Sunday, March 25, 2012

Potato-Leek (or Onion) Soup

Spring is here, and winter is coming to a close...supposedly, anyway.  (Never mind the fact that three days ago it snowed enough for the schools to be closed, but I digress.)  With the change of seasons, I always begin to think differently about cooking, what to cook, and how to prepare it.  After a long winter of roasting and braising, I look forward to using my grill more often as the temperatures warm and the light stays until after dinnertime.

Unfortunately, it doesn't all happen overnight, and at least here in the PNW, it won't be consistently warm for at least another couple of months.  As such, I am kind of all over the place with cooking this time of year.  Last night, I grilled some lovely center-cut pork chops, and today, I made potato soup.  I like soup any time of year, but tend to make it less in the summer when it's warmer.  And in the spring, I like to make lighter soups with seasonal ingredients, rather than the meaty, heartier soups of winter.  This potato soup is just perfect for this time of year, and it is so simple, there's really not even a recipe for it- more a collection of ingredients, and a technique for assembling them.  It is inspired by the classic potato-leek soup of Julia Child, with just a couple of minor changes.  Her recipe calls for water, and I use a mix of water and chicken broth.  Also, I used a mix of leeks and onions in mine- I don't always, sometimes I use all of one or the other, but this time I had only two leeks, so supplemented with half an onion.  It is delicious with any of these options, not to mention light and healthy, with very little added fat.  I topped mine with newly-sprouted chives from my garden.

Potato-Leek (or Onion) Soup

1.5 tbsp butter
2 medium leeks
1/2 large onion
4 medium russett potatoes
3 cups chicken broth
water, as needed
about 1/4 cup half-and-half
salt/pepper to taste
optional: fresh chopped chives

1.  Slice root ends and most of green tops from leeks and discard.  Slice leeks in half lengthwise.  Soak in a large bowl of cold water to remove dirt and sand from between layers.  Pat dry, then slice leeks thinly crosswise.

2.  Slice onion thinly.

3.  Peel potatoes and slice thinly.

4.  Melt butter in a large pot.  Add leeks and onions; stir and cook until tender.

5.  Add chicken broth and potatoes.  Add enough water to cover potatoes by 1 inch.

6.  Bring to a boil, tnen reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender.

7.  In batches, puree in a food processor or blender, or use a stick blender right in the pot.  (I **LOOOVVEE*** mine!)  Puree until smoothe and velvety.

8.  Bring heat back up to a simmer and cook about 15 more minutes.  Cook longer if it seems too watery.

9.  Add salt, pepper, and half-and-half.

Makes about 4-6 servings.  It tastes even better the second day!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad

I love Greek food.  I remember the very first time I ever had it.  My then-fiancee (now husband) and I were in Indiana visiting his older brother, and he took us to a favorite Greek restaurant for lunch.  He ordered a combination plate for us all to share, so I got a good sampling of some of the more popular Greek dishes: spanakopita, dolmades, moussaka, kababs, and salad.  I remember loving all of it, and especially noted the salad, because it was so simple and, I thought, would be easy to make at home.  I was right, and have for many years made different versions of Greek salad at home.

There are a lot of versions out there. Some contain lettuce, others spinach, and still others, no greens at all.  Some are a simple mix of tomatoes, onions, cucumber and olives in a garlicky lemon and olive oil dressing, along with feta cheese.  It is this version that I most often make, because it keeps well for several days, and actually tastes better when it has been sitting in the fridge for a couple of days, allowing all the flavors to meld together.  To make it into more of a meal in itself than a side dish, I will sometimes add pasta, rice, or couscous.  The version I am sharing today uses orzo pasta, but it would be equally delicious with another small pasta.  I have made this exact version many times with couscous as well.

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad
Servings: about 4-6


1 cup orzo pasta
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1/2 of a large cucumber, peeled,  seeded and diced
1/4 cup diced red onion (about 1/4 of a medium sized onion)
1/2 cup kalamata olives, halved lengthwise (you could use regular black olives if you don't have kalamatas)
1/2 cup canned artichoke hearts, drained well and diced (note: I have  used both water-packed and marinated artichoke hearts before, but in this version, I used marinated)
1.5 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, minced finely
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Whisk dressing ingredients together and set aside.

2.  Cook orzo according to package directions.  Drain and rinse in a sieve under cold water and place in a large bowl.  Drain well after rinsing.

3.  Add tomatoes, cucumber, onions, olives, and artichoke hearts to orzo and toss well to incorporate.

4.  Pour dressing over salad and toss gently to mix completely.

5.  Add spinach and feta cheese and fold in gently.  Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

This is best if it is made ahead and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours.  Keep in mind that the spinach will wilt over time, so if you don't like that texture, you could keep the spinach separate and add it when serving.  To make a hearty lunch salad, you could add a can of well-drained albacore tuna, some diced cooked chicken, or shrimp.