Acorn Squash Soup



Greetings, readers!

Kanchana is out of town, so I thought I'd do a bit of guest blogging. If memory serves, my last guest post detailed a particularly horrendous failure in the kitchen - so I'm glad to be back with a story of success.

Ethnic cooks who attempt foods outside of their background are frequently accused of putting some of their ethnicity into their creations - even if they weren't trying to! In spite of such criticism, there is definitely a tremendous value associated with fusion foods not just to the palate, but socially and economically - just look around at the variety of fusion cuisines now widely accepted as well as the number of celebrity chefs who make a living from those cuisines. Without claiming to step into their ranks, here's a recipe that brings together flavors from Southeast Asia and the American heartland. I hope you enjoy it!

Acorn Squash Soup
2 acorn squash
4-5 cups mushroom or vegetable stock (depending on how thick you like your soup)
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup fennel root
1 chopped lemongrass stalk
1/4 cup minced galangal
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 sprig rosemary
2 tsp nutmeg
3 tbsp butter/olive oil


Topping
1/4 cup minced fennel
2 cloves minced garlic
3 tbsp butter

1. Cut the acorn squash into quarters and coat it with a little olive oil. Top the squash with the one third of the aromatics (reserving the rest for later) - onions, celery, carrots, ginger, galangal, lemongrass (bruise this with a knife to release the oils first), and rosemary. Roast this in the oven at 400 degrees F till fully cooked (approx 40 minutes).

2. Heat some butter in a heavy bottomed soup pot (I like cast iron dutch ovens or enameled cast iron) and add the remaining ginger, galangal, rosemary and lemongrass. Don't let these herbs/spices cook too much - just let them get hot and release some flavor. Toss in the remaining mirepoix and fennel and saute till the carrots are soft. Add the nutmeg.

3. Add the mushroom stock and salt the contents of your soup pot. Keep the heat at a low simmer.

4. Pull the acorn squash out of the oven. Let them cool a little, then peel the skin off - all you need to do is gently tug at it and the flesh will separate from the skin. Taste the aromatics in the roasting pan- if they've browned too much and taste a little bitter, discard them. Otherwise, it's just more flavor in the soup! Add the contents of the roasting pan to the soup pot.

5. Once the flavors have melded together a little, it's time to force them to meld even more. Enter your trusty kitchen blender - I can't say enough about Vitamix. Since K and I have started using a Vitamix (thank you, in-laws!), I have never had to strain a soup! If you have a less powerful blender, just blend for a longer time - sometimes as long as 3 to 5 minutes. Grrrowwrrrr! until the mixture is extremely smooth.

6. Return the mixture to the soup pot and stir in a cup of milk - you could always whisk in a half cup of creme fraiche, but your arteries will thank you for using fat-free milk.

7. For the topping, fry the fennel in some butter until it becomes crisp, add the garlic for a minute (garlic cooks quickly and turns bitter even more quickly). Salt and pepper to taste.

8. Top the soup with the fennel mixture, and a few fennel fronds - Voila!

Notes:
  • Substitute all butter with olive oil for a lower cholesterol levels.
  • If you don't have access to galangal, just skip it - ginger is NOT a substitute. The two roots look a bit similar but do not taste similar. Besides, there's already ginger in the recipe!
  • If you're not up for lots of chopping, you can leave out the onions/celery/carrots. They should already be in your stock. I prefer adding the mirepoix in both - kind of a double-strong stock. Besides, the additional veggies are good for you too! This recipe is something your mother will love - it makes you eat your vegetables and drink your milk.
  • Similarly, you don't necessarily have to add the aromatics to the roasting pan - it's just really nice how the aromatics roast into the squash.
  • Buy a Vitamix. It's awesome!












So, how does it taste, you ask? Very, very good - squash, rosemary, nutmeg are basic building block to a variety of classically American harvest vegetable soups - think butternut squash, pumpkins, acorn squash, etc. The Southeast Asian flavors - galangal, lemongrass, ginger - work very well with the squash and a hearty mushroom stock really ties it all together. Kanchana scarfed her soup down very quickly, so I'm going to assume that the result is more than just edible.

Shankar



Penne a la Vodka

My brother in law makes a fantastic pasta, with a peppery tomato sauce. This is definitely a dish that is a great item for entertaining a few people. The garlicy sauce really packs a punch that will keep you coming back for more and more. Gopi's website is the culinary go to for the family, and he started blogging recipes much earlier than I did. In fact as I started learning to cook Indian food, I used his website regularly as a reference. Gopi's website is fantastic, because he really takes the time to provide exact measurements and precise instructions. He posts a variety of recipes; Indian, Italian, varieties of breads and cakes, and many more. You can even read them in three different languages!

The following recipe is taken exactly from Gopi's site www.zrox.net/Recipes.

Pasta with pepper vodka sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 lb penne or ziti pasta
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 28 oz canned diced tomatoes
  • ½ tsp. crushed pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup Pepper Vodka
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Chopped basil leaves, garnish
  • Finely grated pecorino cheese, garnish

Procedure

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until just al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander, return to the pot, and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet or sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the vodka and cook until reduced to about 3 to 4 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and cook until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning, to taste.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat evenly.

Transfer to a large serving bowl and garnish with the basil and top with a sprinkling of the pecorino cheese.


Notes by Gopi Sundaram:

I got this recipe from Emeril Live on the Food Network.

The sauce may look like it won't suffice for the whole pound of pasta, but it'll be okay. Too much cream sauce would make it too heavy. If you really want more sauce, add another 14oz can of tomatoes, and proportionally increase the quantities of vodka, cream, and pepper flakes.

I usually use farfalle instead of ziti or penne pasta, and use a blend of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses instead of pecorino.

Vegetable, Fruit, and Paneer Salad



The healthy salads continue with this colorful vegetable, fruit, and paneer salad. You have read correctly that there are vegetebles and fruits and paneer in this salad! The picture was taken on a bright summer day, when the vegetables and fruits were at their best in season. The key to this salad is finely chopping up all the vegetables, and fruits in a uniform size. You can take out the paneer, and chat masala seasoning, and serve just fresh vegetables and fruits like a 'kosumalli' seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I find that the simple seasoning really brings out the taste of the vegetables. The basis of this salad are the carrot and tomato, and to this you can add any combination of vegetables and fruits that you have on hand. You can increase the protein content by adding nuts, and sprouts.

The credit for this recipe goes to my MIL who apparently was inspired to add fruit to her salads by my FIL!


Vegetable, Fruit, and Paneer Salad
serves 2 people

2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
1 large tomato, diced
1/4 cup tbsp finely diced fruit such as peach, pear, apple, plum, or grape
2 tbsp pomegranate (optional)
1/4 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup paneer diced, mixed with chat masala powder
2 tbsp of finely chopped almonds (optional)
handful of chopped cilantro
juice of 1/2 small lime
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together, and serve fresh.



Tawa Grilled Vegetables


2010 has begun and maintaining a healthy lifestyle has bounced to the top of my priorities after having been badly sidelined for the larger part of 2009. I have found several recipes for delicious salads, but what I have trouble with is making time to prepare them. They are not overly time consuming, but they do take longer than nuking a frozen parata or burger. Eating healthy for me is about stocking my fridge with lots of vegetables, and taking the time to cook them. I've conquered the first part of that mission, its the second part that becomes a challenge when I'm working like a fiend and don't stop to prepare lunch or be organized enough to have prepared it in advance for myself.

I'm going to challenge myself this year to prepare my lunches in advance, portion control them, and know what I'm going to eat ahead of time. This is in hopes of preventing that old masochistic routine of scrouging around in the fridge or pantry and shoving random bad processed food into my mouth. I know that working from home has not helped my eating habits, so I need to have a strategy to cope with the easy access to food and try to institute rules for myself to help control the kind of food I'm putting in my body.

Grilling vegetables is a delicious way to eat healthy, cut up pretty much any vegetable you have on hand at home and throw them on the tawa -- hot griddle. I personally love the way zucchini and mushroom grill. I've also used green peppers, and tomatoes (which kind of stick to the grill). Fruits that also grill well include apples, papaya, pear, firm peaches, and pineapple. Sprinkle some salt, and chat masala powder on them (available at any indian grocery store), toss them before serving in some lemon juice and garnish with chopped cilantro and mint. I recommend keeping the grilled on a fairly high heat, as you are aiming to pretty much sear the vegetables, without over cooking them. They should be taken off the heat when they are al dente.

The fresh flavours will tempt your tastebuds, and satisfy your hunger. Eat a bowl of this and you won't even crave the carbohydrates. I've taken to making these as an afternoon snack, right around 5:30pm when you're really likely to abuse the processed foods.

The picture above has zucchini, mushroom, and golden delicious apples, garnished as I have described above.