Sopa Seca

A few months ago I discovered the joy of cooking pasta in just enough liquid to bubble up over the top of the noodles. (Thanks to Cooking LIght magazine for the inspiration.) I realized that this dish translates easily to sopa seca, the wonderful “dry soup” of Mexico.

There’s nothing dry about sopa seca, but there’s not a whole lot of liquid. The method defies the conventional wisdom of giving pasta plenty of room in pot as they boil. Indeed, I still cook pasta that way when it’s the right way to cook it.

This method—which uses just 2 1/2 cups of broth for 4 ounces of pasta—behaves in an interesting way with any pasta, and particularly with gluten-free versions. I feared that it might dissolve into mush, which can happen pretty easily when you boil g.f. pasta in a giant pot of water. But Full Circle Gluten-Free Spaghetti, made from corn and rice, stayed stubbornly intact, remained pleasantly “to the teeth,” as they say in Italian.  Additionally, the corn and rice starch soaks into the broth, boosting it with subtle flavor. Given both grains’ close association with Mexican cuisine, it worked perfectly.

(If, by the way, you’re interested and even skeptical about cooking pasta in less water, read this entertaining NYTimes article.)

For the zucchini, I used Steve’s trick for even browning; he’s a stickler for getting all sides seared. Rather than cube the zucchini before hand (thus having to turn over each individual cube), we slice the zucchini lengthwise. We end up with 5 or 6 slices that are easy to turn; then we cut them afterward.

Zucchini is roasted before adding to sopa seca.

It goes together quickly. Non-vegans can add any number of protein choices to it, but it’s wonderfully filling and you really don’t need them, especially if you go a little hog-wild with the toppings. Is the vegan version of hog-wild….I dunno, avocado-wild? I kinda like that. May keep it. Or send your own nominations in the comments section. Above all, simply enjoy this lovely meal.

Sopa seca featuring roasted zucchini, avocado, cilantro, and other garnishes.

Meditteranean Bowl with Eggplant and Basil

The Mediterranean Basil Veggie Bowl

It’s eggplant season. I mean, technically, you can get eggplant pretty much year ’round, but I tend to crave it in summer, when tomatoes are at their best and the eggplant was freshly harvested someplace relatively close, as opposed to flown in from some hot and faraway place.

Meditteranean Bowl with Basil and Eggplant

I had a huge bunch of basil, and also have a big old jar of quinoa sitting around that I need to make a dent in. This dish came together super easily. Follow a few simple rules of thumb, and yours should come out perfect and yummy.

1. Always salt your eggplant first and let it sit for about 20 minutes. There are two reasons for this: 1) to get rid of bitter juices, and 2) to get the super spongy eggplant as water free as possible. Eggplant is wonderful when you can get it to brown. When you can’t, it’s a weird-textured soggy mess. The initial salting is key.

2. If you’ve been following my recipes, you’ll notice that I nearly always say to heat the pan first—naked, with nothing in it—then to add oil when the pan is hot, then to add food when the oil is hot. An empty pan heats faster. Oil can’t heat properly if it’s got stuff in it. You can’t sauté properly if your oil’s not hot enough. This is the way to love an eggplant, or really, any sauteed veggie.

3. Take your time with the sauté. We just got a new induction cooktop and it ROCKS. Responsive as gas, cleaner than gas as well as the electric ceramic top that I truly found…..challenging. (Or despicable, when I’m in a non-diplomatic mood.) My new cooktop makes it easy to regulate heat, and you want your sauté to be briskly browning without burning, and with the right amount of heat.

Sauteed Eggplant

This is something you just have to learn given your own cooking stuff. Pay attention, smell, look, and taste often. Just get it right the first time. Do-overs can happen, and can make a good dish out of a potential bad one, but it’s so better to just engage in what you’re doing, and constantly ask yourself, is this what I want to eat? If yes, continue; if no, figure out the issue. Not brown enough? Cook longer and increase the heat a bit. Add salt. Or sugar. Or a spice that just seems right.

The vegan-inclined can skip the cheese. (This recipe from Teagan at Half-Baked Harvest includes an amazing vegan Parmesan, as well as an amazing salad that I eat at least once a week.) Lavish on the basil. It’s one of the true delights of summer, and will transport you to a Mediterranean meadow when you close your eyes. Enjoy.

Meditteranean Bowl with Eggplant and Basil