Vegetable Spanish Rice, But Not Paella

The New York Times featured an article recently titled “7 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed How We Shop for Food”. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Americans are spending more money at the supermarket today than at restaurants where other people prepare their food. Amidst this rise in home cooking, people are also moving to more complex ways of cooking, which includes a variety of grains, a staggering 600% increase in sales of yeast, and an uptick in demand for dried beans which has remained through the summer even after the initial “stock the pantry” craze of the spring. I admit, I purchased a 10 lb bag of rice that I’m stilling working on.

There is no downside to having a 10 lb bag of rice in the pantry. We love experimenting with deconstructed and mixed rice and grain bowls in our house. And my favorite kitchen gadget HANDS DOWN is my Instant Zest Rice and Grain Cooker. This little love has multiple settings that adjust timings for the types of rice or grain you are cooking. I literally switch it on to help the kids with remote learning or finish up a work Zoom or lock myself alone in the bathroom and cry and it makes perfectly hot, fluffy rice every time.

This week I thought I’d try a short-cut version of a paella swapping out the meat for a variety of Mediterranean vegetables. Traditional paella requires cooking the rice directly in a cast iron skillet and simmering it for a long period of time without turning it creating a thick, crunchy rice crust. This quick version infuses the rice with smoky and salty flavors directly in the rice cooker, and highlights all the complex flavors of smoky Spanish saffron, briny olives, sweet fennel, roasted peppers and hearty artichokes but with much less effort. So while this Vegetable Spanish Rice is not a traditional paella, I wasn’t at all disappointed with the results.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups jarred or whole artichokes packed in water, quartered, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 yellow and 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalks removed and cut into thin slivers
  • 1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper

In the rice cooker add rice, vegetable broth, tomatoes, paprika, and saffron. Stir to combine then close lid and turn on cooker. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss artichokes, peppers and olives with 2 TB olive oil on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast about 20 -25 minutes, or until vegetables are browned around the edges. In a large skillet or dutch oven (I used my Staub), add 2 TB olive oil and minced garlic with fennel and onion and cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off heat, add the roasted vegetables and peas to that same dutch oven and combine. Stir in the hot cooked rice and top with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Serve hot.

My son and I both recently celebrated our birthdays and enjoyed the tail end of summer with beautiful views, great food, and home cooked meals.

Summer Rustic Herb Linguini

It’s August, and that means the long hot days of humidity smelling like wet grass are followed by roaring thunderstorms and heavy rains all through the night. And if you garden, this is most certainly your garden’s favorite time of year! For me, this means harvesting the beautiful bounty of fresh herbs that have been growing wild and with abundance in my planters.

Many summer pasta recipes depend on sweet aromatic basil, but this Summer Rustic Herb Linguini is a simple dish that features an surprising twist by combining bright mint, woody thyme and bitter parsley all tangled with linguini and tossed in a briny sauce of capers, olives, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a fresh pop of garlic. It is a rich and flavorful bite that requires minimal effort, and best of all complements any seasonal vegetables and grilled proteins to help honor these summer months.

The key to using fresh herbs in a recipe is in how you harvest and store the plants. Fresh herbs are best harvested in the early morning before the heat of the day. They will stay fresh wrapped in a damp paper towel in the refrigerator for the day until ready to prepare and serve.

If you do not grow your own herbs, there are plenty of proven tips on keeping herbs fresher for longer from the grocery store. First, trim the stems and place the herbs in a glass of cold water, but be careful not to immerse the leaves. Basil is an herb that thrives uncovered at room temperature sitting on a sunny windowsill in a cup of water. All other tender leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, and tarragon should then be covered loosely with a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator. For heartier leafy herbs like rosemary, mint, thyme, sage and chives, you can store these in the refrigerator in a cup of water and then cover loosely with a plastic bag, but the leaves may actually stay fresher if immersed in water. I recently stored fresh mint completely submerged in a covered Tupperware container of chilled water for two weeks and it stayed bright, fresh and crisp. Just make sure to change the water on herbs every few days, like you would for fresh flowers.

pasta close-up

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 lb linguini
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons drained nonpareil capers
  • ½ freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and pepper

Prepare the herb mixture by placing the olives, capers, diced herbs, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, while pasta cooks. Drain pasta then stir all together in large serving bowl to ensure flavors come together. Salt to taste, and enjoy!

glencoe beach

Harissa Roasted Fennel, Carrots and Potatoes

The term “tapas” refers to small delectable portions of any kind of Spanish cuisine, served either cold or hot. Tapas can be simple in preparation but sumptuous in presentation, and really shine when they are complementary with flavorful vegetables, humble grains, and hearty proteins. While this week’s recipe isn’t a traditionally Spanish recipe, it is a versatile and inspired dish that combines briny Spanish olives with spicy North African harissa paste along with rich roasted root vegetables, and can be served as a small plate or main dish. Lemony black lentils and nutty tempeh were served as the main protein with mine, but any fish or red meat would work well too. This particular spicy harissa paste was a cheap and lucky find at Trader Joe’s but the Mina brand also offers a milder and sweeter version that is available at grocery stores. Altogether, this was an amazingly simple and unforgettable one-sheet-wonder that has already been repeated quite a few times in our household.

Ingredients:

  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced into long rectangles
  • 1-2 lbs baby potatoes
  • 1-2 TB Trader Joe’s harissa paste (it’s spicy, so flavor to taste)
  • 1/2 cup green olives with pimento and 1 TB olive brine
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and pepper

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Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Add sliced fennel, carrots and whole baby potatoes on large baking sheet and toss to coat with olive oil. Roast for 15 minutes then remove carrots and fennel and place in large serving bowl. Continue roasting potatoes for additional 15-20 minutes. When done, add roasted potatoes and green olives to the serving bowl then coat with harissa paste, olive brine and squeezed lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm.

Vietnamese Spring Roll Salad

After years of unsuccessfully trying to roll a simple rice wrapper, today I finally tossed the remnants of my pitiful efforts into the garbage and made a quick deconstructed version instead. The end result might be one of my new favorite vegan and gluten-free lunches – the Vietnamese Spring Roll Salad!

By no means novel, this salad certainly fit the bill for me and highlights some mind-blowing Asian condiments I discovered in recent months – Tsang Bangkok Peanut Sauce and Japanese Rice Seasoning. Over the years, my kids have also grown to really love mung bean (or “glass” or “cellophane”) noodles tossed with a sesame oil and soy sauce dressing, so I tend to keep these ingredients pretty stocked up in the pantry, which came in handy today.

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The bed of fluffy cool lettuce and crunchy vegetables tossed with sweet, pungent herbs of basil and mint are woven with strings of salty cold noodles and topped with extra cold, extra firm tofu right out of the fridge to make a really light lunch that is packed with protein. Glass noodles contain no sugar or cholesterol, and even though they are high in carbohydrates they have actually been proven to rate as a low-glycemic carbohydrate. If you’re note a fan of uncooked tofu, baked or fried would work or even edamame as an alternative – there’s no wrong way to do this. The best part is that the ingredients can be doubled or tripled and will last in the fridge all week.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups chopped lettuce (any kind will work)
  • 1 Persian cucumber or 1/2 seedless English cucumber, diced with skin on
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 TB basil, chopped
  • 1 TB mint, chopped
  • 1/3 block of extra firm tofu, cut into 1” cubes
  • 1/2 – 1 cup cooked Vermicelli “glass” mung bean noodles
  • 1 TB soy sauce or tamari sauce
  • 1 ts sesame oil
  • 1 TB Bankgkok Peanut Sauce, diluted with 1 TB water to make a creamy salad dressing
  • 1 TB Nori Komi Furikake Rice Seasoning

Boil noodles for 6 minutes on medium heat, then drain and immediately rinse under cold water to cool temperature. Keep in mind the noodles comes in dry blocks with 8 to a packet so you’ll likely need to cook one to two blocks at a time and keep the leftovers. Toss with the sesame oil and soy sauce and let sit while you prep the components of the salad. Slowly mix in the noodles, top with cubed tofu, rice seasoning and peanut dressing.

Tuscan White Bean, Kale and Acorn Squash Soup

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” – Henry David Thoreau

In preparing for the Thanksgiving week of feasting, I recently found an absolutely addictive and delicious vegan version of a white bean, kale and sausage soup recipe from Veggie Society using puréed acorn squash and leek as the broth base, and I have happily made four times already! Like me, most people are familiar with sweet roasted butternut squash tossed with fall spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, but to my surprise the acorn squash purées into a very smooth and surprisingly buttery soup base with a mild sweetness which pairs really nicely with fresh Italian spices like rosemary and thyme. I love the simplicity of cooking with ten ingredients or less, and I especially love a good soup to stock up the fridge all week, and this is one is going to be my new standby this year!

Ingredients

  • 1 acorn squash, seeded and diced into chunks
  • 1 bag or bunch of Tuscan kale, chopped
  • 15 oz can Cannellini beans, extra can if you like it chunkier
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 package of any vegetarian Italian sausage (we prefer Trader Joe’s brand but also enjoy Lightlife brand), sliced
  • 2 TB Better Than Bouillon soup base OR 10 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 TB fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 TB olive oil

Sauté leeks with olive oil and garlic in a soup pot on medium heat until wilted and started to caramelize. Toss in acorn squash along with rosemary, thyme and bay leaves then add vegetable broth or 10 cups water with Better Than Bouillon and stir everything together. Once boiling, turn down to simmer and let cook for 25 minutes, or until squash is soft. Remove bay leaves then use hand blender to purée everything into a very smooth thick consistency. Stir in the beans, sausage and kale, then let simmer for another 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. According to original recipe your can also add lemon, red pepper or liquid smoke for additional flavor. So easy!

The TJ’s Salad

As a parent, I really struggle with dietary labels. The other day I filled out a work conference form and was requested to list my dietary needs. In the past, I have written “Vegetarian” and was always disappointed with the limp vegetables smothered in cream sauce that arrived at my table and which prompted burdensome questions from other guests. Then I switched to “Pescetarian” because at least I can indulge in a rare piece of fish while showing my table neighbors that it’s acceptable to talk to me because we are all consuming a form of meat together.

But lately, I’ve also cut most cheese and eggs from my diet, which is confusing because it’s more than just Pescetarian, and I recently learned that dairy doesn’t include eggs because eggs aren’t dairy. Just cheese and milk is dairy. News to me! But I do still use a dab of cream in my tea every morning, which isn’t a problem until someone says I’m a “Vegan” and then I feel like an imposter. Because I  don’t consider myself a vegan either. And I mean, Oreos are vegan and there are fat vegans out there so what does that label even mean to me at this point in my life? Labels just seem to make people confrontational and a little bit angry. It’s like people think I’m showing up with protest signs or have starved myself for days with this radical diet before I come over for dinner. And to complicate matters more, I also stopped drinking coffee a few months ago because I never much liked the taste and frequently had indigestion, so now people think I don’t do caffeine – which I do. I drink endless cups of highly caffeinated tea every single day.

Then I observe endless variety of creative and socially acceptable response cards on tables from “Meatless Friday” (during Lent), “Meatless Monday” (I guess that’ s a label now?), and of course the obligatory allergy needs “No Nuts”. My younger son is allergic to walnuts and pecans – a very clear and easy label – and risk of death is definitely an exception to my plight and that never provokes a response. I recently joined a Facebook group called “80% WFPD (whole food plant based) which when I tried to describe it to a friend just sounded comical. Why can’t I just say “feed me something that isn’t bad, and is digestible with vegetables and some healthy plant-based protein to get me through the next few hours”??

So lately I have begun to identify myself as a Nutritarian. This term was developed and mass marketed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his popular book “Eat to Live”. It refers to a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet supporting impressive long-term health benefits which is backed by science. So basically if you’re going to eat 100 calories, you want to eat 100 calories of food that makes you feel fuller for longer with more energy and is packed with vital vitamins and minerals. And if you really wanted to get into an ethical debate, you could talk about the biology of human evolution and what we now know about early human diets, or you could talk about how the archaic food pyramid was updated to My Plate in 2011 which is more inclusive of plant-based nutrition, and you could  debate the impact of global farming on our planet and climate change. BUUUUUT I won’t do that today. The recent documentary “The Gamechangers” does a great job explaining all this, so just watch that instead.

What I do really like about this label of Nutritarian is that it moves away from the morality of what I eat and focuses more on the science. It’s also a term that seems less scary to others and maybe a bit more progressive in terms of the food pyramid. I still eat bread and pasta every day, but sprouted grain bread and whole wheat pasta. In fact, I literally eat ALL THE TIME. I am aware of high level protein sources now that I never thought of beyond beans and tofu before like quinoa, oatmeal, peas, and seeds. I eat more calcium from one plate of greens than I would have gotten from a glass of milk. I sleep better and I’m slightly more motivated to move my body, but that may be because I’m also drinking in moderation these days — like, not EVERY DAY. Just when it’s been a shit day or I want to date my husband every now and then. And as a parent, I strive to educate my kids on what they put into their bodies and how it effects them, now how other people label them or whether they should feel shame about eating a turkey sandwich every now and then at school. Which they do.

Anyway, with the recent fall weather quickly transitioning to snow, I was craving a hearty green and grain salad this week and stopped by Trader Joe’s to pick up a few of my favorites. Trader Joe’s has a nice variety of precooked, prepackaged items that really make a great dish when you’re in a pinch, either for one or served on a large platter for a holiday crowd. This time I used their Cruciferous Crunch Salad as a base with a selection of cooked beets, kalamata olives, Persian cucumbers, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, farro and a giant bag of fresh haricot green beans which I blanched for 5 min but could also be eaten raw. Other variations I love from their refrigerated section include the precooked brown lentils and the fingerling potatoes. In place of farro you could also throw in some quinoa or rice. I topped it off with some lightly pan fried Lightlife bacon for more of a cobb salad flavor. I typically use balsamic vinegar for dressing, but tahini mixed with lemon juice is pretty amazing if you don’t want anything dairy-based. I also grabbed a little ginger lemon kambucha back tea for $2.99 – mwuah! Love it. So no real recipe today folks, just some tidbits on great plant-based food options in a one-stop shop that I enjoyed this week.

Chickpea Chile Verde

It’s been the start of another busy school year – 1st and 3rd grade. Hard believe it when the Facebook memories pop up and I see my little beanie babies in their diaper butts. It’s all so bittersweet. After years of loving on mommy my 9 year-old is all into daddy now. They play Roblox and Minecraft on separate computers with headsets on talking to each other, even though they are merely feet apart. My husband’s avatar is aptly named “dinkydorkdad” or something along those lines so as not to be the misunderstood adult creeping around the kids online gaming worlds. They play Pokemon and trade Magic the Gathering cards all hours of the day.  My younger son is learning from his elders and follows suit. I hear the boys in our basement right now laughing and screaming “I broke my penis! Penis! Penis!”.

So I’m grateful for the extra time in the day where nobody is waiting outside the bathroom door anymore. Or screaming to play tag at the park. Or begging me to divide myself in two. But still. My husband gets the full frontal hugs. And now, I get the back hugs. Asher looks at me only when it’s meal time or to ask “Where’s dad?” and when I say “Not here.” he desperately says “Why? What happened??” And I’m heartbroken! Because I’m MOM. I used to be mommy. But call me mom now. Or, as my older son has named me “Worms”. Yep, that’s what was on my birthday card two weeks ago.

In any case, I’m still good for one thing and that’s cooking. Tonight’s menu was a vegan Chickpea Chile Verde mixed in with brown rice and it was DAMN GOOD. Tomatillos are native to Mexico and while they resemble tomatoes they are actually more closely related to gooseberries and come from the nightshade family. Fascinating stuff! They are also low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and are packed with vitamins. This recipe is much lighter, tangier and summery than a traditional smoky chili with heavier beans, and had a lovely crunch factor with sweet whole corn kernels and tortilla strips. It’s also easy to make because you can rely on the oven to do the bulk of the cooking.

CHICKPEA CHILE VERDE

  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped into large chunks
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed and quartered
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 TB cumin
  • 2 14 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh, frozen or canned corn kernels
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 avocado
  • Tortilla strips for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatillos, poblano peppers and garlic with olive oil and spread out on baking sheet, then bake for 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare brown rice according to packing – typically 2 cups water per 1 cup rice – simmering for 45 minutes. I use a rice cooker which steams the rice and tends to have a faster and fluffier cook. Remove banking sheet from oven and scoop tomatillos and poblanos into large pot, then add the vegetable broth. Use hand blender to puree your soup base to a smooth consistency, then stir in the chickpeas, corn and cilantro. Serve in a bowl over brown rice and top with tortilla strips.

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My birthday cards…

 

Enjoying the last of summer…

Summer Herb Garden Ratatouille

It’s almost the end of July, and that means the long hot days of humidity smelling like wet grass are followed by roaring thunderstorms and heavy rains all through the night. And if you garden, this is most certainly your garden’s favorite time of year!

This summer I set up two planters on our back patio and pretty much threw in whatever plants and seeds I could fit. Along with some festive patio lighting, a clean-up of our table and chairs, and a shrub trimming, the space is finally livable again. It also smells wonderful with a fresh lavender plant, a bountiful herb garden and two very healthy and fast-growing cherry tomato plants beside a lettuce bed and assortment of vegetables that are currently fighting for nutrients and light!

If, like me, your herb garden and zucchini plants are ready to burst forth, this herb garden ratatouille is the perfect summer dish to showcase your summer harvest. I’ve made a few variations of this sliced vegetable ratatouille over the years, but this version from Tasty has a rich sweet tomato sauce base to help soften the vegetable slices as they bake, and is topped with an incredibly robust herb sauce that really celebrated my home-grown herbs. It’s also a beautiful display and can easily be shared for a potluck. My adaptation from the original recipe was to remove the eggplant (not my husband’s favorite vegetable), double up on zucchini and add one sliced potato, but you can easily eliminate that for a simple low-carb summer dish.

Ratatouille Ingredients:

  • 3 large zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 2 large yellow squash, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 1 Idaho potato, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 6 roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced

Herb Sauce:

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 8-10 fresh basil leaves, diced
  • 2 TB fresh parsley, diced
  • 2 tb fresh thyme, diced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pan, add olive oil, garlic, onions and peppers and cook on medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, then stir in crushed tomatoes. Transfer this sauce base to bottom of a large casserole dish. Arrange sliced vegetables in alternating patterns on top, however you like! I prefer rows in a rectangular dish, but you can also arrange in a circular pattern in a round baking dish. Mix herb sauce and add to top of ratatouille. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes, then uncover and for additional 20 minutes. Serve while hot, but also tastes great cold the next day!

Final version bubbling up right out of the oven…

Vegetarian Kibbeh

Last week my friend Or’Shaundra and I took our 8-year-old sons to my local library for movie night featuring “Ant-Man and the Wasp”. When we arrived, the librarian was visibly perplexed and shaken by our appearance, especially as our two young boys took front row seats grabbing bags of candy and chips, munching happily away. Nowhere in their marketing materials did they say the PG-13 movie was restricted to “teens”. Our boys had already seen the film but she made it clear the night was reserved for young adults, and I felt both annoyed and ashamed. Are we bad moms?! The movie was set to begin in 5 minutes and, not wanting conflict, she quietly promised that if the older hoards didn’t turn out then we could stay, but only if the other young adults approved. Well, the neighborhood was deserted for spring break and as suspected only two other kids showed up so the librarian begrudgingly took their pizza orders and my friend and I were promptly kicked out. Because NO PARENTS ALLOWED.

Long story short, we spent a glorious two hours browsing the recipe book section and sitting by a fire where I came across a delightful new Palestinian cookbook “Zaitoun” by Yasmin Khan. As a crossroads of multiple countries, the Middle East is a region rich with grain and vegetable harvests, with meats like fish, chicken and lamb reserved more for select meals rather than daily consumption, so the local cuisine can be seen as inherently vegetarian. Kibbeh is a simple yet staple dish traditionally made as a hearty pie with meat and a crunchy grain crust, and is fragrant with spicy cinnamon, sweet onions, pine nuts, and fresh chopped parsley. For this dish, I used textured soy proteins and lentils to replace minced lamb and it paired beautifully with an acidic diced Jerusalem salad.

 

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 1 3/4 cups fine bulgur wheat
  • 1/3 cup Lightlight smart ground meatless meat crumbles
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • chopped parsley, to serve

For the Filling

  • 1 1/2 cup steamed lentils
  • 2/3 cup Lightlight smart ground meatless meat crumbles
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl and pour over enough boiled water to cover, then set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Heat 2 TB olive oil in a large pan and fry up the onion for the filling just until translucent. Add the spices and garlic for the filling,then fold in the lentils and meatless meat crumbles and stir in the vegetable broth and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  In a separate pan, toast the pine nuts on low heat for 3-4 minutes then set aside. In a small food processor or bowl using a hand blender, add the chopped onion for the crust along with the crust spices and meatless meat crumbles and blend until you have a smooth paste. Add this to the bulgar once the water has been soaked up and mix together. In large 12×10 baking dish, press half the crust mixture into the base. Top with the cooked filling and pine nuts, then finish the remaining crush mixture. Score the surface diagonally in a cross-hatch fashion with a knife, then bake for 45 minutes. Once baked, serve with fresh chopped parsley.

I also had the opportunity to spend a few days in San Diego for a work conference this week and enjoyed some beautiful ocean views.

Vegan Senate Bean Soup

With the recent elections and shift to crisp, fall weather, our family jumped right into hot soup season and what better dish than this hearty and healthy Senate Bean Soup!

One popular story claims the history of this dish goes back to World War II when the country was under rationing and the US government kitchen staff had to come up with creative ways to bulk up their lunch options. But another story contends it goes back at least 100 years and was simply a favorite amongst senators. Whatever the origination, it is a popular dish and has been served in the dining room of the Senate every day since, hence its name. The original recipe used a mashed potato base with ham, which I replaced with leeks and topped it off at the end with some crispy, pan-fried vegan Benevolent Bacon which added a nice smoky flavor to the soup once stirred through.

Made with just a few easy ingredients, this thick and buttery dish was scrumptious served with some toasted sourdough and was a big hit with kids and adults alike. The key elements in the prep were using dry navy beans and puréeing about 1/3 of the soup after it was all cooked down to create a thick soup base while still retaining much of the chunky beans and vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry navy beans
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and slivered
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • Benevolent Bacon, diced and pan fried

Soak navy beans 6-8 hours, then drain and rinse. In large soup pot heat up olive oil then cook garlic and leeks until translucent, about 3-5minutes. Add carrots, celery, beans, thyme and vegetable broth and cook on medium for 45 minutes, stirring constantly, until beans are soft. Remove 1/3 of soup and purée in blender then add back to soup. Or use a hand blender and purée briefly enough to thicken the broth but not break down all the beans. In a separate pan, add additional 1-2 TB olive oil and fry the bacon until it starts to darken. Set aside for 1 minute to cool, then serve fresh with each serving of soup. Salt and pepper to taste.