a year in food and life

Kalyn’s spicy red lentil and chickpea stew October 30, 2009

Filed under: food,grains,soups — superspark @ 9:26 am

kalyns red lentil and chickpea stew

Yikes! Is it already almost November?! It feels like I posted just yesterday and yet it’s been nearly a month. Time flies when you’re maniacally writing grants. But I can’t complain because for the most part, I’ve been able to leave work at work and enjoy my hours at home. Mostly that means chasing Maddie around the house, but on occasion she manages to entertain herself for long enough that I can whip up a quick dinner. Unfortunately, these days I seem to be plagued with (1) a tendency to pick seriously ho-hum recipes including a slew from my go-to, the New York Times; and (2) a tendency to forget to take a picture in the rare instance that I actually make something tasty enough to merit writing about. Bah humbug!

So I hope Kalyn can forgive me for this first, borrowing a photo from another blog. So lame, I know, but it seemed better to borrow than to let this recipe slip by due to my negligent photography. It’s the perfect autumn meal- warm, healthy, and hearty.  Even better, it’s pretty quick and easy to put together save from extracting the cardamom from the pods- may I strongly recommend buying it ground for this purpose? That’s right, cardamom. I usually think of it in desserts- like these two (yum!) But it can work in savory dishes as well, as it does here, combining with the cayenne, garam masala, and cumin to create a stew with an unusually deep flavor profile (have I been watching too much Top Chef?).    And though I’ve had my issues with lentils, there work terrifically here, melting down and thickening the broth into a hearty stew.  We served it over brown rice, allowing us to sanctimoniously snarf down a huge batch of homemade chocolate ice cream for dessert.  Consider that my personal serving tip for this and all other meals- always garnish with a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dessert.  After all, cardamom works great with desserts.

Spicy Red Lentil and Chickpea Stew (from reader Paula B. via Kalyn’s Kitchen)
(serves 6, we doubled it and froze some)

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 T olive oil (or perhaps a little more, depending on your pan)
1-2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger (original recipe said 1 tsp, but I used 2 tsp.)
1 T finely minced garlic
1 tsp. ground turmeric
3/4 cup celery, finely diced
1 tsp. Garam Masala
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
6 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed until no more foam appears
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used petite dice, do not drain tomatoes)
cooked brown rice for serving (optional)
sour cream or plain yogurt for serving (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add onions, ginger, garlic, and turmeric and gently saute, stirring often, for about 7 minutes, or until onions are quite soft but not browned.

2. Add diced celery, garam masala, ground cardamom, cayenne pepper, and ground cumin and saute 3-4 minutes more, until celery barely starts to soften.

3. Add the stock, red lentils, canned tomatoes, and rinsed chickpeas and bring mixture to a gentle boil. When it starts to bubble, reduce heat to the barest simmer and cover pan with lid. Let mixture simmer, stirring a few times, until lentils are dissolved enough that mixture has thickened into a chunky stew. (Kalyn suggested 60 minutes which I roughly approximated, but a little longer or shorter shouldn’t hurt.)

4. Serve over brown rice (so virtuous!) with or without a dollop or sour cream or plain yogurt on top.


Butternut squash soup with miso and ginger September 22, 2009

Filed under: food,soups,veggies — superspark @ 5:02 am

butternut squash and miso soup

Having finished bemoaning the local delicacies of our new town in upstate New York,  I am now proud to share some of its finer culinary features.  Our first “Yowza!” came when we visited our local supermarket, Wegman’s.  I had been to another Wegman’s once before and while it was nice, it was nothing to write home about.  But our local Wegman’s (appropriately dubbed the “yuppie Wegman’s” by one of my co-workers) is another beast entirely.  There’s a tea bar, about 10 different “stations” ready to make you whatever you’d like to eat, a whole Le Creuset wall, and a giant natural foods section.   But the real star for my is the produce department- I had never once found galangal in our Los Angeles supermarkets, but it’s here.  Same for all sorts of other exotic fruits and veggies and I, for one, am excited to try my hand at cooking them in the years to come.

The other tremendous culinary find in our town is the Public Market, a huge pseudo-farmer’s market unlike any I’d visited in California.  The California ones tend to be frequented by young, liberal affluent types (not unlike…ahem, myself), but this particular one in upstate New York draws everyone.   Rich and poor, young and old, every race- everyone swarms to the Public Market on Saturday morning, making it decidedly chaotic and just a little unpleasant.  Were we to go at 5:30 AM when it opens, it might be a little more peaceful, but for now, we’ve been braving the crowds. And why is it so crowded? Bargains, people.  I haven’t seen such low prices since trekking around Eastern Europe a few years ago.  Piles of eggplant, summer squash, peaches, and tomatoes being sold a rock bottom prices.  It’s pretty amazing and inevitably leads to a complete glut in our crisper.

This past weekend at the market, I spotted the first winter squash of the season and so it seemed only appropriate to pull out this recipe from last year that I never got around to blogging.  It’s a modern spin on the traditional butternut squash soup, something to make it a little more interesting.  My version is a slight tweak on this recipe from Apartment Therapy- The Kitchen for sweet potato soup with miso and ginger. So embrace the falling leaves and the cooling air and warm up with a cup of soup inspired by fall’s most beloved veggie, the butternut squash.

Butternut Squash Soup with Miso and Ginger (serves 4-6)

Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced – about 1/4 cup
1 butternut squash – peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons light miso (we used dark)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper

1. Steam the butternut squash chunks (by putting them in a metal colander or strainer sitting over a pot of boiling water) for about 20 minutes or until soft. (You may be able to skip this step by cutting the chunks very small.)

2. Cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Raise the heat a little and add the ginger. Fry until the ginger is fragrant. Add the squash and miso and continue frying a bit, then add the broth or water. Bring to a simmer then cover, turn the heat to low and let it cook for about 25 minutes. Take off the heat and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

3. Return to the heat and warm, whisking in the milk and salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too thick, whisk in a little extra milk until you get the consistency you want.


Broccoli soup March 13, 2009

Filed under: food,soups,veggies — superspark @ 2:16 pm


It’s about this time of year when even the most devoted seasonal eaters among us start to waver in our devotion to winter’s produce.  There are only so many potatoes, beets, and turnips a girl can eat before starting to think that $2 Whole Foods mangoes imported from warmer climes might not be a bad idea after all.  Last year it got so bad that I couldn’t even look at that most delectable of all winter veggies, the butternut squash.   Just thinking about it turned me off and it seemed like an endless countdown until spring’s apricots and cherries started to arrive at our farmer’s market.

So the last thing you probably want at this point is broccoli.  And on top of that, a soup, no less!  Believe me, I feel your pain.  Even as I set out to make this soup, I was skeptical, chopping and pureeing half-heartedly, steeling myself for a heavy, wintry meal.   Yes, I had read Molly’s enthusiastic post about the soup (found here on Orangette), but figured that she might not be the first food blogger among us prone to a little exaggeration or hyperbole.  What a treat to find myself pleasantly surprised by this delightfully quick and modest little soup.  A little bit creamy, a lot bit fresh and wholesome, this soup managed to convince me that we were on our way to spring.  Was it the lemon-chive sour cream on top, so bright and tangy? Perhaps.  But even served in a more ascetic way (over brown rice and right out of the microwave at work the next day), the soup still hit the spot.  The birds are chirping outside my window as I type and I’m feeling optimistic.  Spring is in the air, people.

Broccoli Soup with Lemon-Chive Cream (serves 4-6)

For the soup:
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts only, sliced (I substituted an additional large onion instead of the leeks)
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 ½ lb. broccoli, both crowns and stems, trimmed and coarsely chopped
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 rind (about 2 inches square) from a piece of Parmesan cheese
¾ tsp. kosher salt

For the sour cream:
1 cup sour cream
2 scallions, white and pale green parts only, very thinly sliced
¼ cup minced chives
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. pressed or minced garlic

1. In a small pot, warm the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have softened and the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for one minute. Add the broccoli, stock, Parmesan rind, and salt, and stir to mix. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, partially covered, until the broccoli is tender, about 20 minutes.

2. While the soup cooks, prepare the cream. In a medium bowl, stir together the sour cream, scallions, chives, lemon zest, lemon juice, grated Parmesan, salt, and garlic, mixing until fully combined. Taste, and adjust as necessary. Serve the soup hot with a dollop of the sour cream mixture on top.


Quinoa soup with avocado and corn March 9, 2009

Filed under: food,grains,soups,veggies — superspark @ 8:28 am


City living requires a little bit of flexibility and a “roll with the punches” attitude.  Our apartment seemed small but manageable before Maddie came along and with plans to relocate this summer, we figured we’d just squeeze her in with us.  How much room could one small baby need?  Not much for Maddie herself, of course, but today’s babies come with all sorts of accoutrements- cribs, strollers, toys, clothes, changing pads…did I mention that the child has three varieties of chair?

She spent the first 4 months or so of life sleeping only a few feet away from us in her crib, an arrangement that seemed perfectly lovely until she started doing a vocalization I call “Dolphin Speak”, a high-pitched shriek (not unlike Flipper) that could come at any hour of day or night.  Having had enough of awakening to midnight squeals, I came home one day to find Dylan moving Maddie’s crib into the all-purpose room that serves as a dining space and office.  So now it’s Maddie’s room as well, which has worked out swimmingly aside from the fact that all of its contents are off limits once she goes to bed around 7:30 pm.  How unfortunate that for nights on end our good camera, the amazing Nikon D70 which lets even the most clueless among us take beautiful photos, was shut in the dining room/office/nursery along with our slumbering baby.  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that yes, I know this photo sucks, but I hope you won’t hope it against this perfectly delicious and insanely simple soup.

It comes from a blog I recently discovered and has quickly become one of my favorites, Cheap Healthy Good.  I like the attitude, the writing, the variety, but above all, the postings tend to be the kind of things I like to eat from day to day.  This quinoa soup with avocado and corn, found here, is the first recipe I’ve tried from the site, but based on its success, I’ll certainly try more.  To give credit where credit is due, I think it orginally comes from Lorna Sass’ Whole Grains for Busy People.

It was so simple a monkey could put it together in minutes (so says the anthropologist in me) and yet had lots of interesting flavor and texture.  I had never tried quinoa in a soup before, to my recollection, but I’m sold. Sweet corn, creamy avocado, a splash of lime, and tiny grains of quinoa added up to a delightful weeknight meal that we liked so much that we ate the whole pot in just one sitting.

Quinoa soup with avocado and corn (serves 4)

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup quinoa
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/3 cup chunky salsa, to taste
1 ripe but firm Hass avocado, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges, for serving

1. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the broth to a boil. Stir in the quinoa, reduce heat to medium-high, and continue boiling, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

2. Stir in the corn and salsa, then return to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the avocado. Season with salt and stir in the cilantro. Ladle into large bowls, accompanied with lime wedges.


Tortilla soup January 21, 2009

Filed under: chicken,food,soups — superspark @ 1:05 pm


Tortilla soup is a staple here in Southern California, but much like fish tacos, it’s a culinary delight that was more or less foreign to me growing up in New York. Actually, I do have one particularly vivid memory of tortilla soup from my east coast days. In my undergrad days at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, Mondays were tortilla soup days. Having never heard of the dish before, I figured it was a dining hall invention, a la the “mexicorn lasagna”, which I’ve never again spotted outside that remote corner of Massachusetts.

How do I remember that Mondays were tortilla soup day? I came to the slow realization that at the beginning of the week, the soup station always featured a light, clear broth and as the days went by the soups became thicker and denser, moving through mulligatawny and onto chowders. The explanation, of course, was dining hall conservation- soup left over at the beginning of the week becomes the base for soups made later…just add more ingredients and adjust the seasonings and you have an entirely new meal- voila! Although this revelation didn’t curtail my tortilla soup habit, I feel fairly certain that my chowder intake went way down.

Fast forward a number of years and across a continent and I finally made tortilla soup myself a few weeks ago, in my new best friend, the slow cooker. Our friends Andrew and Meredith brought this dish to my baby shower last summer, a rollicking pot luck affair, and it held its own against all sorts of treats like Sprinkles cupcakes, Dylan’s famous baked apple french toast, and homemade frittatas. It took me nearly six months to get around to trying it on my own, but I couldn’t have been happier with the results. It was seriously easy (dump a bunch of ingredients and a couple of chicken breasts in a slow cooker and go) and made a great warm dinner watching Sunday Night Football. I was shocked at how well the chicken came out- tender and moist, it literally fell apart at the touch of a fork as I shredded it. My only complaint is that between the soup and the toppings, it involves a lot of ingredients, many of which aren’t exactly staples in my pantry (like red chile sauce and green chiles). But with a little forethought, this soup is well worth your while. Next time we’ll be making a double batch.

Tortilla soup (from Southwest Slow Cooking; serves 4)

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 16-ounce diced can of tomatoes, undrained
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 green chiles, roasted and chopped
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp cornmeal
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups red chile sauce
2 boneless chicken breasts
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced

1 lime
monterey jack cheese
tortilla chips (we fried our own fresh from corn tortillas)

1. Saute the onions in a pan with the olive oil.

2. In a slow cooker, combine the sauteed onions, garlic, jalapeno, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chiles, cumin, cayenne, cornmeal, chicken stock, red chile sauce, and chicken breasts. Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours.

3. Remove chicken, shred with a fork, and return to the slow cooker. Add avocado, cover, and cook on low until soup is thoroughly heated.

3. Serve in bowls. Top with lime juice, cheese, cilantro, and tortilla chips.


A pappa al pomodoro for winter December 13, 2008

Filed under: food,soups,veggies — superspark @ 9:18 pm


Dylan spent much of November in San Francisco doing an “away rotation”, which is essentially when 4th year medical students offer their labor for free in the hopes that a residency program will take a shine to them and offer them a position for the following year. Meanwhile, Maddie and I were left behind to fend for ourselves at home and although I was initially nervous (an extreme understatement) to spend a month on my own with an infant (not to mention work, running the house, etc…), it ended up that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined. As far as the day-to-day stuff, I managed to not only feed us and keep us clean, but I dare say that things ran downright smoothly around here.

What was far harder was the simple lack of adult company, for as wonderful as my little Madeleine is, a month of cooing and baby talk could turn anyone’s brain to complete mush. I quickly realized that making sure to get out and socialize was key for my sanity. What better way to turn lemons into lemonade than to host a girls’ night in Dylan’s absence? Maddie and I invited a handful of girlfriends over for a potluck one Friday night and finding myself with an aging loaf of bread, I decided to dig into my soggy bread archives to come up with something warm and comforting for the autumn evening.

I make no secret of the fact that I love recipes that revolve around soggy, gooey day old bread. But the problem with the pappa al pomodoro recipes I’ve made before is that they’re really, really great with terrific summer tomatoes, but not so hot with the bland flavorless ones that we ordinarily find during the rest of the year. Which is why I was curious about this recipe. I first noticed it here on Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn, but apparently it first came from Serious Eats, where they got it from Jamie Oliver’s website. What a lineage! And you know what? Considering you could make it on the very coldest and bleakest of winter days using tomatoes found in your ordinary supemarket, it’s pretty darn good. The combination of cherry tomatoes, canned tomatoes, basil, garlic, and of course, stale bread, turns into a little bit of heaven given a short while on the stovetop. While I’m holding onto fresh tomato-based pappa al pomodoro recipes to take advantage of summer’s bounty, this is one will happily tide me over in the interim.

Maddie learns to sit up

Maddie learns to sit up

Pappa al pomodoro (serves 4-6)

1 pound cherry tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a large bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
28 ounces canned tomatoes
2 large handfuls of stale good-quality bread, torn into chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Prick the cherry tomatoes and combine them in a mixing bowl with one sliced clove of garlic, a good drizzle of olive oil, and 5 or 5 basil leaves. Spread them on a roasting tray and roast for about 20 minutes, until collapsed and slightly shrunken.

2. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the basil stalks and the remaining garlic, cooking until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, and an additional half can full of water. Use a wooden spoon or kitchen scissors to break up the tomatoes, while bringing to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add the torn-up bread pieces to the pan, along with the rest of the basil, torn. (Reserve a few basil leaves for garnish, as I neglected to do!). When the roasted tomatoes are done, scrape them into the soup pot with all their juices and stickiness. Stir into the soup and check for consistency: it will be rather thick and porridgy.

4. Divide between bowls and float some additional olive oil on top. Top with more basil and serve.


Hearty lentil soup October 24, 2008

Filed under: grains,soups,Uncategorized — superspark @ 6:16 am

Yeah, this is a food blog, I know, but you’ll just have to bear with me when I feel the need to put up with a picture of my little Madeleine now and then. Though we’re back in LA and I’m back at work, life in our family still revolves around our little cupcake, shown here lounging, a la Hugh Hefner, in her bathrobe. I’m happy to report that having had about 2 1/2 months now to get used to this whole parenting thing, we’ve managed to get a routine down whereby we no longer have to rely entirely on frozen foods or the kindness of friends who like to cook.

Which is not to say that there’s lots of extra time to whip up haute cuisine. No, at this point we’re all about easy recipes and making things in giant batches to freeze or eat over the course of a week. Take, for instance, this recipe for hearty lentil soup from our beloved The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes (from America’s Test Kitchen). We’ve made it a number of times and it’s a favorite in our household. It makes 4-6 servings as presented in the book and as we made up our grocery list this time, Dylan turned to me and said, “What do you think about multiplying it by six?”

Six?! That’s 12 quarts of lentil soup! While I’m all for saving time and effort by doubling recipes, that’s a lot of lentil soup for two people to eat. In the end we doubled it, ate half while enjoying our favorite cheap Trader Joe’s wine, and stashed half away in the freezer to come in handy for those moments when there’s just not enough time in the day to put something fresh together.

And as the weather grows cooler (well, it’s all relative in Southern California), I’m happy knowing that we have a big stash of this fall favorite. Often I find lentil soups to be bland and mushy, but this one is downright flavorful, a perfect blend of spices. Lentils de puy (or french green lentils) are preferred, but it can be made with green, black, or brown lentils. Served atop a bed of rice, it’s a terrifically filling meal for those moments when you want something that will really stick to your ribs but is also healthy.

Hearty lentil soup (make 2 quarts, about 4-6 servings)


1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped fine
1 tbsp oil
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 tsp salt
ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine (we subbed red)
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp minced parsley leaves (for garnish)

1. Saute the onions and carrots in the oil, stirring occasionally until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the lentils, salt, and pepper, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook until vegetables have softened and lentils have darkened, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Uncover and turn heat to high. Add wine and bring to a simmmer. Add the broth and water, then bring to a boil. Cover partially and turn the heat to low. Simmer until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape, about 30-35 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

3. Puree 3 cups of the soup in a blender then return to the pot (or use a hand blender to partly puree the soup for about 10-15 seconds). Stir in the vinegar and heat the soup over medium-low until hot, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tbsp parsley and serve, garnishing each bowl with remaining parsley, if desired.


Tortellini, bean, and pesto soup March 5, 2008

Filed under: food,Pasta,soups — superspark @ 6:46 am


Although my preferred culinary style would hardly be classified as ambitious these days, back in my bachelorette life, my cooking was even more, er…low key, shall we say? Which is not to say that I was one to order take-out every night or that I lived on frozen meals. My friend Amanda and I used to cook together at least once a week and managed to make some pretty great meals, but if it’s any indication of the general complexity of our menus, I distinctly remember our cooking attempts being thwarted one time by neither of us owning a whisk.

Back then, I was much more willing to go along with the “Semi-homemade with Sandra Lee” style of cooking- not the perky sweater sets and Stepford Wife demeanor, but the rampant use of prepared ingredients and shortcuts. This recipe for tortellini, bean, and pesto soup (from one of my first cookbooks ever, Betty Crocker’s Great Main Dishes without Meat– a bargain starting at $0.25 on Amazon these days!) is a prime example and was one of my go-to dishes at the time. Using boullion (or cartons of store-bought chicken broth), dried packaged tortellini, canned beans, and jarred pesto, the whole dish came down to a little chopping, a little boiling, and voila! A “homemade” dinner in a mere 30 minutes or so, most of that spent lounging while the soup boiled away.

These days, though Dylan and I bake our own bread, make our own jam on occasion, and have even been known to infuse our own vanilla vodka, I still can’t resist a few shortcuts. Preferring the ease of canned beans, I have yet to take on their dried bretheren (yes, I know they must be better, I’m just not up to the challenge yet). I love fresh pasta but I hate the work of making it, so dried is perfectly suitable for me 99 times out of 100. And making chicken stock? No thank you. It’s all the long-time serious vegetarian in me can do to muster up the courage to trim the fat off of frozen chicken breasts.

I recently decided to revisit my old beloved tortellini, bean and pesto soup, having not made it in at least 2-3 years. Perhaps my tastes have become a bit more refined in the interim, a bit more used to “almost entirely”, rather than “semi”-homemade cooking, but the tortellini soup was just okay. Perfectly edible, a nice idea, but certainly not as exciting as I remembered it. Even I felt like it was a little “canned”, not as fresh and vibrant as the meals I’ve gotten used to. All of which got me thinking that were one to make this recipe with homemade chicken stock, handmade tortellini, rehydrated dried beans, and homemade pesto, it might once again rise to favorite status. Maybe someday, but I’m not quite there yet…

Tortellini, bean, and pesto soup (serves 6)


1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, cut into julienne strips or small “coins”
1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped celery (about 1 medium stalk)
2 tbsp margarine or butter
6 cups water
2 tsp chicken boullion granules
1 can (15-16 oz) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 package (10 oz) dried cheese tortellini (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp pepper
6 tbsp pesto
6 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

1. Cover and cook garlic, carrot, celery, and onion in margarine/butter in Dutch oven over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in water and boullion. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat. Stir in beans and tortellini.

2. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until tortellini are tender. Stir in parsley and pepper. Top each serving with pesto and cheese. Serve immediately.


Red lentil soup with lemon January 23, 2008

Filed under: food,grains,soups — superspark @ 6:17 pm


After my success with Melissa Clark’s recipe for curried lentils with sweet potatoes and swiss chard from the New York Times Food Section in November 2007, I was tempted to stop cooking with lentils, to quit while I was ahead. There had been so many disappointments, you see. So many lentil-filled meals that were horribly bland, verging on inedible…now that I had found one that worked, should I just stick with it? When Melissa Clark again wrote about the lentil several weeks ago, singing the praises of a a red lentil soup she had whipped up after first tasting it at a friend’s dinner party, I threw caution to the wind and decided to give it a go.

Well, it seems Ms. Clark must have a way with lentils, because her recipe for red lentil soup with lemon, found here in the New York Times Food Section is simple as can be, but utterly delicious. I usually associate good lentil soups with a sort of moody, musky earthiness, a dense blending of spices and flavors. This one, on the other hand, brings to mind nothing more than lemony freshness- a clean, bright flavor that both takes the chill away and makes you feel as though perhaps spring is in the air. It came together in no time at all- a little chopping, a little measuring, throw it all in a pot and let it simmer away for 30 minutes or so. Voila! A quick and easy splash of sunshine and cheerful orange color to brighten your winter days.

Red lentil soup with lemon (makes 1 quart; 4 small servings)


3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.

2.Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.

3. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

4. Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.

5. Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.


Italian minestrone January 12, 2008

Filed under: soups,Uncategorized — superspark @ 9:54 am


A week back from the holidays and I’m starting to feel a little less overfed. I was very, very good this week- simple sandwiches for lunch, fruit for snacks, and hardly a dessert to speak of. But does it count as “being good” if you don’t even feel tempted to eat rich and indulgent foods? The excesses of the holidays always suppress my (ordinarily rabid) sweet tooth, at least temporarily, and I wonder how anyone can continue to post recipes for cookies and cakes in January. So as I started to think about what I could possibly make to get me out of this no-interest-in-cooking rut, it was clear that it would have to be something chock full of vegetables, with simple, clean flavors.

Growing up, my go-to soup was Progresso minestrone. I wasn’t into tomato soup, didn’t like the chickeny bits of chicken noodle, but my how I loved my minestrone. It was what I’d eat on a winter day when home from school and I’m not embarassed to admit that there may have been a stash of it in my cupboard as recently as a couple of years ago, when living in Boston. Moving out to California and living with Dylan has meant a further minimization of the prepared foods in my life. With two people who like to cook living together, it’s a rare night that we have to resort to something packaged. But I still have a soft spot for that glowing orange canned minestrone, with its kidney and garbanzo beans, little round noodles, carrots, celery, and lima beans- heck, I even miss the soggy green beans that I’d inevitably leave at the bottom of the bowl. Have my tastes for homemade minestrone been ruined?

In my search for a healthy recipe that would inspire me to cook again, I came across one  for Italian minestrone (on Everybody Likes Sandwiches) that I had starred way back in December. A quick trip to pick some some veggies and I was ready to go. It turns out this was really the perfect way to start cooking again- aside from the prep work of chopping veggies, the soup practically made itself and there was little need to worry about exact proportions. Uncharacteristically, I found myself substituting rampantly and dumping in heaps of pasta and greens without a thought to measuring. Will 2008 be a year of spontaneity?! Eh…probably not.

This minestrone hit the spot on a chilly Southern California night (and no, that’s not an oxymoron, it can get cold here in the evenings!).  Full of colorful veggies and protein-rich beans, it was both healthy as can be and tasty, too.  While my beloved Progresso minestrone has a distinctly salty flair with the tang of flavor enhancers not found in the ordinary kitchen, this homemade minestrone just tastes fresh and bright, which I can grudgingly admit might be a good thing.  With a piece of homemade bread, a bowl of this soup will warm your belly and keep you full the entire evening.

Italian Minestrone (serves 8 or so)


2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 rib of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1/2-1 cup small shaped pasta (I used a cup of orzo, use less if you want a less pasta laden soup)
2 cup chard, cut into fat ribbons (I subbed mustard greens because my grocery store was out of chard)
5-6 cup vegetable broth (I subbed chicken broth)
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp teaspoon salt
1 tsp teaspoon black pepper
parmesan (optional)

1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat and add in onions. Saute until soft.

2. Stir in the garlic, red pepper, carrots, celery, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt. Add in the tomatoes and pasta and the vegetable broth, stirring constantly so the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Add in chard, beans and the remaining herbs and spices.

3. Lower heat and cover until vegetables are done, about 20-25 minutes. (You may want to add more broth or water if the pasta soaks up a lot of it and you want your soup a little thinner.) Serve hot topped with freshly grated parmesan.