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Archive for the ‘Vegan’ Category

It was well past the first or even the second frost when I dug up 5 pounds of fresh carrots from my garden. I forked them out of the ground on a warm day when the soil in my raised beds was nice and soft, and they came out juicy and plump, ready to be eaten straight up or added to something wonderful in the kitchen.

5 pounds is a lot of carrots. There are even more out there in the ground; when I had filled a bowl, I had to stop and hope the rest would hold for another day. We did what we could to polish them off: sliced them into a tangy Asian sauce with water chestnuts, corn, peas and other veggies; ate them straight up; chopped and roasted them with potatoes and brussel sprouts; diced them into a hearty lentil soup; and at least 2 pounds of them ended up in this creamy, sweet, tropical soup.

Most carrot soups are either a simple, ginger-carrot puree (a delicious combination), or a less exciting, but incredibly comforting, cream and carrot soup (vaguely French, I suppose). Something or other had gotten me thinking about making a carrot soup with coconut milk instead of cream. I wasn’t sure where to start so I fished around for ideas on the internet, got a general picture of where I was going with this, and went to work.

The earthy, garden-fresh carrots were to die for, of course. Fresh ginger added the spicy counterpoint that is so beloved in most carrot soups, and 2 generous cans of rich, creamy coconut milk gave it a luxurious texture and a tropical note that delivered an element of sweet surprise to the palate. I wish I could have made even more (though I was able to use a LOT of carrots) – it’s all gone now, and I would give anything to have a container stashed in the freezer someplace. I’m already craving it again.

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as I was boxing up the last morsel of this soup for lunch, it finally occurred to me to take a picture!

Creamy Carrot & Coconut Soup

At least 6 large carrots, scrubbed and roughly sliced

2 large onions, peeled and diced

2 tsp fresh ginger, minced

3 tsp curry powder (I don’t actually keep curry powder around because most true curries are mixed from scratch, so I used a saffron-based spice mix with whole cumin seeds that is quite tasty – but anything in the general curry powder family should do nicely)

3 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or water with a good bouillon, like Better Than Bouillon which I have found at Whole Foods Market)

2 14 oz cans coconut milk (I use the ‘full fat’ kind, it’s got much better body)

Saute the onions, carrots and ginger with the curry powder until the vegetables are translucent and beginning to soften. Add the vegetable broth and cook for at least 25 minutes, until carrots are soft.

Allow to cool slightly, then puree in a food processor or blender, working in batches. Better yet, if you have a handheld immersion blender, you can puree it in the pot. Return soup to pot and turn the heat back on.

Stir in 2 cans of coconut milk until the soup has completely reheated and is well combined.

Season to taste with salt.

This soup could be served hot or cold. It was deliciously warming in winter, but I suspect the bright notes of ginger and the tropical hint of coconut would make it a fine, light summer soup as well, even chilled. As a bonus, this recipe is fully vegan, yet lusciously creamy. It’s hard to stop after just one bowl.

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First spring salad of tiny baby greens

First spring salad of tiny baby greens

This could be the world’s tiniest salad. It’s the perfect, tender little harvest from my first few greens that are finally sprouting enough leaves to begin eating them. Isn’t that first handful of fresh baby greens the most amazing taste experience? It’s like eating pure energy fresh from the ground; and each leaf has its own distinct taste and texture. Here in this little collection I have baby spinach, mizuna, an heirloom red lettuce, mesclun mix, fennel, chives, fresh tarragon, the tiniest arugula leaf, several leaves of sorrel and a few pea shoots. Eating it was pure delight.

Naturally, I had to quickly mix up a bit of dressing worthy of the occasion; even my very tasty storebought Balsamic vinaigrette wasn’t really right, and it would have overwhelmed these tiny greens anyway. I spied a few leftover lemons on the kitchen counter from when Tomas was sick last week, and the aha! moment struck. In a nutshell, here is what I did (and the base for it was a few tablespoons of leftover olive oil from our recent camping trip):

Lemony Garlic Dressing

Several tablespoons olive oil

juice of half a lemon

1/4 tsp stone ground mustard (I had a little jar of saffron mustard from Prague sitting in the fridge that has a very delicate flavor and was just the ticket)

1 clove garlic, minced

several grinds of pepper

1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt

a bit of chopped fresh herbs: in this case, I used some frozen dill I found in the freezer because it seemed like it would complement the lemon really well and, well, it was there. It was probably between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp.

Mix all ingredients together in a small bottle and shake vigorously. Taste and season as needed.

This dressing had a distinct lemony bite to it, but could be softened a bit by increasing the oil to lemon juice ratio. I thought it was just exactly right for the snappy, fresh greens that I’d picked 20 minutes ago, which had a little tart bite of their own. I used the dressing VERY sparingly, just enough to add a little bright zing to the greens, not to cloak their uniquely ‘green’ flavor.

This was my salad two days ago. Today I got to add a few leaves of baby bok choi and some small radish leaves. It’s hard to believe that pretty soon I won’t be able to keep up with the overabundance of lettuces, 4 kinds of spinach, and dark leafy greens taking over the raised beds! It’s so hard to be patient…

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Today is the first day of the rest of my life – my life without store-bought salad dressings, that is. Not that I haven’t ever made my own salad dressings before… but they were always a luxury, something you did for a special dish that called for it, or when you were really motivated, or found an irresistible recipe (like this one, which I will always go to for an extra-indulgent special occasion dressing – at least until I find something better, which may very well never happen).

But today, in the early hot days of summer, as I was trying to restore order to the jungle that I returned to after 10 days away from my newly planted vegetable garden, I saw herbs gone wild, overflowing their raised beds. I remembered last year, when I planted all these lovely culinary treasures and then let them go to seed – only to find myself needing fresh oregano or fresh thyme when I should have had it, and didn’t. This is not going to happen to me again, I thought; I am going to harvest and preserve this stuff if it kills me.

But it’s only May! Ok, June 1st. But the specter of being functionally herb-less in the middle of summer haunted me. The tarragon has been flourishing there in the back of the garden since March, and all I’ve done is pinched off a few leaves to garnish a salad – once. Am I going to let these $3 plants pay for themselves this year, or not?

So right now in my kitchen, there is an alarmingly large pile of oregano drying on 4 paper towels, waiting to be picked over and frozen. The tarragon plant was even scarier – two feet high and almost as thick, waving happily in the breeze. For some reason, that one screamed out “salad dressing.” Maybe because I once had a bottle of tarragon vinegar that I never did much with and still feel I tragically wasted. Maybe because my greens are growing faster than I can eat them, and the selection of bottled dressings in the fridge is getting really depressing, and wholly unworthy of the endless bounty of melt-in-your mouth fresh lettuce. So after harvesting two armfuls of 8-inch long tarragon clippings, I dove into the recipe books. Martha Stewart whetted my appetite with a lovely-sounding herb vinaigrette, but I didn’t have a shallot handy (though I regret that, because I often do and I think they’re an overlooked staple), nor sherry vinegar. Silly me. The Mediterannean Herb Cookbook suggested a dreamy-sounding creamy yogurt dressing, but alas, no yogurt (we usually have tons, but we just got back from Europe and the fridge is still empty… an odd sight).

Time to improvise. After a quick visit to Google to look at basic dressings and a reference back to Martha for quantity tips on the extras (sea salt, garlic), here is what I ended up throwing together, and BOY IS IT GOOD drizzled over a salad of just-picked spinach, mesclun mix, baby romaine lettuce, radishes, green onion, chopped walnuts and sunflower seeds. I’m full.

Tarragon Vinaigrette

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil (I went for the good stuff, a bottle from Hania, Crete – it is strong though – and expensive – so I would consider diluting half of it with standard EVOO next time)

1 large clove garlic, minced

generous grind of fresh black pepper

1 tsp sea salt

1 heaping Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

1 tsp chopped fresh chives

Whisk together ingredients in a small bowl. Toss with fresh greens and enjoy!

Does it get any easier than that? Hardly. This recipe makes 1 cup of delicious summery dressing, which is plenty more than 1 serving so I have a nice little jar left over to use for the rest of the week. That gives me just enough time to whip up something else, maybe using some of the mint we planted last month or a bit of the forest of chives in my rock garden. Suddenly, there’s just no excuse for buying bottled dressings at the store. Except maybe just one for backup – a nice Newman’s Balsamic or something basic like that…

I should note that this recipe used up only the teeniest, tiniest fraction of the mountain of tarragon I hacked out of the garden today. But in my recipe research, I read that tarragon freezes ridiculously easily, and can just as easily be hung up to dry – and the dried stuff you buy in a jar apparently loses its taste within a year, so mine must want to be replaced. So I’m off to find some twine with which to string up my tarragon bounty. Who needs to spend $5 for a tiny spice bottle at the store when there are more herbs in the garden than you can shake a stick at?

 

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There are so many ways to eat beans. I feel like every time I talk to someone about beans, they can’t imagine eating them daily (horrors!!). Yet one of the healthiest things you can do, especially if you are vegetarian (and maybe even have to avoid soy on top of it all) is to eat beans, and to eat them every day.

Beans have huge amounts of fiber. We know this, because of what they do to your digestion. Turns out that your body adapts over time and your gastrointestinal reactions will simmer down, so to speak. You can in fact eat beans every day and have no problem – you just need to start doing it! How can you get to the recommended level of 35 grams of fiber PER DAY without the massive fiber punch that these little nuggets are packing? I don’t know. A bowl of grape nuts is just not going to cut it.

Then there’s protein… goes without saying. Except that what’s worth saying is that it is no longer considered necessary to eat beans AND rice, or beans AND any other starch, at the same time in order to consume a “complete protein.” You can eat them any old time, all by themselves, and it will all end up in the right place and be properly put to use by your body. Less worrying about food combining – always a good thing, if you ask me. I never could get my head around that.

So how many ways can you eat beans? Well, let’s think of a few ways I’ve had them since I started this new anti-cancer, vegetarian diet thing last November.

  • tossed into salads (I use them from a can, rinsed; or make a batch from scratch on the weekends to use for whatever ideas come up along the way during the week).
  • hummus, red pepper hummus, green chili hummus, garlic hummus, I could go on.
  • refried beans, popular on restaurant menus but also available in cans with NO FAT and no lard or any of that nonsense. Seasoned with lime juice, this is a great spread for any sandwich or taco or piece of toast.
  • for that matter, any bean dip in a jar, if you can be careful to get something without sodium, additives or any other junk, is another great spread for sandwiches, wraps and other concoctions, and for dipping as a pre- or post-dinner snack of course.
  • Bean soups: blended, chunky, pasta e fagiole or minestrone or one of my favorites: white bean and sweet potato soup from Claire’s Corner Copia, yum.
  • Geez, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I practically live on Chipotle’s fajita burrito bowl (without the tortilla) – black beans, rice and fresh sauteed veggies with a good dollop of guacamole and I’ve covered most of my bases for the day (I eat an avocado a day, too… still not tired of that…).
  • baked beans, such as ridiculously easy and delicious vegetarian baked beans in a can.
  • Dal! So many great ways to make this wonderful Indian lentil stew. I recently made a lusciously sweet and spicy one that I’ll have to post here – I used several kinds of terrific lentils (all but the boring brown European kind), various Indian spices, coconut, and olive oil and it was fantastic. We scarfed it down in short order, even Tomas who has an aversion to lentils (from growing up eating too many of the boring brown European kind I suppose).
  • Lentil soup.
  • Split pea soup.
  • Black bean soup.
  • Chili.
  • Cuban black beans and rice. This super-tasty dish deserves its own bullet to remind you to make it once in a while! I will have to post a recipe soon.
  • Falafel. My problem with this is that it’s fried. I tend to avoid it.
  • Veggie burgers – order the fresh ones made in restaurants (yum) or check the ingredients of store-bought ones for those with beans, lentils, or chickpeas. There are some awesome recipes in vegetarian (and any other health-conscious) cookbooks as well, everything from black bean burgers to who-knows-what else.
  • Succotash.
  • Black-eyed peas. Cooking Light had several great recipes in a row for black-eyed pea stews and soups right around the holidays and New Year’s, including a vegetarian version.
  • Black bean and corn salad. Black bean salsa. Seasoned black beans right out of the can, or at most heated briefly and dumped over some rice or veggies.
  • Five bean salad.
  • All kinds of bean salads.
  • Frijoles… any old cooked beans they happen to have around when you are in Mexico, or the terrific refried beans always available for breakfast, lunch or dinner with eggs or anything else you might want.
  • White bean pesto dip. White bean salad from the Moosewood Cookbook.
  • Spiced chick peas, popular at Indian buffets, just as easy to make at home.
  • Speaking of Indian, all those divine curries and masalas with beans, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans or combinations. After your appetizer of dal of course.
  • The Italians have some splendid, simple ways of cooking beans that you would just never get tired of. White beans in a simple soup with tomatoes, kale or spinach, and sausage if you want it – now that’s comfort food.
  • White beans sauteed in a pan with some spinach, garlic, olive oil and a dash of parmesan.
  • How could I forget 7-Layer Dip? Not the healthiest though. Unless you just go for the beans and guac and avoid the sour cream and cheese…

Good lord, I’ve written 850 words about beans and I’m only just getting started. Get your basket into the bulk food aisle at Whole Foods and your nose into a cookbook or two (Italian, Cuban, Indian, all great places to start) and enjoy your beans!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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