True confessions time, again. I’ve never, ever liked raw onions. Well into my 30s, I picked around scallions, scraped aside slices and large chunks of red or white onion, even eschewed onion chutney delivered with my Indian food take-out. The raw-onion flavor was just too strong and pungent. Yet cooked onions, especially sautéed, are heavenly, and I use a variety of onions weekly: leeks, Vidalia and red onions, shallots, and the mundane white or yellow varieties.
In the past 20 years or so, I’ve expanded a bit, to include raw shallots in salad dressings, minced raw red onions in tuna or chicken salad, and even a tiny bit of white onion (the kind that make you cry when you peel them, but they must be finely minced) in a vegetable or pasta salad. What’s more, I’ve come to regret all those little containers of onion chutney I had discarded for decades. That stuff is delish!
But big pieces of raw onion? No thanks. Not even scallions.
So, remember that soup from July that was so terrible? It called for an entire raw onion, chopped and then blended with the other ingredients. (That was only part of the problem, but it was enough, and I should have known, but this year is all about trying things.) That flavor was still there, undisguised by the other ingredients, possibly enhanced by the crushing of the blending process.
I’ve learned something. For soups, sauté the onions. Always.
Most of the August soups can be served hot or cold, and more than two stood out as options for this post. The Wild Rice Soup tempted me, but it called for a large dose of sherry, which seems too heavy for summer. Soup Pelou was another option I considered, with its base of radish greens, onions, and potatoes — finally, a use for the radish greens from the farmers’ market! But in the end, I chose these two:
Brother Victor-Antoine’s Broccoli Soup starts with sautéing broccoli, garlic, parsley and bacon (trimmed of its fat), then adding water for a quick simmer, and finishing with a run through the blender. Garnish with parmesan and fresh parsley. The bacon gives this soup a smoky flavor, which is great hot, but I decided not to try it cold. Next time, I’ll skip the blender and leave the soup chunky. A garnish of crisp bacon could be good as well. I might try this one again.
The Spicy Carrot and Orange Soup, served cold, is delightfully refreshing on an early afternoon of a hot August day. Start with a few chopped carrots and a leek, briefly sautéed with cayenne, ginger, nutmeg and paprika. Stir in vegetable broth, orange juice and zest, and simmer until the carrots are cooked. Blend, chill, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro. (Brother V-A’s recipe says to cook the cilantro with the carrots, but I prefer it freshly minced. Otherwise the cilantro loses most of its bite and all its color.) My version is spicer than the good Brother’s, exactly to my liking. I can see this soup working just as well on a cold winter’s evening, so I’ve marked the recipe as a keeper.
For this month, I’ve chose something savory, something sweet. I could have gone with the peach and blueberry salad, steeped in port wine, but the watermelon salad below looked simpler.
For the Rotelle in Spicy Napoleon Sauce, I had to use frozen peas, for there were no fresh ones to be found. You can’t see the finely minced Vidalia onions, but they are there. The julienned red peppers as garnish are my own addition (parsley would work equally well).
But “spicy” is misleading.
Despite the cumin, cayenne, curry and coriander, the yogurt-based Napoleon sauce barely registered on the Scoville scale, a tad above bell peppers, but not even as high as pepperoncini. The spiciness increased only slightly overnight, so if I make this again, I will definitely turn up the heat. (And here’s how: warm the spices in a dry skillet before adding them to the yogurt/lemon zest.)
At least the salad was good for a week — nice enough, even, when refreshed with lemon juice, for a picnic with friends. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, those are rotini and not rotelle, which look like wagon wheels. Like the fresh peas, rotelle were unattainable.
As for why it’s called Napoleon Sauce, Brother Victor-Antoine keeps silence.
This next recipe is quick and easy to pull together (just cantaloupe, watermelon and blueberries, with a wine-citrus-honey dressing and a garnish of fresh mint). The lengthiest step in making the Summertime Salad is the time to chill it thoroughly before serving. You can minimize this by buying the fruit a day early, so that these are cold before you cut them up.
Surprisingly good the night I made it, and equally so the next day for breakfast.
I hear the concerned mutterings: “Breakfast?” “With wine in the dressing?” “Are you ok?”
Not to worry, dear readers. The recipe calls for a minuscule amount of dry white wine: two tablespoons whisked into a half cup mixture of orange and lemon juice, along with two tablespoons of honey, over at least four cups of chopped fruit. The cantaloupe and watermelon add even more liquid. I suspect I tasted the wine only because I knew it was there. But you could always omit this, perhaps replace it with white wine vinegar, I suppose. Or just not dip into the salad before the sun has gone over the yardarm.
And now two-thirds of the year has passed, with autumn just three weeks away. What will it bring? More soups and salads here, and my continued wishes for great eating and reading for all of you.
See you all in September!