Friday, May 31, 2013

Broccoli Egg-Lemon Soup or The New Age Greek

There are customers who, no matter the weather, will always want soup for lunch. Stella has a repertoire of soups which she rotates through. She cannot please everyone every day, but she can usually please enough people to make it worthwhile to change up the menu on a regular basis.

Today, on this mildly wet day, Stella and her crew are making a tangy, delicious spring soup, which several of her customers look forward to for their lunch. Served with a sandwich or salad, or simply a savoury scone, Stella's Broccoli Egg Lemon soup is a creative take on the traditional Greek soup, avgolemono, which translated means, simply, 'egg lemon'. It can be a little tricky to make, but when someone has been making it as long as Stella has, the method becomes second nature. She makes the soup early in the day because it tastes better after it has sat and the flavours have mingled for a few hours.

Customers begin arriving in the cafe before noon and when they see the 'soup of the day' on the chalk board they do not hesitate to place their orders. They do not want to miss out. The aroma of garlic, lemon and miso gently drifts from the kitchen into the nasal passages of the hungry group awaiting service at the counter.

Inevitably, however, one customer is heard saying to her friend, "What is with all these New Age soups? Why doesn't anyone serve plain chicken noodle soup anymore?"

If you like the sound of this soup, you can make it at home.

Broccoli Egg-Lemon Soup adapted from Moosewood Cooks at Home

servers 4, generously

2 cups finely chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cups finely chopped broccoli florets (stems can also be peeled and finely chopped)
1 Tablespoon minced fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried dill)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock, or 1 bouillion cube dissolved in 4 cups of water

2 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or to taste)
1 cup cooked orzo or rice (optional)
1 tablespoon light miso or soy sauce of your choice (optional)

In a soup pot, saute the onions and garlic in the oil for about five minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the broccoli, dill, salt, and black pepper; and saute for several minutes, until the broccoli turns bright green. Add three cups of stock and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender. Remove the soup from the heat entirely.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1/4 cup of the lemon juice. Whisk in the remaining cup of stock, then add about a cup of the hot soup broth. Gradually pour the egg mixture into the soup pot while stirring the soup. Stir in the orzo or rice, if using. If using the miso, dilute with a little soup in a bowl and then add to the soup pot. If using soy sauce, just stir it right in. Gently reheat the soup, but don't let it boil at all or it may curdle. Add more salt to taste. (Although the miso or soy sauce adds sodium already.)

Broccoli Egg-Lemon soup can be served immediately, but it tastes even better gently reheated after sitting awhile on the very lowest of heat settings. Reheating the soup involves watching the pot very carefully and stirring often to prevent curdling and separating, although the soup is still edible if this happens.Stella would just never serve it that way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Roasted Beet and Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

The town where Stella hangs her shingle is popular with tourists. It has an inviting main street full of small independently owned shops, restaurants and offices. Bicycle racks and lamp posts hung with huge baskets of  spring flowers appear intermittently along the brick paving, along with benches for sitting in the sun. 

Stella has just enough pavement in front of her cafe to place three small black latticework tables with three chairs each. A retractable awning provides much needed summertime shade...but we aren't quite there yet. It is early May.

Still, her customers are reaching toward the sun like eager blossoms, their faces open to the air craving warmth and the myriad scents and flavours of spring, so Stella puts a special seasonal salad on the menu today: Roasted Beet and Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.  She invented the salad, quite by accident one day when using up leftovers in her upstairs fridge, and proclaimed it, 'just the thing for spring'. The slight bitterness of the spinach marries well with the tangy sweetness of the beets coated in the citrus dressing. The chopped veggies add crunch and texture as well as additional flavour.

While Savannah writes the day's specials on the blackboard in her curvaceous handwriting, complete with little coloured chalk drawings of beets, oranges and lemons, Kevin puts some Jaques Loussier on the stereo. The cafe team is ready for the lunch rush.

Here is Stella's recipe for this light and delicious salad, which of course, you may change and add to in any way you like. Use the recipe as a springboard (pun fully intended) to your own fresh and delicious creation. Roasted beets retain their juices and are full of concentrated flavour, but if you are short on time, you can peel, dice and cook them in water on the stove top.

Beets with Triple Citrus Vinaigrette (serves 4)

10-12 small beets

Set the oven to 450 degrees F. Scrub the beets and wrap them first in parchment paper and then in aluminum foil. Roast them in the oven until tender, at least 40 minutes for very small beets and up to an hour and a half for larger ones. When the beets are fork-tender, open the package and let them cool, peel them (this should be fairly easy when they are warm, but it will be a little messy. Beet juice rinses off the fingers well unless it comes in contact with lemon juice). Dice the beets and toss with 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the following vinaigrette:

Triple Citrus Vinaigrette

1 Tbsp.     smooth Dijon mustard
3/4 cup      lemon, lime and orange juice combined in any way you like. Stella often uses orange and lemon.      
1/4 cup     olive oil
1-2 Tbsp   honey
1 Tbsp      fresh chives
1 Tbsp      fresh thyme

Whisk together the mustard, citrus juices, and salt. Slowly add the oil, whisking to form an emulsion. Add the honey and herbs, using the larger amount of honey if needed to balance the flavours. Store in fridge for up to one week.

To assemble the salad, spoon the beets onto a bed of baby spinach, and your choice of veggies, making an individual salad plate for each person. Stella used sweet orange peppers, Long English cucumber, white mushrooms and celery for a variety of textures and flavours in her salad. Drizzle the veggies with some more of the vinaigrette.

Writing and photo by Rebecca