I have been reducing my sodium gradually over the past year and my sodium culprits are not table salt itself; instead it is soy sauce, miso and sauerkraut. Because of that, I still eat a lot more sodium than my parents. Packaged foods use salt as a preservative, thus canned and prepared foods generally contain more sodium. But Ravi’s soup is supposed to be homemade. He shared his (healthy) recipe. The numbers just don’t add up. Thus the culprit must be over-salting (and the red curry paste).
While Ravi suddenly passed away a few months ago, he leaves behind a quaint resto chain which serves delicious soups and sandwiches. I haven’t been in a (very long) while, but it was a sure-fire bargain on Friday evenings when everything was half-priced before they closed for the weekend. I remember one of their soups of the day, an uber delicious butternut squash soup with lemongrass that I wanted to recreate but it has since become a distant memory.
Another one of Ravi’s soups on my ‘To Make List’ has been his Curried Red Lentil and Apricot Soup. I would categorize this as the other kind of Indian food. If I have to tell you this is a curried soup, then it isn’t from India.
However, it has all the components of a great Indian dish: red lentils, tomato, a touch of coconut milk, garlic, ginger and curry powder. The dried apricots are what hold me from thinking this is an authentic Indian dish, but they work really well here. Chopped up in small pieces, you get bursts of sweetness that complement the savoury elements of the rest of the dish. Creaminess comes from the red lentils and just a hint of coconut milk. This soup is more sweet and bright than the cumin-scented pigeon pea soup with mango that I adore but it likely depends on the curry powder you use.
I know the dried apricots seem so odd, but they work surprisingly well. For some reason, their sweetness permeates the soup without being too overpowering. The leftovers were even better as the sweetness subsided slightly. Dried apricots can pack a bona fide punch of taste, so if in doubt, use less dried apricots.
Straight from their menu, though, this curried red lentil and apricot soup is so easy to make, it behooves you to make it yourself.. and with a lot less sodium.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, this month’s Everyone Can Cook Vegetarian for orange foods, and Little Thumbs Up event, hosted by Eats Well in Flanders, organized by Zoe from Bake For Happy Kids and Doreen for my little favourite D.I.Y.
I think my pantry-purge has been going the wrong way. I am no longer accumulating new esoteric ingredients but I struggled with whether or not to replenish my staples. Could I live without chickpeas for a few months? Absolutely not. Miso? I replenished that, too. What about olives? I think I could manage olive-free for 6 months. Artichokes? Well, the best artichokes come from the freezer case at Trader Joe’s so I am excited to wait for those. The plan for now: use up the less-loved ingredients. The ones I can part with for a bit of time.
Now I can strike these from my pantry: artichokes and olives. What could have been a boring vegetable stew was helped with said pantry items. Olives add the salty punch to this spring-like tomato stew with red pepper, mushrooms, artichokes and spinach.
Sometimes I have limited enthusiasm for ingredients that have been stashed at the back of my pantry. Or I only have a limited repertoire for said ingredient. Olives and artichokes are not that wacky, but I am looking for ways to use fun things like kelp noodles, capers, jackfruit, assorted flours (chickpea flour is our staple but I still have some coconut flour, tapioca flour, rice flours and vital wheat gluten), puffed quinoa, dried fruits and nuts. And let’s not forget the things in my freezer: herbs, chopped veggies and fruits, tempeh, and frozen meals ready to go.
Do you have a big pantry or have a select collection of favourite ingredients in your pantry? I personally believe that a well-stocked kitchen makes for a well-prepared cook. It makes cooking easier and fun.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, Little Thumbs Up event, hosted by Joyce, kitchen flavours, organized by Zoe from Bake For Happy Kids and Doreen for my little favourite D.I.Y..
This blog is definitely a labour of love.
More than sharing recipes and my experiences in the kitchen, it has morphed into a sort of journal, chronically my adventures with cycling, gardening and whatever life throws at me. Some blogs cater to their readers’ wants…. me, I share what I like and most likely if you are reading, you will like it, too. Or, if I muck things up, I hope to pass on my wisdom. (PS, I loved hearing your confessions about your own kitchen bloopers after my last post)
Another benefit of writing this all out? I can learn from my old mistakes, too.
Rob and I recently connected with one of our neighbours and we started chatting about our garden. Did we have any tips? I couldn’t think of any tips other than a) beans can be grown easily from seeds; and b) kale and collards from seedlings gave us better results. She also asked for some pictures. As I dug up some of my garden updates, I re-read my posts and uncovered other golden nuggets: tomato cages for the beans! get rid of those bugs from the kale ASAP! my preferred basil plant..
I should listen to myself more often. I dug up another old post, when I first started my cycling commute in the spring last year. Talk about deja vu. I was complaining about a long commute after a winter hiatus and here I am complaining again. I thought I was easing myself into my old cycling groove by foregoing the gym, but a long commute needs to be warmed into. I cycled to work (no gym) on Friday: 25km. The ride back was brutal with fierce winds all the way home. I almost decided to give up my cycling commute altogether and stick with the subway. On Sunday, I ended up cycling to the gym and really enjoyed the ride.
With a rainy forecast this week, I decided to capitalize on another day to try to cycle to work (no gym) on Monday. Mondays have me travelling all over the city, so I ended up clocking 36km. It doesn’t sound like that much… but coming from zero biking and a 2-week gym hiatus, I was wiped out when I came home. (Let’s not forget to mention I cycled home IN THE RAIN). Physically pooped, cold and wet, the last thing I wanted was a salad for dinner. I didn’t want to wait for a soup to defrost from the freezer, either. Instead I made a smoothie. Simple and nothing to document as I just whizzed together a frozen banana, frozen raspberries, maca, vanilla, flax seeds and unflavoured Sunwarrior protein powder. Oh, and some water. I am normally never satisfied with a smoothie as a meal, but this worked… after a warm bath and canning my oatmeal for the week, I slid into bed, exhausted.
I need to find more balance.
Still needing to eat, I really should plan my meals based on the weather forecast. The rest of the week has a rainy forecast and possible snow/hail today and/or tomorrow. No more cycling, that’s for sure… warm comforting meals may be in order, though. As such, I took this soup out from the freezer for some meals later this week.
I love unearthing gems from the freezer. I should do it more often. I often get wooed by fresh produce but I need to remind myself to keep things stress-free by eating from the freezer. This is a soup I have made a few times, too, and was lucky to have garden kale when I made this in the fall. I have used both shiitakes and oyster mushrooms with great results. Combining mushrooms and lentils, the earthy flavours mix well with the tangy vinegar and zippy garlic. It is during these dreary days that warm, comforting bowls of my favourite soups really help.
Do you keep a journal? If you do (or have a blog), do you ever re-read it?
There was a time when I would get curried out. Too much curry. I couldn’t keep up with Rob.
Now, curry has become a staple for both of us. Except I don’t think you can tell by what I share here. Be it resolved to share more of our Indian eats. They have converted me.
In my mind, there are authentic Indian foods and Indian-inspired foods or Indian-spiced foods. The latter referring to when you spice things up with curry powder. While I have thrown curry powder into Indian curries, bean and quinoa skillets, and couscous pilaf, I have also added it to tofu chowders, sweet potato hummus, balsamic roasted veggies, kabocha squash flatbread, curried-mustard dressing, raw pineapple rice and more recently tofu scramble. The trick is not to make everything taste like “curry powder”, if you know what I mean. This can mean using different types of curry powder (picking one you like is most important; I am partial to Penzey’s sweet blend), adding other spices, using different vegetables or cooking methods to shake things up.
I was drawn to this Indian mung bean stew for its simplicity but I knew it would not be lackluster. Instead of the typical red lentil curries I adore, this is a brothy soup.
A flavourful broth is created from fennel, cumin and ginger. Indian cooking doesn’t always have to be thick curries. Carrots and collards add colour and mung beans make this filling. Lemon juice brightens it up. The curry powder is added as a finishing spice, at the end of cooking, for a different twist to the soup. Pick a curry powder you like because a little goes a long way to flavour the stew. Fennel and cumin will enhance the curry powder, too. As a note, I used sprouted mung beans because that is what I had on hand, but whole bung beans would be equally as good as would any other small bean, like adzuki, too. My only suggestion is to cut up your carrot smaller than I did, mimicking the size of the beans, for better mouth-feel.
Are you a curry powder fan or a curry fan? Or both?
I am loving the conversations from the last post about the evidence surrounding eating a Mediterranean diet. The New York Times wrote a follow-up article that summarizes my feelings pretty closely: there is a surprising lack of evidence for nutritional recommendations. While in medical school, I remember being taught that the only thing shown to keep weight loss on long-term was bariatric surgery. Perhaps that is because the proper studies have not be done. To be fair, I learned the DASH diet with was better than any single medication to reduce high blood pressure. Hopefully, the flurry of interest from this past study will propel researchers to investigate plant-based whole foods eats. The New York Times suggested a vegan diet is not a long-term option, but I disagree.
Onwards with another Mediterranean meal? Vegan AND delicious?
I love it when I know it is going to be a good week. By Sunday, after I do my batch cooking and a bit of taste testing, I have a good idea how my meals will be for the week. Flops or wins? I never seem to know with these Random Recipes.
This one was a big win!
Dom pushed us to randomly pick a recipe from our (physical) recipe pile. I still like to print out my recipes for the week and sometimes throw in bonus recipes if there is empty space on my page. While cleaning the kitchen table, I decided to tackle one of my recent but neglected clipped out recipes.
Sometimes I am blown away by the simplicity of good food. I wasn’t expecting this to taste so good as it did, so I was pleased to have such great tasting lunches all week.
This recipe was for a ribollita, an Italian peasant soup featuring vegetable soup with day-old bread. Most versions use leftover vegetable soup, but here we create a complex soup simply from roasted vegetables. Roasted fennel was new to me, but I really liked the medley from roasted red peppers, zucchinis, carrots, mushrooms and onions. White beans add bulk and the giant corona white beans were a perfect match to the chunky vegetables. Sliced cabbage added an almost noodle-like feel with some structure to the vegetable soup. I added both tomato paste and red pepper paste to the broth simply because I was too lazy to open a new can of tomato paste. I really liked the deep flavours from both pastes, but feel free to use only tomato paste if that is what you have on hand. I omitted the bread completely, so I doubt this is still a ribollita proper, but it sounds like a wonderful addition for this hearty soup.
Which soups are warming your belly this winter?
(Take note, Rob does not approve of said term. He prefers Android users. How boring.)
Since forever, I have been trying to find the perfect way to store my bookmarked recipes.
I have progressed from storing them in emails, then to pinterest and pocket. (I know others use Evernote). I use Eat Your Books primarily for my cookbook collections. Although I can upload other recipes, too, I prefer to have the directions along with the recipe list.
A lot of people have a hard time understanding pinterest. What is it for? How does it work? I try to explain it is a picturesque way to bookmark links. Pictures with links. It is used to inspire. My biggest pet peeve is the lack of searchability, which limits its use as a workable list of recipes. I can’t search for all the recipes with mango instance. Furthermore, it only links to a website which can later be modified or even vanish. Hence my migration to pocket, which I mainly use as an offline web reader now. Because you can’t search that one either.
I recently discovered a crazy wonderful app that I had to share: ChefTap. (Android only for now)
Designed specifically to store recipes, it does its job.
From the website: ChefTap is the only app on the market that uses an advanced artificial intelligence engine specifically designed to find recipes on any English language web page.
It stores recipes offline, completely searchable, so you always have access to them. It will pick out the recipe, picture, title, etc from any website, even if the recipe is buried under lots of text (like most blog posts). It will sync with epicurious, allrecipes, or your other favourite recipe sites. However, I was in awe that it could export all the recipes from pinterest. Plug in an album and it will crawl all your links and add them to the app. You can’t even export your pins any other way, as far as I know. How awesome is that?
So, I have just begun to use the app (you can change it so it won’t go to sleep on you while cooking, wahoo!) and I would say the miss rate is around 10% for picking up the wrong title, etc. It is easy to fix things, though, as it has alternative title suggestions, or move things around like yields and ingredients. Another con is that this is a device-only app, but a complementary web site seems to be in the works.
I started with importing all my pins and will work towards my lengthy email folder filled with recipes. All I need to do is convert the emails into .txt files and they can be easily imported as well. How awesome is that??
I’ll tell you what’s more awesome: This app is free!!
(I bet you thought I was going to say it is only yours for $9.999 or something. I hate that, too! I have yet to be corrupted by commercial influence. Anything I recommend is because I honestly recommend it)
In case you are interested in some of my other favourite apps, here they are:
iAnnotate PDF: For highlighting, marking up pdfs for studying, etc. The Android app is not as smooth at the iPhone one, but the one for Android is free
Any.Do: Great to do app that syncs with google tasks
Songza: I haven’t been that wowed by the music selection, but it isn’t that bad
(I love pandora but I can’t get it in Canada, btw).
What are your favourite apps? How do you store recipes?
(I have been bugging Rob to make me a Taste Space app, but that’s likely never to happen…)
Now for today’s recipe!
I don’t know about you, but I am a big suck when I get sick. My energy gets drained and I usually just want to crawl into bed and sleep. The last thing I want to do is cook. The second to last thing I want to do is photograph said food. The third last thing I want to do is write about said food.
Which is why it has taken me so long to share this fabulous soup. I usually bust it out when I am sick. (And yes, I still get sick. My diet does not make me immune from viruses and the like. A flu shot helps, though).
I first made this soup when I lived alone and it has become a sicky staple ever since. As long as my kitchen is reasonably well stocked, there is nothing easier than a bowl of miso soup.
You can go ultra-simple for a fix of miso soup – all you need is miso, hot water and perhaps some green onions. However, Tess’ recipe goes one step beyond: a Lemon-Ginger Miso Soup. Lemon and ginger are great as a pick-me-up when sick, comforting yet zingy. Best of all, though, this soup literally takes 5 minutes to make. Awesome on any given day, but really fabulous when you are under the weather and can’t stand to wait any longer. Just heat up the soup before it boils so that you still get the benefits from miso (heck I do that with my tea as well because I can’t drink boiling water). I really liked the combination of lemon, ginger and miso.
The recipe serves 2, so if a sweetie is cooking for you, they can enjoy it as well. Or if home alone, you can have it as a delicious breakfast the next day.
Oops, I pulled a Joanne.
I stockpiled my winter squashes, only to discover one going moldy. Booo…. so much for hoarding my squashes until the snow prevents me going grocery shopping. One buttercup squash down but a golden nugget squash that was still fine.
This looks like a kitchen sink soup, but I was actually following a recipe! (mostly)
I have become fascinated with Ayurvedic cuisine as of late. Mainly because the recipes tend to have an Indian slant that I quite enjoy. Not hard-core, authentic, spicy curries, but milder flavourful Indian-infused dishes. Ayurvedic cuisine balances the six tastes (six rasas), sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent. By determining your dosha, or your main energy as per Ayurvedic tradition, you can tailor your foods to match your constitution.
I will not pretend to know much about Ayurvedic cuisine, although I did figure out my doshas: bidoshic with a bit more pitta (fire/water) than vata (air/space). I connect better with pitta-reducing recipes, which shies from heat and spice (among other things). Recipes can be modified to better balance your dosha, and these are modifications that I do instinctively: reduce chiles, omit curry paste, etc. Although my love of quinoa must be from vata because pitta precludes it!
This is an Ayurvedic winter vegetable stew that balances vata and pitta and decreases kapha. I made it more pitta-friendly by omitting the green curry paste (miso-curry soup isn’t so scary) and ground pepper and made it more Janet-style by adding adzuki beans (good for both vata and pitta). Ignoring all the dosha-stuff, I can assure you that this is a delicious stew. The main flavours are miso, ginger and dill dancing around winter vegetables like winter squash, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Adding in the suggested green curry paste would probably make this an entirely different soup altogether, and would be more up Rob’s alley. I have yet to figure out his dosha but he definitely has less pitta!
Have you ever tried Ayurvedic cuisine? What is your dosha?
Carrot Ginger Lime Soup with Sweet Potato Hummus (& What to do with leftover roasted sweet potatoes)
Some people hate leftovers. (hi Mom!)
Personally, I love them. I enjoy freshly cooked food, but I love not cooking after work even more.
This is how to re-purpose leftovers into something new. The best of both worlds?
Pre-roasted sweet potatoes can be integrated into different meals.
They can easily be added to your salad of the week, but for something a bit more different, add them into a curry-flavoured sweet potato hummus for a filling dip or sandwich spread. Even though I added lemon juice to Gena’s recipe, I found it lacking the tang and bite I associate with traditional hummus. In retrospect I probably should have added some garlic, too. Still a nice dip for crackers and veggies and it travelled well while snowshoeing.
Tired of hummus leftovers? Run out of crackers and veggies? Already added it to your sandwich/wrap? Trust me, there was a time when I couldn’t finish a batch of hummus within a week, so I understand. But now, I make a batch nearly every week. Carrots and hummus were my dessert of choice on my sweetener-free challenge.
In a land of plenty (and deficiency), you become creative. We had run out of roasted sweet potatoes but still wanted to make this carrot ginger lime soup. Of course, the reason we ran out of sweet potatoes is because I put them in the sweet potato hummus. So why not use the sweet potato hummus instead of the sweet potato? My only qualms about Tess’ original recipe for the soup is that it isn’t a meal-in-a-bowl. I prefer filling soups. Hummus, with the additional beans and tahini, adds the much needed protein and fat. A few crumbled Mary’s crackers and I had a delicious meal. One I wanted to remake hummus just to slurp the soup again when I returned home. Because it was that good and I wanted a photo to share, too.
Either way you make it, this is a simple soup. Boil nondairy milk with carrots until they are soft. Bake your sweet potato or go all out and make some sweet potato hummus. Then combine it along with ginger and lime in your blender. The cilantro topping is completely optional. Creamy, flavourful. A new way to enjoy hummus. Boo-yah!
Here are some other carrot soups that I’ve had my eye on:
Roasted Carrot and Lentil Soup with Harissa and Mint
Carrot and Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Miso and Thyme
Moroccan Carrot Soup
Carrot Soup with Ginger and Lemon
Carrot Soup with Miso and Sesame at Smitten Kitchen
Carrot Soup with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas at Smitten Kitchen
Carrot and Tahini Soup at Joanne Eats Well With Others
Carrot Ginger Soup with Tahini at Cara’s Cravings
Creamy Orange Sunshine Soup (Carrot/Orange/Ginger/Cashew) at Oh She Glows
Curried Carrot Parsnip Soup at Eating Appalachia
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this week’s Weekend Wellness, to this month’s Credit Crunch Munch hosted by Helen and Camilla, to this month’s No Croutons Required with soups/salads featuring leftovers and to this month’s Herbs on Saturday.
If you are a vegan, new or old or contemplating dabbling in vegan cuisine, I highly recommend reading this book: Vegan for Life.
Like right now.
I mentioned basic vegan nutrition in my earlier post, but this book is chock-full of advice navigating the murky scientific waters of vegan nutrition. Vitamin B12 supplementation should be old news but what about calcium, iron and zinc? Essential fatty acids?
Of course, then there’s the never-ending protein question. (Love this video, by the way)
Beyond, where do you get your protein but how much do you really need. I aim for the prototypical 0.4g of protein per pound of body weight, so around 50g for a 120lb woman. Brendan Brazier’s books were also instrumental in highlighting the importance of the ratio of protein to carbs, as well, when exercising.
While I stagger my meals and snacks to support my exercise, I have never really considered myself an athlete. I have cycled really, really long distances although it seems like such a distant memory right now. Even though I tucked my bike away for the winter, just last month, I was cycling a minimum of 1.5 hours each day for commuting alone. It makes me tired just thinking about it. I have so much more energy now.
My co-worker would (lovingly) heckle me, telling me I wasn’t eating enough protein as a vegan, especially with all my cycling. I reassured him I was ok, 50g is enough. I am not a bodybuilder. I eat my beans. Vegan for Life has me re-evaluating my base protein needs. Strength and endurance athletes (and pregnant people- not any kind of hint, by the way) seem to require more protein although how much is debatable. It could be up to 0.8g/lb for weight lifters. I strive for 25% protein in my meals, so I think my new protein goal is be achievable. Especially since I love beans.
The benefit of beans and legumes were highlighted not only for their high protein content but also their amino acid profile, compared to other vegan protein sources (vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains). They are a good source of lysine, a particular amino acid that is not as easily found in other vegetarian foods.
So.. the moral of the story? Take charge of your nutrition. And eat more beans.
Even within the legume family, there is a lot of variety. Lentils and chickpeas are my go-to beans, but they all have their own merits. Pick up a new bean and get creative.
Have some split peas but don’t know what to do? Try this soup. I really like split peas, but less eager to cook with them due to their long cooking time. Even with soaking (or not), I find they take a while to cook, sometimes longer than an hour and a half.
It is worth it, though.
I prefer yellow split peas, which have a milder pea flavour. The split peas thicken this soup spiced with ginger and coriander. Filling and hearty yet light at the same time from the lemon. The lemon zest really brought this up a notch. It also packs a protein punch: 20g when serving 3. Serve with a salad to get some greens.
Looking for other ways to eat split peas? Try these:
Smoky Split Pea Soup with Roasted Garlic and Sage
Finnish Double Pea Stew with Apples
Iraqi Eggplant and Seitan Stew
Split Pea Dal with Ginger and Lime
Ethiopian Split Pea Puree (Kik Alicha)
Ethiopian Split Pea and Squash Stew with Collard Greens
Swedish Yellow Split Pea Soup with Dill at Power Hungry
Curried Squash and Split Pea Soup at Choosing Raw
Sunshine Curried Split Pea Soup at G Living
Yellow Split Peas with Garlic, Ginger and Cilantro at Kalyn’s Kitchen
Yellow Split Pea Soup with Smoked Paprika and Crisped Leeks at Not Eating Out in New York
Polish Split Peas and Cabbage at About.com
Imagine my shock when Rob called me from the grocery store to tell me they were out of broccoli. It wasn’t even a weekly special. No broccoli in the entire store. I thought new year’s meant more carrots, but maybe it really means broccoli?
In any case, have no fear, I switched recipes and ended up clipping off the last of my garden kale. Yes, there has been snow here for over 2 weeks and yes, hidden underneath the snowy blanket, my kale is still alive and kicking. More power to the kale! (The broccoli dish will have to wait)
Black eyed peas are certainly not just for the new year, but I was drawn to this black eyed pea and kale stew through Random Recipes. This month’s challenge was to randomly select a recipe from a cookbook from someone else’s library. I decided to tackle this electronically. When I saw Ali was gifted Superfood Kitchen I tried to borrow it from the library, but it hasn’t been received yet. In that moment, I decided that the first recipe I found online from the cookbook would be my “random recipe” and I found it here: Kale and Black Eyed Pea Stew. I like that Julie has incorporated more common “superfoods” into her cookbook, like leafy green and legumes, which can be seen in this recipe.
This is no ordinary bean and green stew. Along with black eyed peas and kale, there is red pepper as well as my addition of oyster mushrooms. It is a European spice mash-up with oregano and thyme as well as smoked paprika and Ancho chile powder. I was scared to use a full tablespoon of smoked paprika, but feel free to use more because this was not spicy. I ended up adding liquid smoke at the end for a further depth of flavour. But oh, this alone would still be a great chili-like stew, but this it is not. A special twist comes form the addition of ground wakame. A little goes a long way and makes this a unique stew. It brings a certain seaweedy-ness to the stew. By the way, a few notes about my version: I used dried herbs in this recipe because I don’t usually use fresh herbs for a long simmer (they turn to mush, so maybe remove them as a bouquet garni). As well, the recipe calls for 3 cups of cooked black eyed peas but I am fairly confident this dish could be made more simply by cooking dried black eyed peas with the soup broth (which I have not tried but noted in the recipe below).
Smoky Tempeh and Chard Stew
Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew
Sneaky Collards at Serious Eats
Roasted Squash and Shallots with Merguez Chickpeas in River Cottage Veg Every Day
Spanish Chickpeas and Spinach Stew with Ginger at I don’t know, what do YOU want to eat?
Smoky Red Lentil Stew by Sprouted Kitchen
Smoky Paprika Baked Beans by The Spade & Spoon
Spiced Red Lentils by Ottolenghi
Pumpkin Chili by Never Homemaker
French Lentil Soup with Smoked Paprika in Let Them Eat Vegan!
Easy New Orleans Red Beans and Rice by Fat Free Vegan
“1 Million” Veggies Lentil Stew by Chocolate Covered Katie
My other recipes with smoked paprika are here
Back then, I spotted this tantalizing soupy stew from Denis Cotter with squash, chickpeas and fennel and I knew I wanted to try it. I bookmarked it last year, and now that I have an abundance of squash and these vegetables are back in season, it was time to make it!
Whenever you make a Cotter recipe, be prepared to dirty a bunch of pots and pans. I stream-lined the process slightly by omitting the croutons, but still oven-roasted my squash for the soup. I have become smitten with eating squashes I don’t have to peel (kabocha and delicata) but roasting makes peeling squash a heck of a lot easier. I have my tricks for tackling butternut squash, though. I pierce the squash a few times with a fork, then microwave it for 5 minutes before peeling it. I also usually peel the tubular and bulbous parts separately.
This soup did not disappoint. Chickpeas and squash go so well together. Savoury cumin and fennel seeds augment the mellow fennel, leek and shallots. Ginger and chile flakes add a nice zip and lemon juice balances it all. A hearty meal in a bowl, perfect for warming up with this colder weather. A new favourite, for sure.
After boldly stating that I can easily munch through a weekly food budget of $15, I had a few people suggesting I share my tips. I have been meaning to write this post for a while, so I apologize for its delay.
It may not seem like it at first glance, but it is possible to eat well on a vegan whole-foods diet without breaking the budget. In fact, moving towards a whole foods diet will keep you away from spending the big bucks on processed food. All that processing costs the consumer more money. You do not need to eat cheaply, but rather buy good food that costs cheap.
Without further adieu, here are my tips.
1. Waste not
First of all, my biggest tip is do not waste any food. I try really hard not to waste any produce. I make weekly meal plans incorporating the ingredients I already have and what I want to buy. Know was needs to be consumed quickly (strawberries!) and what can wait (sweet potatoes!). Know what needs to be refrigerated (greens!) and what does not (tomatoes!).
2. Store surplus properly – freezers are your friends
Freeze leftover veggies and meals. When red peppers go on sale, I stock up because they can be easily frozen. No need to blanch or cook beforehand, just chop and freeze. Afterwards, they are also easy to throw into whatever dish you end up using them in – they’ve already been pre-cut! Soups and stews can easily be frozen and reheated when you want to eat them again.
3. Eat beans and cook them from scratch
Beans are cheap, healthy and store well. I routinely make a big batch of beans and freeze them with their stock in containers in 2 cup measurements so it is just like pulling out a can of beans. Quick cooking beans like red lentils are also great for easy soups and curries.
4. Buy in bulk, when it makes sense
My Mom calls me a hoarder. I think of myself as buying in bulk. This technique doesn’t work for everyone, but if you have the space, definitely consider it. When certain staples go on sale, I stock up. 2 kg of red lentils for $2? Yes please. That will likely only last 2 months anyhow. Steel cut oats, same thing… Cans of coconut milk and tomatoes will also always find a use.
5. Grow your own food
If possible, grow your own food. I have been dabbling in gardening, focusing on higher yielding vegetables (beans, zucchini) and greens such as kale and collards since they do not need to be harvested immediately. However, even for those without much space, my herb garden has been the most prolific and rewarding, both in the garden and in my kitchen. Being able to snip off a handful of fresh herbs for your meal makes your meal go a long way. Even if you are hard-pressed for sun, you can grow your own sprouts.
6. Cook at home
I almost didn’t include this tip since it is pretty obvious. Save money by cooking for yourself. Don’t eat out at restaurants. Don’t buy premade seitan. Pack your own lunch and cook things yourself.
7. Know where to shop for good prices
The above tips are more general but I wanted the heart of this post to be about my favourite local stores. I currently live in an area that has plentiful options for groceries, so every week I scour the flyers and figure out what I need to buy based on my meal plan. Ethnic grocers are usually a great place for reasonably priced ingredients. Sales often vary, but there are stores that I know I will usually find great prices.
Here are my favourite places in Toronto:
Sunny’s Supermarket – I don’t live close to Sunny’s anymore, but it has an awesome selection of nearly every ethnic cuisine, except the standard North American diet. Milk and cereal might be there, but it isn’t as cheap as the red lentils and tofu. It has a very extensive spice collection with high turnover for its produce, beans and grains. Weekly sales are great and they often have random produce on sale, too. It is not uncommon for red lentils, chickpeas and split peas to sell for cheap ($2 for 2 kg). Bestwin is a similar supermarket, not too far away, but it is more dingy and not as big as Sunny’s.
Lucky Moose in Chinatown – I have started to bike past Chinatown when I come home from work. I think this is one of the better priced grocers with good quality produce. I never know what I will find on sale though… bananas for 29c/lb, zucchini for 39c/lb or young Thai coconuts ($2/2). Like most Asian grocers, “exotic” mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, shiitake and enoki are always reasonably priced. Snow peas and snap peas, too ($2/lb).
Welcome Food Mart – This is my neighbourhood ethnic grocer. A transplanted Chinatown grocer with oftentimes questionable produce but there are some good deals to be had. They have a weekly flyer and they constantly seem to sell 10 limes for $1 which suits me perfectly.
Tutti Fruiti in Kensington Market – Kensington Market is our local stop for bulk items, like nuts when they aren’t on sale elsewhere. I have started to use more Brazil nuts in recipes because they are cheaper here than walnuts and pecans! Protein powders are also very reasonably priced (Hemp Pro 70 is $19) and tempeh is the best price in town. Don’t like Tutti Fruiti? Try the neighboring Essence of Life instead.
Ambrosia – My favourite health food isn’t that close to me, but when we are in the area, we stock up at Ambrosia. Monthly specials can be great on top of great regular prices. Quinoa for $2.44/lb? Yes please! They also seem to stock the majority of all my wacky kitchen needs (I buy my nutritional yeast and vital wheat gluten here).
Bulk Barn – I don’t find Bulk Barn to have good prices but if it is your closest bulk store, so be it. Buying only what you need is the way to go. The one time you will find me in Bulk Barn is when their oats are on sale for 79c/lb and I couple that with a $3 off $10 purchase coupon. Cheap oats, please!
J-Town – I don’t find J-Town that inexpensive but it is a nice place to stock up on all your Japanese needs. I am listing it thought because it sells Mori-Nu silken tofu for $1.68. Booyah!
No Frills, FreshCo and Walmart – Of all the big chain grocery stores, these are my favourites even though I don’t shop there that often. No Frills and FreshCo stock ethnic vegetables, depending on their neighbouhood, too. Surprisingly, Walmart has good prices for nuts and dried fruit. It has a reasonable selection of ethnic ingredients. I even spotted my much loved package of peeled garlic at Walmart, too. All three stores also have a nice price matching policy, that includes grocery items. I really like that because I can still go shopping on a Wednesday and know my produce will be in-stock at the grocers that price match.
Do you have any other great tips for eating well as a vegan? Any other places in Toronto that you recommend?
Feel free to peruse my archives for what I actually eat on a day-to-day basis. I have a bad habit of not sharing some of my most easy pantry-friendly meals. Possibly because red lentil soups are not always photogenic. That doesn’t mean they don’t taste as good, so I encourage you to dive past the murkiness of this soup and give it a try.
This Greek red lentil soup is very simple, yet tastes great. The soup stock is based from sauteed onions, garlic, carrots and bay leaves which are simmered with red lentils infused with rosemary and oregano for the touch of Greek. The soup is finished with lemon juice and zest to bring it up a notch and complement the herbs.
The entire recipe makes a big pot of soup, so I encourage you to freeze half for a rainy (or snowy) day.
When making meals for special guests, how do your meals change?
Unless we are making a buffet of food, I try to make meals that I will also be able to eat. That means I make vegan dishes. For picky omnivores, we may opt to supplement with meat.
Depending on the guest, I will pick recipes that are, let’s just say, a bit more indulgent. If Rob and I are cooking you dal bhat, one of our favourite meals, simple with lentils and rice, you know we have nothing to prove to you in the kitchen. For us, we can make it as fast as the rice cooker makes the rice as it is filled with cupboard staples and we will both fight over the leftovers.
Now, if Rob whips up his legendary pad thai, then you know we are aiming to impress (or I am too tired to cook, hehe, or I have a craving for pad thai!). We usually have the ingredients on hand except for the fresh sprouts, and with its custom single serving plating, we don’t make it for ourselves very often.
If I am in the mood, I may very well pull out all my tricks and make something fancy like Moroccan Vegetable Phyllo Rolls with Balsamic Maple Sauce. Stars may need to collide just right for that to happen again (just kidding!).
Other times, I will aim for something rich and satisfying but still relatively simple to make. Enter the meal-in-a-bowl soup. With a side of bread for guests (and Rob).
I had been eyeing this recipe for a Sweet Pepper Coconut Corn Chowder for a while. A creamy coconut-based soup filled with chickpeas, red peppers with a dash of heat from chiles. However, I was turned off by using not 1, but 2 cans of coconut milk (that’s just plain superfluous). While I know it would be even more decadent with 2 cans, I opted for just one can of full-fat coconut milk. When I made this I didn’t have fresh corn, so I substituted a can of cream-style corn but fresh corn would be uber delicious.
As I said, the flavours worked so well together – sweet from the peppers, creamy from the coconut milk and creamed corn, heat from the chilies and bulk from the chickpeas. If you use 2 full cans of coconut milk, you will likely need the full amount of water in the original recipe (2 cups). As I only had 1 can and used creamed-style corn, I used less water and even then thought it was a bit thin for my liking. Another option would be to partially puree the soup, too. Anyhow, add liquid as you see fit. The flavours are already spot on.
In much the same way as there is an art to using up the last of your fresh produce before you head away for vacation, I think there is an art to keeping a kitchen well-stocked for your return from vacation. While I have a few go-to recipes from pantry staples alone, and freezer meals help, when I come home from vacation, I am usually craving something fresh. I want the greens.
While I hate asking for rides, at the airport, it is nice to be picked up by a familiar face. I still remember returning from Japan to friendly faces and in addition to a quick ride home, they also had a few things to get me through to my first grocery run. At that time in my pre-vegan days, it was eggs, bagels, fruit and some leftover soup. With an empty fridge, it was a glorious gesture.
While Rob and I are good at taking transit to the airport, this meant we didn’t have any room to stop for groceries with all our luggage on the subway. In any case, while we came home to an empty fridge, it wasn’t so empty after all.
Granted, we were only gone for two weeks, so we still had a few grapefruits and apples for my usual breakfast routine. Onions and carrots in the crisper keep well, too. Cabbage, too. Thankfully garlic lasts, as do other citrus like lemons and limes. When in season, winter squashes can be stored outside the fridge. Frozen staples also work well: spinach, vegetables and herbs. I also keep my cooked beans in the freezer.
I always tell myself I will stop coming back from vacations on Sundays, only to be back at work on Monday, but we never learn. Returning from vacation means I also need to find quick-cooking meals that I can make after work, amongst unpacking, laundry and all that jazz from the vacation wrap-up.
Scrap the brown rice. It can take a long time to cook. Instead, I bastardized Gena’s Greek Lemon Soup (Avgolemono) by substituting quinoa. It takes half the time to cook, making a quick and tasty soup. Bright and fresh from the lemon , creamy from the tahini with depth of flavour from the miso, dill and nutritional yeast. Considering traditional avgolemono is made with eggs, the quinoa bastardization seems quite tame.. and quite the fanciful adaptation from the original. Regardless, this is a filling and delicious soup. Enjoy!
I mean, I can finally express myself in sentences!
Sorry for the blog auto-pilot for the last 3 weeks… After 2 glorious weeks in Colombia, it was back to the grind, off to work, sifting through oodles of emails, comments and catching up with my favourite blogs.
My second language is French and let’s just say three weeks ago, I knew zero Spanish.
We made sure we had the basics though:
Vegetariana estricta Vegan
But that might not mean anything, so we had to explain:
Without eggs (Really?)
Without milk (I usually had a funny look at this point)
We usually stopped there, but I also knew how to say:
We got better at explaining what I wanted:
Frutas (fruit!), verdura (vegetables), beans (frijoles), papas (potatoes) and arroz (rice).
other than baños (bathroom), another useful word was aqui (here)
As we learned more about Colombia (Que?), we became a bit more sophisticated and tried to make actual sentences.
Cuánto cuesta? How much does it cost?
Quero jugos naturales en agua sin azucar: I want freshly squeezed juice in water without added sugar!
By the end of our trip, a guide was teaching us the difference between Mucho bueno and Muy bien depending on the context of the sentence. And to greet other friendly men with Compa! and friendly women with Coma!
In any case, I loved my culinary adventures in Colombia, and we planned it so that I could stay vegan throughout the trip. I had to make a few compromises, and that was by eating white rice (brown rice and quinoa are essentially non-existent in Colombia) and I had more fried foods than I had in the last 3 years (fried plantains and yucca mainly if nothing else was available). But it was ok. That’s what vacations are for.
Now that I am back in my own kitchen, I can return to normal. Pull out some freezer meals. Forge ahead with some comforting pantry-friendly meals. Rob repeats recipes and sometimes I do, too. This is one of those dishes. Uber comforting. While I describe this as Dal Bhat meets Mujaddara, this would likely scare off a bunch of people… Too many foreign words thrown in there… But if I call it Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Crispy Onions, it is much more approachable, and still true to its name.
This comforting dish comes from Melissa Clark’s cookbook, Cook This Now. Savoury spices like cinnamon, cumin, allspice and ginger are combined with creamy red lentils and brown rice (aka dal bhat). Since the spices are aromatized at the beginning of the soup, they don’t pop with as much oomph as dal bhat, instead they are more mellow. This is a thick soup, with both lentils and rice simmered together, creating an utterly creamy consistency. In mujaddara, the rice and (green) lentils absorb all the water so they are dry, but still fragrant depending on the spices you use. However, the crowning glory of mujaddara are the caramelized onions. Here, onions are caramelized in parallel so that after an hour, you have dark and deeply sweet onions to go with your just finished lentil rice soup. Thus, simple fusion at its finest. Familiar, yet just a subtle twist to both recipes to keep you interested and excited… and a dish I know I can eat again and again.
And it is just so nice to be able to tell you all this in complete sentences. Freedom!