Monday, August 29, 2011

The Soup Project: Grilled Red Pepper Chowder

I can't get enough of grilled vegetables. I could eat them breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can't believe how many more vegetables I eat when we fire up the grill.

I have to say I don't get people who don't love vegetables. There are so many, how could you not like at least one or two. But some people at the Slow Roots Festival described themselves as vegetable phobes. I was shocked, and for some reason, I always think of Kansas when someone says they hate vegetables. The phrase "Why don't you move there," comes to mind. But I only say that because the only two people I ever met from Kansas hated vegetables so I figured that's where people who hate vegetables must come from.

The Northwest is vegetable heaven. I'm sure if people ate more grilled vegetables, I bet they be converts in no time.

Grilled vegetable sandwiches, soup, salads, or layered on crisp corn toritillas--that's my kind of summer meal. Some of my favorites include zucchini, sweet onions, eggplant and of course red peppers.

I couldn't shake off my craving for pureed smoky red peppers as soup base,as I considered today's soup recipe.

I created a roasted red pepper sauce in my book made with yogurt, garlic, roasted peppers and sweet onions and it was great, but yogurt and cream are easy options anyone can do. It's no rabbit out of the hat if the recipe calls for cream. I was going nondairy. That way people who like dairy in soup can add crumbled or grated cheese or stir in a dollop of yogurt and the dairy-challenged folks can also enjoy the soup with minced fresh peppers or toasted bread crumbs as a garnish.

First I had to find red peppers at the market--not a guaranteed easy task this last weekend because red peppers are just now showing up at the markets. I always envy the growing season in Portland, it always seems longer and produce appears there before it shows up in Seattle.

I found these peppers at the Portland Hillsdale Farmers' Market a few weeks ago. I could taste them roasted as soon as I laid eyes on them.

I found fresh peppers at River Farm at the U-District Market last weekend.

Sweet onions, garlic and celery were in the pantry and frig, and I realized I needed touse the potatoes, eggplant and zucchini, too. The soup morphed into a chowder.

The problem is too many things impress me at the market, like the stunning celery I found at the Hillsdale Market. And sometimes I find great produce at farms like Whispering Winds Farm stand and I get so caught up in the moment of buying just a little extra.

Another thing that impresses me and seduces me into a sale are cool market displays. Like the ones JoanE puts together at Rent's Due Ranch, with giant sparkly mushrooms and colors in tablecloths that compliment the produce. I step back, admire the display, and before I know it, I picking out a bunch of carrots or pint of blueberries in hand and I'm standing in line.

The sweet reward is that the flavors are so good you don't have to work at creating complicated recipes.

It never fails to impress me when a farmer creates beautiful displays like this one below. Check out the garlic heads all arranged in individual little boxes at the Coupeville farmers' market.

Check out the table cloths with contrasting color patterns under the produce. These subtle pleasing colors pull me in like a magnet. Is it the same with you?

And when sampling is included, you've got me. I'm weak.

I got fresh hot salsa from Gathering Together Farm, so I included fresh salsa in this recipe, but you could easily substitute your own favorite salsa.

Every week I take an ice chest to the market every week to keep eggs and produce cool. In this picture you can just barely see the red peppers near the back. They were small, first of the season peppers.

My food inspector cares nothing for peppers. He's a trained blueberry hound. (We all have our weaknesses.)

To select peppers at the market, spend a few minutes talking to the farmer or look for the organic sign if you don't know the farm.

Last year I found these tiny peppers for 25 cents each on the bargain shelf at Nash's Organic Produce in Sequim. I heard that Nash'snew farm store is open now and will soon have a grand opening to celebrate. I'm ready, pour me a glass of wine for the party.

Be sure to look for the bargain shelf for great farm grown seconds, treasures at discount prices.

These peppers were from River Farm. Liz will bring their roaster to the market and once you buy roasted peppers from the market, you'll be hooked. I shamelessly gorge on them putting them in everything.

I peeled the blackened skin because I imagined little black flecks floating unattractively. Maybe I was too chicken to let it go.

Tom cut the peppers in half, discarded the seeds and put the peppers on grilling racks. Then he basted the peppers as they cooked with an Italian salad dressing. Grilling the peppers took about ten minutes. The eggplant went for about 12 minutes and was sliced lengthwise in half-inch slices and basted with dressing. Check it with a fork to determine when it's done.

I used coconut milk from an aseptic container not the kind from a can.

Here is the recipe:

Grilled Red Pepper Chowder
(Serves 4)

4 small new potatoes, quartered
1 large sweet onion (like a Walla Walla), diced
1 1/2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
2 cups sliced celery
1 medium sliced zucchini
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups stock or water
4 grilled red peppers, skin removed
1 1/2 to 2 cups coconut milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup salsa
Honey (optional)
Lemon (optional)
1 medium eggplant, sliced, grilled and cut into bite-size pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 red pepper, seeded and minced (for garnish)
Bread crumbs or croutons (optional)
Grated mozzeralla cheese (optional)

1. Cook potatoes in a small saucepan with about a half cup of water and until tender. Drain and reserve.

2. Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and oil. Stir and cook until onions soften. Add celery and continue to cook until celery begins to soft. Stir in zucchini and garlic cloves. Add water or stock, cover and cook on medium low until zucchini softens.

3. Peel the peppers and discard carred skins. Blend with coconut milk, potatoes and salsa. Stir into the onion-zucchini mixture. Tweak flavors with small amounts of honey and lemon. Blend in eggplant and cook 5 more minutes.

4. Garnish with red peppers, cheese or bread crumbs.

Serve with bagels from Bagel Oasis (or your own favorite place) or crusty artisan bread from the market.

The delicate smoky pepper flavor was a knockout and the pureed potatoes made a great creamy texture. If you want to add protein to this soup, try some chunks of sauteed tofu or if you're feeling decadent, try some award winning blue cheese from Rogue Creamery.

The soup was so good, my poor Assistant barely even got a taste from the dishes. I'm sure I'll never hear the end of this faux paw.

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