Christmas potato and watercress soup

Christmas is all about the food for us. Are we alone here? Not a bloody chance. It seems this year all I’m hearing about are different holiday dinner plans. Course after course of insanity. Turkeys, pork, veal, vegetables, tourtières, desserts, cheeses, breads. Where do you stop? Actually another question would be, where do you start? With soup of course!

Winter screams for big, hot bowls of soup so why not squeeze one into the line up at Christmas time? With just a few ingredients, including a great stock, soup can start off your Yuletide feast and ease everyone into the heavy loads headed to the table. One I make often, that never fails, is a thick potato and watercress soup. Ready in about 25 minutes, it’s hearty and delicious.

Potato and watercress soup

  • 1 lb. – Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks)
  • 1 – Medium sized onion (chopped)
  • 1 – Garlic clove (minced)
  • 1 bunch – Watercress (coarsely chopped)
  • 3 tbsp – Butter
  • 2 tbsp – Olive oil
  • 2 – 3 cups – Chicken stock (or turkey!)
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Heat the oil and 2 tbsp of butter in a pot over medium heat.
  2. Once the butter has stopped sizzling add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Don’t forget to season.
  3. After 5 minutes add the potato and just enough stock to cover.
  4. Bring everything up to the boil and then lower to a simmer.
  5. After 10 minutes throw in the watercress and add more stock to cover. You can use water instead but it won’t be as good.
  6. Cook everything at a simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender.
  7. Once there find a way to blend everything. You could do batches in a counter blender or the hand held type. Make it as smooth or chunky as you prefer.
  8. Return the soup to a light heat and stir in the last tablespoon of butter. Season.

On a normal day you could serve this soup as is but t’is the season. Add some cream for crying out loud! We all know the rest of the meal is going to be rich. One variation I’ve tried is adding celery leaves with the watercress. Another could be a small pile of oyster mushrooms sauteed in butter placed in each bowl. Or pan seared scallops. Anyway you serve it, this soup is a champ.

So that’s it for SixTop in 2011. Thanks for all the comments, likes and tweets. We’re already looking forward to another year of posts, pics and crazy diet restriction experiments. We hope you’ll continue reading. Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!

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Saved by black bean soup

It’s hard to stomach but winter is almost here. The cold, the shovelling, being indoors all the time and the lack of sun drive me nuts. Sharing warm, hearty food with friends at this time of year helps to forget the coming threat of snow. And there’s something about the colder months that seems to make dinner parties special.

To stretch our legs I decided we needed a theme. After going through some cookbooks I thought a Cuban inspired meal would be a perfect way to try something new and remind us of hotter days. I discovered a recipe from Jacques Pépin for black bean soup that set the tone for the menu.

We started with fresh guacamole and tortilla chips. It was one of the better batches I’ve made all year and probably the last I’ll have until next summer. As we ate I thought of the beach and mentally held my middle finger up to December.

Next came the soup. Full of heat, textures and lots of flavour it was easily one of my favourite courses of the night. And it’s a dark soup – like mud – but glorious. What sets it even further apart from other soups are the condiments. Once served, you pile chopped banana, hard-boiled egg, raw onion, cilantro, red wine vinegar and olive oil on top. And don’t forget to add plenty of tabasco!

Our main course was a butterflied roast chicken with a Latin inspired spice rub. We served it with a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, Poblanos peppers and olives. After roasting I reduced the pan juices for a simple dressing. The labour-intensive part was the side dish, Papas Rellenas. Basically, these are mashed potato balls stuffed with ground beef, onions, tomatoes, Poblanos peppers and olives. I learned they’re a standard Cuban accompaniment to a meal, and after all the effort, worth it. We ended with ice cream and mango slices covered with a Tequila cream liqueur.

Everyone enjoyed the meal as far as I can tell. The black bean soup was a big hit and I’ll credit it, and Jacques Pépin no less, with inspiring the evening. If you hate winter you have to find things to keep you happy. Preparing a dinner party can be a great way to spend the day in the kitchen and an evening with friends at the table. It’s funny that a cookbook by a classically trained French chef showed a Canadian how to make Cuban soup. Do we even know if these dishes have ever been prepared in Cuba? Nope. And does it matter? Of course not.

Black bean soup

  • 1 lb. dried black beans
  • 2 potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup onions (chopped)
  • 2 tomatoes (diced)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 ½ quarts chicken stock
  • 1 small bunch cilantro
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp red-wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)

Garnishes

  • 1 onion (finely chopped and rinsed in water)
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs (chopped)
  • 2 small bananas (chopped)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar to drizzle on top

Instructions

  1. Remove the debris or damaged beans and wash the remaining in cold water. Drain and put beans in saucepan and cover with cold soak to soak for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare other ingredients
  3. Drain the beans again and put them in a large pot. Mix in the potatoes, salt, thyme, onion and tomatoes. Mix in the water and chicken stock.
  4. Cut the cilantro leaves from the stems, chop the stems coarsely, and add them to the soup.
  5. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce to low, and cook uncovered for about 2 hours.
  6. Pay attention towards the end of cooking and scrape the bottom of the pot so the soup doesn’t stick.
  7. When done puree one third of the solids and then return to the soup. You can add some water if it’s too thick.
  8. Add the olive oil, red-wine vinegar, Tabasco and garlic and stir to incorporate. Bring to boil before serving.
  9. Once ladled out, drizzle on extra red-wine vinegar, olive oil and add the garnishes. Serve while very hot.