WOW. I just made the most outrageous, EASY, and fast, fish soup!!! I’m trying to cool down with a HUGE ice-cold, crisp Pinot Grigio!! And, thankfully, it’s working. It rained a bit today, the temperature dropped a stunning 4 degrees, I’m down for soup. But I didn’t want some cook-all-day, roiling, thick, stew thing. So… a gorgeously colored fish soup. Always light but incredibly savory. Dad gets a beautiful fish soup just about every Saturday at the Swap Shop, it’s so darned good but so darned expensive. $12.00 for a cup. Are you kidding? Kiss my lily, white ass. I looked all through my cookbooks for different recipes but they all did the “fish stock” thing. I didn’t have any made or frozen and I just didn’t want to kill myself making it. It’s fish soup, dammit, fish soup. “I’m Gumby, dammit!! Gumby”. Well, that’s how I felt. Anyway, I wanted something rich in flavor, but at the same time, light and pretty. Apparently I wanted it all. And guess what? Through hard work and diligence I got it. I started with a good knob of butter, maybe 2 or 3 tablespoons, and a good splash of olive oil in a medium hot dutch oven/stock pot. To that I added a HUGE onion that I had finely chopped and when that had cooked to soft and clear I added 7 or 8 finely chopped garlic cloves. My feeling is, if I don’t have a good seafood stock then I need to unquestionably produce a broth that is strong, luxurious and full-bodied. And I did. After the garlic had softened sufficiently, I heightened the flavor by adding three large, peeled and cubed red-skinned boiling potatoes, two whole scotch bonnet peppers, and a large bunch of fresh cilantro, washed and finely chopped. We enjoy a lot of heat in our food and although scotch bonnets are small, they DO pack a considerable amount of heat!! Fair warning! I also threw in a good measure of salt and freshly ground pepper. Actually, I added more than I usually would because the potatoes will soak up a lot of the salt, they need it to bring out their own flavor. I found some saffron and tossed a few threads into the mix. A little color is ALWAYS good. I chopped and included another onion to deepen the taste. And a healthy glass of the grape I was enjoying, my snappy Pinot Grigio. To the juice of four lemons I added six cups of water and into the pot that went. I brought it up to a good simmer, covered it and walked away. I had set aside a large bowl with two pounds of shelled and cleaned shrimp and a couple of pounds of cod fillets cut into small cubes. After poking around on the computer and watching a little junky daytime television with Jimmy, I tasted the broth to see what it needed. Just a little salt and pepper. I added the seafood and another bunch of washed, chopped cilantro, to brighten the pot. And turned up the heat, just enough to cook the fish but not toughen it. Two minutes later… voila!! It was gorgeous! Just the right amount of heat, citrus and aromatics. Even Jimmy liked it and he HATES soup! I think snapper, dolphin or wahoo would be outrageous in this and, of course, lime in place of lemon. Lemon grass would be lovely as would some marjoram. Play around with it or focus on the flavor YOU like. If you like the anise flavor use fennel in place of cilantro and add a splash of Pernod. I few chopped tomatoes might be nice. And I ever so carefully took the scotch bonnets out and discarded them. Well, Jimmy just called from the Panther’s game, in some fancy, hoity-toity box, to say he can’t wait to come home and have some of the soup. I say, “Get out!”. He hates beans and he hates soup and he’s going to start liking it now? Well, fine by me! Nothing makes me happier than when he likes what I love! Soup is a luxury to me so if there’s motivation to prepare it, bring it!! This is a fine soup, delicate and light, still satisfying and potent. In MY kingdom, this would be the consummate meal if served in an individual, footed soup bowl in my formal porcelain pattern. Would that it were. But it’s still the best regardless of it’s serving vessel!
How did this black, foul mood get started? When my little eyes fluttered open at 5:45 a.m., I was not unhappy. Then again, I wasn’t thrilled either. But something, something, got under my skin, riiiight up next to me and by the time I had reached worked I was enraged. I felt murderous. On the way to work, my anger was just boiling over. The first time I can remember feeling that I’m-out-of-control-and-I-really-don’t-care sensation was back in the eighties when I was living in Atlanta and my then boyfriend was catting around behind my back. Again. And not bothering to cover his tracks. I had gone home for the weekend and, upon returning, stopped by his house, unannounced. He wasn’t home, but I could see there had been some weekend company. As Dad would say, “a little nocturnal activity”. The signs were everywhere and I was livid. Crazed. Unhinged. And someone was gonna pay. I was a smoker then, and as I paced and swore and paced some more I ended up in his walk-in closet. He fancied himself a stylish dresser. NOT. Without a moment’s hesitation I took my cigarette and burned a large, but not immediately noticeable, hole in every piece of clothing in that enormous closet. Cigarette after cigarette, I chose to burn holes in the armholes and back collars of suit jackets. The cuff or elbow of a shirt. And the crotch of every pant. Natch. Lord, did that feel good!! Sweaters, belts, shoes, everything. I mean, he REALLY did deserve it. He made absolutely certain I saw his collection of girl’s names and phone numbers in the junk drawer in his kitchen. We had decided not to see other people. Cocktail napkins, matchbooks, deposit slips, torn scraps of paper, they were everywhere. He was just hateful. He was a runner and when he would leave his house to go on a run, there would always be a blue jay that would swoop down and attack him. I’d see that bird and think, “Good. Hope he pecks your eyes out.” Even that bird knew he was evil!! Behind his back, my friends called him “BC”, short for “Black Cloud”, or just plain “Larry the Loser”. Can you just not mess with me? And why DO we put up with that? But I don’t remember anything like that happening today. And yet, here I was in a dark, dark mood. Hurtling down Bayview bitter and resentful. Now, if I see road-kill on the way to work in the form of, say, a ‘possum that typically perks me right up. And if I can share that with my friend, Selene, then I feel even better! She loves road-kill as much as I do. As she put it, “Honey, I’m from Texas. We celebrate road-kill!” Well, there WASN’T any road-kill today so, with no dead raccoons in sight, no flat, red squirrels, I thought about what I’d prepare for dinner if I could have anything in the world. That ALWAYS makes me feel better! I came up with appetizers. I wanted three of them. And no meat. So, here’s what we had for dinner and what kept me out of prison. Tyrokafteri, spicy-hot feta dip. Melitzanosalata, roasted eggplant salad, but it’s more like a dip. Hand sliced mushrooms sauteed with garlic and fresh mint, ALL on whole wheat crostini. It was heaven and now, after a glass of my methadone, (wine), I’m actually kind of mellow!
Melitzanosalata Roasted Eggplant Salad
yield: 3-4 cups
- 3 medium to large, unbruised eggplants
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar, red wine vinegar is also fine but balsamic is too dark
- 4 handfuls of chopped walnuts (I’m on a walnut kick. They’re a super food. I said to Jimmy that maybe I should bake a tray of baklava so we can be REALLY healthy!)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Set oven to broil, high broil if you have the choice. Line a small baking sheet with tin foil, for easy clean up, and place clean, whole eggplants on baking sheet. With eggplants as close to broiler as possible, broil for 30-45 minutes, depending on size of eggplants. Turn every 15 minutes or so, for even broiling.
- While eggplants are in oven, add all other ingredients to food processor.
- When eggplants have cooked completely, remove from oven to cool. With a sharp knife, make a slit from stem to bottom in skin. When cool to the touch, carefully squeeze liquid from pulp. Using a spoon with a relatively sharp edge, I use a soup spoon, scrape out all the pulp and put in food processor. Process mixture until smooth, scraping down sides of processor every once in a while.
- Taste for seasoning. Between the seeds of the eggplants and the walnuts, the mixture will still have a lot of texture. This can be served hot, cold or at room temperature. It can be served as a side or as an appetizer. The eggplants can also be cooked on a grill, just keep your eye on them and don’t forget to turn them occasionally. This stuff is like crack to me! I love it!
Tyrokafteri or Spicy Feta Dip
yield: 2 cups
- 1/2 pound good feta cheese, or the best available
- 1/2 fresh jalapeno or scotch bonnet pepper, we like ours spicy so I use 1 whole scotch bonnet.
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
- Roughly crumble feta into food processor.
- In a small saute pan, sear outside of pepper. When cool, cut if only using part of it. For those who don’t care for heat, carefully cut out ribs inside and scrape out seeds. That’s where the heat is more concentrated. Since I’m a contact lens user, I always use disposable, rubber gloves so I don’t get the hot oils on my fingers and then transfer the heat to my eyes. You only have to do that once to learn your lesson!
- Put pepper in processor and add olive oil. Process until smooth. Serve with crostini. It’s great to take to a party. And you can make it a day in advance.
Sauteed Mushrooms with Garlic and Fresh Mint
yield: 4 cups
- 2 16-oz. containers large, white, button mushrooms, thinly sliced and sliced by hand
- 4 or 5 large garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only, chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- Heat a large pan on medium high heat and add olive oil then mushrooms. As the mushrooms cook they will begin to release liquid.
- Add garlic and salt and pepper. Stir so mushrooms cook evenly.
- Cook until mushroom liquid begins to evaporate and then add mint. Allow some of the mushrooms to brown on the bottom of the pan, but be careful not to burn them. They will darken to a beautiful chestnut color. Serve on top of crostini with lots of wine! This is also good hot, cold, or at room temperature.