Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

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Apparently, beginning at around the age of two, children suddenly express very strong opinions about food. They also can be a bit quirky about it, insisting on having the same food at every meal—for weeks—and then suddenly refuse to eat it, only wanting something else as their “new favorite”.

Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

My son, aged two, is going through this right now. He’s normally pretty good at eating almost everything he is served, but now some days he wants oatmeal and bananas at every meal or refuses to eat avocados and tomatoes (two of his favorites). Then there are meals when he says he only wants avocados and tomatoes. Like I said, it’s a bit quirky (and a little endearing). This morning, for example, he wanted to eat miso soup (he ADORES miso soup) instead of oatmeal. Although miso soup is not a bad choice at any meal, it’s not what was already prepared. Needless to say, he didn’t have miso soup for breakfast.

I think I’m a pretty flexible, understanding and open-minded mother, but I am also pretty strict about some things, like meals. I don’t think it’s healthy to cater to a child’s quirk by serving things like macaroni and cheese, a plate of rice, or just bread, three times a day. As a parent, I believe it’s my responsibility to ensure he has healthy and balanced meals that include a variety of nutritious foods. So I’ve been finding ways to manage this quirky stage by providing a selection of foods at the table that includes protein, carbohydrate, vegetables, fruit, and a source of calcium and let him choose. Since I’ve been making a lot of soups lately, I’ve tried topping them with some of his favorites—avocados, roasted pumpkin seeds, or homemade garlicky croutons. Admittedly, some meals I have to be more creative, but I know I don’t want to go down the route of cooking special meals, or replacing foods that he refuses to eat. I’ve had a peek at what that might look like at about five years of age or older and it’s not too pretty.

Having said that, I also don’t believe in forcing a child to eat. I think it’s important to respect a child’s food preferences, making sure there are things at the table they like to eat, and the amount they’re willing to eat. I believe the division of responsibility (where parents control the what and when while the child decides how much, if any, he will eat) should always be honored. Some days/meal my little guy eats more than me (sometimes asking for seconds or thirds) and other days/meals he eats like a little bird. I trust he knows how much to eat.

To let me know when he is done eating, I taught my son to say hara hachi bu (an old Okinawan adage that means to eat until you are 80 percent full). When he says it, I believe him and don’t try to force him to finish his plate if he hasn’t. Like most adults, children often know when they’ve had enough. They also eventually have their own food preferences. My goal is not to force good nutrition and food, but instead to introduce my little one to a large and global variety of new and nutritious foods, while he slowly develops his palate and preferences. Hopefully this will influence his diet and give him a strong and healthy foundation for his food choices later.

Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

Greens, as they are so good for you, are something I try to offer often. Green soups are great because you get a chock full of dark leafy greens in each bowl. This week I made a chopped green soup made of Russian kale and sweet potatoes. After I had taught my son what a sweet potato was and looked like, he was interested in picking them out of the soup to eat separately. To make the rest of the soup equally of interest to him to eat, I served it with barley and homemade garlicky croutons, two of his favorites. Fortunately it worked!

Kale and Sweet Potato Soup
Adapted from Love Soup

1 onion, chopped
3 leeks, white and light green parts, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste*
1 bunch Russian or Lacinto kale
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced (1/2-inch)
1 medium potato, peeled and diced (1/2-inch)
5 cups water
3-4 green onions, sliced
2/3 cup cilantro, chopped
black pepper, freshly ground
2-3 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh
cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)

In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil and sauté onions with a sprinkle of salt until translucent. Add leeks and cook/sauté until they are golden, another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the thick stems from the kale and chop the leaves coarsely. Combine both potatoes and kale in a soup pot with 5 cups water and a teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add the sautéed leeks and onions to the pot along with the green onions, cilantro and lots of black pepper. Add as much vegetable broth you need to give the soup a nice consistency—although this is a hearty soup, it’s not a stew and should pour easily from a ladle. Cover and simmer the soup gently, for about 10 more minutes.

Lightly toast cumin seeds in a dry pan just until fragrant, grind them in a spice grinder. Stir in the cumin and a spoonful of lemon juice. Taste and adjust salt*, pepper and lemon juice to preference. Finish with a pinch of cayenne or any hot red pepper if you can take the heat.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with olive oil or homemade croutons. Like many soups, I also like this one served with farro, barley or brown rice.

*Notes: I try not to make suggestions on the exact amount of salt to be used as it really is a matter of taste preference. Also, the amount of salt needed can vary depending on the broth used. When I can, I prefer to use a light (not too salty or strong in flavor) homemade vegetable broth. This allows me to season the final product as I would like. Other times I buy my vegetable broth. If using store bought broth, be sure to buy the best tasting, low-sodium broth you can afford. Enjoy!

Coconut Red Lentil and Red Kuri Squash Soup

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These days, the big news at the farmers market is squash. Small or huge, bumpy and warty-like or smooth, dark or cream-colored, they are the celebrities of the season. As I look at these unique vegetables, I can’t help but think of the possibilities for beautiful soups, salads, and other dishes of autumn.

Coconut Red Lentil and Red Kuri Squash Soup

Providing sculptural interest to my toddler, and anyone who walks in the door, are several soft and hard-shelled winter squashes—delicata, golden butternuts, green kabocha, flaming red-orange red kuri, and bright orange pumpkins—that currently sit on my kitchen counter. I’m not only excited to cook with them, but I’m also even more thrilled that my little one—only 26 months of age—can name each one of them with ease—something I didn’t learn to do until…ahem…last autumn when I started going to the farmers markets more regularly.

Red Kuri Squash

Red Kuri Squash

I love going to the farmers markets because they’ve given me the opportunity to learn so much about seasonal foods. Grocery stores, with their tomatoes in winter and year-round fruits and vegetables from all around the world, make it so confusing to know what’s actually in season and what’s not. The markets have also been a fabulous opportunity for me to teach my little one about food and gratitude for where it comes from.

He’s only two, so we don’t have deep conversations about food, but already he is keenly aware of some of the many differences in colors, textures, tastes, smells, etc. He loves pointing out familiar fruits and vegetables and he happily helps me find the produce we need. When I make suggestions on the things we can cook/eat with our treasures, he listens intently, often repeating many of the words I say and ending his sentence with yummy!

Cilantro

At home, when I cook, my little one often stays near me in the kitchen. He sometimes plays or reads quietly to himself, and other times he leans against my leg and says Maman h-o-l-d you, wanting me to pick him up so he can have a better view of the action going on above his line of sight. When I do pick him up, he quickly wants to touch any and everything he sees on the counter so I usually set him up safely on a chair to “work” alongside me. With great interest he transfers things like diced carrots or potatoes to a bowl. Lately, I’ve set him up with a bowl of uncooked beans or lentils and have asked him to help me “sort” the beans. My, does he LOVE this activity, especially when sitting on my lap! Of course he just plays, picking the beans/lentils having fun with the feel of sticking his little fingers in them or transferring them from one bowl to another, but if you ask him what he’s doing he proudly says, I hepping maman sort da beans. Yes, he’s my sous chef in training. ;-)

Red Lentil and Red Kuri Squash

After sorting through some red lentils I had on hand, I decided to make a pot of lentil soup. I should say that I love almost any kind of lentil soup and can eat it throughout the year. But in the fall, I especially like to pair lentils with sweet winter squash like butternut, kabocha or, as in this soup, red kuri squash.

Chunky and satisfying, this soup has gentle hints of freshness that come from notes of fresh ginger, cumin and fresh herbs. Not only is it hearty, but coconut milk helps make it a bit creamy. This soup is also simple and adaptable. At times I’ve made a version with carrots or Yukon potatoes and have, on occasion, added a teaspoon of curry powder to add a little more depth of flavor. Serve with with cooked farro (or brown rice) and garnish with chopped cilantro, sliced green onions, a splash of lime juice, homemade croutons, and/or toasted pumpkin seeds.

Coconut Red Lentil and Red Kuri Squash Soup
Inspired by Anna Thomas’ Red Lentil and Squash Soup in Love Soup

1½ cups red lentils
4 cups water
1 medium red kuri squash
olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
up to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cups vegetable broth, plus a little more for texture
1 cup coconut milk, plus a little more for texture
salt* and freshly ground pepper
2 green onions, sliced, for garnish
2/3 cup cilantro, chopped, for garnish
toasted Pumpkin seeds
wedges of lime

cooked farro (or barley or brown rice), for serving

Preheat oven to 375F.

Rinse lentils until water runs clear. In a large pot, combine lentils with 4 cups water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and gently boil until the lentils start to lose their shape, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the red kuri squash in half, seed it, and put the halves cut side down in a baking pan with a little water, about 1-2 tablespoons of water. Roast squash until soft, about 40 minutes. Over medium heat, sauté onions in olive oil with a nice pinch of salt until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

When lentils are just tender, add the onions, sweet potato, ginger, cumin, turmeric, red pepper flakes and broth to the pot. Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. As soon as the squash is cooked through, scoop it out of its skin and add the squash flesh to the pot. [As a quick side note, I decided to purée my squash after I scooped it out, but it wasn't necessary as the squash was soft enough to be added to the pot and mix nicely with the lentils]. Simmer for about another 10 minutes then add coconut milk. If the soup seems too thick, add up to one cup more of broth and/or coconut milk.

For soup with a rustic texture, you can serve it as is or purée half of the soup in a blender and mix it back in the pot, or pulse the whole pot a few times with an immersion blender. For a more smooth soup, purée the whole pot of soup in batches with a blender or use an immersion blender.

Be sure to taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt*, black pepper and red pepper flakes according to taste and how much heat you can take!

Serve on a bed farro (or other grain) and top with cilantro, green onions, toasted pumpkin seeds and/or lime wedges.

Note: I also like to serve this and many other soups topped with avocado slices dressed in olive oil, salt and fresh lime juice. Yum! If you can’t find red kuri squash, try using butternut squash instead. Both are delicious!

*I try not to make suggestions on the amount of salt to be used as it really is a matter of taste preference. Also, the amount of salt needed can vary depending on the broth used. When I can, I prefer to use a light (not too salty) homemade vegetable broth. This allows me to season the final product as I would like. Other times I buy my vegetable broth. If using store bought broth, be sure to buy the best tasting low-sodium broth you can afford. Enjoy!

Chard and Barley Soup with Beans

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Chad and Barley SoupThis is a very simple and tasty soup that is so easy to pull together quickly. I first made it last fall when a friend shared her recipe with me. My husband liked it so much that I’ve made it again and again, trying a few minor variations each time. Like many soups, this one can easily be adapted to suit your taste preferences and whatever you have on hand. No cannelloni beans? Any white beans will do. Here, I used cooked flageolet beans as that’s what I had on hand. You don’t have barley? Farro, brown rice, or Acini di pepe (tiny pearls of pasta) can be used instead. I haven’t tried it yet but I imagine Israeli couscous might work well here too. No chard? Try kale. Want a little kick? Add a little chili pepper. Make it your own and it will be great.

For lunch or dinner, ladle up bowls of this comforting and nutritious soup and serve alone, with rustic bread alongside, or top each bowl with homemade croutons.*

Cahrd and Barley Soup with BeansA couple of notes, I often make this soup with just salt and pepper. Other times I also add a bay leaf, thyme and sometimes oregano. Again, it’s easily adaptable to your preferences. Also, you can make this soup starting with a pot of barley, as the recipe below suggests. Or if you already have barley on hand, as I did after I made my Curried Carrot and Apple Soup with Barley, you can make the soup without it. When you’re ready to serve, just ladle the soup on top of cooked barley. (as shown in the photos above)

Chard-Barley Soup with Beans
1/2 cup barley
5 cups water
1 large bunch (1 lb) chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, sliced small or diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
salt
freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups cooked or canned white beans (I’ve used cannelloni or flageolet)
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme

In a large pot, bring 5 cups of water to boil. Add barley and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes.

In the meanwhile, rinse the chard well. Slice the stalks crosswise and chop the leaves coarsely.

Heat oil in a skillet over moderate heat and add the chopped onions. Stirring occasionally, cook until onions are golden, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and their juices and cook until vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chard and some salt, stirring once or twice. Add vegetable mixture and beans to the large pot of barley with water.** Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. You can add more water if it is needed to keep everything submerged. Add bay leaf and thyme. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Taste and generously season with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Serve.

*To make homemade croutons, tear day old bread into small pieces. Toss in olive oil and salt and bake in the oven at 350F until crispy, for about 15-20 minutes. You can turn them after about 10 minutes. If you’re a garlic fan like me, add 1-3 cloves of crushed garlic to the olive oil and salt mixture and toss bread well before baking.

**If you already have cooked barley on hand and want to make the soup without cooking with it, use a large pot to sauté onions and other vegetables. (Follow same instructions for vegetables above). Then add 5 cups of water and beans to your large pot with the vegetable mixture. Add bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Cover and allow to simmer on low heat for about 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Serve with cooked barley.

Curried Carrot and Apple Soup with Barley

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Curried Carrot and Apple Soup with Barley

When the first cool days of autumn come around, I can’t help but want to cook. It’s soup season, after all, and the desire to have a pot of something savory bubbling on my stovetop is more than just convincing. There’s something so comforting, nostalgic, rhythmic and practical about taking simple and fresh ingredients and turning them into a nourishing meal. It’s part of the natural rhythm of life. What’s wonderful about a bowl of homemade soup is that it doesn’t need to be fancy. Made with the freshest ingredients available, it will always be real food, and it will always be good.

Curried Carrot and Apple Soup

Recently, a friend went apple picking and shared her crisp and sweet treats with me. I’m not sure of the variety of apple, but I just know they were delicious. So when I came across a recipe in Food & Wine for Curried Carrot and Apple Soup by chefs Tamalpais Star Roth-McCormick and Mark Slawson, I knew I wanted to try my own version of this velvety soup. Tamaplpais (who goes by Pai) is the creator of Bunches & Bunches Ltd. based in Portland, Oregon.

Curried Carrot and Apple SoupCurried Carrot and Apple Soup with Barley
Adapted from chefs Tamalpais Star Roth-McCormick and Mark Slawson

A couple of notes, Pai’s original recipe suggests adding gingersnaps, but I opted to leave them out as I preferred to stick with the natural sweetness found in the carrots and apple. To make my version vegan I used coconut oil and coconut milk instead of butter and sour cream. And, to give it a little more heft, I served it with pearled barley. Brown rice, farro or another preferred grain would work equally well. 

2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 small fennel bulb, cored and chopped
kosher salt
black pepper
1 pound carrots, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds
½ pound celery root, peeled and chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1½ teaspoons Madras curry powder
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 thyme sprigs
1 quart vegetable stock
½ cup coconut milk (from a can)
toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
chopped mint, for garnish
chopped cilantro, for garnish

In a large saucepan, melt the coconut oil. Add the onion, leek, fennel and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery root, apple, curry powder, garlic, ginger and thyme and cook, stirring, until the carrots and celery root soften slightly, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring, until the vegetables are very tender, 25 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender with the coconut milk until smooth. Reheat the soup if necessary and season with salt and pepper. To serve, add barley (or other grain of choice) to bowls. Ladle the soup on top and garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds and chopped mint and cilantro and serve.

This soup can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently before serving.

Peach and Pumpkin Pancakes

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Morning has come. Night is away.
Rise with the sun and welcome the day!
—Elisabeth Lebret

Although we’re surrounded by rhythms in nature—the alternation of day and night, the changing of seasons, and the phases of the moon—modern life and technology can sometimes make it challenging to stay connected to those natural rhythms around us.

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Rhythm. In the form of a lifestyle, a pattern of life, rhythm often offers stability in chaos and comfort in times of uncertainty. For me, the past month has been a bit challenging, at best. Due to circumstances beyond my control I had to limit my blogging and deal with a few unexpected and difficult situations. I also had to cancel plans to attend the International Plant-Based Nutrition Conference. Bummer. I had been looking forward to it. Fortunately, I had two very good friends who were there and kept me posted. Also, for those of you who may be interested, Abby (from the blog Abby’s Kitchen) attended and provided a nice summary here.

As with many challenging times, it’s often hard to see the light when the tunnel seems deep and long. However, what seemed to help me get through my little tunnel of darkness were the rhythms established in my home, particularly the ones I’ve created for my son’s environment. These rhythms helped me to focus on the series of events that have become the pattern of my toddler’s day, simple pleasures that can often be overlooked on a day to day basis. These rhythms helped me to find deeper meaning and confidence in each new day.

Petit World Citizen: Pumpkin Purée

I was recently introduced to a chapter about rhythm in home life in Rahima Baldwin Dancy’s book, You Are Your Child’s First Teacher. In it, Dancy explains the different stages of learning that children go through from birth to age six and provides insight on how to understand and enrich your child’s natural development. Dancy explains how creating a rhythmical home life is nourishing, not only for children, but also for parents. This chapter really resonated with me because I’ve often thought that part of my son’s happiness would, in large part, depend on the daily routines (rhythms) created in his home environment. Dancy goes on to practically guarantee that creating a rhythmical home life will also eliminate 80 percent of discipline problems. Why? She says:

Because the child is so centered in the body and in imitation, rhythm is one of the most important keys to discipline. It both guides the child’s life by creating good habits and helps avoid arguments and problems. So much of discipline for young children involves self-discipline on the part of adults: keeping regular rhythms in home life, working on your own patience and emotional responses…. 

Little fingers who like to test the cooking

Little fingers that like to explore what’s cooking up in the kitchen

While preparing breakfast in the mornings, I often like to start my day listening to classical music. When my two-year old hears the music he confidently says, oat-neal coming! As my pot of oatmeal cooks, he plays quietly and sometimes comes to me to say, lis-ning to cass-cal muzik, pano, Sho-pahn! His words make me smile every time and I can’t fully explain the joy I feel when I hear him recognize he’s listening to piano music, especially when the music playing IS indeed that of Chopin! He knows I’ll soon say À table!, a French phrase calling him to the table and letting him know the meal is ready. When I do, he quickly leaves his toys, books or whatever he is involved with to quickly come to the table to eat. After breakfast, the rhythm of the day continues. He has time to play and then we normally go out, perhaps to one of our parent/toddler classes, a play-date, or to a park. I often give him a heads-up, about 10 minutes in advance, before we leave our home. He then recites what he knows his next steps will be, pee-pee in toy-yet (toilet) first, put on shoes, then go down elevator, then zoom zoom in car (or stroller). After our outing, he often says, time for yunch, then continues to “remind” me time for dodo (sleep) will come next (he loves his naps!), along with everything else we do in the day all the way until it is bedtime and we continue the routines we’ve associated with preparing for sleep at night.

We move through this rhythmic dance every day, he and I. Although there are slight changes from time to time, the basic rhythms remains. They’re comforting and nourishing for him, and surprisingly for me as well. I now have a greater appreciation for these rhythmical creations that have helped us move through our day with ease, feeling more grounded, confident, patient and centered.

Petit World Citizen: Seasonal Spices

When I pass through the natural rhythms of the year, I sometimes take for granted the wonders of each seasonal change. This autumn I hope to be more mindful of all the ways this season can bring new meaning to me, my family and particularly my son. I encourage you to also explore ways to create nourishing rhythms for your days, weeks and years. If there are any activities you do to celebrate this season or the next, helping to raise awareness of the beautiful and rhythmical changes in nature that surround us, please let me know! I would love to hear about them!Petit World Citizen: Pumpkin Purée

To celebrate pumpkin season, I recently made one of my husband’s favorite breakfasts, Peach and Pumpkin Pancakes. I realize this is an unusual flavor combination as peaches and pumpkins are usually opposites from one another in terms of growing seasons. However, when combined, they pair deliciously together!

Here, peach and pumpkin come together in warm and inviting pancakes that evoke nostalgic memories of both summer and autumn with every bite. I hope you love them as much as my friends, family and I have loved making and eating them!

Petit World Citizen: Peach and Pumpkin Pancakes

Peach and Pumpkin Pancakes
Adapted from Deb Perelman’s Peach and Sour Cream Pancakes found in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

Makes eight 4-inch pancakes

½ cup pumpkin purée (see below)
½ cup sour cream or plant milk (I’ve used cashew cream, hemp milk, almond milk, or oat milk)
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of ground cardamom
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
coconut oil or butter for pan
1 peach, halved and pitted, very thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 250F. Whisk together the pumpkin purée, sour cream or milk, egg, vanilla and sugar in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined. The batter should still be a little lumpy.

Bring a cast-iron skillet (or your heaviest skillet for best browning) to medium-low heat. Melt coconut oil or a pat of butter in the skillet, and ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet. Leave at least 2-inches between the pancakes to allow the batter to spread out. Arrange two peach slices to cover the top of the batter. Let the first side of the pancake cook until the edges begin to dry and bubbles form on the top, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a wide spatula to get completely underneath your peach/pancake puddle and flip the pancake in one quick movement. If any of the peach slices move around, gently nudge them back into place and cook until the pancakes are golden and the peach slices are nicely caramelized. If you notice they’re browning too quickly, lower your heat.

Transfer pancakes to a tray and keep warm in the oven while you continue to make the rest of the pancakes.

Serve the pancakes warm, alone or with maple syrup.

Martine’s Notes:  I’ve made these pancakes with sour cream or plant milk. The consistency is a little thicker with sour cream, but I prefer to use plant milk simply because I often try to find ways to reduce our intake of dairy. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand. Both options make very delicious pancakes.

If you can only find fresh peaches but not pumpkins, canned pumpkin will also work. If peaches are not in season, you won’t be able to create the same look with the caramelized peach slices, but you can get a similar flavor by making a purée of pumpkin and frozen peaches to add to your batter.

Finally, if you have any on hand, a pinch of ground anise is also a nice addition to the combination spices.

Petit World Citizen: Pumpkin Purée

Pumpkin purée can be used in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin. It’s great to make at home as you can also freeze it in advance to ensure you’ll have plenty on hand to add to soups, desserts or other seasonal dishes. As a general rule, keep in mind that three pounds of fresh pumpkin will yield about three to four cups of purée.

Roasted Pumpkin Purée

Preheat oven to 350F. Choose 1-2 sugar pumpkins (the small ones, not the ones used for carving jack-o-lanterns). Slice the stem off then cut pumpkin in half, horizontally. Scrape out the pulp and seeds and place the halves cut side down in a baking dish (or sheet) with a few tablespoons of water. Roast in oven for 45 minutes to one hour, or until pumpkin is tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Scrape the flesh from the skin and purée in a high speed blender.

If you like you can then season the purée with salt and pepper. However, I prefer to keep mine unseasoned until I know if it will be used for something savory or sweet. Unseasoned, the purée can be used to make soups, pancakes, pumpkin bars, pumpkin pie and/or a variety of other seasonal dishes.

It’s World Vegetarian Day!

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The average age of a meat-eater is 63. I am on the verge of 85 and still at work as hard as ever. I have lived quite long enough and am trying to die; but I simply cannot do it. A single beef-steak would finish me; but I cannot bring myself to swallow it. I am oppressed with a dread of living forever. That is the only disadvantage of vegetarianism. - George Bernard Shaw

Petit World Citizen: Soba Noodles with Aubergine, Tofu and Peaches

World Vegetarian Day, observed annually on October 1st, was established by the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism. Initiating the month of October as Vegetarian Awareness Month, World Vegetarian Day also brings awareness to the ethical, environmental, health and humanitarian benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle.

Each year—for a variety of reasons—about a million people in the United States choose to become vegetarians and adopt a plant-based lifestyle. Common motivations include ethical, health, religious, and/or environmental concerns.

I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my adult life. Although it’s the diet I prefer and think best for me, I know a vegetarian lifestyle may not necessarily be the best for everyone. As I mentioned in a previous post, A Plant-Based Diet, the key to a healthy diet is not only what you eliminate in your diet, but also what you decide to add. Whether you’re an omnivore, pescatarian or vegetarian, adding more whole and plant-based foods is what is most import for optimal health. The evidence is clear, eliminating or reducing ones intake of meat can decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other ailments; it also mitigates the environmental pollution of animal agriculture.

So whether you’re a vegetarian or not, I invite you to celebrate World Vegetarian Day and Vegetarian Awareness Month by eschewing (or reducing your intake of) meat and finding new ways to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. Join others today in honor of World Vegetarian Day and let me know your thoughts on the key to living a healthy lifestyle.

Petit World Citizen: Soba Noodles with Aubergine, Tofu and Peaches

For lunch today, my little one and I enjoyed this simple, yet hearty vegetarian dish. I made it with some summer produce I was happy to still find at the farmers market over the weekend. However, I can imagine an equally delicious fall/winter version made with squash (delicata or kabocha, for example) and pears or apples. I would love to know if you come up with any interesting adaptations!

Soba Noodles with Tofu, Aubergine and Peaches
Recipe inspired by a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Serves about 2-4

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 package extra-firm tofu (about 14-ounces), cubed
olive oil
1 medium aubergine (eggplant), peeled and cubed
4 to 5 ounces of soba noodles
1 tomato, diced
1 peach, sliced
1 cup fresh parsley (or other herb like cilantro or basil), chopped coarsely
1/2 teaspoon red chile, finely chopped (optional)
avocado(s), sliced or cubed
sesame seeds

In a shallow pan combine vinegar, sugar, salt and sesame oil for a marinade. Allow tofu to sit and drain on paper towels. Cut tofu in cubes and add to vinegar mixture and allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes. In the meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet and sauté the eggplant until golden brown. Salt well and set aside.

Remove tofu from marinade and reserve the marinade liquid for later use. Using the same skillet used for the eggplant, sauté tofu until golden brown and set aside.

Add noodles to a pot of boiling water and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Drain again.

In a large mixing bowl, combine noodles with reserved liquid marinade. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt and sesame oil if necessary. Add tofu, eggplant, tomatoes, peach and parsley and toss gently. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with avocado for a nutrient boost.

Martine’s notes: For an interesting flavor addition, the zest and juice of one lime is also delicious.

In Ottolenghi’s recipe he does not add tofu, but suggests to add it if you want to turn this dish into a light main course. A similar sauce is used to flavor the noodles, I decided to use my sauce to also marinate the tofu, then added the excess to the noodles.

He does not peel his eggplant, but I do here as I knew it would be easier for my toddler to eat.

Finally, instead of a peach, Ottolenghi uses a mango. There are a few other differences, but those are the main ones.

Gorilla French

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I often get together with several French-speaking mothers with children about the same age as my little one. We meet at someone’s home and each bring a dish to share, and while our children play together or independently, we chit-chat about a variety of things—life, schools, travel plans, books, the news, etc. The last time we had met was just before summer started. So yesterday, it was nice to get together again to mark la rentrée.
Farro Salad
In August, France usually slows down—school is out and many restaurants and businesses close. Therefore, many of the French go on vacation for most of the month and are back in September for la rentrée—it signifies the end of vacation and life returning to normalcy—everyone returning home and going back to work; teachers and students going back to school, life continuing after a brief respite.

I always look forward to joining this group of très cool mamans françaises. I sit there, listening, absorbing, and learning nuances in conversation, new vocabulary and phrases. I should say, all of these women are lovely—funny, smart and interesting. Also, all are native French speakers, so whatever they say comes out sounding beautiful. And then… there’s me, the only non-native speaker in the bunch who understands French très bien, but “speaks” French…ahem, not so bien. I call it Gorilla French and sadly, there’s nothing beautiful about it.

Here’s part of my dilemma. As my French comprehension is quite good and I often understand the majority of what’s going on, I actually start to feel like I’m actually in the flow, and part of the conversation. Wow, I think, my French has improved. I smile inside. Bravo Martine! Please note, I’m quite aware of the false sense of security this provides because, as you may already know, reality has a funny way of helping one keep it real.

You see, invariably someone eventually turns to me to ask a question, a simple one: How was your summer Martine? Did you travel? Or, perhaps it’s, what’s the name of the grain in the salad you brought? And just like that, I’m jolted from my sweet French reverie and…temporary paralysis. My throat gets tight, hot and thick. I have to swallow before I can even think of speaking. Next, my heart begins to flutter like a bird in a trap. Ahem, water? Where’s my glass of water?! Eyes on me, I know the words. I hear them spoken beautifully in my head. I quickly respond with a 1-2 word phrase. Phew, that sounded okay! Then, a follow-up question requiring a few more sentences to respond, or perhaps etiquette reminds me it’s now my turn to respond with a question. Again, I know the words and they sound so beautifully spoken, in my head. I think to myself, I’ve got this, I can sound normal. Then out it comes, my gorilla French. Zut!

I’ve been thinking that I’ve been going at it the wrong way. The next time I get asked a question in that beautiful language of love, dreams and all things nice, before I start to struggle with a response I should just pull out what I call my fainting goat technique. I’m sure it would really work well as it’s a great thing to use for life’s stressful situations. When these goat feel startled, stressed or that trouble/danger is near, they just freeze and poof, they faint. It not only should work super well, its also quite funny. Hmm, a temporary solution for me, n’est-ce pas?

To compensate in advance for my gorilla speech, I brought this non-gorilla-like Mediterranean inspired farro salad.

Mediterranean Farro Salad
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup farro
1/3 cup kalamata olives, sliced in half
1½ tablespoons capers
1½ tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
15 cherry, halved or quartered depending on size
4 green onions, sliced thinly
1 small cucumber, sliced
1/4 bell pepper, sliced thinly and cut in 1/2-inch pieces

Vinaigrette
Juice of 1-2 lemons, about 3 tablespoons
1½ tablespoons honey (or other preferred sweetener)
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together all ingredients and set aside.

In a large pot of boiling water, add farro and simmer until just tender. Using a sieve, drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again, set aside and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, combine cooked and cooled farro, olives, capers, thyme leaves, tomatoes, green onions, cucumber and bell pepper. Add the dressing and gently mix everything together. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve.

 

A Plant-Based Diet

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Food writer Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and other books, re-defined what it means to eat smart when he shared his credo: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Super grains salad
Did you know that reducing your intake of animal products and embracing a plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for your health and the environment
? Now this doesn’t mean you have to become a vegan, or even a vegetarian, if you don’t want to. Small changes in your diet can yield big results. And, studies have proven that a plant-based diet—one based on vegetables, grains, legumes and fruit, with little or no animal products, including dairy—can reverse diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers promoted by scientifically generated foodstuffs, genetically modified foods and animal products.

As a vegetarian I should say that just being a vegan or vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a healthy diet. As a vegan, you could still eat highly processed foods like potato chips and french fries. The key to a healthy diet is to eat a low fat whole-food, plant-based diet and use minimally processed things. So, whether you’re an omnivore, pescatarian, vegan, vegetarian or any other diet configuration, one thing is certain, adding more whole and plant-based foods means more nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and less damaging fat—all needed for optimal health.

As a global public health professional, I’ve been interested in chronic diseases—obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other ailments—that have been on the rise here in the U.S., and in many other countries around the world. I’ve also been interested in strategies that reduce the incidence of morbidity and mortality from such diseases. Looking for links between diseases and their possible triggers—from diet and lifestyle to environmental and genetic factors—is fascinating. And everyday, research sheds more light on new ways to help people adopt healthier lifestyles and minimize or prevent their risk of getting disease. Part of the beauty of a adopting a plant-based diet is that it empowers us to be healthier and happier than we ever imagined possible!

In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading to sunny California to attend the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. I’m excited as many of the leading experts and researchers in the preventive and healing power of plant-based nutrition will be there to speak. I hope to blog and share any new and interesting information I glean while there. Until then, I’ll share a few plant-based recipes I’m making at home. Here’s a salad I made with super grains (a blend of white and red quinoa, millet and buckwheat), peaches and tofu. Nectarines would work just as nicely as peaches, so use whatever is available. I also added a handful of sugar snap peas for added color and texture.

Super Grains Salad with Peaches, Tofu and a Fresh Mint Vinaigrette
Serves 4-6

Adapted from Farmstand Fresh, Summer 2014

1 cup super grains mix*, well rinsed and drained
2 cups water
8 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
4 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper
3 peaches, sliced in ¼-inch wedges/slices
½ large English cucumber, cut in half and thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced

For vinaigrette
½ cup fresh mint, chopped finely
½ cup white wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

For serving
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, torn in small pieces
handful of sugar snap peas**, tough strings removed
4-5 cups salad greens (optional)

Make the Salad
Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a pot. Add grains, reduce heat, cover with lid and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat  and let stand covered for 5 minutes or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine tofu with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, add the tofu and cook over moderate heat, turning until golden, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, toss peach slices, cucumber and onion in remaining olive oil. Add cooled grains and tofu.

Make the Vinaigrette
Put the mint, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor and process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad mixture and toss gently to coat. Cover and refrigerate the salad for at least an hour.

To Serve
Just before serving, gently toss with the torn mint leaves and sugar snap peas. Serve alone or on a bed of fresh greens.

Notes:
* I used a super grain blend of red and white quinoa, millet and buckwheat. If you can only find quinoa, that’s fine. You can still make this salad with just quinoa.
**The finer you slice the peas, the prettier they will be in the salad, but if you’re in a hurry, you could simply chop them. Or, you can blanch them and leave them whole.

Blackberry and Raspberry Crumble Tart

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I had heard that freshly picked, sun-ripened blackberries were worth their weight in gold. Now I know why. Both tart and sweet, they have a perfume about them that far surpasses varieties bought in a store.

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All summer I’ve been getting fresh berries from our local farmers’ market. They’ve been so juicy and delicious. So when a friend recently invited me to join her and her kids to go berry picking on a farm, I jumped at the opportunity. How fun; especially since my little one LOVES berries! I knew he’d have a blast, and that he did. Just as quickly as I could pick the berries, he ate them. Before long his little hands, mouth and t-shirt were stained with berry juice.

If you have a chance to go berry picking, go! Or, visit your local farmers’ market and take a few pints home to enjoy them. As they say, they are worth their weight in gold.
After our trip to the farm, I decided to try an easy to make at home dessert that has been “trending” in the food blogosphere this summer, le crumble. Fruit crumbles, a whole variety of them, are popular in the summer, and with good reason. Summer fruits make wonderful crumbles! Well, since I had never made a crumble before, I thought I should finally join in on the fun. And, to try something a little different, I made mine a crumble tart.

Blackberry and Raspberry Crumble Tart*
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Apricot Crumble Tart in My Paris Kitchen

Dough
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
coconut oil or butter to coat pan

Crumble Topping
3/4 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoon unsalted butter, chilled

Filling
1 pound blackberries
1 pound raspberries
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon potato starch (corn starch or tapioca starch will also do)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

To make the dough: Remove the butter from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before you plan to use it and let it soften slightly in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add sugar and beat on medium. Add the egg yolks, then flour and salt. Mix until dough comes together.

Coat the bottom and sides of a 9″ or 10″ springform pan with coconut oil. Use your hands to press dough on the bottom of pan and about halfway up the sides, making it as even as possible. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

To make the crumble topping: Pulse almonds, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a food processor until the almond are broken to very small pieces. Add butter and pulse until your mixture resembles sand. If/when pieces start to clump together, stop pulsing.

Preheat oven to 375F

Line the chilled tart crust with aluminum foil and cover with a layer of pie weights or dried beans. Bake crust for 20 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until tart shell is browned.

To make the filling: In a large bowl combine berries, sugar, starch, vanilla and lemon juice.

Evenly transfer the filling to the tart shell and evenly distribute crumble topping over the berries. Bake the tart until nicely browned, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 5 minutes then run a sharp knife around the outside of the tart to separate it from the pan. Let rest for about 30 minutes then remove the sides of the springform pan and let the tart cool a little longer. Although the edges may appear dark, it should taste fine and not burnt. Serve at room temperature with or without a dollop of ice cream to top.

*Notes: I also tried a mixture of blackberries and apricots which was also quite good.

Black Beluga, the Caviar of Lentils

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Striking in appearance, black beluga lentils are said to be the caviar of lentils. Tiny, round and black jewels, they glisten when they’re cooked and look a lot like beluga caviar, the most prized of all caviar varieties.   IMG_4712
Unlike many lentil varieties that tend to disintegrate and become a bit mushy when cooked, beluga lentils hold their shape pretty well, which makes them great for salads, pilafs, or these starters that I recently served for dinner one evening. Here, I’ve put them on a bed of roasted eggplant dressed with a savory cashew cream sauce.

Beluga Lentils with Roasted Eggplant Canapés
2 medium eggplants, cut in ½-inch slices
½ cup olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
salt and pepper
1 cup black beluga lentils
2½ cups water
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dill, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
3-4 small carrots, julienned
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tomato, diced (or use ½ cherry tomatoes)

Savory Cashew Cream Sauce
1 cup cashew cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
sea salt

Preheat oven to 400F.

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Little fingers helped with the sprinkling of thyme and salt.

Place the slices of eggplant on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a small sharp knife to make two incisions. Brush well with olive oil. Sprinkle with thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Roast until browned, but not too soft, about 20 to 30 minutes. When done, allow to cool then move to serving tray.

Rinse lentils and drain. In a saucepan combine lentils with water, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain.

In a large bowl, combine hot lentils with 3 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, and salt and black pepper. Stir, taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. When the lentils are cool, add the dill, parsley and cilantro and gently stir. Set aside.

In another saucepan, sauté carrots in olive oil, a pinch of salt and brown sugar until softened. Add tomatoes. Sauté for about 30 seconds then remove from heat.

To make the sauce: Whisk together cashew cream, olive oil, and garlic and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning.

To assemble: Spread a small dollop of savory cashew cream sauce on eggplant slice. Add a layer of carrots (formed a little nest), followed by a spoonful of lentils. Garnish with tomato and herbs.

Notes: I also tried putting the carrots directly on the eggplant, followed by lentils then topped with savory cashew cream sauce, garnished with tomatoes.

Canapés are usually eaten with the fingers and often in one bite. Here, the roasted eggplant becomes soft and perhaps a little challenging for some to eat with fingers. For a more hearty base, sliced bread (like a baguette) could also work nicely as an added base with this recipe.

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