A childhood favorite: Alphabet soup

This weekend, while on a historical tour around Mennonite country in southern Ontario with our family, I came across dried alphabet noodles at a Mennonite General Store. Up to this point, I have never seen dried pasta in the shape of alphabets before. They lived only in the much-loved cans of Campbell’s alphabet or Heinz’s Alphagetti soups – both of which were considered an occasional treat in our household. Especially the Alphagetti, because of its perceived lower nutritional value.

In any case, I quickly scooped up a bag. For less than $3 for a reasonable-sized bag of homemade nostalgia, I didn’t need to think twice.

First thing I made when we returned to Toronto: my own homemade alphabet (and numbers, since it turned out the bag also contained numbers) vegetable soup. In a word, delicious.

As a tip, if you like adding rice or pasta to your soup, make the soup first and then cook the rice or pasta separately when the soup is ready for serving. Spoon in the pasta or rice into your serving bowls first, and pour in the soup over top. This keeps the pasta or rice from overcooking and falling apart.

Most of you will have a fabulous vegetable soup recipe already. However, in case you’re interested, I’ve included my uber-simple vegetable soup recipe below. You can really use any vegetables you happen to have in your fridge. Corn is fantastic to include for the sweetness it adds to any soup base.

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Tomatillo salsa

Image credits: Vivian Chan

We received some beautiful, fresh tomatillos in our foodshare this last week, and decided to whip up a quick salsa out of them.

Tomatillos are a mainstay in Mexican and Latin American cooking. Chances are, if you’ve ever had a green salsa or sauce at a Mexican restaurant, then you’ve had tomatillos. They are part of the nightshade family (same family as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and gooseberries), and are usually bright green in colour, although there are tomatillos that are a green-purple. They have a firm texture, tart flavour, and grow with a paper-like covering over the fruit. Needless to say, we were really excited to get them and to make our own version of the tart salsa. The great part is that this salsa is really simple, quick, and easy – perfect to whip up for an appetizer or snack.

Ingredients: (makes about 2 cups of salsa)

  • 5 tomatillos, chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of either parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper, or to taste
  • Chips!

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Tomato gazpacho

Nothing shouts SUMMER like a fabulous chilled bowl (or cup) of gazpacho. Gazpacho is a chilled raw tomato-based soup that hails from Spain and Portugal – although some say that before that, it likely had Arabic roots. In any case, it’s a delicious, refreshing soup that fares well as a mid-afternoon snack, cocktail hors d’oeuvres, or appetizer. Even better, it’s incredibly simple to make. That said, note that this soup does need to chill for at least 2 hours, so if you’re crunched for time to serve something right away, it may not be the best soup to make.

Ingredients:

  • 14 large tomatoes
  • 1 green capsicum pepper
  • 1 red capsicum pepper
  • 1 red chili pepper, deseeded (unless you want your soup quite spicy)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 large basil leaves, fresh
  • 1 lime, fully squeezed
  • 2 slices of bread (wheat-based is best, but really, you can use any kind), toasted
  • 2 tablespoons of oliver oil
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey

Fish maw egg drop soup

As the weather transitions from the rainy spring into a warmer summer (and it has certainly taken its time this year), I always start craving a soup that is lighter in both flavour and consistency. My favourite: Chinese fish maw egg drop soup.

It’s worth noting that many restaurants will offer this soup with crab meat in it – which you can also add. Just be sure to use real crab meat rather than the fake crab meat that’s available in most grocery stores, as the chunky texture won’t be a good match for this soup.

Whenever I make soup, I tend to make a large pot that will serve four to five people comfortably. If you need more or less, adjust the below ingredient proportions accordingly.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 to 4 cups of dried fish maw, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup of dried shitake or Chinese mushrooms (or 5 fresh shitake mushrooms), chopped
  • 3 dried figs (used whole)
  • 1/3 cup of lotus seeds
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon of corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, or to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste Continue reading

Sprouted buckwheat spinach salad

Ah, sprouted buckwheat, the Hercules of healthy green food – perhaps rivaled only by kale. The great part about sprouted buckwheat is that it is one of the most complete sources of protein you can find (containing all eight amino acids), which is particularly fantastic for our vegetarian and vegan friends, but also for meat-eaters too. It’s also gluten-free and jam packed with enzymes and important nutrients. So imagine how thrilled I was to found a beautiful fresh stash of sprouted buckwheat as part of our foodshare bag recently.

Sprouted buckwheat

It felt like a waste to blend it down into a protein shake, which is what it’s often used in, so I decided to integrate it into a fresh spring salad. Sprouted buckwheat tastes a lot like a grain food, while not being a grain, so the flavour is rather neutral. This makes it a great complement for just about anything. I went with spinach – another green superfood. My recipe below makes enough for two people, so if you have a larger family, you may want to increase the portions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of sprouted buckwheat (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 cups of spinach (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons of dried cranberries
  • 1-2 ripe vine tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic fig vinegar (or regular balsamic vinegar)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh basil
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh mint
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • salt, to taste

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Tomato Dill Chickpea Salad

It’s a glorious, sunny spring day and I came home feeling inspired to have something as spring fresh as it was outside. I ended up settling on making a tomato dill chickpea salad.

Ingredients:

  • 3 vine tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 baby cucumbers or 1/2 english cucumber, finely chopped
  • 1 sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 5 green onion sprigs, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons of lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoons of salt, or to taste
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of fresh ground pepper, or to taste Continue reading

Some like it hot… and sour

Photo credit: Vivian Chan

From an early age, my brother, sister, and I have shared an insatiable fondness for hot and sour soup. Every Sunday, we would eagerly wait to see if mom and dad would be treating us to a lunch out that week. If we were so lucky, we knew we would likely be going to one of our favorite local Szechuan restaurants. Upon our arrival, our parents would ask us what we wanted to have – even though they already knew the answer. It was always the same: “Hot and sour soup!”

To this day, hot and sour remains one of my favorite feel-great, classic Chinese soups. The amazing part is that although it may not look it, hot and sour soup is actually quite simple to make. The hard part is finding the ingredients, which vary depending on regional differences.

Here is my variation on this old classic (serves a family of 4-6… for 2 days):

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups (or 3L) of homemade chicken or vegetable stock (If you don’t have stock, you can also use 500mL-1L of chicken or vegetable stock in combination with 8-10 cups of water)
  • 1 pork tenderloin (this is usually around 15 oz., or 0.45 kg), minced
  • 1 to 3 pieces of wood ear fungus depending on the size of the pieces (they may also come under the name black fungus or cloud ear fungus)