There’s days when it’s too hot to be productive. In Seattle, we don’t get too many of those days but I understand that’s what most of the country feels like right about now. If it’s 105°F and 95% humidity, then honey, cut yourself a break and have a bowl of watermelon for dinner! With a chunk of salty feta and a crisp glass of chardonnay? Sounds like perfect non-productive hot day food to me.
Today however, is not one of those days (in Seattle at least). It’s doin’ its late August thing out here; sunny and in the upper 70’s, quite pleasant really. It’s about dinner time and while you’re hungry, you don’t really feel like a heavy meal. Today is a summer soup day. No, not hearty minestrone or soothing lentil stew, something more along the lines of a smooth and savory vegetable concoction with bright flavors and light body.
This sort of operation, while not quite as easy as the fruit, cheese and wine-based meal described above, is perfect for weeknights especially when the produce drawer needs a good purge. It’s simple: sauté any vegetables and aromatics of your choice (garlic, onions, scallions, ginger, shallots, etc) until fragrant; cover with stock and simmer until tender (5-10 minutes); then puree until smooth and serve warm or chilled. Boom. Dinner is served.
For my most recent version, I pureed bright green gai lan with shallots, ginger, garlic and chicken stock, then topped it with some spicy chili oil and a few crushed croutons for texture. What is gai lan exactly? Gai lan (also known as kai lan or Chinese broccoli) is a green vegetable from the same family as regular broccoli, Brassica oleracea. You might be familiar with the Italian-sounding broccolini, which is a cross between broccoli and gai lan.
Traditionally, gai lan it is steamed or stir-fried with oyster sauce and is common in Cantonese cuisine. I started buying it from my local ethnic market after discovering it at dim sum awhile back. Add it into your leafy green vegetable rotation along with the kale, broccoli, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens and spinach that you’re already buying.
Anyways, don’t think too hard about vegetables, just buy them and eat them, however you can. Especially on days like today.
· Gai lan is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C and folate. Sautéing the gai lan in oil helps your body absorb the fat soluble vitamin A.
· The fiber in gai lan helps to keep you fuller longer and helps to regulate blood sugar, among other benefits.
Gai Lan Soup with Chili Oil
No gai lan? No problem, try any vegetable. Seriously.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, grated on a microplane
1 bunch gai lan, leaves and tender stalks (trim the tough bottoms)
4-6 cups stock, broth or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Chili oil, to garnish
Croutons or fresh herbs to garnish
Saute. In a saucepot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the gai lan (or other vegetables) and aromatics. Sauté until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Simmer. Pour the stock, broth or water into the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5-10 minutes, only until the vegetables are tender (you don’t want to overcook them). Remove from the heat.
Puree. Ladle the soup into a blender until halfway full and remove the little plastic piece from the lid. Put the lid on the blender and cover the hole with a folded kitchen towel to allow steam to escape. Puree until completely smooth, then pour back into the pot and reheat if necessary or refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Garnish. Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with the chili oil, croutons, herbs or whatever garnishes you like.