Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mushroom Barley Soup

Several years ago, the little hippie natural market down the street was going out of business. I must admit I wasn't terribly crushed to see it go — their prices weren't great, the in-house bakery didn't make the sort of breads and cookies I fancy, and they would never mark produce down to the half-priced bin until it was nearly in a state of active decomposition. But in addition to clearing the way for a less flawed grocery store to move in, their departure had another unexpected benefit: the Going Out of Business Sale.

I remember filling up a few bags of marked-down groceries, though all these years later I don't remember what they were. But here's what I do remember: an enormous, gallon-sized glass jar of dried porcini mushrooms.

Dried porcinis are the shortcut to deep, amazing flavor. They are also beyond expensive. So when I asked a clerk the price on the unmarked jar, I expected something ridiculous. "Um, $20?" he suggested. "But we're in our final days, so everything's half-priced. $10." I grabbed the jar, hit the checkout, and ran home before anyone reconsidered.

It's a deal so good I kinda feel a bit guilty. And it was quite the haul — although the dwindling supply has been transferred to smaller and smaller jars over the years, I'm still making my way through them. But that's okay. Because I can just keep making mushroom barley soup.  

Like many with roots in Eastern Europe, I grew up with mushroom barley soup. It's hearty, delicious, and perfect for these blustery days. This recipe comes from the lovely Zingerman's deli, and uses the dried porcinis to add some fusty oomph to the sliced fresh mushrooms. I upped the vegetable component, because that's what I do, and even stirred in a few ribbons of tender baby collards. Even if you don't have your own stash of dried porcinis, it's still likely a good soup. But with them, it's even better.

Mushroom Barley Soup

adapted from Zingerman's Deli, via Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America
yields one enormous pot of soup (which also freezes well)

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms  
2 tablespoons butter, oil or margarine

1 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery with leaves, diced  
1/4 cup parsley (I swapped this out with a few leaves of young collards, as I love me some greens) 

2-3 carrots, peeled and diced  
3 cloves garlic, chopped  
1 pound fresh mushrooms (buttons or criminis), thickly sliced
1 tablespoon flour  
2 quarts broth or water  
1 cup whole barley  
bay leaf

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Place your dried porcinis in a small heat-proof bowl, and pour the hot water over them to cover completely. Let soak half an hour. Swish out any dirt from the dried mushrooms, transfer to a cutting board, and pour the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Reserve this mushroom liquid. Coarsely chop the dried mushrooms, and reserve those as well.

Melt the butter or oil in a large soup pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, half the parsley, carrots, and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but not colored, ~5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook until they give off their liquid and soften, another ~7 minutes. (If your pot isn't huge, you can split this process into two pots, and then combine at this point.)

When the mushrooms have softened, sprinkle on the flour, and stir until for a few minutes, until the mixture is well combined and beginning to thicken. Gradually add the broth or water, a cup or so at a time at first, stirring and raising the heat until it begins to simmer. Add all of the liquid, along with the reserved mushrooms and their liquid, and they bay leaf and barley. Stir well, add salt to taste.

Simmer, partially covered, stirring every now and then, for at least an hour, until the barley is tender and the soup is delicious (if you're a hippie like me and want to use some kale or collards, add them in for the last 15 minutes or so).  Remove the bay leaf, add the remaining chopped parsley, adjust seasonings and serve.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ful Medames (fava puree)

I have split and peeled fava beans in my pantry, and they are generally there for one purpose only: to make falafel. This is a noble purpose, enough to warrant them permanent residence on my over-full shelves. But still, it seems a little silly. I can't but wish I had something else I could do with them. Which is why I was quite excited to come across a recipe for ful medames.

Ful medames are a beloved Middle Eastern fava bean preparation. Not the ridiculous-amount-of-work fresh favas, but the fully mature beans, cooked into a simple yet satisfying dish. I'm a big fan of the dish, but pretty much exclusively from a can. My local Middle Eastern store stocks a full shelf of ful cans with enthusiastic banners on the label — Egyptian style! Saudi style! Palestinian style! — each a slight tweak on whole or pureed beans, maybe some cumin, lemon juice, possible garlic or tomato paste. I love em all. But while the can is easy-peasy, I figured fresh was best. And cheapest. Also: I had the favas on my shelf.

And so I tried this recipe. And I liked it. It's sort of like a tweak on your usual hummous, but with the favas' slightly deeper flavor (and, thanks to the dried beans being peeled and split, quicker cooking time). I soaked the beans overnight, then simmered them up to a mush (which I then pureed into an even smoother mush). Garlic, tomato paste, and lemon juice give it a nice balance, but really the fun comes in the toppings. I brought it to a brunch (as this dish is actually a common breakfast offering in the region), and sprinkled on some olive oil, cilantro leaves, and the *sniffle* last of the garden tomatoes. But you could just as easily go with a dollop of tahini, drizzle of yogurt, or sprinkle of aleppo pepper or sumac. With favas as your canvas, it's hard to go wrong.

Ful Medames (split fava puree)

adapted from Ya Salam Cooking
yields ~2 cups

1 cup dried split fava beans, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt to taste
toppings: cilantro leaves, chopped tomato, olive oil, plain yogurt

Place the beans in a pot with water to cover by an inch or two. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beans are totally soft, ~30-40 minutes. Halfway through, add the tomato paste and garlic cloves.

When the beans are cooked through, drain off the excess water, and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the cumin and lemon juice, and a bit of salt, and process until smooth.  Taste and adjust flavors — feel free to doctor it up to your taste (and keep in mind the lemon will fade upon standing).

Transfer the ful into a bowl (I like to create a bit of a depression, so as to better contain what's coming next), and top with any or all of the toppings. Scoop up with wedges of pita bread.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Horns

When you move, there are things you miss immediately. The local market, the friends you cooked dinner with, the bar where you ruled at trivia. And then there are things that, years later, you suddenly realize oh wait! Where did that go? Has it literally been years? Seriously, why is it that no bakery around here seems to be selling almond horns?

Now, it's possible I'm just looking in the wrong places (a side effect of not liking to venture too far from my house). But it's also possible that the by-the-pound Italian bakeries of my New York youth just don't exist here. Which would be a shame. Especially when it comes to chocolate-dipped almond horns.

These cookies are lovely. Just lovely. And, requiring a tube of almond paste for just a half dozen cookies (large, but still), they ain't cheap. And yes, you can make your own almond paste (more on that later). But they're worth it. So when I came into a tube of the stuff thanks to a generous friend, I knew just what I wanted to make.

The almond paste (reinforced with almond meal and sliced almonds) creates a cookie that is rich and moist, but not overly sweet. That's what the glaze is for. They're so, so perfect for enjoying with a cup of coffee. I hid the leftovers in the freezer, where they stay perfectly fresh (and, if you're generous, at the ready should you want to treat an unexpected visitor). As a huge trafficker in nostalgia, I of course still miss the bakeries (sfogliatelle, anyone?). But honestly, this recipe is just as good. Maybe better.

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Horns

adapted from Love and Olive Oil
yields 6 large cookies

8 ounces (about 3/4 cup) almond paste (not marzipan)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten in a small dish
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons almond meal or almond flour
~3/4 cup sliced almonds (they'll toast up in the oven, so no need to pre-toast)

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pat of butter
squirt corn syrup (optional, but makes for a nice gloss)
generous 1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate


Line one baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease well and hope for the best. Set aside.

In a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, break almond paste into almond-sized chunks. Add sugar and 3 tablespoons of the beaten egg whites (reserving the remainder), and mix on medium-low speed until a smooth, sticky dough is formed, with no lumps. Add almond flour and mix until combined.

Whisk 1 tablespoon of water into the remaining tablespoon or so of egg whites, and set aside.

Pour the sliced almonds onto a shallow dish or plate. Take 1/6th of the dough, shape into a rough ball, and drop onto the plate sliced almonds. Roll, using the almonds to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands, into a 4-inch log. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and gently shape into a crescent, pressing down to flatten slightly. Repeat with remaining dough.

Let cookies sit, uncovered, for 30 minutes, to dry out slightly. As they're drying, preheat your oven to 375° degrees Fahrenheit. When the cookies are ready, brush with the remaining egg white mixture. Bake for ~15 minutes, or until bottoms and almond edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool on cookie sheet while you prepare the glaze (if the bottoms are too brown, you can transfer to a rack to cool — but be careful, as they're delicate while warm).

When the cookies are cooled, make the glaze. Place the cream, butter, corn syrup and chocolate in a dish, and melt on low in the microwave in 10-second bursts (alternately, melt carefully in a saucepan or, less carefully, a double boiler). Cool slightly, and dip half the cookies into the glaze (or sort of spoon it over the top). Return to the baking sheet, and let sit for 30 minutes until glaze is set (or longer, depending on the temperature — you can place in the refrigerator to speed the process). Enjoy immediately, or transfer to an airtight container or the freezer.