spiced red lentil soup with lemon

I’m a big fan of the lentil – healthy, filling, packed with protein, full of iron and budget-friendly.  I’m also a big fan of soup.  It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I love lentils in soup!  Not to disparage beans, which I also love, but you can whip together a soup containing lentils in a matter of an hour, or so.  Beans require forethought…something I don’t always exercise.

Friday night the kiddo had gymnastics until 5 p.m., which doesn’t leave a lot of time to get home and start cooking.  So earlier in the day I threw this soup together on a whim after finding the recipe on Twitter.  Of course the lentils caught my attention first, but we’re heavy into citrus season in these parts and lemons are plentiful.  Also, the list of ingredients was really short and all stock pantry items so there was no need for a last-minute scramble to the grocery store for obscure items.

The soup goes together really fast, so to enhance the flavors of the spices they’re dry-fried ahead of time.  This method gives them a fuller, headier flavor I don’t think you would experience if you stirred them in straight for the jar.  The citrus is fresh and crisp, and a nice compliment to the warm, spiciness of cumin and coriander.  I served this with some chopped, fresh cilantro from our garden and it was absolutely delicious.  For a recipe tossed together on a whim, it turned out to be delightfully pleasing and I’ll definitely be making it, again, in my regular rotation of meatless meals.  Enjoy!

2014-02-07

Spiced Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • pepper, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 c low-sodium, organic chicken stock
  • 1 1/4 c yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 c Red Lentils, rinsed and picked through
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (optional)

Directions:

  1. Rinse and drain lentils; set aside.
  2. Heat heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add oil and swirl to coat, reducing heat to medium.  Toss in onion and stir frequently for about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and continue cooking for another 3 minutes, or so, stirring frequently.
  3. Add lentils and cook for 2 minutes more, until well combined with onion and garlic, then stir in chicken stock.  Bring liquid to a boil then reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are softened.
  4. While the lentils are cooking, heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat.  Place the cumin and coriander into the pan and dry-fry for 2 minutes.  Do not let the spices scorch.  Add to soup mixture along with juice of one whole lemon.  Stir together and let simmer for another 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer to serving bowls, salt and pepper to taste, and top with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (optional).

spicedredlentilsoup©zouptonuts

***Cook’s Notes:  Similar recipes have you remove and puree half the soup, then return it to the pot.  This is obviously a textural issue.  I didn’t do that.  Honestly, I liked the texture of the softened, whole lentils.  It gave the soup a more rustic, heartier quality.  Blend or don’t blend, that’s up to you.  Also, although this is photographed with parsley, I served it with chopped cilantro, which I much prefer.  It was excellent.  Again, it’s a matter of preference.  You can easily make this soup vegetarian/vegan by choosing vegetable stock over the chicken.  I’m a proud omnivore and much prefer the depth of flavor in a chicken stock.  Choose low-sodium, organic stock if you can.

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white bean chicken chili

I’ve never been a huge chili fan.  As an adult, I’ll be polite and eat it if someone invites me to dinner and serves chili.  I’ll eat, but I wouldn’t ask for seconds.  In fact, I’ll probably feign fullness about 3/4 of the way through the bowl.  If there’s anything else on the menu, I’ll order that.  My poor mom, though.  Oh, the torment.  As a child, I hated chili.  The world record for the longest time taken to eat a teaspoon of chili was most certainly set by yours truly in 1973.  If there was a way to consume that teaspoon of chili without ever allowing said chili to touch my teeth, lips, or tongue, I mastered it.  There weren’t enough Saltine Crackers in a box to make a bowl of chili palatable to my budding taste buds.

And my mom was a good cook!

So how I became fixated upon white bean chicken chili, I have no idea.  For some reason, a couple of years ago, I began ruminating.  White beans instead of kidney, chicken instead of ground beef, lots of flavor from fresh veggies in lieu of dried spices, etc., etc., and the obsession was born.

This recipe is absolutely, positively going in the regular rotation.  It’s so good, so flavorful, so healthy and delicious, I can’t wait to make it again.  Even the kiddo, who has the world’s slowest chili eating record in her cross-hairs, wasn’t terribly offended by getting chili on her teeth, lips, or tongue!  How’s that for raves from an 8-year-old??

If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional red bean and beef chili, this one is an excellent replacement.  It goes together quickly and doesn’t require a lot of attention while it simmers to perfection.  It was even better the next day, too.  Serve it with some baked tortilla chips, cheese, cilantro, and/or low-fat sour cream to adapt to your particular tastes.  I think it’ll be a hit.  Enjoy!

veggieprep©zouptonuts

simmer©zouptonuts

White Bean Chicken Chili (recipe courtesy Mayo Clinic Diet Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 10 oz diced chicken (I used a roasted chicken)
  • 3 C white beans, cooked, or 2 14-oz cans
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) low-sodium diced tomatoes
  • 4 C low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 medium orange or yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium red pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 6 Tbsp reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • low-fat baked tortilla chips

Directions:

  1. In a large soup pot, add chicken, beans, tomatoes and chicken broth.  Cover and simmer over medium heat.
  2. While soup mixture is simmering, spray a nonstick pay w/cooking spray.  Add onions, peppers, and garlic, and saute approx 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add the onion and pepper mixture to the soup pot.  Stir in the spices and simmer for about 10 or 15 minutes, or until veggies are soft.
  4. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with cheese (optional) and cilantro.  Serve with baked chips.

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winter vegetable and barley soup

It’s the perfect day for a soup post.  There’s a cold front lingering, skies full of low clouds, and rain.  I love me some rain.  And I love me some soup on a rainy day!  Love.  Love.  Love.  The only caveat is this recipe was only rated two out of five stars, so whether it qualifies as good eats is debatable.  Having now cooked and served it, I think two stars is probably about right if you prepare the soup as suggested.  Personally, I found it a bit too sweet; the result of using both carrots and parsnips, both of which have a very sweet taste.

The first thing I’d do differently to bump up the savoriness would be to swap out the carrots or parsnips for another veggie.  I might replace the parsnips with potatoes, for instance.  Or, leave the parsnips and replace the carrots with tomatoes so you still have some nice color in the finished product.  Unless you like sweet soup, that is.  My husband said he thought it was good, but probably because I had warned him ahead of time it was fairly sweet.  Another option would be to hit it with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a little extra salt once you’ve ladled it into bowls.

Either way, this soup was really hearty and filling, and scored high in the healthy eating category.  The kid-rating was notably low, though, but I think she picked up on my “too sweet” vibe.  Make a few alterations to bring out a more savory quality and I think it would actually please everyone.  Enjoy!

SoupEdits

wintervegetablesoup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, cut into small dice (1 cup)
  • 1 large rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice (3/4 cup)
  • 1 pound assorted root vegetables, such as parsnips, carrots, rutabaga and/or turnips, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup pearled barley
  • 1 cup frozen sweet peas
  • 4 ounces cooked ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped chives
 Directions:

Heat the oil in a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery; cook for 3 minutes, stirring, then add the diced root vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables start to soften.

Stir in the broth and barley. Once the liquid begins bubbling at the edges, cover the pot and adjust the heat so the liquid maintains a little movement. Cook for 45 to 55 minutes or until the barley is done and the vegetables are tender.

Uncover; add the peas and ham. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times, until the peas are tender. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the chives.

Divide among individual bowls; top each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining chives, or some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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lentil soup with beef

We went up to the mountains last weekend to celebrate my (ahem) 29th birthday…again!  When I told non-Arizonan friends we went “up north,” I was questioned about what it means, exactly, to go “up north” in Arizona.  Personally, it’s pretty much anywhere it isn’t 90 degrees on my birthday.  For us, that meant stealing off to Pine, AZ, located about 110 miles northeast of the valley and tucked into the mountains just below the Mogollon Rim.  At 5,500 feet of elevation, it meant I got to wear jeans and socks and real shoes.  With closed toes!!  Ahhhhh…

It also meant I didn’t have to cook because, you see, it was my birthday weekend, and those duties were off-limits to me.  I got to sit on the porch and drink red wine and read.  I got to relax and hike and see some pretty spectacular scenery.  Perfect for a birthday weekend, if you ask me.

We did eat a couple of meals out, including lunch one day at a cute little mom-and-pop restaurant called The Randall House.  The air was cool, the fall leaves were crunchy underfoot, and the sun was shining brightly in a gorgeous blue sky.  The day called for lunch in the shade on the patio and a cup of their homemade Beef and Lentil Soup.

Needless to say, I was disappointed at the end.  Disappointed it was gone.  Disappointed I hadn’t ordered a bowl instead of a cup.  Disappointed they wouldn’t give me the super-secret recipe!!  So, of course, when we got home I set out to replicate the amazing soup I’d had at The Randall House.  It had to be done!  It was of such urgency, I didn’t even photograph the prep work.

This recipe was super easy and came courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis at The Food Network.  If I set out to recreate a really good bowl of homemade soup, this recipe was spot on.  The soup is incredibly flavorful and hearty.  My only adaptation to the recipe was to reduce the amount of beef stock.  I have a pretty large Dutch Oven, but the original recipe called for 84 ounces (more than 10 cups) of beef stock.  I think I used about 6 cups of beef stock.  This made the soup a bit thicker, but I prefer heartier to too-thin broth.  Eyeball it.  If it looks too thick, add more stock.

Enjoy!

Lentil Soup with Beef

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 6 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 cups (about 11 ounces) lentils, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (optional)

Preparation:

Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat.  Add half of the beef and cook until brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining beef.

Add the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, rosemary, and oregano to the pot. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Return the beef and any accumulated juices from the bowl to the pot.

Add the broth and tomatoes with their juice. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the meat is just tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

Add the lentils. Cover and continue simmering until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Season the soup, to taste, with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

spinach and ricotta stuffed shells

Doesn’t everybody have a recipe like this?  I think a variation of this recipe has been handed down from generation to generation of cooks for decades.  But that doesn’t mean stuffed shells have worn out their welcome at our dinner table.  It means it’s one of those consistently good, go-to recipes everybody should have on hand in the event dinner inspiration is lacking.  I like this one because it reminds me of my mom, who taught me how to make it, and because it’s just a good, filling, comforting meal.  I use spinach, but chopped broccoli works well, too.  In fact, I think any green veggie, chopped or shredded, would work.

Also, since I’m a big advocate of cooking with your kids, this is an easy one for budding chefs to have lots of hands-on time.  I’m a bit nostalgic at the moment, having just lost my mom so recently, but putting this together for dinner last night with my 6 year old was a little bit of a walk down memory lane, too.  I have really fond memories of helping my mom in the kitchen – to the extent what I was doing was actually helpful – and that’s a huge part of what I love about cooking now.  So, letting Kat slosh marinara to her heart’s content is part of my joy of cooking.  I should probably add it to the instructions:  Give your kid a spoon and let ’em have at it.  Enjoy!

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Ingredients:

  • 2 dozen jumbo shells, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 15 oz container low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 8 oz package part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1/2 c Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp parsley, dried
  • 1 tsp oregano, dried
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 3 c marinara sauce
Instructions:
.
Cook jumbo shells as directed.  Drain on paper towel.  Thaw spinach and drain well, squeezing out excess moisture by the handful.  Combine with cheese, beaten eggs, salt, parsley, oregano and pepper.
.
Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce in 13 x 9 baking pan.  Fill shells with about 2 Tbsp of mixture.  Place filled shells (one deep) in dish and cover with remaining sauce.  Bake at 350° for 35 minutes.  Makes 6 – 8 servings of 3 – 4 shells.

Kitchen Notes:  This recipe freezes really well, too.  Thaw to room temp then bake as directed.

creamy italian white bean and spinach soup

I started this meal with something else in mind.  Originally, dinner was supposed to be Spinach and Leek White Bean Soup, since I’d purchased a couple of leeks previously to use in a recipe I never ended up putting together.  So I knew I needed to use them soon or they’d be inedible.  Much to my surprise, they already were inedible.  I’ll just call that a lesson learned in not buying local.

Of course, I discovered the leeks in their apparent state of decay only moments before I planned to slice them and saute them with a couple of cloves of garlic.  Brilliant cook and super-fast thinker that I am…I clicked on the next delicious looking link.  Problem solved!  (Don’t you just love the internet?).  Hence, Creamy Italian White Bean and Spinach Soup.  And, none of my ingredients looked like a 6th grade science experiment.

As for the results?  I sometimes rate the success of a recipe by how much I have left at the end of the meal (unless I’ve cooked for an army), and how long the leftovers sit in the refrigerator.  My second barometer is whether my 6-year-old turned her nose up at it sans any attempt to taste it,  if she  tried it and then turned her nose up, of if she ate.  And by “ate,” I mean, she didn’t just nibble with her front teeth, but actually got some on her real, actual taste buds.  Minus the spinach, she ate, and she said she liked it.  Maybe I was just being manipulated into a subsequent bowl of Dreyer’s Limited Edition Girl Scout Thin Mint ice cream, but….I actually believed her.

There were no leftovers, either, if that tells you anything, so I can’t say how this soup would age.  Based on our first and only eating, I found it flavorful and really delicious.  Given a couple of days to mellow in the refrigerator, I’m pretty sure it would have been spectacular.  Enjoy!

Creamy Italian White Bean and Spinach Soup (recipe courtesy Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 (16 ounce) cans white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preparation:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil. Cook onion and celery in oil for 5 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Add garlic, and cook for 30 seconds, continually stirring. Stir in beans, chicken broth, pepper, thyme and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and then simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. With slotted spoon, remove 2 cups of the bean and vegetable mixture from soup and set aside.
  3. In blender at low-speed, blend remaining soup in small batches until smooth, (it helps to remove the center piece of the blender lid to allow steam to escape.) Once blended pour soup back into stock pot and stir in reserved beans.
  4. Bring to a boil, occasionally stirring. Stir in spinach and cook 1 minute or until spinach is wilted. Stir in lemon juice and remove from heat and serve with fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Servings Per Recipe: 4

Nutrition Info per serving:

  • Calories: 245
  • Total Fat: 4.9g
  • Cholesterol2mg
  • Sodium1014mg
  • Total Carbs38.1g
  • Dietary Fiber11.2g
  • Protein12g

***Kitchen Notes:  The original recipe calls for removing some of the bean and veggie mixture and blending it to create the creamier texture.  I didn’t go that far.  Instead, I used my potato masher and gently mashed the beans and veggies in the pan.  That left some of the beans whole, while also creating a thicker, heartier soup.  No need to go overboard, just 10 or 12 times through the pot.  Also, I used fresh thyme.  If you do, remember to use about 4x as much fresh as you would if you’re using dried herbs.  Also, you could turn this into a vegetarian soup by simply swapping out the chicken stock for veggie stock.

creamy chicken pot pie

There is something truly comforting about chicken potpie.  It’s one of those dishes you have to linger over: slicing, whisking, sauteing.  There is dough to mix for the crust.  There is butter.  And heavy cream.  It’s the kind of dish that says, “I slaved over this all afternoon because I love you!”

But let’s face it.  Some days, despite how much I love my family, I don’t have the time to slave over anything.  It doesn’t mean I love them any less.  It’s just that, well, I have other things to do.

Not to mention, the kind of chicken potpie you slave over generally is not that healthy.  I saw a recipe recently where a serving contained 33 g of fat (18 of them saturated), almost 1,300 mg of sodium, and 146 mg cholesterol.  In one serving!!  Based on my caloric needs, 18 g of saturated fat is an entire days worth of saturated fat.  Seriously now, if I served that to  my family, not only would they think I didn’t love them, they might actually think I was trying to do them in.

This recipe is a much, much better version of chicken pot pie.  Not only is it healthier for you (lots less fat and cholesterol), it’s also really quick to put together.  Like I said earlier, sometimes my schedule doesn’t leave me a lot of time late in the day for chopping veggies doing a lot of time-consuming prep work.  This recipe uses a bag of frozen mixed veggies which is a God-send when you’re pressed for time.  The most time-consuming thing was cutting the chicken breasts into 1/2″ cubes.  I probably could have done it faster, but I’m completely grossed out by raw chicken which always adds a little extra prep time).

The phyllo dough crusts bake up beautifully – lovely color and nice, crunchy texture, so you won’t even miss that heavy biscuit/pie crust topper.  My husband gave these a two thumbs-up: low-fat, heart-healthy, and delicious.  Enjoy!

Creamy Chicken Pot Pie (Courtesy Eating Well Magazine)

Ingredients:

  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup sliced shallots
  • 1 10- or 12-ounce bag frozen mixed veggies (2-2 1/2 cups), thawed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 sheets 9-by-14-inch phyllo dough, defrosted (follow package directions)
  • Cooking spray (olive oil or canola oil)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook, stirring often, until it turns white, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and shallots, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in vegetables and thyme; cook, stirring occasionally, until hot, 2 to 4 minutes. Pour in 1 3/4 cups broth and bring to a boil. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup broth and cornstarch in a small bowl and add to the pan. Return to a boil and cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the chicken, sour cream, salt and pepper. Divide the mixture among four 12-ounce ovenproof baking dishes.
  3. Make 2 stacks of 3 sheets of phyllo each, coating each sheet lightly with cooking spray before stacking. Cut the stacks in half crosswise. Drape one half over each baking dish. Tuck in any overhanging edges.
  4. Set the potpies on a baking sheet. Bake until the tops are golden and the filling bubbly, 18 to 20 minutes.

Kitchen Notes:

  • Make Ahead Tip: Prepare through Step 3, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 3 months. Do not thaw before baking; bake at 400°F for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Equipment: four 12-ounce ovenproof baking dishes

Nutrition

Per serving: 382 calories; 11 g fat ( 3 g sat , 6 g mono ); 69 mg cholesterol; 40 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 30 g protein; 4 g fiber; 660 mg sodium; 618 mg potassium.


rice pudding

I don’t know what came over me when I re-discovered this recipe in my file.  It’s clearly a cold-weather comfort food, best served warm and steamy from the pan.  And the day I made it was one of those inching-toward-100° kind of days.  But I drink my coffee hot all year long – no iced-mochas for me.  So why not a cold-weather dessert in a warm-weather season? 

This recipe is time consuming, but really worth the effort.  The Arborio rice (typically used in risotto) gives the finished product a silky creaminess, but still maintains its form for a nice textural effect.  While there are lots of varieties of rice pudding; I spotted a yummy looking recipe with mashed pumpkin and cinnamon perfect for a harvest meal, this one is pretty traditional.  The cinnamon and vanilla have an almost savory quality, and the raisins add a burst of sweet.  It really was one of the most satisfying desserts I’ve tried in a while – perfect for any season.  Enjoy!

Rice Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 2 c cooked Arborio rice (or other long-grain rice if you don’t have Arborio)
  • 3 1/2 c fat-free milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/4 c nonfat dry milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 c golden raisins
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions for prepping rice:

  • Combine 1 cup of arborio rice and 1 1/2 cups of water (or broth) in a heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir rice continuously and reduce heat to medium until liquid is absorbed. Add 3 more cups of water 1 cup at a time. Make sure you stir until the water is absorbed each time. The entire process should take about 20 minutes.

Directions for combined ingredients:

  • Combine cooked rice, fat-free milk, sugar, nonfat dry milk, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat; bring to a simmer.  Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Place eggs in a medium bowl.  Gradually add half of rice mixture to eggs, stirring constantly with a whisk.  Return egg mixture to pan over medium-low heat; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat; stir in raisins and vanilla.
  • Spoon 1/2 cup pudding into each of 8 bowls.  Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon over each serving.

 

white beans with swiss chard and rice

 Any chance I have to make soup, I do.  The soup season here in the desert is short, to say the least.  What’s the old phrase?  Make hay while the sun shines?  Well, I make soup while the sun doesn’t shine.  Or, at least when it doesn’t shine so intensely.

This last week has been an amazingly cold, freakishly wintry stretch of weather.  Oh, I know we’re not buried in 19 inches of the white stuff.  But we’ve had frost, freeze advisories, and frozen fountains.  My winter wear of choice is a toasty, down-filled Patagonia beauty.  I generally wear it twice a year: once during our Michigan adventure after Christmas, and once if we head to the mountains in northern and/or eastern Arizona to get in some sledding or skiing.  I had never, until this last week, worn it in The Valley of the Sun.

If that’s not soup making weather, I don’t know what is.  I found this recipe in the New York Times about a year ago.  It is probably the heartiest, healthiest, most comforting bowl of soup I’ve ever made.  The original recipe doesn’t call for rice, but the rice bulks it up a bit and gives it a stew-like quality.  Also, I used red swiss chard which gave my broth a deeper, richer color.  And, although the original recipe called for 2 quarts of water, I subbed in 2 quarts of chicken stock.  To keep it a purely vegetarian meal, use water or vegetable stock.

This recipe is sure to satisfy your belly on a cold winter day and warm you from the inside out.  Enjoy!

White Beans with Swiss Chards and Rice

(Recipe adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, Recipes for Health)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound Swiss chard (1 small bunch)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 pound (1 1/8 cups) white beans, washed and picked over
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional but recommended)
  • Salt
  • 1 cup rice (I used a Texmati blend)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • A few drops of fresh lemon juice (optional)
 Directions:

1. Stem the Swiss chard, and wash both the stems and the leaves in at least two changes of water until thoroughly clean. Dice the stems if they’re wide, and set aside. Stack the leaves and cut in wide ribbons or chop coarsely. Set aside separately from the stems.

2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the onion and diced chard stems. Cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about five minutes. Add half the garlic, and stir together for 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Add the beans, bay leaf, Parmesan rind (tie the bay leaf and rind together with a kitchen string to make retrieval easier) and 2 quarts chicken stock. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat and simmer one hour. Add the remaining garlic and salt to taste, and simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour until the beans are tender.

3. Add the rice and pepper, and simmer 15 minutes until the rice is tender. Stir in the chard leaves, and simmer another five to 10 minutes until the chard is tender but still bright. The mixture should be soupy but thick. Season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice — 2 to 3 teaspoons — if desired, and serve in wide soup bowls.

tortellini tomato & spinach soup

We interrupt our regularly scheduled pumpkin obsession to bring you something to help you warm up, take the chill off, and get cozy.  Soup.  The ultimate comfort food.  We’ve had some really lovely below normal days where the mercury hasn’t reached 70° and I put on socks and real shoes and a vest.  Ok, so maybe it’s not cool enough for a jacket with sleeves, but I’ll take any weather allowing me to wear more than one layer of anything.

This recipe is a delicious way to celebrate fall in the desert (or anywhere, for that matter).  It’s also a great recipe if you want soup, but don’t necessarily want to spend all day cooking, and waiting, and simmering, and skimming.  It goes together really fast and is flavorful enough to serve immediately.  None of that waiting a couple of days for the flavors to mingle…although, they will, and it’ll be even more delicious.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  •  1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 c onion, minced
  •  1 clove garlic, minced
  •  4 to 6 cups broth, chicken or vegetable
  •  1 (14 oz) can whole tomatoes, crushed through your fingers or coarsely chopped
  •  1 (9 oz) package fresh tortellini or 4 servings dried tortellini
  • Coarse grain salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 10 oz fresh or frozen spinach, defrosted and chopped
  •  Freshly shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

Procedure:

In a 3 quart soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Saute the onion and garlic, stirring often until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add broth and tomatoes, turn heat up to high, and bring to a boil.  Add tortellini and cook according to package directions.  When tortellini is almost done, add spinach and taste, adjusting seasonings with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately, garnishing each bowl with freshly shredded Parmigiano Reggiano.