February 21, 2014 Chickpea and Leek Soup


I am a lucky woman. My husband planned, shopped, and took the day off from work and shoveling snow to cook a very special Valentine’s Day dinner for me. At the time I wasn’t even sure what the menu would be. I made a few requests and he filled in the rest. They were small courses or “bites” as he called them. A favorite tradition of mine, the demands of life and family required us to take a break from this meal for several years.The “meal of love” as he calls it, lasted several hours so I had some movies and the season finale of Top Chef to watch. I should have probably worked out between courses, we went to a wedding the next day and I was concerned about fitting into the dress I was wearing.

One dish I did request was a soup made with fresh chickpeas that stayed in my memory as a favorite after all these years. I love chickpeas and fresh ones have a wonderful nutty quality. My job now was to locate the source of memorable recipe. After some thought I remembered where it was from, a magazine that I subscribed to for some time, The Herb Companion.

The tag line of The Herb Companion was “in celebration of the useful plants”. Useful they are, The Herb Society of America defines an herb as “a plant valued for it’s flavor, fragrance, medicinal and healthful qualities, economic and industrial uses, pesticidal properties and coloring materials (dyes).”  The magazine helped familiarize readers with herbs, both common and quite unique, how to grow them and their uses from culinary to crafts.

This issue (Feb-Mar 95) was in part devoted to alliums. Allium is a classification (genus) that includes garlic, onions, shallots and leeks to name just a few. Alliums are rich in sulphur compounds and have been said to be useful in everything from lowering blood pressure to relieving pain and inflamation.

However, my main interest was in the recipes, not the health benefits of alliums. Alliums pair well with the culinary herbs, in this case, Italian or flat leaved parsley and marjoram. Marjoram is closely related to oregano with a sweeter, more delicate flavor. Appropriate for the occasion, marjoram, according to Roman legend is known as the “herb of love”,

In this simple soup the delicate onion flavor of leeks combines with nutty chickpeas and fragrant fresh herbs. The original recipe called for water but Joe substituted a rich homemade turkey stock that brought another layer of flavor to the soup. When making any dish with dried beans, it’s best to purchase them from a bulk bin with a high turnover rate for the freshest possible beans. Old beans don’t rehydrate very well. Store dried beans in a cool dark pantry and use within a year. Chickpeas,as with all beans are a good source of iron, folate and dietary fiber. Canned beans could be substituted but they also bring additional salt and preservatives to the soup.

My memory was happily confirmed, this was a delicious soup and the recipe made enough to freeze for future meals. Sad to say, The Herb Companion is no more. As of 2013, after more than twenty years of bimonthly publication, the magazine has been incorporated into Mother Earth Living Magazine.

Fresh chickpeas after an overnight soak.

Chickpea and Leek Soup

Serves four to six


  • 1/2lb. dried chickpeas
  • 1 bunch leeks (about 1 1/2lbs.)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 3-4c water, chicken or turkey stock
  • 1/3c extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 sprigs Italian parsley
  • 3 marjoram sprigs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
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The other players in the soup


  1. Soak the chickpeas in cold water to cover overnight
  2. Drain, rinse and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until very tender, about an hour. Puree half the chickpeas (or more for a thicker textured soup) Return them to the pot and salt well.
  3. Meanwhile, clean and trim the leeks, including only the tender green and slice 1/8 inch thick. Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Gently cook the vegetables covered, in 3 tablespoons of oil over low heat until they have softened,
  4. Add the vegetables to the chickpeas along with 3 cups of water or stock. Salt and pepper lightly and simmer the soup for about 30 minutes. Chop the parsley and marjoram leaves and add them to the soup. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes and adjust seasoning.
  5. Serve the soup hot with the remaining olive oil drizzled on top.
Leeks from the garden will have to wait for a spring thaw.


February 9, 2014 Green Tea Creme Brulee


We ushered in the year of the horse with our usual Chinese New Year dinner. This year’s celebration was considerably smaller than previous years in the number of guests but not in the number of courses. For the conclusion of our meal, I like to take a non traditional approach with dessert, incorporating Chinese flavors into dishes familiar to Western palates.

In my readings I have learned that the Chinese do not usually have desserts at the end of a typical meal, opting for fresh fruit if anything at all. Sweets are often enough enjoyed at tea time, often sweetened and candied fruits made into sweet soups and cakes. Exotic Chinese desserts for special occasions like birds nest soup double boiled in coconut milk or glutinous rice and wheat soup would be a bit esoteric and even too sweet for Western palates. So I like to keep it simple, spicy ginger cookies in the shape of the celebrated animal of the year, ice cream and sorbets featuring everything from red beans to tangerines.

This year I decided on a rich and satisfying green tea crème brûlée.  Crème brûlée, translated “burnt cream” is a rich custard topped with a layer of caramelized sugar. A custard is a combination of eggs or egg yolks and milk or cream baked gently until it sets. Sweet custards, crème brûlée or crème caramel, custard based ice creams and pots de creme contain sugar. Custards can be savory as well, like quiches, that combine cream or milk and eggs with cheese.

Crème brûlée can be baked in small individual dishes or in one low sided round or oval dish. A large surface area is desirable to maximize the caramelized sugar crunch that contrasts so well with the creamy custard underneath. The basic custard can be a blank canvas to showcase other flavors. Typically the custard is flavored with a vanilla bean but to give it an Eastern flair I infused it with green tea as well. I chose a gunpowder green that imparts a slightly smoky flavor. Infusing tea bags in warmed cream for about a half hour gave me the flavor I was looking for.

Crème brûlée is baked in a bain marie or water bath. The custards are placed in a larger pan that is filled halfway up the sides of the dish or dishes with very hot tap water. This protects the crème brûlée  from the direct heat of the oven. A tea towel in the bottom of the pan gives more stability and individual ramekins are less likely to dance around. Since oven heat can be notoriously inconsistent from one area to the next, the bain marie helps distribute the heat more evenly so that each custard cooks at the same rate.

Clear a generous spot on your countertop right next to the oven with potholders at the ready. It can be quite a feat removing the baking pan half filled with water and the custards. When the crème brûlée is done it should be removed immediately from the bain marie, a good pair of tongs make this easy, place on a wire rack and cooled for about a half hour at room temperature and refrigerated, preferably overnight.  Covered with plastic wrap they can sit in your refrigerator for several days, a bonus to the busy cook.

When you are ready to serve the dessert, prepare the sugar glaze.  I prefer turbinado or Demerara sugar to sprinkle on the crème brûlée. They are both minimally refined sugars and their large crystals are easier to spread and give it an extra crunch. Sprinkle a light layer of sugar evenly over the top. We started originally with the smaller propane torch sold in kitchen stores but have found the larger propane torch does the job in a lot less time. Place the finished desserts back in the refrigerator to chill for about a half hour.

The Chinese believe that dietary balance is achieved through moderation. One should leave the table satisfied, not satiated. Green tea creme brulee is a dessert that does this quite nicely.

I find it easiest to pour the hot tap water from a very narrow sprout, like a watering can, done slowly the water won’t slosh onto the crème brûlée.

Green Tea Crème Brûlée

Serves eight


  • 4 c heavy cream, chilled
  • 2/3 c granulated sugar
  • pinch table salt
  • 10 tea bags- I used Numi Gunpowder Green
  • 12 large egg yolks
  • 1t  vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 8 – 12 teaspoons turbinado sugar or Demerara sugar
  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300° F.
  2. Combine 2 cups cream, sugar, and salt in medium saucepan; add tea bags and bring mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Take pan off heat and let steep 30 minutes to infuse flavors.
  3. While the tea bags are steeping, place kitchen towel in bottom of large baking dish or roasting pan and arrange eight 4- to 5-ounce ramekins (or shallow fluted dishes) on towel.
  4. After cream has steeped, remove tea bags and squeeze bags with tongs or press into mesh strainer to extract all liquid. Stir tea liquid and remaining 2 cups cream into steeped cream to cool down mixture. Whisk yolks and vanilla extract in large bowl until broken up and combined. Whisk about 1 cup cream mixture into yolks until loosened and combined; repeat with another 1 cup cream. Add remaining cream and whisk until evenly colored and thoroughly combined. Strain through fine-mesh strainer into 2-quart measuring cup,  discard solids in strainer. Pour or ladle mixture into ramekins, dividing it evenly among them.
  5. Carefully place baking dish with ramekins on oven rack; pour very hot tap water into dish, taking care not to splash water into ramekins, until water reaches halfway up the height of ramekins. Bake until centers of custards are just barely set and are no longer sloshy and digital instant-read thermometer inserted in centers registers 170°F to 175°F degrees, 30 to 35 minutes (25 to 30 minutes for shallow fluted dishes). Begin checking temperature about 5 minutes before recommended time.
  6. Transfer ramekins to wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Set ramekins on rimmed baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 4 days.
  7. Uncover ramekins; if condensation has collected on custards, place paper towel on surface to soak up moisture. Sprinkle each with about 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (1 1/2 teaspoons for shallow fluted dishes); tilt and tap ramekin for even coverage. Ignite torch and caramelize sugar. Refrigerate ramekins, uncovered, to re-chill, 30 to 45 minutes (but no longer); serve.
Sometimes I do “minis”. Just a taste when I am serving more than one dessert at this large meal.

February 4, 2014 Borlotti Bean Soup


Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday and we woke this morning to what weather forecasters are calling our eleventh snow “event” of the season, so it’s safe to say that winter isn’t going away anytime soon. At least we can settle in by a warm fire and enjoy the fruits of last fall’s harvest of borlotti beans in a simple, warming soup.

Borlotti beans are an Italian heirloom variety and a beautiful addition to the garden.  Also known as cranberry and the very non-exotic sounding French horticultural beans, the inedible pods are off white in color with cranberry markings, resembling the crimson speckled beans they hold inside.   Ours take center stage in the garden, climbing up and around the tall frame of an old outdoor shelter.

We harvest some fresh in the fall, but usually wait for the pods to dry out and turn brown so the beans can be stored for the winter. After the beans are harvested I shuck them from their pods and lay them on a tray, making sure not to crowd them. As they start to dry, I shake the tray to move the beans around. It may take several weeks for the beans to dry out completely. I store mine in clean quart sized canning jars in a cool pantry. Make certain they are dry before you store them. It takes only one bean that isn’t sufficiently dry to make the entire jar moldy,and your labor would be for nothing! You can substitute dried or canned canellini beans for the borlottis in this recipe.

To use the beans I soak the quantity I need overnight to cover with cool water. I have found that the dried beans almost triple in size, so if I need three cups, I would soak one cup. Sadly,the beans lose their speckles when cooked and turn a light beige color. The flavor does not disappoint however, Borlotti beans are creamy in texture with a delicious nutty flavor. They are good in stews, casseroles and this very simple soup made with fridge and pantry ingredients.


Borlotti Bean Soup

Serves 4-6

  • 1 1/2 c dried Borlotti beans, picked over, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, about 1 1/2 cups, finely chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4-6 slices Canadian bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 quart bag, or the canned equivalent, chopped roasted tomatoes
  • 1 quart of homemade chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
  • 1t dried oregano
  • 1t dried thyme
  • 5c roughly chopped kale
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Water, as needed, to thin out soup.
Fresh borlotti beans in the pod.





  1. Soak dried beans in cool water to cover generously. Let sit overnight, at least eight hours, loosely covered. Drain and thoroughly rinse the beans.
  2. In a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium high heat, heat 2T olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender, 4-6 minutes.
  3. Add Canadian bacon to the pan and cook until lightly browned, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  4. Add beans, chopped tomatoes, stock and dried herbs and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat to a simmer with the lid slightly ajar and cook for 30 minutes.
  6. Add chopped kale to pot and cook an additional 20 minutes, or until kale is sufficiently wilted.
  7. If soup is too thick, thin out with more stock or water. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper.
  8. You can serve immediately, but it even gets better the second day.



Too bad they lose their spotted appearance when cooked!