Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Temperatures here plummeted right after Christmas and have only crept above zero (Fahrenheit) a couple times briefly since. More of the same is forecast the next few days until a warm-up this weekend to the balmy teens and twenties. If ever there was a time for hearty soup, it’s now.

This soup, full of red lentils, carrots, and a little potato for heft, along with warming spices, is the epitome of hearty. And healthy too. Just what I needed after the last couple weeks of holiday foods—the too rich, too sweet, or just too much—foods I don’t normally eat. Setting the food reset button in the right direction is a pleasure when it tastes this good!

Don’t skip the lemon juice or the paprika oil, they really take this to the “Did I really just make something so out-of-this-world delicious?” level. Enjoy!

Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, along with a couple aspects of this New York Times recipe

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart vegetable stock or broth

1 cup water

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium Yukon gold potato, diced

1 ½ cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for extra seasoning

1 teaspoon dried mint, tarragon, or basil, crushed

1 teaspoon paprika (I used ½ teaspoon smoked hot and ½ teaspoon sweet)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until onion has softened. Stir in coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne, cooking until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, water, carrots, potato, and lentils and bring to a low boil. Reduce to a lively simmer, and cook until lentils are soft and carrots and potato tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired consistency. If you’d like a few chunks of carrot and potato, stop before completely puréed. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and add additional salt and lemon juice if needed. Cover stockpot to keep soup warm.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of the paprika oil and chopped cilantro or parsley. Makes 4-6 servings.


Garlic Scape Soup

Garlic scapes are one of the most unusual, yet beautiful, items you’ll find at the farmers’ market. Fleeting, too, as they’re only around for a few short weeks in early summer. They can be used in a variety of ways—in stir-fries, pesto, scrambled eggs, and even replace a utensil in this Grilled Mushroom Satay with Garlic Scape Skewers I made a couple years ago.

With a lovely bunch of scapes on hand, today I decided on soup. A pretty puréed soup full of healthy ingredients and mild garlic flavor. Potatoes give it body and some fresh spinach helps keep the vibrant green color, although the addition of the milk dilutes it a bit. Garnished with fresh thyme from my herb garden and a sprinkling of pistachios to maintain the green color scheme, we had a light, but delicious lunch.

Originally thinking this would need to go through a fine mesh sieve after puréeing, it didn’t. I discarded the thicker last few inches of each scape and this resulted in no fibrous pieces remaining after pureeing. Was it smooth as silk? No, but darn close. Enjoy!

Garlic Scape Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Garlic scapes, cut into 2 inch pieces, to measure 2 cups (cut off the end from the flower bulb on up and if the other ends seem fibrous, cut off a few inches there as well)

½ a large yellow onion, chopped

1 medium to large russet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

A couple handfuls of fresh spinach leaves

4 cups good quality vegetable broth/stock (homemade is ideal)

1 cup milk of choice (whole, low-fat, cream, almond, evaporated, etc.)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chopped pistachios for garnish

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot or Dutch oven. When oil is hot, add scapes and onion, sprinkling with a little salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until scapes and onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in potato, thyme leaves, and spinach; add another small sprinkle of salt. Cook for an additional minute or two. Add stock/broth, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cover pan, with lid slightly askew, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, purée soup until very smooth (alternately, purée in a blender in small batches, venting the lid to let steam escape, and return to pot). Place pot over medium heat and stir in milk, cooking until heated through, but not boiling. Add sherry vinegar or lemon juice and stir. Season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved thyme and pistachios. Makes 4-6 servings.

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.

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.



A New Year’s Eve Dinner Party: Grilled Pear Crostini and Winter Vegetable Israeli Couscous

Happy 2014 to you all! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season full of family, friends, love and great food!

Pete and I were fortunate to have a little vacation time right after Christmas and spent a couple nights in favorite cities sandwiched around a couple nights at the cabin (while Otis enjoyed a little vacation of his own at the pet resort). Arriving at the cold cabin, it was around 30 F. degrees outside, but even colder inside. After Pete got an inferno going in the wood stove, the temperature climbed to a balmy 32!Thermometer (940x1280)

Gradually the warmth spread throughout the cabin and we had a comfortable evening listening to the WTIP’s eclectic programming and relearning backgammon (neither of us had played since college!). The next day was an active one spent running and snowshoeing in gently falling snow, but the outside temps plummeted that afternoon and by our second morning “roughing” it, outside it was -15 F., which made it all the more challenging to keep the cabin interior toasty, but we remained close to warm—lots of layers helped!

The sub-zero temperatures rewarded us with stunning views lakeside. Ice formations were spectacular and the steam rising off the warmer-than-air-temp lake gave the sunny morning an extraordinary look.


Back home now for a couple days, we decided a New Year’s Eve dinner in was the celebration of choice. One of my favorite Christmas gifts, from my brother and sister-in-law with impeccable taste, was Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. Trying out a few new recipes was a perfect way to spend the evening.

Grilled Pear Crostini was our first course. Adapted for taste preferences and what we had on hand, this was both pretty and delicious, and is an appetizer that would go over big at any dinner party. Make sure your pears aren’t too ripe or they will fall apart on the grill pan.
??????????????????????OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur second course was a re-do of the salad I made for Christmas, an orange-pistachio salad, flecked with red onion and tossed with orange juice-Dijon vinaigrette. Recipe coming in a future post.

A bold and hearty Winter Vegetable Israeli Couscous was our entrée. Spicy and filling, the perfect dish for a celebration dinner on a night where temperatures continue to remain stuck below zero. Wanting to avoid a trip the grocery store, I adapted it for what I had in my fridge and pantry, and have included both recipes as I made them.

Dessert was thawed from the freezer—leftovers of our Christmas Apple Pear Galette with Cinnamon-Buttermilk Glaze, paired with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream. After dinner champagne by the fire brought us to a midnight toast and welcome of the New Year. May it be your best ever!

Grilled Pear Crostini
Makes 2-4 servings

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-6 slices whole wheat baguette, cut 1 ½ inches thick
2 semi-ripe pears (unpeeled)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4-5 ounces good quality mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a food processor, process pine nuts, 4 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, and a bit of salt and black pepper to a coarse paste. Spread a thin layer of paste on each slice of baguette. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, cut each pear lengthwise into 6 wedges and remove the core with a knife. Toss the pear wedges in a bowl with the remaining tablespoon olive oil, sugar, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt.

Heat a ridged cast iron grill pan over high heat until very hot. Using a tongs, place the pear slices in the pan and cook for about one minute to make char marks, then turn with tongs and cook for one minute longer on the other side. Remove the pears carefully with tongs.

To assemble crostini, sprinkle each toasted bread slice with cheese and top with a couple pear slices. Bake for 3-4 minutes, until cheese is somewhat melted. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped tarragon and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Winter Vegetable Israeli Couscous
Serves 4

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
10-12 baby blonde or gold potatoes, cut into quarters
4 large or 8 small shallots, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks
2 cinnamon sticks
¼ teaspoon five spice powder
3 bay leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon hot paprika (or sweet paprika, plus a pinch of cayenne)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 ¼ cups cubed winter squash or pumpkin

½ cup golden raisins
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained, reserving liquid
Vegetable broth or stock to make 1 ½ cups when combined with reserved bean liquid

1 cup Israeli couscous (or regular or whole wheat couscous; quinoa for a gluten-free version, cooked according to package directions)
large pinch of saffron
1 ¼ cup vegetable broth or stock
2 tablespoons butter, broken into pieces

1 tablespoon harissa
Zest of half a lemon
Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

Chopped tarragon, Italian parsley, or cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large baking dish, combine the carrots, potatoes, and shallots with cinnamon sticks, five spice powder, bay leaves, three tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and the remaining spices, until vegetables are evenly coated. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add the cubed squash, tossing to incorporate, and continue cooking for about 35 minutes, until vegetables have softened, but are not mushy. Add raisins, chickpeas, and broth with reserved chickpea liquid. Cook an additional 10 minutes, or until heated through. Stir the harissa, lemon juice, and lemon zest into the vegetables. Taste and add salt, if needed.

About 10 minutes before vegetables are done, heat to boiling the 1 ¼ cup vegetable broth, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, saffron and a pinch of salt. Add Israeli couscous, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the butter and stir into couscous and cover until butter is melted.

To serve, place several large spoonsful of couscous in a shallow bowl. Top with a large ladle full of vegetable mixture, including liquid. Garnish with chopped tarragon, Italian parsley, or cilantro. Enjoy!