Winter Squash and Chickpea Soup w/Sage, Harissa, and Hazelnuts

by Maja Lukic


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This soup may be the result of cooking too many Yotam Ottolenghi recipes over the years and the fact that I now love to add specialty Middle Eastern ingredients to all of my vegetable dishes. Or it came about because I needed to exercise some pseudo painterly inclinations and play with bright colors and pure aesthetics while stuck inside during a snowstorm. I don't know. Probably, it's some combination of the two. 

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The upside of all the miserable weather we've had in NYC as of late is that I have been reading a lot -- anything within reach, basically, but cookbooks and poetry in particular. Recently, I stumbled on Cuisine Nicoise: Sun-kissed Cooking From the French Riviera by Hillary Davis (the blogger behind Marche Dimanche). Davis covers Niçoise cooking specifically, which feels both new and oddly familiar, and in so doing, she touches on two of my favorite topics -- rustic French cooking and the French Riviera. 

The beauty of this book is startling on many levels. The photography/food styling is simple, elegant, and effortless. The recipes are creative and evocative of both a different time and a different place. And it contains some of the most gorgeous and poetic cookbook writing I have ever read. She describes a seafood lunch at Hotel Belles Rives where F. Scott Fitzgerald worked on "Tender Is The Night." She describes her travels through the local villages, shopping at the local markets, and the recipes and meals that inspired her cooking along the way. (In case you're wondering, yes, there is a recipe for a traditional Salade Niçoise, and no, potatoes and string beans are not traditional ingredients).

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This recipe was inspired by the Creamless Creamy Chickpea and Sage Purée from Cuisine Nicoise. I played with the concept of a blended chickpea soup until it took a shape of its own, quite altered from the original. But mentioning the original gives me an excuse to rave about Davis's cookbook and so here we are. 

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The most surprising thing about this soup is that it actually tastes good. I'm being candid here -- it's such a confluence of seemingly contradictory flavors that I was a little concerned about the end result. But the subtle flavors meld together into a mellow smoky-sweet bisque. For the harissa, you are welcome to use any brand you like but I chose the Mina Mild Harissa for its subdued flavor and gorgeous color. (You can check out the other flavors here: http://www.casablancafoods.com/index.php?/).* 

I love that it's a fresh interpretation of something tired and tried, like the squash-sage pairing (or even squash-sage-hazelnut). Squash and sage is a favored combination because it works but the addition of harissa and chickpeas here offers a nuanced experience. 

We're still a few weeks away from spring -- stay warm. 

Winter Squash and Chickpea Soup w/Sage, Harissa, and Hazelnuts

Inspired by Cuisine Nicoise: Sun-Kissed Cooking From the French Riviera

Serves 4 generously

1 kabocha or butternut squash (approx. 2-3 lbs.)

1 cup dried or 2 cans chickpeas

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp avocado oil (or other cooking oil)

1 red onion, chopped

4-5 sage leaves, rolled tightly and sliced into thin strips

1 tsp. fresh thyme

1 garlic clove, minced

4-6 cups chickpea cooking liquid or vegetable stock (or water)

1 lemon, juiced

garnish: 1/4 cup harissa, 1/2 cup whole hazelnuts, raw, 8 sage leaves

olive oil, for frying sage leaves

sea salt and black pepper

If using dried chickpeas, soak the chickpeas overnight. Drain and rinse well. In a large soup pot, cover the chickpeas with an inch or two of cold water, add in 1 bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for about an hour to an hour and a half or until tender. Season with 1/2 tsp of sea salt. If you're not cooking the soup right away, store the chickpeas in their cooking liquid in the fridge for a few days. Otherwise, drain the chickpeas and reserve the cooking liquid but discard the bay leaf. If using canned chickpeas, drain the beans and rinse them well. Discard canning liquid. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and slice the squash into 1-inch cubes. Drizzle with avocado oil (or other cooking oil) and season lightly with sea salt and black pepper. Roast for about 35 to 40 minutes or until soft and lightly browned, stirring halfway. 

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of avocado oil over medium high heat. Sautee the onion for a few minutes until translucent and fully cooked through. Add garlic, sage, and thyme and sautee for another minute or two. Add the cooked chickpeas to the pan and heat them through.  

Blend the chickpea mixture and the roasted squash together with 4 to 6 cups of chickpea cooking liquid and/or vegetable stock. The amount of liquid you need will depend on how thick you'd like your soup to be. 

Pour the blended soup into a large pot and cook over low heat until it comes to a gentle simmer. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon and season with additional sea salt and black pepper, to taste. 

Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes or until they're fragrant and the skin starts to crack. Transfer the roasted hazelnuts to a clean kitchen towel and allow them to cool. Then gather the towel into a little bundle and massage the hazelnuts to remove the skin. Most, though not all, of the skin will flake off. Once peeled, roughly chop the hazelnuts.

Fry 8 fresh sage leaves in very hot olive oil for a few seconds to crisp them up. Remove them with a slotted spoon or spatula to a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. 

Portion the soup into four bowls (or more, depending on the amount of stock and squash you used). Swirl a tablespoon of harissa into each bowl of soup and top each bowl with two fried sage leaves and a few toasted hazelnuts. Serve. 

Suggested Shortcut:  Instead of 1 cup dried chickpeas, use 2 cans of chickpeas. Roast the squash, onions, sage, and thyme together in the oven. Blend everything together with 4 to 6 cups of vegetable stock (or water) and proceed with seasoning and garnish as above. 

Notes: If you don't want to use squash, feel free to swap carrots or sweet potatoes or any other root vegetable. Please don't buy the pre-sliced squash -- it's bad for the environment and unnecessary. Buy a whole squash and break it down yourself with Food52's help. Be careful when reheating the soup because it has a tendency to bubble and boil.

Full Disclosure: From time to time, I may mention products on the blog but all opinions expressed are my own. I will not promote a product I do not like and/or use in my own household. In this instance, I created a recipe with Mina Mild Harissa before the kind folks at Mina reached out to me. 


French Lentil Soup w/Turnip, Parsnip & Quelites

by Maja Lukic


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This lentil soup requires some urban foraging, which for me at least consists of walking to Union Square farmers market and buying a lovely bunch of lamb’s-quarters (also known as quelites, wild spinach and goosefoots). Quelites is a general term that encompasses a wide range of wild, edible and supremely nutritious plants.  They grow on their own like weeds. You can see them pictured in these photos.

As has been pointed out by others, quelites easily replace spinach in any recipe. I think they almost taste better than mature spinach and far better than baby spinach, which is fairly useless as a vegetable anyway (spitefully placing most baby vegetables into this category). For more information on lamb's-quarters/quelites, go here. I particularly like using these wild, beautiful greens in this soup to break up the tired lentil-spinach soup routine.

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And so, this soup -- I hesitated about posting this recipe. I do like warm, rustic seasonal dishes but a lentil soup? Très plain. In the end, though, I went ahead with the lentil photo shoot. Because I love a good lentil soup. It's a nice, comforting thing to have in the freezer on a busy winter night. Also, a lentil soup is completely unpretentious – there is nothing unhealthy about it and it won't even try to entice you. This isn't a cauliflower pizza crust or carrot fries or some other nutritious food item masquerading as a lecherous, unhealthy dish. Indeed, the typical lentil soup is fairly unattractive -- a watery, murky brown mess. 

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But a few embellishments can make even a drab lentil soup seem new and exciting. I like to balance the lentils with a good amount of other vegetables. We all know how much I love working with rustic, root vegetables (see here, here, here, and here) so this recipe includes sweet parsnips and turnips. Their starch lends substance to the broth. Other important details: a lot of tomato paste to stave off the foggy brown colors that most lentil soups have; minimal liquid for a thick, stewy consistency; lots of dried herbs and warm spices; cups and cups of leafy greens at the very end (chard, spinach, or kale); and a burst of fresh lemon juice off the heat. The simple lentil soup quickly becomes a next level meal. 

But even if you can’t be bothered to make an entire soup this weekend, I would recommend picking up some quelites the next time you're at the market. 

French Lentil Soup w/Turnip, Parsnip and Quelites (v/gf)

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 large carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, chopped

2 large celery stalks, chopped

1 turnip, peeled and chopped

2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 dried bay leaf

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes

1 cup dry white wine (optional)   

1 cup French green lentils (lentilles du puy) 

1/3 cup tomato paste

6 cups water (or stock)

5 to 6 cups quelites (clusters of leaves only, no stems)

sea salt and black pepper

Before you start cooking, clean the quelites. Pick the soft leaves off the thick stems (discard the stems) and wash them well. The leaves can be extremely sandy.  

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, turnip, and parsnips to the pot and cook, stirring often, for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent. Add the bay leaf, oregano, cumin, chili flakes and garlic to the pot and cook for another 30 seconds but do not let the spices or garlic burn. 

If using, add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits. Cook for a few more minutes until the wine has slightly reduced. 

Rinse the lentils well and add them to the pot along with the tomato paste and water (or stock). Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium low and allow the soup to simmer uncovered for about 20 to 25 minutes. Taste the lentils for doneness and be sure not to overcook them. If the soups dries out too much as it cooks, add another 1/2 cup or so of water, as necessary, but a thick consistency is best.

Near the end of the cooking time, add the quelites to the pot. They only require a few minutes of cooking time and will reduce considerably as they wilt down.  

Take the soup off the heat and stir in the juice of half a lemon. Taste for seasoning and add in sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste. Allow the soup to cool slightly and serve with additional lemon juice.

It will keep in the fridge for a few days and will only get better with time as the flavors develop. For long-term storage, freeze individual portions for up to 1 month. 

Note: Do not add salt until the lentils are fully cooked through. Adding salt too early in the cooking process ruins their texture. In fact, for the best texture and flavor, be sure to use French green lentilles du Puy. (I also do not recommend substituting canned or frozen lentils because they tend to be mushy). The lentilles du Puy are worth the investment and you should have plenty left over to make salads such as this one by David Lebovitz. 

 


Celeriac and Potato Soup w/Mushroom, Walnut and Celery Leaf Salad

by Maja Lukic


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This is a cozy, smooth little soup to usher in a season I only fully appreciate in this city. As much as I'm a beach devotee, fall in New York is a stunning array of rich colors and sweet scents. Union Square Greenmarket in October when every stand is overflowing with sweet, crispy apples and pears (and the entire place smells like hot mulled apple cider and fried apple cider doughnuts) is everything.

Fall is when my mind turns to roasted dishes and earthy root vegetables - things from the ground. After a summer of salads and juices, my body, too, craves something warm, cooked, and comforting. This soup is it for me.

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I have never really worked with celeriac (or celery root) much in the past but I'm pretty sure my mom has made celeriac soup a few times over the years. Celeriac is a type of celery that is cultivated for its edible root, rather than its stalks and leaves, according to Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy. It is very low in carbohydrates and is a good substitute for potatoes, if you are following a low-carb diet. It is also a great source of vitamins B6 and C, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus. It will discolor when peeled and cut so immediately place pieces of celery root into some lemon water as you work.

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The only downside to celeriac is that it is not really feasible to use the whole plant. The root has a pleasant, mild flavor, and the root is what you want. The gorgeous stalks and leaves are reminiscent of celery but, unfortunately, taste far too aggressive to be used in large quantities. Deborah Madison suggests using the stalks and leaves "judiciously" in soup stocks or as seasonings in a dish. I tasted a leaf and found it a bit too strong for my liking but I am saving the stalks in the freezer for a possible vegetable stock. If you know of a great way to use them, please let us know in the comments.

Celery root has this clean flavor redolent of fresh celery stalks but, although it is a root, it does not taste as sweet as other root vegetables, like parsnips or carrots. Because of its delicate flavor, it works best with other similarly mild flavors, like apples and pears. And that, in my opinion, makes it the perfect fall vegetable. Celeriac is also delicious mashed with potatoes or other root vegetables or even served raw in a salad.

Because it is so well matched with potatoes, I took some liberties here with the original recipe, adding a few potatoes for a more substantial soup. Then I added some mushrooms and a Dijon vinaigrette to the salad component - once I open the door to one beloved ingredient, others are quickly incorporated, too, I guess.

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The mushroom-walnut salad is actually pretty delicious on its own and there are countless uses for it: serve it on grilled or toasted bread with a little bit of goat cheese, toss with greens and more vinaigrette, fold into an omelette, stir it into cooked quinoa, millet, farro, or wild rice, or serve on its own with a poached egg. The salad cleverly highlights celery leaves, which are deeply flavorful and yet so often tossed or disregarded. Here, they assume a starring role.

When the temperatures start to drop and you begin reaching for sweaters and scarves, keep this soup in mind.

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Celeriac and Potato Soup w/Mushroom Walnut & Celery Leaf Salad (v/gf) 

Adapted from Vegetable Literacy, p. 24

Serves 4

For the Soup: 

1 tbsp olive oil (or other cooking oil)

2 medium shallots, finely diced

2 celery roots

juice of 1-2 lemons

4-5 medium Carola or Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 lbs), peeled

2 celery stalks, chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup white wine

6 cups homemade or store-bought vegetable or chicken stock (or water) sea salt

For the Salad: 

1 tbsp olive oil

3/4 lbs cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped and lightly toasted

celery leaves from two bunches of celery (about 1 cup)

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 tbsp walnut oil (see Note below)

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

sea salt, black pepper

To Prepare the Soup:

Squeeze the juice of 1 to 2 lemons into a large bowl of cold water and keep it close by as you work with the celery root. To clean the celeriac, trim the leaves and the stalks (set them aside for another use, if you wish). Peel the rough, gnarly skin by cutting a slice off the top and the bottom (the way you would peel a melon or pineapple). Then, carefully slide your knife down the sides, taking the peel off as you go. Cut the celery root into 1/2-inch cubes and immerse the slices into the lemon water as you work.

Peel and dice the potatoes. Because the potatoes require slightly more time to cook than the celery root, be sure to cut the potatoes into roughly the same size or smaller. Chop the celery stalks into thin slices (and if they have leaves, trim and save the leaves for the salad below).

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Drain the celeriac (discard the lemon water) and then add the celery, celeriac, potatoes, shallots, and parsley to the soup pot. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables develop some color - about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, wine, and 1 teaspoon sea salt, and cook for a few more minutes until the wine has reduced. Add 6 cups of stock (or water) and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Take the soup off the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a blender.

Blend or pulse the soup very briefly until smooth but leave a good amount of texture. Potatoes also tend to get gummy if blended too long.

To Prepare the Salad:

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, and 2 tbsp walnut oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper.

Trim celery leaves from two bunches of celery. Rinse and dry the leaves and then set them aside.Toast the walnuts lightly.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. When the olive oil becomes fragrant, add the mushrooms and sautee for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until they become brown and begin to release some water. Add 1/4 tsp sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, until the mushrooms are fully cooked through. Toss the mushrooms, walnuts, parsley, and celery leaves with the Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

Serve the soup warm and top each bowl with two heaping tablespoons of the salad. Both the soup and salad will keep in the fridge overnight. The soup may be safely stored in the fridge for up to three days.

Notes: If you don't have walnut oil, substitute truffle oil or just plain olive oil - no need to purchase a whole bottle of walnut oil for this one recipe. But if you do, it makes for some delicious vinaigrettes. 

I listen to melancholy music 95% of the time (it makes me happy, weirdly) and fall is no exception. In fact, this is when I am most likely to indulge in the saddest of the sad stuff. This week, it's vintage Bonobo: