This month, I figured we needed a recovery recipe.
You know, recover from everything we indulged in at the North Carolina State Fair this month: the funnel cakes, Steven’s sausages, griddled and slathered with onions and peppers, all the food samples from the Got To Be NC tent, Al’s Fries, the new Jamaican food stand, and the list goes on and on.
For me, it also includes judging the apple, eggs, pork and beef special cooking competition. The apple desserts put me in a food coma.
I love judging these competitions. They are a great window into what home cooks are up to. WRAL’s Ken Smith and I even made a pact to judge the Spam competition next year, one that we both have avoided in the past, with some prodding from Lisa Prince, who, with her crew at the NC Department of Agriculture, does a bang-up job of pulling off a different cooking contest every day at the fair.
But judging does come with some hazards. Not from the food, mind you, but from the amounts of food.
So, the week after the fair I feel, well, fat. That doesn’t prevent me from being hungry, though. I posed the question to some of my fellow judges, telling them what I had in mind for this column. Prince spoke up.
“We had this great soup recipe from our vegetable contest,” she said.
Actually, the recipe was the winning entry from Domino Ireland of Raleigh.
I like this recipe for several reasons. First, it’s just dang good. Second, it uses something we might normally throw away: stems to greens. The addition of leeks, a seriously underused vegetable that permeates with a delicate sweetness, is a perfect foil to the heat of the noticeable, but not in your face, habanero pepper.
The mouthfeel is luscious, through pureeing and the use of buttermilk, without a bunch of calories. You really feel like you are eating something decedent.
Not only does it fill my need for an after-the-State-Fair food, but this soup could round out any holiday feast. Yes, I said holiday. They are coming quickly.
Now, me being me, I played with it a bit, but left it true to the original recipe, so forgive me Domino.
I like the idea of garnishing the soup with a chiffonade of a few leaves of the Swiss chard and letting them wilt into the hot soup just as you serve it. A few chunks of lump crab meat or boiled shrimp (pickled shrimp are even better), even maybe some diced Sunburst Farms smoked trout, would fancy this dish right up.
So join me as we recover from another great State Fair.
Serve with: As a main course, you just need a salad. This would be a wonderful first course for beef, turkey, or ham
To drink: Try an unoaked Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc
The recipe was developed by Domino Ireland of Raleigh and adapted by Fred Thompson. Ireland’s version won first place in the North Carolina Vegetable Growers Recipe Challenge at the NC State Fair this year.
2 tablespoons avocado oil or canola oil
1 leek, light green and white parts, chopped
1 cup Swiss chard stems, chopped
1 habanero pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock, divided
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
1 cup buttermilk (Maple View Farms is excellent)
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Swiss Chard leaves cut into Chiffonade
1/2 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, diced cooked shrimp or diced smoke Sunburst Farms trout
chives, chopped for garnish
sour cream, if desired
Heat the avocado oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and Swiss chard stems. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring until softened. Add habanero and onion and cook until onion is translucent. Remove from the pot and reserve. Keep the pot over heat.
Deglaze the pot with a 1/2 cup chicken stock. Add the remaining chicken stock and bring to a light boil, adding potatoes. Cook for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in onion and garlic powders. Return the cooked vegetable mixture back into the Dutch oven and simmer for one minute. Remove from heat.
Pour half of the mixture into a food processor or blender, and pulse to a smooth texture. Pour into a bowl. Add remaining vegetable mixture to the food processor and blend slowly, adding the buttermilk. (I used an Immersion stick blender because I hate cleaning up food processers and it allows me more control over how smooth I want the soup.) Soup is left lightly chunky. Combine everything back in the Dutch oven, taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Stir, then heat on low to warm back up.
Ladle the soup into bowls, and add the Swiss chard leaves, letting them wilt a bit. Add the seafood if using, then sprinkle with chives. A little dollop of sour cream is nice, too. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a first course