Conza – Bean, Cauliflower and Fennel Soup

Conza is a traditional Sicilian sauce/soup made with chickpeas, favas, kidney or cranberry beans, white beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils. You can add a handful of whatever dried legumes you have on hand; think of it as spring cleaning your pantry. Nina Groppo cooks each variety of bean separately the day before she makes the sauce. Here, they all go into the pot together. Use the quick soak method (see below) before simmering. The recipe makes a large quantity, so have plenty of freezer containers on hand. Serve over pasta or on its own as a soup, garnished with Parmesan and chopped fresh parsley.

1 cup dried chickpeas
1 cup dried kidney or cranberry beans
1 cup dried cannellini or other white beans
1 cup dried black-eyed peas
1 cup dried fava beans
1 cup lentils
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch dice
4 carrots, cut into 1-inch dice
4 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch dice
1 large bulb fresh fennel with fronds, cut into 1-inch dice
16 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon pepper, or more to taste

1. In a colander, combine the chickpeas, kidney or cranberry beans, white beans, and black-eyed peas. Rinse with cold water. Transfer to a stock pot and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
2. In the colander, rinse the favas; transfer to a medium saucepan. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, turn off the heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and peel off the loosened skins.
3. In the colander, rinse the lentils; set aside.
4. In the stockpot, combine all the beans, favas, lentils, onion, carrots, celery, fennel, and water. Bring to a boil and skim the foam from the surface.
5. Lower the heat to medium, set the cover on askew, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring frequently. The beans will absorb a large amount of water so add more hot water to the pot if necessary.
6. Stir in the olive oil. Continue cooking for 30 minutes or until the beans are soft and the mixture thickens.
7. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking for 30 minutes or until tender. (Total cooking time is about 3 hours.)
8. Add salt and pepper.
Adapted from Nina Groppo
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

Chinese egg drop soup

Serves 4
This popular restaurant bowl is easy to make at home but the technique is a little tricky. The finished soup should have pale yellow petals of barely set egg floating in a rich chicken broth. To achieve this, you have to wave chopsticks above the surface of the hot soup with one hand while you slowly pour in the eggs with the other - without overcooking the eggs. If you’re starting with commercially prepared chicken stock, enhance it by simmering it for 10 minutes with several slices of fresh ginger and scallions, both bruised slightly with the flat side of a broad knife.

2 eggs
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Pinch of black pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch stirred in a bowl with 1 tablespoon water
Extra dark sesame oil (for sprinkling)
1 scallion, chopped (for garnish)

1. In a glass measuring cup, beat the eggs with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil; set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a boil. Add the soy sauce, pepper, and remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Pour the dissolved cornstarch into the stock in a circular motion, stirring with a spoon. Continue stirring until the soup thickens slightly.
3. While the soup is very hot - not bubbling, but with steam rising from it - use a pair of chopsticks to stir the soup quickly clockwise so the liquid is swirling. Turn off the heat.
4. Wave the chopsticks back and forth horizontally over the pot as you slowly pour the eggs through them into the soup from a height of about 4 inches. This technique ensures that the eggs separate and set as they hit the hot liquid. Do not return the soup to the heat.
5. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with sesame oil and scallion.

Four Tasty Tofu Recipes

Chinese steamed silken tofu with ginger and scallions
Serves 4

At Rice Valley in Newton, cooks use silken tofu, which they steam with shreds of ginger and scallion. Then they bathe the cubes in hot soy sauce and chicken broth. You don’t need a wok or steamer. Use a deep 12-inch skillet and round cake rack. Serve with white or brown rice.

1 block (12 to 14 ounces) silken tofu
1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chicken stock
2 scallions, cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Have on hand a large deep skillet (12 inches) with a lid. Place a 6-or-8-inch cake rack in the skillet. Add enough water to come up to the rack. You will also need an 8-to-10-inch heatproof plate or glass pie pan.
2. On a cutting board, halve the tofu horizontally; cut each half into 6 pieces to make 12 total.
3. With a wide spatula, gently transfer the tofu to the plate. Scatter the ginger on top. Set the plate on the cake rack.
4. Cover the skillet. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat to medium, and steam the tofu for 4 minutes (check to make sure there is enough water in the skillet; add more if necessary). Turn off the heat and uncover the pan. With one end of a dish towel in each hand, carefully transfer the plate from the skillet to a heatproof surface on the counter.
5. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the soy sauce and chicken stock until it starts to bubble gently. Turn off the heat and spoon the sauce around the tofu - not on top. Scatter the scallions on top.
6. Wipe out the saucepan. Heat the oil for 1 minute or until it starts to shimmer. Carefully pour the oil into a soup ladle. Drizzle the hot oil over all the scallions. You’ll hear them sizzle and they’ll wilt slightly and release a delicious aroma. Serve with white or brown rice. Adapted from Rice Valley restaurant in Newton.

Indonesian tofu and shrimp curry
Serves 4

1 block (16 ounces) firm tofu
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground fresh chili paste (sambal oelek) or 3 red chili peppers, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 cup cashews, finely chopped
2 cups light coconut milk
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced in julienne strips
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 bay leaves
2 stalks lemongrass, halved and lightly smashed with the flat part of a knife (optional)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled
2 eggs, hard-cooked

1. On a cutting board, halve the tofu horizontally; cut each half into 12 pieces to make 24 total.
2. In a large skillet or wok over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Fry the tofu pieces for about 2 minutes, gently tossing them to brown them on all sides. With a slotted spoon, transfer the tofu to a bowl; set aside. 3. In a small bowl combine the garlic, onion, chili paste or chilies, turmeric, and nuts. Work the mixture with a spoon to form a paste.
4. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the spice paste. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until it releases its aroma. Add the coconut milk, red bell pepper, lemon juice, salt, sugar, bay leaves, and lemongrass, if using. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
5. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute more.
6. Return the tofu to the pan with the whole eggs. Cook, stirring gently, for 2 minutes or until the shrimp is cooked through.
7. Remove the eggs from the sauce. Halve them and set them on top of the dish. Serve with white or brown rice. Adapted from Elsa Tian

Japanese tofu scramble
Serves 4

4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup water
1 block (16 ounces) firm tofu
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 green beans, sliced diagonally into thirds
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten

1. In a bowl combine mushrooms and water; set aside for 20 minutes or until soft. Drain into a bowl (reserve the soaking liquid). Rinse the mushrooms. Slice them into thin strips.
2. Working over the sink, tip the tofu upside down, holding it with your hand, to remove the liquid. Transfer to a bowl. With a spoon, break the tofu into about 10 pieces.
3. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrot and mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the tofu pieces and stir-fry for 2 minutes more; the tofu will look like crumbs.
4. Tip the reserved mushroom soaking liquid into another bowl, leaving behind the sediment. Add the soy sauce, sake, sugar, and salt to the mushroom liquid. Stir well. Pour the liquid into the skillet. Cook 1 minute or until the liquid is bubbling at the edges.
5. Add the green beans. Turn the heat to medium-high and continue cooking for 3 minutes or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the green beans are tender but still have some bite.
6. Sprinkle with scallions. Drizzle the eggs over the tofu mixture. Cook 1 minute and turn off the heat. Gently fold eggs into the tofu. Serve hot or at room temperature with short grain white or brown rice.Adapted from “Japanese Family-Style Recipes’’

Steamed spinach with tofu dressing
Serves 4

1 pound fresh spinach, stemmed
1 block (12 to 14 ounces) soft or silken tofu, drained (see recipe for tofu scramble)
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1. Rinse the spinach in a bowl of cold water. Lift it out and set in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, with only the water that clings to it, for 2 minutes.
2. Tip into a colander and rinse with cold water. Drain the spinach and squeeze with your hands. Coarsely chop it and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Set the tofu on the spinach and use a large metal spoon to crumble the tofu. Mix it with the spinach until thoroughly blended. Set the bean sprouts in a mound on top.
4. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds, stirring often, for 3 minutes or until they begin to pop and color. Reserve 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds. On a cutting board or in a mini food processor, chop the remaining seeds finely.
5. In a small bowl, combine the crushed seeds, sugar, and soy sauce. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over the spinach mixture. Sprinkle with whole sesame seeds, scallion, sesame oil, and salt. Toss before serving. Debra Samuels

Korean Scallion Pancakes

Makes two 8-inch (20 cm) pancakes


1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (500 ml) water

1 large zucchini, cut into 2-inch long matchstick strips
1 carrot, cut into 2-inch long matchstick strips
1 medium onion, cut into thin strips

3 scallions white and green top, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil

Soy Scallion Dipping Sauce(recipe below)

1. In a large bowl combine the flour, rice flour, water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir until batter is smooth.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the zucchini and remaining salt. Let the zucchini sit for 5 minutes. Squeeze the liquid from the zucchini and pat dry with paper towels.

3. Add the zucchini, carrots, onions and scallions to the batter and mix until thoroughly incorporated.

4. In a medium-size skillet on medium high heat, add the oil and heat for 30 seconds.

5. To cook the pancake, pour half the batter into the skillet, distributing the ingredients evenly around the skillet. When the batter is set and the bottom is a golden brown, turn the pancake over. With the back of the spatula, press down and flatten the surface of the pancake. Continue to fry for several minutes until the pancake is a golden brown and the edges are crisp. Repeat the turning and pressing one or two more times or until there is very little batter coming through the cooked surface.

6. Set a wire cake rack on a baking sheet. Transfer the pancake to the rack. This will allow oil to drip onto the
sheet and keep the pancake from becoming greasy. Repeat with remaining batter. Make two vertical cuts and two horizontal cuts, about about 9 pieces.

7. Serve with individual bowls of the Soy Scallion Dipping Sauce.

Soy Scallion Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup (65 ml) soy sauce

2 tablespoons mild vinegar such as apple cider or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

2 teaspoons coarse red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons crushed sesame seeds

1/4 cup scallions, finely chopped

1. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, honey, water and sesame oil.

2. Add the red pepper powder, sesame seeds and scallions. Mix until combined. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. This will keep for one week.

Strawberries Romanoff

This is an updated version of the old presentation that is served with vanilla ice cream and liquer-infused whipped cream. Here the berries are macerated in Cointreau and sugar.

Ingredients: Serves 4

1 quart strawberries, rinsed and hulled (leave 4 berry stems intact)
1/4 cup Cointreau or other orange liqueur or orange juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
4 tablespoons sour cream


1. In a large bowl place the strawberries (save the 4 berries with stems). Sprinkle with Cointreau or orange liqueur or juice and granulated sugar. Stir gently. Let the berries sit for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

2. In an electric mixer with a chilled bowl, beat the cream and confectioners' sugar until the mixture forms stiff peaks.

3. In another bowl, whisk the sour cream to lighten it. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the sour cream into the whipped cream a spoonful at a time.

4. With a slotted spoon, divide the berries among 4 glass dishes or large stemware. Add some of the berry liquid to each dish.

5. Top with several dollops of the whipped cream mixture. Garnish each dish with a whole strawberry.

Cold Sesame Chicken

The cucumbers in this recipe are slightly crushed under the broad part of the blade of a knife. This breaks the skin of the cucumber creating a craggy surface to allow the hot sesame oil and dressing to seep in instead of slide off. Listen for the sizzle as the hot oil hits the cold chicken.

Ingredients: the vinaigrette

1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice wine or wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

Directions: the vinaigrette

1. Mix the soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and peppercorns in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for one minute and set aside.

Ingredients: the chicken

4 cups water
2 chicken breast halves, skin on (6-8 ounces each)
3 slices of ginger, ¼ inch thick
1 medium onion, sliced
3 of English cucumbers (or one large cucumber, peeled and seeded)
2 large tomatoes, cut into eighths
5 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup sesame oil
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Large dish for serving

Directions: the chicken

1. In a medium size pot, bring water, ginger and onion to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the chicken breasts. Cook for 15 minutes.

2. Turn off the heat and let chicken sit in hot liquid for 10 minutes. When cool place chicken and stock in a bowl and refrigerate until chilled (at least one hour).

3. Lightly scrape the skin of the cucumber with a paring knife.

4. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and then into 2-inch chunks.

5. Place a chunk of cucumber under the broad part of a kitchen knife. With your fist, hit the top of the blade once, and crush the cucumber. Repeat with remaining pieces.

6. On a large serving platter, make a layer of the crushed cucumbers.

7. Remove the cold chicken from the stock and slice, skin side up, on a diagonal. Place on top of the cucumbers.

8. Surround the chicken with the tomato wedges and top with scallions.

9. In a stainless steel ladle or small pot heat the sesame oil on a low flame until bubbles appear - approximately one minute. Turn off the heat and pour the oil evenly over the scallions and chicken.

10. Strain the soy vinaigrette and drizzle over the chicken and vegetables.

Changhai’s Shrimp Soup

This simple but flavorful Chinese soup cooks up in a flash. Aromatic sesame oil and spicy Vietnamese sauce Sriracha are added at the end for maximum impact.

Ingredients: Serves 4

1/4 pound shrimp, peeled and cooked
2 1/2 cups chicken stock*
2 slices ginger, smashed
2 scallions, smashed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water chestnuts, sliced
5 mushrooms, sliced (or ¼ cup canned)
1/4 cup green peas
2 teaspoons cornstarch plus 1 tablespoon water for dissolving
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sherry or Chinese cooking wine
Sriracha to taste


1. Cook shrimp in a separate pot and reserve.

2. Bring chicken stock, ginger and scallion to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the ginger and scallions.

3. Add tomato paste, salt and pepper. Simmer for another 2 minutes.

4. Slice mushrooms and water chestnuts (not too thin).

5. Add shrimp and vegetables and cook until mixture just begins to boil.

6. Dissolve cornstarch in water and slowly add to soup, stirring constantly. Simmer for another minute and then turn off the heat.

7. Add sesame oil, sherry (Chinese cooking wine) and a dash of Sriracha, if you like a spicy kick.