Monday, December 13, 2010

Sopa de poblanos

This is the first entry for my section of the blog that deals with another one of my recently-developed passions: gourmet food.  When I titled this blog “Dis, Dat and D Odder” I really planned to “go” all over the place.  So far, it’s mostly about football (soccer for North Americans) travels and [some] poetry.  Next: culinary topics and eventually pointed rants dealing with ongoing social and political issues (but that may wait a little while so I can “sharpen my teeth" first)… and yes, in case you’re wondering, other things may pop-in here from time to time ;-)

But back to culinary experiments: I love watching Food Network (and the new Food channel) and I often try their recipes and techniques.  I love Alton Brown and the Iron Chef battles!  I enjoy Andrew Zimmern! Yes, you can say that I’m an “out of the closet” foodie and although my schedule does not allow it, I try to dabble in the kitchen as much as I can.  I always said that if I didn’t have to earn money for a living I’d be a [sports] writer or I’d open a restaurant.  Bohemian dreams, I know… but this little blog allows me that indulgence with very little risk…

So what is this then?  Well, not a recipes blog, for sure… You can get that in many places on the web –,, are a couple of my favorites – but this is more about the experience of cooking, about mistakes I made and techniques I tried; it’s about the process.  For there is a joy in cooking, especially when a nicely executed recipe results in raised eyebrows, head nods, licked fingers and the occasional plate-cleaning ritual involving pieces of bread!  In essence, cooking is about creating “something” that audiences should enjoy on a visual, olfactory and gustatory level, and if done right, it should come close to sexual stimulation… Deep, huh?  Or scary!!!

Many a times, we eat something in a restaurant that’s so delicious that we want to try it at home, where we typically have more control over fat and salt content (no surprise, most restaurants use lots of butter and salt in their cooking in order to enhance the taste or preserve the food).  So, in response to a “Cream of Poblano” soup I enjoyed a few times at Zocalo (recipe at the end where you’ll see what I’m talking about if you read the per-serving details) here’s my twist on it: Roasted Poblano Soup:
  1. Wash a few poblano peppers, pat dry and “shine” with a bit of oil.  I used 9 for this recipe [serves 10+], but it came out really spicy, so you might want to tone it down to only 4 or 5.  I was hoping that roasting them would cut some of the heat, but did not seem to help much L.  Crank up the oven to about 425F (need a lot of heat, fast)…or you can use a grill or the broiler.  Bottom line, let them singe thoroughly and flip ‘em often.
  2. Once the poblanos are in the oven, start with a chopped onion or two in a soup pot with a bit of oil under medium heat; add a few cloves of chopped garlic as well (garlic burns faster, so dropping it in later helps).  Once translucent, add a can of low-salt chicken stock (or water if you wish, in which case you might want to enhance the taste with a sprinkling of Vegeta).
  3. Peel and chop 3-4 medium potatoes, cut in small cubes and drop in the pot; then add a couple of cups of water and boil until the potatoes are soft.  Potatoes will give you the starch for the soup and eliminate (or reduce) the need for cream.  Notice I used very little oil for the onions and garlic.  And no butter!
  4. When the peppers are done (I wish you can “smell” the picture above) peel off the skin, discard the stems and wash off the seeds.  Chop and drop into the soup pot. [in retrospect, you could drop them in with the onion and garlic before the chicken stock, in hopes that some of the spiciness will be “diluted” by cooking them further].  You might want to use some latex gloves when peeling/cleaning the peppers; they are pretty hot/spicy!
  5. Use an immersion blender if you have one, to purée the onions, garlic, peppers and potatoes (It’s always good to use less water in cooking and add more if the blend is too thick).  A regular blender also works, but it’s messier and requires a few “trips”.  The immersion blender is a nifty little gadget for any kitchen; and it works wonders when trying to get kids to eat their veggies!
  6. Now give it a taste.  Unfortunately, mine was still too spicy… and although I was trying to avoid milk or cream, I had to use about ½ cup in order to reduce the spice.  Next time I’ll probably use more potatoes instead.
  7. So back on the stove then, a bit of milk and voilà: soup’s ready.  For garnish, I used sour cream thinned with milk, roasted pumpkin seeds, roasted corn, and some cilantro and paprika for color.  Shredded cheese would work also…or some crunchy tortillas.  For another dimension, try topping with smoked bacon (baked) or baby camarones.  The possibilities are endless…
If spicy is not your thing, use red peppers instead (and maybe roast a tomato or two also).  It’s to die for (with some of the same toppings and a splash of cayenne)!  Pimentos or Peperoncinis are also a middle-of-the-roadn option (not as spicy as poblanos)

If soup is not your thing, then you can fill the roasted peppers with whatever floats your boat: cheese, chorizo, bread crumbs, rice, or a combination there of … you name it …  The point is, try to step outside the lines of a recipe as much as you can (or are comfortable with).  You’ll make mistakes, you’ll burn things and end up throwing things away, but in the end [at some point] you’ll have something that’s “yours” and the “audience” loves; that is a great feeling of accomplishment.

Oh, and one last comment: I had a cold bowl of this soup the next day and it wasn’t as spicy.  Yes, heating it up seems to accentuate the effects of the capsaicin.  If curious, you can read more about peppers and their Scoville rating here:

Here’s a few similar recipes for the soup (I usually combine them, “stealing” a little bit from each one):

…and the one from Zocalo (it contains 50% of the recommended fat and salt intake, and 30% cholesterol):

Crema de Chile Poblano
Makes 4 servings / Preparation time: 10 minutes / Cooking time: 10 minutes
2 poblano chiles, seeds and vein removed, and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1 small garlic clove
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (or 4 cubes) chicken bouillon
3 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

In a blender, combine chiles, onion, garlic, chicken bouillon and 2 cans milk. Process until pureed. Pass the mix through a strainer, discarding solids.
Meanwhile, in a heavy stockpot over low heat, melt the butter. Whisk in flour and stir for 4 to 5 minutes. Don’t allow it to brown. Pour the strained liquid and remaining can of milk into the pot and whisk to combine, making sure to get the bottom and sides of the pot. Increase heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Per serving: 485 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 20 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 29 grams fat, 99 milligrams cholesterol, 1,104 milligrams sodium.

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