Cooking Chapbook

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

Tag: winter

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

Magic tea in February

Time the tea

I believe it may be time for tea.

February. Oh, I could do without you.

Your quietness exhausts me. Your monochromatic skies bore me. Your snowy lint irritates me.

But then, my dry hands cradle a cup of hot liquid. My tight shoulders loosen a centimeter. Then two. The first scalding sip warms my throat, my belly, my bones.

If December is all glüwein and hot chocolate, and January is fit for resolutions and a motivating cup of joe, February is the perfect month to reacquaint yourself with tea.

Oh, tea. In the middle of a blazing summer, I forget how much I like you.

February, I must grudgingly admit, reminds me.

Magic tea leaves

Magic tea leaves

Let’s talk about tea leaves.

Like many things, at first, I did not understand. Why not a tidy little bag? Why not a string? Why bother with a pile of dried, crackly leaves and things? Why wrestle the soggy mess out of a ball of a strainer?

But, like so many things, millions of people know something I don’t. Tea tends to be fresher when it’s loose. More carefully handled. Better.

It only takes one cup of brightly brewed loose-leaf tea to shock the system. And herald a conversion.

Teapot sings ready now

Teapot sings: “Ready now!”

There’s a lovely little tea store in Stuttgart that has become a fixture on my visitor circuit. I bring visitors to the Schlossplatz (palace square) and the Königstrasse (king street).

And then we go buy tea.

The batch pictured above is called Micraculix Zaubertee, which the tea lady translated as magic tea.

Made of black tea, green tea, mistletoe, and rose petals, the tea is named so because it tastes differently to different people, she told me. Perhaps it resembles green tea to you, and black tea to your friend.

Tea, steeping

Shhh. The tea is steeping.

To me, it tastes like a sweet, floral green tea, a more palatable version of the straight-up green tea.

Chai is also lovely, with a dollop of milk and spoonful of brown sugar.

Pretty tea leaves

A rose by any other name would taste as sweet.

I’m not yet a tea scientist. I haven’t figure out the exact temperature and timing.

Some days, the tea is slightly bitter or grassy.

Other days, it’s as bright and sweet as an apple.

As temperamental as the weather.

Part of me rather likes not knowing how it will turn out.

Tea strainer

All ready?

This cup comes from Scotland, via one of my most cherished friends. All sorts of “nessies” dance around the cup. Not Loch Ness himself, but his unsung incarnations: Cheery-Ness, Tired-Ness, Queasy-Ness. My favorite is Wonder-Ness.

Hello from Scotland mug

Tea is best served with a little sweetness.

And February, you might well be Dreary-Ness.