Friday, January 13, 2012

50 Women Game-Changers (in Food): #30 Barbara Tropp - Buttercup Squash Soup w/ Cilantro, Toasted Almonds, & Fried Ginger Threads

the "Gourmet" prompt...
30. Barbara Tropp- Tropp taught America that General Tso is not what Chinese food is about. Her 1982 Modern Art of Chinese Cooking is still definitive, and her San Francisco China Moon Cafe rivaled Spago for Cal–Asian cred.

Okay...it seems that I go through a few names of ladies I know and then suddenly I hit a block of ladies that are all new to me.  I'm still firmly in the "new to me" block right now with Barbara Tropp.  Tropp was an American chef and writer who was enamored by Chinese culture, and in turn studied it in college (including doctoral studies at Princeton).  During a trip to Taiwan, she studied poetry and spent a lot of time in museums.  But, the moment that I love is finding out that while there, she stayed with a "food-obsessed" family which led to her study of the intricacies of Chinese cuisine.  After returning to the U.S., Tropp dropped out of Princeton to move to San Francisco in order to be closer to a Chinese community...and Chinese food markets, of course.  Eventually she wrote The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (with a commendation from James Beard) and China Moon Cookbook.  She ran the China Moon Cafe from '86-'97 and lost her battle with ovarian cancer in October of 2001.  She was just 53 years old.  Check out this 1999 article written by Janet Fletcher for the SF Gate (San Francisco Chronicle) in which she talks to Tropp about battling through cancer with Eastern medicine before turning to chemotherapy, a few recipes, and some further insight on this fascinating lady.
Now let's talk about soup for a minute.  If you followed along at all on my Tortilla Soup Quest, you probably know that I prefer a brothy soup with lots of good add-in-ables.  I have a few  exceptions like stews, chilis, bisques, and chowders, but when it comes to my everyday soup...it's brothy all the way.  That said, the broth has got to be stellar and full of flavor.  Preferably starting with a rich stock or broth and building up layer upon layer of flavor through roasting, sauteeing, sweating and then cooking everything together and blending it into a brothy puree.  Which is probably the reason that I don't really go for most veggie-puree soups.  I can't erase the words "baby food" from my brain when I see most soups of this type.  I don't want to gom my soup to death.  And I'm not saying that I've never had a tasty gom-able soup.  Because I have.  I just don't choose them.

So, when deciding what I wanted to make to represent Barbara Tropp, I was sort of surprised when I chose a pureed vegetable soup to fill that role.  Surprised and determined.  The flavors sounded so enticing that once I started fantacising about how they would taste on my tongue, I knew I had to make it work.  Really the solution was simple.  Thin in out to adapt it to my tastes.  I cut down on the amount of squash that the original recipe intended (3 lb).  I also upped....waaaaay upped....the amount of "toppings".  And it worked.  I achieved a massively flavorful, squashy broth with hints of cinnamon and star anise that was perfectly complimented by the toasty, nutty flavor of the almonds, the bright cilantro, and the creeping heat of the fried ginger.
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Buttercup Squash Soup w/ Cilantro, Toasted Almonds, & Fried Ginger Threads

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2-2½ hours
Keywords: soup/stew squash ginger Chinese American

Ingredients (serves 6-8)
    soup:
    • 2 lbs. Buttercup Squash
    • 1 Tbs. olive oil
    • 1 onion, sliced thinly
    • 1 carrot, sliced thinly
    • 1 Tbs. ginger, peeled & minced
    • 2 garlic cloves, peeled & minced
    • 1 (1") piece of cinnamon
    • 1 whole star anise
    • 10 c. poultry stock (or vegetable stock)
    • ~3 Tbs. brown sugar
    • sea salt
    • freshly ground white pepper
    to finish:
    • 1 bunch cilantro
    • 1½ c. sliced almonds, toasted
    • Fried Ginger Threads
    Fried Ginger Threads:
    • 3 oz. fresh ginger
    • oil for frying
    Instructions
    soup:
    Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut squash in half and remove the seeds. Place cut side down on a lined baking sheet. Bake until squash is soft and beginning to ooze around the edges, ~50-60 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle and then scoop the flesh from the peel. Cut into chunks and reserve.

    Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and star anise. Stir around for a few minutes, then put the lid on the pot and reduce heat to low. Let sweat until onions and carrots are soft, ~15 minutes.

    Add the reserved squash and stock to the pot and raise heat. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and let cook for 10-15 minutes. Cover pot and turn off heat. Let sit 30 minutes to allow flavors to mingle.

    Remove cinnamon and star anise. Puree with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender jar). Soup will not be thick like a "typical" vegetable-puree soup...it should resemble a broth with body. Heat up a bit if soup has cooled down. Stir in brown sugar, salt, and white pepper. Adjust to taste. Remove from heat.

    To serve, divide cilantro, toasted almonds, and ginger threads among bowls (should fill them at least halfway) and then ladle the hot soup over them. Enjoy!

    Fried Ginger Threads (yield: 1 c.)
    Peel ginger and trim into rectangular blocks. Slice lengthwise into thin sheets. Stack the slices and cut lengthwise again into thin, julienne strips.

    In a wok or deep skillet, heat oil to a depth of ~1½". When oil is hot enough to bubble when a thread of ginger is dropped in (~375° F), carefully fry the ginger (in batches if necessary) for ~10 seconds per batch. Carefully scoop the ginger out with a skimmer and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Don't let the ginger stay in the oil too long...it will get bitter.

    This can be made up to two days in advance and stored at room temperature in a paper towel-lined bowl sealed with plastic wrap.

    This recipe is inspired by & liberally adapted from China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp.
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    In May '11, Gourmet posted a list of 50 Women Game-Changers (in Food) that runs the gamut from food writers to cookbook authors to television personalities to restauranteurs to chefs to food bloggers.  Some are a given.  Some are controversial.  Speaking the names of some brings fond childhood memories.  Speaking the names of others will make some readers cringe.  And of course, some of our favorites were not even included.  We food-lovers are a passionate bunch of people and whether we agree or disagree, every woman on this list has earned her place for a reason.  Being a woman who is passionate about food (cooking, eating, talking about, writing about, photographing), when I caught wind of Mary from One Perfect Bite's idea of cooking/blogging her way through each of these 50 women...one per week...I knew I wanted to join her.  Many of these women paved the way for us in culinary school, in the kitchen, in cookbooks, in food writing, and on television and I think it is a fabulous way to pay tribute to their efforts.  Some of the women on the list have been tops with me for years.  Some I have heard of (perhaps even seen, read, or cooked from) before.  And there are even a handful that I am not familiar with at all.  I excited to educate myself on each of these women game-changers and hope you look forward to reading along.  We are going in order from 1 to 50.
    Who is cooking along with these 50 Women Game-Changers?
    *sources: Wikipedia, SF Gate
    I am sharing this post with:
    Souper_Sundays2 SundayNightSoupNight Foodie Friday Logo 2 friday food at mom trends