Creamy Wild Rice Soup

I recently picked up from my local library a cookbook written by my cooking idol, Heidi Swanson, entitled Super Natural Cooking. Heidi, who also writes on her food blog, 101cookbooks.com, is a writer and photographer based in San Francisco. Her food is focused on natural, whole ingredients and brings interesting twists like using unique grains such as teff and amaranth, as well as incorporating great flavor in simple ways, like lemon zest or harissa.

Super Natural Cooking is one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have ever encountered. Her photos are incredible, the recipes are delicious, and the information provided makes this cookbook an essential addition to anyone's cooking library. That being said, I fully intend to purchase and covet this book, as well as anxiously anticipate her second book. In addition, I have the intention (and I'm not kidding) to try everything in her book, and will post a few along the way as I do.

This particular recipe caught my eye because it brings together two things I really enjoy: wild rice and thai flavors. I have some locally harvested wild rice I've been wanting to use for some time, and love the twist that Heidi has brought to it through this recipe. Using coconut milk in place of heavy cream, and creating vibrant color with red curry paste and turmeric, she turns this otherwise ordinary soup into something really delicious.


Creamy Wild Rice Soup with Sweet Potato Croutons
Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp clarified butter (ghee) or coconut oil (olive oil is a fine substitute)
1 1/2 tsp red curry paste
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 c wild rice, rinsed
4 c water
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
Sea salt
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp natural cane sugar
1 tbsp soy or shoyu sauce
1 14-oz can coconut milk
Juice of 1/2 a lime

Heat 1 tbsp of clarified butter in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat, then add curry pasted, garlic, shallot, and onion and saute for 3 or 4 minutes, until the onion softens. Stir to ensure the curry paste is evenly distributed.

Stir in the wild rice and 3 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, and cook, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the rice starts to soften and split (taste it to ensure it is done).

While the rice is cooking, prepare the sweet potato croutons. Warm the remaining clarified butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the cubed potatoes and a few pinches of salt. Toss to coat the potatoes, then cook a few minutes longer, until they start to brown on the bottom. Toss them again to brown the other side, then continue tossing ever few minutes to ensure universal color and crispiness. If the pan dries out, feel free to add more butter or oil. When the sweet potatoes are cooked through and crunchy, season to tasted with salt, then scoop them onto a paper towel.

Once the wild rice is tender, stir in the turmeric, sugar, soy sauce, coconut milk, the remaining 1 cup water, and 1 tsp salt. Stir, returning to a simmer, and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the lime juice. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Ladle into bowls, scooping from the bottom of the pot to ensure each person gets plenty of rice, and top with a generous sprinkling of sweet potato croutons.

From Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson (2007), page 60-61.


Homemade Ricotta Cheese

I bought Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll a few years ago after reading about her in Animal Vegetable Miracle. The idea of being able to make my own fresh mozzarella, chevre, and maybe even an aged cheddar sounded so delightful and exciting that I had to give it a try. But of course, as life would have it, I've read the book but never made anything to this point.

This morning, my husband Chris and I were talking about what to have for dinner, and he mentioned that he had a craving for lasagna. Well, you don't have to twist my arm to get me to make lasagna. However, when he mentioned it I started thinking back to Ricki's book and how a few months ago I had bought citric acid from my co-op thinking I would make ricotta for lasagna sometime. Given that my day was not all that busy, I decided it was high time I made cheese. After my morning cross-train (as a part of my marathon training), I went to my co-op to pick up my regular groceries, but also left with the only other ingredient I needed for my ricotta: whole milk.

Along with my belief that the best ingredients make the best food, choosing high quality milk makes good cheese. I chose to purchase organic whole milk from Crystal Ball Farms in Osceola, Wisconsin, which is about 30 minutes away from where I live. (I buy their skim milk for daily consumption and it is great.) I recommend splurging in high quality, local, organic milk if possible. It will be worth it!

I dissolved 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid (available at most natural food stores, in the bulk section) in 1/8 cup cool water and then mixed that in with the whole milk in a large stainless steel pot. I heated it at a medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. The time it took for the curd to separate from the whey took a long time - almost one hour. The curd slowly started to form as the milk started to turn a yellowish color; it was amazing to watch these delicate pieces of curd swirl around in the milk as I stirred. I got a bit nervous when the separation began but the whey still looked milky, even though the directions specifically said it should not. Nonetheless, my thermometer said I had heated it enough and the amount of curd seemed to have stop increasing. So I turned the stove off and let the curd sit in the pot, undisturbed, for 10 minutes (10 minutes which I spent praying to the cooking gods that I had not screwed this up). Then I carefully ladled the curds into a colander lined with two layers of cheesecloth, which was placed inside a bowl to catch any extra whey that came along with each scoop. Then I gathered up the sides of the cheesecloth and pinned it to my banana tree which was sitting in the sink, allowing the curd to drain for about 20 minutes.

After letting it drain, I tasted the cheese, albeit nervously. It was a little drier than standard ricotta (which can be modified by adding a little cream, if you like) but it tasted like cheese! I actually danced in my kitchen, I was so excited at this accomplishment; it was as if I had crossed a new culinary threshold. After basking in the glow of my achievement and tasting a few more bites, I mixed it with the egg, spices, and a bit of Parmesan cheese that would be added to my lasagna. As I assembled my lasagna, I realized that I was capable of making or growing everything that went into the dish. To feel that connection to your food is an amazing and satisfying feeling!

Now normally this would be the part where I print the recipe, but because I followed the recipe exactly as the book instructed, I cannot print it here (my other recipes are ones I develop or modify, which makes posting them okay). I hope I am not disappointing my readers!

Instead, I hope I have encouraged you to try cheesemaking in your own kitchen. Ricki's book is amazing and will really help you jump-start your own cheesemaking. You can order her book, cheesemaking supplies, and get more information at her website: www.cheesemaking.com.

Happy eating!