"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chilled Lemongrass Tomato Soup

Somewhere in the world, for somebody, Chilled Lemongrass Tomato Soup has an Active Time of 30 minutes and a Start to Finish Time of 16 1/2 hours (including making and chilling the tomato water).

Not for me.

This recipe took me almost a week to make. Why, you might ask?

Well, there was the draining of the tomatoes aspect. Then the cold weather that made chilled soup unpalatable.

But mostly, it was procuring the darn lemongrass.

Three supermarkets didn't have it, including the usually-reliable-for-unusual-produce Market Basket in Danvers. I finally ended up ordering it from Bobby at the Fruitful Basket.

But let me back up to the beginning of this recipe. Chilled Lemongrass Tomato Soup asks you to make something a little unusual--Tomato Water. What is this, you're wondering?

Well, you puree 5 lbs. of tomatoes, pour the puree into cheesecloth-lined colander, gather up the cheesecloth and tie the ends around the shaft of a wooden spoon, and suspend this over a nonreactive pot. The "water" will drain out overnight.

At least, that's the idea. I didn't have cheesecloth, so I tried paper towels:

Obviously you can't tie paper towels to a wooden spoon, so I left them in the colander and hoped for the best.

Two days later, although there was some tomato water in the pot, I decided to get some cheesecloth and do it right, for the full effect.

I did this by laying the cheesecloth out on the counter, dumping the puree on top (with the soggy papertowels), and then simultaneously trying to gather up the ends (to keep the puree from oozing over), getting the paper towels out, and avoiding the tomato water that was now gushing out from the puree-filled cheesecloth across the counter and onto my feet. Can you tell I didn't quite think it through? Don and O'Malley were less than helpful; Don saying, "Isn't that the stuff you're trying to save?" and O'Malley saying, "It looks like you're squeezing a giant, bloody heart!"

Anyway, I managed to get it all cinched up, and with a little bit of difficulty, tied to a wooden spoon, to hang suspended over the pot (for another two days).

When I finally got my hands on some lemongrass, I followed the next stage--chop 3 stalks and boil with one cup of tomato water...stir in unflavored gelatin and reunite with the rest of the tomato water.

You know how some smells are really place-specific? This is where boiling lemongrass transports me:

When I was in college I dated a guy who got a job managing the King's Alley Hotel (the bar/restaurant part) in St. Croix. For two years I flew down there for vacations--even summer vacation, from Waterville, Maine all the way to St. Croix via Puerto Rico.

So what's the connection with lemongrass? The locals had a homemade concoction that was said to cure everything from hangovers to baldness. There were lots of variations, but they all involved aloe vera peeled in whizzed in a blender. The second most popular ingredient was an infusion of lemongrass, made by boiling it up into a tea.

So I smell boiling lemongrass, and suddenly I'm sitting at an open-air bar in St. Croix at 9 am...blue sky, rustling palms...listening to Face tell me why this drink is so healthful (and how it's going to cure my hangover. Hair, I got plenty of).

Not a bad little mind-trip for a few minutes worth of cooking.

Here's the final product, eons later:

It was pretty good! I happen to love tomatoes and watermelon together (the book also has a tomato-watermelon salad) and they reunite happily here, though I could have done with even more watermelon. The chives seemed superfluous. By the time I actually served this soup the weather had turned hot, so it was deliciously refreshing--very light.

Don's comment was that it would be a great soup to break a fast--not breakfast, mind you, but if you happen to fall into that unusual category of people who refrain from eating from time to time (psst...I'm not one of them)

Was the end product worth the backflips? Mmm...if only for the experience of cooking and writing about it, and presumably next time I'd be more organized so it wouldn't be such a project.


Liz C said...

You know, it does look like a giant bloody heart.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Ha! It does. It didn't help that when I was trying to cinch it up and tie it to the stick, pulp was OOZING out of the cheesecloth. Maybe it would be a good prop for Halloween!

Ellie said...

A great recipe... it's healthy & yummy. I prefer such healthier sea food for my family.

The Mediocre Cook said...

That absolutely sounds like the kind of experience I would have in the kitchen!