Tomato, Okra and Corn Soup

I almost didn’t post today – we’re taking the day off, stretching our weekend to four days – and I keep thinking it’s Saturday (“It is!” says Beloved gleefully. “For the next 3 days!”).

Anyhoo, I thought I’d post a beautiful, completely seasonal recipe today.  It’s a reworked version of one I posted 3 years ago, so it’s not exactly new.  What it is, however, is greatly simplified and somewhat improved.

When I posted this recipe originally in late August of 2011, I had not yet discovered the wonder that is a food mill – I was still peeling and seeding tomatoes by hand and pureeing them in the food processor.  A food mill, either a small one, like I used for this particular dish, or a large one, which is indispensable when making and canning huge batches of tomato or apple sauce,  is an absolutely marvelous gadget and I don’t know how I ever managed without either of them.  Basically, I just cut up the tomatoes we’d gotten that week from the CSA – there was quite a variety of them – and cranked them through the small food mill until I had a beautiful puree.

Sooooo much easier than cutting an X in the bottom of the tomatoes, dropping them in boiling water for a minute, shocking them in ice water, then peeling, cutting them in half, squeezing/digging out the seeds then chopping them by hand or running them through the food processor.  Trust me on this.

At any rate, this not only cut down the preparation and cook time, it also allowed me to increase the ratio of tomatoes to chicken stock, which made for a slightly thicker – and much smoother – soup.  I also increased the amount of sweet corn (we are just swimming in it this year) and used Cajun seasoning rather than just cayenne.

The result was simply out of the world.  It was just delicious and I felt so virtuous as I ate it I could barely stand myself.  Literally everything in it, spices aside, was local – the butter from a local dairy that pastures their cows, the tomatoes and okra from our CSA share, the sweet corn from the tiny farmer’s market where we meet our poultry farmer for eggs during the summer, the chicken stock from the backs and feet of the pastured chickens we get from the same farmer, and that I made and canned myself.  “Fresh” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

In addition to be it being about as local as possible – when you live in the suburbs, at any rate – this soup is incredibly nutritious to boot.  It is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, potassium, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin K, vitamin E, phosphorus, copper, magnesium,  manganese and fiber.  Eat this with a nice salad of fresh greens topped with a tasty homemade dressing, some simply grilled meat and a few Dilly Beans and you’ve got meal that you can feel smug about, too.

Note:  You can, of course, use canned tomato puree if you don’t have a food mill and/or access to tomatoes in season.  If you can’t find fresh okra, frozen should be fine (the same goes for the corn), assuming you can find it without breading.  Depending on how you view the inclusion of certain grains in your diet, this is paleo-friendly as well.  It is certainly gluten-free as written.

Tomato, Okra and Corn Soup. A Southern favorite, this soup is about as seasonal as it gets.  Bring on the late summer harvest!

Click the image to enlarge

Tomato, Okra and Corn Soup
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups tomato puree
  • 4 cups chicken stock or broth, preferably homemade
  • 2 cups sliced okra
  • 2 cups corn kernels, freshly cut from the cob
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, or to taste
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat; cook the onion until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  2. Add the tomato puree, chicken broth, okra and corn; increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir in the Cajun seasoning. Continue cooking until the vegetables are tender and the mucilage has cooked out of the okra, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.
  4. Nutrition (per serving): 216 calories, 6.9g total fat, 15mg cholesterol, 358.2mg sodium, 1153.4mg potassium,34.1g carbohydrates, 5.6g fiber, 14.5g sugar, 9.4g protein

Green Bean and Tomato Salad

I bemoaned on Facebook this morning that, “I will be SO glad when school is back in session so I can eat like an adult again.”

Having The G Man so often this summer has required a lot of kid-friendly meals.  Which suits The Young One just fine – he’s never outgrown his love of chicken nuggets, spaghetti, pizza and meatballs in barbecue sauce over mashed potatoes (last night’s dinner).  Beloved, Darling Daughter and I, on the other hand, are going through quinoa, lamb curry and liver paté withdrawal.

In fact, once the adult palates are all that’s left in the house, liver paté is going to be one of the first things I’m going to make.

At any rate, this past Saturday it was just me and Beloved for dinner.  (Of course it was just me and Beloved for dinner – there was a bushel of green beans to clean and can; do you honestly think there would be a kid anywhere in sight??)  While I was busy with the green beans, Beloved cut up and vacuum sealed three of the four chickens we’d picked up from our poultry farmer a couple of days before.  The fourth chicken was duly spatchcocked, seasoned with s&p and slipped into a Ziploc bag with some buttermilk and fresh tarragon to marinate.

Later that evening, after the beans had (mostly) been dispensed with, Beloved fired up the grill and roasted the chicken along with a couple of ears of fresh sweet corn, and I made this, for a dinner that was so locally sourced I could barely eat it, I was feeling so smug.

Oh, I kid.  I wolfed it down.

Along with the absurd amount of green beans we picked up last week, we also have been getting some lovely cherry tomatoes and red onions from the CSA.  Inspired by a recipe that came with our CSA share last week, I decided to combine the 3 with some fresh rosemary from our garden, although you could use any fresh herb you like (I know at least one of my readers is allergic to rosemary).  One quick balsamic vinaigrette later, we had a wonderfully refreshing, delicious and seasonal salad.

Please let the salad marinate in the fridge for at least an hour before eating to allow the flavors to marry – in fact, if you can remember to make it ahead, this is even better the next day.  I ate the leftovers for 3 days straight, it’s just so yummy.  And this is not only paleo-friendly, if you leave out the honey, which is completely optional, it’s Whole30 compliant, as well as vegan-friendly.

Green Bean and Tomato Salad. A fantastic summer side dish for when fresh green beans and tomatoes are at their best.

Click the image to enlarge

Green Bean and Tomato Salad
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a stock pot; drop in the green beans and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and plunge into a large bowl of ice water until completely cooled.
  2. Drain the beans again and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a large bowl with the tomatoes, onion and rosemary; toss to combine.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar and honey (if using). Add the olive oil, pouring in a thin stream, whisking continually until well-combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Pour the dressing over the green bean mixture and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before tossing again and serving.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 142 calories, 12.2g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 6.4mg sodium, 151.5mg potassium, 8g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 2.7g sugar, 1.3g protein

Beans, Beans and More Peach Preserves

I just wanted to begin today’s post by saying how heartbroken I am about Robin Williams’ tragic death.  I come from an exceedingly dysfunctional family – just about every neurosis known to mankind is represented in some form – but we’re not suicidal, so I can’t begin to even understand what he must have been going through.  The (very intelligent) husband of Beloved’s cousin said that Robin’s death is “a truly sad reminder that brilliance and happiness rarely reside peacefully in the same brain.

That may be true, but it is so incredibly pitiful.  Is Don McLean still around?  This calls for a song – The Day The Laughter Died.

Yes, I’m old.  And very, very sad.

At any rate, I guess I’ll move on to my originally intended post, which should really have been titled “How I Spent Last Weekend” or “Wanna See What A Bushel of Green Beans Looks Like?”

I hope so, because it looks like this:

Bushel O' Beans

Well, that’s slightly over a bushel; the green and purple beans in the blue colander are from our garden, while the rest are the bushel we purchased from our CSA farmer.  See how neatly the CSA beans are all trimmed and cut?  It was done entirely by hand and took over 3 hours.

Remember – neurosis runs in the family.

Once that was done, I began the process of actually pressure canning the whole mess.  Well, except for the beans from our garden, which are currently fermenting merrily away in a Pickl-It jar on my counter as Dilly Beans.  The canning took 2 days, because while you only need to process the jars for 20 minutes, you still have to fill those jars, seal them, arrange them in the pressure canner, close the thing up (I don’t think NASA secures astronauts as well as this thing locks down), bring it up to pressure, process for the 20 minutes, then let it naturally vent the pressure.

All in all, processing one batch of green beans took nearly two hours.  I processed 2 that first day, so 7 hours all told on Saturday, and this was after we’d run our errands (which included purchasing an insane amount of green beans).

Sunday saw me canning not only the third batch of beans, but a dozen half pints of peach preserves.  Thank goodness you can process those in a water bath, so all I had to do was peel, pit, and dice the peaches before mixing them with lemon juice, sugar and pectin and cooking them down before putting it all in jars.  That only took about 3 hours, all told.

And here’s what 3 bushels of green beans, canned, looks like – minus one pound that I used for tomorrow’s recipe and the two jars we ate last night for dinner:

Bushel O' Beans - Canned

The two boxes in the background are the peach preserves, along with the strawberry-rhubarb I canned earlier in the season.

Next up?  At least 4 bushels – maybe six – of tomatoes for sauce and paste.

Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

Lemon-Tarragon Zucchini Bread

OMG, I cannot even begin to express how sick I am of summer squash.  Four lousy plants, plus our CSA contribution, and it has simply taken over my kitchen counters.

Our kitchen freezer is literally stuffed with frozen, shredded zucchini.  We’ve eaten the stuff every. stinkin’. day.  Often for more than one meal.

I’ve put it in omelets, scrambles, casseroles, stir fries, cream sauces, tomato sauces.  I’ve hidden it in meatloaf, meatballs and spaghetti sauce (which is one way to get my vegetable eschewing son and grandson to eat it).  I’ve stewed it, fried it, sauteed it and roasted it.  I’m getting ready to make it into pickles and relish.

And I finally broke down and made some zucchini bread.

My sister-in-law, Tough Yankee Broad, is an accomplished cook, avid gardener and fellow crochet addict.  Recently she found a recipe for Glazed Lemon Zucchini Bread, since she, too, is Awash In Squash; I asked her to let me know how it came out if she made it.  She did, and pronounced it “okay” with the caveat that, since she lives in the middle of nowhere Vermont, she had to use bottled lemon juice.

I, on the other hand, had two lemons sitting on my counter, leftovers from Jolly’s birthday cake.  Keeping in mind TYB’s statement that she doubled the recipe because “who only has one cup of shredded zucchini on hand and only makes one loaf of bread with it??” but not wanting to make a metric fuck-ton of it in case it was simply “okay” I began mentally tweaking the recipe.

The original recipe called for canola oil which, despite the return of moderate amounts of wheat flour and sugar to our diet, is still on my “banned” list, so I used melted and cooled butter instead.  It also called for buttermilk which I worried might have had something to do with my SIL’s bread not being very “lemony” so I decided to just use plain, whole milk.  After shredding a medium-sized zucchini, I got about a cup and a half, so I kept the liquid to 1/2 a cup, combining half of the lemon juice with 6 tablespoons of milk, figuring it would keep the bread plenty moist.

To be honest, I held back two tablespoons of lemon juice, fully intending to make a glaze for the bread, but while it was baking it occurred to me that glazing it really would be gilding the lily, and opted for sprinkling the reserved juice over the bread once it came out of the oven (it was the right choice).

As for the tarragon, that was a bit of an afterthought when I was assembling the ingredients – and one of desperation, to be honest, since for some reason the tarragon in our herb garden has gone completely nuts this year and is taking over.  Don’t ask me why, for I don’t know; every year prior it’s been rather lackluster.  Maybe it has something to do with the bitterly cold winter we just had (that killed my thyme)?  Who knows…

As for the bread, well, it was magnificent – holy cow, so so so SO good.  Just lemony enough, not too terribly sweet (glazing the bread would have made it so) and the tarragon gave it a wonderful herbaceous hint that was just lovely.  Yum, yum, YUM.  I’m going to make a lot more to freeze and give away as gifts – in fact, most of it will be given away as gifts because if I keep it in the house, I’ll eat it ALL.

It’s just that good.

Lemon-Tarragon Zucchini Bread. Not your run-of-the-mill quick bread!

Click the image to enlarge

Lemon-Tarragon Zucchini Bread
Serves: 16
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan; reserve 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and melted butter until well blended and thick. Whisk in the milk, lemon juice, zest and tarragon. In two batches, stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Fold in the grated zucchini.
  4. Pour into the prepared loaf pan; bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Allow to cool for 30 minutes on a baking rack. Turn out the bread and return to the baking rack; sprinkle the top with the reserved lemon juice and allow to cool completely before serving.
  6. Nutrition (per serving): 188 calories, 6.7g total fat, 39mg cholesterol, 187.1mg sodium, 82.8mg potassium, 29.9g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, 17.4g sugar, 2.9g protein

The Zucchini Invasion

Our vegetable garden is doing marvelously well this year.

Boy, is it doing well.

We’ve already harvested rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries (both red and black), lettuces, spinach, collards, Swiss chard, kale, peas, turnips, beets, carrots, radishes and some green beans – many more of those are on the way.  We’re about to start harvesting peppers – bell, jalapeno, serrano, poblano – as well as the cabbages; tomatoes will be ready soon, too.  The onions are coming along, as are the sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes, and the spaghetti and delicata squashes doing quite nicely.  It also looks like we’re going to have quite a few cantaloupe and even a couple of Sugar Baby watermelons.

I think the only things we’re not going to see much of are butternut squash, parsnips and okra, which is sad – Beloved and I both adore them.  But, when we’re ready to harvest the late summer/fall vegetables, we’ll be able to plant more greens and cool weather crops; in fact, I think Beloved’s already got a second round of peas going, as well as more radishes, turnips and beets.

And of course, there’s the zucchini and summer squash.

Tons and tons of zucchini and summer squash; not only are our own plants producing like the vegetable version of gerbils, we’re getting an average of six pounds a week from our CSA. (When we pass roadside stands or booths at farmers markets heaped with piles and piles of the stuff, we just shudder.)

We’ve been cooking and eating it several times a week – often for lunch and dinner.  Before too much longer I’m going to go on a zucchini bread baking binge, the vast majority of which will be given away to our co-workers and friends; the rest will be frozen and most likely consumed over the holidays (Oldest Son is coming to visit for Christmas! Hooooooraaaaaay!!)  In the meantime, we’ve been freezing a great deal of it for use during the winter and early spring months, before we face next year’s Zucchini Invasion.

Freezing zucchini is really quite easy.  We simply shred it using the shredding blade of our food processor, then measure it out in 1-cup portions.  Those portions are then placed on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and put in the freezer until completely frozen – usually overnight.  Then we vacuum seal them with our Food Saver and pop them back in the freezer.

Shredded ZucchiniShredded Zucchini Bagged

How do you use all of this frozen, shredded zucchini you may ask?

It’s actually a good question; the first time we did this, I was hard-pressed to use it all.  But, if you think a little outside of the box, it really isn’t hard.

You can use it in Zucchini Fritters, of course, or your favorite zucchini bread or muffin recipe – I never had much luck making paleo zucchini bread; it always came out heavy and/or gummy – but when I go on my baking binge, I’ll probably use this recipe.  However, I mostly hide it in savory foods.

It’s a great addition to meatloaf and meatballs, or the meat filling in stuffed cabbage (especially if you’re grain-free or low carb; it substitutes the rice or bread crumbs quite nicely).  It’s easily hidden in many types of casseroles, including the breakfast type, and is also really good in soups and tomato-based sauces – toss it in the spaghetti sauce AND the meatballs, and you’ve got your kids eating twice as much!  I’ve even thrown it in omelets and quiches.

So embrace the zucchini.  You’ll really be able to eat it all.