Cauliflower for a good cause


The last weeks before the local asparagus and strawberries arrive may be the most discouraging of the year for those of us who try to cook local.

The sun is shining, the tulips are blooming, and the fruit trees are breaking out in clouds of pink and white blossoms.  But the produce aisles of most markets are still dominated by sturdy greens, roots and cruciferous vegetables.

At times like these, I really welcome new ideas for preparing old standbys.  This cauliflower curry is one of the best. Continue reading Cauliflower for a good cause

A soup for spring


Spring is a fickle season.

One day dawns sunny and warm, spurring an appetite for tender greens in a salad.  The next is dreary and wet, just the sort of weather for a good soup.

Although the calendar says we still have another week of winter, the weather here in Portland has been toying with spring.  The daffodils are blooming and the gardeners have been out in force.

But the skies are gray today and I have soup on my mind – not a hearty, long-simmering recipe, though.  I want something light and flavorful like this easy pot sticker soup.

Inspired by fragrant Vietnamese pho, the recipe comes together quickly with commercial chicken broth and frozen pot stickers.  Fresh ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, a cinnamon stick and a couple of star anise work their magic in just half an hour.

The broth ingredients are mostly pantry staples.  I like  to add fresh lemongrass which is now available at Whole Foods.  If you don’t have it or can’t find it, though, the soup will be good anyway.  Fish sauce is optional although it adds a depth of flavor.  Sweet sherry, white wine or sake with a pinch of sugar can substitute for the mirin.

For the potstickers, I like to use Ling Ling brand chicken and vegetable pot stickers that I buy at Costco.  But any good pot stickers that aren’t loaded with artificial ingredients would work.

Pre-washed baby spinach straight out of the bag adds color and fresh flavor with almost no effort.

Until warm weather is here to stay, this soup will keep your spirits up.  One whiff of its delicate aroma is enough to brighten my day.

Serves 4 to 6

6 small dried shiitake mushrooms
6 cups chicken broth
6 thin slices of fresh ginger
2 whole star anise, smashed
1 stick cinnamon
8 peppercorns, preferably Szechuan
2-inch length of lemongrass
1-2 tablespoons of fish sauce to taste (optional)
3 cups fresh, pre-washed baby spinach
13-ounce package frozen pot stickers (or equivalent)
Sriracha or other hot chile sauce for serving (optional)

Place mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with boiling water to soften while you pull together the remaining ingredients.  Pour chicken broth into a large saucepan and add ginger, spices, lemongrass and fish sauce if you’re using it.  You could tie up the star anise, cinnamon stick and peppercorns in cheesecloth if you wish, but the small pieces will sink to the bottom and the cinnamon stick is easy to fish out before serving.

Drain mushrooms, squeeze out excess water, and slice.  Add sliced mushrooms to the broth. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.  A few minutes before serving, stir in spinach.

Meanwhile, bring large pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the frozen pot stickers, working in batches if necessary to keep them from clumping together.   Boil pot stickers for 5-6 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon from pot to a colander and rinse with cool water.

To serve, place 3 or 4 pot stickers in the bottom of a soup bowl.  Ladle out enough broth to cover, making sure to include spinach and several slices of mushrooms.  Pass around sriracha but be forewarned:  a couple of drops go a long way.

Aleta Watson