Every summer, my inner beach bum emerges and I toy with the idea of ditching everything and finding a beach shack to call home. Not a responsible, reasonable idea, I know. My safe solution is to cook summer foods until the last local tomato drops from the vine. To wear sandals well into October (no, not with socks). To swim in the ocean after Columbus Day.
Before you fall headlong into the realm of autumn (pears, chestnuts, leeks, etc.), stretch out summer by using all the great produce still plentiful in the markets. There are still summer squashes to be cooked, ears of corn to be shucked. It’s not over yet!
Tired of zucchini after the seemingly endless supply of it these past months? Try this simple, fast puréed soup. It’s packed with vegetables, has no dairy or gluten (if you care) and the spices elevate the soup to an exotic-seeming, Goa-inspired velouté. Serve chilled on an Indian summer day or hot to warm you from inside. The bright green color takes it way beyond the usual soggy pile of sautéed zucchini that gives this vegetable a bad name.
Eminently flexible, this recipe withstands all sorts of adaptations. Try making it with butternut squash (much more autumnal). Use leeks or parsnips instead of zucchini. In fact, this is like a master-puréed-vegetable-soup recipe, with an Indian kick. No canned chicken stock needed. Just vegetables, water and spice. The toasted nuts add depth and make it feel special.
Go to the farmer’s market and buy a box of summer squash. Make boatloads of this soup and freeze portioned containers. There will come a cold day in December and you will have this soup, feel a flash of summer, and share a meal with your inner beach bum.
Spicy Zucchini Soup with Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Martha Stewart
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon mild curry powder, preferably homemade (recipe below)
1½ pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 potato (about 6 oz), peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups water
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with salt and add garlic. Stir to combine and cook about a minute. Add curry and stir, then add zucchini and potato. Sauté for five more minutes.
Pour water over vegetable mixture and turn up heat, bringing the mixture to boil. Lower heat and simmer about 10 minutes, or until potato is just tender.
Transfer in batches to a blender (never more than 1/2 full, to avoid messy, painful accidents), blending until smooth and creamy. Serve hot or cold, with toasted almonds as a garnish.
Everyone has a recipe for this spice blend. Mine is culled from Madhur Jaffrey and Peter Berley, two chefs I admire. Making your own blend has the advantage of tasting fresh and lively, and allowing you to amplify certain flavors to your liking. Cayenne equals heat so if you like a lot, add more. Invest in a simple coffee grinder (about $20) and dedicate it to spices.
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
½ cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds (brown or yellow)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat a small, cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add coriander, cumin, cinnamon, caraway, fennel, peppercorns, cloves and mustard seeds. Stir until spices smell toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn out onto clean plate to cool.
Transfer spices to coffee or spice grinder and grind finely. Add ginger, turmeric and cayenne and stir to combine. Use a clean glass jar to store the spice blend and keep in cool, dry place for up to 2 months.