Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Cashew Pesto

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These days on Fridays I love to come home from work, relax, and cook an easy, fresh, summery dinner for myself and Zoeya. Shan closes the restaurant on Friday, so I don’t worry about him turning his nose up at a grazing menu heavy on veggies and without an obvious entree (which, incidentally, is my favorite way to eat). This soup was simple and delightful, with a dollop of flavorful pesto made from fresh basil from my herb garden. You can make this with whatever nuts you have, but the cashews worked really nicely. They are similar in texture to pine nuts, and cheaper.

The soup was part of our Friday spread…

…to which Zoeya invited her baby…

…and then slurped up her bowl of soup, telling Mommy it was delicious. The best compliment is having your food approved by a picky 2.5 year old.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Cashew Pesto

makes four bowls, can easily be doubled

For the soup
3 red peppers
2 shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
salt & pepper
1 tbsp butter
2 cups chicken broth

Roast the red peppers at 475 in the oven, straight on the rack. Turn once and roast until they are charred. Move to a glass bowl and cover with saran wrap and let them steam and cool for a little bit. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat butter on medium high (not too high or it will burn), and cook the shallots and garlic, salt and pepper. When shallots are translucent, add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skin, scrape out the seeds, and slice. Transfer peppers and the broth, shallots, and garlic to a blender and puree. Return to saucepan and warm through.

For the pesto
1/2 c cashews
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 c basil leaves (loosely packed), roughly chopped
1/4 c olive oil
generous spritz lemon juice
salt & pepper

In a food processor, pulse cashews and garlic a few time. Add basil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to a chunky paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve soup steaming, spoon a little pesto into the center, and enjoy.

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

Our friend Karan used to make the most delicious Butter Chicken. We haven’t eaten it since he moved away, so, missing it, I decided to try my hand at it. I was really happy with how this turned out, especially the flavorful and delicate gravy.

The one thing I would do differently is to try to grind up the cashews a little finer, to a paste. I’ve been planning to get a mortar and pestle and that would probably do the trick. The other thing is, in this and in most of my curries I usually go pretty light on the cayenne and/or chillis so that Zoeya can enjoy it too and I just let Shan spice it up later. If you aren’t cooking for kids (or wimps), you can go a little heavier on the spice.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the crazy ingredient list, most of them are spices.

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

1 lb boneless chicken thighs
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp cayenne (more to taste)
salt, pepper
2 tbsp yogurt
olive oil
3 cloves
3 black peppercorns
1 inch stick cinnamon
2 green cardamoms, cracked
1 and 1/2 sliced white onions
3-4 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated or finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp tumeric
2-3 cups water
1 lb roma tomatoes diced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
small handful cashews
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream or half and half
Cilantro to garnish

Cut the chicken thighs into 1 inch chunks, and marinate for about an hour in the lime juice, salt, pepper, cayenne and yogurt.

Heat a little olive oil on high, brown the chicken and remove to a plate. Add a little oil if necessary, scraping up anything left by the chicken, lower heat to medium, and add whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamoms). Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding your onions. Sprinkle onions with salt and stir occasionally until they are turning golden. Add ginger and garlic and cook for a minute, add powdered spices (coriander, cumin, turmeric) and cook for a minute.

Add water and deglaze, then add tomatoes, bay leaves and fenugreek leaves. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, then uncover and cook to reduce liquid by about a third.

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, grind cashews to a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves from the sauce and transfer to food processor (be careful, it’s hot!) Puree and return to pot along with chicken. Stir butter and cream into the sauce. Serve with basmati rice, garnished with cilantro.

Notes where I stray from the authentic: where most Indian food is cooked in vegetable oil I usually prefer light olive oil; it doesn’t alter the flavor and it’s a little healthier. Also, most Indian recipes will have you cook your onions and then your meat, but sometimes I cook the meat first, remove to a plate, then add it back later to finish in the sauce, especially if I’m planning on pureeing the sauce. Also, I salt my onions to sweat them where most Indian recipes do not. Do as you will!