Monday, January 12, 2009

CSA week six - Cobb salad soup

I may have exaggerated a bit when I called this idea "clever" on Saturday. Really, once you've come up with the basic idea of creating soup versions of famous salads by mixing the dressings into lettuce soup and garnishing with the other salad components different varieties don't require a lot of imagination.

I'm not sure the original idea is all that clever either as a quick search on-line finds a few other people who independently came up with it. Either way, I made cobb salad soup today and here it is.

Traditionally, cobb salad should be made with iceberg lettuce, watercress, chickory and romaine which makes for a fairly bitter mix. I used the lettuce I've got: pei tsai and, um, assorted.

I kept the soup really simple since it would be getting a big flavor boost from the dressing. I just wilted a pound of lettuce in butter and olive oil, added two cups chicken stock and a cup of water and simmered for ten minutes. Once it had cooled I transferred it to my food processor, discovered that the liquid level was too high when it started pouring out over my work-table, transferred it to my blender, cleaned up the mess, and blended it to a not-too-smooth texture.

When I made the caesar salad soup I mixed in the dressing during the blending but the extra time it took to make sure I had everything well incorporated meant I blended the lettuce smoother than I really wanted. This time I mixed the dressing in by hand afterward.

Wikipedia, and some other references I checked agree that the original cobb salad dressing is:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon dry English mustard
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup full-flavored olive oil
3/4 cup salad oil
plus up to a 1/4 cup water if the dressing seems too oily. I cut the recipe in half and left out the water since it's going into soup. Half was probably a little too much, but not by a lot.

And then there's the other components:
boiled chicken breast (I don't keep chicken breasts around so I steamed a thigh)
diced tomatoes
bits of bacon
diced avocado
chopped hard-cooked eggs (I prefer the slightly softer mollet)
crumbled Roquefort cheese
chopped chives
and some recipes include baby corn but I decided against it.

It's usually presented with each of the components in its own distinct sector of the plate on top of the lettuce. I tried that with the soup but half of them sank.

But, presentation aside, it's pretty darn good. The soup itself is light, fresh and tangy. And every spoonful has a different mixture of the garnishes with a unique combination of textures and flavors. The mildly tart creaminess of the Roquefort matches very well with the soup. I expected the bacon to be another stand-out, but the cool bite of a cube of tomato and the fattiness of the avocado and egg yolk are surprisingly good and overshadowed it.

Overall, a nice little dish but kind of a pain with all of those ingredients to prepare. I'd recommend it to any of you who have a sous chef to help out.


kat said...

I've never thought of turning a salad into a soup so I think its quite a clever idea.

billjac said...

I think once you accept the idea that lettuce soup is actually pretty good, salad soups become a fairly obvious next step. But lettuce soup is much better than it sounds so you're not going to take that next step unless you try it first.

LaDivaCucina said...

Was the pei tsai bitter? I find it hard to use up that particular green.

billjac said...

I didn't find it bitter but my braise may well have cooked the bitter right out of it. To be honest, I think my romaine lettuce soup and more character.

Pei tsai is actually a cabbage, not a lettuce, so it's probably best to treat it like bok choy and use it well-dressed or cooked instead of in more simple salads.

LaDivaCucina said...

Last time I made the pei tsai, I braised it and put a piece of steamed fish on top. But, it was not that exciting to me. Will trade it, the next time it's in my box!!!