Lentil and Chickpea Soup in the Crock Pot

It took me a while to recognize the pattern, but so many Mondays I come home and don’t feel motivated to cook.  I realized that I should figure out how to do something easy that is prepared in advance.  I have finally started to use and appreciate our pretty red crock pot.  On a Monday when I’m adjusting to the transition between weekend life and work life, it helps me to know that when I come home, while I fumble for my keys outside of the kitchen door, I will smell something warming and well-seasoned wafting out of the cracks in my house that has been cooking all day in the crock pot.  A meal slowly simmering at home gives me an all-day attitude adjustment, a sense of impending peace, calm and well-being ahead of me.  It makes the day and the evening better.  Much, much better.  Tonight, we came home to a simmering crock of Red Lentil and Chickpea Soup.
  • 3 cloves of garlic – crushed in the garlic press, or smashed and finely minced;
  • 2-3 inches of fresh ginger – peeled and grated;
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into “chickpea size” chunks;
  • 2 stalks of celery, rinsed, peeled and chopped into “chickpea size” chunks;
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced;
  • 1 cup of red lentils – picked over;
  • 1 14 ounce tin can of Eden Organic garbanzo beans- rinsed and drained;
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric;
  • 1 teaspoon Garam Masala;
  • 1 pinch saffron threads – chopped,  or crushed and rolled between index finger and thumb;
  • 1 teaspoon cumin;
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper;
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom;
  • 4-5 cups Vegetable Broth;
  • Optional additions:  One 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes or 2 Tablespoons of Tomato Paste– we are both needing a rest from acidic canned tomatoes in every soup and sauce we make, so I left them out, no matter how ill-advised that was;  1 diced winter squash or a couple of Yukon Gold potatoes chopped into “chickpea sized” chunks.
  • Toppings, optional, but highly recommended– a squeeze of lime juice 5 minutes before serving and one handful of chopped flat leaf parsley or cilantro.  More optional–a dollop of Greek Yogurt, Sour Cream or a tiny dash of saffron-infused heavy cream.  I have never tried saffron-infused cream, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?
  • For serving – cooked rice, or a slice of grainy bread with butter, also optional.

Method:  chop the vegetables and measure the spices on Sunday, or whatever day is right before your most tiring and hectic day of the week, and put everything into the liner of the crock pot, cover it, and placed it in the fridge.

Next morning, add the vegetable broth, give it a gentle stir and place the liner in the crock with the heat on low.  This should cook 8-10 hours on low.  If you want to give the broth a little body, you can blend a few cups of the finished soup with an immersion blender.  Or you can use my trick, and mash some of the soup solids with a potato masher.*  The soup goes well with a nice chunk of bread and butter or a little scoop of rice.  It reheats beautifully.  It is Monday.  This is all I have to offer.

*Still haven’t gotten an immersion blender… it is at the top of my kitchen wish list.  Accepting trade offers.

White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder

It is a good indication that we are getting pretty low on groceries and fresh produce when I decide what is for dinner by googling the few ingredients we have left to find an idea.  Tonight, I poked around the kitchen and found a can of white beans, a potato, and a half a bag of frozen corn to work with.  Those three ingredients sounded like a good base for a soup.  I wasn’t feeling like a chunky Tuscan White Bean Stew, or a creamy Rosemary White Bean Soup even though they looked tasty. We didn’t have half the ingredients for this luscious looking Corn Chowder with Chilies by Pioneer Woman and we wanted something lighter.  As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever combined white beans, corn and potato in one pot, but it seemed like these 3 pale, starchy comforters had to go together.  I thought “there must be a recipe for this white bean, corn and potato chowder!”  I immediately found two, fairly similar recipes that sounded tasty, [here and here].  I took cues from both recipes, made a few adjustments of my own and ended up with a soup that was healthy and warming that we both enjoyed.  First, I assembled my ingredients.

I think it is a good sign about a recipe when the ingredient list is short.  For one thing, in a simple recipe each ingredient plays a vital role in the dish as a whole.  There is also a better chance that your pantry and fridge will contain what you need so you don’t have to run to the store.  Most importantly you won’t have to pull out your hair trying to follow a complicated recipe or spend your evening chopping and measuring a zillion ingredients.  My White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder contained:

  • One cup of Frozen Corn.
  • 1 16 ounce can of Cannellini Beans.  — I happened to have a large can of beans so I used it, but you’d be fine with a 14 ounce can.  If you are up for preparing dry beans, which sadly, I am not, you should use about 1 cup of dry beans, soaked and cooked in water until tender.
  • 1 Yukon Gold Potato washed and chopped.
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced — I ended up using only one carrot, even though my photo contains two.
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped.  –I didn’t have any celery, but normally, I would include it.  Diced Onions, Carrots and Celery, or a mirepoix if you are cooking in French, makes a solid aromatic base for almost any soup or sauce.
  • 1 four cup carton of Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth.
  • For Garnish:  1 thinly sliced green onion and coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley  are both optional, but good.
  • About 1/2 a teaspoon each of crushed dried Rosemary, and dry Thyme.
  • A splash of skim milk, or half and half, or heavy cream, depending what fits into your diet.
  • A small amount of Olive Oil for sautéing the veggies.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

We have 2 people eating in our house most nights, so I try to cut soup recipes down to 4 portions, so that we each get to have a hearty bowl for supper and a smaller bowl for lunch the next day.  It took me two years to figure out that I need to cut down most recipes.  Having a few frozen portions is great for lunches at work or an easy supper, but a freezer can fill up fast in the winter when I feel like making a new pot of soup a few times per week.  If you have a bigger head count, or feel like stockpiling soup for lunches and lazy days, you can easily double or triple this recipe.

Once I had all of the veggies for the chowder chopped, I began by sautéing the onion and carrots.  I rinsed the cannellini beans, and mashed about half of them on a cutting board with a potato masher.  I did this for several reasons.  Since I wanted the chowder to be light and healthy I decided not to use half and half or cream in my chowder which are traditional chowder ingredients.  Mashed white beans added velvety texture to the soup liquid that it would otherwise lack without cream.  I used a potato masher because I don’t have an immersion blender* and lugging out the blender or food processor to puree half of the soup is far too much effort for me on a Tuesday night.  The potato masher works quite well to create a rustic creaminess and it cuts down on dish washing which is also a plus.  When the carrots and onions began to get soft in my enamel dutch oven, I added the rest of the ingredients except the milk and garnishes.  I let the soup simmer for a good half hour to 40 minutes.  This gave me time to set the table, check Facebook and chop up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and leaves of romaine lettuce for a small salad, along the lines of a caprese, minus basil.  I dressed the salad with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut herb mixture.  Once the chowder was hot and all the flavors combined, I removed the pot from the heat.  I mashed the entire mixture of veggies little a more with the potato masher right in the soup pot to allow the carrots, corn and potatoes to add body to the liquid in the chowder.  Right before serving the chowder I stirred in a splash of milk.  I served the chowder in a small bowl with the salad on the side of the plate.

On top of Bjorn’s salad I added a few this slices of Sopprasetta, a dried, cured Italian salami.

We loved this chowder.  It was warm and satisfying, but still light and healthy.  It will reheat well for our lunch, and we will able to eat the whole pot in two meals.  This meal made good use of the last few vegetables in the house.  Even if my fridge is fully stocked, I’d make it again.

* An immersion blender might be a good gift idea, hint, hint.  

Roasted Golden Cauliflower Soup with Curry

Do not adjust your monitor! This cauliflower purchased at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market is an interesting orange-y gold!  I’ve been seeing more and more varieties of vegetables in unique colours lately.  Cauliflower that is orange, purple or bright green; purple potatoes; golden beets; and bright yellow carrots and tomatoes are becoming commonplace at the Farmer’s Market and grocery store.  I don’t remember seeing these varieties much, just a year ago.  I attribute this influx of vegetables in a new rainbow of colors to the masses becoming interested in growing and eating heirloom vegetable varieties and the local food movement gathering broader appeal.  With all of the chatter among thoughtful eaters, people are becoming less suspicious of oddly shaped and uniquely coloured foods.  We as eaters are learning that these characteristics often are accompanied by flavors that exceed those of red tomatoes of uniform colour and size; massive white turkey breasts, and eggs with white shells and pale yellow egg yolks in by immeasurable amounts.  With a special-looking specimen like this golden cauliflower, I wanted it to play a starring role in what we made for our supper.  At home, I have never done anything with cauliflower other that roast it, steam it or eat it raw.  Recently, I sampled a truly delicious creamy, cheesy cauliflower soup at Heartland Restaurant in Saint Paul, and so for a weeknight meal my goal was to make a soup that was warming and delicious, but a little lower in calories and fat than the creamy-cheesy bowl of love from Heartland that I could never duplicate anyway.  I followed some direction from Martha Stewart found in a recipe for Curried Roasted Cauliflower Soup on her website.*  The results were good, but as expected, it was no match for the Heartland Cauliflower soup which elevated all expectations for what a cauliflower soup could be from the first spoonful.  I am not a James Beard winning chef though, and I’m striving to be health conscious, so I’ll cut my soup some slack.  It was a tasty and healthy meal.

I started the soup by roasting the cauliflower.  Martha Stewart’s recipe called for the cauliflower to be drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.  I used some cooking spray so that the cauliflower wouldn’t stick, but skipped the oil and salt.  The roasted cauliflower came out the oven with a similar colour and texture to macaroni and cheese.**  Next, I added the roasted cauliflower to a pan of sautéed onions.  Again, I used cooking spray instead of the butter suggested by Martha, but followed her lead on adding curry powder and low sodium vegetable broth, water and chopped fresh parsley.

I reserved a few of the best looking florets to top the soup, and gave the entire concoction a whirl in the blender to make it into a uniformly smooth consistency.

We enjoyed this soup with some grainy brown bread toasted with tomato slices, 21 Seasoning Salute** and a little melted mozzarella cheese.  The curry added some kick, and helped to emphasize the golden colour of the cauliflower.  It was a light but satisfying supper and there was enough for both of us to have a bowl re-warmed for lunch the next day.  I’m sure we’ll make this soup again.

*Say what you want about Martha.  She’s got her name on books, magazines, a website and a TV show that have been downright influential to my wedding planning, home keeping, cooking and entertaining and her website is by far the most comprehensive, well-organized resource on these subjects out there.

**Mmmm.  Macaroni and Cheese.

***21 Seasoning Salute is a salt free assortment of dried herbs and spices from Trader Joe’s that is indispensable in our kitchen.