Smoked Paprika Vegetable Chowder with Orange Zest

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At the end of last summer, I purchased a tiny parcel of smoked paprika from the pepper man at our farmers market. I didn’t have a use for it in mind, but I’m all for buying my spices right from the source. I’ve had that paprika squirreled away until this last month, when I finally got my hands on the Ard Bia Cookbook. Ard Bia is a soul-food recharging station, institution, refuge, and dear spot for runners to drop their keys before going for their nightly jaunt, in Galway, Ireland.

 

I’ve been to Galway, once for a weekend. William and I ate pizza at a pub’s bar one Friday night, a music session going, families, babies, all the locals stacked around the “stage.” We didn’t know about Ard Bia then, though I know for a fact we walked right past it.

 

The Ard Bia Cookbook is gorgeous coffee table art for good food folks. The menu is a homey infusion of local and global flavors, and the cookies come standard gluten-free even though an assortment of diets are catered to. Fish is a highlight, being as Galway is situated; local meat, cheese, and vegetables are showcased galore.

 

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I’ve needed to be taken to another place these last few weeks, if only figuratively, and this book has been a welcome reprieve. This winter seems to have hit hard, you see. For so many I know, this season has been awash in illnesses of all sorts, sick kids and sick families, joblessness and wondering where this life will lead next, injuries and aches. This too is a season for new babies, tired parents, soon-to-be moms, and tough little steps each day leading to big life changes {resolutions!} I fall right in there with the masses in feeling less than optimal, as if no matter how hard I try, life is a series of two steps forward, three steps back. The Recipe Redux January challenge was to make something smoky, and so I turned to the Ard Bia Cookbook pantry section, found an interesting Smoked Paprika and Orange-Infused Oil, and incorporated it into a comforting vegetable chowder to combat the winter chill.

 

When I sit down and reflect back on the day and all it brought, a bowl of warmth brings a little more cheer, a little more sunshine into my heart. Wherever you’re at on this winter day, I hope that if you too have broken pieces, they can be mended back together through the uplifting words of a friend, a bowl of warm soup, or perhaps in finding a sliver of light reminding you of one more thing you can try to make it through.

 

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Smoked Paprika Vegetable Chowder with Orange Zest

Serves 4, inspired by Laura and Ard Bia.

Plan to infuse your oil a few days prior to making the soup. It will make a big batch that will keep for quite a while and can be used for all number of things. Alternatively, use another oil like coconut or canola as the base and add an extra 1/2 teaspoon or so of smoked paprika. There are also infinite combinations of winter vegetables that can be used here, so play around with something interesting, or use what you have on hand. 

For the chowder:

1 Tbs. Smoked Paprika + Orange-infused Oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 leek, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 thyme sprigs
1/2 Tbs. garlic salt
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika
1/16 tsp. black pepper
1/16 tsp. cayenne
1 pinch each: nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cloves and ginger
1-2 parsnips, chopped
1/2 a celeriac, peeled and chopped
1/2 a head of cauliflower, chopped small
2 cups cooked white beans
1/4 cup orange juice
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
orange zest, for serving
additional infused oil, for serving

 For the Infused Oil:
8 oz. good quality canola oil
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. orange zest

Heat the infused-oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the leeks and celery and continue to sauté until they are soft, about 5 minutes more. Add the garlic, thyme, and spices to the pot and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the parsnips, celery root, and cauliflower and stir to coat in the oil. Next, add the orange juice, the vegetable broth and the beans, stir again, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove the lid and lower the heat to simmer. Let the chowder cook and bubble until the parsnips and celery root pieces are tender, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the thyme stems and ladle half of the chowder into an upright blender. Purée until smooth. Pour the puréed portion of chowder back into the soup pot and bring it back to a nice simmer. Check the chowder for seasoning, adjust if necessary, and ladle into soup bowls. Top with a bit of fresh orange zest and a drizzle or two of the infused oil.

To make the oil, stir together the paprika, orange zest, and oil and pour into a glass container to store it in. On the stovetop, bring a small pot about half full of water to a simmer. Gently emerge the container of oil into the pot, and allow to warm up for about 15 minutes. Then, remove the oil container from the hot liquid bath, shake to nicely mix the spices, and set aside to infuse for at least three days prior to use. This concoction will keep for a few months in a cool, dark place.

 

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Irish Vegetable Soup

irish soup

There are experiences that move you. There are moments when you know. There are times when you take a leap and jump into the wide unknown beyond, certain you will be forever changed. On a particularly sodden and blustery day in the late winter of 2008, I knew. I was flying through the streets towards home from school on my bike, soaking wet, and mad at the never-ending Oregon rain. I slammed into our house, made straight for the fireplace where my roommate was curled up reading, threw down my bag, and proclaimed, “I am going to Ireland.”

And I did. Twice. Confidently. Decisively. Never-faltering in my belief that I just needed to be there. Experiencing.

Often, in the tiny spaces in between all the moments that make up each day, I catch myself. I look back at a fragment of time when the whole world was laid out and I knew my course. I knew how to make what I wanted happen, and the making it so came effortlessly.

There are only a handful of moments that I have experienced the kind of certainty I felt then. All the other days, I will myself to know which direction, which passion, which experience. Which one is the one?

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I often feel that our lives are meant to be permanately hazy in the living. Some days are fogged in. Other days the sun comes out, there is a clear way forward, and it becomes spring again in our souls.

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I am beginning to accept this nature of things; I am beginning too, to accept myself in the unknowing. After all, in both certainty and indecision, there is much beauty, and that, I think, should be lingered upon and celebrated.

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Irish Vegetable Soup, adapted from Cooks Illustrated.
 
This simple pureed vegetable soup is a comfort I seek in the harried moments when I crave simplicity. It is one of the meals I ate repeatedly in Ireland. It is ever on the menu at both small, quick cafes  or pubs, and nicer restaurants, always served with a slice or two of brown bread. It fills and warms you up, and can contain whatever sorts of vegetables you have on hand. This recipe makes a BIG OLE’ BATCH, enough to serve a crowd or eat for several meals.
 
small handful of dried porcini mushrooms
small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup gluten-free oats
splash of olive oil
3 medium leeks, white and light parts, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tsp. tamari
salt and pepper, to taste
9 cups of water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 3/4 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced (about 5 medium potatoes)
2 turnips, peeled and diced
2 cups green cabbage, diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, optional
 
1. Grind the porcini mushrooms in a spice grinder. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the resulting powder. Save the rest for another batch of soup.  
 
2. Toast the oats in a small pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and they become golden. Transfer them to a bowl to cool. Once they are somewhat cool, grind them up into a meal using a spice grinder or food processor. 
 
3. In a very large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add leeks, onion, carrots, celery, wine, tamari, and 2 tsp. salt. Cook this mixture, stirring it occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the onion and celery have softened a bit. You may need to add a little water in this process.
 
4. Stir in the ground mushrooms and oats. Add the water, herbs, and garlic. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
 
5. Add the potatoes, turnips, and cabbage. Return the mixture to a simmer and cook an additional 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and turnips are soft. 
 
6. Stir in the peas, vinegar and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Turn off the heat, and let cool slightly.
 
7. Working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender until it is mostly smooth. Pour back into the pot and heat, if necessary, before serving.
 
8. This is best with a good hearty bread. 
 
Other Irish Recipes that might be included in your St. Patrick’s Day Festivities include Brown Soda Bread, Shepherd’s Pie, or Hearty Winter Curry Pie. Sláinte!