Monday, July 21, 2014

Indian Spiced Tomato Soup

I've been thinking about the tomato soup from Kerala Indian Restaurant  in Kyoto, Japan since the day I tried it. As I mentioned in my original post about the restaurant, the owner spent years developing the recipe for this soup. He is Japanese born to an Indian father and Japanese mother. He also spent a significant time in England, working at both a French and Italian high-end restaurant. He ended up returning to his home town, and took over his father's successful Indian restaurant. In a way, you can taste the story of his life in this soup.

It's a soup that has Indian, French, and Italian flavors. It's a soup that cannot be improved upon. It's a soup that was developed by someone with passion, curiosity, and an incredible palate. Like many things in Japan, it's a soup made with precision, care, pride, and love.

After tasting it, I knew I would try to recreate it back in the States. I also knew that I wouldn't come close. That didn't matter; if I could make something remotely similar to what I had, it would still be worth eating.

So I made the soup... and no, it's not the same. It's still damn good. It's curiously spiced and satisfying. There's nothing wrong with classic creamy tomato soup, but if you're looking for a soup with more depth of flavor and unusual spices, this recipe is worth a go.

If you don't have all of the spices in your pantry you can skip some of them. But don't skip the cinnamon stick... that's the secret ingredient!

And if you find yourself in Kyoto... got to Kerala Indian Restaurant and order the large portion of the soup.

Indian Spiced Roasted Tomato Soup
Serves 10

14 medium-small very ripe tomatoes, or about 2.5 lbs. worth fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 quart vegetable stock (homemade if possible)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 12-oz can tomatoes (Mutti brand)
1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
2 teaspoons ground pepper
3-4 tablespoons brown sugar or honey (or to taste)
1/2 cup half & half

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Slice your tomatoes in half. Lay them cut side down on a lined sheet tray. Place them in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until roasted and soft.

While your tomatoes are roasting, you can start on the base of your soup. In a large soup pot on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and one diced onion. Sauté your onion until softened, about 6-8 minutes. Once softened, to the onion add the minced garlic, ground coriander, cumin, cardamom and turmeric. Sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Then, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste until the bits of onion are well coated, about 30 seconds. Next, add 1 quart vegetable stock (I prefer homemade, but get low-sodium if it's store bought). Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, and bay leaf to the liquid. Finally, add salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons of sugar or honey. Depending on the tomatoes, you might need more sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomato. Start in small amounts, and add more later if needed. You can always add the sweetener later, but it's hard to take it away once you've put it in the pot.

Once the tomatoes are roasted, add them, their juices, and the canned tomatoes to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low and allow the soup to simmer for 30 minutes until all the flavors meld together. Using an immersion blender, or a regular blender, puree the soup until smooth.

Finally, add the half & half to the pot. Taste the soup and add more salt, pepper, or even half & half depending on your preference.

If you want to make the soup non-dairy, I think it would taste very good with coconut milk, or a non-dairy creamer. Taste and adjust the amounts according to your liking. Alternatively, you could just add more vegetable stock.

Serve hot, ideally with some fresh garlic naan bread, or a melty grilled cheese.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Berry Trifle

I made this red, white, and blue dessert for the 4th, but I don't see any reason why one shouldn't want to make this at any point when berries are in season. Actually, you could make this all year with whatever seasonal fruit you find delicious and complimentary to cake and cream.

The thing about trifle is there are a lot of cheats and its endlessly versatile. Certainly, there are trifle purists out there who know better than I do, but in my humble opinion, make trifle however you please. If you aren't in the mood to make things from scratch, you can buy pre-made pound/sponge cake and whipped cream (or whipped topping). If you don't feel like using traditional jelly or custard, you can skip those things (I did). If you don't have fancy liqueur on hand, use fruit juice instead. Then it's just a matter of layering the things you have chosen to use in a dish or bowl. It's nice if the serving dish you're using is clear so that you can see the pretty layers, but anything that will hold cake, fruit, and cream will suffice.

For this recipe, I made my own lemon pound cake (recipe below), I chose to drizzle the cake with Chambord instead of Cointreau (raspberry liqueur instead of orange liqueur), and I made a whipped cream with very little sugar. The mix of subtle lemon and raspberry flavors worked well together, and although certainly decadent, there's something refreshing about this this dessert.

Berry Trifle with Lemon Cake
Serves 10-12

1 8-inch loaf lemon cake (or vanilla pound cake), cut into 2 x 2 x 1.5-inch pieces
1 16-ounce container organic whipping cream (you'll end up with extra)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 quarts strawberries
3 pints blueberries
2 pints raspberries
6 tablespoons Chambord (or Cointreau, or another fruit liqueur)

Start by prepping your trifle ingredients.

Wash your berries, and lay them out to dry on paper towels. Trim the ends off of the strawberries.

Cut your cake into squares or any shape you like best.

In a stand mixer or using a handheld blender or whisk, whip together 1 16-ounce container of organic whipping cream, with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1-2 teaspoons sugar. I don't like super sweet whipped cream, if you prefer yours sweet, add more sugar. You can taste the mixture as it whips and add more accordingly. Once whipped, reserve in the fridge. You can substitute homemade whipped cream with a store bought whipped topping.

In a trifle dish or medium sized glass bowl, or whatever thing you want to put all these delicious ingredients into, start layering your ingredients in the following way:

  1. Layer the cut up cake in the bottom of the dish. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of Chambord over the cake. 
  2. Slice strawberries and layer them evenly over the first layer of cake.
  3. Put another layer of cut up cake over the strawberries. Drizzle the cake with 3 more tablespoons of Chambord. 
  4. Add a layer of blueberries on top of the cake
  5. Add a layer of whipped cream onto the berries 
  6. Add another layer of sliced strawberries onto the whipped cream
  7. Add another layer of whipped cream onto the strawberries
  8. Decoratively top the the cake with raspberries, remaining strawberries and blueberries

Chill 2-3 hours before serving, or up to 8 hours. 
Scoop and serve!

For the Lemon Cake...
I adapted Ina's recipe and it makes 2 loaves. I only needed one loaf for the trifle, so you could halve this recipe, or make the whole thing and have the joy of an extra cake in the house.

Lemon Cake
Very slightly adapted from Ina Garten

Makes 2 (8-inch loaves)

for the cake:
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temp
zest of 4-5 large lemons
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 2 (8.5 x 4.25 x 2.5-inch) loaf pans.

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes (you can also do this with a hand mixer).

Don't skip this step. Having your ingredients at room temp, and taking the time to whip your sugar and butter into something light and fluffy are two key components to successful cake baking.

With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, and then add the lemon zest. Beat together for another 30 second or 1 minute.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. In another bowl combine 1/4 cup of lemon juice, the buttermilk and the vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter. Begin and end with the flour mixture. Blend until just incorporated and be careful not to over mix at this stage. Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a cake tester (or bamboo skewer) comes out clean)

While the cake is baking, combine 1/4 cup of granulated sugar with the remaining 1/2 cup of of lemon juice. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the mixture until the sugar has fully dissolved. Turn off the heat and reserve.

Once the cakes are done, allow them to cool in their pans for 10 minutes. Take them out of their pans and place them on a cooling rack set on a sheet pan. Spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes while they are still warm. Allow the cakes to cool completely.