Caroline Lange

private chef // new york

coconut broth that won't cure everything but certainly feels like it could

Not in a Here, drink this raw garlic/ginger/cayenne/vinegar tonic sort of way, the good old-fashioned it will hurt but it's good for you method.

On the contrary, the comfort comes from its creaminess (of course) and its simplicity. Honestly, it's right on the brink of plain: hot, a salty-savory-sweet all at once, a subtle edge of heat, plus a heap of slippery noodles, which everyone knows make anything better—the blues, heartbreak, political woes, the flu (none of which anyone in this house has at the current moment, except maybe political woes, thank goddess). Also it takes only 15 minutes to make. I don't know why I don't make this soup once a week.

I should say that A once made this soup for me and I have stolen and fiddled with it after marveling at it—simultaneously both clean-tasting and full-tasting, the sort of straightforwardly delicious thing I want to eat when the world feels the opposite of straightforward. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and I think that's especially true with food. Thanks, A.

Coconut Broth with Rice Noodles
4 servings

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Generous pinch kosher salt plus more to taste
1 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
1 green chile, halved
1 8-ounce (or so) package rice noodles (the teeny vermicelli or the thicker banh pho ones are both good)
1 pound firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 large carrot, peeled and shaved into ribbons with a peeler
1/4 to 1/2 small napa cabbage, thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves and thinly sliced scallions to serve

Sauté the shallot and ginger with the olive oil and the pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the shallot and ginger are soft, fragrant, and translucent—don't let them color much.

Pour in the coconut milk, then fill the can with water and add that too, along with the split chile. Increase the heat to high, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer gently 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the broth for salt. Discard the chile.

While the broth is simmering, cook the noodles: Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook until the noodles are tender (according to package instructions). Drain and rinse the noodles well. Set aside.

To serve, divide the noodles and tofu between 4 shallow bowls and ladle the broth on top. Top with the shaved carrots and cabbage, plus any cilantro and scallions. Serve very hot.

a grain salad that makes me feel like a hothouse orchid

It's at the end of January every year that winter settles in me and starts to drive me bonkers. In New York, it's not so much being freezing cold, because it's not—it's all up and down, and some days you're in six layers and some days you let your ankles peek out and it gets your hopes up, and then the next day you're back to six layers, and it's uniformly, endlessly gray. By the last week of January, I've lost my new-year optimism and need to make myself think sunny thoughts, plan a trip someplace out of the city, put new sheets on the bed. Tight little bundles of bodega daffodils make me weepy. Honestly, between now and April, anything bright-colored but especially anything bright yellow or green makes me feel like Amélie splashing into a puddle.

Today at the co-op I bought Meyer lemons so I could preserve them, something I've been meaning to do myself because I feel like I'll actually use them if I've put in the work. I'm thinking I'll do them Ottolenghi-style, as he lays out in Jerusalem and Ali Stafford lays out on her blog: You pack split lemons with salt, let them sit for a week, then add a chile and a sprig of rosemary and try to be patient for 4 weeks more, if not longer. If I start them tonight they'll be ready March 12, by which point it might actually be sort of spring-like. The lemons ended up at the top of the cardboard box I was carrying home my groceries in and I was so happy to be able to look down at them, that same cheery feeling as having the sun on your face. Truly. Little things.

Today's little gratitude prayer is for citrus sliding into season at the grayest time of year. I've been making this grain salad a lot. It's juicy and alive-tasting and very green, and inspired by something L described to me after eating it as a plus-one at her friend's company holiday party.

Grains with Cucumber, Dill, Cashews, and Citrus
6 lunch-sized servings

2 cups freekeh (or another grain—I just made recently with a mix of wheat berries and barley)
1 bay leaf
2 oranges
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil plus 1 teaspoon
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cashews, roughly chopped
1 seedless hothouse cucumber or two Persian cukes, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly into half-moons
2 handfuls torn dill fronds
2 handfuls parsley leaves

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the freekeh and a bay leaf and boil until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

While the freekeh cooks, make the dressing: Combine the zest of one orange, the juice of both oranges, and the juice of the lemon with 1/4 cup olive oil. Whisk together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toast the cashews: Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cashews and stir regularly until the nuts are lightly toasted. Season with a generous pinch of salt, toss well to combine, and set aside to cool.

Combine the cucumber, herbs, freekeh, and all of the dressing in a large bowl and toss together to combine thoroughly. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the cashews just before serving.

fig and sunflower bites

One of my clients asked me to pick up nut-free bars for their kids' snacks this week—nut-free because so many schools don't allow peanuts or tree nuts through the door. I thought I would have more options than I did at the grocery store, considering, but so many bars (especially the ones that proudly tout being made of only 3 or 4 or 5 pronounceable ingredients) rely on nuts for heft. 

This recipe is what I came up with instead—basically the same formula as any dried, blended fruit-and-nut bar, nothing fancy, but they're vegan and can be gluten-free and are totally free of nuts thanks to sunflower seeds, which go creamy and tender in the food processor. They taste like Fig Newtons, and I wanted one so much when I got back from the gym today. (Instead I stood at the counter and ate cold macaroni and cheese from the fridge with my hands.) 

Next time I'll try these with a spoonful of cocoa powder, or roll the log in crushed sunflower seeds before chilling, or swap the figs for something else (dried cherries!!!! dried apricots!!!! maybe a mango-coconut version?). Also: Instead of making a log and slicing, you could pat the mixture into an even layer in a pan lined with parchment paper and then slice into squares or bar shapes, or roll tablespoon-sized balls of it.

Fig and Sunflower Seed Bites
Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup dried figs (I like black Mission figs but the brown Turkish figs would work just as well)
Boiling water
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
Pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup wheat germ or flax meal

In a smallish heat-safe bowl (or a 4-cup glass measuring cup), pour enough boiling water over the dried figs to completely cover them. Let them soak 30 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid, and set the figs aside.

Combine the sunflower seeds and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the seeds are broken into very tiny crumbs but aren't quite a meal. Add the figs, vanilla extract, and wheat germ (or, if you want to make a gluten-free version, flax meal), and blend until totally combined. The mixture should be sticky but on the firm side.

Scrape the mixture onto a large sheet of parchment paper and use your hands to form it into a rough log shape about 12 inches long. Fold the parchment over the log and tuck it under the log's edge. Use your hands or a bench scraper to shape the log into a cylinder. Twist the ends of the paper to seal the log in and refrigerate for an hour. 

After an hour, slice the log into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

hello out there + creamy tomato soup

The last time I had a blog, it was a Tumblr—the year was 2012, and I was not writing much about food. It is 2018, the Tumblr is long gone, and, following a year of post-media-job burnout, I'm making some space to write again. Also: I want a place to put recipes. One of my intentions this year is to write down recipes as I think of them, instead of making something, having a vague thought about recording the recipe somewhere, and then letting it float off into the ether.

I always find the first few days of the year optimistic but lonely. There's so much newness. Here in New York it's bitter cold—the streets are all salt-bleached and so bright white—and people are still finding their ways back to work after the holidays, and I always feel, the first weeks of January, like I just want everyone back where they're supposed to be. L flew to California for New Year's and won't be home for another week, so it's just me and our cat, tormenting each other.

I've been making and eating a lot of soup these solo weeks. When we were in school, A and I would cook in big batches and pack up our respective freezers; then we'd survey our stashes proudly and A would talk about how much she loved the practice, how secure and cared for it made her feel, how she felt like a pioneer. Last week I made two beany stews, a harira that I liked but want to improve on (I have this harira fixation from a time I went to Housing Works years ago and bought a cheap and incredible bowl of tomatoey, cinnamony harira. I am trying to recreate it.. This one, from Epicurious, was good but was missing richness or smokiness or something. And I think I want a lentil-only version.) and a vegan hoppin' John (for new-year luck, of course). Since bean soups become completely exhausting to me after two or three helpings, I froze big portions of both. It does feel very responsible, very pioneer-like.

The first recipe I remember feeling like I totally came up with is tomato soup. I didn't grow up eating soup, canned or otherwise, since I didn't like the feeling of drinking a meal—so I've never had Campbell's, but someone told me this tastes a little like it. Luckily my feelings toward soup in general have changed, but I still don't think I'd ever had tomato soup before this one, and was struck with this alien and urgent Need for it. It's totally cozy and unfussy, the way tomato soup should be, and it doesn't taste like tomato sauce, which tomato soup never should. I also love this recipe because I almost always have the ingredients in the pantry.

Sometimes I swap the onion for a couple of shallots. I'm sure you could substitute the milk for a nondairy one with no problem—coconut milk would be really good, I bet, especially if you sautéed a little turmeric and cumin seed and coriander with the onion. Or sauté fennel seeds with the onion. Or add, in addition to the onion, half a bulb of chopped fennel, then garnish with the snipped fronds.

Here's a photo I took of the recipe as I wrote it out by hand (2013!). I'm translating my handwriting below, too.

creamytomatosoup.jpg

Creamy Tomato Soup
2 servings with half-grilled cheeses, 3 servings with whole grilled cheeses

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large onion (or 2 shallots), chopped small
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Freshly ground black pepper
Cream or plain yogurt to serve

Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, stir, and cook until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the flour and cook about a minute, stirring constantly. Add the milk, broth, and tomato paste. Stir to combine completely, then whisk in the baking soda—the soup will foam for a few seconds, and then you'll be done. Grind some black pepper in and taste for seasoning.

Serve with cream or yogurt swirled into it.