Simple Lentil Soup, by me.

Last week I came home and had nothing really planned or available for dinner. Since I have a pretty well stocked kitchen with dry legumes, canned stuff, spices, and the basics for produce (onion, garlic, carrot, celery), I decided to make a lentil salad. I found one recipe that suggested boiling the lentils in broth instead of water, which I started to do. Then I went to start chopping the carrots, onion, celery, etc., and I realized- I'm making soup. So soup, it was (100+ degree day notwithstanding), it was good too! I kept it very simple, which despite my love of complicated recipes and flavors, is sometimes not only necessary but a really welcome change. A few basic ingredients let their individual flavors stand out a bit more. Here's the recipe: 1.5 c green lentils, well rinsed 5c broth (I use Better Than Bouillon not Chicken veg broth), more if needed 1 c water (could add more liquid if you like) 4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped 3 stalks celery, finely chopped 1/2 white onion, finely chopped 4 cloves garlic, minced 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped 1/2 t marjoram 1t ground black pepper 1t thyme 1T oil salt to taste (that recommended broth is pretty salty, you don't need to add much salt) Boil the lentils in 2-3 c broth. Chop all veg, and put carrots, celery and onion in the oil in a stockpot. Sautee until they're soft but still somewhat firm (onions will be getting translucent). Add garlic and tomatoes until tomatoes start to soften. Pour the lentils and broth in with the onions and others. Add remaining broth, water and spices. Cook for 20-30 minutes until lentils are soft (being careful not to go too long and let them get mushy). Salt to taste, serve with crackers or bread.

Potato Leek Soup

Again with the Isa Does It! This is the Potato Leek soup from the book, and it's really good! It reminded me of broccoli cheese soup a bit, similar texture (very creamy), and almost flavor, even. I was happy to have the "Martha Stewart's Cooking School" book to refer to- it had been awhile since I cooked with leeks and I checked it about prepping them. She suggests cutting them and then rinsing them in a bowl of cold water since dirt gets trapped in between all of the layers of ... leekness in them. It's 1,000% right- my bowl had a pile of dirt at the bottom the first time they were washed. The soup was a huge hit, directions super straight forward, and like the other recipe from this book, it whipped up relatively quickly. I did wish I could think of a good complimentary food to serve with it, the flavors get a bit overwhelming/ tiring by the end of the bowl. I had a sun dried tomato olive oil dip for bread, but bread was too bland with the simple potato flavors. Dunno, but let me know if you have any ideas.

Nancy Minestrone + crackers

This is my very own minestrone that I made up tonight! I had a bunch of soup/ chili things around and didn't want such a heavy beany chili as I usually make, but still wanted a main course soup. This totally did the trick. It's a tomato-y version of minestrone, but it's really good and has to be super healthy with all the veg in here.

Also, because we had no bread or cracker element, I made some! Davey was bananas for them, I think they're good but could use a little tinkering. It's a seriously modified recipe from a magazine (I veganized it and changed some of the flavors). They're a hint floury, but all in all, it's pretty awesome to have soup and homemade crackers, so I'm not gonna complain. If you want to make them together, the crackers took about a 1/2 hour or so, I started them after the hour simmer phase on the soup.

Here's the soup recipe:


1/2 large onion, diced
2 carrots, coined
2 stalks celery, chopped (I think I'd do 3 next time, the celery bites were primo)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium sized tomatoes, diced
2 c spinach, roughly chopped
1 can cannellini beans, drained
1 c. cavatappi pasta
1/3 c bulgur wheat
6 c Better Than Bouillon no chicken flavor
1 little can (8oz, I think) tomato paste
2T olive oil
1t oregano
1t parsley
1t basil
1/4 t sage
1/2 t thyme
1/4 t marjoram
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t sugar (optional)
1 bay leaf

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat, add onion, carrots and celery. Sautée until carrots are softened and onion is translucent. Add garlic for a minute or two being careful not to burn it. Add broth, tomato paste, tomatoes, all spices except basil and sugar. Once the soup starts bubbling, reduce the heat to low, partially cover and simmer for 60 minutes or so. Over the hour, stir every 15 minutes or so and taste after 45. If it's too acidic from the tomatoes, add the sugar and the beans. If not, fugget the sugar- just add the beans.

After the hour of simmering, add pasta, turn heat up to medium and cover pot. Let that go about 10-15 minutes until pasta is tender but not fully cooked. Add basil and bulgur wheat, cover and continue to cook for 10-15 more minutes until pasta is done. Add spinach and stir until it wilts, remove from heat and serve.

...And the Cracker Recipe:

1c unbleached all purpose flour
1t thyme
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
3 T earth balance margarine
Egg Replacer equivilant of 1 egg
1/4 c cold water
2T of olive oil for brushing the tops
salt for the tops

Preheat oven to 350. Pulse flour, salt, pepper & thyme in food processor to combine. Add margarine, pulse until it's a course meal. With machine running, add egg replacer and water, process just until dough is combined.

Roll dough out on a floured surface (it may help to divide it into 2 for rolling space), roll until dough is about 1/8" thick, err on the side of a bit thinner if you're not sure. Cut with a biscuit cutter (just like cookies, combine the scraps, re-roll, cut crackers, etc till you're out of dough). Place crackers on ungreased baking sheet.

Brush oil over crackers and dust with salt (sparingly- I love salt, but oversalted). Bake until firm to the touch, 20-25 minutes. Check on these after about 15, though, 1/2 my batch cooked way faster than the other 1/2 (uneven oven, I guess).

Cool on a cooling rack, store in an airtight container. Bask in the pride of having made a flipping cracker.

Cuban Black Bean Soup

This is the Cuban Black Bean Soup from "Viva Vegan!". It's a good 'day off' soup because it takes a long time to make. Most of it is simmering, but stirring is necessary, so you can't just leave it be for the multiple hours that it takes to cook.

It uses dried beans, which I'm still sort of warming up to. I just have a hard time getting past how flipping long they take to soak and cook. I know that they're supposed to be what real cooks use, but I don't know, with how many steps some of my recipes use- adding more is kind of annoying. They do taste a bit better, the canned ones turn to mush too fast. But the dried ones are kind of a pain on the whole and I'm not sure that they taste THAT much better for all the attention that they need. Perhaps if I just shift to dried being the norm, I won't think about it and it'll just be part of the process.

Anyway, I made my own vegetable broth in another attempt to be a real cook. I have spoken with and read info from some chefs who, although they seem elitist and d-baggish about it, insist that homemade broth is the only way to go. I made the RFD broth recipe, which seems fine, but I've honestly never tasted straight up store bought broth, so I'm not sure of the difference. I'm going to use the rest of it in a lighter flavored soup where the broth can shine though and I'll report back.

Anyway, the black bean soup. S'good, but honestly, I prefer mine (see HERE) I like the red bell, carrots and celery in mine. This one has green bell and a whole other process (with the dried beans and all). It utilizes the bean cooking liquid, uses green bells and not a lot of tomato. So, it's a very husky, deep soup. It also has a bit of liquid smoke in it, which further darkens the whole thing. It's good, I just prefer black bean soup to be less smoky and heavy. Hearty is great, but this tastes heavy. I should have made the cashew cream, it may have balanced everything out better. I was just tired of making things at that point.

Yam and Black Bean Stew with Orange and Cilantro

This recipe was great for me because it was a lesson in learning to trust my gut. We had a bag of yams left over from a dinner party last weekend, and with the price of food being out of control (plus the moral issues with wasting food), I wanted to do something with them. The recipe is from Appetite for Reduction- kind of. I say "kind of" because all along the way, I was switching things up to my taste. Which is the beauty of this. I am finally getting to the point with cooking where I can anticipate how things will work together and what I like and how I can alter things to my taste. There's definitely still something to be said for following recipes to the letter to experience new flavors and ways of doing things, but I think that this is a big step for me.

I changed the water that it called for (3 cups) to broth because I thought water was going to make it too bland (it may also have been water in the recipe b/c it's a low-cal book. Adding broth adds calories that she may have been trying to shave out of the soup). It called for a cup of orange juice at the end too. I tasted it and it was really sweet as-is, so I was inclined to skip it all together. But, because "orange" was in the title and she said that it jazzed up the yam flavor, I added 1/4 c. anyway. I was right, I didn't like it. The orange was sweetness that this soup sure didn't need. Really, I wasn't fond of it at all. I think that I like far more savory soups, and the yams really overpowered it. The taste and the texture weren't my thing at all. Which isn't to say that it wouldn't be the bees knees for someone else. And, another up side is that had I not tried this soup, I just would have made piles of sweet potato fries, which sure aren't all about 'reduction!

Tarascan Bean Soup

This is the Tarascan Bean Soup from Beans and Barley's Little Book of Beans Volume One. I'm not sure what they were going for with this (or what I was going for with this slanty slanty pic). The soup is basically a soupier version of refried beans, which I'm not fond of eating by the bowl. It could be "soup" if you thin it like the directions say, but I'm not sure why you'd want that. I had thought before I made it that it would be more of a hearty, whole bean soup.

After soaking the dried pintos overnight and making the soup, I basically realized that it's refried beans in soupy form and decided that it wasn't for me. I ate this bowl to be sure (it was weird), and then cooked it longer to thicken it and just made a mexican casserole with this, black beans, the spanish rice from RFD and tortillas. It was pretty good.

So, using this soup as a refried bean mixture (keeping it thick) is a winner- except I would ditch the coriander seeds. I really don't know what those were doing in there, and when you hit one while eating, it's overpowering (and makes you just want curry). On the whole, the recipe's not so much of a winner, but it was fine and on the up side- this was the first time that I used dried beans in a recipe (I'm slightly embarrassed to admit). My goal is to start using them at least half of the time or more in the future. They're cheaper, have less sodium and make me feel more like a real cook!

Quinoa Vegetable Soup

This is the Quinoa Vegetable Soup from RFD's book. I know that I swore off that book this week, but this was from last week, so other than the chicken style seitan, I haven't cheated.

I was coming down with a bit of a cold, so I made this to infuse some nutrients into my immune system. It has onions, carrots, celery, zucchini, corn, red bell, garlic and tomatoes in it, so I figured it would do the trick (I didn't get sick, but still feel it lurking- so maybe the soup kept it at bay).

It's a really good vegetable soup, extremely chunky and pretty filling. It is a very strong veg soup flavor, though, with little to break it up. It's good with crackers or crusty bread, but best with a sandwich to balance flavors so you don't feel like you're eating veg stock alone. Still, very good. It's no Turkish Lentil, but it's good.

J-R Black Bean Soup

This is a recipe that I made up and LOVE. It was modeled after (I'm a hint embarrassed to say) Panera's black bean soup. My office in Chicago was down the block from a Panera, and their black bean soup was about the only vegetarian thing there that didn't have a million calories (I loved their asiago bagels until I learned that plain with no cream cheese they have 330 calories- with the cream cheese- something like 700 ;)

Anyway, if they have Paneras in L.A., we're no where near one, so I decided to make my own black bean soup. This is also a great end of the week dish when you have 1/2 of an onion, bits of bell peppers, etc. left in the fridge and need a use for them.

Black Bean Soup (makes 4-6 servings)

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 6oz. can tomato paste
2 stalks celery, chopped small
2 medium carrots, chopped small
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped small
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped small
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped small
1 T canola oil
1 1/2 T chili powder
1 t cumin
salt to taste
1 t ground black pepper
1/4 t ground red pepper
*great with crusty bread

Sautée the onions, celery and carrots in oil until all is soft and onion is translucent. Add garlic, sautée another minute or so. Add the beans,broth, tomato paste and spices (all but the bell peppers). Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. Add peppers and simmer another hour. The long cooking time lets everything get married and taste delicious.

20 minutes prep, 2 hours cooking.

Chili (Sick days= Chili days)

I was just sick for a few days, but stayed out of bed long enough to make chili. Not the classic J-R chili HERE (we just had that), this one is based off of a recipe from the awesome Milwaukee café Beans and Barley. They rule. They're Real Food Daily in Milwaukee, basically (only the entrees are about $8 tops versus $18 or so here). Many years ago, when we still lived in MKE, I got their second Little Book of Beans, a dinky pamphlet of a cookbook that has this great chili recipe in it. What I love about it is that it's kind of the anti- J-R chili. Ours is thick and heavy and chunky, which is great when you want that, but this one is far more veg soupish. Also, since I've seriously altered the recipe from the book, I felt that it was safe to share it. The Beans and Barley chili was a springboard, but this one's pretty different. I like it a lot, and it was perfect for this latest stretch of sickness. I got to eat super healthy for two days while only cooking once. Also, like most soups and chilis, crusty bread is an absolute must with this.

2 cans Kidney Beans
1 quart vegetable broth
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, coined
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell, diced
1 small white or sweet potato, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t thyme
1 T oregano
1 T + 1 t chili powder
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t black pepper
salt to taste
2 15 oz cans tomato sauce
1 T ground cumin
1 t sage
1/2 cup TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
1T oil
salt to taste

Sautee onions, carrots and celery in oil, add all other ingredients except TVP and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to very low heat and simmer for at least an hour, up to an hour and a half. Add TVP when there's about 20 minutes left of cooking time, taste for salt and spices. Finish cooking, let stand for about 20minutes (to an hour, the longer spices steep, the better this stuff is). Enjoy with crusty bread and cold medicine.

J-R Chili

This is today's version of the Julson-Rieley chili. The beans vary, the tvp is optional, sometimes there's fresh tomatoes, sometimes a ton more chili powder... but today's turned out pretty nicely, and we had all the ideal components on hand, so here's the recipe for youse...

1/2 onion, chopped
2 t veg oil
2 Roma Tomatoes, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coined (if that's a word)
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 c. veg broth
1 can 16 oz tomato sauce
1 can 8 oz tomato paste
1 can garbanzo (or dried equivalent)
1 can dark kidney beans (or dried equivalent)
1/2 c TVP
3 bay leaves
1/2 t sage
1 t oregano
1 t thyme
1/2 t marjoram
4 T chili powder
1/2 t ground red pepper (or to taste- this gives it the kick)
3/4 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1 t cumin

Chop onions and sautee in oil until onions are soft, add carrots and cook until onions are translucent. Add garlic, broth and spices. Then add tomato, sauce and paste. After about 20 min, add bell peppers. After another 20 minutes, add TVP. Simmer over low low heat for at least an hour. Let stand a few minutes and serve with fresh crunchy bread, flour tortillas or if tortilla chips. This makes enough to serve 4-6.

Tortilla Soup

This is from Real Food Daily's cookbook p 90/ 106 (what can I say, I'm excited at the new prospects in this book!). I should preface my opinion of this with a disclaimer. I have never tried tortilla soup before today.

The story in the book on this one is that there was some trash talking in the kitchens at RFD about whose family makes the best tortilla soup. They decided to have a smack down, and the published recipe is the winner.

Holy tortilla- it's f-ing amazing! It took quite awhile to make even though the book puts it at about 45 min, I spent about double that. But, I was on the phone, so I was probably being kinda pokey. It is an amazing array of flavors, and I think because I mistakenly bought a serrano vs a jalapeno- it is really crazy hot. But it's hot in an "I want to conquer this" way, instead of a "f-that, my teeth are burning" way.

I did half the recipe because this book seems to be under the impression that I'm cooking for 10 instead of 2. Halving it still would make about 4 decent sized bowls, which is all we need.

Also, the garnish is (another recipe) is AMAZING! All it is is sliced corn tortillas coated in oil with chili powder, sweetener and salt on it baked to crispiness, but my gosh, it's good. I had to make a second batch because I snacked my first garnish batch away while cooking (hey, I skipped lunch).

A+ #1 Awesome soup- this is worth getting the book for alone.

Hot and Sour Soup

This is from Dolce Vegan p104. I was expecting that it would be as good as Tamarind's in Chicago. Not so much. It was good, but not the best ever (Tamarind's was REAL good). This was spicy, which we liked a lot. I used srichacha instead of Asian chili sauce which may have altered the intent of the recipe a bit. I also only used half of the vinegar that it calls for because Davey hates vinegar- and I thought that was plenty. It seems like using the full amount would be overkill, but maybe that would be the magic bullet.

All in all it was good, but we've just found SO many amazing recipes, I'm not sure that I'll make it again. Maybe.