Vadalia Onion Soup

Soup production is back in full swing in our house now that the winter months are here. The decision is always which one to make this time. I often look to the many soups already posted in our database. The list of flavors range from Acorn Squash and Apple soup to Zucchini soup. However, when I am not surfing the web for a soup recipe, my favorite soup cookbook, the New England Soup Factory Cookbook is what I grab from the bookshelf. I have yet to make a soup from this book that was not a keeper. I am not sure if it still remains in print.

Monday evening I turned to page 12 for a favorite of ours, Vadalia Onion soup. It is very similar to a standard french onion soup, but with added sweetness from the onions and tomato paste. If you find it too sweet, you can cut back on the tomato paste. It has always been a hit with our guests and family. The picture below is shown without the cheese so you can see the texture and color of the soup.

Recipe

6 tbsp salted butter
8 large Vidalia onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups cream sherry, divided
3 tbsp tomato paste
16 cups beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp water
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
croutons
grated Gruyere cheese

In a stockpot melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from sticking. Add garlic and continue to saute for 20 more minutes. Add 1 cup of the sherry. Deglaze the pan, stirring to loosen the cooked pieces at the bottom. Add the remaining 1 cup sherry, tomato paste, beef stock, and bay leaves. Increase heat to med-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour. Add corn starch mixture and increase heat to high. Turn off the heat adding the vinegar and salt and pepper.

Remove the bay leaves. Ladle into soup bowls or a large ramekins. Add croutons on top and then cheese. Put bowls on a cooking sheet and place under broiler until cheese is bubbly and brown.

Note: If you buy the onions at Costco, those are jumbo not large.

Baharat – A Mixed Spice

We are continuing to progress through The Complete Middle East Cookbook and found an interesting spice in the Gulf States section. The mixed spice is Baharat and is an ingredient for the recipe Batata Charp with meat filling in the Iraq section. It looked like I had all the ingredients to make the spice except one; Cassia Bark.

I have never heard of cassia bark before so I was going to have to do without or figure out a substitute. A quick google search lead me to the Gourmet Sleuth website for answers. It explains that it is a bark similar to cinnamon, but darker. The spice is represented as cheaper than cinnamon but I am not sure that would be the case here in the United States. So any ground cinnamon substitute should work as a substitute. If it was only that easy. The recipe calls for a 1/4 cup of cassia bark. How much ground cinnamon is that? My answer was to take out cinnamon sticks and put them in 1/4 cup and weigh it. The cinnamon sticks came to 1/2 oz. So I will use 1/2 oz of cinnamon as the substitute. Here is the recipe to make a yield of about 2 cups:

1/2 cup black peppercorns
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1/4 cup cassia bark (or 1/2 oz ground cinnamon)
1/4 cup cloves
1/3 cup cumin seeds
2 teaspoons of cardamom seeds
4 whole nutmegs (~1/4 cup ground nutmeg)
1/2 cup of paprika

Place the first six ingredients into a blender and grind to a powder. I use a basic coffee grinder to grind my spices. I also cut my quantities of spices to 1/4 of the above which just fit my grinder. You may need to mix it all together and grind in batches. Next grate the nutmeg and blend into the spices and add the paprika (Note: If you are using ground cinnamon instead of cassia bark blend it in at this stage). Store it in an airtight jar or container.

Haloumi Cheese – The Cheese for Grilling

We added another cookbook to the bookshelf this month and will detail our trials and errors over the next few months. Having recently returned from the Middle East region, we searched for a general book on the cuisine and found The Complete Middle East Cookbook. The book is broken up by region and has a good mix of text on the local food culture and plenty of recipes.

The Cheese for Frying and Grilling

Our family lived on the island of Cyprus for a short period of time when I was growing up so I immediately turned to that chapter for a look. The first recipe was for Haloumi cheese which is a favorite of this household and Cypriots. This goat milk based cheese is great for grilling as it won’t melt like many others. Just cut 1/4 to 1/2 inch slabs and fry it in a non-stick pan on a medium-low heat adding olive oil if you wish. Brown each side and serve warm with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice. The cheese is mildly salty and has some tang to it. You can also top it of with some spreads, herbs or vegetables. Thicker slabs can be put directly on a grill. If you like to cook kabobs, next time cut some Haloumi into cubes, put it on the skewer and grill it with the vegetables. We have found this cheese at Whole Foods and Wegmans, but any shop with a large cheese selection should carry it. Someday I might be adventurous and make the cheese as the book describes but for now we will just enjoy the unique texture of this cheese from the the local grocer. If you would like the recipe just drop a note and I will share that with you.

A scan of other recipes in the Cypriot section of the book noted an interesting ingredient for many; lambs brains. I am sure if I really tired I could find some in the greater Washington DC area, but I think we will pass on those and just keep reading. Anyway we will keep you posted on our progress and post a full review of the book.