Sunday, June 6, 2010

My First Brooklyn Shabbat, or Chilled Pea Soup with Challah Croutons

This past Friday Alex and I observed Shabbat for the first time in our apartment. Just before sundown, we opened a bottle of Chardonnay (somehow I feel like it's supposed to be red wine, but it was all we had), lit two candles, and shared a thick slice of challah from an enormous Zaro's loaf.

Alex said the prayers one line at a time and I repeated them. It's going to be a long time before I know them by heart. I felt like I was just copying the sounds. Later, when I told this to my friend Robbie, he nodded and joked, "like a Japanese schoolgirl singing Lady Gaga," which I thought was pretty funny.

Still, even though I was a bit lost, I found the experience moving and, in a way, cathartic. There is something very pleasing about the act of lighting candles--watching the flame flicker and the wax melt and dribble down in beads. Somehow you can't help but relax and reflect. As we sipped our wine, I suddenly remembered a bizarre ritual my family had when I was growing up.

While (of course) I would devour anything you put in front of me, my younger brother was a very picky eater. For a while, one of the only ways my parents could get him to finish his dinner was to light a candle and let him blow it out for each bite he took. I remember staring across the table at him, over our bowls of macaroni and cheese, feeling insanely jealous that he got to blow out so many candles--like it was his birthday every single night. I guess it just goes to show that even children understand that there is something satisfying, sacred, and important about striking a match, lighting a wick, and watching the shadows dance across a table.

But enough misty memories. On Saturday, I was confronted with a very real dilemma: what to do with all that challah! I decided to make giant, buttery croutons for one of my favorite dishes: chilled pea soup with mint. The recipe, which is a tweaked version of Ina Garten's, is incredibly easy and filled with all the verdant flavors of summer. Pair it with a tomato and mozzarella salad and you can't go wrong. (Recipe after the jump.)

Chilled Pea Soup with Challah Croutons

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, coarsely chopped (white and light green parts only)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 (10-ounce) packages of frozen peas
Big handful of fresh mint leaves (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Challah Croutons (recipe follows)

Melt the butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the leeks and the onion and sauté until they are softened and the onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the peas and simmer for three minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the mint, salt, and pepper. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Transfer the soup to a large bowl, cover, and chill in the refrigerator. Serve garnished with the croutons.

Challah Croutons

2 or 3 thick slices of challah, cut into one-inch cubes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the challah cubes on a large baking sheet and drizzle them with the olive oil. Toss them to coat. Toast the cubes in the oven, shaking the pan once, until crispy and well browned, about eight to ten minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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