Tuscan Style Kale, Bean and Tomato Soup

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I love this soup! I could live on it – especially in the winter. Chalk full of beans, fresh vegetables and grains, this soup embodies the very essence of a rustic Italian zuppe! I love that it is hearty enough to be a meal on its own and that I can make the whole thing in about 30 minutes – if my beans are cooked.  

I used dark red kidney beans in this recipe but you can use Cannellini beans if you prefer. Cannellini beans are simply white kidney beans and are often the bean of choice in Italian dishes.  You could also use great northern or navy beans, chickpeas or a combination of various beans. There are no hard rules here! When I was preparing the recipe for this post, I had a small amount of chickpeas in my refrigerator left over from something else so I added them to the soup. I tend to do things like that where I can, in an effort not to waste food. 

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Buckwheat groats are essentially ready to eat after soaking overnight. You’ll notice in the photo below that soaking doesn’t significantly increase the size of the groats; they simple go from hard little triangular kernels to soft plump kernels that you can squeeze between your fingers quite easily. The soaking water becomes slightly gelatinous – just rinse the groats thoroughly and set them aside until you need them. Buckwheat groats are gluten-free. Despite their name, they contain no wheat, nor are they part of the wheat family. If you do not have a gluten-intolerance, you could substitute barley, bulgar, freekeh or even pasta for the buckwheat groats. However, note that the cooking times for those grains will likely be longer.  

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Nourishing and delicious, If you have a big enough pot, I suggest making a large quantity of this soup and reheating as needed. It will last for several days in the refrigerator which makes it a perfect recipe for our busy lives. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup dried kidney beans, soaked over night and cooked (or use 1 can, rinsed)
  • 1/3 cup buckwheat groats, soaked at least an hour, or overnight
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, peeled (mince all but one clove)
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch of dark green curly kale (you could also use Lacinata kale)
  • 1 tsp. pink Himalayan salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Herbs de Provence (use pinch of dried thyme if you don’t have it)
  • Handful of fresh basil, torn

Grated ‘Parmesan” Cheese

  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Combine everything in a small nut grinder or coffee grinder and pulse until crumbly and well blended. Be careful not to over process. This can be made several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container. 

DIRECTIONS

If you are using canned beans, skip past the next paragraph. Just rinse and drain the beans and set aside.

Soak the dried kidney beans and buckwheat separately in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain the soaked beans and place them with the bay leaf and one clove of garlic in a saucepan large enough to hold at least 3 or 4 times the volume of water. Fill the pot with 6-8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the beans for 40-45 minutes. (Maintain a gentle, steady boil).  Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water after 20 minutes or so. At 40 minutes, the beans should be almost done. If they seem a little  undercooked, give them another 5 minutes but you do not want to overcook them. I find that if the beans have been soaked overnight, 40 minutes of cooking is perfect. After 40 minutes, the beans will be soft but still have a bit of a bite to them. Removing the pot from the heat right at 40 minutes and allowing the beans to cool completely in the cooking water results perfectly cooked beans. Once the beans have cooled completely, you can strain the cooking water, reserving the bay leaf and the clove of garlic. Place the reserved bay leaf and cooked garlic clove in a large soup pot and mash the garlic clove. (If you haven’t been able to soak the beans overnight, they will take longer to cook – you’ll have to check them for doneness every now and again after the 40 minute mark).

To a large pot, add the vegetable stock, crushed tomatoes, chopped carrots, celery and onion, remaining minced garlic, cooked beans and thoroughly rinsed buckwheat groats. Bring everything to a boil. While the stock is heating up, prepare the kale. Separate the leaves from the stems and cut the stems into half-inch pieces. Coarsely tear the leaves. Add the stems to the soup pot. When the soup reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.  Add the kale leaves to the pot all at once and push them down with a wooden spoon to submerge them in the broth. Simmer the soup for about 5 minutes. Lastly, stir in the fresh basil. 

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The soup is now ready to eat. Slice or cut chunks of the most rustic bread you can find and lightly grill on both sides. There is a local bakery in my area that makes wonderful rustic sourdough breads and although they are not gluten free the flavour of the sourdough complements the broth extremely well. Place a piece/slice of grilled bread in the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle the soup around and over the bread. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese. Alternatively, ladle the soup into the bowls and place a slice of grilled bread on top, pushing it into the broth so that it is partially submerged. Sprinkle cheese over the bread and the broth and serve. I like serving this soup in shallow wide bowls for visual appeal.

 Serves 5 to 6 generously.

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Easy Two-Bean Chilli with Sweet Potatoes

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This chili is scrumptious! Chilli is the ultimate cold weather comfort food and this recipe  contains no meat, dairy, oil or sugar! Hearty and satisfying, this chilli is loaded with healthy vegetables –  sweet potatoes, black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, and just the right amount of warming spices to pack in plenty of flavour. The whole thing can be prepared in one pot and if you use canned beans, or pre-cooked dried beans, your chilli will be ready in about an hour. No long simmering required here! Although, like many dishes of this type, they often taste flavour the next day!  

Try cooking dried beans in large batches ahead of time. You can portion them into ziplock bags and store them in your freezer until needed. Dried beans work out to be much cheaper than canned beans and it can save considerable time to have them cooked in advance. 

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One of the great things about this chilli is that it can be made 3-4 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator, or frozen for a month and eaten later.  Another great thing is that meat-eaters love this too!

Serve with a light green salad and any variety of gluten-free bread, corn tortilla chips, cornbread or a rustic sourdough. Top with vegan sour cream for a truly delightful finish! 

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder 
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (see Note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 cup water (start with 1 cup, only add more if necessary)
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, thoroughly rinsed and 
  • 1 15-oz. can dark red kidney beans, thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • large handful fresh cilantro, chopped 

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DIRECTIONS

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat and add chopped onions, stirring occasionally and adding a tablespoon or so of water to prevent scorching. As the onions cook, add a pinch of the salt to release the juices from them. Sometimes I cover the pot for a few minutes at this point just to allow the onions to sweat and soften in their own juices. Remove the lid and continue sautéing the onions, stirring occasionally until translucent and beginning to brown.

Add beans, minced garlic, chilli powder, cumin, chipotle and remaining salt. Stir to distribute the seasonings evenly. Then str in the tomatoes and their juices and the water.  Bring the chilli to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the tomatoes soften and begin to naturally break apart. Add chopped sweet potato. Bring the chilli back to a simmer, cover and cook until the sweet potato is tender, another 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and adjust the seasoning. The mount of chilli called for in the recipe is adapted to the level of heat I like – feel free to increase the amount if you like  a bit more heat! 

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At this point the chilli can be refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for a month or so. Garnish  the chilli with vegan sour creamcoarsely chopped cilantro and avocado slices, if you have them, just before serving.

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This recipe makes 4 generous servings, and could easily feed more if served over rice or pasta.

Lentil and Grape Salad

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It’s World Vegan Month!  Did you know?

This delightfully yummy salad made with French green lentils is one that you can enjoy all year round. The essential flavour in it is mint. Lovely, fresh spearmint. Fresh spearmint is one of my 4 favourite  herbs. I consider it a staple and I plant it every spring (the other 3 staple herbs are basil, cilantro and flat-leaf parsley).  Spearmint tastes great and it smells fantastic – crumple the leaves in the palm of your hand to release the aroma and inhale – aaaaah! Pure heaven.  If you’ve never grown your own spearmint before you should. Just be sure to contain it as it grows like mad and will overtake your garden if you allow it! 

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Inspired by a similar recipe in the book  Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Ann Crile Esselstyn and Jane Esselstyn, this lentil salad is sweetness and lightness combined. The celery adds crunch and texture, and the the walnuts add an earthiness which pairs really well with the sweetness of the grapes to create perfect balance of flavours. 

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This salad is great served on its own or you can serve it on a bed of greens, such as spinach, mixed lettuces or arugula. I have also made this salad using sprouted green lentils to keep it ‘raw.’ I hesitate to label this as a completely raw salad though because balsamic vinegar is not raw. You could however, make this salad using all apple cider vinegar instead, which would make it raw.  Use any type of lentil you want except red lentils as red lentils do not hold their shape after cooking. You could also use beans or peas – try it with cooked white navy beans or fresh peas in the summer time. The recipe is made exactly the same regardless of the type of legume you use.  

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Raw Sprouted Green Lentils

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Lentil and Grape Salad using raw sprouted green French lentilsimg_9230

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups cooked or sprouted green lentils
  • 2 cups red seedless grapes, halved
  • 1 small celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp. minced red onion
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4  cup chopped walnuts*
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch salt 
  • Freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Cook the lentils in 3 times their volume of water for 15-20 minutes. Strain and rinse with cold water to cool them down and then dump them in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients. Toss everything together gently to blend the ingredients and flavours. 

If you are sprouting the lentils, follow the directions for sprouting your own lentils before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

Cover and refrigerate the salad for up to 3 days. 

Yield: 4 generous servings

NOTES

*If you are making this salad ahead, place everything except the walnuts in a large bowl and toss. Add walnuts just before serving. 

Oatmeal Coconut Raisin Cookies

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Old fashioned oatmeal raisin cookies never seem to grab the same kind of attention that chocolate chip cookies do but I think they deserve a place on the blog. I admit, when I crave a cookie, oatmeal raisin isn’t my first choice but that’s because I gravitate towards anything and everything chocolate. I can’t help it – that’s just me! But everyone I know has a fond childhood memory of an aunt or a grandma making these cookies for them and  I just don’t see them disappearing from our consciousness any time soon!

Getting the texture of oatmeal raisin cookies right can be tricky. I have definitely had my fair share of oatmeal raisin cookies that were a little too heavy and/or dense and some that were too dry or too chewy. And some are simply too sweet. This recipe produces cookies are the complete opposite of all that. In spite of doing away with butter or shortening and refined sugars, we have created an oatmeal raisin cookie that is light, soft and slightly chewy and has just enough sweetness to let you know you’re eating a cookie! Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

Dry

  • 1-cup gluten free flour – I used Bob’s Red Mill
  • 1 cup GF rolled oats, ground until crumbly – not to an oat flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ chopped walnuts

Wet

  • 2 snack-size containers unsweetened applesauce
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

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DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C).

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl and then add to the dry. Mix well with a fork.

Scoop about 2 tablespoons of cookie dough into balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten each ball with a spatula. Wet the spatula between flattening each cookie, as the mixture will be sticky.

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Bake in the oven for about 14 minutes (you can bake them longer if you want a crunchier cookie, but I always find its best to undercook gluten free cookies). Allow cookies to cool on the tray for a minute and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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Yield: 2-dozen cookies

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Brown Rice Risotto with Mushrooms And Asparagus

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Risottos have never really been my thing. All that butter and cream is just too rich for my system these days and I feel full uncomfortable and lethargic after eating it, however small the portion. If I were going out to dinner, risotto would never be something I would choose from the menu. I don’t like cooking it either. I find the whole process of making risotto tedious and time-consuming, so, as you might guess, I am not usually all that excited about anything risotto related.  But when I accidentally stumbled upon a baked brown rice risotto recipe at Cookie and Kate and a vegan version of risotto at Forks Over Knives, I knew that I could simplify the method and come up with a healthier dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free risotto for the thousands upon thousands of risotto lovers out there! I ended up making a convert of myself and I am so glad I did!

Gone is the cheese and butter but what remains is that creamy consistency that makes risotto the great love of so many of you!  Almost in spite of  my previous experiences with risotto, this version has become a fast family favourite. In this recipe I used mushrooms and asparagus to blend into the rice and I actually prepped a larger ratio of vegetables to rice than you typically see in risottos, but that’s the way I like it. You can certainly decrease the amount of vegetables called for if you prefer. You can also substitute different vegetables. This is sooo good! And, if I didn’t tell you that this risotto recipe was vegan, you most definitely wouldn’t guess! 

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Baking the rice is a great time-saver – it means you don’t have to stand by the stove and stir the entire time! You can bake any type of rice, but different rices require different baking times so adjust your baking times accordingly if you decide to use another type of rice. If you are using long-grain brown basmati rice, as I have here, the timing below should work without any alterations.  

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • ½ cup dry white wine**
  • ½ cup almond milk, unsweetened
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. Dry Sherry**
  • 2 tsp. Naked Coconuts (optional)*
  • 1 cups organic brown basmati rice
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Soak rice in double the amount of water and a tsp. vinegar for 30 minutes. Rinse and strain.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat the vegetable stock and wine in an ovenproof saucepan until simmering. Keep on a very low simmer so that broth stays hot. (I make my own vegetable stock without salt, so use a low-salt or no-salt variety if your stock is store-bought).

Heat a medium non-stick pan over medium heat. Add rice and onion and stir to toast the rice for 2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 more minutes and then add the minced garlic. Cook, stirring for another minute until the garlic is fragrant. Add a ladle of stock to loosen the rice and onions from the pan and then transfer everything to the oven dish with the simmering stock. (I use my le Creuset).

Cover, and bring everything to a boil. Place the pot in the preheated oven and bake until rice is tender and cooked through and the liquid is completely absorbed, about 50-60 minutes. In my oven it takes exactly 60 minutes but I always check it at 50 minutes to be sure. It’s a safe-guard – I’d rather give it a few more minutes if it needs more time than have it burn.

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While the rice is cooking in the oven, prepare the asparagus and sauté the mushrooms.

For the mushrooms, place a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of water and when it sizzles, add the sliced mushrooms. Stir for 5-6 minutes, adding a tablespoon of water as it evaporates to keep the mushrooms from sticking. Season with a little salt towards the end – adding salt helps to draw more moisture from the mushrooms. When mushrooms have browned and reduced in size, remove to a small bowl and set aside.

To prepare the asparagus, remove bottom third of the spears by snapping them off. Discard. Chop the remaining asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Blanch the asparagus in boing water until just tender and bright green (about a minute). Set aside with the mushrooms.

When the rice is fully cooked, remove the dish from the oven. Pour in the almond milk, lemon juice and dry sherry. Stir thoroughly for 2 to 3 minutes, until the rice is creamy. Stir in the mushrooms and asparagus.

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Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator, covered, for a few days.

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Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Notes

*Naked Coconuts is gluten and soy free seasoning that can be used in place of traditional soy sauce in recipes. However, it’s an optional ingredient.

**If you do not want any alcohol in the recipe, you could substitute stock for the wine or even the same amount of water cut with a few tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar. A good non-alcoholic substitute for sherry would be unfiltered apple cider. Removing the wine and sherry from the recipe won’t result the same depth of flavour, but the suggested substitutes will add sufficient acid and fruity enhancing notes to the risotto.