Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean-Style

Pot ‘O Beans, Mediterranean Style

We left you hanging in October, due to a swarm of continuous activity gearing up for Discretion Brewing’s opening in January. Our apologies. Now here we find ourselves in early December. We hope you had a warm, festive, delicious Thanksgiving with the people who are dearest to you. Are your holiday decorations up? Have you checked any gifts off your list? The temperatures are dropping, the rain is coming, and it’s the perfect weather for a big pot o’ beans.

Beans are a versatile protein that can be thrown in a pot with any cuisine’s flavor profile. Think of them as a blank canvas. As they cook, your house will smell fantastic and make you feel good about yourself. It’s true.

Photo from the Rancho Gordo website.

Photo from the Rancho Gordo website.

The beans
– If you’re going to make beans the star of the meal, you’ll want to use dried beans. Quality is key –  I love using Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. Soak them the night before you want to cook them.

The flavor base – Heat olive oil in deep pot. Add diced onion, garlic, and whatever cubed veggies fit with your theme, along with the spices that you think might compliment them – think fennel, carrots, oregano, rosemary, thyme. Or Jalapeño peppers, cumin, coriander, chile powder.

The cooking liquid – Nothing beats home-made stock. We roasted a chicken a couple days ago in anticipation of this dish, using spices and ingredients that we thought might compliment it. Don’t have time to roast a chicken? Store-bought chicken stock will do. Or beer (good beer) is a wonderful cooking liquid (says the girl who’s involved in opening a brewery).

The finish – A squeeze of lemon; a squeeze of lime; a splash of vinegar. A little acid adds a bright finish to your pot o’ beans.

The accompaniments – Did your beans take a turn towards Mexico? Serve with warmed tortillas and cubed avocado on the side. Did curry make its way into the pot? Try store-bought naan (Stonefire naan is a great brand) warmed in the oven and brushed with melted butter. Did you go the Mediterranean route like we did? Serve with crostini.

By all means, use this recipe as a guideline. Feel free to experiment with ingredients. Serves 4-6.

Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean Style

Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean Style

(This is a recipe we’ve made several times without measuring anything, but this time I referred to this recipe from Martha Stewart, in order to give you some correct ratios. Enjoy!)

1/2 lb. dried heirloom beans (such as pinto or cranberry)
extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 a fennel bulb, diced
1 large carrot, diced
rosemary (about 2 sprigs, chopped)
dried oregano
dried thyme
salt & pepper
4 cups chicken stock (preferably home-made)
1/2 a large lemon (we used a Meyer lemon from our tree in the front yard), zest and juice.

  • The night before you want to make your pot o’ beans, don’t forget to soak them! Place the dried beans in a bowl and cover with cold water (by 2 inches or so). The next morning, drain and set aside. Oh crap! You forgot? It’s ok – for a quick soak, cover beans in a saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain. Phew.
  • Heat 2 TBS. of olive oil in the bottom of a deep pot. Cook onion, garlic, fennel, carrot, 1/2 tsp. salt, freshly ground pepper, and any other add-ins until onion and garlic are soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Add beans, 4 cups broth, and another 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered, until tender, 1 to 2.5 hours, depending on type of bean (our cranberry beans took 2.5 hours). Add more liquid during the cooking process, if necessary.
  • Add the zest of half a lemon (we used a vegetable peeler and added several big pieces of  zest that we removed before serving). Taste and add more salt to taste. Add the lemon juice if you desire. Serve with crostini on the side – we rubbed slices of sweet baguette with garlic, brushed them with olive oil, and threw them in a 350 degree oven until crispy and golden (turning once), about 12 minutes.

Beef & Green Chile Chili

October in Santa Cruz: 70-80 degree weather engages in a battle with the coastal fog. Usually they settle this amicably and agree to take turns. In terms of dinner (because it’s all about the food), this means a week of barbecues followed by a week of chili and soup, or “earthquake weather,” as we call it, after the big quake of ’89.

On the evening of October 17th, the warmth had defeated the fog. It was 5:04 pm, and as my mom, brother (age 2 1/2), and I (age 5) were eating pasta with pesto, the house began to shake with a violent rumble, and everything in my vision became a blur.  I remember running to the door frame as my mom got my brother out of his high chair, and we heard glasses and dishes breaking in the kitchen. It seemed to last forever. My glass of milk that had accompanied the pesto pasta made its way out to the front yard with the rest of us, where it sat precariously on a white patio table. I remember trying to drink it an hour after the quake, but it tasted warm and wasn’t very appealing. To this day, whenever I taste milk that’s slightly warmer than fridge temp, I think “Earthquake!”

Here we find ourselves enjoying another warm week in October, 22 years later (I just dated myself) and we just so happened to have two small earthquakes in the Bay Area yesterday. I told you it’s earthquake weather! Even though weeks like this cry out for burgers and hot dogs, we crave chili, a symbol of the season, and we love the comfort that it brings, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the fog returns.

You know what else brings comfort? A post-chili walk on the beach on one of those warm evenings, paired with a magnificent sunset. Moments like these make living on a fault line worth it.

This was the first bean-less chili recipe we’ve ever made, but now I understand why this type of chili is popular in Texas. Hearty ground beef and green chiles are the stars of this chili, which is seasoned with a homemade chili powder and thickened with pureed fried corn tortillas. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our hands on Hatch chiles, the kind that chef Tim Love recommends, but we used Anaheim instead, one of the recommended substitutions.

Still looking for a chili recipe for Halloween? This might have to be the one. Who knows if it will be chilly or balmy; earthquake or no earthquake. Either way, October calls for chili. It’s not the prettiest dish in the world, but we thought that some minced jalapeño and crispy fried corn tortilla strips added some aesthetic appeal. You can make this chili up to 4 days ahead of time – store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and gently reheat before serving. Serves 6.

Beef & Green Chile Chili

(From the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of Fine Cooking; by Tim Love)

For the Spice Mixture:

2 dried guajillo chiles
1-1/2 TBS. ground cumin
1 TBS. freshly ground black pepper
1 TBS. granulated sugar
2-1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1-1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

For the Chili:

8 large fresh Hatch chiles (or Anaheim or Cubanelle chiles)
1-1/2 lb. 85%- to 90%-lean ground beef
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 6-inch fresh corn tortillas, quartered
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, halved, cored, and coarsely chopped
2 to 3 medium jalapeños, finely chopped
2 small cloves garlic, minced
3 TBS. all-purpose flour
5 cups lower-salt chicken broth, heated
Kosher salt

  • Make the spice mixture – Stem, seed, and grind the chiles to a powder (we used a coffee grinder); you should have about 1 TBS. In a medium bowl, combine the chile powder with the remaining spice mixture ingredients.
  • Position an oven rack about 4 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler on high. Place the chiles on a large, heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet and broil, turning with tongs as needed, until charred on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the chiles to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside until cool enough to handle. With gloved hands, peel, seed, and finely chop the chiles; set aside.
  • Put the ground beef in a large bowl. Mix in 3 TBS. of the spice mixture.
  • Line a plate with paper towels. Heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy-duty pot over high heat. Add the beef and cook, stirring often, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beef to a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Put the tortillas in the hot oil and fry on both sides, turning occasionally with tongs, until golden-brown and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the tortillas to the paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.
  • Reduce the heat to medium. Add 1 1/2 cups of the onions and the remaining spice mixture to the pot. Cook for 15 seconds, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. Add 1/2 cup of the roasted chiles, half of the bell peppers, and half the jalapeños. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the green peppers are softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
  • Stir the flour into the vegetable mixture and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add 1 cup of the broth, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan until no lumps remain. Add the remaining 4 cups of broth and 1 TBS. salt. Stir and bring to a boil.
  • While the mixture comes to a boil, transfer 1 cup of the broth mixture to a food processor. Crumble in the fried tortillas and process until the tortillas are finely chopped. Pour the tortilla-broth mixture back into the pot and stir in the remaining onions, bell peppers, and the meat.
  • Return the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low to low and simmer, stirring occasionally and skimming the surface as needed, until the chili is thick, about 50 minutes.
  • Stir in the remaining roasted chiles and jalapeños and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Skim off any oil that rises to the surface. Season to taste with salt. Garnish with crispy fried corn tortilla strips and minced jalapeno to taste, and serve warm corn tortillas on the side.

Ravioli Soup with Carrots, Kale & Parmesan

It’s spring in Santa Cruz, which means we flip flop between hot days that draw us outside to beaches and parks, and cold days that beckon us back inside for comforting meals like soup. The latter inspired this meal.

When Levi is enjoying what he’s eating, he makes this cute little humming sound. Using that as a gauge, he loved this soup, which makes me happy.  It’s really easy to throw together on a weeknight, and is packed with nutrition from the vegetables. We found this really good fresh ravioli (made by Santa Cruz Pasta Factory) that’s filled with herbs, green onion, and Nicolau Farms farmstead goat cheese. My father-in-law sells goat cheese for them so he’ll be particularly pleased by this mention 🙂

If the spring weather can’t make up its mind where you live, you’ll find this soup to be just what you need!

Ravioli Soup with Carrots, Kale & Parmesan

2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, diced
a generous pinch of Herbes de Provence
1 quart organic chicken broth
1 bunch of kale (we used red curly kale, but any kind will do), thick stems removed, greens roughly chopped
12 oz. fresh ravioli (we used an herb, green onion, and goat cheese variety)
salt & pepper to taste
a big handful of grated Parmesan + more for sprinkling on top

  • Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrots, garlic, celery and Herbes de Provence. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until vegetables soften a bit and onion becomes translucent.
  • Add the broth and the kale. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook, stirring once or twice, until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste and add salt & pepper to taste.
  • Add ravioli and an additional cup of water. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, according to package instructions. Our ravioli cooked for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Stir in the Parmesan. Divide between bowls and top with additional Parmesan. Serves 4.

Black Bean Tortilla Soup

Even though it postponed our trip to the pumpkin patch, the rain last Sunday was refreshing, and it put us in the mood for soup! We have so many dried beans in the pantry, I finally decided it was time to make a conscious effort to remember to soak them. I was envisioning a black bean soup that was brothy and had whole beans (because a pureed soup sounded like a pain in the butt because I don’t have one of those hand-held immersion blenders). Pleased with the aroma from adding some chopped chipotle chiles in adobo, I decided that some crispy fried tortilla strips and cool avocado would be the perfect topping – transforming my soup from plain black bean soup to a Mexican-inspired black bean tortilla soup. It’s definitely not a quick dinner, but with some planning ahead, it’s definitely worth the comfort that it brings! Levi loved “helping” me stir the soup occasionally throughout its 2 1/2 hours of cooking time. It serves 3-4.

Black Bean Tortilla Soup

(Adapted from this recipe on Epicurious, originally from the Dec. 2004 issue of Gourmet Magazine)

3/4 cup dried black beans (5 oz), picked over and rinsed
2 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
2 small leeks, trimmed, and white and light green parts chopped
3 small carrots, diced
1/2 a large red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
a California bay leaf
dried oregano
ground cumin
ground coriander
freshly ground black pepper
6 cups broth (1 1/2 quarts)
3 small tomatoes, diced
(skip this unless you can still find good, sweet, end-of-summer tomatoes)
1/3 cup dry pasta (small shapes work best; we used small shells)
2 corn torillas
vegetable oil for frying
1 avocado, cubed

  • Cover beans with cold water by 3 inches in a bowl and soak at room temperature  for at least 8 hours or overnight. (You can also use this quick-soak method: Cover the dried beans with 3 inches of cold water in a large saucepan, bring it to a boil and cook, uncovered, over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Then remove from heat and cover pan. Soak beans, covered, 1 hour).
  • Cook bacon in a large pot over medium high heat until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Remove some of the bacon fat from the pot, but leave enough (about 1/2 a Tablespoon) so the bottom of the pot is lightly coated.
  • Return pan to medium-high heat. Add the bacon back to the pot. Add the leeks, carrots, bell pepper, garlic, chipotle chiles, bay leaf, oregano, cumin, coriander, paprika, and pepper, and saute, stirring frequently, until leek is softened, about 5 minutes. Add a little olive oil if the bottom of the pan begins to look a little dry.
  • Add beans, broth, and tomatoes. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until beans are very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. In the last 6 minutes of cooking time, add the pasta (if using), as well as 1 cup of water. Bring soup back up to a simmer and cook until pasta is done.
  • Cut the corn tortillas into strips and fry in vegetable oil over medium heat until crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with a little salt.
  • Ladle the soup into bowls, and top with the fried tortilla strips and cubed avocado.

Chili-Lime Shrimp Stir Fry & (our best yet) Miso Soup

Finally. FINALLY! We are back! Since I last posted, I joined the world of twitter. Immediately I thought of the episode of The Daily Show, where reporter Samantha Bee makes fun of the “tweet” frenzy. But nevertheless we’re jumping on the bandwagon. If you aren’t already, please follow along here. (You can also view our tweets on the right side of this page). I’ll be keeping people updated not only on what’s going on in our kitchen, but other random musings in my life. Ok, on to dinner. I was craving shrimp, and I love the flavors of chili and lime together. I suggested to Dustin that we make a stir fry involving all those things. When we got to the store, we couldn’t resist two cute baby bok choy, so we threw those in there as well. The result was a sweet/spicy combo that we really enjoyed on top of steamed rice with a side of our (now almost-perfected) miso soup!

Chili-Lime Shrimp Stir Fry

1 lb. shrimp
1 lime
2 TBS. fresh chili paste (such as Sambal Oelek)
2 good drizzles of honey
1 large splash of soy sauce
1 thumb-nail sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
salt & pepper
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 baby bok choy, tough white part of the leaves removed

  • Peel and de-vein the shrimp leaving the tails attached. Place in a medium sized bowl. Add the juice of a lime (reserve a little juice from one of the halves to finish off the dish), chili paste, honey, soy sauce, ginger, and salt & pepper. Set aside.
  • Heat the sesame oil in a wok until hot. Add the garlic and cook for less than a minute, stirring consistently so it’s golden, but not burnt.
  • Add the bok choy leaves and and stir. Add a small amount of water (or broth) and bring a lid down over the wok. Cook for 1-2 minutes more. Remove the lid.
  • Add the shrimp. Cook, stirring frequently, until opaque. Off the heat, add the last little squeeze of lime juice. Serve over steamed rice.

    This was our third time making miso soup, and it really was the charm! The first time we used white miso, which resulted in a really sweet-tasting soup. Good, but not the kind we remembered eating in Osaka. The second time we used vegetable stock because we didn’t have the ingredients to make dashi stock. Still, the wakame seaweed, cubed extra firm tofu and sliced green onions that we threw in made it almost taste like the real thing. This time we finally used some dashi powder (that one of my students in Japan sent us) to make a stock that tasted just like how we remembered. We also added these cute little baby shitake mushrooms that we saw at the store.

    Miso Soup our Japanese friends would approve of:

    4 tsp. dashi powder
    3 cups water
    a handful of baby shitake mushrooms
    2 TBS. dried wakame seaweed
    4 TBS. red miso paste
    5 oz. firm tofu, cubed
    1 green onion, sliced

    • Dissolve dashi powder into the water in a medium pot, and bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms. Cook for a minute or two. Turn off the heat.
    • Add the dried seaweed and stir.
    • Place the miso paste in a small bowl and stir in a little of the soup liquid until the paste is of pouring consistency.
    • Gradually stir miso paste into the soup and add the cubed tofu and green onions. Ladle into bowls

      Aunt Doris’ Lentil Soup

      I’m excited to share this family recipe that goes back to my Mom’s great-aunt Doris. It’s also the lentil soup that I grew up eating. The ingredients are so simple and adaptable (we added some chard; sometimes my mom has added sausage), it uses water instead of broth, making it very economical, and it’s a link to the past, making it timeless. Serve with Tabasco sauce on the table so that people can make it spicy if they desire. The best part is the aroma that permeates the house as this soup is simmering on the stove top. Make a huge pot tonight and freeze the rest for a meal another night.

      Aunt Doris’ Lentil Soup

      (Serves 4 with leftovers)

      2 cups lentils, washed
      2 quarts (8 cups) water

      2 slices chopped uncooked bacon
      1 onion, chopped

      4 cloves of garlic, chopped
      1 carrot, chopped
      3 stalks of celery, chopped

      fresh parsley and oregano, chopped (together, about a handful)
      2 tsp. salt

      freshly ground pepper
      to taste
      1 large (28 oz.) can of diced tomatoes

      1 bunch of red chard, washed and roughly chopped

      2 TBS. vinegar
      (we used red wine vinegar)

      • Place all ingredients (except tomatoes, chard, and vinegar) in a large soup pot.
      • Cover and simmer 1 and 1/2 hours.
      • Add canned tomatoes, chard and vinegar.
      • Cover and simmer another 30 min.
      • Serve with Tabasco sauce on the table.

      Miso Soup Take Two

      Ahh … as you lift a bowl of miso soup to your lips, and the smell of the steam meets your nose, there’s a short moment when you feel that everything is going to be alright. We love the taste of red miso. Its flavor is a little richer and earthier than white miso, which is sweet. Since coming back from Japan, miso soup has become my comfort food. Funny, huh? Even though this recipe isn’t as authentic because it’s made with vegetable stock instead of dashi, it was still warm, comforting, and nostalgic. I highly recommend it this fall!

      We had marinated some skirt steak in our own teriyaki concoction (equal parts soy sauce and mirin, a splash of sake, two spoonfuls of sugar, and some crushed garlic) for a few hours, then BBQ-ed it. We served it with the miso soup, steamed rice, cucumbers marinated in rice wine vinegar, sugar, and chilies, and a bottle of sake.

      Warm, Comforting Miso Soup for 4:

      6 cups vegetable stock
      3 TBS dried wakame seaweed
      3 scallions, thinly sliced
      4 TBS red miso
      9 oz. firm or semi-firm tofu, cubed

      • In a pot bring stock to a simmer.
      • Meanwhile, soak the wakame seaweed in fresh water for about 10 minutes. Drain.
      • Add the wakame to the stock and simmer for 1 minute. Add scallions and simmer for 1 minute more. Turn off the heat.
      • Add the tofu and gently stir.
      • Transfer a little broth from the pot to a small bowl. Dissolve the miso into the broth and then return to the pot.
      • Stir gently for a minute to allow the miso to steep, then serve immediately.

        Teriyaki Chicken & Miso Soup

        It’s about time we made two of the most well known Japanese dishes. The chicken teriyaki is best made with chicken thighs, but we used these skinless chicken breast strips instead. We were really happy with how the teriyaki sauce turned out. It actually tasted like the “real thing,” with just a hint of sweetness from the mirin. Serve with steamed white rice and sliced leek.

        4 boneless chicken thighs with skin
        2 tsp. + 1/2 cup sake
        2 tsp. + 3 TBS. soy sauce
        3 TBS. mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
        2 tsp. vegetable oil
        1 leek stalk, sliced (optional)

        • Place chicken, 2 tsp. sake and 2 tsp. soy sauce in a medium bowl and marinate for 30 min. or overnight. Drain and pat dry on paper towels.
        • In a small bowl, combine the mirin, 3 TBS. soy sauce, and 1/2 cup sake and set aside.
        • Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Fry the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
        • Add the reserved mirin mixture, reduce heat to low and cook for 7-8 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickens. (If using thinner chicken breasts, remove after 5 minutes so they don’t overcook and continue thickening the sauce in the pan).
        • Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with sliced leek. And don’t let that leftover sake go to waste!

          We used white miso in our miso soup, which had a much sweeter taste than we were expecting. We’d recommend using red miso if you can find it. It’s the preferred kind in the Osaka area anyway. There’s something really comforting about miso soup. I just love it. I think it’s one of the few Japanese foods I could actually eat every day for breakfast (everything else just isn’t as appetizing before noon). Feel free to add cubed tofu if you want too! Also, I learned it’s important not to bowl the miso or it will lose its flavor. Most of the “cooking” is done off the heat.

          4 tsp. dashi powder dissolved in 3 cups water (or 3 cups of Dashi Stock. Another alternative is bouillon).
          2 TBS. dried wakame seaweed, torn
          4 TBS. red miso paste
          150 grams (5 oz) silken tofu, cubed
          1 TBS. thinly sliced green onions, to garnish

          • Place dashi mixture or stock into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the dried seaweed (soon it will turn a vibrant green!)
          • Place the miso paste in a small bowl and stir in a little of the stock liquid until the paste is of pouring consistency.
          • Gradually stir into the soup stock and add the cubed tofu.
          • Ladle into bowls and garnish with green onion.

            Spicy Tomato Soup

            The bad news: I recently got the cold that’s been going around our English classes. The good news: When I mentioned that I was craving something spicy for dinner, Dustin found this recipe for spicy tomato soup on Epicurious while I was at class, and made it for me when I got home. It was delicious and comforting, especially served with some classic BLT sandwiches. And some crunchy garlicky croutons I’d made the day before were just calling out to be soup toppers.

            2 (400g or 14 oz) cans of diced tomatoes, in juice
            1 large onion, coarsely chopped

            1 clove garlic, chopped
            2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
            (original recipe calls for 1 tsp. chopped fresh jalapeños with seeds, but we can’t get them here)
            2 tsp. finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
            3 TBS. olive oil
            1/2 tsp. ground cumin
            2 1/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
            1 TBS. sugar, or to taste
            2 tsp. salt, or to taste

            • Cook onion, garlic, chipotle, and ginger in oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy nonreactive pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 8 minutes.
            • Add cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
            • Stir in canned tomatoes, broth, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.
            • Working in a couple batches, blend soup in blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids).
            • Stir in sugar and salt to taste. Reheat in cleaned saucepan if necessary.

              Something Like Tom Kha Gai

              We definitely can’t claim that this is the traditional way to make the famous Thai soup, but we enjoyed the challenge of creating something that tastes pretty close, using the ingredients that were available to us in Japan. This recipe serves 2 with enough for seconds. On a side note, it’s been snowing all day and covering the ground! This is the first time we’ve seen snow like this since moving to Osaka, so we’re thrilled and so is Arius.

              2 TBS. canola oil
              2 small shallots, chopped
              3 dried chillies, thinly sliced (or more if you like)
              1 TBS. fresh ginger, minced
              1 14 oz. can coconut milk
              1 bullion cube (we used chicken) dissolved into 1 cup hot water (or 1 cup stock)
              6 lemon grass leaves (we bought some that were already trimmed, but we sliced them a few times to bring out the flavor)
              a handful of button mushrooms, sliced
              1 TBS. fish sauce
              juice of half a lime, the other half sliced
              2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-sized pieces
              4 green onions, sliced

              • In a pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the shallot, and chilli and cook for a few minutes, until fragrant and shallot is soft.
              • Add the ginger and cook for a few minutes more.
              • Add the stock, coconut milk, lemon grass, mushrooms, fish sauce, lime juice and a few lime slices, and bring to a gentle boil. Add the chicken pieces, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
              • Remove lime slices from pot. Divide soup among 2 bowls, garnish with sliced green onion and serve with steamed white rice and extra lime on the side.

              Italian Egg Drop Soup with Meatballs

              The undeniable chill in the air today moved me to make garlicky meatballs swimming in a soothing broth with a touch of green and swirls of egg, reminiscent of our favorite Chinese soup –but Italian style, adapted from Rachael Ray’s recipe. Our version includes the addition of garlic (no surprise there), uses Japanese supermarket-friendly ingredients and serves 2.

              1/2 pound ground chicken
              1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
              3 eggs, beaten in a bowl
              1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
              1 clove of garlic, chopped
              a few dashes of oregano, basil and parsley
              salt & pepper
              1 1/2 TBS. olive oil
              half an onion, chopped
              1 small leak, chopped
              3 cups chicken broth
              1 small bunch of spinach, roughly chopped

              • In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, panko, a 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, half of the beaten eggs, the garlic, oregano, basil and parsley. Mix with your hands and form into 3/4-inch balls. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and keep in fridge while you start the soup.
              • In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and leak and cook until soft and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, and add the meatballs. Simmer gently until the meatballs are fully cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir in the spinach.
              • To the bowl with the remaining beaten egg, add 1 TBS. of water and some shakes of salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle the egg mixture into the simmering broth, pushing the meatballs and spinach aside. Stir in the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper.

              I served our soup with slices of cheese bread, spread lightly with butter, sprinkled with fresh chopped garlic and Parmesan and broiled for 2 minutes.

              Comfort in a bowl: Roasted Tomato & Garlic Soup with Parmesan Wafers

              If you live in a foreign land, far from friends and family, and you find yourself in a mid – semester English – teaching slump, then we have just the soup for you! Comfort = tomato soup and grilled cheese. We usually try to avoid recipes that involve blending hot liquids, but once in a while we treat ourselves to this one because it’s so warming and flavorful. The best part (other than eating it) is the smell of the tomatoes and garlic roasting in the oven. Dustin saw this recipe on Epicurious last year and requested that we try it. The only change we make is doubling the garlic, and using salted butter instead of unsalted (both of which we tend to do in our recipes!)

              Roasted Tomato & Garlic Soup

              6 large tomatoes or 8-10 medium sizes tomatoes, halved lengthwise
              6 garlic cloves, un-peeled
              3 tablespoons olive oil
              1/2 teaspoon salt
              1/4 teaspoon black pepper
              1 medium onion, finely chopped
              1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
              2 tsp. sugar
              2 TBS. butter
              3 cups chicken stock
              1/2 cup heavy cream

              • Place oven rack in middle position, and preheat to 350°F. Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, and garlic in 1 layer in a large shallow baking pan. Drizzle tomatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes and garlic 1 hour, then cool in pan on a rack. Peel garlic.

                • Cook onion, oregano, and sugar in butter in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, and stock and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Purée soup in batches in a blender and pour back into the pot. Stir in cream and salt and pepper to taste and simmer 2 minutes.

                • Serve with your favorite grilled cheese and/or Parmesan Wafers . The wafers are satisfyingly crunchy and cheesy. They don’t take long to make, and are a good topping for salad if you have extras.

                Parmesan Wafers

                • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with a nonstick pad (such as silicone).
                • Stir together 3/4 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 TBS. flour in a bowl. Make small mounds on baking sheet about 2 inches apart, then lightly press them down to form small circles. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet, then carefully transfer each wafer to a rack to cool completely.

                Moroccan Chickpea Chili for a Japanese Halloween

                Can we get any more multi-cultural? I don’t think so. So, Halloween in Japan: No trick-or-treaters can be found, and if you’re lucky enough to find a pumpkin that’s big enough to carve, it will cost you the equivalent of 40 US dollars or more. But at least the stores have plenty of festive decorations up. And one of my students (a 6-year-old boy who recently came back to Japan after living in America for a year) showed up to English class dressed in a pirate costume and gave me a bag of candy. That was the highlight of my day. That and this delicious chili from Cooking Light. My mom always makes chili on Halloween, so I thought I’d do something similar on this side of the Pacific. We halved the recipe, but left the measurements for the spices the same (an accident, but the chili tasted delicious!) The recipe below is with our alterations. (Our grocery store doesn’t have tomato paste or cilantro, so we had to omit them).

                2 tsp. olive oil
                1/2 onion, chopped
                1/2 cup celery, chopped
                1/2 carrot, peeled and chopped
                1 clove of garlic, minced
                2 tsp. ground cumin
                2 tsp. paprika
                1 tsp. ground ginger
                1/2 tsp. tumeric
                1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
                1/4 tsp. salt
                1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
                1/8 tsp. chili pepper
                3/4 cup water
                1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
                1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
                1 TBS. no-salt-added tomato paste
                1/2 TBS. fresh lemon juice
                1 TBS. chopped fresh cilantro

                • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, and garlic to pan. Saute 5 min.
                • Stir in cumin and next 7 ingredients (through chili pepper). Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
                • Add water, tomato paste, chickpeas, and canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.
                • Stir in cilantro and lemon juice. Serves 2.

                We caught Arius in the act of stealing a soup spoon.

                And here’s my dog Faith back at home looking festive! Happy Halloween!

                Spicy Corn and Potato Soup with Lime & Quick Yogurt Biscuits

                Yesterday in Osaka it was 95 degrees. Today it was rainy and around 75. Fall must have finally hit us, and it’s about time because I’ve been wanting to make soup for ages!! This is one of our favorite soup recipes – Spicy jalapeños are a good match for sweet corn. The soup is thickened with coarsely mashed potatoes, brightened with fresh lime juice, and topped with cool avocado. We made it several times last fall & winter after we saw the recipe in the April 2006 Gourmet. We (more than) halved the recipe to serve 2-3 in stead of 6, and served it with Mark Bittman’s tangy yogurt biscuits (also called “Emergency” drop biscuits, because you don’t have to knead and cut the dough; just spoon it onto a cookie sheet and bake), slathered with butter & honey. Perfect.

                Spicy Corn & Potato Soup with Lime

                1 1/2 TBS. olive oil
                1/2 large onion, chopped
                1 or 2 jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped
                1/4 tsp. salt (or to taste)
                1/4 tsp. black pepper
                2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
                1 1/2 cups chicken broth
                1/2 water
                a few handfuls of corn kernals (fresh if you have time, frozen if you don’t)
                3 TBS. fresh lime juice
                chopped fresh cilantro (but alas, we don’t have cilantro here)

                • Heat oil in a pot over moderate heat until hot, but not smoking, then cook onion, jalapeño, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, until onion is pale golden, about 8 minutes.
                • Add the broth, water, and potatoes and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, until potatoes are very tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Coarsely mash the potatoes in pot with a potato masher.
                • Stir in corn and simmer, uncovered, about 3 minutes.
                • Stir in lime, cilantro, and salt to taste. Garnish with avocado. Serve with either tortilla chips and wedges of lime or these biscuits.

                Quick Yogurt Biscuits

                1 cup flour
                1/2 tsp. salt
                1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
                1/2 tsp. baking soda
                4 TBS. butter (60 g), cut into bits
                1/2 cup plain yogurt

                • Preheat oven to 450 degrees (230 C).
                • Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the bits of butter. Using your fingers, pick up some of the dry ingredients and rub them with the butter between your fingers (the fun part) and drop them again, until butter is thoroughly blended and the mixture looks crumbly.
                • Stir in the yogurt with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens.
                • Drop tablespoons of the dough onto a greased baking sheet and bake about 12 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Serve with honey.