and pureed potato and the mellow sweetness of spinach pair nicely with the cooling, almost stringent taste of cilantro and tangy lime to make a decidedly light and refreshing soup .  Use your favorite Thai-style curry powder or curry paste and make sure to adjust the salt level at the end of the cooking process so as not to over-season.  I like to garnish with a healthy handful of cilantro leaves to really give the soup a bright, vibrant flavor.

Curried Spinach and Cilantro Soup
serves 4-6

2 1/2 T butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 garlic scapes, chopped
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can light coconut milk
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 1/2 T Thai curry powder
5 cups tightly-packed spinach leaves, tough stems removed
1 cup cilantro stems (about 1/2 a bunch)
Juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper, to taste
cilantro leaves

Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high until melted.  Lower heat, slightly, and add onions.  Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic scapes and potatoes and cook until scapes are fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add coconut milk, water, and curry powder and bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

When potatoes are fork-tender, add spinach leaves and cilantro stems and stir until leaves are wilted and soft, about 5 minutes.  Using an immersion blender (or a food processor, in two batches) puree soup until smooth and creamy.  Season with salt and pepper, stir well, and remove from heat.  Add lime juice and stir to combine.  Serve soup hot with a handful of cilantro leaves in each bowl, to garnish.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Creamed Spinach with Garlic Scapes

One of the things I enjoy the most about getting my produce through CSA shares is the way it challenges me in the kitchen.  This week we got a massive amount of spinach, which I happen to love, but I've literally been thinking for two days straight about just how I want to go about cooking and eating it all in just a week.  My solution?  Cook it down!

Spinach can seem more overwhelming in quantity than it actually is, but when you cook it down it becomes far less intimidating.  I love this recipe because it uses a ton of spinach and it makes it taste magical.  The salty, meaty flavor of bacon fat mingles with the creamy broth to create a hearty base for the sweet, earthy spinach and pungent garlic scapes.  The uses for this side dish are numerous.  I decided to mix some chicken sausage into mine and pour it over a baked potato, which was delicious and filling.  You could also serve it with a poached egg on top for breakfast, add it to grits or polenta, or use it as a sauce for chicken.  It's versatile!

Creamed Spinach with Garlic Scapes
serves 4

3 T bacon fat
1 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic scape, sliced (about 2 T)
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
8 cups tightly packed spinach leaves, stems removed

In a large pot, melt bacon fat over medium-high heat.  Add onions and saute until lightly browned and soft, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic scapes, salt and pepper to taste, and corn starch and stir to coat the onions.  Slowly add the milk and stock and bring mixture to a gentle boil.

Add spinach leaves and stir well to distribute heat evenly.  Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 4 minutes or until all the spinach has wilted and shrunk.  Using an immersion blender, chop spinach until it reaches a slightly chunky but uniform consistency (alternatively, you can chop it in a food processor).  Serve hot.

Serving suggestion:  Add 2 cooked chicken sausages, sliced, to the creamed spinach.  Pour over a baked potato. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Christmas Beans

It's here!  My favorite time of year has finally arrived... CSA season!  For anybody who has never participated in Community Supported Agriculture, let me just give my enthusiastic recommendation - DO IT!!!  Not only does it help you pack more fresh, organic, local produce into your diet but it also really gets the creative juices flowing since you have no say in what kind of vegetables you are getting. 

One of the things we got in abundance this week was spinach.  The thing I love about spinach is that it goes well with so many different things.  You can chop it up and throw it in pasta sauce, minestrone or other soups, pesto, or a pot of beans like these simple and tasty Christmas Beans (y'know... 'cause they're green and red!).  The spinach adds lots of good nutrients and beautiful color to the dish, but is also rather unassuming when incorporated into beans, which makes it perfect for people who think they don't like the stuff (heaven forbid!).

I used the absolutely beautiful Red Mexican Heirloom beans that came with our CSA share, but any 'ol red bean will do.  I never pre-soak my beans because I've never found it necessary (and also because Rick Bayless told me not to and if there's any Cabacho I'm going to trust with my beans, it's him!).  Try these beans over cooked brown rice, or just about any other cooked grain you have on hand, and you've got yourself a protein-rich, wholesome, delicious meal that's also nice and filling.  What's not to love?

Christmas Beans
serves about 6

2 cups dried red beans, rinsed well
12 cups water
2 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Mexican oregano
1 T cumin
dash of cayenne
salt and pepper, to taste
4-5 cups chopped spinach (stems removed and washed well)
sliced green onions

In a large pot, cover dried beans with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until beans are tender but not mushy - about an hour.  Drain beans, reserving 2 cups of liquid, and set aside.

In another large pot, add olive oil and cook on medium-high.  Add onions and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds.  Add beans, reserved bean liquid, and spices and turn the heat up to high.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Just before serving, add chopped spinach and mix well so that the leaves get a chance to gently wilt.  Serve with cooked brown rice, if desired, and top with plenty of sliced green onions.