Sunday, May 3, 2009

breaking from tradition

like most households,
we have our evening routine
down pat.
i make dinner.
afterward, we bring dishes into
the kitchen, 
i put away any leftover food,
wrap up unused ingredients,
like half a lemon
or a few pieces of scallions
and leave larry to the cleaning.

it works for us
and we rarely vary from 
that very comfortable pattern.

which is why, you can imagine,
the look of horror on his face
last week - after briefly basking
in the realization that the cleanup
from this meal would be a snap -
when he turned from the sink 
just before 9:30,
to see me chopping an onion.
serrano peppers
and a bunch of limes,
were hanging out nearby.

earlier in the day,
when i had been searching
for something, anything
to make in the extreme
heat, i opened up one
of my favorite cookbooks,
right to page 95.

the picture was so beautiful,
and it was so hot in the apartment
and it reminded me of a soup
i hadn't had in a really long time,
one that i had always thought of fondly,
as a watered-down version
of guacamole.
it was thin, certainly 
avocad0-based, dotted
with chopped onions,
tomatoes and cilantro.
it was cool and satisfying,

but it looked nothing like
swanson's thick, green, smooth
soup that i had somehow
never before noticed. 
it's amazing what heat will do
to a person.
i made the shopping list.

in the store, unfortunately,
i was deterred by two things:

1) no tomatillos. anywhere.
we actually went to three stores,
because i just couldn't believe
that there weren't any to 
by found. finally, i gave in
and bought a large can
of tomatillos. certainly not
ideal, but also, especially
when they are destined
to be simmered and pureed,
not such a sin either.

2) the avocado situation -
bleak. at the first store,
they were so soft that i 
actually broke one trying
to softly press it. the second
store didn't have any and at
the third, they were as hard
as, well, an under-ripened 
so, i made the decision
to use the can
and never speak of it again
(yes, i cracked already -
i'm weak, what can i say?).
this way, i could prepare
the first part, which required
simmering the above ingredients
together, pureeing and then
chilling, the night before.
i knew the next day, that
when i went to the fourth - 
and always faithful store -
i could pick up the perfectly
ripe avocados.

it was a great plan -
and in hindsight, one that worked
quite well - 
but certainly ambitious
for a hot sunday evening.
in the time it took for larry
to load up the dishwasher,
i had everything in the pot.
once it came to a boil,
i reduced it to a simmer, 
let it cook the requisite five minutes
and then pulled out
the immersion blender. 
the recipe instructed to let the mixture
cool for 30 minutes before stirring
in lime juice and placing in
the fridge.
we used this time to suck
on these odd little korean ice pops
we had found the day before
and pray for a stiff breeze.

the next day,
i was so happy to have the dinner
three-quarters of the way done.
i bought nicely ripened avocados
after work and when i came home,
i set to work mashing them with a fork.
they...didn't want to be mashed.
maybe the heat made me weak, 
i don't know.

so i tried with the immersion blender,
also a no-go. 
next, i splashed some soup 
into the bowl of avocados. 
they pureed into a beautiful green. 
and although i had been worried
all day that the 
chilling soup was too
thin and that i had somehow 
messed up
the proportions by using 
the canned tomatillos,
as soon as i blended in the creamy
avocados, i knew i was fine.

i modified the original step
of frying sliced corn tortillas
in clarified butter and instead,
coated a pan with cooking
spray to help the slivers
brown (i was planning to bake
them, but there was no
way i was turning on the oven).

chopped tomatoes and a few
drizzles of crema
finished off the bowl.
all three brought welcome
the soup was really 
the most amazing food
for a hot hectic night
after work. 
and even though i worried that
it might suffer from 
texture repitition - i become
restless from the same spoonful
over and over again -
i don't think i could ever
tire of this soup.

while the original recipe
calls for the soup
to chill for at least two 
hours, i strongly 
recommend letting
it sit overnight. not only
will the flavors have more time to 
meld together, but you also
can be sure that it is cold
by the time you need it.

and i think larry, who
was thrilled to eat dinner
before 10pm, would be willing
to attest to this.
tomatillo-avocado soup
adapted from super natural cooking
in spite of the fact that i'm not the biggest fan of chicken, if i'm using store-bought, i much prefer chicken broth or stock over vegetable stock, so i switched to the former. i was a bit worried about the avocados browning, so i rubbed each half with a bruised lime before blending - i would do it again. and, when cutting the corn strips, i used kitchen sheers.

you could totally make this whole soup a day ahead of time. we ate this two nights in a row (and the next day for lunch) and the color never faded. i think it would make a fabulous first course for a dinner party or if you for some reason have tons of shot or shooter glasses, a special pass-around appetizer.

1 large can tomatillos (there should be 12 inside)
3-4 serrano chilies, seeded and chopped
1 white onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
6 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (i used 3 limes, here)

4 large ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1/2 cup packed chopped cilantro
kosher salt
2 limes

12 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips

1 tomato, halved, seeded and chopped
mexican crema or thinned sour cream

in large saucepot, add tomatillos, squeezing inside the pot using your hands to slightly break them up. add serranos, onion, garlic and stock. over medium-high heat, bring to a boil; immediately lower the heat and simmer 5 minutes. using immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. (at this point, swanson puts the soup through a strainer. it's optional and i chose not to do this and i don't think the soup suffered any. in fact, i wouldn't strain the soup next time, either.)

cool soup 30 minutes; stir in 1/4 cup lime juice. cover and chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

in bowl, place peeled and pitted avocados, cilantro and the juice of 2 limes. sprinkle with kosher salt. add a generous splash of chilled soup. using immersion blender, blend avocados. add mixture to tomatillo mixture and, using immersion blender, blend until smooth. add more salt or lime, if needed.

in large skillet or saute pan coated with cooking spray over medium heat, cook tortilla strips until golden, turning as needed. place on paper towel to cool.

divide soup among bowls; top with crema, chopped tomatoes and crispy corn tortilla strips.


Lisa said...

looks great! I love anything with avocado, but usually just make guacamole--this would be a nice change.

Anonymous said...

1. I love Super Natural Cooking, esp the natural sweeteners part.
2. Immersion blenders always make me think of Reenie.
3. I thought we ate late (usually around 830)!

brooke said...

lisa - it really is like guacamole in a bowl (spoon required).

col - i often have really good intentions of eating earlier. 10 is an extreme, but i can't say it never happens. yes, i believe i still have the immersion blender, intended for you, somewhere in this apartment.