Ode to the Onion

The onion, ready for action

In these early days of 2021 I’m taking a little time to pause and appreciate some of nature’s more mundane gifts. It’s easy to overlook the importance of  unassuming everyday staples.  Consider the ordinary onion: it is always available waiting for its moment to shine, summer or winter. This year the onion is looking even more marvelous in my eyes, thanks to Pablo Neruda’s poetic praise.

Ode to the Onion

by Pablo Neruda

Onion,
luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle happened
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
like swords
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
make you,
onion
clear as the planet
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation,
round rose of water
upon
the table
of the poor.

You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
unmoving dance
of the snowy anemone

and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

Roasted onion, simple pleasures

How to Roast an Onion

1 medium sweet onion, unpeeled
1 tsp olive oil

Rub the unpeeled skin with olive oil. Bake for 30-40 minutes in hot coals or in 375°F oven, until soft when pressed. The longer it cooks, the softer and sweeter it becomes. Serve hot, cut into smaller wedges. Peel skin ahead or while eating; drizzle with more olive oil,  balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Enjoy as a side with grilled or roasted entrees.  Serve 1-2.
Use in lieu of caramelized onion in soup, omelets, on pizza or burgers.

Behold, leftovers!

This year, Christmas dinner had its challenges.  With lockdown in place for many of us, we faced a different holiday meal, one without the shared comfort and joy of extended family and friends.

Not terribly hungry, I ended up roasting a supply of vegetables: brussels sprouts, carrots and potatoes. When ready I topped it with sliced ham, a mustard glaze and baked until bubbly. It got the job done—without much flash or flare.  My heart really wasn’t in it.

Pending leftovers

Holidays meals often translate to future soups, stews and snacks.  The uninspired leftovers lingered in the fridge for a couple of days before I considered what to do with them.  I mulled over the possibilities: soup and such just didn’t seem to fit here. Then I recalled a delicious dish that would create a cohesive meal out of all this with little effort on my part.

In a 2014 blog I described the Chicken Puff Pie as a throwback to the “pot pie—without the pie crust”.  At the time I was deeply into crepes, clafoutis, and custard-based dishes and this evolved from that process. The surprising dish yielded a nutritious, creamy, and satisfying meal without all the work.

I’ve since learned that just about any leftover vegetables and complementary protein will work. Refresh them in a quick sauté with onion and herbs. A thin crepe-like batter is poured overall,  suspending the collection into something similar to a savory clafoutis.

Puff Pie glimpse

Bake the dish for 30 minutes in a hot oven until light and puffed.  Cool briefly and slice into neat wedges.

True comfort food that does not taste like leftovers and reheats beautifully…

Vegetables and Ham Puff Pie  

Most complementary precooked vegetables and protein can be substituted here. 

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter, plus butter for baking dish
½ medium onion, peeled, small chop
1 clove garlic, divided, crushed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, diced
1 tsp dried herbs:  thyme, rosemary, sage
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 cup precooked brussels sprouts, cut in half
1 cup precooked carrots, small chunks
1 cup precooked potatoes, small chunks
1 cup or more ham cut into small chunks
Batter
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
⅔ cup warm milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
few grinds fresh pepper
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
For top:  2 Tbsp Gruyere cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a quiche dish, pie plate or similar baking dish.
  2. In large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, cook to soften. Add the garlic, jalapeno if desired, herbs, salt and pepper, cook 3-4 minutes.
  3. Stir in precooked vegetables. Add the ham and cook 3-4 minutes to heat and blend flavors.
  4. Make the batter: In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt and make a well in the center.  Add the beaten eggs and begin incorporate the flour; whisk in the milk, the garlic, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the Parmesan cheese to form a thin, nearly smooth batter.
  5. Spread enough batter into the baking dish to coat the bottom, about ½ cup. Place in the hot oven and bake until the bottom is set, 4 minutes.
  6. Evenly distribute the ham and vegetables mixture over the layer of batter in the baking dish. Stir down the remaining batter and pour it evenly over the filling. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese over the top and return the dish to oven.
  7. Reduce the heat to 375°F and bake 35 to 40 minutes longer. It is done when puffed and browned around edges and the center is firm when pressed.  Yield:  4 or more servings

Cheese Cheers

This past year I delved deeper into the fascinating world of cheesemaking.  You could say it all started with the Instant Pot and the Yogurt Setting.

I was a convert once I discovered that a delicious, tangy yogurt could be had by merely filling the Instant Pot liner with milk plus a little leftover yogurt and pressing the Yogurt Setting.  Even better, I could split the yield and have yogurt plus a batch of thick rich labneh.

Cheesemaking is an addictive, ancient process.  I wondered how the first person living in a cave felt when they figured out that sour milk could result in delicious cheese.

Once I mastered yogurt I wanted to know more, too. I tinkered with fresh cheeses like paneer, ricotta, feta, mozzarella, cheese curds, queso blanco and queso fresco.  Each was its own rewarding surprise.

Along the way I gathered up essential tools and supplies—many of which I already had, like sieves, strainers and cheesecloth.  For cultures, molds and other products, New England Cheese Making Supply Co became a helpful and reliable site. They focus on education with plenty of helpful resources, recipes, and tutorials for those who are just getting started.

My latest big step was obtaining a cheese press. It opened the door to more complex cheeses  requiring a variety of processes and aging stages. My next candidate along the cheesemaking spectrum would be Caerphilly, a starter cheese from Wales known for its forgiving character and shorter aging period.

Behold! Caerphilly freshly ripened

Caerphilly is a simplified cheddar style cheese that presses at 20 pounds for 16 hours and needs only 4 to 5 weeks of aging (some cheeses age for years!).  I halved a larger recipe from a Gavin Webber video, who maintains a popular You Tube channel.

The recipe came together without incident and the new cheese press made it look like I knew what I was doing! After 3 days of drying time, it went into its ripening box to age. The Caerphilly was ready to sample in 25 days. As I cut into its pale gold rind, I was surprised to see the interior became paler and creamier toward the center and displayed its characteristic holes. The rind had a slight nuttiness; the interior was not too salty with a firm texture and mild cheddar flavor.

Caerphilly holiday cheese feature

Caerphilly is such an agreeable cheese, it goes with just about anything.  On a cheeseboard, it is the star along with a Cambozola Triple Cream blue cheese and aged Gouda.  To round out the display I tucked in sliced salami, imported olives, almonds and crackers—and rounded it out with holiday favorites, Moroccan fruitcake and cranberry sauce.

Fruitcake worth considering

Old fashion fruitcake tends to get a bad wrap due to its tooth-aching inclusion of sweet candied fruits and such.  Here’s a game changer that will get your attention and become a requested addition on any  table—especially alongside holiday specialty meats and cheeses.

When this moist, easy to assemble Moroccan fruitcake was demonstrated on Martha Bakes recently I knew wanted to give it a try. Helen Goh, baker with London’s Ottolenghi restaurants shows how easy it is to create her big flavored creation.  The cake’s complexity is rooted in a combination of plump dried fruits soaked in dark tea and given a jolt with an exotic ras el hanout spice blend.

Moroccan Fruitcake

I love everything about this bread from the jam packed assortment of figs, prunes, apricots, raisins and dates to the big flavors of toasted cumin and coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and paprika.

As mentioned, the secret is to soak the dried fruit in advance to fully plump and activate flavors; I prefer a fine Puer tea, but Assam is recommended.  You’ll note there is no fat used in this recipe either—and it is not missed.

Admittedly, the first time I tried a rich moist slice early in the morning I was not prepared for the impact. The distinct cumin flavors were front and center—near jarring on my sleepy taste buds.

With that in mind, I set about making the fruitcake again—this time with a modified spice blend that omitted the cumin but retained the red pepper.  I also took Goh’s suggestion to add a little whole grained flour and included ½ cup buckwheat flour. (I also swapped out self rising flour for AP flour and baking powder).

Fruitcake, take 2

Side by side, I preferred the original bread.  I missed how beautifully the bright spices and dried fruit mingled together. For personal choices, I’ve kept both options in the recipe below. This truly depends on taste and how you plan to use it.

If you wish, spread thick slices with butter, or toast it first.

Moroccan Fruitcake

Inspired by Moroccan Fruitcake as demonstrated on Martha Bakes by Helen Goh, baker from London’s Ottolenghi restaurants.

Ingredients
2½ cups dried fruit: ½ cup each diced apricots, figs, prunes or dates, raisins or cranberries
1 cup hot strong dark tea, Assam, Puer, etc.
1½ cup AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
2 tsp ras el hanout (see below)
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup milk, approximate, to thin as needed

Instructions

  1. Ahead, in medium bowl combine dried fruits, pour hot tea over all. Cover, let stand 2 hours or overnight to plump and absorb tea.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray with nonstick baking spray and line 8 ½ x 4 ½” loaf pan with parchment with 1 ½ inch overhang.
  3. In mixing bowl, sift flour and baking powder, add salt, the spice blend, sugar, and combine.
  4. Stir in the dried fruit and any remaining liquid; add the egg and combine. Stir in milk as need to bind; it should be thick.
  5. Spoon into baking pan, bake until tester comes out clean, 50-55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, turn out on rack to cool.
    Slice and spread with salted butter; also good toasted. Store at room temperature well wrapped for 3 days. Serves 6-8

Note: watch for signs of early browning on top as the bread tends to burn easily. Cover with foil as needed to protect the top.

Ras el hanout

Toast 1½ tsp coriander seeds and ¾ tsp cumin seeds and grind with ½ tsp coarse sea salt.
Add ½ tsp each coarse ground black peppercorns and crushed red pepper flakes and grind. Combine mixture with ¼ tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp paprika, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp dry ginger, ½ tsp cardamom. Makes about 2 Tbsp

Modified spice blend: ½ tsp coriander, ¼ tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, and ground red pepper flakes

Cranberries Part II: The Sauce

Arguably, the holiday season would not be the same without cranberry sauce.  I sometimes balk—in a weak attempt to avoid the whole idea. No matter, eventually I buckle and make a fresh batch anyway. I can’t help myself.

Cranberries are a big crop in Oregon. With gobs of bogs scattered along our coastline there’s no excuse not to have plenty on hand.

If you’ve got the berries and time is your problem, here’s a simple cranberry sauce for you. Combine the berries, sugar, a little liquid, and pop it all in the microwave. In five minutes a luxe sauce will materialize with little effort on your behalf.  If you wish, add a little grated ginger or orange zest.

Enjoy it with toast or on hot cereal in the morning.  Dress it up with a splash of vinegar, onion or garlic, a teaspoon of ras-el-hanout or other red pepper spice blend and you’ve got handcrafted chutney (for more ideas see chutney).  It’s a festive homemade gift that’s ready when you are.

Five Minute Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients
2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed
⅔ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water, orange juice, or brewed Orange Spice Tea
1 tsp orange zest or grated ginger (optional)

Directions

  1. In 4-cup microwaveable glass measure or similar bowl, place cranberries, sugar, liquid and optional flavoring.
  2. Cover loosely, cook in the microwave for 5 minutes using the following sequence, taking care not to boil over: bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then stir. Cover, cook 1 minute and stir again. Cover, cook for 30 seconds and stir, repeat for another 30 seconds.
  3. Berries will pop, release their liquid and thicken into a sauce. If not, repeat for 30 seconds.  Pour into storage container and refrigerate.  Yield: 1½ cups.

Cranberries, meet Apples

Ah beautiful cranberries,  ruby red jewels of the holiday season…

Courtesy Oregon Cranberry Growers Assn.

It’s too bad that cranberries tend to receive little more than a cursory nod when cast in their limited role as a wobbly sauce —several circles down from the holiday turkey.  If real lucky, they might be hung out to dry on a string draped around the Christmas tree.

I decided to give cranberries a chance, this time as a co-star with another seasonal favorite, the Honeycrisp apple (or any other sweet-crisp variety).  Anyone who has played with cranberries knows they can be quirky.  They are hard, tart, and when cooked have their own thickening power.  On the other hand, Honeycrisp apples are full of flavor, crisp, bright and juicy—they could go a long way to elevating cranberries beyond their obscure part as a bit player.

This beautiful Crostata if very similar to the Stone Fruit Galette in my Counter Cuisine cookbook.  If you have taken a look, you know that it is a hand formed pie mounded with fresh fruit. It also bakes in about 30 minutes.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

The trick here is to cook the apples and cranberries just long enough to soften them but still retain their shape and unique attributes.

Apples and near popping Cranberries

The best way to pull this off is to briefly cook the filling ahead. The hand formed pastry can be prepped ahead, too. Then, it’s a simple matter of assembling it all and baking the crostata off until bubbly and golden brown.

A little pastry with your fruit

The result: a crisp pastry bundle wrapped around a tender-fresh filling near bursting with holiday flavors.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

Ingredients
1 recipe Hand Formed Pastry (below)
1 Tbsp butter
2-3 Honeycrisp or other apples, peel, core, cut into ½” slice or chunks, @ 3 cups
1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 orange:  1 Tbsp juice, 2 tsp zest
1 Tbsp flour
¾ to 1 cup raw cranberries
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Glaze: 1 Tbsp melted and strained marmalade (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prepare pastry and chill at least 30 minutes, up to 2 days.
  2. For filling, heat butter in wide pan over medium. Toss in apples to coat, add the spices and sugars to melt. Add the orange zest and juice, cook 1 minute.
    Remove from heat, sprinkle flour over the fruit and gently stir to combine all. Return to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the cranberries, lower heat and cook 2-3 minutes, until thick and fruit just begins to soften. Remove and cool well, 1- 2 hours. Filling can be chilled and brought to room temperature before proceeding.
  3. To assemble, roll out pastry on floured parchment into 12” free formed round. Set pastry and parchment on baking sheet.
    Mound prepared filling onto pastry with slotted spoon, higher in center. Allow 2” border to fold over fruit and contain it. Brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
  4. Bake 375-400°F for 25-35 minutes, until filling is bubbly and pastry is golden brown. If desired, brush fruit top lightly with marmalade glaze for extra shine. Cool well. Slice and serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 4 to 6
Hand-Formed Pastry

3  Tbsp each butter and vegetable shortening spread ½” thick, freeze 15 mins
1 cup AP flour
½ tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp ice water

Whisk flour and salt in med bowl. Dice the cold shortening and butter into ½ cubes and cut into flour with 2 knives or a pastry blender, until pieces are the size of small peas.
Add 3 Tbsp ice water and stir with a fork until the flour is moist and begins to hold together. Add a few more drops of ice water into bottom of bowl if needed. Gather up dough and gently shape into a ball and flatten into a disk. Roll out as needed or wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill up to 2 days.

Holiday Hash

Not too long ago while skittering through Trader Joe’s a container of diced mixed vegetables caught my eye.  I paused just long enough to appreciate what looked to be a colorful collection of perhaps diced sweet potatoes or squash, red onion, maybe herbs…

My glasses were steaming up from my mask, but I think it read “Hash.” I quickly moved on, but this blurry visual stayed with me and continued to stimulate my imagination.

I planned to cook Cornish game hens for Thanksgiving.  I could picture the hen nestled in a bed of hash-like vegetables—further eliminating any trace of traditional stuffing. Since I had white sweet potato on hand I’d make it much like an ordinary stuffing and replace the bread with partially cooked sweet potato.

Hen and Hash

I’d start with a shallot or sweet onion, celery, and a jalapeno pepper for a little bite, plus good quality herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme.  I’d briefly steam the diced sweet potato and toss it in the pan for a quick brown.  Thus, the Holiday Hash was born.

Sweet Potato Hash

The white sweet potato gives much more flavor, food value, and fiber than the usual gooey stuffing—and its slight touch of sweetness goes beautifully with poultry.

Hash and Egg

And yes, this hash is outstanding the next day with eggs.

Sweet Potato Hash

Inspired by Trader Joe’s prepped hash

Ingredients
1 large white sweet potato, peel and cut into ½” dice
⅓ cup water, approx.
2-3 Tbsp butter, divided
1 large shallot or sweet onion, dice
¾ tsp each dried sage and rosemary
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 stalks celery plus leaves, dice
1 large jalapeno, seed and dice
½ tsp each salt and fresh ground black pepper
¾ tsp paprika

Instructions

  1. Place diced sweet potato in ovenproof bowl, add water to cover bottom of bowl; cover and bake in microwave 2½ – 3 minutes, until the sweet potato begins to soften. Drain well.
  2. In a medium skillet over medium heat melt 1 Tbsp butter, add the shallot or onion and the dried herbs; cook to soften, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining vegetables, a bit more butter if necessary, and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until vegetables begin to soften, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Increase heat slightly, add a bit more butter and the steamed sweet potato. Season with paprika, a bit more salt and pepper. Cook, loosen and turn with a spatula until the potato begins to take on color and brown on edges, 4-5 minutes. Serve or set aside for later use reheated. Serves 3-4

To Your Health

Delicious delicata squash is available in markets right now, and if you haven’t given it a try, you are in for a delightful discovery.

Delicatas are one of Squash World’s most misunderstood varieties. Their unique shoulder season adds to the confusion, since they grow during the summer and are harvested in the fall. Thus, they are actually more related to zucchini and other summer squash.

You’ve probably seen these elongated, pale-yellow, green-ridged beauties mixed in with the winter squash.  Just eying them in a display next to thick-shelled squash, it’s easy to assume that they, too, have a hard exterior. Not so, their skin cuts easily and is quite edible.

Delicata specimen

Although the squash is a bit smaller than many of its shelf mates, when sliced open you’ll find a firm golden interior with a string of large seeds (also edible). One look inside tells you this variety is richly loaded with minerals and fiber.

This makes the delicata an ideal candidate for a fast oven roast.  In about 30 minutes the half-moons soften and caramelize beautifully, and the tender ribbons of skin help retain their charming shape.  While at it, you could include other mildly dense vegetables such as onions or sliced peppers.

Delicata roasted half-moons

For a seasonal pasta combination, I went with ruffled farfalle and lightly coated everything with a full flavored near-raw Kale Pesto, a hearty fall pesto variation loaded with nutrients and possibilities.

Delicata, kale pesto, pasta

If you are up for other pasta options, try an interesting substitute such as kelp or soba noodles.

Delicata Squash, Kale Pesto & Pasta

Ingredients
1 small Delicata squash, wash, halve lengthwise and seed; cut into ¼” – ½” slices
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 sliced onion and/or 1 cup sliced multicolored peppers (optional)
Kale Pesto
1 small bunch cleaned & stemmed lacinato kale leaves, 3 cups packed pieces
3 cloves garlic
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp salt
¼ cup pine nuts, toast
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (more for topping)
1 Tbsp lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, approx..
12 oz. pasta
Finish: grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. To roast the delicata squash, on a baking sheet drizzle the squash and any additional vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast @ 425°F for 20-30 minutes, until squash softens and begins to caramelize and brown. Remove and cool. Can be done ahead.
  2. For pesto, to blanch kale in microwave place 3 cups rinsed, chopped kale in microwaveable container. Cover and cook 1-2 minutes until wilted, still dark green, and reduced to 1 cup or less.
    Place the cooled leaves and cooking liquid in a blender with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and lemon juice. Whirl briefly. Add pine nuts, grated cheese; slowly drizzle in olive oil pulsing to form a thick, textured paste; adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead. This will likely make more than needed.
  3. To assemble, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente and drain; save 1 cup of water.
    Place pasta In large bowl, toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of pesto,  a little pasta water, if dry. Add the vegetables to the pasta and toss with more pesto to lightly coat. Serve with grated cheese. Serves 3-4

Half-time Biscotti

No, this is not about football food—although that is a possibility. Today, we are talking about super-friendly biscotti that’s made in less than half the usual time.

Given that biscotti loosely translates to “twice-baked” in Italian, the second bake was originally meant to protect cookies for longer term storage—by further drying them.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti

In my opinion, biscotti is generally defined by a slight eggy flavor, mild sweetness, and crumbly texture. It’s true I’ve never met a biscotti cookie I didn’t like, but frankly there are times when a frequently hard and dry biscuit is not what I’m after.

I wondered what would happen if I reworked my favorite biscotti elements and baked them only once? To get there, I’d include a little fine cornmeal or polenta for character and crunch, lace them with the sweet nuttiness of toasted almonds, and weave in floral notes from dried apricots.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Rather than fuss over the patting, shaping, and cutting steps required for traditional long fingers, I’d further expedite the process and go with quick, rustic rounds.

The Outcome:  A short and sweet labor of love—and delicious, dippable cookie.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Ingredients
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal or fine polenta
½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 beaten egg, divided
1 Tbsp milk, divided
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp each almond and vanilla extract
¼ cup dried apricots, chop
¼ cup toasted almonds, coarse chop

Egg wash: 2 tsp of the beaten egg + 2 tsp of milk; 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Oil or line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  2. On waxed paper, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg, remove 2 tsp of it and set it aside for the egg wash. Remove 2 tsp milk and add to the egg wash. Whisk milk into egg in bowl, then whisk in the sugar until light. Add the extracts.
  4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the apricots and nuts. Shape into a round mass. (If the dough is soft, chill it 20-30 minutes until firm.)
  5. Divide the dough in half. With floured hands shape each into ¾” rolls. Cut into ¾” lengths and set upright pieces on baking sheet; they tend to spread slightly. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with granulated (or cinnamon-flavored) sugar.
  6. Bake until cookies are set, shiny and browned,18-20 minutes. Cool on rack. Yield about 20 cookies

Going with the flow

I’m still using Imperfect Foods for bi-monthly deliveries. They are on time with reliably packed seasonal produce and products—a pleasure during this Covid debacle when shopping is frequently less than enjoyable.

Key cooking options recently got down to a small bunch of leeks and one sweet potato. It looked like it was time for a nutritious soup. I’d put my Zen on and shoot for uncomplicated {Sweet} Potato Leek Soup—and see what happened.

Sweet Potato and Leeks

Oops, as I started peeling the sweet potato I discovered it was white inside. What? Apparently this sweet potato variation can be drier and less sweet than its redder cousins. Okay, fine.

With so few ingredients it’s hard to screw up this soup. I did add a touch of flour to stabilize the soup, just in case it turned grainy. Most important, the leeks need to cook 30 minutes to soften and release their full sweet-herbal flavors. For stock base, I opt for chicken broth, but I suspect a good vegetable broth would be just as good.

The cubed sweet potato is hard but cooks fairly quickly. The only other seasonings used were herbs with the leeks, nutmeg with the sweet potato, salt and white pepper. When ready, an immersion blender quickly pureed it all.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I was prepared to thin it with milk or stock, I kept it slightly thick. Ah, yes. The soup was creamy and delicious with soothing herbal notes and a touch of sweetness (likely more so with a red sweet potato). It needed no tweaking.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

The garnishes also took on a life of their own. I especially liked it swirled with salted Greek yogurt and threads of green onion.

On another occasion, for textural interest, I dusted the top with dukkah (below), a favorite of Yotam Ottolenghi.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup with Dukkah

Dukkah is a nutty Egyptian mix laced with coriander, cumin and sesame seeds that I learned about on his MasterClass. Oh, yum.

Dukkah mix

The point is, any type of potato will work here, just go with the flow… it’s even good straight up in a cup—fast, filling, and refreshing.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients
1 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
3 small leeks, mostly white parts, clean well, trim and slice
½ tsp thyme and/or savory
1 bay leaf
salt and white pepper
1 Tbsp flour
2-3 cups chicken broth, divided
1 medium sweet potato (any kind!), peel and small chop
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup evaporated or whole milk approx., optional
Finish: plain yogurt light salted, green onion slivers

For Dukkah mix: 1 tsp coconut oil, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp white and or black sesame seeds, ⅔ cup total any combo slivered almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and or pistachios. Each ½ tsp paprika, dried oregano or sage, and sumac if available. Optional ½ tsp salt and/or sugar. (see below)

Directions

  1. In soup pot heat the oil over medium add the leeks and toss; then the spices. Cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, blend in the flour and cook 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in 1 cup stock, simmer to thicken. Add the potato cubes and nutmeg; stir in more stock to cover. Simmer the vegetables until soft, 20-30 minutes.
  3. Carefully puree with an immersion blender until smooth; adjust seasoning. Set aside until ready to serve soup.
  4. To finish, heat the soup mixture. If desired, stir in milk to thin; avoid boiling. Finish with salted yogurt, green onion or dukkah. Serves 4
Dukkah

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi

  1. In a small skillet, heat coconut oil over medium/high heat, add the coriander and cumin seeds and cook until aromatic, 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add sesame seeds and toss until toasted scents begin to develop. Add nuts of choice. As mix begins to toast, add paprika, oregano or sage, sumac if available. Adjust with a pinch of salt and/or sugar as needed to balance. Toss until well toasted but not burnt. Let cool.
  3. Process briefly in food processor into a coarse blend. Cool and store well covered, the blend holds well.