Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup

A number of years ago my mother-in-law Ginny, who is a wonderful cook, gave me a copy of a soup recipe clipped from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The name of the soup was missing from the clipping, and on it, Ginny had written “Mushroom Soup.” With her recommendation, I knew it would be good.

A simple soup with uncomplicated ingredients, it surprises you with nuanced flavors and way above run-of-the-mill deliciousness. Each time I’m a bit taken aback by such great results from something this quick and easy—a perfect example of a dish that is so much more than the sum of its parts!

As we’ve been teased with a tinge of fall weather, I decided it was time to share a good soup recipe. After a quick google search for the actual name and origin, I found it was featured in the Pioneer Press in 2011 and is called Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup. Apparently there was a popular downtown Minneapolis skyway restaurant back in the day called Café Metro and this came from their cookbook. With the large amount of paprika, no wonder it’s got Hungarian in the name!

The only tweaks I made to this super healthy soup were to decrease the broth from 10 to 8 cups, used fresh herbs instead of  dried, and included a combination of smoked and regular paprika. With the finishing touches of fresh lemon juice and dill, the depth of flavor will satisfy and I’ll bet it’ll be on your table more than once this soup season. Enjoy!


Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup

Adapted from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups green pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 3/4 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

2 3/4 teaspoons paprika (I used a mixture of smoked and regular)

4 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (either cremini or button work well)

1/4 cup tomato paste

8 cups vegetable broth

2/3 cup uncooked barley

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 ½ tablespoons fresh dill or 3/4 teaspoon dried dill

In a large stockpot, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft. Add green pepper, carrots, thyme and paprika. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and tomato paste. Cook for 5 minutes or until mushrooms release their liquid. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add barley. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until the barley is tender. Season with the salt and pepper. Stir in lemon juice and dill. Ladle into soup bowls. Makes about 10 servings.

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Zucchini Fritters


Okay folks, it’s that time of year, when zucchini begin their annual attempt to take over the world, or at least our gardens. Co-workers will bring bags of it to work and beg you to take some. Zucchini bread will show up on the break room table multiple times.  You can buy a shopping bag full dirt cheap at the farmers’ market. It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere!

What to do with this abundance? Here’s a recipe that will use up a pound of the stuff and have you wanting more so badly you’ll put it in your regular rotation until zucchini season is over, and then you’ll be sad.

After finding this recipe last year, I bought zucchini each week at the farmers’ market, something I’ve never done before. Great as an appetizer for a summer dinner party, but just as good as a weeknight supper. Accompanied by a salad, you’ve got your quota of veggies and then some. Leftovers with a poached egg for breakfast are incredibly good!

The key to making these little cakes of deliciousness as crispy as a fritter should be is getting as much water out of your shreds as possible. The salt you mix the shredded zucchini with draws out the water and you’ll be able to wring out more than you ever thought possible. Last night I made a double batch and must have squeezed out over two cups.

Before draining

Before draining

After water squeezed out

After squeezing out water



The topping recipe included, along with the crisp fitters, creates a combination that will make you want to keep a full batch of these babies to yourself and eat them all (which is what I set out to do last night when I made that double batch for just Pete and me—although I did have a few left over).

I should point out this recipe is the reason we are now growing zucchini in our garden. More fritters for us! Enjoy!

Zucchini Fritters

  • Servings: makes about ten 2 1/2 inch fritters
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Recipe from the Smitten Kitchen

1 pound (about 2 medium) zucchini or a combo of zucchini and yellow squash

1 teaspoon coarse or Kosher salt, plus extra to taste (decrease to ½ teaspoon if you only have fine salt)

2 scallions, split lengthwise and sliced thin

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I used half all-purpose and half whole wheat pastry flour)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Olive or another oil of your choice, for frying (I like grapeseed or avocado oil)

To serve (optional, but really not, in my opinion—go for it!)
1 cup sour cream or plain, full-fat yogurt (Greek yogurt is perfect!)

1 to 2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

Pinches of salt

1 small minced or crushed clove of garlic

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Place a baking sheet on the middle rack.

Trim ends off zucchini and grate them either on the large holes of a box grater or, if you have one, using the coarser shredding blade of a food processor (that is, if you have more than one shredding blade; mine has two).

In a large bowl, toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Wring out the zucchini in one of the following ways: pressing it against the holes of a colander with a wooden spoon to extract the water, squeezing out small handfuls at a time, or wrapping it up in a clean dishtowel or piece of cheese cloth and wringing away (the dish towel is my preferred method). You’ll be shocked by the amount of liquid you’ll lose, but this is a good thing as it will save the fritters from sogginess.

Return deflated mass of zucchini shreds to bowl. Taste and if you think it could benefit from more salt (most is lost in the water), add a little bit more; we found 1/4 teaspoon more just right. Stir in scallions, egg and some freshly ground black pepper. In a small dish, stir together flour and baking powder, then stir the mixture into the zucchini batter.

In a large heavy skillet—cast iron is ideal—heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Drop small bunches of the zucchini mixture onto the skillet (I used a #30 cookie dough scoop) a few at a time so they don’t become crowded (I did four at a time in a 10” skillet) and lightly nudge them flatter with the back of your spatula.

Cook the fritters until the edges underneath are golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. If you find this happening too quickly, reduce the heat to medium. Flip the fritters and fry them on the other side until browned underneath again, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Drain briefly on paper towels then transfer to baking sheet in the warm oven until needed. Repeat process with remaining batter, keeping the pan well-oiled. It’s best for the fritters to have at least 10 minutes in the oven to finish setting and getting extra crisp.

For the topping, if using, stir together the sour cream or yogurt, lemon juice, zest, salt and garlic and adjust the flavors to your taste. Dollop on each fritter before serving. These fritters are also delicious with a poached or fried egg on top.

Do ahead: These fritters keep well, either chilled in the fridge for the better part of a week or frozen in a well-sealed package for months. When you’re ready to use them, simply spread them out on a tray in a 325 degree F. oven until they’re hot and crisp again.

Chive Mint Pesto


There’s a patch of chives in front of our cabin that grows like crazy; not sure why it’s so prolific—could be it’s just as happy to be there as we are. I try and remember to cut some to bring home every time we’re there, but it seems like half the time I forget.

This time I remembered, and I brought home a lot! It’s especially nice if the chives are flowering their light purple blooms, so pretty and edible too—a mild onion flavor that works beautifully as a garnish on whatever you’ve used the chives in.


With this volume of chives, the first thing that came to mind was making pesto. I’ve made a
rustic chive pesto in the past, but this time I decided to do the more conventional pesto method, in the food processor. And with my mint and basil plants needing a trim, I opted to include a good amount of mint and a little basil.

Following the basic pesto recipe I’ve used for years, but subbing in chives and mint in place of basil and throwing in a shallot for good measure, the result was wonderful! On pasta, as a marinade for grilled vegetables, on pizza, in mashed potatoes, eggs, sandwiches, the uses are endless.

As in other pesto recipes I’ve shared in the past, there’s no cheese, which is not typical for pesto, but with the olive oil, it seems rich enough in my mind already, so I do without. Feel free to include some parmesan if you’d like.

This recipe makes a big batch that would be hard to use between Pete and me in the week or so it lasts in the fridge, so I froze half. Pesto freezes well and it’s nice to have on hand for whipping up yummy recipes at a moment’s notice (a quick defrost in the microwave and your frozen pesto is ready to use).

The bonus is I have enough chives left over to make a couple loaves of buttermilk chive bread—I can’t wait!

Chive Mint Pesto

  • Servings: makes 3 cups
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2 cups firmly packed fresh chives

1 cup fresh mint leaves, or a combination of mint and basil, firmly packed

1 cup chopped walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or a combination, toasted

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients, except olive oil, in bowl of a food processor. Process until combined. Scrape down sides of food processor bowl.

With food processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until mixture is completely blended. Scrape down sides again and give it a final pulse or two. Taste, and add more salt or lemon juice if necessary.

Keeps in the fridge for a week or so, in the freezer for a couple months. Makes about 3 cups.

Cauliflower Taco Meat


The humble cauliflower. That funny looking vegetable I hated as a child, continues to surprise me. First there was cauliflower pizza crust, then Buffalo cauliflower, cauliflower steaks, and now, wait for it…cauliflower taco meat!

Replacing the spicy ground beef in traditional tacos, this mixture of cauliflower, mushrooms, walnuts and bold seasonings amps up the deliciousness and it’s a healthy mix of superfoods to boot! What’s not to love? And I swear, even if you think you don’t like cauliflower, mushrooms, or walnuts, if you like tacos, you will like this.

I stumbled upon the recipe at Pinch of Yum, one of my favorite food blogs (and their photography is amazing!). Intrigued, I knew what I was going to make with that head of cauliflower in the fridge. The only thing that made me hesitate was the two cups of walnuts the recipe called for. I know walnuts are super healthy, full of good fats, omega 3s, and loaded with antioxidants, but they also pack a wallop of calories, which I certainly don’t need. Since mushrooms are so meaty, especially cremini mushrooms, I decided to replace half the walnuts with them. The result wowed us!

And don’t limit this yummy mixture to tacos; it would make a great filling for burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, frittatas, taco salad and on and on. My mind is now working on a way to make this, with different seasonings, into a mixture for Italian recipes, lasagna, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, and stuffed peppers. And sloppy joes! I bet that would be wonderful!

The taco “meat” ingredients involve just a quick series of pulses in the food processor and then a half hour of baking, followed by a couple minute broil, then a sprinkling of fresh lime juice. While it’s in the oven, you can prep your taco accompaniments, so this is very doable on a weeknight after work. Plus, it reheats really well, and leftovers will not go to waste. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Taco Meat

Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

3 cups cauliflower florets

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup chopped cremini mushrooms

2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Fresh squeezed lime juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Place all ingredients except lime juice in the bowl of a food processor and pulse on and off until the texture of cooked ground beef. I found it easier to get the right texture by doing this in two batches, half of each ingredient in each batch. The first time I made it I did it all at once and half of it was almost like a paste—still tasted great, but just not the right texture. Transfer mixture to the baking sheet and spread it out in an even layer.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once at the half-way point. After the 30 minutes, turn oven to broil and broil 8-12 inches from broiler for a minute or two. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of lime juice and toss to distribute it.

That’s it. The “meat” is ready to use in tacos, burritos, taco salads, enchiladas, quesadillas, or whatever your heart desires. Reheats well and keeps several days in the fridge. Makes about 4 servings.

Chinese Scallion Pancakes


Our favorite Chinese restaurant is The Tea House in St. Paul. I first heard about it years ago in a St. Paul Pioneer Press review. They gave it 4 out of 4 stars, something I hadn’t seen in any review before, so we had to check it out. We’ve been fans ever since.

I usually order their Szechuan Eggplant in Garlic Sauce—it’s amazing! My mouth is watering just thinking about it—spicy, sweet, and sour perfection. For a starter, we always get an order of their Shanghai Scallion Pancakes and they are delicious. Something made me think about them last week and I decided to see if there were recipes online for something similar. There were lots of recipes!

After perusing a bunch, I found they were all pretty similar. You make a dough of flour and boiling water, knead it, let it rest, and roll out your dough. Then you brush it with oil (or chicken fat—no thanks!), sprinkle with salt and scallions, roll jelly-roll style and then cinnamon roll style. After a final roll out into a round, you pan-fry them and serve them with a simple dipping sauce.

My first batch was made following an America’s Test Kitchen recipe found on The Splendid Table’s website. They were good, but I thought they would be better using less oil in the pan and more scallions in the pancakes.

For my second batch, in additional to using less oil, rather than rolling the dough initially into rounds, I followed directions from a recipe on the Omnivore’s Cookbook site to roll into a long, narrow rectangle, resulting in a longer coil that ultimately made for more flakiness in the pancakes.


In one of the many recipes I read, it mentioned that traditional Chinese flour results in flakier pancakes than regular all-purpose flour. They suggested using pastry flour or cake flour in place of some of the all-purpose flour, so in the second batch, I used one-third cake flour, one-third whole wheat pastry flour, and one-third all-purpose. I’m not sure how much it helped, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

The second batch was the definite winner. Crispy, flakey, scalliony, with no trace of greasiness. The dipping sauce added a salty, slightly sweet component to finish the dish and made it every bit as good as the Shanghai Scallion Pancakes from The Tea House. Enjoy!

Chinese Scallion Pancakes

Adapted from this Omnivore’s Cookbook Recipe and this America’s Test Kitchen recipe on The Splendid Table

Dipping Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon water

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons honey (use agave or maple syrup for a vegan version)

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Scallion Pancakes:
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided (or a mixture of all-purpose, cake, and whole wheat pastry flours—half cup each)

3/4 cup boiling water

5 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil or a neutral vegetable oil like grapeseed or canola, divided

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

6 scallions, thinly sliced

For the Dipping Sauce: Whisk all ingredients together in small bowl and set aside.

For the Pancakes: Using a wooden spoon, mix 1 1/2 cups flour and the boiling water in a bowl to form rough dough. When cool enough to handle, transfer dough to lightly floured surface and knead until tacky (but not sticky) ball forms, about 4 minutes Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

While dough is resting, stir together 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, the sesame oil, and remaining 1 tablespoon flour into a paste. Set aside.

Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat to preheat. Divide dough into three equal portions. Cover two pieces of dough with plastic wrap and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the first piece of dough into a rectangle, approximately 12 x 8 inches. Drizzle with one-third of the paste and use a pastry brush to spread evenly over entire surface. Sprinkle with 1/3 teaspoon of the kosher salt and a third of the scallions.

On the long end, roll the dough into cylinder (jelly roll style). Coil the cylinder into a spiral (cinnamon roll style), tuck the end underneath, and flatten the spiral with your palm. Cover with plastic and repeat with remaining two pieces of dough, oil-flour mixture, salt, and scallions.

Roll each spiral into 7 or 8-inch round. Cover with plastic.

Place 1 tablespoon peanut oil in the skillet and increase heat to medium-low. Place one pancake in the skillet (oil should sizzle). Cover and cook, shaking skillet occasionally, until pancake is slightly puffy and is golden brown on the underside, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (If underside is not browned after 1 minute, turn heat up slightly. If it is browning too quickly, turn heat down slightly.) Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil over the pancake and use a pastry brush to distribute over entire surface. Carefully flip pancake. Cover and cook, shaking skillet occasionally, until second side is golden brown, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

Uncover skillet and continue to cook until bottom is deep golden brown and crispy, 30 to 60 seconds longer. Flip and cook until deep golden brown and crispy, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to wire rack. Repeat with remaining pancakes.

Cut each pancake into 6 wedges and serve, passing dipping sauce separately. Makes 4 appetizer servings.

To Make Ahead: Stack uncooked pancakes between layers of parchment paper, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours or freeze for up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw pancakes in single layer for 15 minutes before cooking.

Brussels Sprouts Elote-Style


Recently Pete and I crossed a “must-try” restaurant off our list. Pajarito, a St. Paul Mexican eatery, has been open a little more than a year and what a shame it took us that long to get there—the food was phenomenal! Everything we ordered, we’d happily get again, but the Brussels sprouts elote-style were change-your-life good. For reals!

Elote is Mexican street corn, but when Pajarito opened last winter, corn wasn’t in season, so they decided to give the elote treatment to Brussels sprouts. The flavors were amazing and as soon as we got home, I started googling to see if I could find a similar recipe. Lucky me, the restaurant’s actual recipe was written up by two local media outlets (that’s how popular these little nuggets of wonder are!).

Pajarito starts by deep-frying the Brussels sprouts, and because I refuse to venture into the land of deep-frying in my kitchen, I used their suggestion of oven-roasting as an alternative. Also, their recipe uses a homemade aioli. Being a little leery of making things with raw egg yolks and not wanting to buy a dozen pasteurized eggs when only one was needed, I simply added their seasonings to already-on-hand mayonnaise (Earth Balance’s Mindful Mayo).

Tajín is the brand of seasoning the restaurant uses to finish off this dish, along with a sprinkling of cotija cheese. After checking one store and not finding Tajín, I just went ahead and ordered it from Amazon. This mixture of lime, chilies, and salt really elevates the dish, so definitely use it if you can find it locally or have Amazon Prime.

The finished product was absolutely delicious—I thought it was just as good as the restaurant’s deep-fried version, minus the extra fat and calories. And by using vegan mayonnaise, all that’s needed if you want it completely plant-based is to skip the cotija. Enjoy!

Brussels Sprouts Elote-Style

Adapted from a recipe by chefs Stephan Hesse and Tyge Nelson of Pajarito in St. Paul, MN

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/8 cup Elote Aioli (recipe follows)

About a 1/2 tsp. Tajín brand seasoning (can be found in the international section at well-stocked grocery stores and from Amazon)

1 lime, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place Brussels sprouts in a medium bowl and toss with olive oil and salt & pepper. On a parchment lined baking sheet, place sprouts, cut side down. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.

Transfer cooked sprouts to a bowl and toss with 1/8 cup Elote Aioli. Place sprouts on a serving dish/plate, sprinkle with Tajín seasoning, cotija cheese, then garnish with lime wedges, and serve. Makes about 4 servings.

Elote Aioli

Note: This is basically a flavored mayonnaise. Crema is a more sour crème fraîche and is available in most supermarkets and Mexican specialty food stores. The recipe will make more Elote Aioli than needed for this Brussels sprouts recipe, but the leftovers are good on just about anything, including in place of plain mayonnaise in tuna salad—awesome! Refrigerate remaining aioli in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.

1 cup mayonnaise

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon dried oregano

¾ teaspoon hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot)

1/4 c. crema (which I didn’t have so used a couple splashes of buttermilk)

½ to 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together first 8 ingredients (through lime juice). Season to taste with salt. Transfer aioli into an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs and Gravy


Recently I came across a recipe for vegetarian Swedish meatballs and my mouth started watering. I’ve never had the real thing, but I imagine they’d be delicious. This recipe, however, didn’t have the traditional allspice and nutmeg included, so I moved past it and searched for other versions.

Ultimately, I ended up adapting a non-vegetarian recipe, one called The Best Swedish Meatballs from the new-to-me blog, The Recipe Critic. I replaced the ground beef with a mixture of wild rice, cremini mushrooms and cauliflower, then added a little ricotta for richness (you could also use Greek yogurt). To save time, I purchased already-cooked wild rice, which you can find in either cans or pouches. Just make sure it’s all wild rice, not a blend including other types of rice.

But the gravy is what makes this dish truly special. Oh, the gravy! Luxurious, I tell you, with unexpected oomph from Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard. Quick and easy to make, whip it up while the meatballs are baking.

You certainly can eat the meatballs and gravy on their own, but served over mashed potatoes or egg noodles makes a complete, comfort food meal—perfect for a cold winter’s day! Enjoy!


Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs and Gravy

Adapted from The Recipe Critic

Meatballs:
2 cups cooked wild rice

1 ½ cups chopped mushrooms, cremini work well—nice and meaty

3 cups cooked cauliflower florets

½ cup ricotta cheese or Greek yogurt

¼ cup finely chopped onion

2 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat

¾ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided

Olive oil spray or olive oil

Gravy:
4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups vegetable broth (I used Edward & Sons Not-Beef Bouillon Cubes)

½ cup milk or half-n-half

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (the Annie’s brand is vegetarian)

1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Pulse 1 ½ cups of the wild rice, the mushrooms, and cauliflower in food processor until blended, but with some texture left. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the remaining half cup of wild rice. Add the ricotta or yogurt, onion, eggs, bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt, allspice, white pepper, nutmeg, and 1/8 cup of the parsley. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Roll 1 ½ – 2 tablespoon portions of mixture into balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I used a #30 cookie dough scoop, which worked perfectly. Spritz balls with olive oil spray or brush with a little olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan at the halfway point.

Meanwhile, make gravy. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add butter and flour. Whisk until it turns light brown. Slowly stir in broth and milk. Add Worcestershire and Dijon mustard and bring to a simmer, whisking until gravy starts to thicken. Season with a little salt and pepper, to taste.

Add cooked meatballs to the skillet and simmer for a couple minutes (you’ll have leftover meatballs). Sprinkle with remaining parsley.

Serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Makes about 4 servings.