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Friday, October 15

Gapers Block

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I received an interesting request recently from a reader who has recently become vegan. "I love making soup, but I'm so sick of using vegetable broth or tomato juice to do it. Help!"

It's an interesting enough request, so I thought I'd oblige it by turning to my tried and true books, hitting up the Internet for advice, and stumbled across an incredibly tasty possibility while perusing a book by Julia Child. It's technically still a vegetable broth, but it tastes nothing like vegetable broth. And before you carnivores go all "ick" on me, please be patient. See, this is just a base broth that you can add anything to, even meat or cheese.

And while I was making this soup base and coming up with lists of possible ingredients to add to it, I started flipping through Julia's book before coming across another item that wasn't vegan, but could be made vegan. She uses it to flavor fish soups, but I think it is tasty enough for flavoring a lot of things. So follow me on my quest for a vegan dish that led me there and to another new-to-me way to handle handfuls of garlic. And I do mean handfuls of garlic.

Normally when I cook with garlic I use one to three cloves, depending on the size of the dish I'm making, so when I read that Julia recommended that I use two full heads, and when I realized that the garlic wasn't coming out of the soup, I was a little shocked and admittedly worried that the garlic would be way too overpowering. And while you'll have no doubt that you're eating a lot of garlic, just like Julia says, "two heads are not too much!"

Garlic Soup (or Aigo Bouido)
3 small yellow onions
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 large heads of garlic
2 quarts of water
2 teaspoons of salt
a pinch of pepper (white is preferred)
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of ground sage
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of ground marjoram
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Remove the outer skin from the onions and slice them in half from stem to root. Slice the onion very thinly and add to a 3-4 quart stockpot. Drizzle two tablespoons of the olive oil over the onions and place the pot over medium heat. While the onions start to soften in the oil, remove all of the garlic cloves from their papery skin. Place each clove of garlic on your cutting board and place the flat side of the knife over the garlic. Hit the knife with the palm of your hand to crush the garlic. Once the onion is softened and starting to turn yellow, add the garlic and let it cook for a minute or two in the oil. Now pour in the remaining ingredients and stir. Cover the pot with a lid and let it come to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat to medium-low and let the contents simmer for 30 minutes to an hour.

You can continue in one of two ways. You can remove the bay leaf and the cloves from the pot and use a stick blender to blend the onions, garlic and herbs together to create a smooth soup. Or you can place a large mesh strainer over a large bowl and pour the contents of your pot into the strainer. Remove the bits that are hard and press against the softer garlic and onion bits with the back of a spoon to remove all of the liquid from these ingredients. Return the liquid to the stockpot and taste to see if you need to add more salt or pepper.

Now traditionally, according to Julia at least, one would now put three egg yolks into the soup tureen you'll serve the soup out of and whisk them. While whisking them you'd drizzle 1/4 cup of olive oil into the tureen to create sort of a mayonnaise-like substance. Then you'd spoon just a little bit of the hot soup into the tureen and whisk it before whisking in a little more of the soup, and then whisking constantly while pouring the rest of the soup into the tureen. This would create a thicker soup and the egg yolks and olive oil would help to minimize the garlic tang.

However, since I received this request from a vegan, here is what I suggest you do to keep this dish vegan. Place 1/2 cup of silken tofu into a serving dish (or a tureen if you have one) and add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Use your whisk to make the tofu have a creamy texture. Add a cup or two of the hot soup and whisk to make sure the tofu dissolves, or breaks down, evenly. Continue whisking as you add the remaining soup to the dish.

This soup can be eaten as it is, with a few rounds of crusty, toasted bread. Or you could kick it up a notch by adding any of these ingredients to the soup after you've strained or pureed it, and before you've added the egg yolk or the tofu.

3/4 cup of long-grain rice
2 cups of finely diced potatoes
1/2 cup of oatmeal or barley
1/2 to 1 cup of small pasta shapes
a handful of freshly chopped parsley
1 pound (2 cups) of chowder-type fish (cod, halibut, pollack, red snapper or sea scallops)
1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
a poached egg per serving
1 cup of cooked, shredded chicken or turkey

Or just about anything else that strikes your fancy, really. It could be vegetables, it could be meats. And while nothing other than the basics are necessary for this very rustic, peasant-style soup, you can have quite a bit of fun adding things to it and making the same soup taste very different with the addition of just a few ingredients.

To continue showing how garlic can be added to soups to drastically change the taste of the soup, while still keeping it vegan (or carnivore-friendly), here is a sauce that can be added to any soup in large or small amounts to really punch up the flavor. So even if you do find yourself starting with vegetable stock as your base, with the addition of this, you won't have to be bored.

Red Garlic Sauce (Rouille)
5 cloves of peeled garlic
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano or thyme
3/4 cup of bread crumbs
2-3 tablespoons of hot soup
1/2 cup of silken tofu (or 3 egg yolks)
1 roasted red pepper that is seeded and peeled (or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste)
1/2 to 1 cup of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon of Sriracha (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

This sauce is derived from the French and is generally used as the flavoring in Bouillabaise, or fish stew. The garlic in this dish really does need to be mashed with the back of a stainless steel spoon. You can begin by either finely chopping the garlic and putting it into a bowl that is large enough to hold all of the ingredients, or you can run the garlic through a press. Once you have finely chopped or pressed garlic, sprinkle it with the salt and use the back of a spoon to turn the garlic into a paste. There is an odd chemical reaction that happens with the salt and the spoon that will neutralize the sharpness of the garlic. If you like the sharp, almost spicy, tang of the garlic you'll still want the garlic to be a paste but your tools won't be as important.

Once you have the garlic pasty, add in the herbs and stir until combined. Now add in the bread crumbs and stir until the bread crumbs have soaked up the liquid from the garlic. Add in a few tablespoons of vegetable broth (or milk if you prefer) and stir until the bread crumbs have soaked up all the liquid. Stir in the tofu or egg yolks and then stir in the red pepper or tomato paste. You can complete the next steps in a blender or food processor or using a hand mixer. Beat the ingredients in the bowl for a minute until they're very thick. Now begin to drizzle in the olive oil (1/2 cup if using tofu, up to 1 cup if using egg yolks). Stop when it seems that the oil isn't being absorbed. Add the spicy ingredient if desired and continue mixing until it is incorporated. You should have a thick and heavy sauce. Taste it before adding salt and pepper if needed.

Now that you have your very rich, garlicky sauce, you can add it to any soup you want to. Just keep in mind that the non-vegan version will curdle so you'll have to temper it. This means that once you have hot soup, spoon a couple of tablespoons of this sauce into a bowl and add a tablespoon of the hot soup. Stir, and repeat a few times until the temperature of the sauce has slowly come up to the temperature of the soup. Pour it in and stir continuously until it is evenly distributed.

If you find that you really like this sauce, here are a few other things you can do with it:
• Add a teaspoon to a serving of couscous
• Brush it on a fish fillet before grilling or broiling
• Add a tablespoon of the rouille and a tablespoon of vinegar together and whisk to create a salad dressing
• Pour a quarter cup of the mix over 2 cups of baked or boiled potatoes that have been chopped and toss until it is evenly combined
• Brush the mix on skirt steak that has been pan-fried or grilled
• You can mix a teaspoon into a quarter-cup of mayonnaise to use as a dipping sauce for french fries
• You can spread the sauce on slices of bread to serve as a hearty accompaniment to an otherwise boring sandwich

I considered writing at length about how good garlic is for you, about how it helps prevent cancer, keeps you from succumbing to viral and bacterial infections, about how it can help control diabetes and blood pressure. But I'll let you research that on your own if you're interested. Instead I wanted to focus on the deliciousness that is garlic. So many people equate being vegetarian or vegan with eating bland food. I've been guilty of that as well. However, this challenge really has helped push me over a mental divide. I still like cheese, sushi and bacon way too much to become a full-time vegetarian. But if all vegetarian dishes tasted as good as this, I'd be much more likely to become a vegetarian at least part-time.

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About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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