Tortilla Soup

As part of lent, I’m trying to do less time wasting. Which means no facebook (except to link to new blog posts) and instead of just spending wasteful hours on pinterest, pinning things that I’ll probably never do or wishing for things that I don’t have, I’m making an effort to actually spend time making some of the recipes and crafts that I pin. I really would like to be more creative and spend time doing things that I love instead of spending all of my spare time with my face in front of a computer. I get enough of that at work every day, thank you very much.

All of that to say, this lovely tortilla soup recipe caught my eye on pinterest (originally from the Cooking Photographer) and I am so glad that I tried it! It was pretty dang easy, made for a ton of leftovers, and was oh-so-delicious topped with avocado, a bit of cheese, and tortilla chips.

I also had been lookin’ for a good soup recipe so I could use up some of my homemade veggie broth. It has just been hanging out in my freezer for a few months now, waiting to be used up on something delicious. Well, veggie broth, your time has come. I had wondered if it would taste any different than store-bought broth, but it tasted great. It also felt good knowing exactly what went into it – no preservatives or ingredients that I could barely read the names of – just vegetables and water. I think I also had been delaying using it because I thought that it might take forever to defrost and I would have to leave it out overnight before using it (of course, you could heat it up to quicken the process), but it wasn’t a problem. I just set the container out on the counter around lunchtime and most of it had thawed by the time I was ready to make dinner.

Anyway, enough about the veggie stock. Onto the soup…

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika (or regular paprika will do)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons light colored oil
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (4 ounce) can diced mild green chiles, drained
2 (10 ounce) cans RoTel Diced Tomatoes with Lime & Cilantro*
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
4 cups vegetable broth
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1/2 a lime

*I couldn’t find the diced tomatoes with lime & cilantro. Instead, I got regular canned tomatoes, and added a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro and the juice of 1/2 a lime to the soup (In addition to the 1/2 a lime that the recipe already calls for).

1. In a small bowl, mix together cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, coriander, salt and black pepper. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers. Sauté until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the spices and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add the green chile peppers, diced tomatoes, corn, and veggie broth. Cook until warmed through.

4. Add the black beans and cook for 2 minutes before serving. Squeeze in lime juice. Serve in bowls and garnish as desired.

Yum!

I apologize for the horrid lighting. The soup, on the other hand, is anything but horrid. It’s the perfect winter meal, loaded with veggies and some spice (but not too spicy)! Enjoy it!

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Clean Eating Vegetable Minestrone

This week, summer decided to make a comeback in Chicago. As much as I love the crisp fall weather, I’m not complaining. 74°, sunny, and breezy is OK in my book. So maybe I should be making some recipe reminiscent of summer, but I’m not. I’m making soup again. Deal with it.

This week in our CSA, we got fennel. I had never eaten fennel before, and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little scared of it. I mean, the thing smells like licorice. What kind of vegetable smells like candy? As you might be able to guess, I am not a fan of licorice. Just thinking about it grosses me out. So I was a little nervous to try this soup, which not only includes fennel, but also fennel seed. Double licorice whammy. But I decided to go ahead and try it, because I didn’t want it to go to waste. We also got onions and spinach in our box this week, which I was able to use in the soup as well!

After looking at the title of this post, you might be asking yourself “what is clean eating?” Good question. Let me google that. (I love googling.) Alright, so my sources tell me that clean eating involves eating only fresh, unprocessed, whole foods. For all you meat-eating naysayers out there, don’t worry, you’re still allowed to eat meat. But it means eating meat that is whole and straight from the butcher. No chicken McNuggets for you, my friend. I would also add that no meat could be considered “clean” unless it is from a sustainable source. This means grass-fed, free-range, preferably local, and organic. You don’t even want to know all the junk that goes into the other meats, but that is for another post altogether.

Clean eating also includes eating lots of plants! This does not mean eating french fries and making excuses like “but, it’s a potato.” No, that is not a potato. Though still damn tasty, I know. Eat vegetables/plants in their whole form, straight from the ground, tree, or bush — preferably veggies from your local farmers market, a CSA if you get one, or organic from the store. You get the picture.

Summary: clean eating = don’t eat garbage.

There is a nice little blog post here for more info about clean eating.

Now on to the recipe. I must warn you that this takes a lot of prep time. Lots of peeling, chopping, and chiffonading (more on that later, but don’t I sound fancy?). It probably took me close to an hour in prep work. (Disclaimer: I’m really slow at that stuff.) But don’t worry, it was worth it. After all the prep work, the soup doesn’t take long to cook, and you get the delicious reward of a CLEAN and tasty meal.

A few notes about the recipe:

1. The bulb of fennel we got in our box was reeeally tiny. Itty bitty. Usually fennel has this massive baseball-sized bulb. Not the case here. So instead of the 1 cup the recipe called for, I only got about 1/4 cup. But it turned out totally fine. So any amount between 1/4 cup and 1 cup will be just fine. I’m assuming with the whole cup you’ll get a little bit of a stronger fennel flavor.

2. To crush fennel seeds, you need a mortar & pestle or a coffee grinder. I had neither. Well, I have a coffee grinder, but it was covered in coffee grinds at the time and I didn’t feel like cleaning it out. So I did the really tedious thing and just attempted to crush the seeds up as best I could using a large spoon. It didn’t work so well, and it took a long time and was extremely annoying.

3. If you’re at all like me, you looked at this recipe and said “what the heck is chiffonade?” Yeah. Here’s a video. Actually, chiffonading was kind of fun! I had so much fun that I decided to chiffonade my basil in addition to my spinach. Enjoy.

One more thing… look at this carrot. Monster carrot, right? With this baby I got an overly heaping cup-full of diced carrot. Sorry, had to share.

Alright, I’m done now. On to the soup, I promise.

Veggie Minestrone Soup (8 servings)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 cup diced fennel bulb
1 cup diced red onion (or really whatever onions you’ve got laying around)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1 1/2 cups  (or 1 can) cooked cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
2 cups fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup fresh spinach, cut chiffonade
1 Tbsp. basil, thinly sliced
2 oz. parmesan cheese, finely grated (aboutt 1/2 cup) (optional)

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat. The following is not a picture of oil heating up in a pot. It is a picture of your new best friend. I love this thing — so great for measuring out tablespoons of liquid. Much easier and much less mess this way. I got mine at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Once your oil is heated up a little bit, add carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.

Add 6 cups water, beans, tomatoes, and quinoa. Heat to boiling then reduce heat to low and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Stir spinach and basil into soup just before serving in bowls. Garnish each with 1 Tbsp cheese, if desired.

In the end you get a beautiful soup, packed with veggies. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this did not taste at all like licorice. You can taste the fennel, but it’s very subtle and adds a nice flavor to the soup. Isn’t it pretty?

Enjoy vegan:

Or not so vegan:

Either way, I think you’re gonna like it.

A Simple Fall Meal

This weekend we had some friends over for dinner, and I couldn’t decide what to make. If you know me, this will come as no surprise, because you probably know I am the most indecisive person on the face of the earth. I also like to exaggerate. I get this from my Mom. (Hi, Mom). Sometimes when we have people over for dinner I really want to make some big, elaborate recipe so I can impress them with my cooking. But I also just really enjoy hosting. I like feeding people a deliciously satisfying, home cooked, vegetarian meal. However, I did not have the energy for going all out and making six different things, so in the end I ended up making — you guessed it — soup. One of the simplest and most delicious meals I can think of is soup and bread. It doesn’t get much better than that. I love slathering my bread with butter (well, actually, we use Earth Balance, which is so delicious, and perfectly vegan, and tastes just as good as real butter), and dipping it in my soup. Mmmmmmm….

We had some butternut squash from the farmers market, so I decided to make a recipe that I made a million times last fall. It is super easy and super delicious. Not a lot of ingredients required, not too much peeling and chopping, and doesn’t take long to cook. Perfect, right?

I also made a simple no-knead bread to go with it. Now, if you’ve never made bread before, don’t be intimidated. Before I made bread, I thought only professional bakers made their own bread. Nonsense. I found this ridiculously easy recipe last year on Steamy Kitchen. Anyone can make bread. You do, however need a large covered pot (at least 5 qt.) that can withstand 450° temps for this recipe. I think a dutch oven is best. You could go spend hundreds of dollars on a pretty Le Creuset, or you could run on over to Target and buy a 5 qt. cast iron dutch oven for $35. That’s what I have, and I have to tell you, as much as I love Le Creuset’s fun colors, I don’t think it’s worth the extra bucks. Mine works just great.

Now that I’ve finished advertising for Target, let’s get to the cooking. First the soup. I got this recipe from the cookbook Clean Food by Terry Walters, and added a couple of things to modify it. This is a great cookbook, and a good guide for seasonal eating.

Apple Squash Soup (serves 8-10)
1 large butternut squash (or 2 packages of peeled & chopped squash from Trader Joe’s, which makes life way easier)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
4 large apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup rice milk (or any unflavored milk alternative. I used plain almond milk)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
About 1 Tbsp. curry powder (optional)
About 1 Tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
Sea Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste (optional)

Peel squash, cut in half, and remove seeds. Cut into 2 inch pieces.

In large pot (at least 6 qt.) over medium heat, sauté onion in oil until soft (about 5 minutes). Add squash, apples, stock, rice milk, coconut milk, and nutmeg. Cover, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until squash is soft. Remove from heat to cool slightly. Add salt, curry, brown sugar, and pepper. Puree with handheld blender.

The original recipe did not include the curry, brown sugar, or pepper, but I found the soup the tiniest bit on the bland side. I felt like it could use some extra flavor. The curry gives it just the right kick, while the brown sugar sweetens it up a bit. FYI — I estimated on the amounts I added, so don’t feel like you need to go by those too strictly. I just kept adding and tasting until I thought I got the flavors right. The end result is a beautiful, smooth soup, perfect for a chilly fall night.

Quick and easy, right? On to the bread. The bread may be easy, but it’s certainly not quick. It will take a little bit more planning on your end. You can’t decide to do it last minute, because the dough really needs to sit overnight. If you’re planning on having it for dinner the next day, my advice is to mix the dough before you go to bed (It takes all of 2 minutes). That way, you can time it so that it’s fresh and warm from the oven for dinner the next night.

No-Knead Bread
3 cups bread flour (you can use all-purpose flour but bread flour will get you better results)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt (or 3/4 Tbsp of kosher salt)
1 1/2 cups warm water

Covered pot (five-quart or larger cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic, enamel…something that can go into a 450° F oven.)

1. The night before, combine all ingredients in a big bowl with a wooden spoon, until the dough just comes together. If you want to add any dried herbs to flavor your bread (basil, rosemary, oregano, etc.) you can add those here, too. I’m not sure if it would make a huge difference, but if I’m using fresh herbs (or cheese), I wait to add them in the next step. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 12-20 hours.

2. After sitting overnight, the dough will be wet, sticky, and bubbly. With a wet spatula or wet hands, dump the dough on a floured surface. Nudge the dough into a ball shape. Make sure you keep your hands or spatula wet so the dough doesn’t stick. If you want to add in any fresh chopped herbs (I used rosemary) to flavor your bread, you can add that in here. You can basically add in anything you want to flavor your bread. I’ve done little chunks of parmesan cheese, fresh rosemary, fresh ground pepper… Use your imagination. The bread will taste amazing with or without the added flavor.

After you’ve mixed in your herbs, etc., generously dust a cotton towel (not terrycloth) with flour and set the dough down onto it. Fold towel over the dough and let sit for 2 hours. You can leave it on the countertop if you want a flatter loaf, or you can put it into a bowl with high sides if you want the dough to rise a little more. When you’ve got about a half hour left on your clock, stick your covered (empty) pot into the oven and preheat to 450° F.

3. After your 2 hours is completely up, uncover your dough. It should have doubled in size.

Remove the pot from the oven, and dump the dough in the pot. You will need to use your fingers to get the dough completely un-stuck from the towel. Cover the pot, and back in the oven it goes. Bake for 30 minutes. Now, uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until you have a beautiful golden-brown crust. Let cool on a wired rack before serving.

Enjoy it warm and buttered, right along with your soup.

Don’t judge a soup by its color

Finally, fall is here, which like I said in my last post, this means soup. Lots of delicious, hearty soups. Yum.

My favorite fall soup to make is one that I discovered on Allrecipes.com, listed as “Sweet potato, carrot, apple, and red lentil soup.” Quite the mouthful. Well, last year I was in need of a lentil soup recipe and thought this looked good. I was right. It soon became our favorite. So delicious. But when I first made this soup, as well as when I made it tonight, I was without red lentils. I even went to the store today specifically for red lentils, and they were all out! The truth is, any color lentil will do for this recipe. I don’t think there’s a difference in taste. But I wanted the red lentils. Why? Because they make a prettier soup. A little more festive than the putrid color that regular lentils turn out. I didn’t want ugly soup on my blog.

But alas, the store did not have pretty lentils. I had to go with boring old brown lentils. Or whatever you call the regular kind. Of course I wanted a pretty picture for my blog, but you know what? That’s not always going to happen. I am not creating recipes in some pristine laboratory with the finest foods available. I’m making real food, in my real kitchen. Making a big mess while I’m at it. And sometimes the store is going to be out of the thing you want, so you have to compromise. Sometimes your culinary creations will not turn out picture-perfect. But that’s OK. I am here to tell you, that even though this soup may be ugly, it is mouth-wateringly good. So, without further ado, I present to you, what I have now dubbed, “ugly lentil soup.” (Which, really, when you think about it, most lentil soups are probably not all that attractive…)

Ingredients

1/4 c butter (Use olive oil if you want to be a bit healthier! I usually do)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 c red (or any old color) lentils (You can use even more if you want a thicker soup)
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
4 c vegetable broth
Feta cheese for garnish

We got carrots and cippolini onions in our CSA box this week, so I used those. Clearly, the carrots and onions are pretty small, so I had to use more of them. I used that whole bunch of carrots, and about 6 of the wee baby onions. What’s worse than chopping an onion? … Chopping 6 of them. Ugh. I need a pair of those onion goggles. Yep. So cool.

Chop up all your veggies, and try not to cry too much. If you’re lucky enough to own onion goggles, strap ’em on.

I had so much veggie-waste after peeling and chopping, there was no way it was going to fit in our compost bins (read: old yogurt containers), so I had to break out the big guns. AKA a big bowl. Looking at this makes me wish we had pigs so I could feed it to them. Ahhh I can’t wait to have a yard someday… Get some chickens, maybe a pig. Sigh.

Once you’re done chopping, throw your butter in a large pot over medium-high heat (Of course, if you want to make this vegan, leave the butter out and use olive oil instead). I like to use my 5 quart cast iron dutch oven.

Once your butter is melted, toss in your chopped carrots, onion, apple, and sweet potatoes. Stir and cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

While you’re waiting for your onions to cook, measure out your spices and the ginger.

Once your onions are done, toss the spices along with the lentils into the pot…

…Followed by your vegetable broth.

Bring your soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low, cover, and let simmer until the lentils and vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.

Once your veggies are soft, you’ve got a few choices. You can leave it as is, or you can puree it. If you want to deal with puree-ing one batch at a time in a blender or food processor, God bless you. I don’t have the patience. Last year I invested in a Cuisinart SmartStick, and I. love. it. Seriously, it changed my life.

However, I don’t use that for this. I like this soup somewhere between chunky and pureed. So I just sort of mash up the sweet potatoes and apples in the pot. I use a fork, because for some reason I don’t own a potato masher. But it’s up to you. Do as you please!

Serve with feta, if you’re going the non-vegan route. De-lish! Enjoy! (And remember, the soup is tastier than it appears.)