Thursday, September 20, 2012

This Soup ...

This soup .. yes, this soup. This soup reminds me of my very first experience cooking for real in my parents' kitchen, with my sister beside me and my grandma watching. This soup has old familiar flavours and wraps itself around me like a warm knitted scarf on the first breezy, chilly day of fall. This soup isn't by any means a gooey chocolate cake, a wholesome banana bread or a zippy, lemony treat. But this soup welcomed me back into the school year and eased the pain of summer holidays ending and work beginning.

This soup begins with humble ingredients.. ginger, garlic, lentils, greens... and is finished with a whisper of summer -- a big squeeze of lemon juice and a many sprigs of fresh thyme from my balcony garden. Although I could have began this soup in a classic way -- chopped onions, celery carrots -- I didn't, simply because I was tired and I wanted as much reward for as little work as possible.

This soup is the answer to your weeknight dinner problems, and is also the good idea of staying in on Saturday night and curling up with dinner on the sofa. This soup is zingy from the spices and lemon and creamy from the red lentils, cooked until almost completely dissolved. I chose rainbow chard -- stems and leaves -- to put into this soup; the stems add nice bulk and the leaves turn velvety in the broth.

I think if you wanted to add to this soup, a cup of cooked chickpeas would do the trick, or even a few cubes of tofu sprinkled on top when serving. If you're the type, some crusty bread would probably be nice with this soup ... if you're the type, but I'm not really. I enjoyed this soup straight up, piping hot, curled up on the couch on a Saturday night when I should have been out dancing the night away, or enjoying a movie and popcorn. But dancing and movies aren't what I need in September when the winds are trying to change but the seasons won't let go, when that sneaky feeling of something ending and responsibility sinking in makes its way from my mind to the pit of my stomach; what I needed was this soup. And now, I can enjoy my September.

Lentil Soup with Greens
serves 2

olive oil
a chunk of ginger, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minces
juice and zest of half a lemon
a bunch of swiss chard -- stems diced, leaves chopped into ribbons (spinach, kale would be great too)
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of curry powder
1 cup of red lentils, rinsed
3 cups of water or vegetable stock (I used a combination of both)
salt and pepper to taste
a splash of light soy sauce (if desired)
a few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed

1. In a soup pot, cook the ginger and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for about a minute, or until things start getting really fragrant. Careful not to burn the garlic!

2. Add the lemon zest and spices and cook for a minute to let the spices toast. Add in the chard stems, lentils and vegetable stock and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

3. Add the chard leaves and cook, covered, for another 10-12 minutes, or until the greens are tender, the lentils and cooked and almost dissolving, and the broth is slightly thickened.

4. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and fresh thyme. Stir well. Taste and add a splash of soy sauce if desired. Serve!

Monday, September 3, 2012

One last Picnic

 Pssssssssssssst!  Hey, you!  Let's go on a picnic .. a secret supper picnic while the sun still sets after 6pm and the wind is warm and not frosty cold.  Let's pick a park, pack some food, strap on our bike helmets and go. After all, it is the unofficial end of summer, and who wants to spend labour day moping about that?  Certainly not me!  So let's do it!

We can have this warm coucous salad to use up all our summer veggies, or maybe this perfect summer pasta salad with fresh dill? Oh, we definitely have to have potato salad -- so why not try this one, with tons of fresh herbs, a lemony vinaigrette and French twist?

If you want to get more elaborate, we could make this spicy oven fried chicken to have with all of our salads, or maybe something a little more fancy and delicate, likes these vegan cucumber and avocado tea sandwiches.

And what should we have to drink? While I'm partial to coffee all day any day, maybe it's better if we stick to something that won't keep us up all night .. after all, it's back to work tomorrow. How about this blackberry limeade. It would be perfect -- I just a saw blackberries at the market! And dessert? That's too hard! There are just too many picnic perfect desserts. But let's go with something simple, like a cookie .. My lavender on the balcony is thriving, so let's bring these lemon lavender cookies and maybe this chocolate cake, since chocolate is always necessary.

Yay, let's do it!  Let's have a last-day-of-summer picnic ...

Who am I kidding? This is so not happening. I still have 6 seating plans to figure out, a batch of granola to bake, and lunch to figure out for the next 4 days. But we can dream can't we?  If you're like me, and dream of being the care-free picnic type, but are pulled in by the too-many-things to do before work begins again, then let's talk for real.  For real, I'll settle for a piece of this impossibly healthy blueberry banana bread and a cup of jasmine tea. For real, I'll be perfectly happy enjoying it while I make up my seating plans, stir granola and get psyched up for tomorrow. For real, I'll be more than happy to enjoy a slice of this guiltless treat on the streetcar ride home tomorrow. And for real, yes for real, I'm super excited about the new school year, especially if it starts off with bananas, blueberries, oats and feeling awesome.

Vegan Banana Blueberry Bread
adapted from A Cozy Kitchen and Love and Lemons
makes one loaf

2 medium super ripe bananas, mashed
1 tablespoon of canola oil
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1/3 cup of almond milk + a squeeze of lemon juice (or 1/2 teaspoon of cider vinegar)
a splash of vanilla extract
1/4 cup of rolled oats
1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 pint of fresh blueberries

1. In large bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, oil, sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Add the oats and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

2. Sift in the flour, baking powder and soda and mix until just combine. Carefully fold in the blueberries.

3. Pour the batter in a greased loaf tin and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, or until the top gets nice and brown, and a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

4. Cool well before slicing .. if you don't, you'll get a slice that's goopy -- delicious, but goopy.