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Red Wine Adds Flavor to Lentil Soup

Lentils are the basis of this Greek soup.

“Like all starch-based soups, this one will thicken as it cools,” writes Michael Psilakis in “How to Roast a Lamb: New Classic Greek Cooking” (Little, Brown and Co., $35). “If you make it the day before, hold on to any reserved cooking liquid so you can thin the soup when you reheat, if it’s too thick. You can always use the liquid in another soup or a braise, as it’s really a lentil stock, full of flavor from all the vegetables and aromatics.”

Lentil Soup (Fakes)

2 smoked ham hocks
Water, as needed
2 tablespoons blended oil (90 percent canola, 10 percent extra-virgin olive)
2 Spanish or sweet onions, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 Idaho potato, peeled and finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves or 3 dried bay leaves
3 large sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound brown lentils
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup grated kefalotiri cheese (or Parmesan, if you must) (see note)
2 scallions, green part only, sliced on the diagonal
Extra-virgin olive oil

In a large pot, cover the ham hocks with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside, discarding the water.

In a large pot, warm the blended oil over medium-high heat. Add all the vegetables, including the garlic, as well as the bay leaves and thyme, and cook 3 to 5 minutes to soften without browning. Add the lentils and stir for 1 minute, then deglaze the pot with the red wine and sherry vinegar. Simmer until the wine is completely evaporated; then add the ham hocks and enough water to cover everything by a good inch. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and vegetables, reserving all the liquid in a large measuring jug. Return the solids to the empty cooking pot.

In a food processor, combine about a third of the lentil mixture with 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Purée until completely smooth. Return this puréed mixture to the pot with the remaining lentils and mix. Add enough of the cooking liquid to get the desired consistency – again, I am partial to a hearty style, but you may prefer it with a little more liquid. Taste for seasoning.

Ladle into bowls and top with a big pinch of kefalotiri, some sliced scallion greens and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Optional variations:

  • If you want the meat from the ham hock in the soup, you’ll have to simmer it far longer than it takes the lentils to cook: Sauté a mirepoix of 1 carrot, 3 ribs celery, 1 large onion, 2 fresh bay leaves, and 6 smashed cloves of garlic until tender. Add the ham hocks, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender. Pull out the ham hocks. Strain the braising liquid, discarding the vegetables and bay leaves. Reserve the liquid and use for cooking the lentils, instead of the water. Pick off the meat from the ham hocks, discarding bones and tough cartilage. Add the meat with the puréed lentils.
  • Cook 1/2 cup of orzo according to the package instructions and stir in just before serving.
  • Serve with slices of day-old baguette, toasted and drizzled with olive oil.
  • Use any lentils of your choice; French green lentils and black beluga lentils will take a bit longer to cook.
  • Reduce the soup until it is very thick; then use it as a bed under a nice piece of fried fish. If you prefer it smooth rather than chunky, purée all the lentils. It will be almost like refried beans. Top this with a little strained Greek yogurt for coolness and tang; then throw on some torn fresh green herbs.
  • For extra pork flavor without cooking the ham hock ahead of time, as above, sauté a few ounces of finely diced smoked slab bacon with the mirepoix.

Note: Kefalotiri is a Greek cheese traditionally made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is hard and dry, and is occasionally referred to as the Greek Parmesan. It can be found at some ethnic markets and supermarkets with extensive cheese sections.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Adapted from “How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking” by Michael Psilakis

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‘Avoca Café Cookbook’

dscn1446I have never wanted to cook all of the recipes in a single cookbook. Even a favorite like Simon Hopkinson’s “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” contain sections I wouldn’t go near. Who needs five recipes for calves’ brains, especially when their sale is outlawed in this country?

If I make 10 recipes from a cookbook and like eight of them, I think I’m doing exceptionally well. Is that a waste of money? Not to me.  One  good meal is worth the price of the book that a recipe or two helped produce.

That said, there is one book in my collection that I have returned to repeatedly. It is the “Avoca Café Cookbook,” written by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes.

I picked it up several years ago after eating at the cafe, which is near the eastern coast of Ireland. Friends and I had gone there for lunch one day on our way to Dublin from the charming village of Bunclody. I had partied a bit heavily the night before, and my head and stomach were not cheered at the thought of food, to put it mildly. But one taste of how fresh everything was — and on a cold February day, no less — and I perked up a bit.

I was pleased to find a copy of the cafe’s cookbook for sale, one that included our weights and measurements in addition to metric. (That’s getting harder when you go abroad these days.)

Once home, I tried to recreate some of the magic I had tasted and found it in almost every soup recipe I tried. Green Bean and Coconut. Petit Pois and Mint. Spiced Lentil and Lemon. Each one quickly entered my repertoire of recipes that I have returned to.

I now have to have Baked Garlic and Onion Cream soup at least twice each winter. And I make Tomato, Celery and Apple soup year-round. Even one of the recipes that sounded a bit bizarre — Parsnip, Rosemary and Olive soup — proved a keeper once I had tasted it.

In addition to having gorgeous photographs, "Avoca Cafe Cookbook" has large margins, so you can take notes on any of the recipes you try.

In addition to having gorgeous photographs, "Avoca Cafe Cookbook" has large margins, so you can take notes on any of the recipes you try.

It wasn’t until I had made the 10th or 11th soup from the book that I realized all of the recipes in this section were vegetarian, which is not something I generally seek out. In fact, soup to me had always been something made with chicken stock, if not turkey stock or beef. I even have bacon stock in my pantry, which should not surprise anyone who knows me.

It was about the same time that I set a goal for myself that was similar to Julie Powell’s in “Julie & Julia.” I was going to make every soup recipe in the book. That’s 17 recipes, and I’ve hit 14 so far. It’s not the season for White Winter Vegetable soup, and I still haven’t seen too many turnips I want to cook.

But I have enjoyed the Cauliflower Cheese soup for its unbeatable mixture of onion, potato and cauliflower mixed with butter, half-and-half, cream and aged cheddar. Tomato, Lentil and Orange soup was bright and clean, as was Roasted Carrot and Red Pepper. Sweet Potato and Lemon Grass was soothing and gave me a good excuse to use some of the lemon grass in my backyard.

I have also tried a number of other recipes in the book, from Beef and Guinness Stew (the whole cookbook is not vegetarian) to a Mediterranean Tart with roasted vegetables. There’s plenty of margin room on each page to write notes on, which is great because some of the terms used in Ireland don’t always translate to our American soil. “Monkey nuts” are “peanuts,” and in the following recipe, “courgette” is “zucchini.”

This is a summer treat, especially for those with a garden full of zucchini.

dscn1240Courgette and Almond

1/2 ounce butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped
3-4 cups vegetable stock
3 medium courgettes (zucchini), finely chopped
1 ounce ground almonds
4 ounces (1/2 cup) heavy cream, plus extra for garnish
4 ounces (1/2 cup) milk
Toasted slivered almonds, for garnish

[amazon-product]095381520X[/amazon-product]Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onion and potato, and cook over a very low heat for 5 minutes. Add 3 cups stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potato is cooked. Add the courgettes (zucchini) and more stock, if need, to cover. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. As soon as the courgettes are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the ground almonds, cream and milk. Purée in a blender, then reheat gently and season to taste. Serve topped with a few toasted slivered almonds and a swirl of cream.

This soup can also be served chilled.

Adapted from “Avoca Café Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

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