A few weeks ago we enjoyed dinner at l’Épicerie du Cirque “under the Palm Trees” in Antwerpen (Belgium). The restaurant is owned and run by Dennis Broeckx and Ellen Destuyver and offers contemporary Flemish cuisine with a focus on local products. Excellent choice of wines, great service, very original menu. One of the dishes was a combination of dashi, homemade kimchi, wasabi and Belgian mussels topped with foam. Lots of umami and great textures.
Back home we tried to replicate the dish, but the result was disappointing. The foam is a crucial aspect of the dish and sadly our foam collapsed after 2 seconds. But we did manage to buy some very tasty, mild Korean kimchi so the next day we prepared a dashi-based soup with mussels instead. Very tasty and the combination works really well.
Prepare the dashi. Clean the mussels and discard broken ones. Quickly cook the mussels, add kimchi, sake and a drop of light soy sauce to the dashi, keep warm, remove the mussels from the shell and add to the soup. Serve immediately on warm plates.
We simply love soup! A traditional soup like Londonderry or Queen’s Soup, a rich Tomato Soup, Clam Chowder, perhaps a more challenging soup like Lettuce Soup or a refreshing Ajo Blanco. If you would look at our shelfs with cookbooks you would expect books like The Ultimate Soupbook, The Essential Soupbook or Soup of the Day. No doubt these are excellent books with great recipes, but we have only one book specific on soup: Cooking Soups for Dummies by Jenna Holst.
Why? Well, to be honest, it is one of these few cookbooks that is truly about ingredients, methods and recipes, with the aim to cook a tasty soup. Most cookbooks are a collection of recipes. Not this one. The first chapter of the book is about tools and utensils, basically explaining what equipment you need to make a soup. The second chapter is about the ingredients (spices, herbs, basic items) you need and where and how you should store them. Fun to read, good to know, especially because it’s very well written, comprehensive and clear. The third and fourth chapter are about basic techniques, and the fifth chapter explains how to make a broth (chicken, beef, vegetarian, fish, clam). Chapter six is about storing soup (again well written and very helpful) and then we move towards making fresh soup from the garden (Tomato Soup, Sweet Potato Bisque etcetera).
You could skip the background information and only look at the index of recipes. You’ll find lots of interesting recipes, ranging from Mulligatawny Soup to Cantaloupe-Orange Soup, but also less exotic ones like Creamy Potato Leek Soup and Split Pea Soup.
We bought the book many years ago and have always found it helpful and inspiring. What better way to start dinner, or lunch, than with soup? Let’s buy some fresh beets and cook Herbed Beet Soup. Yummy!
Cooking Soups for Dummies is available via your local bookstore or via the well-known channels for approximately US$ 30,00 or € 20,00. You’ll find specific recipes on Dummies.
We have fond memories of the food we enjoyed when in New England: local oysters, lobster, Boston cream pie and of course clam chowder. Ah, yes, fond memories indeed. Since then, clam chowder has become one of our favourite starters. Unfortunately, most restaurants (even in New England!) turn the clam chowder into a potato soup and even worse: they used canned clams. Help!
The main ingredients of New England clam chowder should of course be lots of fresh clams plus vegetables, bacon, cream and potato. The soup must be about clams, with all the other ingredients in a supporting role.
We’re not from New England, so our clam chowder is far from original. But being Dutch we love our seafood and most certainly do we love our kokkels, also known as the common cockle. You can find a probably more original Manhatten version (meaning: without cream) in The Silver Palate Cookbook.
Finding the right potato is a bit of a struggle, also because some recipes suggest using waxy potatoes, so potatoes that remain firm. Not a good idea because it means that the potato doesn’t thicken the soup and the potato is far too present. We prefer using a starchy potato, one you would use for a purée, mash or mousseline. If you can find one with a golden colour, that’s even better. If you’re familiar with vichyssoise, then use the same potato.
What You Need
500 grams of Clams, preferably washed
Chopped Carrot, Celeriac, Onion and Leek
Bouquet Garni (Parsley, Bay Leaf, some Thyme)
4 strips of Bacon
200 grams of Starchy Potato
50 ml Cream
What You Do
Check the clams: discard broken ones or ones that will not close. Add a little olive oil to a pan and then chopped carrot, celeriac, onion and leek. Leave for 20 minutes until soft and sweet. Add the chopped bacon, fry for a few minutes until slightly crispy. Now add white wine, water and the bouquet garni. Leave for another 20 minutes. Turn up the heat, add the clams quickly and certainly not too long. If you heat them too long, then they will become rubbery when heated for the second time. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ingredients from the stock. Keep the bacon, the clams (without the shells) and the bouquet garni. Discard all other ingredients: onions, leek, celeriac, carrot and shells. Transfer the bacon and the bouquet garni back to the liquid. Add the chopped potato. Let simmer until the potato has broken down. Use a fork to thicken the soup. Add cream. Feel free to add a bit more, it’s all about taste and consistency at this stage. If you’re not happy with it, then you could add some potato starch. Keep the soup warm for 10 minutes or so, turn up the heat, add the clams and quickly heat them. Add some freshly grounded white pepper. Serve immediately.
This morning when we looked outside, we saw a grey, foggy city. Knowing it would take hours for the fog to clear, we started thinking about something warm for lunch. Perhaps some soup with crusty bread? We opened our refrigerator. Various mushrooms, thyme, rosemary, cream, a carrot, some left over stock. Yes! We knew what we wanted to cook for lunch: Mushroom Soup with Pancetta. A hearty, rich soup, ideal for a cold, grey day. The combination of mushrooms, pancetta and cream works very well; the celery and leek add complexity and the thyme brings character.
It was much later that afternoon before the fog left the city, but since we also had some left over Chardonnay in the fridge, which we enjoyed with our soup, we didn’t mind that much.
What You Need
Mushrooms (Best is a Mix of Champignons, Shiitake etcetera)
Keep two strips of pancetta apart (to be grilled just before serving). You probably need 4-6 strips in total. Slice the remaining pancetta and fry in olive oil on medium heat. Remove the pancetta from the pan, chop the shallot and glaze it in the fat and perhaps some extra olive oil. Clean and slice the mushrooms, slice half a stalk of celery, half a leek, a small carrot, chop two gloves of garlic and add this to the shallot. Gently fry for a few minutes. Add the pancetta, the stock and the bouquet garni. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni. Blender the soup, pass through a sieve and leave on low heat for 10 minutes. The mushrooms will emulgate the soup, so no need to add a roux. Now it’s time to taste the soup and perhaps add some black pepper. Add cream and fresh thyme and leave for another 5-10 minutes. In the meantime grill the two strips of pancetta until brown and crispy. Cut the stripes in five pieces depending on the size. Serve the soup in a warm bowl with the pancetta on top of it.
It’s autumn, so obviously we want to cook pumpkin soup. A nice and warm combination of pumpkin, ginger, chilli and orange lentils for instance. Or with Jus de Truffe for a bit of extra umami and exclusivity. Both are excellent vegetarian dishes, perfect for lunch with some crusted bread or as a starter. Having recently prepared kabocha with shrimps, we decided to prepare a vegetarian soup with it. The basis of the soup is Kombu Dashi (made with dried Kelp). The dashi and the soy sauce bring saltiness and umami to the soup, which combines very well with the exceptional sweetness of the pumpkin and the mirin.
You could prepare the soup with the skin of the kabocha, but we love the intense orange colour of the inside.
What You Need
20 grams of Kelp
1 litre Water
Light Soy Sauce
What You Do
Add the kelp to one litre of cold water. Put on low heat and wait until it has reached 80 °C or 175 °F. Overheating it will make the dashi bitter. In the meantime, wash and peel the kabocha, remove the seeds and dice. Remove the kelp from the pan, discard and add the kabocha. Allow to simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes until the kabocha is soft. Remove some of the liquid and blender the kabocha. Add liquid until you have the right consistency. In our experience you will need one litre of water to cook the kabocha but it might be too much liquid for a nice, velvety consistency of your soup. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of mirin and 1 or 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce. It’s a matter of your preference, ripeness of the kabocha and the kelp. Best to decorate with some purple shiso, or with sprouts (as we did), provided they’re not too spicy.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Dancing Mushroom, better known as Maitake, Hen of the Woods or Ram’s Head. Enjoy the powerful, intense and nutty flavours and be intrigued by the aroma. No wonder it’s a much loved culinary mushroom!
Legend has it that maitake got its name because foragers danced with happiness when finding it. Nowadays maitake can be wild or cultivated. Both are fine; we actually prefer the cultivated ones. Make sure you cook maitake through and through, otherwise you may upset your stomach (and other parts of your body).
Maitake combines very well with beef and thyme. It is also great when combined with shrimps, crab, coquilles St Jacques, coriander, dill and parsley; a salad created by Antonio Carluccio and published in 2003 in the Complete Mushroom Book. The book has a wealth of wonderful, simple recipes.
Our soup is perhaps a bit odd, because it’s a thickened soup, something you would perhaps not expect given dashi is the base of the soup. It’s a gentle soup, with some umami and bitterness. The fried maitake amplifies the flavours.
What You Need
For the Dashi
500 ml Water
10 grams Konbu
10 grams Katsuobushi
150 grams of Maitake
5 cm Fresh Ginger
Tablespoon of Cooked Plain Rice
What You Do
Prepare the dashi. Remove the base of the maitake. Set a few ‘leaves’ aside (to be fried later). Peel and quarter the ginger. Add the remaining ‘leaves’ of the maitake, the ginger and the cooked rice to the dashi. Leave for 20 minutes on low heat. Remove the ginger and use a blender to create a smooth mixture. You will notice that the maitake doesn’t thicken the soup, as a classic Champignon de Paris would do. The rice should do the trick. Pass through a sieve. Keep on low heat for another 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon of sake, some soy sauce and mirin. Taste and adjust if necessary. The quanities very much depend on the flavour of the maitake and your personal taste. You’re looking for umami, bitterness and depth. Leave for another 10 minutes on low heat. Add olive oil to a small heavy iron skillet and fry the remaining maitake; initially on medium heat, later on low heat. This may take 5 minutes. Use the blender for the second time to make sure the soup is perfectly smooth. Serve in a miso bowl.
Preparing a chilled soup is more than simply combining and blending a few ingredients; it needs something extra, something that will give the soup a push, simply because it’s chilled and the aromas are not as present as when a soup is warm. For instance Gazpacho is not just a mixture of tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and red onion; it absolutely needs Jerez vinegar. Cold soups also benefit from adding excellent olive oil just before serving. The olive oil will give that velvety, rich feel in your mouth. Chilled avocado and cucumber soup also needs something extra. We add soft blue cheese (for instance Gorgonzola Dolce) and Dill. Lemon will bring the required acidity and Greek Yoghurt will enhance the texture.
Peel the cucumber and remove the seeds. Add the cucumber, avocado, stock, cheese and dill to your blender and mix. Now it’s a matter of tasting. Add a bit of lemon and black pepper. You may want to add more dill because it’s a fairly delicate herb. Once you’re happy with the taste, add some yoghurt and mix with a spoon. Transfer to the refrigerator and let cool and integrate for at least 4 hours. In this case ‘integrate’ also means making sure the cucumber is not too present. Just before serving taste again and add some olive oil. Stir with a spoon. Serve in a cold soup plate and decorate with a sprig of dill.
This year seems to be an exceptionally good year for Matsutake. Antonio Carluccio once described it is a much-overrated mushroom but we dare to disagree. Just smell it! Pine, pine, pine. A unique mushroom. We tried making this soup with shiitake, but the result is not as refined, delicate and well-balanced. The key elements are of course the (home-made) dashi, the matsutake and the shrimps. Kamaboko (made from processed seafood) and Mitsuba (Japanese parsley) add colour (and some extra flavour) to the dish.
What You Need
0,5 l of Water
10 gram of Konbu
10 gram of Katsuobushi
75 gram of Matsutake
Light Soy Sauce
If you want to serve a drink with the soup, then serve taru sake. This is a dry sake characterized by its refreshing taste and the wooden aroma of Yoshino cedar. A wonderful link to the matsutake. And if you bought a bottle of taru sake, then please use this sake for marinating the shrimps.
What You Do
With a damp cloth clean the matsutake. Be careful not to remove the skin. The root should be cut like a pencil. Clean the shrimps and cut lengthwise in two. Let marinade in two tablespoons of sake and transfer to the refrigerator for an hour. Gently warm the dashi, add a small tablespoon of sake and a similar quantity (or less) of soy sauce. Cut the matsutake in 8 similar slices and add to the soup. After a few minutes (depending on the size of the matsutake) add four slices of kamaboko and the shrimps. Taste and add some more soy sauce and or yuzu if needed. Serve immediately when the shrimps are ready. If available add some mitsuba.
Such a simple, tasty, inexpensive and vegetarian soup! What more can you ask for? A bit of jus de truffe maybe? Make sure to buy organic pumpkins. This allows you to use the skin; so two benefits: there is no need to peel the pumpkin and the soup will be better tasting. Red lentils will become completely soft when cooked for 30 minutes; very different from green or black lentils. We add the lentils not only because of their taste, but also because they improve the texture of the soup. Give the soup a finishing touch by adding pumpkin seed oil, jus de truffe or truffle flavoured olive oil (for instance produced by Moulins de la Brague).
Pumpkin Seed Oil, Jus de Truffe or Truffle Flavoured Olive Oil
Chop de red onion in smaller but equal sized bits and put in a pan with olive oil. Put on moderate heat and give it some 5 to 10 minutes. Now add the chopped and seeded chilli pepper, the garlic and stir. Continue for 5 minutes on moderate heat. Add the chopped pumpkin and the lentils and stir for another 5 minutes. Peel the ginger, cut in cubes and put on a small wooden stick. This way you can easily remove the ginger later on. Now add boiling water and leave for 30 minutes to simmer or until the pumpkin is very, very soft. When done remove the ginger. Taste the ginger and decide how much ginger you want to add to the soup. We just love fresh ginger so we would add most of it. Blender the remainder into a smooth soup. You could pass it through a sieve to make sure it’s like a lovely velouté. Cool and transfer to the refrigerator for the next day. Warm the soup and add a splash of truffle flavoured olive oil or pumpkin seed oil and lots of cilantro before serving. You can also make a milder version by reducing the amount of chilli and ginger. Then add jus de truffe, a bit of olive oil and maybe some pepper before serving.
Sunday afternoon, my mother in the kitchen, asking us what we would like to eat as a starter. Would we like vegetable soup with broken vermicelli or Londonderry soup? My favourite! Londonderry soup! Monday meant school but Sunday was all about Londonderry Soup! My mother seemed less keen to prepare Londonderry soup because, depending on the chili and the curry, it could be too spicy to her taste. The vegetable soup was more predictable. As always in life, things change. I moved to another city, she became less interested in cooking and so here we are today: I haven’t tasted the soup for years. Time to start cooking. The Londonderry soup I tasted as a child seems to be a Dutch and Belgium phenomenon. And a rather undefined one. Some use veal stock, others chicken. Some add mushrooms, others rice. Also used are chili, sambal, cayenne pepper, parsley, egg, meat balls et cetera. And to make things even more confusing, in the UK it’s known as a pea soup. Which is not at all what my mother used to prepare. Plus no-one seems to know what the origin is of the name. So we decided to follow the recipe my mother included in her ‘kookschrift’, which is a notebook with recipes she learned as a young woman.
Start by glazing the chopped shallot in butter. Add the chili (my mother used 4 small slices, but feel free to use more!) and the curry. The curry should be spicy and powerful. Make sure the curry is fried, allowing for the flavors to develop. Now add the flour and start making a roux. Add the warm stock, step by step, take your time, and create the soup. Leave it for 15 minutes to integrate. In parallel gently fry the very small mushrooms (so called button mushrooms). Pass the soup through a sieve. Use a spoon to get the flavors of the shallot and the chili. The soup should be completely smooth. Now things become unclear in my mother’s recipe. She suggests adding white wine just before serving (which will add acidity plus the taste of alcohol which is not great) or single milk or cream. Milk will only weaken the taste of the curry. Cream however will give a velvety feeling on your lips when tasting the soup, which is great in combination with the spicy curry. So we added a touch of single cream, left the soup for 5 minutes on low heat, allowing for the cream to cook. Just before serving add the gently colored button mushrooms.