Meatless Monday – Lentil Soup

The fickle spring weather turned chilly again just as half our family returned from a house building week in Mexico, overtired and weezy from dust. I decided a hearty pot of lentil soup might do the trick: warm and comforting, restorative in the best ways.

Ten years ago I couldn’t tell you if I had ever eaten a lentil. A new friend brought over a package of lentils as a salad additive and I looked at them as if she’d handed me a seed packet; they might do something great, but I have No Idea what to do with them…

These days lentils are one of my go-to ingredients. They’re easy, yummy, eat them simply or add them to almost whatever. Inexpensive and healthy to boot.

But there are lentil soups and more lentil soups. I’ve made many and they’re good, fine, meh. I needed a better-than-the-rest lentil soup to clear away the fog and funk. I read several recipes, improved on the base of one with additives from others, and I think I’ve got it.

It began with this recipe. I’d bought celery special–I wanted, expected, celery in my lentil soup. Onion, carrot, celery: the essentials, right? Add lentils, veggie broth, some spices, and you’re right on track.

So I checked other recipes, compared ratios, and added celery. I omitted the oil and salt, because why add them? The canned tomatoes and veggie broth add enough salt to flavor. Then I found a perfect zucchini in the crisper. Why not add zucchini to a lentil soup? Maybe that’s a little ‘minestrone’ of me, but I tell you, it worked. And if I hadn’t had a zucchini, I would have added a drained and rinsed can of garbanzo beans. More veggie goodness = great!

And then I oops-ed by confusing curry powder with ground cumin, almost the same color. The ratios were meant to be two teaspoons of one and one of the other, but I did two of the wrong one…and found out it wasn’t wrong. To the contrary, it was just more right.

A couple of weeks ago, Tween and I were watching a cooking show. Of course they were preparing some dish, or many, that included meat. He commented, “Sometimes I wish I could eat meat. I might like to try something like that.”

I get it, Buddy. I really do. I ate meat for 20+ years of my life until I gradually realized I didn’t any more. And now I don’t, and don’t want to.

I told my kiddo: “You know, their food probably tastes great. But it’s not as healthy for their bodies or the planet. And because they eat meat they eat less veggies, which are better for bodies and the planet. I truly believe they are missing out. Not us.”

This lentil soup reminds me of that conversation. The desire for a fab lentil soup elicited greater creativity and led me to a fab end result. I’m not missing out. Not at all.

This past weekend Teen came home early from an event and put himself to bed because he felt so sick. The next day I discovered the truth: he wanted to try it, so he’d had a few bites of chicken. However, his system didn’t want it, and those bites of chicken are still biting back three days later. (In terms of rebellious teen behavior, I don’t feel too badly…)

As he recovers, you know what he asked for? Another favorite veggie soup. Bring it on!

Lentil Soup
Serves 4-6

2 c medium yellow or white onion, diced
2 c carrots, peeled and diced
2 c celery, diced
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 c zucchini, diced (optional, or sub 1 can drained/rinsed chickpeas)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp curry powder
½ tsp dried thyme
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 c brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 c vegetable broth
1 ¼ c water
Pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 c chopped fresh collard greens or kale, tough ribs removed; option to sub chopped spinach
Juice of ½ to 1 medium lemon, to taste

In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, add chopped onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, zucchini (or chickpeas), cumin, curry powder, and thyme. Stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Add undrained tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often.

Pour in lentils, broth, and water. Add red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender.

Remove pot from heat. Using a stick blender, gently pulse to puree some of the soup. Alternately, transfer 2 c of soup to a blender and purée until smooth, then pour puréed soup back into the pot. Add chopped greens and stir until wilted.

Remove the pot from heat and stir in the juice of half of a lemon. Taste and season with pepper and/or lemon juice until the flavors really sing. Serve immediately.

Note: Produce varies wildly by size. For me, this recipe was about 1/2 of a large onion, 2 exceptionally fat carrots, and 6-ish skinny celery stalks. So I approximated about 2 cups of each. If you have a little more or less of an ingredient, you’re fine. Also, if you have a 28-oz can of tomatoes, just add a little more water or broth. Don’t sweat yourself, just sweat the veggies 😉

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Meatless Monday – Farro & Kale Soup

A friend sent the best kind of text. She asked when I could be available to come for dinner; she had a vegan recipe she wanted to make for girls’ night. Count me in!

She set the table with a charming quilt she’d made and heirloom china, beautiful plates with a raised spot for a tea cup in which she served soup. She had veganized a recipe she’d tried a few times to good results, and we went back for more and more and more–dainty cups couldn’t contain enough hearty veggie goodness. The kale for the soup came from her garden; so did the lettuce in the salad, to which she added strawberries, walnuts, and avocado. Another friend came straight from her shift at a local winery toting a couple of bold reds. With inviting hospitality, good friends, delicious food and drink, this weeknight could not have been any better.

Before grocery shopping this weekend, I noticed that the weather report indicated another cold front approaching. Indeed, today on this first day of spring the skies have again turned gray and wet, which makes it a perfect soup night. I bought butternut squash, already cubed because I couldn’t find whole, but forgot the kale. Imagine my delight when I came home to find a bundle of fresh kale on my doorstep, yet one more gift from my friend.

Farro & Kale Soup
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 c butternut squash, peeled & cubed
pepper/Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, to taste
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 c farro
6 c reduced sodium vegetable broth (I use Better Than Bouillon reduced-sodium vegetable base)
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes with juice
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
2-3 c kale, spines removed & leaves chopped

On a roasting  pan, drizzle cubed squash with oil and sprinkle with pepper and 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb mix). Roast for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. (Note: you could skip this step, but roasting brings out so much fabulous flavor that I think it’s worth it. If you add squash straight to the pot, you might need to add another 5 minutes or so to the total cooking time).

In a large stock pot, saute onion for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add farro and toss to coat. Add broth, roasted squash, tomatoes, and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and partially cover, simmering until farro is cooked, about 25 minutes. Stir in kale and simmer until wilted, about 2 minutes (if you’re not serving right away, you can add kale and remove pot from heat; leave covered until ready to serve). Adjust seasonings to taste.

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Meatless Monday – The Greenest Soup

It was one of those weeks when the Universe declared, “Your plans be damned!”

Extra meetings. Tasks took too long. Hormones flared. Perfectionism roared. Memories failed. Schedules ran amok. The internet went down at work and, as soon as it was restored, it went down at home: three repairmen in three days, to discover that the service we’ve been paying for – for years! – is not available at our home due to lack of wiring. You’d think the company would know that…

But we had spectacular weather. After a week of downpours we enjoyed bright blue skies, light breezes, and itchy eyes from pollen storms produced by gorgeous bursting blooms. I even got a little too much sun during an outdoor lunch break.

Spring arrived yesterday and brought with it more rain. California is still trying to recover from disastrous drought so I say, “Bring it on!”

Besides, cold weather means more soup days! I had intended to post this recipe last Monday in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day. Not because it’s traditional, but because it is So Green. Truly, the greenest soup. And it’s delicious. If you want something a little more Irish-traditional, try soda bread or leek & potato soup.

But I couldn’t post last week (see above) so I’m posting today and now it is once again soup weather. See? Everything works out.

broccoli

Bsoup1Bsoup2

Thai Broccoli Soup
Serves 4-6

½ large yellow onion (approx. 1 c), diced
3-4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 Tbsp fresh ginger root, diced
1-2 Tbsp green curry paste*
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
3 c veggie broth
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 pound broccoli (approx. 4-6 c), chopped
2 c spinach leaves
1 c cilantro leaves + more for serving
Juice of ½ lime
2 scallions, shredded
¼ c peanuts, chopped (optional, for serving)

Sauté onion, garlic and ginger in a large soup pot until onion begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp of water at a time as necessary to prevent sticking. Add curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add coconut milk, broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Remove from the heat and add the spinach leaves and cilantro. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Juice lime into soup and top with cilantro, scallions and peanuts.

*Note: Green curry pastes can vary widely in heat! I use Thai Kitchen and noted that they recommend on the jar 1-2 Tbsp of curry paste per can of coconut milk, so that is what I used in this recipe.

Tip: Don’t toss the broccoli stems! Once you cut off the florets, use a veggie peeler to peel the tough outside of the stem, then chop and add them to the recipe as well.Bsoup3

Meatless Monday – Spicy Black Bean Soup

I love love love black beans. Next to spinach, they might be my most regular go-to ingredient for daily yum. Black beans taste fab in chili and burritos, refried in quesadillas (sans cheese – all you need is refried black beans, salsa, & tortillas), on salads and topped on baked sweet potatoes. And in soups.

Last week I had an I-don’t-want-to-cook evening. We all have those, right?, even those who thrive on cooking. But the troops were hungry, so I rallied. I poked through my stash of recipes and was delighted to find my recipe for Spicy Black Bean Soup. I hadn’t made it in a while, it requires only six ingredients, and takes less than 20 minutes. Win all around.BBsoup

I made it again today because, why not? It’s a soup and almost a bean dip since I serve it with tortilla chips. Tonight I paired it with veggie burgers (we get them at Costco), mine on a salad of arugula fresh from a friend’s garden with a hummus/mustard/lemon juice vinaigrette (lemon also from friend’s garden). Not pictured are the roasted sweet potato wedges with jalapeno aioli. Yum x 3!

Spicy Black Bean Soup
Serves 4-6 as side dish or 3-4 as main dish

1 c red or yellow onion, diced (about half a large onion)
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp spicy green salsa (or 2 Tbsp diced mild green chilies)
2 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed & drained
2 c veggie broth
Chopped fresh cilantro or green onions, as garnish
Tortilla chips to serve

In large soup pot over medium-high heat, saute onion for 2 minutes. Add garlic and cumin; saute for 2 minutes. Add salsa or chilies and saute 1 more minute. [If you can’t be bothered, add onion, cumin, garlic and salsa all at once and saute until onion is tender, about 5 minutes]. Add beans and broth. Bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until flavors blend, about 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender, pulse to thicken soup; don’t fully puree – or you can if you prefer, of course, but I like some texture to my food. You can also remove some of the soup and pulse in a blender or food processor. Ladle soup into bowls, garnish as desired, and serve with chips.BBsoup ingredients

Meatless Monday – Cauliflower Soup

A year ago I wrote this post about lining up my expectations with my Quirky Christmas reality. Always a struggle, during this month between Thanksgiving and Christmas the house has been clean for about three-quarters of one day; the cards still haven’t been mailed; worse yet, the packages will cost us a mint to ship overnight; and the tree was up and lit for three weeks (as opposed to last year’s one week) before the kids had time together to decorate it.

You know what? Oh well! I’m not Pinterest Perfect, and that’s alright with me. The house is festive, the kids clean and fed, and we’re focusing on joy. Today, in fact, was downright close to perfect: I got up before the guys and reveled in morning quiet with coffee and a book. I met up with friends and kids for more coffee and belly laughs. Guy took the day off work and, because it’s raining and we’d originally planned a hike or a walk on the beach, we went to an indoor archery range and discovered a super-fun new family activity we can all enjoy; we ate a late lunch out; and now we’re cozy at home. And a cup of tea and another good book await me at bedtime.

There is beauty in brokenness

There is beauty in brokenness

Yes, it’s Christmas week and I have yet to plan the holiday menu and shop and slowly begin to prep ingredients over the next few days. But some days you just want something simple, quick, and healthy. A sweet friend who is way closer to Martha Stewart-dom (or her French counterpart, whoever that may be), introduced me to this recipe years ago when I thought cauliflower could only be endured in small florets doused in Ranch dressing presented on a party veggie tray. That is, in fact, how I introduced my kids to it. Later I took Tween to a farmer’s market where he discovered purple and peachy-orange cauliflower; of course we bought them and he ate them, still raw but relishing every bite. Since then we’ve added it to mixed roasted veggies and stir fry but most often in this soup, which looks like caramel and tastes like comfort.ingredientscauliflower soup

Cauliflower Soup
Serves 4-6

½ white or yellow onion, diced
1 large potato, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt/pepper to taste
4 c veggie broth

Sautee onion, potato and garlic in a large soup pot, stirring occasionally. Chop cauliflower. When potatoes start to soften, add cauliflower, rosemary, salt/pepper, and broth. Cook over medium-high heat 15-20 minutes or until veggies are very soft. Use an immersion blender (or transfer soup to a blender) to blend completely. Homemade rustic bread croutons are a nice addition.

Meatless Monday – Lettuce Wraps

I remember my first bite of tofu, round-about late 1970’s. The gelatinous cube looked like a small brick of ice cream suspended in water; it sat for days on the top shelf of the fridge, confusing me each time I came looking for a snack. Finally my dad, world traveler and epicurean, decided it was time to give me a taste test.

Why did no one tell him that tofu needs at least a little something? My dad could BBQ a mean burger, but tofu was clearly beyond him. He stabbed off a corner and made me try it just like that, still dripping water from its container.

Blech!

Suffice it to say I felt no eagerness to try tofu again even after becoming a vegetarian. And, to be honest, when we first went veggie we had no idea how to eat healthy; we thought vegetarian simply meant no meat so we ate salads with our pasta. Eventually we tried a few processed soy products, veggie burgers and what not. And only many years later, once I realized that being a healthy vegetarian means actually eating veggies and got serious about diversifying our diet, did I once again try tofu.

In my experience, tofu freaks people out. Maybe they simply don’t know what to do with it, or they’ve heard about estrogen concerns, or they use estrogen concerns as an excuse because they don’t know what to do with it, or they simply don’t want anything to do with it. Or, like me, they had a bad experience with it, likely caused by someone who (see above) didn’t know what to do with it.

I don’t eat a lot of tofu. I get protein through veggies, beans, and nuts, and occasionally tofu. So I don’t worry about the estrogen thing because tofu isn’t a diet staple. Besides, it is processed and I try to eat/serve mostly clean foods.

But, believe me, tofu can be delicious. The following recipe(s) belongs in that category – a few steps but not difficult and so, so tasty. And when you put this meal on the table, eating becomes family-friendly fun!

Note: if the tofu scares you off, try the dressing on salads or veggies and then come back for the tofu when you feel a little braver. I promise, it’s good. For the kids, maybe just don’t tell them it’s tofu until they’ve tried it. My kids adore eating salad with their hands.

Filling
1 medium onion, diced (1 1/2 c)
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp)
1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed and chopped*
1 8-oz can water chestnuts, drained and diced
4 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
4 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1-2 tsp chile sauce, such as sriracha
1 head of iceberg lettuce, cored and sliced in half to form cups

*Tofu: Drain liquid from container. Wrap tofu block in a clean kitchen towel, or several layers of paper towel, and put on a plate; cover with another plate and put a small weight on top, something like 3 cans of beans. Let sit for at least 10 minutes while you chop garnish ingredients. While the onion cooks, chop the tofu before adding to the pan.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often. After 3-4 minutes, add ginger and garlic. As you begin to see brown bits sticking to the pan, add hot water by the teaspoonful and stir – you don’t want to boil the veggies but you do want to catch the released sugars from the onion; cook another 3-4 minutes, adding teaspoons of water as needed. Add tofu and water chestnuts, breaking tofu into small crumbles with a wooden spoon or potato masher; cook 4 minutes. Stir in soy, hoisin, and chile sauces. Transfer to serving bowl.

Garnishes (all suggestions):
shredded carrot
chopped green onions
chopped bell peppers
toasted shredded coconut
chopped fresh mint
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped fresh ginger
chopped peanuts
bean sprouts
sliced lime

Dressing:
In a bowl, whisk together the following:
1/4 c store-bought plum sauce
2 Tbsp hoisin
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch crushed red peper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp orange juice
1 green onion, sliced

Place lettuce leaves on platter and set out garnishes and sauce in small serving bowls. Invite guests to wrap tofu in lettuce leaves and top with their choice of garnishes and a drizzle of dressing.

lettuce wraps 1

While the cooking is fun, this is where the real fun begins. You’ve set a beautiful table, because what’s not to like about the fresh diversity of color and flavor on this table? And as Tween says, from here everyone “styles” their own!

lettuce wraps 2You betcha, there is some tofu under those toppings…

Personally, I can forgo the lettuce cup as I chop a whole buncha lettuce into my bowl and top freely from there. My guys seriously dig the lettuce cups – as they should.

Leftover toppings make for easy salad toppings the next day; you could also stir them into a soup or stir fry. Since I always seem to wish there were more, next time I might just dice and chop and shred more of everything in advance. Enjoy!

Meatless Monday – Healthy-Yummy Ramen

My kids love ramen noodle soup but I don’t want to serve them super-processed unhealthy foods. My version cooks in one pot in less than ten minutes and hits the spot! Seriously, the kids thank me when I make this one. It’s delicious comfort food and an easy clean-out-the-crisper drawer recipe.

Healthy-Yummy Ramen Soup
Serves 4

8 c veggie broth (or combination broth/water)
1 tsp Asian chili sauce or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, shaved and sliced thin (a veggie peeler makes quick work of shaving ginger)
8 oz whole wheat spaghetti, uncooked & broken into 2-inch pieces
3 c bite-size veggies (peas, snap peas, edamame, carrots, spinach, bok choy, bean sprouts, red peppers)
Juice & zest of 1 lime
1/4 c low-sodium soy sauce
Sriracha (optional)

Combine ingredients through spaghetti in a large stock pot; bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-high for eight minutes or until spaghetti is cooked.

Meanwhile, dice veggies as necessary. I filled a two-cup measuring cup with carrots, celery, peas and edamame (I stock peas and edamame in the freezer at all times), and set aside a full cup of spinach. When the pasta has cooked through, remove the pot from heat and stir in veggies, lime juice/zest, soy sauce, and sriracha if desired.

asian soup veggies

This recipe can be customized to what’s on and hand and what you like. What veggie goodness do you need to use up? Do you like tofu? Drain/press a container of firm tofu and add it at the beginning. Fresh cilantro leaves make a nice garnish, and you could also use sesame seeds. One of my kids doesn’t like soy sauce so I set soy sauce and sriracha on the table so each diner can season their own bowl.

asian soup

 

10-minute healthy veggie soup: isn’t that a miracle?