Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Tag: leeks

White bean, spinach, tofu, leek soup

This winter has been Germany’s darkest in recorded history, with the fewest hours of sunshine ever. The sky is a perpetual stretch of muted gray, as blank and listless as concrete. A drifting of clouds is cause for celebration, and any sighting of the golden orb leaves me blinking like a maulwurf.

And just a few days into spring, it snowed.

So I’d like to be writing about grilling. About the first bundles of Italian white spargel (aparagus) and baskets of shiny strawberries at the market. About picnicking in a new-found park, a blanket on prickly new grass under the young sun’s rays.

But instead, I’m still in soup season.

Bean soup

Bean soup with leeks, spinach and tofu

This soup is a quick and easy version I made up with the spinach and leeks I bought at the market. It feels enormously comforting, both because of its savory, pick-you-up taste and the plethora of good-for-you vegetables.

White bean, spinach, leek, tofu soup

  • olive oil and/or butter
  • 1 leek
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3-4 cups of broth (I used chicken broth)
  • 1 can white Northern beans, or another kind of your liking, drained and washed
  • 1 box firm or extra-firm tofu, chopped into bite-sized cubes
  • dried herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, basil (Herbes de Provence works nicely)
  • salt and pepper (optional)
  • 2-3 cups of washed, chopped fresh spinach
  • sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Trim the leek. I cut off the bottom tangled root bit, and the tough green leaves, although you could use them, too. That leaves a cane of white and pale green, which I wash, then slice once lengthwise, then into lots of half-moons. I wash them again in a colander, separating the curls and making sure any grit is gone. (Sometimes leeks are a tiny bit dirt-happy, sometimes they are pristine.)

Trimming the leek

Here’s where I cut off the darker, tougher leaves. You can use eat them, certainly, but you’ll need to cook them rather voraciously, I think, to mellow out their strength. Any ideas how to use them? And is this about where you trim your leeks?

Leek, trimmed

Almost a bit of art

Chopped up leek curls

Chopped up leek curls, ready to be cooked.

In a dutch oven or other pot, cook the leek curls on medium heat in a swirl (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil and/or butter. Don’t abandon them, as they’ll need a stir every so often to prevent scalding. If the leeks are beginning to develop brown spots, the stove is too hot; turn it down to medium-low or low.

Wait until the leeks have softened, maybe 10 minutes. Try one to see if its lusciously soft enough for you. While the leeks are cooking, I made a batch of cornbread (recipe to come), but rice would have been nice, too. If you’d like a side, now’s a good time to tackle that, assuming it’s fairly simple.

Once the leeks are softened to your wishes, add the sliced garlic. Let it cook a minute or two.

Then add the beans, the tofu, and the broth. Let it come to a simmer.

Add a good sprinkle of dried herbs and pepper. Taste and adjust. It may need more herbs; it may need salt; it may need a sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce to jazz it up. A lot will depend on the intensity of the broth.

Let it simmer for a little while, maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes, depending on what else you need to do in the kitchen. Let it take its time.

You may want to sample it one more time. (One of the lovely perks of being the cook.) If you are feeling like the broth is too subtle, try red chili flakes for a kick or a bit of grated cheese on top, once you spoon the soup into bowls.

Spinach, washed and drying

Spinach, washed and drying

When all other parts of the meal are ready, add the spinach. Give it a good stir, and let the spinach cook for a minute or two. If you like the spinach simply wilted, then don’t even wait that long – you are ready to slurp the soup and warm up.

Bean soup, close up

Bean soup, close up

April farmer’s market loot in Germany

Market produce in Germany in April

Market produce in Germany in April

The winter edge is starting to wear off, slowly but surely, after the coldest March and the darkest winter on record.

Here in Southern Germany, the markets blooming with produce.

Here’s what I picked up this weekend. The lemon is from afar – Spain, I think – but the rest is local.

We’ve also hit upon the start of spargel season, the beloved asparagus, white or green, found during these brief weeks on restaurant menus all across the city. Spargel is still rather expensive, around $10 a pound at the farmer’s market, but the price will fall as the season nears its peak. (I leaned this the hard way after paying 9€ last year, in a newcomer’s green excitement.) I’m waiting now for a thick bundle of white stalks to peel down to their pearly cores and grill to that divine crunchy sweetness.

Fresh potatoes

Fresh potatoes

I baked up a batch of these potatoes today, so freshly dug up that they were smeared with dirt. I love that, a sort of authenticity badge of real food straight from the fields to the farmers’ trucks to our downtown market. Not plastic wrapped or infused with preservatives. Just dirt.

I find them delicious roasted very simply, tossed with olive oil and spices, and baked for 15-20 minutes around 375-400F degrees. Old Bay is nice, barbeque spices are tangy and sweet. My current favorite potato spice mix is paprika, oregano, sea salt, and pepper.

Dill, leeks mushrooms

Dill, leeks mushrooms

Leeks are a staple throughout winter. And despite all my American cookbooks warning me against the gritty dirt found in leeks, the German ones I’ve bought have been clean as a whistle. These are going to be chopped, sauteed in butter, and served with potatoes and steak.

Dill is a such a wonderful bright, spring flavor. I plan to sprinkle it on green beans with garlic and lemon and remember our Turkish cooking class.

I don’t know what the mushrooms will be destined for, but they were so irresistibly mellow and fresh. Any ideas?

Kohlrabi (German turnip)

Kohlrabi (German turnip)

This bulbous mysterious thing is one of my two cooking adventures of the week. Meet kohlrabi, otherwise known as a German turnip. I’ve read so far that you can eat it raw quite happily or cook it up. I’m debating between a kohlrabi gratin, kohlrabi fries, and kohlrabi risotto. Any votes?

Onions

Onions

Onions are Zwiebeln are onions. Same as in the States. But so pretty, tucked in a crisp brown bag.

Romanesco broccoli

Romanesco broccoli

Here’s adventure No. 2 of the week: Romanesco broccoli, aka Roman cauliflower. I’ve been eying it all winter, wondering what it was, delighting in its weird, alien-like spikes. I have no earthly idea how to use it yet, but I imagine, should no intriguing recipes turn up, I’ll roast it like cauliflower, with olive oil and garlic. You can’t go wrong with those two.