The Week of Magical Eating days 3 and 4: Soup and Salad

Since sharing lunch with my friend S. a few weeks ago, I have developed a minor obsession with Caesar Salad.  The crispest romaine, whether to add the Parmesan by shreds, crumbles, grates or curls, the perfectly textured crouton: crisp and golden on the outside, with the barest hint of residual chewiness deep within.  But mostly, the object of mystery and allure is the dressing.  It’s tangy but creamy and rich but still light, and pulls the flavors of the salad together to make it a phenomenon.  I decided to make it.  In the gloom of winter, I don’t have the opportunities I’d like to find farm-fresh eggs, and locally grown egg yolk is all I would feel comfortable using without cooking it.  Besides, N. gets worried about raw foods sometimes, and he doesn’t care for the idea of fish in dressing, so egg and anchovy were out.  I poked around online and found some vegan Caesar salad dressings with interesting suggestions, including the addition of brewer’s yeast and tamari to add the salty richness of anchovy.  I collected ideas and then, as usually happens, ended up making my own.

Mayonnaise, lemon juice, brown mustard, tamari, pepper, and garlic went into the mixing vessel that came with my immersion blender.  I pulsed these ingredients together a few times until the garlic was chopped and things were looking paste-like, and then streamed in some olive oil with the blender running until it reached a more dressing-y consistency.  It’s a work in progress, and I didn’t take note of amounts, but it began to capture that lofty Caesar flavor as I added additional spoonfuls of mayo here and lemon there… a bit too much mustard in the first squeeze.  Over-enthusiasm, you know. Tossed with fresh greens, lemon wedges, and sourdough croutons from half a baguette, it was almost right.  Almost there, but close enough for a weeknight.

The next night, inspired by a recipe request I couldn’t fulfill from D., I scoured the ‘nets for a suitable looking black bean soup.  Our salad accompanied a slow cooked chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, and I saved the garlic-infused broth our chicken expelled in the crock pot, so I had a wonderful flavorful stock to use for soup.

After sliding a pan of batter in and a loaf of cornbread out of the oven half an hour later, I commenced to create Dave Lieberman’s black bean soup, found here:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/dave-lieberman/black-bean-soup-recipe/index.html

I made a few changes to his recipe, for one reason or another, which I’ll share because I thought the result turned out well.

I cooked my bacon until crispy before draining out some of the fat (which ended up mixed with dogfood; Lucy was ecstatic!) and adding only 1 ½ onions.  Instead of Dave’s can of chicken broth, I used the leftovers from our chicken, which were about 1 ½ cups, and about a third of a bottle of New Belgium 1554 for a little extra flavor and fizz (then I handed the remainder of the bottle to N.  Beer and bacon = happy little family!).  I eliminated the ketchup and forgot the lime juice, and added my cilantro right at the end rather than letting it cook.  I decided I wanted a fresher green flavor, so it would serve as a garnish.

Then we went a little crazy with toppings.  I crumbled up some queso fresco, which I am having a deep affair of intrigue with, and used up my single-serving ramekins providing serving dishes for cheese, sour cream, green onion tops, more cilantro, and lime wedges.  The photo below isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing composition, but it was belly-warming and hearty, and tasted marvelous.  We usually have trouble finishing up leftovers from soup, but it has been only four or five days since I made this, and the remains are already gone.  That should tell you something.

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