kale and white bean soup

1.6.13 030

After all of the junk I ate over the holidays I decided I needed to atone for it in the new year and the first food that came to mind?  Kale.  It’s so good for you and I am actually quite a fan of it so it was not difficult to convince myself to seek out kale-based recipes.  Other foods that are good for you?  Carrots, white beans, garlic, and onions.  Check, check, check, and check.

1.6.13 007

Last week was very cold with temps in the single digits at night so soup sounded like an especially excellent idea and also an easy way to combine all of the aforementioned ingredients.

1.6.13 034

The recipe recommended adding kielbasa or other smoked sausage so I did, though the soup could easily be made vegetarian by omitting the sausage and substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth.  It would still be excellent with these changes though I am glad I used the kielbasa because it definitely added a nice smokey dimension to the soup and made it more hearty.

1.6.13 035

Another key ingredient that I have never once added to a soup before is a hunk of parmesan cheese rind.  It totally works.  It partially melted into the soup adding a salty creaminess though there was still a substantial chunk of cheese left after it was done cooking that I discarded along with the bay leaf.  This may be my favorite new soup and it was very simple to make.  Certainly it would have been a little healthier without the kielbasa and parmesan but overall I think the good far outweighs the bad and it’s definitely a good way to start the new year!

1.6.13 043

Kale and White Bean Soup (recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 qt water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 lb smoked sausage such as kielbasa (optional), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

While soup is simmering, brown sausage (if using) in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Cooks’ note: Soup is best if made 1 or 2 days ahead. Cool completely, uncovered, then chill, covered. Thin with water if necessary.

butternut squash and chickpea stew

If you are entertaining guests this holiday season who have food allergies or other dietary restrictions this stew could be a great thing to whip up to accommodate them but is also good enough for all to enjoy.  There is no wheat, dairy, or meat which seem to be the main three things that people are allergic to or just avoid altogether.  (While I respect the vegetarian diet and often choose/prepare meatless options for myself I like bacon way too much to ever give up meat.  But I digress.)

This stew starts with toasting some fragrant spices on your stove.  After they are properly toasted you grind them up in a spice mill/coffee grinder or go old-school with a mortar and pestle and smoosh them to a fine pulp using a little elbow grease.  Then you mix those spices with a little olive oil, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and crushed garlic.  This is called Harissa and it will bring a whole lot of flavor to whatever you’ve got going on in your kitchen.

Butternut squash gets peeled and chopped into small pieces and roasted in the oven.  There are onions, more garlic, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, carrots and parsley.  They all combine together to make a great fall stew that is hearty and comforting and filling and a bit spicy.

This is total guilt-free food, as a friend of mine would say.  You can eat as much as you like and know that you are putting good stuff (mostly vegetables!) into your body.  And better yet, your gluten-free sister and your vegan cousin along your meat-loving uncle can all enjoy it.  Together.

Chickpea and Butternut Squash Stew (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 1 ½-inch irregularly shaped pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley stems
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¾-inch cubes or irregular shapes
  • 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (either from dry beans or from two 15-ounce cans)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 4 teaspoons Harissa (see recipe below), or more to taste
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle with 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss well and roast until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

In a large skillet or pot, warm remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in parsley stems, cumin, and paprika, and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and 1 cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water, if using canned chickpeas) to onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add tomatoes and chickpeas. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in harissa paste, chopped parsley leaves, roasted squash, and remaining ½ cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water). Simmer, uncovered, until flavors meld, another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Harissa (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed in garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
  • Large pinch sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Warm a skillet over a medium flame. Add cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds. Toast, shaking pan, until seeds are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder until fine.

Place ground spices in a bowl, and add cayenne, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Stir in olive oil until smooth.

Cook’s Note: Harissa can be refrigerated in a sealed glass jar for 1 month.

slow cooker beef stew

It’s that time again.  Time to bust my slow cooker out of the high-up shelf where I put things I don’t use super often.  (I should use it more often though as it’s a great way to cook in the summer without heating up your kitchen the way turning your oven tends to do.)  This time I decided to make one of my all-time favorite fall comfort foods: beef stew.

My grandma used to make a really good beef stew when I was growing up and this recipe reminded me a lot of hers.  I’m pretty sure my grandma didn’t drop a garlic/ginger skewer into her stew, but it really did add nice flavor to it, so much so that I am thinking I might start dropping garlic/ginger skewers into all soups and stews going forward!

As with many slow cooker recipes the most time-consuming part is chopping up vegetables and meat but the beauty here is that if you use baby carrots and pearl onions there isn’t a whole lot left for you to chop up.  Genius!  I froze a couple of single-serve containers full of the stew so that I can heat up comfort-in-food-form deeper into fall/winter when I don’t feel like cooking.  I’m a big fan of freezing in single servings as evidenced by my very full freezer… gotta get myself a larger freezer one of these days…

Baby Vegetable Beef Stew (from Slow Cooker magazine)

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ½ lb lean boneless beef stew meat or chuck, cut into 1” chunks and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 package (1 lb) frozen whole pearl onions, thawed
  • 1 bag (1 lb) baby carrots
  • 1 ¾ cups low-sodium beef broth
  • ¾ cup dry red wine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 oz white or cremini mushrooms, chopped

Coat 4-quart or larger slow cooker with cooking spray.  Place garlic and ginger on skewer or wooden pick.  Set aside.

Combine flour, salt, paprika, and pepper in large ziplock bag.  Shake well.  Toss half of the beef gently in bag to coat.  Remove meat, shaking off excess, and then repeat with remaining beef.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Brown beef on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer to cooker and top with onions and carrots.  Mix broth, wine, and tomato paste in bowl and pour into cooker.  Drop in bay leaf and ginger-garlic skewer.

Cover.  Cook on low 4 to 6 hours.  Add mushrooms and cook 1 to 2 more hours, or until meat is tender.  Discard skewer and bay leaf before serving.

curried squash and red lentil soup

Do you remember a few weeks ago when I told you you’d thank me for sharing a soup recipe?  Well if it wasn’t already, it definitely is soup weather now and I just can’t help myself– I haven’t wanted to make anything but soup lately!  This time it involves butternut squash, red lentils, ginger, and curry.

The ginger adds warmth to the soup and the lentils make it hardy so that it can be the main course and not just a starter.  Butternut squash is just starting to show up at farmer’s markets in these parts so when I saw it a few weeks back I had to pick some up and do something with it.  The soup is already vegetarian but could easily be made vegan with the omission of the butter.  I personally think that cooking the onions in olive oil and butter is luxurious but it would certainly still work without it.

Curried-Squash and Red-Lentil Soup (found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
  • 1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Heat oil with butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook squash, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes.

Add lentils and water and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 25 to 40 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

just beet it

I’m ashamed to say that I once shied away from beets.  Their strange texture, earthy smell, and vibrant color used to totally freak me out.  I’m very glad to say I got over that and realized how wonderful they are and now grate them raw into salads and juice them on a regular basis.  A coworker of mine makes the most excellent pickled beets that someday I plan to learn how to replicate.  But today we roast them.

A friend of mine teases me because I like everything roasted.  Almonds, flax seeds, sweet potatoes, garlic.  The list goes on.  So when I found a recipe for roasted beet and potato borscht I was totally intrigued.  Borscht is a beet-based soup and it has been something I have always been curious about but never wanted to try because I wasn’t sure I could eat a whole bowl of soup dedicated to the boldly-colored, earthy-smelling vegetable.  If the beet were first roasted, however, I think it could be a thing of beauty.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler: you peel and chop up some beets and potatoes and throw them in with chopped shallots (I didn’t have any on hand so used a yellow onion which worked out just fine) into a roasting pan, toss with olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper and then add a couple of twigs of thyme and roast them all in the oven for about 45 minutes.

Once the roasting is done, discard the thyme, and add the vegetables to a large pot with 5 cups of chicken broth or water and bring to a simmer.  Then you mash the vegetables with the back of a wooden spoon or potato masher or use an immersion blender and voila.  Add a splash of red wine vinegar and top with sour cream and scallions or parsley if you so desire.  I skipped the toppings and it was delicious.  Roasting is the way forward.

Roasted Beet and Potato Borscht (from Everyday Food magazine, also found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 2 pounds red beets, scrubbed, peeled, and diced medium
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and diced medium
  • 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 to 5 sprigs thyme
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • Sour cream, (optional)
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • Thinly sliced scallion greens (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet, toss together beets, potatoes, shallots, thyme, and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer and roast until beets and potatoes are cooked through, about 45 minutes.

Discard thyme. Add vegetables to a medium pot, along with broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high. With a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon, mash some vegetables until soup is thick and chunky. (I made quick work of it by using my immersion blender.)  Stir in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, top with sour cream, parsley, and scallion greens, if desired.