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 Red Lentil Soup recipe, but really, 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 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 (barley also works). 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: My adaptations were slight. I used olive oil instead of sunflower oil, and to thin out my soup, I added about a half cup more of water and coconut milk. To serve, I decided to ladle the soup over a bed of farro or barley.

*Rinse your red lentils with water, until the water is no longer murky, before cooking.

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 adapted from 101 Cookbooks

I hesitated to put this recipe up because I didn’t feel like I had nailed the miso flavor I wanted. I first used Three-Year Barley Miso, prized for its earthy aroma and robust, nourishing flavor. Although it’s flavor is nice, it’s also quite mild, especially for this soup. Perhaps a saltier miso would do better in this recipe, especially when paired with tahini. 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. In the end I decided to keep the recipe up because I think I will revisit it again. Until then, 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! Also, if you try this recipe, I’d love any feedback—positive or negative.

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 I used it instead. My miso was quite mild so i had to add a lot more paste. The next time I made miso I used white paste, but it still didn’t taste quite as flavorful as the miso I’ve had at restaurants. 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 my miso paste was so mild that the flavor of the tahini was way too overpowering. Next time, I’ll start with less tahini, perhaps just a teaspoon and add more according to taste preference. To help bring balance and more flavor (and saltiness), I not only added more miso paste, but also a splash or two of tamari (gluten-free soy sauce). That helped.

Since I was using barley miso, I decided to use barley as my grain of choice. Brown rice would work here too.

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, 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.

 

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