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Pamphlet Cooking: “Armenian” Soup

“Armenian” Soup

Last week’s Tomato Soup Cake recipe reminded me that, in addition to my stacks of proper cookbooks, I have also amassed quite an impressive pile of pamphlets, brochures, and small spiral-bound recipe collections. Most of these I acquired thanks to The Book Thing, an awesome organization here in Baltimore that redistributes books to the community free of charge. A few times a year I donate all the books I don’t need anymore and browse the cookbook shelf to see what new treats might catch my eye. And it’s these slim paper volumes—often old advertising gimmicks for baking soda or similar—that are my favorite scores.

My stash includes quite a few tempting offerings such as “The Little Book of Excellent Recipes” by The Mystery Chef (future post, promise!), but in flipping through a few of them I landed on a soup recipe in the less exotic sounding “CSA Pantry Collection #4” that I decided to test drive. As it turned out, CSA in this case stood not for community supported agriculture, as I had assumed, but rather the Celiac Spruce Association. Their recipe for Armenian Soup included dried apricots and a single potato swimming in a full 2 quarts of water. Currently challenged by yet another snow storm and freezing temperatures required some creative pantry thinking on my part if I was going to execute, so I used the pitted dates and sweet potatoes I had on hand and ended up using half the amount of stock called for. Which is to say I wouldn’t blame “CSA Pantry Collection #4” for this bastardized recipe, but between its inspiration and the bitter, bitter cold, I ended up with a soup that was appreciated thoroughly without having to slide down the street to the grocery store.

That all said, I’m not sure what the Armenians would have to say about it.

 “Armenian” Soup

“Armenian” Soup

1/3 cup red lentils
6 dates, chopped
1 large sweet potato, cubed (no need to peel)
1 quart vegetable broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped

The real joy of this recipe: its simplicity. Place all ingredients in a 4 quart sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

That’s it. You’re done. Let’s eat.

DIY Oyster Crackers In Your Soup


When I was a kid, the retired couple next door took on the role of surrogate grandparents/babysitters. Their kitchen was where I learned to make a pie crust, their garden was where I saw my first swiss chard in the wild, and their family room was where I caught up on every Matlock and Murder She Wrote episode ever produced. In my memories, there were always great snacks on offer at their house, but even more than the just-baked elderberry pie and sugar cookies, I remember the evenings we spent with a big bag of oyster crackers and a tub of butter. Yes, buttered crackers were what most impressed my seven-year-old self, and I still think back to those cozy, murder-mystery evenings whenever I see a bag.

Whenever I actually taste the crackers in those bags these days, however, I wonder if it’s my palette or their production values that have shifted. I don’t remember them giving off the impression of…tissue paper quite so much, dissolving on the tongue like a communion wafer. So this version of the iconic cracker is just a little bit more solid, a little richer, a little butterier–it will stand up to but not overpower your soup.

Now, I know what I said about DIY projects and getting the perfect shape, but I think those sesame sticks taught me an important lesson. While there may be cooks out there who can produce a bag’s worth of perfectly shaped and smiling goldfish crackers, I now know that I am not one of them. So while I understand that oyster crackers are often hexagon-shaped, after considering how to produce so many small bites with some degree of efficiency, I decided that rectangles were cute enough. (Approximate) uniformity would be the key to my cracker geometry. Once they poofed up in the oven, I didn’t miss those stop signs of carbohydrate one bit.

DIY Oyster Crackers: The comparison

This is a no-stress side project that could easily be done while your soup is simmering. That said, it gets flour all over the counter and you have to cut dough into small pieces, possibly negating the laid-back, one-pot cooking that is often what makes soup so attractive (to me, at least). As far as economic comparison, I bought a 12-ounce bag for a dollar, so I’m not even going to try and talk cost savings. Ingredient-wise, this homemade version swaps in butter for the palm, canola, and soybean oils in my grocery’s house brand. Beyond that, however, rather than coat the surface of the crackers with an envelope of salad dressing mix, this is an excellent opportunity to make your own signature flavor with seasonings such as dried herbs or black pepper mixed right into the dough. Being a Baltimorean now, I added a teaspoon of Old Bay, and the spike of flavor and heat it brought to crackers seemed to be an especially appropriate pairing with the falling temperatures.

DIY Oyster Crackers
makes about 2 cups

5 ounces (1 cup) AP flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon (or to taste) Old Bay or seasoning of your choice (optional)
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup cold water, additional as needed

Measure dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Next, using a pastry cutter, work butter into the dry ingredients. Finally, add the water and lightly knead the dough just until all ingredients are incorporated. Add additional water by the tablespoon, if needed.

Form dough into a ball, set it on a lightly floured rolling surface, and cover with the overturned mixing bowl. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. Heat oven to 375°F.

When rest is complete, roll dough out on a well floured surface until about 1/8-inch thick. Cut dough into squares or rectangles (or circles, if you’re really willing to put some time into it) that are about 1/2-inch wide. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and space the shapes out as much as possible.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until crackers are showing color around the bottom edges. Turn oven off and crack the door open about eight inches. Leave crackers inside to cool and continue to crisp, about 30 minutes.


This recipe was created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

When Providence Provides: Cantaloup Soup


This is one of those dishes that begins not with a recipe but a magical mystery tour through my refrigerator during which I play a quick game of matchmaker and the winner is dinner. It may sound contrived, but I actually find that it’s kind of entertaining and, by starting from leftovers, some of the cooking is already done before I even start. Bonus points: fresh meals are made without wasting food I’ve already invested energy into preparing.

Which bring us up to my inventory. A cold soup sounded like a grand idea on this muggy weekend, and I had a bag of frozen cantaloup I wanted to evict from my freezer. My Google research turned up one or two melon soup recipes that used ginger and lemon juice as ingredients. I had neither of these on hand, but providence provides! What I did have was a flat batch of homemade ginger beer (yeast fail!) that I refused to toss on principle, certain I could find a way to incorporate it into something at some point. And what is ginger beer but a sweetened broth of already juiced lemons and grated ginger?

It was an idea I decided to run with, and this tasty soup was ours for dinner. Done any matchmaking of your own lately?

Cantaloup Soup

Cantaloup Soup

5 cups cantaloup, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cups strong ginger beer
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 tsp. salt
fresh grated nutmeg to garnish to taste

Place cantaloup in a bowl and pour over the ginger beer. Let sit at room temperature for one hour, allowing fruit to thaw (if using frozen) and beer to lose its carbonation. Add yogurt and salt and puree using an immersion blender. Chill soup completely (if you’ve used frozen fruit, soup will already be nicely chilled and can be served immediately).

Dish soup into small bowls or glasses, garnish with a few scratches of fresh nutmeg.

Tangled In Garlic Scapes


What happened was this: I had been emailed a heads-up that as part of the summer farmers’ market opening weekend, my CSA (a.k.a. One Straw Farm) would have garlic scapes on the table. As my own garden garlics seems to have mysteriously keeled over and quit where they lay (victims of wild urban animals or overly strong rain storms, I’m not sure which) I was excited to still have a chance at this seasonal treat. Paging through my pickling books, I got excited for the brined version, so I brought home two hefty bunches and prepared to stuff them in jars. I also picked up a few other things.

First market haul of the summer 2012 season.

First market haul of the summer 2012 season.

On reflection, I realized that I was already somewhat overstocked in the pickle department (especially after making a few jars of dill pickle spears and a second batch of that rhubarb chutney I’m infatuated with). Plus honestly, I really didn’t want to wait to eat them. Still, in my enthusiastic preparation for what I thought was to be a canning project, I had acquired 24 of them and I shuddered to think that they’d now turn yellow and quietly rot away at the bottom of my produce-packed crisper drawer. There was the garlic scape pesto option, but I already had a batch of kale pesto taking care of that culinary need (esp. when it came to egg sandwiches–highly recommend!).

And so, as I often do, I turned to Google, and Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Garlic Scape Soup–calling for a perfectly portioned two dozen scapes–came to the rescue.

Garlic Scape Soup

Garlic Scape Soup
Only slightly proportionally adapted from Super Natural Cooking (My potatoes were quite large and I like a thinner soup.)

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (I am loving the California Olive Ranch brand lately. It has a strong, almost grassy taste.)
24 garlic scapes, flowers removed and chopped
3 large russet potatoes, cubed (no need to peel)
5-6 cups vegetable broth
3 cups spinach
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat oil and sauté scapes for a few minutes. Next, add potatoes and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potato cubes break apart easily when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add spinach, and puree the soup (an immersion blender is really the way to go here). Add lemon juice, milk, salt and pepper, and continue to blend until well combined. Adjust seasoning. You may need to add additional salt until, as Heidi puts it, “the flavors really pop.”

Spring Pea and Asparagus Soup


It’s time again to play “Last Week’s Supper Is This Week’s Soup”!

It’s not quite as desperate as it sounds. I like this game because it’s teaching me a lot about combining various in-season vegetables and neatly preventing me from having to waste any leftover produce even after the first or second dish I needed it for has long since been consumed.

This week I was also able to introduce a new player into the basket–peas! As I have been not hesitant to mention, the debut of fresh peas at the local farmers market is particularly exciting to me. I quickly claimed 2 lbs., as if the ladies standing around me were a threat and might snatch them all away before I could make my purchase.

Home again I checked the fridge only to realize I’d “lost” a bunch of asparagus from last week in the bottom of the crisper drawer. But there it had sat, well wrapped but without water for quite a few days. I also came up with some mint and a few spring onions. These forces combined, I had a soup bursting with bright green color and all the refreshing and energizing taste I was hoping to capture.

Green Spring Pea and Asparagus Soup

4 spring onions, sliced
one bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed and spears cut into 1″ pieces
3 cups fresh peas
4 cups vegetable broth
handful of mint leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Place broth in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Add asparagus and onion to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add peas and cook 3 minutes more. Remove pot from heat, add in the mint, salt, and pepper, and puree. Stir in the buttermilk and adjust seasonings as needed. Enjoy warm or chilled.

Green Spring Pea and Asparagus Soup

Pretty in Pink Week: Cold Summer Beet Soup


Due to market produce selection, it’s shaping up to be something of a pretty in pink week here in Wonderland. Beets…strawberries…grapefruit juice…purple potatoes (yeah, but close enough relations?). Even before I did the shopping, I was already gazing into the refrigerator to assess the inventory and dreaming in Pantones.

What I already had on hand due to the previous week’s cooking: three perfectly roasted beets; half a bottle of buttermilk; one cup of thick yogurt; one bunch of spring onions; a cucumber and some dill; plus a few remaining pickled ramps floating around in jar of brine that was so sweet and tangy and delicious it would be criminal to not put it to some use.

Cold Summer Beet Soup

I mention this because as soon as I saw the Šaltibarščiai soup recipe in Canning for a New Generation, I started in on the Googling and realized that I wouldn’t be able to make a soup a Lithuanian Bubby would recognize, but I might just come up with a tasty “inspired by” summer dish. Plan formed, I went to work with my knife.

Cold Summer Beet Soup
heavily inspired by Canning for a New Generation, internet research, and the contents of my refrigerator

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or kefir)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup strained or Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, seeded and diced into small cubes
2 large cooked beets, peeled and diced into small cubes
1 spring onion, finely sliced and chopped a few times
2-3 T sweet pickle brine or rice vinegar (to taste)
2 T dill, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
black pepper

Really, once you’ve completed the knife work required (as indicated above), you’re pretty much done. Reserve some of the beet and cucumber pieces for garnish, if desired. Place all remaining prepared ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

Cold Summer Beet Soup

Soup can be made in advance and kept chilled. Flavors meld, but also be forewarned that the beets will continue to bleed into the broth. By dinner last night, Brian was a little freaked out by the “Barbie corvette” tone the evening’s soup course had taken on.