Saturday, September 12, 2009
The Student's Salvation: Kasha-Kale Soup with Roasted Walnuts
I've never been a huge fan of September, to be honest.
Lacking both the sweat-inducing, purifying heat of August and the autumnal colors and crisp chill of October, September is nothing more than four weeks that defy prediction, a month eternally in transition. Pair that with the general pension for dampness that this year's weather has supplied, and you could be forgiven for thinking that, at least meteorologically, the next three weeks have a less than rosy outlook to them.
That's not to say that all is lost, of course. For as any cook knows, when the temperature starts to drop, and the rain keeps drizzling outside, and you slip that first fall sweater over your shoulders, the concurrence of those events can only mean one thing -- it's time for soup.
I've been tossing around ideas for this recipe for quite a while, actually. September, as I'm sure you're well aware, also marks the start of the academic year at both high schools and universities alike (at least one point in the month's favor). For graduate students such as the Pasta Burner and myself, this means busier schedules and long days out of the house; returning to the house before 9 PM is a major victory. As a result, there's less time to cook, and the food that is available quickly (take-out, food trucks, sandwiches from the local deli) is often less than nutritious.
By comparison, this recipe, with metabolism-regulating buckwheat, Vitamin A and C from the kale, and Omega-3 fatty acids from the walnuts, provides a wallop of healthful nutrients. Sounds scary? Let me break it down for you -- this soup will help give you energy to study for hours on end, protect you from the common cold, and improve your brain function. Sounds like exactly what any student needs, right?
Furthermore, by making a big pot of soup during the weekend, you can guarantee that a healthy, and yes, fast dinner is always at your fingertips. Don't want to eat the same soup for three or four days? Invest in a number of quart Tupperware containers and freeze half of every batch you make. By December -- when we'll have had several new soup recipes posted here -- you'll have a variety of fantastic, homemade soups to choose from any day of the week.
Oh, and did I mention it's freaking delicious? Yeah. That too.
I'm already getting hungry. Let's get to it.
Kasha-Kale Soup with Roasted Walnuts
1 cup Kasha (roasted buckwheat)
1 head Lacinato (or other) Kale
3 quarts Beef Stock (or 5 if not using beef ribs)
2 Quarts of Water (skip water if not using beef ribs)
1 Head Garlic
5 Sprigs Thyme
2 Leeks, well-washed
2 Large Vidalia Onions
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Cognac (optional)
1 to 2 pounds Beef Spare Ribs (optional, see Editor's Note #2)
2 Cups Walnuts
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, split
[Editor's Note: There are several substitutions that can be made here. While I myself like the combination of the buckwheat and walnuts, any number of whole grains can be substituted in. Just off the top of my head, Pearl Barley, Quinoa, or Spelt would all be nice choices. Additionally, other dark leafy greens can be brought in for those that don't care for the texture of kale -- spinach provides many of the same nutrients with a thinner, softer leaf.]
[Editor's Note #2: If you can get your hands on beef ribs for this recipe, do so. Odds are your local butcher (or even your supermarket) has plenty of them, and cheap. If they have a bone saw, have them slice the rubs into half, across the bone; this will help leech all the good gelatin and marrow out into the broth. The addition of the ribs makes all the difference between good soup and great soup; both the flavor and mouthfeel of the broth will benefit.]
Start by prepping all your veggies and preheating your oven to 400 degrees F.
First, clean your leeks. Slice them in half, lengthwise, removing and discarding the outside layer.
Additionally, chop off and toss out any leathery, rough, dark green parts of the vegetable, as they will be tough to chew and unpalatable.
Finally, run the leeks under a sink to rinse out any sand or dirt that might have gathered in them. Next, take your kale, removing the hard, fibrous core that runs up the middle of each leaf. This, too, is unpalatable.
Finally, peel your onions. Chop all three vegetables into very rough, 1" squares; we don't want it to dissolve into the broth, but each piece should be able to fit on a spoon as well.
From here, we can start to cook. Pour two Tablespoons of the olive oil into a very large, deep pot over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer, add in your beef ribs (if you're using them). Cook them until they start to brown, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Next, add in your chopped onions and leeks. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they both soften, turn translucent, and just begin to brown (about 10 minutes).
Peel the cloves from your head of garlic, keeping them whole and intact.
Add them, along with the Tablespoon of brown sugar and the leaves from the thyme sprigs, to the onions, leeks, and bone pieces. Stirring constantly to avoid burning, keep cooking the onions/leeks/ribs/garlic/sugar mixture until the sugar melts (about 2 minutes, max). If your garlic starts to brown, move to the next step immediately (the last thing we want is burned garlic).
If you're using it -- and I hope you are -- here's where you should add in your two Tablespoons of cognac. This will serve to deglaze the pan and provide a great depth of flavor. Use your spoon or spatula to scrape up any good brown fond that has collected on the bottom of the pot.
Within 30 seconds of adding the booze, pour in your beef stock and water. Of course, you could always make this soup entirely vegan by both skipping the beef ribs and using vegetable stock. Just keep in mind that you also can drive a car using only your feet -- I just can't guarantee that you're going to get the best results.
Bring the soup up to a slow simmer, reduce heat to low, and cover the pot. Let it cook for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, it's time to roast your walnuts! Throw the walnuts, the rest of the olive oil, the cayenne, a healthy dusting of black pepper, and a pinch of salt onto a cookie sheet, mixing well with your hands. Place the pan in the oven and roast the walnuts until they're well toasted, and crisp, about 10 minutes. Check on them about halfway through to give every thing a quick stir.
Take your pan out of the oven and allow the walnuts to cool. Turn off the oven.
After the hour of simmering has passed, uncover your pot. If there is any oil from the ribs on top, skim it off. We don't want greasy soup. Add in your kasha...
Stir to mix, cover once more, and cook for an additional hour, checking on it every once in a while. At the end of the hour, remove the ribs (this is why you need the bone either whole or in big chunks). Use a pairing knife to remove the meat from the sides of the ribs, and chop it well. Return the chopped meat to the broth and discard the bones (or make your puppy very happy).
And that's it! Pour the soup into bowls and serve it with slices of swiss cheese, crackers, and good mustard or paté. A picture of the final product:
Although it takes a a little while to make, this is one of those great low-maintenance recipes, the perfect thing to let putter away in the kitchen during a long, rainy afternoon. The soup is satisfying, but never heavy; the addition of the walnuts, in particular, adds substance without weight. As for the interplay of the flavors here, you'll find it's quite wonderful -- the nuttiness of the walnuts and buckwheat, the sticky richness of the beef broth, the slight bitterness of the kale, the broad, rounded base notes of the cognac -- everything plays in concert, warming you from top to toes.
It's soup season, folks. Break out the wool socks and have yourself a bowl.
Video: Warner Brothers -- "Duck Soup to Nuts"