Memories of Moosewood and Enchanted Broccoli Forest Soup

Memories of Moosewood and Enchanted Broccoli Forest Soup

When I arrived in the US at age 21, more years ago than all the digits on your hands and feet, I was in for a culinary disappointment, if not a culture shock. Indeed, the shock was on the other foot, if weak puns are permitted.

After an entire week of eating raw cauliflower and broccoli in salads at one memorable Gordon Conference in New Hampshire (notwithstanding the awesome science!), I finally informed the chef that the difference between a vegetarian and a goat was that only the latter did not need their food cooked.

In the midst of this culinary calamity, my housemate Catherine (a lovely British-American transplant) gave me the Moosewood cookbook. Inspired to spread my fledgling wings in our tiny apartment kitchen, I worked through the recipes. Yesterday, I recreated this soup.

Oh, if you were curious: Catherine’s inscription on my book (last picture) ends with the Bengali words “Ami Tumarke Bhalo bashe”. Google Translate is not needed for those universal words of affection, “I love you”. Much comfort and sustenance to all!

Recipe and more:

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85 Responses to Memories of Moosewood and Enchanted Broccoli Forest Soup

  1. Kevin Clift says:

    I wonder if Sivarama Venkatesan has been here yet today.

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    I’ve tried that recipe too, Gina Duarte ! The book is an eclectic collection of dishes and ethnicity, but so approachable for a beginner.

  3. Looks like I’ve found my next culinary experiment. Thanks, that looks delicious, I’ll give it a try.

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Let me know if you do try it, Michael Griffith 🙂 What sort of juicer do you use, Shaker Cherukuri ?

  5. Kevin Clift says:

    I’m a proponent of roasted vegetables (when its not too hot outside to run the oven). They make a delicious alternative to steamed, stir-fried, etc..

  6. Joel Bender says:

    The restaurant is still open, doing a pretty good business, and for all its fame, it’s actually quite small. Their menu changes a lot, so it’s like a box of choclates, ya’ never know what ya’ goona’ get. As an omnivore, some of their dishes are just… weird, but hey, sometimes chocolate is like that too.

  7. Rajini Rao says:

    Kevin Clift , I love roasting vegetables too. Especially when roasting brings out the native sweetness. I was surprised to find that roasted cauliflower is so fabulous (Indians love cauliflower!). I have a sundried pesto/roasted cauliflower pasta dish written up in my blog.

  8. I love how you explained the difference between an vegetarian and goat. Well played! The piled-up toppings looks so inviting while the red pepper flakes brings out the green of the soup even more. I just want to dig in.

    Still not able to sign in at your blog (always could before a couple of weeks ago, so rather odd as the reason given for the failed loggin makes no sense at present, will try to figure it out).

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Shaker Cherukuri , in our household it is my husband who is a sucker for gadgets. Yes, he did purchase a VitaMix recently. And he made a vile looking green drink with carrot tops, carrots, celery and heaven knows what else 🙂

  10. Rajini Rao says:

    Haha, funny commentary on the Moosewood restaurant, thanks for the first hand review Joel Bender . Vegetarian restaurants are a dime a dozen now, but back in the eighties this was avant garde stuff. I guess they have to keep up their reputation for weird food.

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    Oh do visit, Michelle Beissel ! It feels lonely there, compared to the hustle and bustle of G+ 🙂

  12. In my twenties, I was a vegetarian for about ten years (at present, we eat a small amount of meat). The cookbook that really spoke to me was this one at the time:

  13. Kevin Clift says:

    I was just talking to Sivarama Venkatesan about the fact that it is asparagus season and that they are wonderful roasted (and in all the other ways). In Germany they make a big deal of this time.

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    Looks delightful, and familiar Michelle Beissel , I wonder if I checked it out of a library sometime. Hey, Sivarama Venkatesan , thanks for stopping by! I was in Rochester for my grad studies and we would tour the Finger Lakes in the fall as a pretext to check out the local wineries near Ithaca. It is so easy being a vegetarian now..

  15. Rajini Rao says:

    Your link reminded me of this whole white and green asparagus difference between Europe and the US. Michelle Beissel , do you grow asparagus? Is it grown in the dark and does that make a huge difference to how it tastes, Kevin Clift ?

  16. Rajini Rao says:

    Prabat Parmal , pesarattu is an Andhra name for a type of dosa. It has green moong dal.

  17. Kevin Clift says:

    Yes, in Europe it is not exposed to the light for most of its life. If I remember correctly they are grown in rows of little earth dunes. The biggest issue with taste and texture (as it is with peas) is consuming it before the sugars degrade. I don’t think that there is a huge difference in flavours otherwise.

  18. Oh, I am so planning to grow asparagus, Rajini Rao! Love the stuff and it is an perennial, one of the few veggies that are. Should have a permanent bed prepared for it come next spring, so exciting.

    My understanding is that white and green are the same variety, but the white is grown in the dark. The white is quite pretty to look at, often tinged with violet. I see way more green ones here in France, though there are always some white ones. I was never motivated to buy the white so I can’t say anything about the taste.

  19. Kevin Clift says:

    I hear that it is a decision that should not be taken lightly, as they are not just perennial but they are tenacious, Michelle Beissel .

  20. Blanching is used to offset bitterness, but as green asparagus is not bitter, I don’t get the motivation to blanch it. Probably just for appearance, people are odd that way! Like putting white pepper even though it is not as tasty as black pepper in white creamy soups. Drives me nuts.

  21. Rajini Rao says:

    Sivarama Venkatesan , how could you deprive a fellow South Indian immigrant, vegetarian/vegan, scientist geek of your company? Thank you Kevin Clift for the introduction 🙂

  22. Kevin Clift says:

    Rajini Rao You are both more than welcome.

  23. Not sure, Kevin Clift , but I think you are confusing edible asparagus with the asparagus fern which is a very invasive plant.

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Michelle Beissel , I have yet to figure out what is white pepper? I’ve never seen peppercorns that are not black. Isn’t the contrast of coarse black pepper on a light soup more interesting?

    I thought it took a few years for asparagus to get going. Kevin Clift , is it invasive?

  25. Norman M. says:

    Graduate student days were days of bitter and sweet memories. I am glad that you seemed to went through it well. My aunt studied in the U.S. in the 1960s and to this day she cannot stand the smell of instant noodle. Kudos to graduate students. By the way, Chinese culture uses a lot of white pepper in cooking.

  26. As far as I can research, edible asparagus is not invasive, but the non-edible aspargus fern is. Yes, you are right, no picking of the delectable aspargus spears for the first two years in order to direct all energy into the roots which support the spears’ growth.

  27. Rajini Rao says:

    Norman Ma , in my field of biomedical sciences, grad school is a pretty fun time. For better or worse, it stretches out to 6 years, but there is a living stipend and health insurance is covered. Grad students have a sort of camaraderie that keeps them going, despite the frustrations in lab and general poverty. IMO, what is worse is the period that follows. We do ~5 years of postdoctoral work in my field and that is increasingly stressful because job prospects are so dim. You still don’t get paid a whole lot, even though you have a PhD to your name. So I have a few unpleasant memories of New Haven, where I spent my postdoc years..

  28. Norman M. says:

    Rajini Rao Thanks for sharing. I think we are stronger from our experience. Because we lived in no-kidding academic poverty, food becomes so much more of our attention. 🙂

  29. Well, that settles it, doubt I will ever try white asparagus, as I don’t want it to be milder in flavour. Can’t get enough of the green asparagus flavour already!

  30. Rajini Rao says:

    Norman Ma , I’m glad I learned to cook as a student, because eating out is so much more expensive (not to mention unhealthy, on average). Some of my students say that they don’t cook, and I’m working on rectifying that 😉 Free cooking lessons at my home! Michelle Beissel , when you have a chance, why don’t you taste test both types and let us know what you think? I’ve seen white asparagus on rare occasion in stores here, I’ll be sure to capture some when I find them next.

  31. OK, I will try the asparagus experiment. Just finished reading this pepper thread at chowhound:

  32. And the chowhound community on the topic if there is a taste difference between purple, white, and green asparagus:

    I like the frankness of the chowhound community.

  33. Rajini Rao says:

    Haha, they were going off track as we tend to do here. Good thing Feisal Kamil is not on chowhound to insert some music into their pepper thread 😉 Wiki to the rescue (as always): “White pepper consists of the seed of the pepper plant alone, with the darker coloured skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting, where fully ripe red pepper berries are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes. Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried.”

    So there you have it!

  34. Rajini Rao says:

    That was my transparent attempt at distracting you from your work, Feisal Kamil 😀

  35. Rajini Rao says:

    Nope, Prabat Parmal .

  36. Rajini Rao says:

    You need to hook us up with some plussers who post Malaysian recipes, Feisal.

  37. For our up and coming asparagus experiment, Rajini Rao , perhaps we should blind it? Also it seems that the white asparagus available in America is of a much poorer quality than the ones in Europe.

  38. Rajini Rao says:

    Circled, thanks Feisal Kamil 🙂 It’s not about taste, Prabat Parmal .

  39. Rajini Rao says:

    Aha, I see that Ms. Beissel is entering into the scientific spirit of this venture! Bravo! I’m so excited now 😀 You’ll need an assistant to serve them to you and record your preferences. What other controls can we think of?

  40. Rajini Rao says:

    That sounds like a good deal, Aida Hazlan 🙂

  41. Some people are very sensitive to bitter taste, and others adore it like moi. The running joke in our household is that if my husband and I lived in a hunter/gatherer tribe, and if each one of us was held responsible for foraging, our tribe will die from starvation if my husband forages, as his acute sensitivity to bitterness will result in him not bringing home any food, and the tribe will die from poisoning if I was in charge of foraging, because my love of bitterness would not prevent me from collecting poisonous plants. It seems our bitter taste was in part evolved to help us avoid poisonous plants as many are bitter.

  42. Perhaps, Rajini Rao , we can get funding so you can come to France so we will conduct this experiment properly?

  43. Rajini Rao says:

    I love bitter greens! Actually, I don’t find asparagus bitter at all (so I was somewhat confused by this blanching hypothesis!). Solanaceae have bitter/poisonous glycoalkaloids. Gnotic Pasta has been a great sport and captured some funny images so I can write a post on poisons in edible plants (potatoes). Perhaps I can ask you for help, Michelle? Anyway, I’m so glad that you survived evolution, Michelle Beissel 🙂

  44. How can I help, Rajini Rao ?

  45. Rajini Rao says:

    Gnotic Pasta is superdad, and he can whip together something in the kitchen, no doubt. You did say no baking though. Hmm, we may have to take away that crown. We want a picture of you with flour on your hands. I would ask for an apron too, but I’m afraid you may retaliate with fire power 🙂

    Michelle Beissel , I’ll dig out some obscure and fascinating (I hope!) info and post it limited to you, to see if you have anything to add or clarify. How about that? I’ll do some PubMed and google searches in between real work tomorrow.

  46. OK, that will be great, Rajini Rao!

  47. Rajini Rao says:

    LOL, Dan..that is hilarious! At first I thought it was ammo in the belt..but then you would have an exploding middle. Next, I thought those were beer cans..but then they would get unpleasantly warm. Tool kit for the barbecue?

    I can totally see you wearing that. In fact, they should ask you to model it..probably rack up a profit with us silly wimmin buying it for fathers day or something.

    P.S. I have no idea what a dakota hole is? Is it safe to ask? Lol.

  48. Oh i am hungry now,looking at this

  49. Chad Haney says:

    Gnotic Pasta tin-foil dinners on the camp fire are the best. Now that I’m older I made gourmet ones last time I was camping. I’ll see if I can dig out the recipe. I vaguely remember salmon and mango chutney.

    Rajini Rao did you see the movie Namesake ?

    If so did it resonate with you? Joy luck club resonates with me and a lot of my Asian friends.

    My mom taught me how to cook and grandmother taught me how to bake but I leave baking up to my wife. So in undergrad and grad school, I whipped up plenty of home cooked meals on a low budget. Good for you for trying to get the students there to cook. Nice post again. No music to hijack it (yet).

  50. Rajini Rao what is that leaf doing b/w all those vegges…have u made even mashed that curry leave???

  51. Rajini Rao says:

    Sudhanshu Pathania , that was a bay leaf 🙂

    Mark Bruce , I love broccoli too…never understood why some people hate it. Sure, if it is overcooked into mush..but that would be true of most things.

  52. Rajini Rao says:

    Shinae Nae Robinson , I’m delighted to hear that you have memories of Moosewood too! I thought it would be too obscure to post here, but I had reckoned without the eclectic G+ audience. You can see that I am trying to copy your style of showcasing a recipe in pictures: they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I hope you approve 🙂

  53. Chad Haney says:

    Actually, Rajini Rao in my previous comment, I should have asked if Namesake resonated with your eldest child (21 right?).

  54. Rajini Rao says:

    Chad Haney , salmon and mango chutney sounds very gourmet, Bobby Flay-ish, so impressive! I’m afraid I can’t match that..remind me to tell you of my single experience camping and cooking on the beach of St. John, USVI sometime 😉

    I did read Namesake and watch the movie. Curiously, I did not identify with it (quite strongly so) perhaps because I fell between the two generations showcased? Also, I march to the beat of my own drum 😉 I have a philosophy about all this, as it applies to immigrants. I try to take both cultures at face value..the best of each, and not try to desperately hang on to either. The ideal, to me, is a seamless melding to give a unique product that is the best of both worlds (still working on that!).

    I wonder what Sivarama Venkatesan thought of the Namesake?

    Feisal Kamil , that video clip was hilarious! Thankfully, my mother is an unusual Indian homemaker and insisted on doing all the cooking herself (she still does at 75).

  55. Rajini Rao says:

    Our comments crossed, Chad Haney ! I definitely do not bring my children up as in the movie, but we are quite far from the all-American family too. I want them to discover their own path (despite my own angst about that!).

  56. Chad Haney says:

    Rajini Rao I’m grateful that I can take what is best from both American and Thai cultures to be who I am today. With a role model like you, I’m sure your children will do the same with American and Indian culture.

  57. Chad Haney says:

    Rajini Rao exactly what I mean. You expose them to Indian culture while embracing what’s good in American culture. You allow them to be who they want to be, but provide the right environment. I hope that makes sense, a lot of assumptions on my part. It’s meant to be a compliment nevertheless.

  58. Rajini Rao says:

    Yes, exactly Chad Haney . Not that’s its always easy to practice what one preaches. You can imagine that I have some strong opinions and not afraid to make them known (ahem), but at least I (hope) have the humility and humor to laugh it off when they don’t fall in line with my expectations 😀

  59. Kevin Clift says:

    You’re comments about the role of the mother cooking reminded me of the film by Gurindha Chadha – Bend It Like Beckham. If I remember correctly, there is some hilarious humour about not being able to keep the mother and the aunties from interfering in the kitchen and finally coming to terms with the benefits of that. Rajini Rao

    As to the question about Asparagus being invasive – I don’t think it is that – I think it is more that once you start growing it it can last for twenty years.

    For the taste test I would propose that you include my hypothesis from above, which is that the taste will be influenced more by the amount of time between harvesting and eating than by the colours. Michelle Beissel . You were right in my opinion to say that the white asparagus available in US groceries stores isn’t very good and I think that it related to that. All the occurrences I have seen in California have been grown in South America and suffered time and carbon penalties in reaching CA. Even though I was acculturated to white, they are not a patch on the local green asparagus which, from the farmers market at least, are harvested the same day.

  60. Sounds great, & I enjoyed the instructions, language such as “continue to heat gently until your home is filled with a delicious, comforting aroma”.

  61. Rajini Rao says:

    Freda Coursey , you can tell that I am a scientist by my use of precise measurements of time and quantity in my recipes 😉

  62. Rajini Rao says:

    Kevin Clift , what you are saying is that the freshness of the asparagus trumps color. Good hypothesis. Hopefully, Michelle Beissel will be able to control for freshness and specifically compare green to white in her scientific experiment 🙂

    I loved Bend it like Beckham. It rung true to me, and brought out the irrational joy of the Indian heritage. Namesake on the other hand was depressing, everything an immigrant family ought not to be, IMO. Perhaps, I’m being harsh. I’ll give Jhumpa Lahiri another chance and look for Interpreter of Maladies, thanks for the tip, Sivarama Venkatesan !

  63. Kevin Clift says:

    I know that this is the case with peas. I once engaged with the VP of Green Giant who had multiple pea growing farms and multiple canning and freezing facilities around them. The challenge was to schedule the peas farm by farm as they hit peak sweetness to the closest unscheduled freezing plant. If they were left too long they became less sweet, less suitable for freezing, and less valuable.

    As for asparagus I didn’t have time to look much but I saw this with a quick Google Soluble sugar levels are known to decline rapidly in the tips of harvested spears. here I am not just saying sweetness is all that matters so a taste test would be interesting.

  64. Rajini Rao says:

    Interesting paper, thanks for the link Kevin Clift ! Peas are an example of produce that are perfect for freezing. As tomatoes are for canning. 🙂

  65. Kevin Clift says:

    That’s serendipitous Rajini Rao as I was just looking for a credible quote about the sugars dropping. In the case of the peas I know it was only a matter of hours but I have no experience professionally with asparagus. That sounds funny (:.

  66. Rajini Rao says:

    Never underestimate the curiosity of scientists..they publish on anything and everything 🙂

  67. Rahul Joshi says:

    LOL @ “the difference between a vegetarian and a goat was that only the latter did not need their food cooked” 🙂

  68. Chris Powell says:

    Oh dear, Rajini! How could you? Now I’m looking through Amazon’s catalog of Moosewood Cookbooks…. for shame! You could have kept things simple and stayed in the lab! But no, here we are in the kitchen!!!

    -with love,

  69. Rajini Rao says:

    Chris Powell , the kitchen is but an extension of lab 🙂

  70. Rajini Rao says:

    Annette Marin , you can add more cream/milk with the broccoli, so I hope your baby will try it. If not, the mother can finish it off 🙂 Much love!

  71. Rajini Rao says:

    What’s your diet Mahesh Sreekandath (other than metal): herbivore, carnivore, omnivore?

  72. YUMMY! Rajini Rao Thank you for all these recipes … I tried one – with cauliflower precisely – and it was fabulous!!! 🙂

    PS: I love Indian food

  73. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for reading the blog, Fadia Lekouaghet ! It’s almost as much fun for me to write things up as to cook them..both are creative processes 🙂

  74. I Am convinced that the greatest pleasure is that of my taste buds 🙂

  75. Rajini Rao says:

    There must be something wrong with me then..I like cooking the food, but as for the consuming of it..meh.

  76. Abi Malar says:

    me too a vege. but vproud of u as a veg in us. superb. its not anything wrong with ur cooking. may b in tasting that. bt nic.

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