Monday, January 31, 2011

Rib-tickling Pumpkin Coconut Soup

Did you hear the one about the pumpkin and the coconut?

A pumpkin and a coconut walk into a kitchen, and the pumpkin says to the cook, “Make us some soup.” So the cook says, “If you want to be a Martha Stewart recipe, I’ll make you really rich, then I’ll dump the stock.”

Ba dum bum!

A pumpkin walks into a kitchen with a coconut and says to the cook, “Make my friend and me some soup.” So the cook says, “If you want to be a Bernie Madoff stock, I’ll make you really rich, then I'll cook the books.”

Ba dum bum!

Whether you're busting a gut with uproarious laughter or bellyaching about how Lentil Breakdown needs a new writer (not to mention a new cook), you can see there are as many ways to put the funny in that joke as there are ways to put the flavor in this soup. Like a good joke, a good soup needs a strong setup, punchline and delivery. Think of the setup as the soup base, the punchline as the spice, and the delivery as your timing. (Note: a soup should never taste funny or it will make you a laughingstock.)

I made this pumpkin coconut soup by roasting the pumpkin in olive oil and sautéing onions, garlic and ginger in a little olive oil and butter. Since I tend to cook on the low-fat side, I only used water and light coconut milk. For a heartier, more flavorful soup, I suggest using vegetable or chicken broth. For a richer flavor yet, you could use regular coconut milk instead of light. If pumpkins aren't in season, try butternut squash. You can also substitute my trifecta of cumin, coriander and cardamom with curry powder or garam masala. And for more of a Thai taste, you could use lemongrass and fish sauce. Which reminds me.

What's the difference between Bill Clinton and a Thai cook? The Thai cook didn’t inhale lemon grass.

Ba dum bum!


2 ½ pounds roasted pumpkin chunks or butternut squash, juice included

1 TBSP butter

1 TBSP olive oil + more to roast the pumpkin

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-inch piece of ginger, minced

1 ½ tsp cumin*

1 ½ tsp coriander*

1/8 tsp cardamom*

1 ½ tsp salt

4 cups water** (+ more later to thin it out)

1 14 oz can light coconut milk

Shredded unsweetened coconut and cilantro sprigs for garnish

*You can use crushed seeds, but use less than powdered spices. Taste as you go.

**Vegetable or chicken broth can be substituted for water

Cut pumpkin or butternut squash in chunks or wedges, slather it in olive oil and sea salt, and roast it in a pan or two in a 400-degree oven until it is caramelized.

In a Dutch oven, sautée onion till soft, then add garlic and ginger. Add Pumpkin, spices, salt and water. In a few minutes, add the coconut milk. Cook for about 20 - 30 minutes over low heat. Taste as you go. Add water if necessary. When it's almost done, purée in a blender or food processor and put soup back in pot. Adjust seasonings if needed and cook a little longer if adding more spice. Garnish with coconut and cilantro.

Related Posts:

My Martha Stewart “Rustic” Tomato Tart

Bernie Madoff-inspired Cheater’s Lavash Crackers

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ode to a Mom

I saw you nestled in my chai

With Cinnamon, that potent guy

Now I wonder where I’m from

Is he my dad, eh, Cardamom?

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK and Cookies

It is not commonly known that the great Martin Luther King, Jr. had a ferocious sweet tooth. So in honor of his birthday, I have taken it upon myself to translate the subtext of some of his most powerful words into what I think was really on his mind. As one of this country's finest orators, civil rights leaders and proponents of equality, MLK (like Harvey Milk) was a man on a very sweet mission.

Excerpts of ML King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as reinterpreted by Lentil Breakdown:

“I have a dream today.” I have a craving for chocolate and vanilla.

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred." Let us drink from a glass of milk while we eat a cookie.

“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.” We won't be satisfied until our sweet tooths, screaming for sugar, can binge from the same cookie jars as Martha Stewart.

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” but by the ingredients in their baked goods. FYI: my children use 70% Valrhona chocolate and the finest Madagascar vanilla beans.

“I have a dream today." I am dreaming about a fondant frosting of sugar and water that's cooked to the soft-ball stage, cooled slightly, and nonviolently beaten until it is an opaque mass of creamy equality.

“This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country cookie, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing icing.

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village kitchen and every hamlet oven, from every state bakery and every city coffee house, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children creations,

black men double fudge brownies and white men sugar cookies,


rugelach and Gentiles

Rice Krispies Treats

, Protestants snickerdoodles and Catholics biscotti, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Special thanks to Hotcakes Bakes for letting me shoot their cookies.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Travel Bite: Naschmarkt, Vienna

Vienna is a vibrant, sophisticated city with many historical sights, from the world-renowned Vienna Opera House (pictured above) and the Hofburg Imperial Palace, to a myriad of art museums and cafes famous for pastries like the linzer torte. When I visited there a few years ago, one of my favorite places was the city's most popular market and a Viennese institution.

The long, outdoor Naschmarkt was built over the Wien River in the 16th century. It started out as a place that mostly sold milk bottles, and produce was introduced in the late 1700s. Today it has about 120 stands and restaurants with fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, cheeses, olive oils, and a lot of international offerings. It was right across the street from my hotel, which meant that I had to ogle and sample my way through it twice a day when venturing out to catch a cable car or for a walk to the city center. You can see a few action shots of the market here since I didn't seem to take any.

I quickly realized that no olive goes unloved in Vienna.

My new BFF was this BOF (Big Oliven Fladen).

Then I met my newer BFFs, these BOFs.

These photogenic peppers posed in bright regalia when I said, “cheese.”

Not to be outdone, the squashes posed too, dressed in their finest almond hats.

I was admiring them for so long, I got pretty chummy with the chumus (hummus). Click to enlarge and see the flavors.

This exotic dragon fruit was not from these parts.

But the holier-than-thou Emmenthaler was.

I couldn't tell if this was really jackfruit or Emmenthaler with seeds.

Cheese-stuffed grape leaves were new to me. Wilkommen! Pleased to eat you!

Were the grape leaves and cheese-stuffed eggplant separated at birth? Come to momma!

Proof that when you leave the Naschmarkt, you'll be stuffed to the gills. Auf wiedersehen!

For a charming blog with original photos from Vienna, visit Merisi's Vienna for Beginners.

Related Links:

Travel Bite: Great Market Hall, Budapest

Travel Bite: Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Travel Bite: Borough Market, London

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rapini with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Pine Nuts & Feta

This well-versed green will make a rapini artist out of anyone. Rapini. Broccoli rabe. Broccolini. This multi-monikered star is the P. Diddy of the veggie stage. Or is it Puff Daddy? I can’t keep track. Regardless of what you call it, this dark, leafy green has a pungent, full-flavored bite and is packed with B vitamins.

If you're not in a flashy mood, you can simply sautée it in olive oil and garlic, but here I’ve adorned it with some savory bling. Sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and feta cheese make for a bejeweled performance, and you can also trick it out with cannellini or ganbanzo beans. It’ll wear many ingredients well. And the best part? After you’ve scarfed down the whole pan yourself, no one will even notice in those baggy, low-riding pants. Here’s a little R. ditty to get you in the mood:

Rapini Rap

Just ate the whole plate ‘a greens yo, dawg

But you better not think 'a callin’ me a hawg

‘Cause I’m packin’ a weapon, hear what I say?

My mean garlic breath gonna blow you away


1 large bunch rapini, including stalks, roughly chopped

1 TBSP olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned

2 TBSP toasted pine nuts

¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

If the tomatoes are packed in oil, rinse and drain well. Sautée garlic for a minute in oil and add the rapini stalks. Sautée for a couple of minutes and add the rest of the greens. Put the lid on and let it cook over low to medium heat for about 7 to 10 minutes, but check it along the way. When it’s almost done, season with salt and pepper, and add the tomatoes, pine nuts and cheese. Cook another couple of minutes until the rapini is fork-tender.

Makes about 3–4 servings as a side dish or 2 main courses

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Gratitude, and Please Don't Call Me Bubba

After leaving the optician yesterday, I was feeling depressed. I hadn’t really looked at myself in the mirror lately until I started trying on glasses. “Who’s that?” I thought, before realizing it was moi. I was depressed over my new turkey neck, crows' feet, and well, the fact that I needed a special pair of blogging glasses.

So in my misanthropic malaise, I headed to Trader Joe’s. It was New Year’s Eve afternoon, and I knew it would be a madhouse. “Crap! Look at this parking lot!” I yelled to myself. “I could be here till 2012!” Then a spot opened up right before my aging eyes, and with George Costanza-like zeal, I sang my praises to the world. "Look at this spot!" I beamed. "Would you look at it?" I was the chosen one. Out of all the people waiting in that lot, I had won the lotto.

Then as I was strolling with my red shopping cart through the fruits and nuts section, I realized I had declined three invitations for New Year’s eve. What I really wanted to do was stay home, binge on pistachios and work on my blog. Has this social networking turned me anti-social? What happened to real person-on-person interaction? It’s social in a way. I’ve made so many new blogging friends, some of whom I actually see in real life, how could it be a bad thing? Besides, I talked to the real-life cashier. She was nice.

As I was walking out of the store with my groceries, I looked up and saw a woman who looked just like Bill Clinton. Not the young, charismatic Bill Clinton. The elder statesman Bill Clinton. The white-haired, pale-faced, monochromatic Bill Clinton. The skinny, sorta-somber-because-he’s-not-still-president-and-isn’t-aloud-to-eat-fried-food Bill Clinton. Now, I love Bill, but after doing a double take at this lady, I thought, “Whoa. That is not a good look on a woman. She could even pass for Boris Yeltsin.” Then all of a sudden, I snapped out of my funk. I realized I had a lot to be grateful for. Sure, I’m losing my memory, my eyesight, my cheekbones and my marbles, but I have a parking spot, good friends, a bag of pistachios and I don’t look like Bubba. Life is pretty good.

Happy New Year!