Sunday, October 30, 2016

Crab Bisque

Any blue crab soup that is described as "incomparably rich and delicious" is definitely worth trying.  I found the recipe for this particular blue crab soup in one of the cookbooks, Dishing Up Maryland.  The recipe is Crab Bisque.  It originated with the author's sister-in-law, Eleanor Van Dyke, who served it at her annual Christmas party.

A bisque is a cream-based soup that originated in France. Recipes for this soup first emerged in the 17th century, descending from pottage, a thick soup that was more of a puree. The early recipes involved the use of crustaceans, and, specifically, included pulverized crustacean shells as an ingredient.  The crustaceans used in these recipes were "crayfish," or rock lobsters.  If you want to see what some of those historical recipes look like, you should check out The Food Timeline, which is a great site for learning the history of particular recipes or ingredients.

Since those early recipes, bisque recipes have branched out to include any crustacean, such as lobster, shrimp and crab, as well as shellfish such as oysters or scallops.  I have had lobster bisque many times, and, Clare's father makes a very delicious shrimp bisque.  But, my love for blue crab got me to thinking about a crab bisque.  Such a soup is particularly popular in areas like the Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina, where there is -- relatively speaking -- an abundance of blue crab.

Recently, my beautiful Angel bought a container of fresh jumbo lump crab meat from North Carolina. With that pound of delicious crab meat on hand, I decided to make that "incomparably rich and delicious" soup.  This soup does not fit within the traditional nature of a bisque, as the recipe does not incorporate the use of crab shells.  Nevertheless, it is a very delicious soup and it is one where you could adjust the richness of the soup.  The recipe simply calls for "milk."  This means you can use skim milk, 1%, 2% or whole milk.  Obviously, if you use skim milk, the soup will not be as rich as if you use whole milk.  For this recipe, I decided to use whole milk.  I also altered the recipe in one respect.  The first and second steps call for the use of the sauteed vegetables in a cheesecloth bag.  I decided to let the vegetable bag steep in the soup for an hour or two with the heat low enough to keep the soup warm but not cause it to simmer or boil.  This allowed for the flavors of the vegetables to be drawn into the liquid of the soup.

This recipe lived up to its billing.  The best part of the recipe is not just the richness, but the fact that it is very simple to make.  This simplicity will ensure that it will become part of the "rotation" of dishes that I go to when entertaining guests, much like Ms. Van Dyke.

Recipe from Dishing Up Maryland, pg. 172
Serves 4-6

1 pound Maryland jumbo lump crab meat
4 tablespoons butter
3 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons, all purpose flour
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups half and half
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1.  Prepare the crab. Pick through the crabmeat and remove any shells bits and cartilage.  Set aside.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the celery and the onion and saute over low heat until they are translucent.  Remove the pan from the heat and scoop out the vegetables into the cheesecloth bag and tie the bag to the handle to the pan, so that the bag hangs inside the pan, close to the bottom. 

3.  Add the milk.  Return the pan to the heat and add the flour, mustard, salt and pepper, stirring until blended.  Add the half and half the milk and stir constantly until thickened.

4.  Add the crabmeat.  Add the crabmeat and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove the vegetable bad and sprinkle the bisque with parsley before serving. 


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Curried Coconut Borscht

I have previously professed my hatred for broccoli.  However, there is something that I hate much more than broccoli ... beets.  Writing that last sentence, especially those five letters, b-e-e-t-s, just gave me the shivers.  My extreme dislike for beets is principally because of the taste.  I have just never been able to bring myself around to even accepting the flavor of beets.

It is not like I haven't tried.  Back in college, I studied abroad for a semester in Prague.  During our break, the class went to Moscow for the week.  We stayed at a college dormitory that had a cafeteria, where we had breakfast, lunch and dinner. Despite the passage of time, there is one thing that I clearly remember.  Every dinner began with with a bowl of borscht.  A bowl of thin, Communist-red broth.  That broth had the strong taste of beets.  It did not have any actual beets in it.  The absence of visible beets was a relief for me, as I grabbed the shaker filled with generic black pepper.  I would add a thin layer of the black and white pepper on the top of the red sheen of a soup.  It was the only way that I could eat borscht.

While it is not on my list of favorite dishes, borscht is a popular dish in Eastern European countries, including Poland, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia.  The dish originated with a sour soup made with pickled stems, leaves and umbels of the hogweed plant.  Over time, the recipe evolved from the hogweed to beet roots.  Other ingredients, such as cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes and tomatoes were added to the dish.  The various ingredients could be chopped and added to the dish for presentation.  Alternatively, they could be pureed into the relatively thin soup that I ate day after day during my stay in Moscow.

By now, you may be asking yourself, why I am droning on about beets and borscht.  As it turns out, it is the Community Supported Agriculture or CSA time of year.  One of our weekly CSA shipments included a couple red beets.  Given my beet repertoire is as thin as the soup I know, I decided that I would try my hand at making the soup that I can barely eat.  I found a recipe for a curried coconut borscht, which made the beet soup seem more palatable.  I thought that the coconut milk could round out the tartness of the beets, while the curry powder could help to offset that taste that is so off-putting to me. The recipe also allowed me to use some other ingredients from my CSA, such as a sweet potato (in place of the potatoes called for in the recipe) and a few carrots.

I will be honest, I ate the broth.  It was good.  I also ate the carrots and the sweet potatoes.  But, I could not bring myself to eat the diced beets.  I tried, but I could not eat the beets.  Don't let my distaste for beets stop you from making this recipe, because, if you like beets, this soup is definitely worth a try. 

Recipe adapted from Fresh and Natural Foods
Serves 2

1 tablespoon of coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1 bunch of scallions
1 shallot or 1/2 onion, sliced
1 cup of red beets, cut into large dice
1 cup of carrots, sliced on the diagonal
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4  jalapeno pepper, minced
3/4 tablespoon of mild curry powder or garam masala
1 tablespoon of dried ginger or 1 teaspon of fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
1 cup of potatoes, diced
1/2 can of light coconut milk
1 cup of vegetable stock or water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 lime juiced
1 tablespoon of arrowroot (dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water)

1. Saute the vegetables.  Add the oil to a large saucepan over medium heat  Add scallions, beets shallot (or onion), carrots and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, jalapeno, ginger, curry powder (or garam masalam), turmeric, and saute until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the potatoes, coconut milk, stock (or water) and brnig to a boil

2.  Boil the borscht.  Lower to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.  Add lime juice, cilantro and arrowroot and cook until soup thickens slightly.  Serve hot.