Yum, Yum, Yum

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It feels like the summer is coming to an end, at least here in Amsterdam, where the gray days have started, the wind feels cooler and the fall jackets are starting to come out of the closets. I know it’s early but that is the nature of the this beast called the Netherlands. The weather may not be spectacular, but many other things are pretty wonderful here. Today I read a quote somewhere on FB which reminded me of the give and takes of life, which in the Netherlands you can interpret pretty literally: “If you want the rainbows, you’ve got to put up with the rain.” I am willing to embrace the rain in exchange for the beautiful canals, the mix and match of people and styles, the variety of foods and the typical down to earth Dutch attitude of which they seem so proud.
Yesterday in an attempt to hold on to the summer vegetables and dishes I came up with a delicious gazpacho which I have to share with you. Have you ever thought of combining roasted red peppers and a very ripe mango? Well it seems like a marriage made in heaven! The sweetness of the roasted peppers and the mango really complement each other, neither sticks out or tries to control the other, and even the colors don’t cancel each other out, they create a beautifully intense shade of orange. By the way orange is the national Dutch color and since I seem to be ranting on about the qualities of this adoptive country of mine, the color of this soup seems like a funny and appropriate bonus.
The basil pesto with roasted almonds adds that extra texture which makes this soup a notch chiquer. The super bonus is how easy it is to put together this bomb of color, texture and taste.

Roasted Red Pepper-Mango Gazpacho
5 roasted red bell peppers(I roasted the peppers in the oven until they turned pretty black, it took about 15 minutes, then I peeled and seeded them)
1 large mango peeled and cut in chuncks
1/2 -1 cup water
1/2 tsp sea salt

-put all the ingredients in the blender and blend until the mixture is smooth and uniform

Roasted Almond Basil Pesto
a handful of basil leaves
1 clove of garlic crushed and minced
about 3 tbs roasted almonds
1/4 cup great quality olive oil
sea salt to taste
1 tsp of sumac (optional)

-make the pesto by hand with a mortar and pestle
-first crush the basil, garlic, oil and salt then add the almonds
-crush until you get a unified consistency, but the almonds still feel crunchy
-sprinkle with sumac if desired, for a tangy taste and mix well

Spoon the pesto in the individual soup servings

Today’s Breakfast Ideas

Today is Anna’s birthday. She was born on a sunny northern evening in Utrecht 12 years ago on friday the 13th. At 6.30 a.m. This morning I went down to the kitchen to hang op the flags and make the kitchen look a bit festive for breakfast. Breakfast was simple, because she likes simple: miso soup, rice porridge, freshly made almond milk, a fruit compote which was actually nothing else than the leftover filling from yesterday’s Fruit Bag, blanched Chinese cabbage and some extra stuff like Nori and gomasio which some of us put on the porridge and crunchy muffins with millet.
After sitting around the table for a couple of hours talking about a newspaper interview with philosopher Alain de Botton about the purpose of art and not agreeing on anything we made our way to Amsterdam to sit around in the Vondelpark with more food of course! This time I didn’t make anything, sometimes it is physically impossible to have time and desire to do everything…. We bought ourselves a picnic. In Amsterdam there are some great places where it is pretty easy to collect stuff for a wholesome and delicious picnic. First we went to Marqt, a supermarket started by a Dutch man who was inspired by the American Whole Food stores. There they have fantastic sourdough bread(the crunchy, soft not sour type!), spreads and great organic fruit and veggies. Then we got some excellent burritos at Tomatillo, my favorite Mexican place in Amsterdam. Everything was organic, fresh and a big treat.

20130713-193439.jpgThis recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe

2 cups spelt flour
1/2 tsp salt
11/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 mashed banana or 1/4 cup applesauce to replace 1 egg
1 tbs. chia seeds
3/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup uncooked millet
1/3 coconut sugar or succanat
1 cup soy milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbs melted coconut oil

-combine all the dry ingredients
-mix the soy milk with the banana pure or applesauce
-pour milk mixture along with the coconut oil into the flour mixture
-stir well and pour into a greased muffin tins
-bake in a preheated oven at 190* for about 20 to 25 minutes
-cool before taking out of tin

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This is a very simple version of miso soup, very convenient for mornings when there is rush. It feels good to drink and it can be a good way to start the day.

4 cups of water
1/2 carrot cut in matchsticks
1 small onion cut in half moons
1 tbs instant(dried) wakame
1 tbs rice miso
-boil water
-add vegetables
-when the veggies are cooked dissolve the miso in some of the broth in a separate cup
-pour dissolved miso into the pan
-simmer but don’t let it boil
-garnish with thinly sliced spring onions or chopped parsley

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For this recipe look at the recipe of the filling of the Fruit Bag, just cook this filling at very low heat, maybe using a flame deflector for a long time, maybe an hour,checking regularly to make sure is not burning and that it has enough liquid.

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Blanch the cabbage and sprinkle it with Umesu or umeboshi vinegar

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“Art helps us to live and to die.”

Works of art can make our life better, partly because we recognize the emotions and partly because we get reacquainted with emotions that we had lost. We are so often forced to be strong, that we become worse at being soft and kind. Art invites us to be kind again.

my translation from an article in today’s Volkskrant newspaper

The Onion goes Solo

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Making onion soup is easy! It is not only easy but also rewarding in many ways. First of all onions are not expensive, and this soup uses very few ingredients, which makes it possible to make it when your pantry is almost empty. Second, there is something very basic and homey about onions, usually this lovely vegetable plays an indispensable supporting role in an infinite number of dishes, which makes it almost touching to feature it as protagonist in this story. When the onion goes “solo” people listen. The third reason for my case for the onion is the variety of tastes that it provides depending on how is it is prepared. Cutting the onion in thin half moons, and letting it cook for a long time brings about a transformation in taste and effect. How can a vegetable that is by nature sharp, that can make you cry when you fiddle around with it, turn so sweet, so agreeable and humble? Well the onion can do that given the proper script.

Onion Soup

about 2 onions per person, peeled and cut in very thin half moons
olive oil for sautéing the onions
vegetables broth or water with a bouillon cube

-in a pan with a thick bottom pan sauté the onions in the olive oil, use a low fire and stir regularly. This will take from 45 minute to an hour.
-when the onions are caramelized add the liquid. If you want a thick soup add enough water to cover the onions, if you want a thinner soup add more liquid.
-serve with pieces of toasted bread which you have toasted in the oven sprinkled with olive oil

The Dancing Soba

Make a broth from water, a bunch of dried shiitakes and a small piece of kombu
Let it simmer for about 15 minutes

Cook a package of soba noodle following the package instructions

In the mean time cut your veggies:
Leeks, paksoy, garlic, carrots(don’t put in the paksoy leaves until the dish is almost ready, stir fry the stems only)

Sauté the vegetables in a wok with a bit of sesame oil

Add soy sauce or tamari to your broth to your own taste
In a cup make a mixture of 4 tbs. of rice vinegar and 4 tbs. of mirin
Add this vinegar mixture to your broth

Let it simmer for a minute and add a mixture of a couple of tsps. of kuzu with a couple of tsps. Of water and stir until the broth gets some body( not thick, just a bit less watery)

Add the paksoy leaves to the wok and let it sit for 1/2 a minute

Serve in bowls, first put the noodles in the individual bowl then pour the veggie soup over it, finish with a couple of drops of roasted sesame oil

*if the noodles have gotten cold while you were preparing the rest you can warm them up by rinsing them with hot tap water

*you can add cubes of fried tofu to the bowls

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Madrina’s Cuban Style Black Bean Soup

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This beautiful combination of Flamenco and Salsa(Bebo & Cigala, Lagrimas Negras) is a reflexion of my heritage, and maybe it will inspire you to add some extra spice to your black beans, it does for me! It’s fantastic music, and will liven up any party.

Madrina’s Cuban Style Black Bean Soup

This black velvety soup has a very sensual and comforting quality to it, the slightly bitter sweet touch of the black beans combined with the tangy tomatoes, smoky chipotle accent and the cilantro garnish gives the dish an exotic down to earth naughtiness.

2 ups dried black beans
1 or 2 onions cut in smallish cubes
3 garlic cloves minced
1 green pepper in large cubes
about 3 or 4 chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
oregano
cumin
2 tbs. olive oil
sea salt
1 tsp. rice vinegar
1/8 of a cup dry sherry
chipotle adobo(optional)
finely cut cilantro or flat leaf parsley

-cook the beans and bay leaf for 45 minutes in a pressure cooker in 2 times the amount of water(if not pressure cooking soak the beans overnight and cook in a regular soup pan until the beans are soft)
-heat the olive oil in a soup pan and saute the garlic, onions and green pepper
-add the oregano and cumin to the pan and saute until the onions begin to soften
-add the tomatoes
-add the cooked beans to the soup pan with extra water if necessary and sea salt
-let the soup cook for 20-30 minutes at low fire.
-add the vinegar, dry sherry and optional chipotle and cook for another 2 minutes
-adjust the salt

A Story

When I was a kid in Cuba I loved listening to my mom tell me stories about her own childhood. One story I particularly remember was about a time when my mother had been quite sick. She had a long recovery period, in which the doctor had advised her to eat very well in order to gain her strength back and continue to grow. At that time my mother didn’t have a good appetite as a result of her illness, and her parents didn’t know what else to do to get her to eat better. Her godmother or “madrina” suggested that she went to spend sometime in the countryside with her, and promised my grandmother that she would have my mother eating in no time. This woman was older and had no children, she had time to spend creating dishes that would please a fussy child like my mom.

The godmother was also fussy herself and very neat. The story goes that for the godmother to make sure that her house was clean she would have my mom go outside the house lay on the floor across the street and look inside her house from a laying position to make sure that there were no difficult to see particles of dust, and that her floor was impeccably shiny and clean.
In spite of her madrina’s obsessive behaviour my mom had a great time during her extended visit. My mom remembers her godmother making black bean soup with a special touch to make it irresistible to her. Her godmother would decorate the soup by making a circle of “platanos maduros fritos” or fried plantains around the edge of the plate. As a child I really loved this story and this dish. To me this soup is comfort food at its best
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