Sunday, August 22, 2010

White almond gazpacho, with homemade croutons

I am writing this post for three reasons. First, the soup is fabulous. We had it about 23 years ago in Seville when Amy was pregnant with Maya at a rather touristy restaurant with surprisingly good food, and it blew us away (except that the version we had used raisins and the recipe below uses grapes, which are far better....) and have been meaning to make it since. There is a wonderful recipe in Penelope Casas' 1983 and still classic The Food and Wines of Spain, perhaps the first really authentic Spanish cookbook widely distributed in the US. Second, because we finally did make it last week at Maya's last Shabbat dinner at home before moving to Madison on Thursday, and everyone loved it, and our niece Sarah keeps asking me to post the recipe. Finally, my friend and former colleague Del posted some disparaging remarks about croutons on her Facebook page, and I thought that the technique below for making your own might change her mind.

You might ask why, when tomatoes are at their absolute peak in the Northeast, we made almond gazpacho which can be made year-round. It is a legitimate question. I think we just finally wanted to try this version, and serving it when Maya was about to move away seemed like a fitting way of completing one particular circle in our lives. . You might also ask whether this is really a gazpacho. Remember that tomatoes only came to the Mediterranean after Columbus, and it took a while to get incorporated into people's cooking. This soup, which the Spanish call ajo blanco, or white garlic, if probably older than the tomato gazpacho we are all familiar with. It is probably based on an earlier, far less elegant soup which was basically stale bread soaked in olive oil and water and seasoned with vinegar and garlic. (Sounds really appetizing, doesn't it?) Also, this version is REALLY good in hot weather, and this summer has been nothing if not hot. You might also ask, is it easy? What's easy? To me this is an easy recipe because you can (and must) make it in advance, because cooking is a meditative act, and because you can listen to music or the radio while you are doing it. So what if you have to make croutons and peel 40-60 grapes? Anyway, here it is:

White almond gazpacho

  • 6-8 ounces day old peasant-style white bread, crusts removed (I used half of a ciabatta-- the important thing is that the bread is white and not sweet; this is the equivalent of about 6-8 largish slices)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • 8 ounces blanched almonds (slivers puree the most easily)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher or coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4-6 tablepoons sherry vinegar (start with the lower amount and stir in more after you taste, since sherry vinegar can be more acidic)
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • homemade croutons (recipe below)
  • 40-60 peeled seedless grapes, more if you want, depending on your patience (you can use red or green grapes, since there isn't much difference once you peel them)
  1. The day before you make the soup, trim the crusts off the bread, leaving as much of the white part as you can. Leave the bread overnight, ideally in a paper bag or wrapped loosely in a napkin or paper towel. (A plastic bag won't do the trick here. I used half of a large ciabatta, and had the rest left for croutons.)
  2. The next day, with the motor running, drop the peeled garlic cloves into a food processor through the feeder tube. It should atomize them nicely. (You can also use a blender, but given the quantity of soup, I think that a processor works better here.)
  3. Add the almonds and salt and grind.
  4. Soak the bread in cold water very briefly, squeeze it out, and then add to the processor and puree. (I am not sure why recipes tell you to use stale bread and then soak it, but it always seems to work.)
  5. Drizzle in the oil through the feeder tube, with the motor running.
  6. Add 4 tablespoons of the vinegar.
  7. Depending on the size and shape of the machine that you are using, and the exact quantity of ingredient, it may or may not be a puree at this point. Don't worry. All things in time.
  8. With the motor still running add 2 cups of the water slowly through the feeder tube keep adding water until the mixture purees nicely, and let it run until smooth.
  9. Remove from the processor to a large bowl and slowly stir in the rest of the water. Taste for salt and vinegar. Add more vinegar if you want, and you will probably want to.
  10. Pour the soup through a strainer into a serving bowl, pressing out the solids left in the strainer, and also scraping the outside of the strainer to get all the puree. It will be the texture of a tahini sauce or a cream soup.
  11. Chill several hours or overnight. The soup should be very cold.
  12. Peel the grapes. I thought that freezing them and then running boiling water over them would make them easier to peel, but it didn't seem to help. It just requires patience and doesn't take that long. Get a friend to help or listen to some music.
  13. To serve, put a few croutons and some grapes in a bowl and ladle the soup over it. This recipe serves 10-12 and can be halved easily.

Homemade croutons: This is more of a method than a recipe. Slice up some non-sweet bread about 1/2 inch thick. I used the same ciabatta that I used for the soup. There is no need to remove the crusts here, but I find that most presliced bread is too thin for good croutons. Let the bread dry overnight in a paper bag or napkin. Don't use a plastic bag, which just seems toughen the bread. The next day, smash a few cloves of garlic and rub over both side of each slice of bread. Cut into cubes. Line a baking sheet with foil, spray with olive oil spray, and then add the croutons and spray them well. (You could just toss the croutons in olive oil but I find the spray works very well and coats them more evenly. Besides, you have to save calories somewhere.) Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 20 minutes until brown, turning if you have the patience about half way through. The time is approximate, and depends on how densely packed the pan is and the oven you are using. I find that this works well in a toaster oven, but you have to watch it very carefully since the croutons are so close to the heating element, so you may want to lower the heat to 300. Use the croutons in soups or salads, you will find that they bear little resemblance to the ones you buy in boxes or bags (though I sometimes like these too, especially when they get soggy in Ceasar salad.) You can follow the same method with slices of baguette, which forms the basis of either crostini or makes a great addition to soups, especially a minestrone made without pasta. You can make these croutons with any non-sweet bread, though for the white gazpacho, a white loaf is preferred.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Adobo fried rice

"What smells so good? " are Andrew's first words upon waking up at what for him is the relatively early hour (on days when he does not work in the mornings) of 1 pm.

"Fried rice, and I finished it" was my honest response.

"Oh , that did smell really good though, what I woke up to." (Andrew usually speaks in complete sentences when he is fully conscious.)

It was my lunch, a fried rice made with what was left of the chicken adobo from last Friday's dinner. I can't decide if I prefer the torta (Mexican style sandwich in my last entry) or the fried rice to use up the leftover chicken. The rice certainly works better if there are only scraps left. Here is the recipe:

Chicken adobo fried rice, to serve one

  • 1-2 tablespoons chicken fat from the top of the leftovers (it will solidify and come off nicely)
  • 1 handful sliced scallions, all the white and some of the green
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic from the adobo, mashed
  • A few scraps of chicken, off the bone, diced to give about 1/2 cup
  • 1-2 cups leftover white rice, at least a day old
  • 3-4 tablespoons adobo gravy
  • 1 egg
  1. Heat the chicken fat is a nonstick skillet on medium heat until melted. (You may also use an impecabbly seasonsed wok or cast-iron skillet, but I never seem to get my utensils to such a level.)
  2. Add the scallions and saute until soft, and brown lightly if you wish.
  3. Meanwhile, warm the gravy and chicken in a microwave for about a minute just to liquify and make it easier to work with.
  4. Remove the cloves of garlic, mash, add to the scallions and saute for a minute or so.
  5. Add chopped up chicken and saute to warm and brown lightly if you wish.
  6. Add rice, turn heat up to high, and stir fry until hot.
  7. Add the adobo gravy and cook until absorbed by the rice.
  8. Beat the egg with a pinch of salt.
  9. Move the rice to the side, making a hole in the center. If it seems dry, add a bit more fat or some oil.
  10. Add the egg and saute until almost firm., then stir into the rice,
  11. Enjoy.
Note: This recipe can be multiplied, but not too many times. There has to be room in the skillet to saute it properly.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chicken Adobo and the 59th Street Bridge Song

We had our friends Chris, Melissa and their eight-year old son Gabe over to Friday dinner last week, and served Chicken Adobo, a Filipino chicken dish which will be familiar to frequent readers of this blog since I have adopted some of the method to other cuisines. (Stew the chicken without browning, and then broil at the end. You get crisp skin and less mess.)

Both of my kids have been sleepaway counselors for eight-year olds, and there is a particular endearing goofiness to that demographic. My daughter's campers would wake up in the morning and ask "Is it time for dinner yet?" We lit candles and Gabe asked "Is it Hanukah?" When we uncovered the challah, he wanted to know "Where's the matzah?" Perhaps a better analogy than my daughter's campers would be our Russian cousins, who immigrated to the US a few days before Pesach in 1993 and wanted to bring a challah to our seder. (Not that I should talk. We discussed, and avoided discussing, lighting Shabbat candles for 12 years before actually doing it.) Anyway, we spare our guests and never sing on Shabbat, other than kiddush, not zemirot (after dinner songs), not even Shalom Aleichem before dinner. But Gabe treated us to a rousing performance of Simon and Garfunkel's 59th Street Bridge song ("Feeling groovy") after dinner, which actually struck me as the sweetest of all possible zemirot, and perfectly descriptive of the purpose of the day.

Chris wanted me to post the recipe for the Chicken Adobo. I had a few qualms about copyright infringement, since I didn't consider my recipe sufficiently original, but I really shouldn't since if you change an ingredient or the method it does qualify as a new recipe. This is also a good opportunity to plug the two cookbooks from which I derive the recipe: Reynaldo Alejandro's The Philippine Cookbook, and Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan's luminous Memories of Philippine Kitchens, which is travelogue, memoir and anthropology as well as a cookbook. Amy and Romy are also the owners of the late lamented Cendrillon which used to be our favorite restaurant, and current owners of Purple Yam, which might be if it were not in yenem velt (Ditmas Park). Beside, other than Chicken w Sumac (see my earlier blog entry) Chicken Adobo is one of the dishes with the highest satisfaction relative to cost and effort. Here is how I make it:

Chicken Adobo

  • 1 chicken, cut into 10-12 pieces (the breasts of poor chickens are so overgrown nowadays that they take so long to cook so I cut them in half)
  • 12-30 cloves of garlic (ideally fresh smashed and peeled, but pre-peeled are fine and that is what I used last week -- smash them a bit if it makes you feel better; I usually use about 25 for one chicken, depending on size of garlic and chicken)
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 2-4 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoons rosemary, crumbled a bit between your fingers
  • 1 or two whole dried red chili peppers (omit if you are serving small children)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (see below)
  • 3/4 cup vinegar (see below)
  • 1 can coconut milk (optional but nice; it smooths out some of the harsh edges of the vinegar. I used "lite" -- use full fat or make your own if you are up for it.)
  1. Put the chicken in a pot.
  2. Add the seasonings.
  3. Pour the liquids over the top. You can marinate it for a few hours or overnight but it really isn't necessary.
  4. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
  5. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes until the chicken in barely done.
  6. Remove the chicken to an oven-safe serving dish, skin side up.
  7. Broil 6 inches from the heat until the skin is crisp. (If you have time, you can broil skin side down, which will crisp the bones a bit, and then turn skin side up to finish. Be careful not to overcook.)
  8. Meanwhile, boil the liquid down over high heat until reduced at least by half, and more if you have time.
  9. Skim some fat off the gravy (I usually don't bother, pour it over the chicken and serve.
  10. Ideally, serve at once, but it can keep for a while covered in a warm oven and reheats well too.
  11. That's it. Serve with rice.
Soy Sauce: The better the soy sauce, the better the dish. (The same goes for the chicken.) A good aged soy would be wonderful, but frankly, I generally use Kikkoman. It is nice to substitute a tablespoon or two of Bragg's aminos' a soy-sauce like product with wonderful umami flavors for some of the soy sauce. IF you like the dish a bit sweet, substitute a tablespoon or so of kecap manis, Indonesian sweet soy sauce, or just add a spoon or two of brown sugar.

Vinegar: Some recipes call for plain white vinegar, which I think is boring. I have seem others which ask for balsamic, which is too much, and lots of balsamic doesn't taste all that good, and the good stuff might be overwhelmed in this dish. I tend to use apple cider vinegar, especially a fruity kind rather than supermarket standard. Again, Bragg's makes a wonderful cider vinegar. Sherry vinegar is also good in this, but expensive, so I used 1/2 cup of cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of sherry vinegar.

A nice treat with leftovers: This dish is great reheated and served with rice, and it will be very easy to remove the extra fat which will have hardened on top. For a real treat though, make a Filipino version of a torta, a Mexican sandwich. Since Mexicans also make their own chicken adobo, this seems like a nice thing to do. Take a crusty long roll or a section of French bread and toast it lightly. Meanwhile, warm some chicken and garlic cloves in a microwave for a minute or two. Mash the garlic cloves and spread on the bread. Put the chicken on top, add sliced avocado, red onion, and some cilantro if you want, and enjoy.