Archived entries for spicy

Invent-A-Soup Sunday: Spicy Chicken Avocado Soup

I’ll admit, new posts have been a bit thin on the ground around here lately; chalk it up to Shiv and I trying to slog our way through The Winter That Refuses To Die™. However, today managed to surprise me with some morning sunbeams through my window, at which point I rolled out of bed in a panic and flung myself outdoors in an effort to catch a ray or two before they disappeared again. I am pleased to report that I had a solid 20 minutes of bona fide basking, and in my newly re-energized state, I decided that tonight would be a good night to invent a soup!


When it comes to cooking something that I have not planned for in advance, I usually have trouble. This is because of two things: 1) I never seem to have anything to eat in my house aside from condiments, and 2) I live in a weird area where decent groceries are nowhere nearby, and the last thing I feel like doing on a lazy Sunday is schlepping on a subway down to Whole Foods. So, impromptu cooking? Not the easiest prospect, even though Invent-A-Dish is one of my favorite games in the world. Undaunted, I took stock of what was in my cupboards (some spices, some chicken stock, a can of corn, and some frozen chicken breasts from a trip to Costco a month ago) and walked a block over to a place that, although it has no meat or bakery or whatever, does tend to at least have some very basic produce (onions, garlic, an avocado, a handful of limes, some random dairy). Long story short, after blocking the aisles for far too long trying to figure out what I wanted to eat, I came home with exactly what I needed to invent a spicy soup that absolutely made my night.


I will be completely modest at this point and just say one thing: this soup absolutely blew me away with awesome. The end result does what my favorite foods all do — hits flavor notes all over the place. Spice from the cayenne and chili, a deeper warmth from the cinnamon and cloves, a little salty, creamy, hot, cool, a little crunch, a citrus bite. Added bonus: it’s gorgeous. It also is a great example of what’s amazing about soup; the recipe is, at best, a suggestion. Sure, in this case it’s a strong suggestion, because yummmz, but you can swap anything in or out as you like, and chances are, it’ll still be pretty damn tasty. Another great thing about soup is that I totally have enough to store away for tomorrow…and you know it’s always better the next day.

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Ol’ Smokey: Sugar and spice crusted salmon.

Disclaimer: we here at Pithy and Cleaver do not condone unplugging your smoke detector. However, if you ever decide you really WANT to live on the edge and shut it down, this is probably the recipe to cook while it’s offline. Because I’m not gonna lie: this dish is smoky. Like, really smoky. But it is so good, so quick, and so unexpected, that I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is worth it.


The recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, and it’s so simple that it doesn’t even get a real recipe–just a few descriptive sentences at the bottom of a page near the end of the book. Basically, make a spice rub. Dredge your salmon in it. Sear it in turboheated oil for two minutes on each side, and enjoy. Enjoy the melting, rare flesh inside, and the smoky, sweet, spicy crust that builds up on the outside. Enjoy it with a nice salad and your best friend. Enjoy it on those nights when you are desperate for delicious food but have no more than ten minutes to devote to creating it.

And for the love of all things holy, enjoy it with the windows open.

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Spice up your life: Chana Masala

I must have missed a memo.

You know, the one where Mother Nature announced that, owing to budget cutbacks and a shaky economy, we simply couldn’t justify having an autumn this year; that we would be heading straight into winter. I must have missed it, because Holy Good Goddamn, was I not prepared for the sudden nosedive that the temperature took last week.  At all. Nor was I pleased.

chana masala

I’m not ready for this, you may have heard me shrieking all the way in Iowa. I don’t even know where my sweaters are! Where is my hat?! My anguish rattled the windows and made ceilings collapse. It made small children cower and small dogs cower even more. It made poor Bench’s life a misery, until I made one stunning realization: now that the weather’s cold, I have an even BETTER excuse to spend entire Sundays in front of my stove, brewing up the time-consuming braises, stocks, and other delights that I never, ever have time for during the week. On this last Sunday, it meant I had time to make a real, live pot of chana masala–something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.

Ok, I know: chana masala does not necessarily require an entire day of stewing and futzing; unlike many curries, it is possible to build an acceptable depth of flavor in less than an hour. I, however, wanted to see what happened when it received the full treatment. So, I cleared my schedule and started with the spices, frying them in oil over low heat for about 40 minutes to draw out every iota of flavor (seriously–they didn’t even have a smell when I removed them from the oil) and then moved on to the onions, caramelizing them slowly over about three hours before hurling in the tomato paste, chickpeas, and yogurt. Time consuming, but absolutely worth it–the difference between this dish and my usual, weeknight-special chana masala was so pronounced, I’m not sure I have the words to describe it. The spice-infused oil gave the dish a deep savoriness, and the onions added a buttery sweetness–a perfect background for the tangy yogurt and tomato sauce. The flavors actually melded together (as opposed to my usual chana masala, which just kind of remains a collection of flavors as opposed to a cohesive new one), and it was utterly irresistible. Plus, it made the house smell AMAZING.


So, while I would never be so foolish as to invite Mother Nature to bring on more weather-related heartbreak, if this dish is an indication of things to come…maybe I’ll make it through another one of these winters with my sanity intact. Maybe.

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A shot of spice: Tequila-lime Shrimp with Spicy Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto

I got a phone call the other day from my old college roommate, Hannah. She’s been living in Grozny and Sierra Leone since 2004, but she’s working in New York for a few months. She was checking out apartments from Brooklyn to the Upper East side, looking for a room to sublet during her time in the city.

“I’m in your neighborhood, I think,” she said, and we made plans to meet up after she saw the room. She called back two minutes later. “Um, when I said in your neighborhood, I meant in your building,” she said. “Your name is on the mailbox downstairs.” Sure enough, the room that she’d found randomly on craigslist was just two floors down from me! So for two months, we will pretend to be roommates again, and catch up after being many, many miles apart since graduation.

This meal, which we made with another college friend/former roommate (the lovely Jackie), was perfect for collaborative cooking. (I can take no credit for the recipe selection—Jackie chose these, and they were winners.)

The three of us took turns stirring while we drank some wine—none of the labor was too taxing. At the last minute, when the risotto has softened adequately, the shrimp cook up quick in a pan (or a grill, if you have it.)

Studded with corn and peppers and spiked with spice, this dish is not your mama’s risotto. It has a real kick to it, balanced by the sweetness of red peppers and shrimp. Keep a glass of water (or a beer) handy.

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Spicy and Quick: Chipotle Tortilla Soup

What do we eat when we’re not eating macaroni and cheese?

Leftover macaroni and cheese.

When that’s (finally) gone, it’s time for something lighter and brighter. Something spicy enough to clear out the sinuses. And something Matt can easily reheat for a quick bite before heading out to teach his nighttime class at NYU. (I’m sure the girls would all have crushes on him while he explains Matlab wearing his cute little corduroy jacket…if there were any girls in these sorts of classes.)

I am not going to claim that this recipe is one bit authentic. But it’s slightly better than the recipe my mother picked up at Trader Joe’s once: dump a container of salsa, a can of beans, a can of corn, and some broth in a pot, stir. And it really does the trick, quickly and cheaply—about five dollars a person, maybe less if you don’t have to shop in Manhattan.

You could make a vegetarian version with veggie broth, though I used a container of turkey broth that’s been in my cupboard awhile. I know! I’m all out of homemade stock. But given the smoked chiles and the kick of acidity from lime and tomatillo, this is flavorful enough with the boxed stuff. Not that I’d stop you if you have real stock to spare.

If you’re not a huge fan of spicy, I’d dial down the chili powder and red pepper flakes but keep the chipotle, which gives the broth a lovely smokey flavor. And fast. Sometimes you just need the kind of dinner that goes from pantry to table in half an hour. We ate huge bowls full along with sweet corn bread (I know, how gauche) until we were stuffed.

Quick Chipotle Tortilla Soup

serves four

2 small onions, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
dash red pepper flakes (optional)
1 qt low-salt stock or broth
3 chipotle chiles in adobo (about half a can), chopped
2 14-oz or 1 28-oz cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes, including liquid
1/4 cup water (I just add this to the empty tomato cans to clean out the remains)
1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
10 oz frozen corn kernels (one package)
3 tomatillos, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
juice of two small limes
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

for serving:
1 avocado
handful cilantro, chopped
several handfuls tortilla chips
queso fresco (if unavailable, use mild feta or jack cheese)
lime wedges

In a large dutch oven or heavy soup pot, saute chopped onion in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, chili powder, oregano, and pepper flakes if using. Stir and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Add stock, chipotles, tomatoes, water, and beans. Simmer ten minutes to let flavor mingle. Add corn, tomatillos, red pepper, and lime juice, simmer an additional 15 minutes. Stir in cilantro and taste. Go light on the salt, since the tortilla chips will add a bunch. Slice avocado and divide between bowls, saving a little for a garnish. Put a handful of crumbled tortilla chips in each bowl. Ladle soup on top, and top with additional cilantro, avocado, chips, and crumbled queso fresco. Serve with lime wedges.

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