Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Soup Project: Franz Kafka and Meyer Lemon Leek, Mushroom and Potato Soup

Soup for Valentine's Day? Why not? The concept of a peasant food on a holiday intrigues me. And the idea made me curious how many others (bloggers, cooking Websites, etc) included soup in the Valentine's Day celebratory meal for lovers.

At All Recipes it's the decadent lobster bisque, and at Whirled Soup it's a fabulous sweet potato soup. At Seriously Soupy, check out the chocolate soup--not sure I'd have it for dinner, but what a great idea for dessert! Okay soup isn't a traditional Valentine's Day dinner, but the search made me realize just how popular soup is these days. As for leek soup--though I missed them at the market this week, it's that time year when people make leek soup.

One recipe came to me a few weeks ago from Chris Curtis at the U-District Market. She handed me the recipe and said, "I don't know if you have this soup recipe or not yet." Oddly the same day, I got another leek soup recipe from Casdadia Mushrooms as I was buying shiitake mushrooms. And when I got home, I saw that 101 Cookbooks had just posted this leek soup recipe. It seemed like some kind of sign and when I found this quirky book at the library that afternoon, I was sure Kafka's Soup was yet another leek soup recipe.
It wasn't, but the cover was way too intriguing to pass up. When I opened the book this was on the inside flap: "If you've ever wondered what it would be like to make dinner with Franz Kafka, Jane Austin or Raymond Chandler, this is the chance to find out. Literary ventriloquist Mark Crick presents fourteen recipes in the voices of famous writers from Homer to Virginia Wolf to Irvine Welsh."

Every recipe in this little book lists ingredients and the instructions are written like short stories dictated by famous authors. Quick Miso Soup a la Franz Kafka is a very plain soup with only four ingredients--miso, silken tofu, mushrooms and a few leaves of wakame. As the story opens, K. isn't quite sure whether he invited his dinner guests or they simply showed up unannounced, and like The Trial, it isn't long before K. refers his "guests" as officials and wonders what positions they hold. K. assumes his "guests" are passing judgment over his culinary inadequacy at every turn and even as he's slicing the tofu he feels at odds and alienated at his own dinner party. Mark Crick has captured K. perfectly.

At one point K. notices his guests are already enjoying his wine that he hadn't yet offered, and he atttempts to shame them for taking such liberties. "How's the wine?" He inquires with a hint of sarcasm. They chorus, "It would be better with some food. But since you have not even granted us the courtesy of dressing for dinner we do not have high hopes."

Even if you aren't into Kafka, this book is a hoot. I loved Lamb with Dill Sauce a la Raymond Chandler as well as the Clafoutis Grandmere a la Virginia Woolf. And speaking of cherries, I've got some thawing in the refrigerator for this dessert. What more could you want from a holiday--good food, good stories and a decadent, sexy ending to the meal?

Here's the soup of the day:

Meyer Lemon Leek, Mushroom and Potato Soup
This soup is a combination of Simple Mushroom & Leek Soup from Cascadia Mushrooms Cream of Leek Soup (minus the cream) from the U-District Market and my own imagination. The shiitake mushrooms give a backbone. These mushrooms have a meaty texture when dry-fried and add a depth of flavor that compliments delicate leeks. The potatoes should be practically falling apart when done and this way, they create a thicker texture. If you want to add protein, but not meat, take a page from Kafka's Soup and cut a block of tofu into bite-size pieces and add them during the last stage of cooking, or cut some Field Roast into tiny pieces and toss them at any time.

1/2 to 1 pound small to medium shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and reserved and tops sliced (Save the stems in the freezer for stock later).
3 medium to large leeks, thinly sliced white and light green parts
2 tablespoons olive oil or 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 cup diced celery
2 medium potatoes, medium dice
1 medium sweet potato, medium dice
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme or basil
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped Meyer lemon zest
5 cups water or stock
Handful of arugula, chopped
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro or finely sliced arugula
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese or bread crumbs (optional)

1. Heat a heavy pot over medium heat. Add mushrooms and dry-fry until they soften. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pot, saute leeks in oil and butter until soft. Add garlic, celery, red potatoes and sweet potatoes. Stir to coat vegetables.

2. Add bay leaf, thyme, lemon zest and water or stock. Simmer for about 45 minutes or until potatoes are very soft. Add lemon juice and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro, chives or my favorite, finely chopped arugula. Grate some cheese if you like or sprinkle with bread crumb (a good way to use crouton crumbs). Serves 4


Joan said...

this soup sounds delish! intersting lemon addition...never would have thought of that.

ddzeller said...

Yeah, I don't know what it is about lemons in winter, but they seem to almost add sunshine to the soup.