As summer turns to fall, and as gardeners pull their harvests, we’re coming upon another season for soup. People typically turn to soup for comfort. During these days of the pandemic, soup means even more.
Before the pandemic, the Moktan family, which owns The Persian Grill, was used to seeing health-care workers at their two locations, in Hatboro and Lafayette Hill. The latter opened in 1982 and occupies an old fast-food place off Germantown Pike, located near a number of health-care centers.
Throughout the pandemic, owners Bimal Moktan and Binod Moktan have brought food to frontline workers directly, giving away meals at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, Doylestown Hospital, and Chestnut Hill Hospital, among other places. Bimal Moktan says they’ve donated 5,000 meals since March.
“They work so hard,” Bimal Moktan, who served khoresh bademjoon, an eggplant stew, to law enforcement officers in Plymouth Meeting recently. “They can buy the food, and they have money to do it, but we just want to support,” he said of frontline workers.
Moktan acknowledges that their giveaways are helpful for him, too.
“The doctor prescribes medicine when you get sick,” said Bimal Moktan. “When they can get good food that I can serve, then I feel good.”
The Inquirer reached out to the Moktans, Cooking Alchemy founder Elizabette Andrade, and Alice Randall, coauthor of Soul Food Love, for recipes just right for this time in the season. Here are the soups they shared.
Mushroom and seaweed chowder
For her mushroom chowder, Elizabette Andrade uses a local mix of shiitake, oyster, and cremini. Andrade and her partner Erich Smith produce spices and pastes through their wellness-minded product line, Germantown-based Cooking Alchemy, which shoppers can find at DiBruno Bros. and at Farmer Jawn. This recipe is a source for fiber, she explained, and incorporates maitake, which are adaptogens that can help combat stress.
“Mushrooms are a nice source of vitamin D," added Andrade. “And given the fact that we’ve been quarantined, we’ve been inside and not quite getting as much vitamin D as most of us would like, I think that’s a great feature and how that affects, you know, our mood.”
4 1⁄2 cups water
2 cups diced taro root or diced red potatoes
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 cup oyster mushrooms, chopped
1 cup cremini mushrooms, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1⁄2 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley
2 teaspoons smoked salt
1 teaspoon dulse flakes
1 teaspoon wakame, chopped
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 cube Cooking Alchemy Mushroom Bouillon (optional)
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 cup lightly panfried maitake mushroom
Fresh thyme sprigs
Add 1 tablespoon coconut oil to a preheated medium stockpot. Add green onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add cremini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, and celery seed, mix well, and saute for a few minutes. Add coconut milk, water, stir, and bring to a light boil for 10 minutes.
Add mushroom bouillon (optional), taro (or potato) root, dulse, wakame, sprig of thyme, parsley, and smoked salt. Stir and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Preheat pan and add 1⁄2 tablespoon of coconut oil. Lightly pan fry maitake for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove, let cool, and divide into fourths.
Divide chowder into 4 bowls. Add maitake to the center of each bowl and garnish with smoked paprika and sprig of thyme.
Note: Mushrooms are locally sourced from Kennett Square Specialities located at Reading Terminal Market. Cooking Alchemy Mushroom Bouillon can be purchased at cookingalchemy.com.
Bimal Moktan was at first a regular at The Persian Grill. He ate there so frequently at the start of the ’90s that the owner hired him as a manager, eventually selling him the business in 1992. The Moktans are Nepalese American. When regulars with Iranian ancestry saw this change in ownership, many emphasized the importance of upholding their food traditions. So the Moktans worked hard to win over their trust. They still offer a deep menu with the kebabs they’re known for, but also, an assortment of stews. Khoresh karafs is a stew that’s been gaining popularity at The Persian Grill.
“It’s seasonal. You can prepare it without meat or with meat,” said Bimal Moktan, who added that it can be made with chicken, lamb, or veal shank. “It’s so aromatic."
Note: You’ll get more flavor from the dried lemons if they are soaked in water for 10 minutes before cooking. If you can’t find dried lemons, you can substitute 1/2 fresh lemon.
1 whole medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons of garlic
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)
Pinch of turmeric/saffron
2 cups fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup roughly chopped mint
1 teaspoon ginger, chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
4 dried lemons
2 cups bunches of celery
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup black-eyed peas, canned, drained (for dried, soak overnight)
Lemon juice / optional
Using a large pot or Dutch oven on medium, heat olive oil. Sauté garlic, onion, and mint until fragrant, about five minutes.
Add celery, parsley, dried lemons, and turmeric or saffron. Stir, and add black-eyed peas and vegetable broth.
Add mushrooms or cooked protein if using, then salt and pepper to taste.
Cover, and cook on medium with a lid, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. To serve, squeeze fresh lemon juice over each serving.
— Recipe courtesy of The Persian Grill
Carrot Ginger Soup
Alice Randall wrote Soul Food Love with her daughter Caroline Randall Williams. Their 2015 cookbook included a carrot ginger recipe that, Randall said, they made for a mother-daughter book club, while they were reading Ella Enchanted. This recipe is adaptable, Randall said. Cooks can add tarragon or cumin or make it vegetarian by swapping the chicken broth for vegetable broth.
“In some ways, it’s like a little black dress. You just change the necklace and you can keep wearing it,” Randall said. “This is the kind of soup you could make literally every week."
2 large yellow onions, chopped
¼ cup grated peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds carrots, roughly chopped
1½ quarts chicken broth
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ tablespoon salt
In a large pot, cook the onions and ginger in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, broth, lemon zest, and salt, and simmer until the carrots are soft enough to pierce easily with a fork, about 25 minutes.
Pour the contents of the pot into a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, bring to a simmer, and then serve.
Note: A dollop of yogurt, chopped chives, sprinkle of cumin, or grating of pepper all make great change-up toppings for this soup.
(Recipe reprinted with permission: Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family, Clarkson Potter, 2015)