Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tadka Dal

Here is Part III in my "favorite soup series." Although I've enjoyed this dal for years in restaurants, this is the first time I've made it at home. And it turned out so tasty (and such a lovely color) that I decided it's worth sharing with you all. It can easily be made on the stovetop (like I did) or in a slow cooker if you want dinner waiting for you when you get home.

Lentils are nutritionally potent lil legumes. In addition to being rich in protein, iron, potassium, copper, phosphorus, and fiber, lentils also contain a number of essential amino acids. The body can't manufacture essential amino acids on its own and relies on your diet to provide them. One of these amino acids is tryptophan, which gets a lot of blame this time of year. Tomorrow, families across the country sitting around their Thanksgiving table will yawn and blame the tryptophan in their turkey for making them sleepy. It's true that tryptophan helps the body produce niacin, which in turn helps produce serotonin, but there are a couple problems with this Turkey Makes You Want to Sleep on Your Face myth. Firstly, turkey isn't a remarkable source of tryptophan. Spinach, tamari, salmon, pork, watercress, egg whites and duck all out rank turkey in this race. Secondly, tryptophan works best on an empty stomach, so when you factor in an excess of mashed potatoes, stuffing, pie, rolls, a plethora of casseroles and some booze, you're probably just sleepy because you ate too much.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I give you a recipe that is not at all relevant to tomorrow's likely menu. But you'll be thankful for it in a few days when you're sick of leftovers and want to eat something nourishing, energizing, and healthy for a change.

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed or minced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cups of water
1 cup split red lentils (masoor dal), picked over and washed
1 cup split green lentils or yellow split peas, picked over and washed
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
additional red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onions until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the tomato, cumin seeds, turmeric, salt, cayenne, and pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the water and lentils/split peas and bring to a boil. When the soup comes to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and let cook for about 45 minutes or until the lentils become soft and creamy. Turn off heat, stir in half the cilantro and taste for seasonings. Serve in bowls garnished with remaining cilantro and additional red pepper flakes if desired.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lazy French Onion Soup

Before I find a reason to procrastinate, here is another favorite soup of mine. I've always loved French Onion Soup, but it isn't something I eat very often. This is because at a restaurant it's bound to have beef broth and at home it's rather time consuming to nurse a pot of slowly carmelizing onions. By using veggie broth and a slow cooker, this recipe solves both problems. . . although you'll still have to be brave and slice a lot of onions. I've heard plenty of bogus ways to prevent the tears from coming (eat a slice of bread, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth), but the only thing that works for me is to wear goggles. Which I don't currently own, so I just power through.

Did you know that the humble onion has a number of impressive health benefits? Native to Asia and the Middle East, onions have been cultivated for over 5,000 years and have been used for their therapeutic properties since at least the 6th century. Onions have anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in cancer-fighting organosulfur compounds (which helps stop cancer cell growth and prevents the development of cancers). Onions contain anti-angiogenic phytochemicals which fight tumor growth. Studies have also shown that onions are great for bone density and connective tissue as well as regulating blood sugar. So eat onions every day.

Onions before cooking down. They'll look a lot different in 8 or so hours...

3 tablespoons olive oil
6 good sized onions, sliced (about 3 lbs)
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine or sherry
1/4 cup tamari
1/4 water
6 cups hot vegetable broth
Sliced French or Italian bread
Cheese of your choice (I used Daiya Mozzarella vegan cheese)

While you prep the onions, turn the slow cooker on Low and add the oil. Once you've recovered from crying your way through 3 pounds of onions, add them to the slow cooker. Sprinkle in the flour, brown sugar, black pepper, and thyme and stir to coat the onions. Add the wine, tamari and water, cover and let cook for 8 to 10 hours.

Check the onions, they should have cooked down significantly and be a rich mahogany brown. Add the hot broth and taste for seasonings. Depending on your broth you might want to add some salt. Toast the slices of bread then top with cheese and melt under a broiler. Serve the soup in bowls topped with one or two slices of bread. Perfect to come home to on a rainy day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Roasted Delicata Bisque with Cashew Cream

A couple weeks ago, Milla asked if I had a favorite soup recipe I could post. The answer is yes but I can't really decide on just one. Soup is my favorite type of food and just as I have a number of favorite dresses suited for different moods and seasons I have many favorite soups. I love noodles, wontons or matzo balls in a savory light broth. I also love a spicy stew with lots of beans and veggies served over rice or quinoa. Then sometimes I crave a warm bowl of corn and roasted poblano chowder and nothing else will do. So I will share a few favorites over the weeks to come, some recipes that I turn to regularly ranging from stews, to chowders to broth-y deliciousness.

First up is this seasonally appropriate Delicata Bisque with Cashew Cream. It comes together with just a few ingredients and is open to interpretation. If you don't like cashews you can substitute a can of coconut milk for a sweeter yet equally delicious soup.

If you have a different kind of winter squash hanging around your kitchen go ahead and use that, although delicatas are ideal if you got 'em. They are excellent sources of vitamin A (good for your eyes, immune system and reproductive health) and are good sources of Vitamin C (also beneficial to your immune system, helps protect cells from free radicals and helps your body absorb iron from plant-based foods). Cashews are rich in copper which helps eliminate free radicals and contributes to healthy skin and hair. Cashews "nuts" (they are technically a seed) are also very rich in magnesium which contributes to healthy bones. And they contain proanthocyanidins which starve tumors and stop cancer cells from dividing! Plus, it's a bisque which is just fun to say and sounds swanky.

2 good sized Delicata squash (3 lbs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 or 5 cups excellent vegetable broth
1 cup raw unsalted cashews
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Black pepper and salt to taste

Note: If you have some wimpy blender that you ground scored after your neighbors moved out be sure to soak the cashews for several hours or overnight before attempting to puree. This will help the cashews achieve divine creaminess instead of chewy sand status.  

If substituting with coconut milk, reduce the amount of broth by about a cup.

 Preheat your oven to 400 F. Trim off the tops of the squash and scoop out the seeds and pulp (don't forget to save the seeds for roasting later). Oil the cut sides of the squash and place face down on a baking sheet. Roast until the squash is fork tender and the edges are slightly caramelized.

While you wait for the squash to roast, prepare the cashew cream. If you soaked the cashews, drain off the excess water then blend with 1 cup of the broth. Really let your blender work for a few minutes until it's totally creamy. Spoon out about 1/2 cup of the cashew cream and set aside for garnish.

After the squash is roasted, allow to cool until you can handle it comfortably. Remove the skin, and heat the squash, remaining broth, and thyme in a soup pot until it boils. If you want a thicker soup, don't add the full amount of broth. I put a range since finding two squash that weigh precisely three pounds isn't always in the cards. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 20 to 30 minutes.

Let the soup cool a bit, then add (in batches if necessary) to the cashew cream in the blender. Puree until smooth. Transfer the cashew/squash mixture back to the pot and heat. Add black pepper and salt if needed. Depending on the saltiness of your veggie broth, you might not need to add any salt (I didn't at least).

Serve in bowls with fancy dollops of the reserved cashew cream and freshly cracked black pepper.