Channeling Nana

I love making soup. First of all, for some reason, it’s nearly always a hit with my kids, which means they EAT. Secondly, there is simply nothing better than a bowl of soup and a hunk of home-baked bread. But this soup, this soup is the soup my great-grandmothers made. And probably your great-grandmothers, too, regardless of where they lived, maybe flavored differently…or maybe not. There is nothing fancy or pretentious about this soup. It is hearty and delicious. That is all.

Split pea soup (with optional hot dogs)

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 or 5 shallots, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 cups yellow or green split peas
  • 2 quarts veg stock
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 5 vegan hot dogs, sliced (optional)

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute until softened and fragrant, about ten to fifteen minutes, stirring often. Add the split peas and veg stock, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for an hour or so, until the split peas are soft and fairly melty. Add the peas and hot dogs, if using, and heat through. Serve with (vegan) buttered and salted bread.

And thank your great-grandmothers.


How I learned to stop worrying and buy asparagus

I’m from California’s San Joaquin Valley. Growing seasons, orchards, farms as far as the eye can see…this is my homeland. I generally know when different crops are in season, and as much as I might have a taste for grapes in January, I won’t buy them on principle. I’m heartily committed to buying local whenever I can, and I can’t bring myself to reward grocers for selling out-of-season produce that had to travel thousands of miles to get to me. Corn, figs, grapes, TOMATOES: summer. Apples, persimmons, pomegranates: fall. Oranges: winter.

My problem is that the produce I always thought came in the springtime, the vegetables that ARE spring to me – artichokes and asparagus – have been showing up in the fall. I don’t get it. And they’re cheap. And they’re gorgeous. And they’re from the places they’re supposed to be from in California. Well, I’ve given in, and have bought asparagus the last couple of weeks. Today, I turned it into a creamy soup that warmed me on a particularly blustery fall day, but also reminded me of the blossoms and puffy white clouds of spring. (And it’s low fat. No oil added!)

Cream of asparagus soup

  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 2″ pieces
  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 red-skinned potatoes, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the asparagus and the shallots, spray with cooking spray, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for about ten minutes.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the potatoes, garlic, and turmeric (1/2 tsp dried turmeric if you can’t get fresh). Stir regularly, and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the veg stock, cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sunflower seeds and the roasted vegetables, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place half the soup into a blender and puree until very smooth. Remove to a bowl, and puree the other half. Stir the soup to combine, and then add the lemon juice and zest. Heat if necessary, and add parsley.

Nachas and tomato soup

Why is it that summer is over, and NOW I can’t get enough tomatoey things? I love a fresh tomato, sliced, sprinkled with a little salt, and popped into my mouth. Or drizzled with a little olive oil. Done. Delicious. But as the weather cools down, what I’m craving is the tomatoey warmth of cooked tomatoes. Enter stage left: San Marzano tomatoes.

Yes, they’re more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, but when you’re making something in which the tomatoes have been cast in the starring role, spending a little extra is worth it. Costco sells them in a four-pack, which brings the price down a little, and they are so rich and tomatoey. Do it.

Today, my daughter was named student of the day for the second time. She had a substitute teacher. I asked my daughter what she did to deserve the honor, and she didn’t know, so I asked the sub. She said she enjoyed having her in class: she was quiet, attentive, and happy. I was SO proud. I asked my girl what she’d like for dinner in light of her honor, and she requested tomato soup.  Here ’tis.

Dreamy creamy tomato soup

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1 1/2 cups veg stock
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 15-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 28-oz can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • Pinch of sugar, if necessary

Place the cashews in a small saucepan with the veg stock, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.

Meanwhile, place a Dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil. When hot, add the tomato paste, and saute, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste has melted into the olive oil. Add the onion and carrots, and saute until softened, about five minutes. Add the herbs and salt and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the canned tomatoes, squishing the whole toms with the side of a wooden spoon to release their juices. Let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Taste for flavor, and add a pinch of sugar if you find it necessary. I generally do not.

Place the cashews and veg stock in a blender and puree until smooth. Add half of the tomato soup and puree. Pour the contents of the blender into a bowl, and then ladle the rest of the soup into the blender, pureeing until smooth. Pour all of the soup back into your Dutch oven, stir well, and reheat, if necessary. Enjoy!

The trouble with cheeze + chilled tomato and avocado soup

I bought Miyoko Schinner’s book Artisan Vegan Cheese, because I’d heard SO much about it.  I know it’s a fairly well respected book about vegan cheese-making and I thought I wanted to add it to my repertoire.  Now, I’m not so sure.  I love a challenge, I, obviously, love making things from scratch, particularly things people don’t usually make from scratch.  I understood patience was necessary in vegan cheese-making, and I’ve got lots of that, so I thought I’d try it.

Well, the first hiccup and a half was gathering the odd ingredients to begin.  Ms. Schinner gives a recipe for rejuvelac in the book, but the whole sprouting thing, washing the grains, waiting the right amount of time, blah blah blah, just seemed a little annoying and tricky, and I knew I could buy it, so I went to Whole Foods and looked for it.  Yeah, no.  I had to order it.  Fine.  I did.  And it was cheap, for once.  Fine.  That was the half hiccup.  The whole hiccup was carageenan.  In the chapter on melting cheese, Ms. Schinner says that you must use carageenan – and not agar – because that’s the key in getting a melty consistency.  Well, not only did Whole Foods not carry it, the grocery manager told me that there have been studies pointing to bad things coming from carageenan.  He told me to look into it myself.  I did.  Okay, then.  We’re going without carageenan.  And without melty cheeze.

My client had asked for a pasta dish with cheeze sauce (she actually used an “s”, not a “z” in her spelling) and cremini mushrooms.  Ms. Schinner actually featured a recipe for fettucine alfredo with gruyere and mushrooms.  Excellent!  That would be the one.  Also, I came into about 4 lbs of heirloom tomatoes that were unusually delicious, so I decided to try Ms. Schinner’s recipe for fresh, buffalo-style mozzarella, so I could make a nice caprese salad.  In the end, the gruyere tasted okay (sorry, I remember very well what *real* gruyere tastes like – and it is AWESOME), but the pasta came out meh.  It was fine.  In my cooking, I generally strive for better than *fine.*  The mozzarella was an entirely different story.  It TOTALLY didn’t do at all what she said it was supposed to do.  Instead of puffy white clouds of mozzarella floating in brine, I got globs of *solids* floating in milky liquid.  Ewww.  Again, it tasted okay.  Not worth the trouble.

I did end up using the *globs of solids* in a recipe for my clients in place of sour cream (I’ll be sharing below), then drained the milky white brine and globs in a fine mesh sieve, and kept the solids to use as cream cheese on my home-made bagels.  For lunch today, I had a home-made bagel, fresh-mozzarella-cum-cream-cheese, slices of heirloom tomatoes, diced cucumber, and a pinch of kosher salt AND IT WAS AWESOME.  So, there’s my bright side.

Chilled tomato and avocado soup (adapted from a recipe from Sunset magazine)

  • 2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar, divided
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 2 firm but ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and chopped
  • 1 cup veg stock
  • 1/4 cup fresh vegan mozzarella (or plain coconut milk yogurt)
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 3 tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 tsp fresh minced tarragon

Puree tomatoes in a blender.  Add 3 tbsp champagne vinegar and salt to taste.  Transfer to another container and refrigerate for at least an hour.  Clean out the blender.  Add the avocados, veg stock, mozzarella (or yogurt), and lime juice, and puree.  Add salt to taste.  Transfer to another container and refrigerate for an hour.  Place the cucumber, shallots, and tarragon in a small container, top with last tablespoon of champagne vinegar, mix well, and chill for about a half hour.  To serve, pour a layer of avocado puree into a glass bowl or glass, top with the tomato soup, and then sprinkle the condiment on top.

Cool and delicious.  Enjoy!


French cream of cauliflower soup

This soup is perfect. I lived in France for a year. I have visited France. I have eaten A LOT of French food. Their reputation for making delicious creamy things is well-deserved. I would serve this to a French person. Make it. You will be glad you did.

French cream of cauliflower soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 head of cauliflower, coarsely chopped
  • 3 small to medium red-skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup Pinot Grigio
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt to taste

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil, and then add the onions. Saute the onions until they’re golden, and then add the cauliflower and potatoes. Stir the cauliflower and potatoes into the onion mixture until they’re fairly coated in the onions. Add the Pinot Grigio and veg stock, cover, and turn the heat to medium-high to bring to a boil. Uncover, turn the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for about 20 minutes, until the cauliflower and potatoes are tender. Remove from heat, and put the whole pot of vegetables into the blender with the sunflower seeds. Blend until completely pureed, and place back in the soup pot. Stir in the pepper and nutmeg, and taste. Salt to taste.

West African Peanut Soup and Ethiopian (not) Honey Bread

A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe on line for this Ethiopian honey bread I’ve been wanting to make, so today was the day!  I knew I’d need to serve it with something dunk-worthy, and tonight being my first EVER back-to-school night, something that could either sit on the stove or be made quickly when I returned, and so I adapted a recipe from my all-time favorite cookbook, Ethnic Cuisine, by Elisabeth Rozin, for African peanut soup.  (And yes, I’m aware that Ethiopia is in eastern Africa, and the soup is western, but they’re still TOTALLY delicious together, so whatever.)

By the way, while I pride myself in making most everything from scratch, you’ll notice a few short cuts here.  Sometimes, a mama’s gotta get dinner on the table!

West African Peanut Soup

  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen tri-color bell pepper strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28-oz can diced tomatoes, pureed in the blender
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • Salt to taste
  • 9-oz pkg pre-cooked French lentils
  • 1 cup frozen pre-cooked quinoa/brown rice blend
  • 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp peanut butter, divided

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the oil when the pot is hot, and then add the chopped onion.  Let the onion get soft, and then add the bell pepper strips and the garlic.  Once the vegetables are fragrant, add the pureed tomatoes and veg stock, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the salt, lentils, and the grain blend.  Once the pot is boiling again, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the peanut butter.  Let the pot simmer until the peanut butter has melted into the soup, stirring constantly to prevent the peanut butter from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Puree the soup in the blender, covering the lid with a towel, so you don’t get burned!!  It’s okay to leave some bigger chunks, but it should be mostly really creamy.

Ethiopian (not) Honey Bread

  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for the second rise
  • 3/4 tbsp instant yeast
  • 1/2 tbsp table salt
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp canola oil, divided
  • 6 tbsp raw agave
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water

Place the rosemary in a small cast iron pan set over medium heat, and toast until fragrant.  Put the flours, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer, and mix on low speed with the dough hook until combined.  Add the toasted rosemary, canola oil, agave, and then the water, and let the machine knead the dough for about 5 minutes.  The dough should be very sticky and not entirely floured enough to come away from the bowl.  Don’t worry.

Place the last teaspoon of canola oil in a large bowl, scrape the dough into the oiled boil with a spatula, and then, with oiled hands, roll the dough ball around in the oil until it’s oiled.  Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours until puffy and doubled in size.

Scrape the dough back into the bowl of the standing mixer, and mix with the dough hook for about 3 minutes.  Place some whole wheat flour on a board, scrape the dough onto the flour, and then generously sprinkle more flour on top of the dough.  Fold the dough over a few times, and then place on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray, cover with the clean dish towel, and let rise for another 20 minutes or so.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake for 20 minutes, until deeply golden brown.

Let the bread cool as long as you can resist cutting into it and slathering Earth Balance on it!