Vegetarian Pho

I’ve been musing about soup as seasonal comfort food ever since the weather turned chilly, but after having pho (pronounced “fuh”) tonight for the first time in my life, I now realize you truly don’t know soup as comfort food until you experience this Vietnamese rice noodle and broth concoction. On the day of our first snowfall, which was accompanied by sleet and icy winds, this recipe could only be more apropos if one had a cold—it would be the perfect food-as-medicine meal!

In the past, I’ve just skipped over the pho section on the menu at Vietnamese restaurants because it’s always been made with meat and meat broth. But a few weeks ago when I was reading 101 Cookbooks’ most recent favorites list, it included a “to cook” link that brought me to a vegetarian pho recipe from, a new-to-me blog. Upon reading the ingredients, I could practically smell the fragrant broth. And vibrant fresh veggies and herbs, plus brown rice noodles (pasta—yay!) had me moving this recipe to the top of my “to cook” list.

I made the recipe pretty-much as written with the exception of using baby bok choy in place of the called-for head of bok choy because the co-op didn’t have it. You’ll like this any time of year, but it will be an especially welcoming meal if you’re having weather like we are. In addition to being vegetarian, it’s vegan and gluten-free, and after seeing how much my non-vegetarian husband loved it, you’ll likely satisfy just about anyone. Enjoy!

Vegetarian Pho

From, as adapted from Green Kitchen Travels by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl

2 large onions, peeled and halved

A nub of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

4 cinnamon sticks

4 star anise

4 cloves

4 cardamom pods

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

4 large carrots, peeled and chopped

1 fennel bulb, quartered, stalks removed

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce (tamari is a gluten-free soy sauce)

8 cups vegetable stock

4 heads of baby bok choy, halved

Fresh basil

Fresh mint

2 cups beansprouts

Sliced jalapeño peppers

Several limes, quartered

Thin sweet onion slices

1 pound brown rice noodles

Sriracha sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place onions and ginger slices onto a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the edges are starting to brown.

Place spices in a stock pot and dry roast until fragrant, stirring to prevent from burning. Add vegetable stock, tamari, carrots, fennel, and roasted onions and ginger. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain soup base through a fine mesh strainer to remove vegetables and debris, then return strained broth to the pot and reheat. Cook noodles according to packet instructions. Prepare serving bowls with cooked noodles, bok choy, beansprouts, onion, fresh herbs, jalapeño, and lime wedges. When ready to serve, pour over hot broth and serve immediately. Garnish with sriracha, if desired. Makes 6-8 servings.


Whole Wheat Pita Bread

Pita stack
A while back I was looking for a whole wheat bloomer recipe and a couple of those I came across included malt. Since I didn’t have any, I moved on to the next recipe. Then one day I was looking at the ingredients in the artisan bread we really like from a local bakery and it listed malt. Hmmm…is that the secret ingredient to outstanding homemade bread, I wondered. So I did a little research.

Turns out there are two types of malt (a derivative of barley) powder used in bread baking, diastatic and non-diastatic. Diastatic gives your bread a stronger rise, better texture, nicer crust color, and even extends the shelf life. Non-diastatic is used mostly for flavor, but it’s also what gives bagels their shiny crust (and elevates a plain old milkshake to rock star malt status).

Sounded to me like the diastatic was what I was looking for, and after trying in vain to find it at local stores, I ordered a bag from King Arthur Flour. You only use ½ to 1 teaspoon per three cups of flour, but it really makes a difference. Whole wheat bread loaves that were previously a little too dense for sandwiches were much lighter and fluffier. English muffins cooked up thicker with the same amount of dough. Every yeast bread I’ve made using this malt powder has turned out even better than before.

And now I’ve used it in pita bread (pocket bread). I forgot it in the first batch I made and they were good, but wow, everything was just better in the batch with malt powder. The dough rose higher, it was easier to roll, it puffed higher in the oven, and the pitas stayed puffed much longer after they were out of the oven, resulting in perfect pockets when cut in half for stuffing.

Speaking of stuffing, pita bread is the perfect sandwich vehicle. Gyros and falafel are traditionally served in pitas, but anything you would normally put between two slices of bread is pita-appropriate. You can also cut them into wedges and serve with hummus—oh my, I’m getting hungry just thinking of the possibilities! On to the recipe—I’m off to make some hummus. Enjoy!

Gyro sandwich

Pita dough rolled
Pita in oven
Pitas puffed

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (about 1 ½ envelopes)

1 tablespoon honey (use organic sugar or pure maple syrup for a vegan version)

2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F.)

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached bread flour

1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt

1 teaspoon diastatic malt powder (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water. Stir in the honey. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours and salt. With a wooden spoon, stir in yeast mixture until you have a stiff dough. You can use your hands for the final mixing—you want the flour to be fully incorporated. Dough will be fairly sticky. Cover bowl with a damp tea towel and place in a warm, draft-free place and let rise until double in size (about an hour).

Punch down dough and turn it out onto a flour-dusted surface. Knead a few times and shape into a round. Cover again with tea towel and let rise for about a half hour.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly oil two large baking sheets.

Using a sharp knife, cut round of dough into 8 equal wedges. Take one wedge in your hand and tuck dough underneath as you turn it to shape into a ball. Place ball onto a well-floured surface and flatten into a round and sprinkle with a little flour. Using a rolling pin, roll into a 6-7 inch round and place on baking sheet. Repeat with another wedge of dough. Bake 8-10 minutes, turning pan once halfway through. Rounds will puff up like a pillow during baking. Remove to racks to cool.

While first two pitas are baking, repeat process with two more wedges of dough. Continue until all are baked. If pitas don’t deflate on their own while cooling, gently press them down. Once they are cool, you can stack them and that will flatten them as well. Makes 8 pitas.

Pita short stack

Creamy Cauliflower Wild Rice Soup


Soup above

Yep, another soup recipe. Just can’t help myself—it is soup season after all! This recipe came about after we returned from a cabin trip to some cauliflower and potatoes that were soon to hit the far side of prime.

The trip was wonderful, with fall colors stunning on the way there. Even at the cabin, where a lot of the vibrant leaves were gone, there was color—scarlet sumac and dogwood, bright golden tamaracks, and I never realized how beautiful the leaves turn on the wild rose bushes along the shore. No matter the time of year, you can always find color to make a bouquet! And the chives were still thriving so I was able to bring home a bagful.
BouquetBouquet in vaseFire and rose bushes

Otis came along and while it was jacket weather for us, he still loved playing in the frigid waters of Lake Superior! He’s getting a little better at quieting his excitement on the drive there and back too, but he’s not quite there yet. He definitely brings a different level of fun though!

Otis in Lake Superior

Otis by cabin

Fall and winter get me craving a wild rice soup spiked with sherry, which seemed good compliments to the must-use-soon veggies. Shallots and garlic provide a flavor boost, along with creaminess from your milk of choice (buttermilk, skim, almond, cashew, evaporated—whatever floats your boat), and a comforting meal is born. Add a fall-themed salad such as this and some crusty whole-grain bread and your lunch or dinner is complete. Enjoy!

Soup side

Creamy Cauliflower Wild Rice Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or unsalted butter

½ cup sliced shallots

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

½ head cauliflower, cut into 1” pieces

2 medium gold or red potatoes, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 cups vegetable stock

1 cup milk (buttermilk, skim, almond, cashew, evaporated—your choice)

2 cups cooked wild rice

2 tablespoons dry or medium dry sherry

Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chopped chives and additional wild rice, for garnish

In a stockpot, melt the butter or heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook for several minutes. Add the garlic and cook about another minute. Stir in the cauliflower and potatoes and cook for about two minutes. Add the wine and increase heat to medium high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has pretty much cooked off. Add the vegetable stock, cover, and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until potatoes and cauliflower are tender.

Using an immersion blender, purée soup until it is completely smooth (alternately, cool soup a bit and purée in a blender, in batches, and return to pot). Over low heat, stir in the milk, wild rice, sherry, and salt & pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with chopped chives and a bit of wild rice. Makes four meal-size servings or six appetizer servings.

Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup
The cooling temperatures, shorter days and changing leaves have got me craving soup. A fall soup, of course! In years past squash soup has been my go-to when the chilly weather arrives. Thinking I might switch that up a bit, I considered a beet soup, but then I spied some beautiful sweet potatoes at the farmers’ market. Decision made!

This soup was our first course when Pete’s parents came for lunch last weekend. It was so good, I had to cook up another batch for this week’s lunches and added a little kick with cayenne pepper, making a really good soup downright fabulous. You can vary the amount depending on your heat preference, or leave it out altogether if you prefer.

Topping off the soup Monday was a little dollop of Greek yogurt and fennel fronds. Today, I threw in some leftover cooked wild rice before I heated it up and it was a great combination. Use your imagination or just have the soup plain, regardless, the flavors will be like a warm blanket snuggling you through the change of seasons. Enjoy!

Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tablespoon good quality curry powder (I used Madras-style curry)

¼ – ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into ½” size pieces

4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup coconut milk (regular or light)

Salt & pepper to taste

Greek yogurt, fennel fronds, toasted pumpkin seeds or almonds, for garnish

Cooked wild rice makes a good addition for a more filling version (stir in wild rice after soup is done and heat through)

Heat oil in stock pot over medium heat. Cook onion until it starts to soften, about 3-5 minutes. Add curry and cayenne and stir, cooking for about 30 seconds, until spices are fragrant. Add sweet potatoes and vegetable broth. Bring soup to a low boil and reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until sweet potatoes are tender.

Turn off heat and blend soup, using an immersion blender, until completely smooth and velvety. Add coconut milk and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve garnished with a small dollop of Greek yogurt and fennel fronds and/or mix in some cooked wild rice for a more filling soup. Makes about 6 good size servings.



Apple Walnut Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream and Caramel Drizzle

Apple Walnut Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream and Caramel Drizzle
On this beautiful fall day with weather that couldn’t be more perfect, two of my favorite people were our guests for lunch. Ginny and Jack, Pete’s lovely parents, joined us for a meal full of some of my favorites of the season. Sweet potatoes got curried and blended into soup, wild rice and sharp cheddar made their way onto a honey whole wheat-crusted pizza, and apples & cinnamon were the stars of the dessert, apple walnut cake with cinnamon whipped cream and caramel drizzle.
Curried sweet potato soupWild Rice Pizza

The cake and whipped cream are my takes on recipes in gifted chef Chloe Coscarelli’s vegan cookbook, Chloe’s Kitchen, and the caramel drizzle is from her website. If a vegan version isn’t a must, you could make a more traditional caramel sauce using butter or do what I did and pick up a jar of Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce, which I think is as good or better than homemade and doesn’t have any of the scary or unpronounceable ingredients that store-bought stuff often does.

The cake, whipped cream and caramel drizzle can all be made a day or two before—just warm the caramel a bit before serving so it’s drizzleable. The inclusion of almond meal (also called almond flour) and some whole wheat pastry flour give this dessert heart-healthy protein and the benefits of whole grain, and with the addition of super-food status walnuts, not even an ounce of guilt should be felt over this tantalizing treat! Enjoy!

Apple Walnut Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream and Caramel Drizzle

1 cup almond meal (also called almond flour)

½ cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ cup organic sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup grapeseed or canola oil

½ cup pressed apple cider

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped

3 medium Gala, Fuji, Honey Crisp (or other sweet apples), peeled and finely chopped

1 ½ tablespoons turbinado or other coarse grain sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 inch square baking pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond meal, flours, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, cider, vanilla, and vinegar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mixed just until combined—do not overmix. Fold in the walnuts and chopped apple.

Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, until center is set and cake lightly browned. Place on wire rack to cool.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Solids from one can of coconut milk (not light), (chill can overnight; don’t shake can before opening)

½ cup powdered sugar (or more to taste)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

½ – 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Chill a bowl and beaters in the freezer for 30 minutes. Place coconut solids in bowl and beat until smooth and thick. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon and beat to incorporate. Refrigerate at least two hours. Give it a whisk just before serving. This keeps in the fridge for several days.

Caramel Drizzle

1 cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup vegan, non-hydrogenated, margarine (Earth Balance is good)

4 teaspoons almond or rice milk

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, heat brown sugar, margarine, and non-dairy milk, stirring frequently.  Once mixture comes together, increase heat to medium-high and let cook for one to two more minutes, until it begins to boil and the bubbles move to the middle of the caramel. Remove from heat.

To serve, drizzle caramel over a dessert plate. Place a square of cake in the middle of the plate and top with a big dollop of whipped cream. Drizzle with more caramel. Makes about 9 servings.


Five-Spiced Apple Potato Hash

Hash and eggs
Fall came roaring in today with highs only in the 40s and sideways rain. I love it! I realize the actual change of seasons came over a week ago, but this is the first real autumn-feeling day we’ve had so far, and I’m happy as can be.

Appropriately, apples arrived at the farmers’ market last month, and I’ve been incorporating them into salads, sandwiches and soups ever since. This morning they made their way into my breakfast in the form of a hash. A good breakfast hash is true comfort food, and there’s no better time for comfort food than a blustery, rainy day made pretty by a wind-blown palette of gold, crimson, orange, brown and green outside the kitchen window.

Chinese five spice powder can be found at Asian foods stores, co-ops, well-stocked grocery stores and online. The actual number of spices it contains often is actually more than five (China Bowl Select, the brand I used, has six), and the spices can vary too, but typically contains star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel, all great compliments to apples! I didn’t peel the apples and potatoes, but if your preference is to do so, go for it.

The optional apple cider vinaigrette (recipe below) is from the newest addition to my collection, Edible Twin Cities: The Cookbook. It can be made ahead of time, and is so versatile–great on both side and main-dish salads, drizzled in fall-themed soups, and on sandwiches.  Adding another layer of flavor, it’s a nice touch, however, if you don’t have time, just use the yogurt as-is, and the hash will still be delicious. Topped with perfectly poached or fried eggs alongside a slice of toasted good quality bread and jam, it’ll warm your insides and start your day off right. Enjoy!
Five-Spiced Apple Potato Hash

Five-Spiced Apple Potato Hash

1 tablespoon butter or extra-virgin olive oil

1 large russet or 2 medium gold potatoes, cooked and cut into ½ inch chunks

1 medium sweet apple (honey crisp, gala, fuji, sweet 16), cored, seeded, and chopped

½ cup diced celery

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped fennel (reserve some fennel fronds for garnish)

¼ cup Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon apple cider vinaigrette (optional – recipe follows)

1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

¼ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A handful of chopped, toasted walnuts

Heat butter or olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add apple, celery, and onion and cook about three minutes. Stir in fennel, sprinkle with salt, and cook another minute or two. Toss in the potatoes, sprinkle with a bit more salt, a few grinds of pepper and the 5-spice powder. Cook until potatoes get a little browned.

Mix yogurt with apple cider vinaigrette (if using) and stir into potato mixture. Add the shredded cheddar and stir until cheese melts. Stir in the walnuts. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve topped with poached or fried eggs, fennel fronds and a side of toast for a hearty breakfast. Serves 2-4.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette
From Edible Twin Cities: The Cookbook

1 cup apple cider

1 honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored, and chopped

½ cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1 tablespoon honey

¼ cup canola or grapeseed oil

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, bring cider to a boil and cook at a low boil until it’s reduced by half.

Place the apple in a food processor. With the machine running, drizzle in the vinegar, mustard, honey, and reduced cider; puree until smooth. With the machine running, add the oils in a steady stream and process until the mixture emulsifies. Season with salt and pepper to taste.



Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parm
The first time I had eggplant parmesan was about 10 years ago, the night before a 30k race when several fellow runners and I carb-loaded at an Italian restaurant. There weren’t a lot of vegetarian options, so I went for the eggplant dish. It was divine—one that left me craving it long afterwards. And I had a fantastic race the next morning, even finishing so far ahead of the time I suggested my family and friends be there that they hadn’t even arrived yet when I crossed the finish line. The only thing I had done differently than other races and longer training runs was the eggplant parm. That had to be it!

It wasn’t until later that I found out this dish is so good, in part, because of the breading, frying (eggplant absorbs oil like crazy), mozzarella, and of course, the namesake parmesan. It was definitely not something that could be enjoyed often and I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve had it since. And no, I didn’t experience the same fantastic results when I indulged in it the night before a race the next time–unfortunately.

I tend to over-shop at the farmers’ market and sometimes oftentimes need to improvise in order to incorporate everything that looks so good on display, but turns out to be way too much for two people. That’s how this lighter, but still crave-able, version of an Italian restaurant classic came about.

A big pail of roma/plum tomatoes was made into several batches of the fantastic arrabbiata sauce blogged about recently.

Arrabbiata Sauce
My plan was to freeze it all, but I knew it would pair so well with the abundance of eggplant on hand, so I set one jar aside. Baking rather than frying the eggplant would certainly help the calorie count, plus I decided to use 2% cottage cheese in place of mozzarella. You could also use 1%, but I don’t know if fat-free would work. The pasta is optional—leaving it out results in fewer servings, but by no means decreases the feeling of gastronomic satisfaction. Enjoy and cue the Mambo Italiano!
Baked EggplantCooked & Bubbly

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Arrabbiata sauce (about 3-4 cups), or other red sauce (marinara, etc.—add 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper if you want to spice the marinara up)

2 medium eggplants (a total of about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced into ½ inch thick rounds

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

¾ cup white whole wheat flour

Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste (it will be used several different times)

2 eggs, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water

2 cups panko bread crumbs (whole wheat, if you can find it)

1 ½ cups 1% or 2% cottage cheese (I used 2%)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried parsley, or a tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

½ teaspoon dried oregano, or half a tablespoon fresh

12 oz. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente (optional)

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh basil leaves, for garnish, chopped if large

Place peeled & sliced eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with a teaspoon of kosher salt. Let sit for 30 minutes (this extracts any bitter flavor—some argue it isn’t is really necessary, but if you have the extra half hour, what can it hurt?). Rinse eggplant slices and pat dry with clean kitchen towels.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly spray two jelly roll pans with olive oil cooking spray.

Set up an assembly line of three shallow bowls. Into the first one, place the white whole wheat flour.

Into the second bowl, lightly beat the two eggs with two tablespoons water.

Into the third, mix the panko bread crumbs with ¼ cup parmesan and a little salt and pepper.

Dredge eggplant slices in flour mixture, then dip in egg, and finally in panko to coat. Place on prepared jelly roll pans. Spray tops of eggplant with olive oil cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes, flip eggplant slices and spray again with olive oil cooking spray, rotate pan, and cook 15 more minutes, until golden brown. Keep oven on at 375 degrees F—you’ve got more baking to do.

Meanwhile, mix cottage cheese, ¼ cup parmesan, garlic, parsley, oregano, and salt & pepper. Set aside.

Pour about 1 cup arrabbiata sauce or other red sauce into bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish. Layer half the baked eggplant slices over sauce (you may need to crowd them in). Put a dollop of the cottage cheese mixture on each eggplant slice. Drizzle about ¾ cup sauce over this. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices and cottage cheese mixture. Drizzle another ¾ cup sauce over the top. Finish with a sprinkle of the last ½ cup parmesan. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes, rotating pan half way through cooking time. Uncover and cook another 10 minutes until cheese is melted and things are bubbling. Turn oven to broil, and cook an additional 3 to 5 minutes (watch it carefully and remove earlier, if necessary), until the cheese is lightly browned.

If serving with pasta, while the eggplant combo is baking, bring a big pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Cook whole wheat spaghetti to al dente. Drain, return to pan, and drizzle a little (about a teaspoon) olive oil over it and toss using tongs (this will keep it from sticking together). Cover so that it keeps warm until ready to serve.

Toward the end of the eggplant mixture cooking time, heat remaining arrabbiata sauce in a small saucepan and keep warm.

To serve, place a pile of spaghetti (if using) on each plate, and top with a generous portion of the eggplant/sauce/cheese concoction. Drizzle with the warmed sauce and garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serves 6-8 if you include the pasta, 4-6 servings without, depending on the size appetites you’re accommodating.