Shari's Seinfeld Soup

Vegan.  Just the word makes me lose my appetite.I think bland, dull, fibrous and flavorless. But vegan has been infiltrating my world since 2012 so it is time to adjust.

This infiltration of dietary restrictions was brought to my attention by a friend from book club who wrote an email to the group stating that she was pondering what to serve for the next dinner.  She wanted to be sure to accommodate everyone.  The email jokingly commented that we were a very easy crowd to please;  she only had to consider vegan, vegan-ish, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, lactose-intolerant, low-carbohydrate, low-fiber and paleo.  The amazing thing is that her email joke was not far from the truth!  My turn to host book club was on the horizon so I started testing vegan soups in a bit of a culinary panic.  After a couple of unsuccessful trials that Hubby refused to eat, I gave up and hosted book club at a local vegan restaurant.  But I was still contemplating a vegan soup.

Whenever I think of soup, I am reminded of one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, The Soup Nazi.  Based on an actual soup kitchen in New York City, Seinfeld and his friends are obsessed with soup from a local take-out place, but the method of ordering is very strict and the cook, alias Soup Nazi, kicks people out and refuses them soup if he doesn’t like the way someone orders. "No soup for you!" screams the proprietor.

The episode spurred much activity at the New York soup kitchen that was the inspiration for the show, and over the years Seinfeld fans developed recipes for the infamous Mulligatawny soup and passed them around amongst friends and fellow Seinfeld fans.  One day when I was whining about needing to find something vegan to cook, my sister-in-law Shari told me about Seinfeld soup and passed along the recipe.  With only a few minor changes like using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, I made it vegan. ( It can also be made Paleo by eliminating the corn and using cauliflower instead of potatoes.) This one passes the Hubby taste test and its' hearty, healthy ingredients should suit almost everyone.  Hopefully you will find, like I did, that vegan CAN be delicious!  It takes a bit of time to make this soup, but it is much more forgiving than ordering from The Soup Nazi.

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"You can't eat this soup standing up, your knees buckle." -Jerry in The Soup Nazi

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Shari’s Seinfeld Soup (with Vegan option)

16 cups water 6 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegan) 2 large potatoes, peeled cut into 1-inch cubes 2 large carrots, peeled and diced 2 stalks celery, diced 1 medium onion, diced 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes 1 cup corn, frozen or fresh-cut from cob 2/3 cup roasted red peppers, diced, fresh or from jar 1/2 cup tomato sauce 1/2 cup shelled pistachios 1/2 cup roasted cashews 1/2 cup fresh italian parsley, finely chopped 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 2 T butter (or olive oil for vegan) 3 T sugar 1 tsp curry powder 1/2 tsp black pepper 1/4 tsp dried thyme 1 bay leaf 1/8 tsp dried marjoram 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg salt to taste

 Combine all ingredients in a VERY large pot over medium-high heat.  If your pot isn’t large enough, start with 1/2 the liquid and bring all the ingredients to a boil, then simmer until liquid reduces enough to add the rest of the liquid.

Total simmering time is about 3.5 hours.  Stir about every 30 minutes.  The soup will reduce and become thick, dark, chunky and delicious. Add salt at the end if you think it needs it.

NOTE: I don't think it needs the added sugar in any version. To make it Paleo I leave out the sugar and corn and substitute cauliflower or sweet potato for the potatoes.

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Libra Lentil Salad

I realized last October that I have a bevy of Libra friends.From late September until late October, it is a birthday bonanza and I only celebrate about half of them. I mean really...as hard as I try, I can only fit so many parties into one month. This year, I decided to honor a whole group of my Libra friends with a Libra Luncheon. I narrowed it down to only women, and only those who live near me. And we still had lots of lovely Libra's in attendance. What is it with me and Libra's? I just love them!

Garden Fig Jam for party favors!

I organized a beach walk party followed by a buffet lunch of salads. Since I have a few vegetarian friends, my first thought when planning was a lentil salad that can be made the night before and served room temperature. I got the idea for combining a spicy sauce with lentils from a dish that my friend Maili made for me a few years ago called Lentils with Tofu and Chimichurri Sauce. I love the spice and parsley with the heartiness of the black lentils. I made it a few times after Maili gave me the recipe and everyone loved it. And then I got lazy. And I threw together some similar things to create my lazy-girl lentil salad.

It's definitely not the same so be sure to try Maili's lentils too because they are truly delicious and honestly also super easy to prepare. But the Libra gals seemed pretty happy with their lentil salad and I promised them the recipe so here goes. This is what I did for the Libra Luncheon.

Please take note that this is a very forgiving dish. You can add more or less of most things. You can leave some things out. (I've made it with just onions, lentils, hot sauce and dry parsley.) You can throw in other things you like. (I've added shrimp.) It is really hard to screw it up. And if you ask me to bring it to your next party, it will likely be different. It is the kind of recipe I love.

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“Celebrate true friends. They are a part of you that always sparkles.” ― Amy Leigh Mercree

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Libra Lentil Salad

2 T Olive OIl 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion 1 tsp salt 1 package Trader Joe's steamed black lentils (or 2-3 cups cooked lentils) 1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (or 1/4 cup dry parsley if you are really desperate) 1 cup fresh arrugula or spinach, optional 3-5 T Frank's original hot sauce or similar red hot sauce 2 tsp lemon juice, optional 1 tsp agave nectar, optional fresh feta cheese to serve

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat and sauté onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, lentils and parsley and combine well. If using packaged lentils, be sure to break up all the clumps to separate the lentils. Stir in arrugula and add 3 T hot sauce.  Taste and add more hot sauce if desired. Stir in lemon juice and agave. Cool, stir well and refrigerate overnight. I like to serve it warm or at room temperature with crumbled feta on top.

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Julia's Scalloped Potatoes

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal last month that got my blood boiling.I've tried to let it go but it keeps coming back to my mind so I have decided to speak that mind. The author was spouting off about Julia Child's complicated recipes and his dinners with her, specifically one dinner, when she marched into his house and dumped out his effort at one of her recipes so she could start again and make it properly herself.

Seriously? I suppose everyone has their own memory of events, God only knows I often differ with Mom about things I remember from my childhood.  But this story seems like rubbish to me. The thing is, Julia isn't here to comment on said incident so we will never know her side of the story.  I have some ideas on words she may have chosen to describe it (and him). Since I can't ask Julia for her version of this so-called tipping out of the soup, I have no ability to refute the author's memory. I would, however, like to represent her side by telling MY story about preparing a recipe of Julia's for Julia.

You have heard from me before how I don't often think things through before jumping in with both feet.  When I first cooked for Julia Child, I didn't think it through at all, and fortunately it all ended up fine.  It always ended up fine, just some times more fine than others.  Cooking Scalloped Potatoes Baked in Cream for Julia was one of my less-than-fine moments.

I had cooked the recipe before.  It was so decadent, so over-the-top deliciously creamy and rich, it reminded me of Julia with every bite.  I knew she loved it because of her description in The Way To Cook and her statement there reading "I, for one, would far rather swoon over a small spoonful of this ambrosia than a large ladleful of instant mashed made with skim milk!"

Why I thought that I should serve it to her at a dinner party I don't know. I'm going to say I must have been tired.  I did have three young children to raise so I must have been tired, right?  For whatever reason, I decided that serving Julia one of her own favorite recipes was going to be great and I never had a second thought about it.

I love this recipe because it serves a crowd (I always double it) and can be completely prepared hours ahead of time.  The final baking takes about 20 minutes, making it a great side dish for a party.   So the day of my dinner party, when I must have been very tired, I prepared the potatoes ahead and had them ready to go into the oven well before the guests arrived.  The party was going great, all the food was ready on time and looked delicious. I served it up and sat down to eat.  I was so proud of my potatoes and just knew everyone would love them as they always did and I could tell them that it was Julia's recipe.

I took a bite of the potatoes expecting the ambrosia that Julia described.  Instead, I got  a bite of not-quite-cooked potato in a lovely creamy sauce.  I instantly realized that I had not cooked the potatoes enough during the preliminary cooking.  I had taken them out WAAAY too early.  They were not cooked completely!  They were crunchy. This was not good. No amount of explaining could rationalize why I had thought the potatoes were done when they weren't. Didn't I test them? It was such an amateur mistake.  A mistake that Julia would never had made.

I looked around and no one said a word.  People were eating and laughing and talking.  No one had spit out the potatoes or exclaimed that they weren't cooked.  Maybe I was just being overly critical of my own food? I tried them again.  Nope.  Still not good.  No one was raving over them like they had in past dinners, but also no one pointed out that they didn't exactly taste good.  Having learned a lot from Julia, I knew that she did not condone apologizing for the food you serve.  So I didn't.  I didn't say a word.  And neither did anyone else.  Including Julia.

She didn't finish the potatoes on her plate but that was to be expected.  As I got to know Julia better, I noticed that was her usual response when she didn't care much for a dish, mine or someone else's.  She took a few cursory bites and didn't finish it.  She liked food so much, it seemed to rarely happen.  She left the bottoms of the thick stalks of my unpeeled asparagus one time and I read somewhere after that she found it essential to peel asparagus stalks so they would be tender. She left the arrugula salad under her pork one time and I found out another day that she didn't care for the spicy bitter flavor of arugula.  What I never heard her say at any meal anywhere was that someone's food was bad.  Julia was one of the most gracious, complimentary and easy-going dinner guests ever to sit at my table and I'm sure most of her true friends would agree with that statement.

julia with mallet - Version 2

“You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.'" -Julia Child

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 Julia's Scalloped Potatoes Rewritten from The Way To Cook by Julia Child

1-1/2 to 2 cups heavy cream 1-1/2 to 2 cups half-and-half 1 large clove garlic, pureed (I use a garlic press) salt and freshly ground white pepper 1 imported bay leaf 2 to 2-1/2 pounds "boiling" potatoes (6-7 cups sliced) 3 to 4 T grated swiss cheese butter for baking dish

Pour 1-1/2 cups each of cream and half-and-half into a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan with a lid. Stir in garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp white pepper and bay leaf. Slice the potatoes evenly 1/8" thick and drop into the cream as sliced. When all are in, add ore cream if necessary to cover the potatoes by 1/2". Bring the potatoes to below the simmer for an hour or more until the potatoes are perfectly tender.  Check frequently to be sure they are not bubbling or sticking or scorching in the bottom of the pan. When tender, add salt and pepper if necessary and turn into a buttered baking dish.  Spread the grated cheese on top. At this point, the potatoes can be cooled, covered and refrigerated until ready to bake. Final baking takes about 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Set the baking dish in the upper middle level of the preheated oven and bake uncovered until bubbling hot and lightly browned on top.

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