Thursday, March 31, 2022

Soubise (Onion and Rice Casserole) for Cook the Books Feb/March Pick: "Red Sparrow" by Jason Matthews

It's Cook the Books time again, the bi-monthly virtual foodie book club I cohost and of course, per usual, I am right at the deadline. What can I say? February was busy, March was no better and I found myself involved in five "buddy reads" of books with various book groups, not counting this one. This book got put on the back burner and I finished it Tuesday, last night after a long day of work I tossed my dish together and I was way too tired to set up lighting and fuss with the looks, so I apologize for the very bad pictures. 

This round of Cooks the Books was hosted by Simona of briciole and her pick was Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews, a spy novel with recipes. 

From the Publisher:
In contemporary Russia, state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova has been drafted to become a “Sparrow”—a spy trained in the art of seduction to elicit information from their marks. She’s been assigned to Nathaniel Nash, a CIA officer who handles the organization’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. 
The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception and, inevitably, a forbidden spiral of physical attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s valuable mole in Moscow.

My Thoughts:

I have never been a reader of spy novels. I actually avoided them until the author of one of my favorite series released a new series centered around a former CIA case officer with the first book set in Russia. I gave it a try and enjoyed it enough to load the second and third on my Kindle but I haven't gotten around to reading them yet. Anyway, I digress... we are here to talk about Red Sparrow. I was a bit lukewarm  going into this book and wondered at the combination of spies and food, and was not thrilled to be reading about Russia given the current Ukraine situation, but I actually found myself caught up in the story and wanting to find out what happened next. 

It's not a perfect book for me--it's a deeper, grittier dive into the spy trade than I wanted. Some of the violence and misogyny is hard to take, as are the descriptions of "Sparrow School" where Russian women and men train for honey traps and more. The pace is uneven, tension ebbed and flowed and I found myself slogging through some parts and then rushing through others. But I liked Dominika and Nate and some of the other characters and I kept reading. The food descriptions and abbreviated recipes were varied from different countries and cuisines beyond Russia, and I actually marked several I wanted to make or read up on.  

Overall, it diversified my reading with a seldom-picked genre, and that's always a good thing. I don't know if I'll keep going--it's a trilogy I believe, but I am curious to see what happens after somewhat of a cliffhanger ending. I may even try and watch the film version (I tend to avoid spy movies too so it wasn't something I made an effort to see.

Food Inspiration:

As I mentioned above, a recipe follows each chapter, based on something one of the characters cooked or ate. I originally thought about making the "Old Lady's Beet Soup" from the first chapter but I wasn't feeling it. Some of the pastas and sauces sounded good, as did the Bristol Hotel Cucumber Salad and Gable's Cheese Fondue and Proper French Omelet. I ended up going with (Station ChiefForsyth's Soubise, described as "He knew one dish, a soubise, buttery braised rice and caramelized onions." It was what I wanted most. 

I took the recipe sketch in the book and also looked online where I found Julia Child's version. Mine is a combination of the two, cut down t heavily to make a small portion and I cheated by using my favorite frozen glazed onions.(I used a tray which is about 3 onions worth). To save time on a night after a long work day, I cooked my arborio rice about 10 minutes and ended up cooking the dish about 35 minutes instead of Julia's hour. I also added a little dried thyme and stirred it into the mix and besides adding the cheese to the rice mixture, at the last minute, I shaved Gruyere on top of the dish.

I promise, it tastes MUCH better than my sad little pictures look! ;-)

"Forsyth's Soubise" From Red Sparrow

"Boil rice in salted water for five minutes. In separate French sauciere, highly caramelize seasoned onions in butter. Stir in rice, cover, and cook gently in medium oven, stirring occasionally, until golden. Before serving, stir in heavy cream and grated Gruyere.


Adapted from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Knopf, 1970 
(Yields 6 Servings)

1/2 cup rice 
4 quarts rapidly boiling water 
1 1/2 Tbsp salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 cup (one-half stick) butter, plus 2 tablespoons softened butter 
2 lbs yellow onions, thinly sliced 
1/8 tsp pepper 
1/4 cup heavy cream 
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese (I used Gruyere)
1 Tbsp minced parsley (I mixed in dried thyme)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. (I cooked it at 325 degrees)

Drop the rice into the boiling water to which has been added the salt. Boil five minutes exactly and drain immediately.

Heat the 1/4 cup of butter in a three-quart flameproof casserole and when it is foaming, stir in the onions. When they are well-coated with butter, stir in the rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cover and cook very slowly in the oven for one hour, stirring occasionally. The rice and onions should become very tender and will usually turn a light golden yellow. Taste and reseason. (The recipe may be prepared to this point several hours in advance. Reheat before proceeding.) 

Just before serving, stir in the cream and cheese and then the softening butter. Taste again for seasonings and turn into a dish. Serve with sprinkled parsley. 

Notes/Results; OK, this is really good--really rich and REALLY good. It's creamy, buttery, decadent, and the sweet, caramelized onions and nutty Gruyere are an excellent match. It's like an oven-baked risotto with less stirring and it probably would even be better without the shortcuts I took. I was both sad and glad that I made 2-3 servings only. Sad because I enjoyed it, glad because health food it is not. I will definitely make it again. 

The deadline for this round is today, and Simona will be rounding up the entries for Cook the Books on the website in a day or two. If you missed this round and you like books and food and foodie books, join us for our April/May pick, Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci, hosted by me. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Revisiting Vegan Lasagna Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Hi Friends, 

It has been a while since I have posted a Souper Sundays post. Truth be told, I am still trying to work out what I want to do going forward with this event. Keep going, end it, make it bi-weekly... the jury is still out. I do know that I have not been in the kitchen much these past few months, and I have enjoyed not having the pressure of making soup (and photographing it and writing up posts) on Sundays, but I have missed seeing friends and their soups, salads, and sandwiches.

So, let's go another round or two while I work things out. 

This week, I am taking you back to a favorite vegan soup, this Lasagna Soup with Herbed Macadamia Ricotta, I made and posted back in February 2017. I was thinking about lasagna the other day, and soup, and this one came to mind, from But My Family Would Never Eat Vegan by Kristy Turner.

You can see my original post here.

Turner's version uses chickpeas in place of vegan meat substitutes and has a topping of Herbed Macadamia Ricotta. I made a couple of small changes to the recipe--upping the garlic and the tomatoes--mainly because the only no-salt crushed tomatoes I could find was in a 28-ounce can and I didn't want to bother with freezing/storing the leftovers. I upped the dried spices a bit too. My changes are noted in red below.

Lasagna Soup with Herbed Macadamia Ricotta
Slightly Adapted from But My Family Would Never Eat Vegan by Kristy Turner
(Serves 6)

1 tsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced (I used 5 cloves)
1 1/2 cups cooked, or 1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 medium yellow squash, sliced
1 Tbsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano (I used 1 Tbsp)
1 tsp dried parsley (I used 2 tsps)
pinch of cayenne (or crushed red pepper)
1 (15-oz) can no-salt added tomato sauce
1 (15 oz) can no-salt added crushed tomatoes (I used 1 28-oz can)
1 quart low-sodium vegetable broth
12-oz lasagna noodles, broken in half
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast, optional
1 Tbsp lemon juice
salt and black pepper to taste
3 cups loosely packed chopped fresh spinach
1 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
Herbed Macadamia Ricotta (recipe below)
Fresh basil to garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. 

In another large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic and saute until the onion turns translucent. Add the chickpeas, mushrooms, squash, and dried herbs and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until vegetables start to become tender. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes and broth and bring soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are mostly tender.

Meanwhile, cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions--until al dente. Drain the pasta and add them to the soup. Stir in the nutritional yeast and lemon juice. Taste and add salt and black pepper to taste. Add the chopped spinach and basil and remove soup from heat.

Serve immediately topped with a scoop of the Herbed Macadamia Ricotta.

Leftover soup will keep in a container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. Turner notes not to let the soup simmer for too long after adding the noodles or while reheating as they will absorb more liquid and break apart. Add more liquid if needed when reheating. 

My Notes: This soup has good flavor and hit the spot. The herbed macadamia ricotta is just the right touch and even with the addition of the chickpeas--a bit unusual for lasagna, it has all of the taste of the dish. Very creamy and satisfying--even without the meat. The lasagna noodles are a little unwieldy to eat with their size but they cut pretty easily with the spoon. For the ricotta, I soaked my macadamias over night but had a hard time in getting them very smooth in the food processor--adding quite a bit of extra soaking water. Then I thought about it and decided that ricotta usually isn't completely smooth and decided not to worry about it. It ended up melting into the soup as I ate it and was delicious. Next time, I may make it in my high-speed blender instead just to see what it does to the texture. All-in-all it was a relatively quick and easy soup to make and tasted great--I think it would satisfy vegans and meat-eaters alike. I would happily make it again.  

If you'd like to join in Souper Sundays, I am opening up the below link for two weeks while I finish deciding what my go-forward looks like. 

Anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.) 

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.  

To join in this week's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you.

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchenand link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional).

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
Have a happy, healthy week!