Warm Buckwheat Salad with Roasted Kabocha and Caper Berries

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Buckwheat SaladBuckwheat
~ by Carl Sandburg

There was a late autumn cricket,
And two smoldering mountain sunsets
Under the valley roads of her eyes.

There was a late autumn cricket,

A hangover of summer song,

Scraping a tune

Of the late night clocks of summer,

In the late winter night fireglow,

This in a circle of black velvet at her neck.



In pansy eyes a flash, a thin rim of white light, a beach bonfire

ten miles across dunes, a speck of a fool star in night’s half

circle of velvet.



In the corner of the left arm a dimple, a mole, a forget-me-not,

and it fluttered a hummingbird wing, a blur in the honey-red

clover, in the honey-white buckwheat. 

IMG_7819 (3)

When I came across this lovely poem by Carl Sandburg, I couldn’t help but think about love of the autumn season, the beloved the poem describes, and my growing interest in honey-white buckwheat.

Most of us in Western countries know little about buckwheat. Sure we may have heard of blinis (Russia’s famous small pancakes), elegant Japanese soba noodles, and the galettes and crêpes of Northern France—all made from buckwheat flour, but there’s so much more to the tiny triangular (and somewhat heart-shaped) seeds that give gray-ish color and an earthy flavor to the flour that make up those traditional dishes.

For years I’ve enjoyed exploring different ways to cook savory soba dishes, but it was only recently that I learned to appreciate the versatility of the seed/grain from which the soba noodles are made.

Raw Buckwheat Groats

Buckwheat, despite its name, is actually not a type of wheat. Technically a pseudo-grain, buckwheat is a seed of a plant related to rhubarb, sorrel, and knotgrass. Its seeds can be used in salads, porridges (like my Peach Buckwheat Porridge), or as an alternative to rice in risotto or pilafs. Ideal for vegetarians and vegans, buckwheat is a quality source of a complete vegetable protein, containing all essential amino acids. Gluten-free, buckwheat is also great for those sensitive to wheat or gluten.

Kasha, roasted buckwheatBuckwheat can be purchased in its hulled grain form (known as groats), as flour or as puffed buckwheat. In processed form, it can be purchased as pasta or noodles. You can buy the groats raw or toasted. Roasted buckwheat, referred to as kasha, is aromatic and has a distinctive and strong nut-like flavor. If you can’t find kasha, you can easily toast buckwheat groats. It only takes a few minutes and some would argue that it tastes better than buying commercial toasted buckwheat. Toasting raw buckwheat yields a milder flavor and lighter color. It really is a matter of preference. For some, buckwheat (raw and/or roasted) is an acquired taste. Its distinct earthy flavor can polarize people, but it grows on you the more you eat it. If you haven’t tried cooking with the raw kernels yet, I definitely encourage you to try it.

Buckwheat Salad

Buckwheat is so versatile. I’ve enjoyed exploring the many ways I can use it in my kitchen—from salads (like this one) to porridge to dessert (I recently made a delicious chocolate tart with toasted buckwheat).

Caper Berries

When I came across a recipe for warm buckwheat salad by Lakshmi, of the lovely and informative blog Pure Vegetarian, I knew I wanted to try my own version as soon as possible.

Kabocha Squash

I used kabocha squash and anasazi beans here, but almost any winter squash and legume would work well instead. Salads love to accessorize so feel free to try different herbs, beans, squash and nuts when you make your own version. If you can’t find caper berries, try green olives or nonpareil capers. I hope this salad inspires you to add a little more buckwheat to your table.

Warm Buckwheat Salad with Roasted Kabocha

Warm Buckwheat Salad with Roasted Kabocha and Caper Berries
Recipe adapted from Pure Vegetarian

1 small to medium kabocha squash (about 2 pounds)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon garam masala
salt
1½ cups water (or vegetable broth)
1 cup kasha (or buckwheat groats, toasted)
4-5 cups greens (I used a mix or baby arugula, baby spinach and other lettuces)
micro-greens or pea shoots
½ cup cooked beans (I used Anasazi beans)
1 cup caper berries
2-3 radishes, sliced thinly
¼ cup golden raisins
1-2 tablespoons almonds, sliced and toasted
1-2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, toasted

Dressing:
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of one lemon, or more
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Cut the kabocha squash in half, scrape out the seeds, then peel the hard skin and cut it into ½-inch pieces. Toss the squash pieces with olive oil, a large pinch of salt and garam masala and spread them onto a baking sheet. Roast the squash for 20-30 minutes, turning and mixing them a couple of times during the roasting time. The squash should be tender with some nicely browned spots. Allow squash to cool.

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil. Add kasha and stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until most of the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Fluff lightly with a fork.

Make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together in a small bowl. When kasha is done, toss with some of the dressing.

In a large bowl, combine greens, beans, caper berries, radishes and raisins. Add cooled and dressed kasha. Drizzle the rest of the dressing. Toss again and taste. Add salt if needed and adjust the amount of oil and lemon juice to your taste. Toss the squash in very gently at the last minute. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and sunflower seeds.

Notes: When using caper berries, you can take off the stems. I left mine on, just because I liked the look for the photos. Also, if preferred, you can cut the caper berries in slivers before adding them to the salad.

Buckwheat Salad

Hearty and Rustic Vegetarian Chili with Moist Cornbread

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Vegetarian Chili1

Over the weekend I entertained a few friends and made a large pot of this hearty and rustic chili, a warm welcome when the cool days of late autumn arrive. To make it a full meal, I served this chili with moist cornbread—a slightly sweet family favorite made with stone-ground corn and flavored with a hint of lemon thyme—the two compliment each other quite well and provide plenty of nourishment with their comforting flavors. Mildly spiced, this chili is perfect for causal dinners with friends or everyday meals.

Moist Cornbread

Moist Cornbread with lemon thyme

The chili consists of a jumble of legumes and grains—black Beluga lentils, two types of beans (azuki and anasazi beans), oat berries and barley. The combination of textures and flavors came together in beautiful, rustic simplicity.

Azuki (left) and Anasazi (right) beans

Shiny, deep red, and nutty in flavor, azuki (also known as adzuki) beans are considered the most digestible of beans. I used Japanese Hokkaido azuki beans. Grown in the rich volcanic farmland of Hokkaido, Japan, azuki beans grown there are said to be larger, sweeter, and better-tasting than any other azuki in the world. In Oriental medicine the azuki is reputed to have properties useful for healing kidney disorders. Azuki beans are a good source of phosphorus, potassium, iron and calcium, and contain some A & B vitamins. They also have the best carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of the colored beans.

Anasazi beans

Full flavored and mealy in texture, anasazi beans are perfect in any dish calling for beans. The Anasazi were cliff-dwelling native Indians who inhabited the Southwest dating back to 130 A.D. Anasazi is a Navajo word perhaps best translated as “the ancient ones”. Beautiful and nutritious, anasazi beans were one of the few crops cultivated by the Anasazi. An unusually tasty bean, they require no presoaking, cook in about 2/3 the time of most other beans, and are said to contain about 75% less of the gas-causing carbohydrates compared to pinto beans. Both beans are not only tasty, but also an excellent source of fiber, protein and iron.

I purchased both beans at my local Mom’s Organic Market. The brands of azuki and anasazi beans I used are Gold Mine Japanese Hokkaido Azuki Beans and Bob’s Red Mill Anasazi Beans, respectively. If you can’t find either of them locally—packaged or in the bulk section of your local health foods grocery store—you can purchase them online, directly through their site or on Amazon.

Chewy whole oat berries (also known as oat groats) provide a slight toasty sweetness and I used an ancient grain called Japanese Hato Mugi, also known as Job’s tears, that resembles large barley. Hato Mugi adds flavor and body to soups and stews that require lengthy cooking, such as Split Pea Soup. I also found this ancient grain at my local MOM’s Organic Market. If you can’t find it locally, you can purchase Hato Mugi online. Or, whole grain barley or pearl barley would also work well as a substitute.

Ancho chilies

Dried Ancho Chilies

Although this chili is mild, the ancho and chipotle chilies do give it a bit of a spicy kick, but if you want to take the heat up a notch or two, you can easily add a habanero pepper to the pot. If you don’t want it spicy, reduce the amount of chilies. Also, I added a bit of cocoa powder to lend a bit of darkness and depth to this hearty chili.

Vegetarian Chili

Hearty and Rustic Vegetarian Chili
Serves 8-10

1 cup azuki beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup anasazi beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
10-12 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
1 tablespoon ginger, crushed
2 chipotle chiles from canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 dried ancho chile
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted then ground
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
habanero chilies (optional, these are very hot!)
2 bay leaves
4-5 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon oregano, chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1¾ cups black lentils, rinsed and drained
¾ cup barley
¾ cup oat groats/oat berries
4-6 cups water or light vegetable stock
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
salt and freshly ground pepper

For garnish:
red onions, chopped
green onions, sliced thinly
cilantro, chopped
avocado, sliced and tossed in olive oil, fresh lime juice, salt and freshly ground pepper

Put azuki and anasazi beans into a large pot and cover with water. Liquid should be about 2-3 inches above the top of the beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, about 1½ hours. Season with salt and set aside.

In a very large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, ginger, chipotle chiles, ancho chile, cumin, sun-dried tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often until onions are soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add tomatoes stir for another 3 minutes.

Add beans and their cooking liquid, lentils, barley, oat berries and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until the beans, lentils, and grains are very tender (almost mushy) and all the flavors meld together, about 1-2 hours, maybe longer. Stir occasionally, adding more water if necessary. When chili thickens, add wine vinegar and cocoa. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt, pepper and more chiles if desired. Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Ladle into bowls and top with red onions, green onions, cilantro, and sliced avocados seasoned with fresh lime juice, olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve with cornbread and you have a full meal.

Notes: Like Beluga lentils, green lentils—French or Puy Lentils—continue to hold their shape when cooked. So if you can’t find black lentils, use green ones.

Other grains I considered using that could also work well in this recipe, instead of the ones used, are barley, kasha (roasted buckwheat), bulgar, and farro.

Moist Cornbread2

Moist Cornbread with Thyme
Serves 8

½ cup stone-ground cornmeal
1½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup coconut oil, plus more for baking dish
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs at room temperature, beaten
1¼ cups plant milk (I’ve used almond and hemp)
½-1 teaspoon thyme or lemon thyme leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with coconut oil.

In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add coconut oil, melted butter, eggs, plant milk and thyme (if using). Stir thoroughly.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Spread evenly and bake until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. The top should be golden and start to show some cracks.

Allow to cool slightly before cutting it into squares.

Notes: You can use any cornmeal, but stone-ground cornmeal tastes best and gives a nice little crunch in texture. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature, else the coconut oil will harden from the cold.

German-Inspired Green Split Pea Soup

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Split Pea Soup

Since antiquity, split pea soup has been a part of the cuisine of many cultures around the world. In Germany, Erbensuppe (split pea soup), used to be the food of men at sea as dried peas were easy to store and the soup was simple to make. Nowadays, the soup is quite common throughout the country, particularly during the cold winter months. It’s not yet winter here, but I like to begin cooking variations of split pea soup in the fall, when the temperature starts to drop, signaling the time for cozy sweaters, warm boots, hats and gloves is soon to come.

Depending on regional preferences, Germany’s Erbensuppe often contains meat such as bacon, sausage or Kassler (cured and smoked pork). Smoked paprika lends a nice hint of sultry smokiness in this vegetarian version. For added texture, and because I was just curious, I tried serving this split pea soup with a couple of different grains. One was spelt, the traditional grain of Germany.

Split Pea Soup with spelt berries

Spelt is an ancient relative of modern-day wheat that originated in the near East and later spread across Europe. It became very popular in Germany where it was farmed throughout the Middle Ages. Spelt has never been hybridized, so a lot of its original character has been retained since antiquity. It has a very chewy texture and sweet, nutlike flavor. It’s also a good source of iron. Please note that it’s best to soak spelt berries overnight before using it in hot cereals, pilafs, soups or salads.

The other grain I experimented with is an ancient grain called Japanese Hato Mugi (Job’s tears). Resembling large barley and less sticky than brown rice, it can be enjoyed alone, mixed with rice or in soup. Hato Mugi adds flavor and body to soups and stews that require lengthy cooking, such as split pea soups. Like spelt berries, it’s best to soak Hato Mugi overnight before cooking.

I was able to purchased Hato Mugi at my local health foods market, but if you can’t find it locally, you can purchase it online. Or, you can use whole grain or pearl barley as a substitute. Depending on your preference, you can cook your grain of choice in the soup with the split peas, or you can ladle soup on top of your grain.

Split Pea Soup with Japanese Hato Mugi

German-Inspired Split Pea Soup
Adapted from Saveur’s German Split Pea Soup 

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery root, peeled and shredded (or peeled and finely chopped)
salt
2 bay leaves
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon smoked paprika, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 pound green split peas, rinsed and drained
7 cups water or more
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Hato Mugi, barley or spelt berries*

Heat oil in a large pot, add onions and cook over medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Add garlic, celery, carrots, and celery root. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add bay leaves, thyme, smoked paprika and turmeric and cook 3 minutes. Add split peas and 7 cups water. If using Hato Mugi, barley or spelt berries, and you’d like to add your grain to the soup in advance, add them here, with the peas. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until peas are very tender, about 1 hour. If necessary, add more water. In general pea soup requires a long cooking time—until the peas are really soft and mushy.

Remove from heat. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Use an immersion blender and pulse a few times. Blend a portion of the soup leaving small chunks of peas and other vegetables. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper to your preference. Ladle into bowls and serve. For garnish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.

Ribollita: A Classic Tuscan Soup

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When Leonardo da Vinci set out to paint his famous portrait, the Mona Lisa, he took much time to consider the most appropriate background. The scenery had to enhance her physical beauty, not overwhelm it, and it had to evoke the viewer’s idea of paradise. His solution was to paint the landscape dearest to his heart, the land of his birth: Tuscany.

Ribollita

Tuscany’s epic beauty is what dreams are made of—sun-drenched farmhouses, beautifully curved hills, romantic vineyards lost in the rolling countryside—it’s a land that straddles the fence that divides reality from imagination.

It’s been said that the beauty of Tuscany, the land of ruby nectar, reaches its maximum form of expression in a glass of red wine, but due to Tuscany’s complex history and civilization, Tuscan cuisine has also scaled culinary heights. Much like it’s landscape, Tuscany’s food is often clean, rustic and simple. Meals come together with a savvy mix of vegetables, beans, bread, a good dose of golden olive oil, and favorite aromatics—thyme, rosemary, and fennel. Ribollita, a famous Tuscan soup, is a perfect example. Made with vegetables, fresh herbs and bread, this rustic soup is gently simmered so the flavors meld together beautifully.

An icon of Tuscan cuisine, ribollita literally means “reboiled.”  The soup has its origins in the Middle Ages when servants would gather food-soaked bread from their lords’ tables and boil them with vegetables and herbs for their own food. The following day, the soup was reheated (reboiled) and was found to be even more flavorful. Since then, the dish has evolved from peasant food to high-end Italian cuisine, but the ingredients haven’t changed too much. Although there are as many ways to make ribollita as there are cooks, all versions include onions, carrots, celery, white beans, cavolo nero (Tuscan kale or Lacinto kale), olive oil and Tuscan bread. When it’s chilly outside, this thick and hearty vegetable stew is a satisfying way to warm and fill you and can easily become the trend for winter’s coldest months.

La Ribollita

La Ribollita
Serves 6

1 large (or 2 medium) red onion, chopped
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced in small rounds or diced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 large white or gold potato
1 tablespoon tomato paste
14-ounces plum tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound cavolo nero (Lacinto kale, Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale), stems removed and leaves chopped well
5-7 cups vegetable broth, or more for desired consistency
3 cups white beans, cooked (I used flageolet)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 large slices of Tuscan bread, crusts removed
olive oil
garlic, crushed
fresh rosemary sprigs, torn
fresh basil, for garnish
fennel fronds, for garnish (optional)
lemon juice, (optional)
baguette slices, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large pot, sauté onion in oil for a minute or so, then add leek and fennel and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add carrots, celery and potato and sauté until the vegetables have softened a bit, about another 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir for 1-2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, parsley, basil, thyme, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, kale, 5 cups of broth, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, purée half of your beans with a little water, adding more if necessary to become smooth. Remove bay leaves. Add bean purée and whole beans to the pot. Taste and add salt and pepper. Continue to simmer.

Tear bread into chunks. Toss with olive oil, garlic, salt and rosemary leaves. Bake until dry, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and when cool enough to handle, add them to the soup. Stir well and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.

To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with basil leaves, fennel fronds and a splash of lemon juice.

If there’s any soup left over the next day, reheat (reboil) the soup, stirring well to break up the bread slices. The soup should be so thick you could probably stand a fork in it. If desired, add more liquid and serve with a traditional drizzle of golden olive oil.

Notes: Ribollita soup can get very thick, especially the following day. If necessary, add more broth to achieve your desired consistency.

Ribollita is traditionally made with cannellini, a white kidney bean, but other white beans are also acceptable. As I had a lot of flageolet beans on hand, I used them instead. Although you can use canned beans, I would highly recommend using dry beans instead. To make ribollita with dry beans, first soak the beans overnight in plenty of cool water, then drain, cook in plenty of fresh water. Keep in mind that 1¼ cups of dried beans will yield about 3 cups of cooked beans.

I used toasted Tuscan bread in the soup and served the soup with garlicky, rosemary toasted baguette slices. Tuscan bread is available in many cities, but if you cannot find it, substitute with any dense, crusty bread.

Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil

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I look for ‘drama in the mouth’ when eating…I am always on the lookout for bursts of pronounced flavors. – Yotam Ottolenghi, renowned chef and author

Thai Red Lentil Soup

I’ve been deeply absorbed in London-based, Jerusalem-born Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Plenty More, since it was released earlier this month. Like Plenty, it’s filled with recipes that make vegetarian food sexy and seductive. I’m absolutely in love with all the fresh combinations, textures, spices and bold flavors. When his Thai red lentil soup caught my eye I knew I had to try it right away. Yes, I know I recently posted another recipe for red lentil soup (Coconut Red Lentil and Squash Soup), but can you have too many recipes for lentil soup? I think not. This one is great, especially if you like Thai food. It’s fresh, creamy and loaded with traditionally Thai flavors that come from lemongrass, Kaffir leaves, and spicy red curry paste. Finished by a drizzle of spicy and aromatic chili oil, this soup is a perfect companion for those cool fall and winter days.

Ottolenghi advises to skip the the topping of sugar snap peas if you prefer your soup with no “interruptions,” that is, totally smooth. Also, you can do without the spicy oil, choosing to drizzle your soup with a good savory sauce instead, but with hints of star anise, curry and fresh ginger, the oil is definitely aromatic and something to try!

As I love eating soup with grains, we enjoyed this of soup over a bed of farro. If you’ve tried any recipes from Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, please let me know. It will help me determine which recipe I should try next!

Thai Red Lentil Soup

Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil
Slightly Adapted from Plenty More

4 oz/120 grams sugar snap peas
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (1½ cups/160 grams)
1½ tablespoon vegetarian red curry paste
2 lemongrass stalks, gently bashed with a rolling pin
4 fresh Kaffir lime leaves (or 12 dried)
1¼ cups/250 grams red lentils*
1 cup/250 ml coconut milk
1½ tablespoons lime juice
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup/15 grams cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
salt

2-3 cups cooked farro

Chile-infused oil**
¾ cup/180 ml sunflower oil
1 banana shallot, or 2 regular shallots, coarsely chopped (½ cup/50 grams)
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon peeled and coarsely chopped fresh ginger
½ red chile, coarsely chopped
½ star anise pod
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon tomato paste
grated zest of ½ small lemon

First make the chile oil. Heat 2 tablespoons of the sunflower oil in a small saucepan. Add the shallot, garlic, ginger, chile, star anise, and curry powder and fry over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the shallot is soft. Add the tomato paste and cook gently for 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining oil and the lemon zest and simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.

For the soup, bring a small pan of water to boil and throw in the sugar snap peas. Cook for 90 seconds, drain, refresh under cold water, and set aside to dry. Once cool, cut them on the diagonal into slices 1/16-inch/2-mm thick.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large pot and add the onion. Cook over low heat, with a lid on, for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onion is completely soft and sweet. Stir in the red curry paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the lemongrass, lime leaves, red lentils, and 3 cups/700 ml water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the lentils are completely soft.

Remove the soup from the heat and take out and discard the lemongrass and lime leaves. Use a blender to process the soup until it is completely smooth. Add the coconut milk, lime juice, soy sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt and stir. Return the soup to medium heat, and once the soup is almost boiling, ladle into bowls. Scatter the snap peas on top, sprinkle with cilantro, and finish with ½ teaspoon chile oil drizzled over each portion.

Notes: Please note, the soup is a bit spicy, even without the chile oil. If you don’t enjoy things too spicy, you might want to slightly decrease the amount of curry paste and/or add more coconut milk. This is what I did so my son and husband could eat it with comfort.

My adaptations were slight. I used olive oil instead of sunflower oil, and to thin out my soup, and make a portion less spicy, I added more of water and coconut milk. To serve, I decided to ladle the soup over a bed of cooked farro (barley would also work).

*Rinse your red lentils with water, until the water is no longer murky, before cooking.
**As you’ll make more chile oil than you need for the soup, keep it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to a month. You can use it to drizzle over other soups, salads and grilled dishes.

Hearty Kale and Kabocha Salad with Farro and Apple

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We normally think of greens, like kale, as cooking vegetables, but they also make excellent fresh salads. In the fall and winter, it’s nice to pair greens with hearty and hardy ingredients like squash, grains, fruit, nuts and seeds.

Kale and Kabocha Squash SaladIn this delicious and simple salad chock full of flavorful and nutritious ingredients, thin strips of kale are softened with a light lemony dressing and combined with a savory-sweet blend of roasted kabocha squash, farro, apples, walnuts, cranberries, olives, and capers to give it a depth of flavor. A subtle touch of walnut vinaigrette brings it all together.

Lacinto kale (also known as Dinosaur kale or Tuscan kale)

Lacinto kale (also known as Dinosaur kale or Tuscan kale)

Kale and Kabocha Salad with Farro and Apple
Serves about four

1 small (about 2 pounds) kabocha squash
1 bunch of lacinto kale (also called dinosaur kale or Tuscan kale)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup cooked farro
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 apple (or pear)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in slivers
2 tablespoons non-pareil capers
pumpkin seeds, for garnish

Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon walnut oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper

Kale and Kabocha Salad

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut kabocha squash in half, scrape out the seeds and trim off all the very hard skin (this will require a bit of some elbow grease!). Cut the squash in 1-inch cubes and toss with a little olive oil and salt. Roast in oven until soft, turning once or twice, about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

Remove thick stems from kale and discard. Stack the leaves, roll them into a tight bundle, then slice very thinly to achieve a shredded look. You should have about 4-5 cups of kale which will shrink a bit after this next step: toss kale with about a tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Set aside and let stand about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast walnuts in a dry pan or oven until fragrant, about 7-8 minutes. Allow to cool. Slice apple (or pear) thinly. Add farro, walnuts, apple, cranberries, olives, capers and vinaigrette to kale. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt or vinegar if needed. Note, however, olives and capers are already salty. At the last minute, gently toss in cooled, roasted kabocha. Serve and garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Notes: Variations are easy and plenty with this salad so feel free to make it your own. You can substitute farro with wheat berries, oat berries or kamut berries (just be sure to soak the berries overnight before cooking). A pear can be used instead of an apple; slivered almonds or pine nuts instead of walnuts; and raisins, currants or chopped dates instead of cranberries. If you’d like, add arugula to this salad for a nice peppery bite. Also, you can try a different variety of kale, like Russian kale.

I used an organic Spy apple I found at the farmers market over the weekend.

I used an organic Spy apple I found at the farmers market over the weekend.

Low-Tech Parenting & Miso Tahini Soup

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[Media is] the biggest competitor for our children’s hearts and minds.
-–Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Pediatrician 

Miso Tahini Soup

Last month the New York Times had an interesting article titled, Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent. In it, the author writes how Steve Jobs—along with a number of other technology chief executives and venture capitalists—significantly limited his children’s screen time. And why wouldn’t he? He’s seen the dangers and concerns of technology firsthand. Two-year-olds who are exposed heavily to screen time are more likely to become excessive television viewers by the age of six. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that TV viewing habits developed early in life tend to persist later in life.

Before our son was born, my husband and I made a decision to keep television and videos out of baby’s first three years of his life. The evidence about TV’s adverse effects on children’s development is so overwhelming that we were determined to keep it out and give our child every opportunity to thrive. Instead of using technology to fire his neurons, we were forced to be more creative and tried lighting them up with real–life experiences: the sound of our voices (singing, reading and speaking to him regularly), the feel of grass under his feet, the smell of flowers, water running through his fingers. Our little one is now two years old and I think our decision to keep television and DVDs at bay has been one of the best things we’ve done to impact his early childhood development.

Feeling grass under his feet

Getting a feel for grass under his tiny feet

There are so many “edutainment” and “infantainment” DVDs, like the Baby Einstein series, that want you to believe these videos will help give your baby a learning advantage. But there’s actually no evidence to support such claims. We know what gets baby’s neurons all lit up—meaningful interactions with adults, not passive interaction with a screen. In 2007, the Journal of Pediatrics released a study indicating that, for every hour per day that babies 8-16 months old were shown infantainment videos they knew 6-8 fewer words than other children. According to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, one of the researchers from the study, “For them, it isn’t a day at the farm at all; it’s just a series of stimuli coming at them full throttle. They will sit in front of the 30-minute feature not because they are interested in the content but because they are biologically programmed not to look away.”

As a stay-at-home mom without a nanny or family living nearby to help, admittedly, there have been times—baby was screaming; I had a deadline; I was busy in the kitchen; I needed to make a quick phone call—I felt like it would be so easy to put him in front of the TV for a short time so I could get some things done. However, I’m really glad I never gave in. The more I researched about the issue, the more committed I was to being a low-tech parent. Now, I also strictly limit my son’s exposure to the iPhone, iPad and computer. I know that eventually TV and other screens will be introduced in his life, but I’m pretty certain that the creative skills he’s learning to cultivate now, without the help of a screen, will be invaluable for years to come.

As babies learn from using all of their senses, we’ve also tried to stimulate our son’s sense of taste by introducing him to culturally diverse cuisines. In my last post I mentioned how he ADORES miso soup and often asks for it at every meal, including breakfast! Although we have a great Japanese restaurant nearby, I decided I should start trying to make different types of miso soup. I’m hoping to come up with several versions of miso soup, not only because it’s simple to make and my son likes it so much he’d have it injected into his veins if he could, but also because I’m pretty sure our restaurant’s miso may not be fully vegetarian….

Miso Tahini Soup

Miso Tahini Soup
Recipe slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks

At first I thought the flavor combination (miso and tahini) was bizarre, but I was intrigued by the fusion of Japanese and Middle Eastern flavors. So I was happy to try it. I also liked the addition of delicata squash and avocados, favorites in our home. The two add wonderful texture and flavor to the soup. If you have a favorite vegetarian miso paste/miso soup recipe that you use regularly, please share! I (and my toddler) would love to know!

1 small-medium delicata squash, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch crescents
1 medium white turnip, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
4 cups water
4-6 tablespoons miso paste, or to taste
tahini, to taste (see notes)
zest of one lemon

2-4 cups of cooked barley
1-2 avocados, sliced
1-2 green onions, sliced
roasted seaweed, crumbled, for garnish
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Add the squash and turnips to a large pot, cover with  water, and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool just slightly. Pour a few tablespoons of the hot water into a small bowl and whisk in the miso (to thin it out a bit–this step is to avoid clumping). Stir the thinned miso back into the pot along with the tahini, and lemon zest. At this point, taste, and adjust the broth to your liking, it might need a bit more miso (for saltiness)…or more tahini.

To serve, place a scoop of barley in each bowl along with some of the squash and turnips. Ladle broth over the barley and vegetables. Finish with a few slices of avocado, a sprinkling of green onions, seaweed, and sesame seeds.

If you have leftovers and need to reheat the soup, you’ll want to do so very gently. The nutritional benefits of miso are compromised when boiled.

Notes: The original recipe from 101 cookbooks called for white miso, as I had a bottle of Three Year Barley Miso paste on hand  the first time I made this I used it instead. It miso was quite mild so I ended up having to use a lot more paste and a little soy sauce. The next time I made this I used white miso paste, and it was a little stronger and tastier. If you try this, feel free to experiment with other types or blends of miso, keeping in mind that some are saltier than others. If you’re unsure, add the miso paste gradually. As mentioned above, if you have a favorite miso paste, please let me know.

The original recipe called for 1/4 cup of tahini, but I’d recommend to start with less tahini, perhaps just a teaspoon and add more according to taste preference.

Technically, you can eat the skin of any squash so kabocha squash, or any other winter squash, can be used as an alternative to delicata squash. However, please note the skin of some squash are harder than others. Delicata squash is nice to use here because it has a thin skin which is barely detectable when cooked.

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.

Russian kale

Russian kale

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.

Kale

Russian kale at top, Lacinto kale (also known as dinosaur kale)n in the center, a little Curly-leaf kale at the bottom center

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 kale (Lacinto kale or curly leaf kale can also be used)
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 (also known as red kabocha), 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 (also known as red kabocha) 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 sentences 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/red kabocha 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.

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