Being Green: Asparagus and Sorrel Risotto

Author's Note: First of all, apologies for not posting for so long…having a new puppy will do that to a schedule! Waking up an hour earlier every day, taking the youngster outside every hour for potty breaks, plus the exercise it takes to tire out a nine-month-old—fortunately we've found out he loves to play soccer—has filled up our days but limited my writing time. (And we wouldn't trade the experience for the world!)

Plus it's spring! I've been seriously indulging in asparagus at every opportunity, mostly in the simplest way possible (puppy, remember?), that is, drizzled with olive oil and pan roasted in a 350° oven for 20 minutes, then served with a squirt of lemon. Heaven!

But when I've had that umpteen times and want to change it up a little, I'll make a risotto that does double duty as a main dish and veg…though if someone in your household happened to grill up some salmon or chicken to go alongside, that would be hard to turn down.

Asparagus Risotto with Sorrel Pesto and Preserved Lemon

For the pesto:
2 c. sorrel leaves (some peppery arugula or spinach would be fine, too)
2 c. cilantro or parsley
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c. pine nuts or filberts (aka hazelnuts)
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. grated parmesan

For the risotto:
1 lb. asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 onion, diced

1 Tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
2 c. arborio rice

1 c. white wine
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 c. sorrel pesto

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. preserved lemon, chopped (or zest of one lemon)
Salt to taste


To make the pesto, place the sorrel, cilantro, garlic and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Begin processing while slowly adding the olive oil until the mixture is a smooth purée, scraping down as necessary with a spatula. Remove to a bowl and stir in the half cup of parmesan.

Clean the processor, then put half of the chopped asparagus stalks in the food processor and add just enough water to make a smooth purée; set aside.

Put stock in a medium saucepan over very low heat. Then, in a deep skillet or large saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid absorb into the rice. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about absorbed into the rice, add more. 

When you have used about half the stock, add the puréed asparagus and asparagus tips, then continue to add stock as necessary. In 5 minutes or so, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. Add a half cup of the pesto, preserved lemon and parmesan and stir briskly, then remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt. (Risotto should be slightly soupy.) Serve immediately.

Going Where (Almost) No One Has Gone Before: Kimchi Risotto?

If nothing else, this pandemic has taught me to not be so slavishly obedient to the dictates of a recipe, and to trust my own tastes in flavoring dishes. That's because I haven't been able to run to the store for an exotic ingredient, or dash out when the yen for a special dish pings my brain's rolodex, or even to simply give up on a recipe, thinking I don't have everything the instructions call for.

Five-allium risotto? Why not?

Cooking every day—like everyone else, we're WFH or, in Dave's case, retired—means sometimes making three meals a day from a pantry that gets refreshed only a couple of times a week. For daily shoppers like we used to be in what are being quaintly referred to as "the before times," it's meant we've had to be more creative, more flexible and not so darn fussy. You might say we've been developing our dancing-in-the-kitchen muscles, while trying not to sacrifice deliciousness to expedience.

Not that every experiment or adaptation has been a smashing success, mind you. But the five-allium risotto made with  the yellow onion, green onion, shallot, leek, and garlic we had on hand when there was no chicken in the fridge? Or the mapo tofu made with some admittedly inauthentic ingredients? Or the sausage and pasta casserole when we didn't have enough sausages for grilling? They were all pretty dang good!

Not enough sausages for the whole family? Make a casserole!

So it was, when yesterday evening I found we only had three-quarters of a jar of Choi's kimchi and most of a leftover grilled pork chop to work with. To be honest, I'd actually been itching to try a kimchi risotto, just because it sounds so weird, and our nearly empty veg bin was the perfect excuse. How bad could it be? (Insert winking emoji here…)

Turns out it was actually easy as heck, and more of an umami bomb than you usually get from a traditional risotto. From the reaction of the diners I'd say it'll be appearing again regardless of the state of our pantry.

You can't ask for more than that from an impromptu dance in the kitchen!

Kimchi Risotto

3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced fine
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock, warmed on the stove
2 c. prepared Napa cabbage kimchi plus 1/4 c. brine
2 c. cooked pork or chicken (or substitute 1 lb. ground pork, sautéed)
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
Salt to taste
Red chile oil for drizzling

Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Add onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and sauté for about 3 minutes or so—each end of the rice grains should be slightly translucent.

Add a ladle-full of stock with the kimchi brine and stir until it's almost all absorbed, then add another ladle of stock and stir until it absorbs. Continue adding stock, and when you've ladled in about half the stock, stir in the chopped kimchi and cooked meat. Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is al dente or still has a nice texture without being crunchy. Stir in the fish sauce and salt to taste. Serve with a drizzle of red chile oil.

I separated a head of cauliflower into small florets (adding the chopped stalk and leaves), mixed in olive oil and garlic, then roasted it on a baking sheet in a 375° oven while I made the risotto. When it was browned nicely, I served it alongside the risotto as in the top photo.

Underappreciated Allium: The Shallot

It's allium season in the Pacific Northwest, with wild varieties of onions and garlic appearing in spring meadows and their domestic cousins like leeks, spring onions, scallions, Spanish calçots, garlic and shallots cascading in from local farms. (By the way, if you see ramps? They don't grow here and are imported from other areas of the country.) Ginger Rapport, Market Master of the Beaverton Farmers Market, shares her love of these ubiquitous bulbs.

Shallots are an underappreciated member of the allium or onion family. While they are an essential ingredient in many cuisines like those of Southeast Asia and Vietnam, most Americans fail to appreciate all they have to offer. 

Shallots have a delicate, sweet flavor without the intense heat of an onion. They are preferable over onions in raw applications such as salad dressings and vinaigrettes. Finely diced, they provide a subtle bite to pan sauces and are delicious roasted whole, or pickled as a garnish. Shallots are ubiquitous in Vietnamese cooking, especially pho, where they are combined with ginger to give pho its unique taste and fragrance. 

In the past shallots were mainly imported from Europe which made them somewhat expensive when compared to onions. This is probably one reason why they are not as widely used here in the States as they should be. Domestically grown shallots are becoming more common, which is also making them more affordable. Fortunately for us here at the Beaverton Farmers Market, Farmer Yo Tee Telio grows huge, gorgeous shallots and you can find them in his Salmon Creek Farm booth at the market.

Fried Shallots

Frying shallots turns them into crispy, flavor-packed clusters that are good on almost anything. (This is not an exaggeration.) Beaverton Farmers Market Master Ginger Rapport keeps a container of them in her refrigerator at all times. Their caramelized flavor and crunchy texture adds sparkle to salads, potatoes, roasted or steamed vegetables, grain bowls, omelets, steaks, deviled eggs and avocado toast. Chopped, they can be added to dips or combined with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. Bring cottage cheese to life with a sprinkling of fried shallots on top. They are also delicious eaten by the handful, and making them is super easy. 

When we said that they are good on everything? We meant it. 

8 small shallots
1 c. peanut oil (or vegetable oil like canola)
Salt

Peel shallots of their papery coverings, slicing off the root and papery tip. Slice shallots crosswise into very thin (1/16" or so) rings.

Heat oil in a frying pan until it shimmers. Check the temperature by taking one of the rings and tossing it into the pan. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Put sliced shallots into the pan and move them around with a spatula to keep them from sticking. Moderate heat to keep them sizzling but not burning. When they are golden brown remove them to racks set over paper towels to cool and crisp up.

Use immediately or store in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two months.

Just In Time for Easter: Easy-to-Peel Farm Fresh Eggs!

Recently I was shocked to read that a well-known columnist and chef had published an article about deviled eggs with the dictum "never use super-fresh eggs, because they will not peel."

I beg to differ.

One of the joys of using fresh eggs from pasture-raised hens is their flavor, that indescribably eggy brightness that comes from the chickens' diet of grass, bugs and minerals found in the soil around them. Their unctuous, velvety texture and brilliant deep yellow-orange color would have—and probably did—set Van Gogh's heart aflutter.

Not to mention that pastured birds live their lives with the sun on their backs and the earth under their feet, taking dust baths and socializing with their friends rather than crowded under artificial light in dim barns, breathing the dust kicked up from the litter of their own urine and feces. Ick!

And yes, anyone who's cracked open a fresh-from-the-hen egg will notice that the white does cling to the shell much more tenaciously that its sad, store-bought sibling. That's because eggs in the grocery coolers, even those labeled as "pasture-raised," can be up to a month old when you get them home. (The above-mentioned writer even suggested buying store eggs, then keeping them in the fridge for "seven to ten days." That would mean they could be up to a month-and-a-half old. Imagine how great those would taste!)

So how to make those super fresh eggs peel easily? The trick is getting the egg white to release from the inner membrane (the "skin" on hardboiled eggs) and end up with perfectly unmarred whites for your platter of company-worthy deviled eggs.

The technique is dead simple:

  • Make sure your eggs are at room temperature. This will reduce cracking when submerging them in boiling water.
  • While they sit, bring a pot of water to boil over high heat.
  • Slowly lower the eggs into the boiling water.
  • When boiling resumes, set timer for 15 min. and reduce heat to keep at a low boil.
  • When timer goes off, immediately submerge them in an ice bath until thoroughly chilled, then peel.

How easy is that?

Oh, and the author of the article in question also said that it's overcooking that causes the "dark green ring around the yolk and a funky, sulfurous taste." Wrong again! In my experience, it's caused by not taking the eggs from the boiling water and immediately putting them in the ice bath as instructed above. Do that and you'll never again have that greyish-green ring on your yolks.

And if you're looking for some killer deviled egg recipes, here are four of my favorites!

Pot Roast Bourguignon: Reward for an Early Spring Workout

First thing every morning I grab a cup of coffee that Dave brews early each morning and I take out our Corgi, Kitty, to, as my mother would have said, "stretch her legs." While she busies herself sniffing out the latest news from every tree and shrub, I look up at our ash trees to see if they're starting to build their furry leaf casings—a sure harbinger on our little lot—and I take a moment to note which canes of forsythia need clipping and whether the bleeding heart has emerged from under the leaf litter.

From this…

Early spring around here means yard work, with its requisite raking, trimming and moving of plants to new spots before they're smothered in shade by larger neighbors or spread beyond their assigned places in what we loosely call our "landscape." Attempting to tame their natural inclinations is better achieved in the cooler temperatures we're having now, before it warms up and they explode with growth and we'd rather laze about and sip cool drinks than labor in the yard.

…to this in four hours. So worth it!

Cool days and still-chilly nights not only hamper this spring explosion, but also provide a last opportunity to get out the braising pot before warmer days beg for grilling outside. The heavenly pot roast recipe below is super simple and can be assembled and put in the oven to simmer for a few hours while you're outside doing yardwork. Plus it provides an excuse to schedule breaks every hour or so to check and make sure the liquid hasn't all cooked away (add water if it seems low).

The smell when you come in the house for those "breaks" will give you motivation to get the outside work done quicker, too, the better to come inside and enjoy a cocktail while you make a salad and boil potatoes to serve alongside. And sitting down to a hearty and flavor-filled dinner that basically cooks itself? I can't think of a better reward for all that hard work!

Pot Roast Bourguignon

This is extremely easy to make, but you'll need to get it in the oven four hours before dinner or make it the day before. Cutting back on the time in the oven makes for a less than stellar, though still delicious, result.

4 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" pieces
1 3-5 lb. chuck roast
Salt and pepper
1 lg. onion, chopped in 1/2" dice
4 lg. cloves garlic, chopped roughly
4 med. carrots, sliced in 1/4" rounds
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. thyme
3 large bay leaves
2 6" sprigs rosemary
1 qt. (32 oz.) roasted tomatoes
3-4 c. red wine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put bacon in a large braising pot that can go in the oven and fry till fat is rendered and it starts to brown. Add onions and garlic and sauté 2-3 min., then add carrots and sauté 2-3 min. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté till tender. Stir in tomatoes, bay leaves and herbs, then add wine. Sprinkle roast generously with salt and pepper and add to pot. Bring to a boil, then cover tightly and place the pot in the oven. (If the lid doesn't fit tightly, put a sheet of parchment paper over the pot, then place the lid on.) Roast for 2 hrs. Remove meat from pot and slice in 1/4" slices, then return the sliced meat to the pot, submerging slices in the sauce and vegetables. Replace cover and bake for another 1 1/2 hrs.

Pandemic Pantry: Sausage and Pasta Casserole with a Kick

I suppose you could call us the casserole generation. We were one of the first cohorts of children whose mothers were entering the work force in the largest numbers since WWII, mostly because inflation had been whittling away at the salaries of "breadwinners" (mostly dads) for years. But women were still expected to do all their "mom" duties like laundry, housecleaning and, of course, shopping and cooking, in addition to putting in 40 hours on the job.

That meant my mom came home from her work as a social worker after an hour's commute and had to get dinner on the table fairly quickly while my dad, who (bless his heart), came home around the same time, turned on the nightly news, put his feet up and sipped a scotch and water until Mom called us in for dinner.

So with three hungry kids and a husband to feed, I can't blame my mother for welcoming convenience foods like Hamburger Helper with open arms, or making classics like Swiss steak and Spanish rice that could simmer away in the electric frying pan while she ran upstairs to change out of her work clothes.

(Did she have a glass of wine in her hand? Maybe…)

Noodle casseroles figured prominently in the pantheon of dinner menus—the "primavera" version hadn't yet appeared and fancified it into "pasta"—with goulash, macaroni and cheese and, on Fridays, the holy tuna version. (I was never sure why fish on Friday was a requirement since we weren't Catholics, though I suppose Episcopalians run a close second in the rules-ridden churchy hierarchy.)

As the female child, I was called on to put down whatever book I was currently immersed in to help my mother with prep chores and getting dinner on the table. It meant I learned to chop and mix and simmer early on, which I suppose cemented my inclination to appreciate the tastier parts of life. For that I'm thankful.

The recipe below—which involves little prep but calls for two-and-half-hours of simmering—would have been unthinkable for a weeknight dinner in my mom's day, but it's do-able in pandemic times since so many of us are spending scads more time at home. (And everyone needs an occasional break from Zoom meetings, right?) It's a variation on the perennial penne alla vodka served at 3 Doors Down café, which itself starts with a variation on the classic Marcella Hazan tomato sauce with onion and butter.

As the classic commercial from my childhood trumpeted, "Try it, you'll like it!"

Penne alla Vodka Casserole

1 lb. penne
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 med. onion, chopped in 1/4" dice
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 qt. roasted tomatoes (or 1 28-oz. can tomatoes)
3 mild Italian sausages (~1 lb.) sliced crosswise in 1/4" coins
1 c. vodka
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 c. sour cream or whipping cream
1 c. Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Salt to taste

In a heavy-bottomed saute pan or skillet, melt the butter and add onion and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat until onion is translucent. Stir in the whole tomatoes with liquid and simmer for one hour. Add the sausage coins, vodka and oregano and continue to simmer for another hour. Turn the heat to medium high, add sour cream (or cream) and stir constantly for 10 minutes. Reduce to simmer and to cook for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

During the final half hour of simmering the sauce, bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook, stirring frequently until tender but still firm to the bite, a little less done than usual "al dente." Drain well, put back in pasta pot, add sauce, then toss pasta with sauce and 2/3 cup grated cheese. Adjust for salt. Pour into 2 3/4-qt. casserole dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.

Dorie Greenspan's Lemon Curd: Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

As I write this, I'm looking out my kitchen windows at snow-covered yards and roofs, listening to the crackle and crash of ice falling from our trees and the tapping sound of icicles dripping from our gutters. We've had one of our February dumps of snow followed by an ice storm that has left a quarter of the city without power, some of whom won't be reconnected for at least a week.

Fortunately, so far we have only experienced about an hour without power, though I've been forcing Dave to grind coffee in the electric grinder before we go to bed at night, just in case. Yesterday was Valentine's day, and Dave spent it smoking one of his signature briskets, as well as making a Japanese-style milk bread, which he's been obsessing over since reading about it on the King Arthur website.

It's a sweetened, fluffy white bread that was perfect with the deep, moist, peppery smoked brisket and it soaked up the dark, salty juices like a champ. But you might well ask why I'm writing about brisket and milk bread in a post that's supposed to be about lemon curd. It's because for breakfast this morning we had thick slices of that slightly sweet, spongy bread toasted and spread with the Meyer lemon curd I've been making by the quart lately.

You know my "thing" about Meyer lemons, right? I've currently got two big Mason jars of preserved Meyer lemons curing in their salty brine in the fridge, and the puckery tang of my Meyer lemon tart reminded me I wanted to learn to make lemon curd. After all, the lemon filling is basically lemon curd, right?

I set about searching for an easy, simple recipe for curd and ran across one by Dorie Greenspan, who begins her biography with the words "I burned my parents’ kitchen down when I was 12 and didn’t cook again until I got married." Since then, luckily for us, she's written 13 cookbooks and is the "On Dessert" columnist for the venerable New York Times.

Funny and smart, her writing is always delightful and, at the same time, down to earth, and her recipes—certainly the ones I've tried—are bullet-proof. The same proved true when I made her lemon curd, which she describes as having a "texture [that] is smooth and comforting and its flavor is zesty, a delicious contradiction."

It takes less than half an hour to make, assuming you've got lemons on hand—either regular or Meyer lemons will work—and the result, while fabulous on scones, biscuits or that toasted milk bread, is something you'll be tempted to sneak spoonfuls of when no one's looking.

And yes, I actually have her personal blessing to share it with you. Thanks, Dorie!

Dorie Greenspan's Lemon Curd

1 1/4 c. (250 grams) sugar
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup (I made up a substitute using 1/2 c. sugar dissolved in 2 Tbsp. hot water)
3/4 cup (180 milliliters) freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 to 6 lemons)
1 stick (8 tablespoons; 4 ounces; 113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Whisk the sugar, eggs, corn syrup and lemon juice together in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Drop in the pieces of butter.

Put the saucepan over medium heat and start whisking. You want to get into the corners of the pan, so if your whisk is too big for the job, switch to a wooden or silicone spatula. Cook, continuing to whisk—don’t stop—for 6 to 8 minutes, until the curd starts to thicken. When it is noticeably thickened and, most important, you see a bubble or two come to the surface, stop; the curd is ready.

Immediately scrape the curd into a heatproof bowl or canning jar or two. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and let the curd cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

Sopa Tarasca: A Bean Soup 20 Years in the Making

We've been blowing through series television lately—rewatching the entire umpteen seasons of Deep Space Nine, being charmed by the more recent Ted Lasso and drawn in by the Canadian show Kim's Convenience—and, when we need a break, watching a documentary here and there. Recently we took in a biography of Diana Kennedy, the famed English-born authority on Mexican cooking, filmed in her home in the hills of the state of Michoacán and who, in her 96th year, is still as feisty and fiery as ever.

It was twenty years ago that our son took a three-week foreign studies tour to the town of Morelia in Michoacán, a city of almost a million not far from Ms. Kennedy's home. He and five of his fellow high school students from his Spanish class stayed with Mexican host families in the city, taking language classes and touring the area with their teacher.

Organic beans for Diana Kennedy's soup? Perfect!

The other students were mostly consumed with going to bars (though the official drinking age was 21), eschewing Mexican food in favor of hamburgers and pizza. Our son was more intrigued with exploring Mexican regional specialties like the varieties of moles—he still waxes poetic about one exceptionally bitter version—as well as a garlic bread soup called Sopa de Ajo and another, a puréed bean soup called Sopa Tarasca. (His teacher was quite impressed.)

After watching the documentary about Kennedy, I was browsing through my not-insubstantial collection of her cookbooks and came across a recipe for that very bean soup. I happened to have a quart of cooked borlotto beans from Ayers Creek Farm left over from a dinner earlier in the week, so it presented an opportunity I couldn't well refuse.

Sopa Tarasca is named after the Tarascan Indians of Michoacán—the popular, if somewhat derogatory, name for the indigenous Purépecha culture which continues to maintain a significant population of nearly 200,000 in the state. It is a deeply flavorful bowl of puréed beans, tomatoes and chiles topped with fried chiles, tortilla strips and other condiments.

The soup itself is a fairly simple affair and comes together quickly, and the idea of the fried chiles crumbled on top will come in handy in the future as a crunchy topping for salads, tacos, nachos, dips or other dishes needing a crispy, smoky saltiness. See what you think!

Sopa Tarasca (Tarascan Bean and Tomato Soup)

Slightly nodified from a recipe in The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy

For the toppings:
Vegetable oil (canola or grapeseed)
3 dried chiles pasilla (dried ancho chiles work here, too), cut with scissors into small pieces
4 corn tortillas cut into strips
Queso fresco, crumbled
Sour cream

For the soup:
2 dried ancho chiles
2 medium tomatoes or 1 1/4 c. roasted tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1/4 onion
3 Tbsp. lard or filtered bacon drippings
4 c. cooked pinto or borlotto beans with their liquid
2 1/2 c. pork or chicken stock
1 tsp. oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
Salt to taste

For the condiments, place large frying pan over high heat and pour in 1/2" or so of vegetable oil. When a small piece of tortilla strip is dropped in and sizzles with lively bubbles, it's hot enough. Put half of the tortilla strips into the oil and brown slightly, remove them from the oil with a wire scoop (spider) onto paper towels. Salt as soon as they come out of the oil. Repeat with remaining half of tortilla strips. While tortilla strips cool, put the pasilla chile pieces into your wire scoop and submerge in hot oil for three seconds. Remove to paper towels and salt.

In a heat-proof bowl, tear the ancho chiles into pieces, removing the seeds and veins. Add one cup boiling water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes.

In a food processor, blend the tomatoes, garlic and onion into a smooth purée. Melt the fat in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over high heat. Pour in the tomato purée, being careful since it may splatter when the mixture hits the hot fat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick. While the tomato mixture cooks, purée the beans, bean liquid, softened ancho chiles and their liquid in the food processor. Turn down the heat under the tomato mixture to medium-low and stir in the the bean purée and oregano. Cook for another 8 minutes, stirring frequently to keep it from sticking.

Add stock and stir to combine. Add salt to taste. Simmer on very low heat, stirring frequently, until ready to serve. This is supposed to be a thick soup, and it will thicken as it simmers, but you can add more stock as needed to get it the consistency you prefer. Serve with crumbled cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips and fried chiles.

You can also make the soup ahead of time, then fry the tortillas and chiles while you reheat the soup.

Meyer Lemon Season? Time to Make Preserved Lemons!

There's something about the color yellow tinged with a hint of orange that I find intoxicating. It's that golden-hour hue that comes just before sunset as the sun is sinking toward the horizon, slanting at just the right angle—some sources say between four and five degrees—to brush everything it touches with a yellow-orange glow. If you've seen the work of Van Gogh, you've certainly seen it. Or the movie Days of Heaven, shot by the legendary cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler during the hours just after dawn and before sunset, suffusing the film with a dreamy, fairy tale-like atmosphere.

That Van Gogh yellow…

Meyer lemons, a hybrid of lemons and tangerines, are the fruit of the golden hour, carrying a warmer hue and a milder flavor than regular lemons. When they're in season—hint: now—I can't get enough of them. So as I've done in previous years, I decided to stretch out the pleasure of these golden jewels by preserving them in salt and lemon juice, perhaps one of the simplest methods ever devised and one that is virtually impossible to get wrong.

And the possibilities for using Meyer lemons, preserved or fresh, is endless. I've written about incorporating them into risotto, lemoncello, a crab risotto, pasta, a salad, even a cocktail…the list goes on and on. So run, don't walk, to your favorite produce department, get some of these gorgeous orbs and start squeezing them—need I say—now.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

12-14 Meyer lemons
Kosher salt
Wide-mouth quart jar with screw-on lid (either a metal ring and lid or a plastic lid)

Lightly rinse the lemons to remove any surface dust or dirt and dry them with a towel. Cover the bottom of the jar with a 1/8" layer of salt. Take six of the lemons and slice them vertically in quarters to within 1/2" of the base. Holding one upright in your palm over a small bowl, fill it with salt and place it in the jar. Do the same with the other five lemons and pack them tightly into the jar. Use more lemons if required to fill the jar within 3/4" of the top (you can slice the lemons into quarters to fit in the nooks and crannies). Pour the salt from the bowl into the jar. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemons to fill the jar within 1/2" of the top (you can also use regular lemons if you need to). Screw on the lid and place in the refrigerator. Every day or so, shake the jar to distribute the salt and juice, and after three or four weeks you're good to go.

This recipe will work with regular lemons as well. You can also add herbs like bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon and cardamom.

Call It Thai-ish: Curried Coconut Squash Soup a Winner Winter Dinner

Like stir fries or macaroni and cheese—see my previous post—soup is an ideal vehicle for making a simple, quick, warming winter dinner for a family out of what you have on hand, a skill that is increasingly necessary in a pandemic when dashing to the store for this or that isn't advisable.

Look around—dinner might be sitting on your counter right now!

Take a look around. Are there a bunch of odds and ends in your vegetable bin that are looking a little tired and wrinkly? Chop them up, grab a can of tomatoes and make a minestrone soup! How about those bits of leftover rotisserie chicken? Chop an onion and a carrot, pull out some stock and your soup pot, maybe add a potato or some dried pasta, and make chicken soup.

The other evening I had, as usual, no idea what to make for dinner but there was a smallish Sibley squash sitting on the counter that my neighbor Bill grew, so I roasted it and scooped out the flesh. Digging around in my pantry, I found a can of coconut milk, and I remembered seeing a baggie of curry leaves in the freezer that my friend Denise had shared with me.

With a quart of stock I'd made from the carcass of a roasted chicken earlier in the week and some zhooshing from my (admittedly) overflowing condiment shelf, the emerging Thai-inflected soup was well in hand.

I'd also run across a head of cauliflower in the fridge that was going brown in spots (easily remedied by simply scraping them off), so I threw it in the still-warm oven to get crispy and to provide some textural contrast to the creamy soup.

I'm hoping some of these skills will transfer to life after COVID when we won't have a second thought about making a trip to the store. (Promise me that time will come, though, won't you?)

Thai-ish Curried Coconut Squash Soup with Roasted Cauliflower

For the soup:
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped in 1/2” dice
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 c. roasted squash*
1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock
1 15-oz. can coconut milk
1-2 Tbsp. Thai & True red curry paste or 2 Tbsp. curry powder plus 1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
2 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
6-8 curry leaves or 2 kaffir lime leaves or grated zest of 1 lime
Salt to taste

For the cauliflower:
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets; chop any leaves into 1” pieces and stem into 1/2” dice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400°.

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then add onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add curry paste (or curry powder and cayenne, if using) and turmeric and sauté until it bubbles. Add remaining ingredients and combine. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.

Place cauliflower florets, stem pieces and chopped leaves into a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Stir to combine, then put on sheet pan. Place in oven and roast for 30-40 minutes until tender and well-browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

Take soup off heat and remove curry leaves (or kaffir lime leaves, if using). Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. (Pro tip from a chef friend: If using a blender to purée the soup, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Blend in smaller batches, making sure to place a cloth over the lid of the blender and holding it down with one hand.) Replace puréed soup in pot and adjust seasonings, adding more fish sauce or salt as needed. Return to heat and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve: Ladle soup into shallow bowls and arrange curry florets and leaves along one edge. You can also sprinkle with roasted pumpkin seeds, drizzle a few drops of sriracha, add a grinding of fresh pepper or whatever appeals to you.

* Pretty much any "winter" squash will do, including acorn, butternut, Sibley, kabocha or the like. Simply halve, scoop out the seeds and bake cut side down in a 400° oven for 30-40 minutes until tender. Scoop out meat. Learn more about winter squash here.

Find a myriad of soup recipes for inspiration, and even more here!