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.

IMG_8433

 

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.

Tuscan Bean Buddha Bowl

This week I stumbled upon a term that has really stuck in my mind: AWARENESS.

I’ve been on a bit of a journey of mental and physical health this summer. I hesitate to call it diet and fitness, because those are industry terms that really don’t resonate with me. But I’ve come to learn that when you are in tune with your body, really living every moment of every day, getting back in touch with nature and remembering you exist in a bigger space than your living room and all the while learning to eat and drink in moderation, you go to bed with some sense of inner peace and you wake up with energy. Wow. I don’t require a glass of wine to put my kids to bed every night! Not eating chips makes me feel less shame! What a revelation! At least, I attain this goal about 30% of the time… but now that I know the journey ahead I’ve made it my goal to get to 100%.

I guess my inner hippie got the best of me this week as I was really focused on Buddha bowls. Buddha bowls are essentially hearty grain-based dishes topped with an assortment of roasted or cooked vegetables and tossed with a vegetarian protein usually along with nuts or seeds. Their flavors can be soulful and complex, with unexpected items thrown together much like a garbage salad. They are really a vegans’ dream because they are filling entrees, rich in nutrient-dense foods, and they are easy to throw together and fun to eat! One my favorites to make at home is a barley bowl topped with sautéed kale, sauerkraut, tofu, sunflower seeds and avocado. Weird? No. But today I really wanted some red wine so I went for a Tuscan italian theme. I’d say this is comparable to a bruschetta bean salad mixed in with the nutty, chewy texture of Farro and tossed in a vibrant fresh herb vinegar dressing. It’s very versatile so you can also substitute other beans like chickpeas or white beans.

Ingredients

  • 1 can large butter beans, drained
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 vine ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup pitted green olives
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 1/2 cup Farro
  • 1 container firm tofu

Dressing:

  • 1 TB fresh tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1/8 cup fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1 TB whole grain mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 cup olive oil

Boil 4 cups of water in medium sauce pot then add Farro. Turn down to medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Once complete, pour through strainer and set aside to cool. To prepare your tofu, this can be eaten raw, pan-fried or my preference Roasted. In separate bowl, combine all other ingredients and toss with dressing!