Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

These Syrian Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce are a fruity, tangy crowd pleaser. We have our son, daughter-in-law Frances and granddaughter visiting us this week. Originally scheduled to come for New Year’s and our son’s birthday, when my husband contracted Covid and the trip was postponed. Airlines were cancelling flights right and left as well. It had been so long since we had had them for a visit to Chicago that I had begun to feel that this day would never come. Thankfully, my husband recovered and because we both had been vaccinated and boostered, I managed to remain negative!

I had been dreaming of their visit forever and all of the things that we would do and meals that I would cook. Well, unfortunately the weather has been quite cold and they are used to California temperatures. So between that and Covid restrictions, a trip to the grocery store and one walk along the river is as exciting as it got. However, Nana and Grandpa made sure that we had lots of stories to read and toys to play with and Juliana helped Nana cook. Our granddaughter is only two so she has not yet been vaccinated and we wanted to be careful.

Well, I may not be able to control very much these days, but I could at least feed everyone well. As soon as I came across this recipe for Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce, I knew that I had a winner. I did make a few changes to quantities and method, but there is no one way to make these and every family has their own version.

These delicious meatballs are often served for Jewish Holidays, including Passover. Mine were made using breadcrumbs, but equal amounts of matzah meal could easily be swapped out to make them Kosher for Passover. Of course, you don’t have to Jewish to enjoy these yummy and satisfying meatballs and they likely are also made in non-Jewish Syrian communities. Traditionally served with rice, I used whole wheat couscous when I served them.

The meatballs call for a fairly large quantity of pine nuts, which are not inexpensive. A reasonable substitute would be blanched slivered almonds. However, if pine nuts are within your budget, I would encourage you to use them. Their unique flavor, especially when lightly toasted, just makes this dish truly celebratory.

The seasonings are warming baharat , Aleppo pepper and allspice with loads of chopped fresh herbs. And tamarind, which can be found in Indian and Middle Eastern stores is readily available online or in many spice stores these days.

The recipe I made called for ground beef, but ground lamb could be used instead. Meat has become quite expensive and normally my husband and I only eat it once a week, if that. However, the recipe does make 40 meatballs and will feed a crowd, especially with the usual array of salads and dips that are a part of every Middle Eastern/North African meal. Everyone, including my 2-year old granddaughter loved this dish!

Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

Recipe

Yield: 40 golf-size meatballs

Ingredients

For the Meatballs

About 1 Tablespoon EVOO, Grapeseed or other oil

3 pounds of ground beef

5 large eggs

1.5 cups of pan-toasted pine nuts

3/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs (or matza meal)

About 2 cups of bread crumbs or matza meal for lightly coating the meatballs (I used a mix of Panko and regular fine dry bread crumbs.)

1.5 teaspoon kosher salt

1 heaping Tablespoon of baharat or allspice

1.5 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

2 large handfuls of fresh herbs, finely chopped. (Parsley, cilantro, dill and mint are wonderful)

For the sauce

2 teaspoons EVOO

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

4 cups water

10 Tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) good quality tamarind paste in concentrated form

6 ounces tomato paste

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Oil two sheet pans with about 1/2 Tablespoon on each pan.

Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl except for the oil. I like to use glass or stainless steel when working with raw meat. Wearing disposable gloves or with your hands moistened with cold water, roll the meatballs into golf-sized balls. You should get about 40 meatballs.

Place the 2 cups of bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Roll each meatball in the crumbs for a light coating. Add breadcrumbs as necessary. Place 20 meatballs on each sheet pan, with about 1 inch in between.

Place the pans in the oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until well-browned.

Meanwhile in one or two large skillets, mix the ingredients for the sauce. Stir and simmer while the meatballs cook.

When the meatballs are browned and the sauce has simmered, add the meatballs to the sauce. Simmer for about 30 minutes, The sauce should have thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Spoon some of the sauce over the meatballs and serve over rice or couscous.

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

This Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma is a great weeknight meal with lots of bold flavor. And it’s ready in under an hour. It is a feel-good meal that even meat lovers can enjoy. The thick-cut Portobello mushrooms can be purchased pre-sliced in most stores these days to speed up the process even further. And their meaty texture and taste have just the right mouthfeel for a satisfying dinner.

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma is wonderful stuffed into a pita with all the toppings. It would also be equally delicious on a bed of steamed Basmati rice or couscous with the salad on the side. And let’s talk about those sides. You are only limited by your time and imagination. Some things are easily bought if you are really short on time or inclination and others are quickly made while the shawarma cooks.

I always like to have a number of salads and dips on hand. With pre-cooked beets (canned or from the produce section) you can easily have Moroccan Beet Salad ready in minutes. And while nothing beats my homemade hummus, there are a number of respectable options available in grocery stores. Persian cucumbers diced with cut-up tomatoes, olives and lots of mint, dill and fresh cilantro is another easy option.

If you have lentil or chickpea salad on hand, these are also great accompaniments.

Below you will see that this recipe includes a quickly pickled cabbage to put on top of the shawarma. Fresh arugula would also be delicious or pickled onion instead or in addition. The salads and sides lend bright colors and textures and we do eat with our eyes as well as our mouths. So if you think going meatless has to be dull, think again! This is a great Meatless Monday option, but also great any day of the week.

Salatim

Recipe

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients

12 ounces Portobello mushrooms, sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 medium red onion, halved and cut into 1/3-inch wedges

3 Tablespoons EVOO

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper (to taste)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground paprika (sweet or smoked)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

For Serving

4 pitas (I like whole wheat) or cooked basmati rice or couscous

Easy yogurt (dairy or non-dairy) topping mixed with turmeric, salt and pepper OR tahini mixed with lemon juice, garlic, salt and ice water

Pickled cabbage (See below)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Raise the oven rack to the next to highest level so that it is about 6 to 8 inches from the heat element.

Place the mushroom slices and the onion wedges on a rimmed half sheet pan. Mix all of the spices, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Using clean hands (or tongs), toss the mushrooms and onion with 3 Tablespoons of EVOO and the spice mixture. Arrange in a single layer.

Easy Peasy Vegan Mushroom Shawarma

Roast until tender and browned. About 20 minutes. However, ovens vary so check it at 18 minutes.

Warm the pita for serving.

Pickled Cabbage

Thinly slice about 3 cups of cabbage. Red or green cabbage works and you can usually purchase these pre-sliced if you prefer. Place in a bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons of EVOO, juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. If you have it, sprinkle with ground sumac and some freshly chopped cilantro. This can be made earlier in the day or while the mushrooms cook.

Pickled Cabbage

Garnish with freshly chopped herbs – whatever you have on hand works. Now eat!

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté makes a delicious addition to your holiday table. Once upon a time I used to make a vegetarian mushroom pâté. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was delicious. Frankly, it was a bit of a pain to make in the pre-food processor days. However, it went very well with roast turkey or chicken and was worth the extra effort for holidays and special occasions. And it was especially yummy in sandwiches the following day. But those of you who follow my blog know that I am trying to prepare more vegan dishes. I initially got interested in vegan cooking because my godson was deathly allergic to eggs AND his family keeps kosher, which means they won’t mix milk and meat – among other things. So finding – or developing – great vegan recipes became an imperative.

Now, though, I try to cook vegetarian and vegan meals for me and my husband several times a week. While my reasons are for better health as well as the welfare of the planet, I wouldn’t do it if I couldn’t make meals that were delicious and satisfying. It doesn’t hurt that my favorite cuisines are Mediterranean/Middle Eastern and South Asian, both of which have a rich heritage of vegetarian and vegan dishes.

You certainly don’t have to be vegan to enjoy this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté. It’s a wonderful make-ahead side or appetizer that can be enjoyed by anyone – unless allergic to mushrooms or walnuts that is. So if you are looking for something a bit different to try for the holidays, give this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté a go. It still isn’t pretty (but what pâté is?) and it still is delicious! Spread it on crackers or some Melba toast and enjoy it with a Crackling Vermentino or other sparkling wine. Mmmmmmmmm!

For an alternative Vegan Mushroom Pâté that is not baked try:

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

You can’t go wrong with either one.

Recipe

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Yield: About 10 servings

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound of mushrooms, white, cremini or baby bellas, quartered

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1 cup chopped fresh fennel or celery

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1.25 cups fine, dried bread crumbs – plain or seasoned

1 pound silken tofu

1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon each: dried thyme, basil and oregano

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

generous pinch of cayenne (Optional)

Directions

Oil or use a cooking spray to coat an 8 X 4-inch loaf pan. Line the pan with cooking parchment and oil that as well. Cut a piece of parchment large enough to sit on the top of the pâté mixture in the pan. Set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the EVOO in a large sauté pan and add the chopped shallot and fennel or celery. Sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Sauté until the mixture begins to soften. Then add the chopped parsley and bread crumbs. Stir through to moisten everything. Turn off the heat.

While the vegetables were sautéing, place the mushrooms and silken tofu in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the mixture until everything begins to break down. Add in the nutritional yeast, dried herbs and the veggie/breadcrumb mixture. Pulse until smooth.

Add in the walnuts and just pulse 3 or 4 times quickly. If you prefer not to have bits of walnut in the finished product, you can pulse the mixture a few more times, until it is smooth throughout.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Add the oiled parchment on top of the mixture so that it is right against it. Give the pan a tap on the counter to make sure that everything is even and there are no air bubbles. Place in the hot oven and bake for 1.5 hours. Allow to cool completely.

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

If you are not going to serve it as soon as it is cool, refrigerate it in the pan. Remove the pan from the fridge about an hour before you are ready to serve. Carefully remove the piece of parchment that is on top and invert the pan onto your serving plate or board. Peel off the remaining parchment paper. Garnish as desired.

Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas

Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas

Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas are a weeknight meal sure to please. With protein from rich, dark kidney beans, these satisfying quesadillas can be on the table in less than an hour. Served up with a quick, fresh guacamole, it’s the answer to “What’s for dinner?”

This is casual dining in the best tradition. Just as a great falafel sandwich will ooze down your hand as you eat all of its yummy goodness, so too do these quesadillas. Do NOT eat this wearing your favorite silk blouse or shirt!

I came across this recipe while watching a lovely Australian vlogger living in Tuscany. While we may not have been able to travel during the pandemic, I get my “fix” watching this lyrical vlog. As soon as I saw Kylie Flavell make these Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas, I knew that I had to try them. And because most of the ingredients are pantry staples, it didn’t require a major excursion to the market. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe so if you need to swap out one ingredient for another, your results will likely still be delicious.

This recipe easily would feed four people, but it could also be doubled or halved. While I did use cheese, making my quesadillas vegetarian, it is vegan-friendly. Just leave the cheese out or use a vegan cheese as an alternative. The cheese does act as a kind of binder, holding everything together, so I personally recommend it. I have successfully made this with goat cheese and with a “Mexican” blend of cheeses.

And though you could use any kind of tortilla, by choosing a whole-grain option, you are increasing the nutrition quotient, while adding some additional flavor. My tortillas were 7.5-inches in diameter, but smaller or bigger ones can be used. Simply adjust how much filling you put inside. While tempting to overstuff these – don’t. The final quesadilla is surprisingly filling and too much filling will completely ooze out.

Now you could use a different bean, but dark red kidney beans are readily available, very nutritious, flavorful, inexpensive and have just the right amount of heft to give these a great mouthfeel.

Almost any cheese would work as long as it is one that gets melty. And while I used a sweet potato for added color, flavor, heft and nutrition, you could easily use butternut or other winter squash in its place. So the next time you are looking for something quick, delicious and nutritious to make in about 45 minutes or less, consider these great quesadillas.

Recipe

Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 medium red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

3/4 teaspoon each: salt, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, paprika (preferably smoked Spanish paprika)

Generous pinch of ground cinnamon

About 3 Tablespoons of EVOO or Canola

1 large bell pepper – red, orange or yellow, diced (You could use green – I just am not partial to them)

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

15 oz. can of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their liquid, preferably fire roasted

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

About 4 to 6 ounces of shredded or cut up cheese or to taste, if using

For fresh guacamole or avocado smush

2 large ripe avocados, with the flesh placed in a bowl and mashed with a fork

Juice of 1/2 to 1 fresh lime, depending on taste

kosher or sea salt to taste

freshly cracked black pepper

8 whole wheat or other type of tortillas

Directions

Heat the oven to 420 degrees F. and place the oven rack about 6 inches from the top. Drizzle about 1.5 to 2 Tablespoons of oil across the bottom of a sheet pan. (I only needed a quarter sheet pan this time. It should be large enough to hold all of the diced sweet potato in a single layer without crowding.)

Place the diced sweet potato on the pan and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the cinnamon and using your clean hands, mix together the sweet potato, oil and seasonings. Place in the oven and roast for 20 to 25 minutes. The sweet potato should be cooked, with some browning, but not dried out.

Meanwhile, place 1 Tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and salt and sauté until the onion begins to soften and turn translucent. Add the remaining spices and mix through, blooming the spices, for about 30 seconds.

While the onion cooks, lightly mash the drained kidney beans. You don’t want a puree. Some beans can even be left whole. Add the beans, minced garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, diced bell pepper and about 3/4 cup of water to the onion mixture. Stir well and allow to cook on simmer while the sweet potato roasts. This can be done ahead if you wish. Just gently heat it through when you are ready to assemble the quesadillas.

When you are ready to assemble, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a clean frying pan, place either a little neutral oil like Canola or spray with a cooking spray. Heat the pan and add the tortillas one at a time. Heat until both sides have become warm and speckled with brown spots. Turn once. Place the tortilla onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Spoon 1/4 of the bean mixture over one tortilla. Then place 1/4 of the sweet potato chunks on top of that and add your desired cheese. I tend to use a light hand with the cheese, but it’s personal preference. Place a second tortilla on the top of everything and gently press down with the flat of your hand. Drizzle lightly with EVOO.

After you make all of the tortillas, place the pan in the oven for about 8 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Carefully remove the tortilla to a cutting board and using a large knife, cut each tortilla into 4 pieces. Don’t worry if a little filling oozes out. Just shove it back in!

Serve with the guacamole and have a napkin on hand! Enjoy!

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

Cabbage often gets a bad rap, but this luscious soup just might change your mind. And best of all is that it keeps getting better, so go on and make it ahead for the week! The mercury is down and the winds have picked up here in Chicago. So what is more delicious on these cold darker days than a nourishing bowl of soup and some good bread. And the smell of this cabbage will lure you in – not have you heading for the hills.

I have made this soup for decades, but never actually wrote down the recipe before. So this blog is giving me the opportunity to not only save it for myself, but to pass it on. The origins of the soup are Eastern European, where my family came from. Since they were poor and living in a shtetl, it is doubtful that there would have been much meat in this soup. Therefore, it was not the star, but rather a flavoring. And it is likely that water was used instead of stock. I look on my version as a salute to my grandparents, but not a slavish rendition.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

This is not one of my vegan recipes. But the meat could be left out and vegetable stock could sub for beef stock. It won’t be quite the same, but because of the many layers of flavors built in, a vegan version would still be delicious. While I rarely eat meat these days, small amounts are welcome occasionally in these colder months along with a little extra fat – in my food, not on me! I have not tried making Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup with one of the newer meat substitutes available, but if someone out there would like to try it, I’d love to hear how it turns out.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

Below is my recipe, but it should be seen as a guide rather than as an absolute. Measurements in these things are a suggestion and can be adjusted to suit individual tastes. You will notice that rather than using a roux or other thickeners, I use ginger snaps. The snappier the better! Not only do they thicken the soup as they dissolve but they also add that warmth and spiciness that cuts through the richness of the beef, if used, and makes this soup interesting. So when looking for ginger snaps, please don’t go for really sweet cookies.

Some recipes use apple cider vinegar or sour salt (citric acid) to achieve the sour part of the taste profile. I tried the apple cider vinegar but found that I needed fresh lemon juice to gain the punch and proper balance to suit my palate. I have also successfully used sour salt.

This soup of humble origins will warm your soul – guaranteed. And the intoxicating aroma will make your house smell like fall. Thoughts of cuddling on a couch or in front of a fire won’t be far behind.

If I am feeling especially ambitious, I will bake a pumpkin, apple or pecan pie for dessert. But a lovely fruit crumble, Brown Betty or baked apple with zabaglione also would raise this to another level as a special dinner. And don’t forget the bread!

Recipe

Yield: About 10 servings

Ingredients

1 medium head of green cabbage – about 2.5 pounds that has been quartered, cored and thinly sliced

4 to 5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into medium chunks or thick circles

2 Tablespoons neutral oil like canola or sunflower

About 2 pounds of short ribs of beef, chuck roast or beef shank, if using

1 large onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 large bay leaf or 2 smaller

About 10 whole cloves plus optional additional ground cloves

kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1.5 teaspoons ground allspice

1 to 1.5 cups of raisins

3 Tablespoons of dark or light brown sugar

Juice of 1 to 3 juicy lemons or a mixture of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice

About 12 cups of stock/water/bouillon or some mixture thereof. (I used 4 cups of unsalted beef stock, 2 bouillon cubes and the remaining 8 cups were water.)

12 to 20 ginger snaps – 2-inch diameter, depending on how thick you like your soup

Directions

If you are using meat and are making this ahead: generously salt and pepper the meat and place in a glass or stainless container or a heavy duty plastic bag. Allow to sit in the fridge ideally overnight but for at least 4 hours. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. (Okay, so that is the ideal and I did do it this time, but plenty of times I have made this and simply took my meat out about 30 minutes before cooking, salted it and then cooked. You will have delicious soup either way, but the meat that is salted overnight remains moister and more tender when cooked.)

In a large stockpot, add the 2 Tablespoons of oil and heat to a shimmer. If using meat, add it now. Do not move the meat around, but allow it to sear and brown well on each side. The first side takes about 5 minutes. Then using tongs, turn the pieces of meat over. The subsequent sides will take about 2 to 3 minutes each. When the meat is crusty and well-browned, remove the meat to a plate or bowl. If there is a lot of excess fat in the pan, drain it off, leaving the brown bits and about 1 Tablespoon of the oil.

Now add in the onions and 1 teaspoon of salt. Allow the onions to soften and begin to lightly brown. This should take about 8 minutes.

You will now add the bay leaf, whole cloves and 1 teaspoon of ground allspice and tomato paste. Stir through the onions.

Add in the sliced cabbage and carrots and the canned tomatoes. It will look like a huge amount but the cabbage cooks down. As well as you can (tongs probably are easiest for this task), mix everything through with the spices, onions, tomatoes and tomato paste. You can add the stock to make it a bit easier to mix things. Layer in the meat if using and the remaining water with bouillon or additional stock.

Bring to a boil with the pot uncovered. Give a good stir, cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 2 hours or until the meat, if using, is starting to fall off of the bone.

Open the pot and give it a stir. Now add in your raisins and ginger snaps and mix through. Re-cover the pot and cook for another 15 minutes.

You are ready to add in the brown sugar and lemon juice to achieve that perfect sweet and sour balance. Start slowly. You can always add more but you cannot take it away once added. Taste and adjust your seasonings to your personal palate, adding more salt, pepper and allspice as required. Because I add raisins and ginger snaps, which do have some sugar, my brown sugar to lemon juice ratio is less than other recipes which tend to do 1 to 1. You decide for yourself how sweet or sour to make it.

Now enjoy!

This soup keeps well for several days and only gets richer with gentle reheating. It should also freeze well.

Winter Squash Lentil Soup

Winter Squash and Lentil Soup

This nutrient dense soup is packed with umami and has a gorgeous color for a delicious, satisfying vegan meal. I could just as easily have called it a stew – it is that thick and hearty! While I might be a bit sad to see the days getting shorter, I always look forward to wearing my fall clothes and eating the wonderful variety of winter squashes and root vegetables. And unlike summer squashes, having winter squashes is like having money in the bank. Kept in a cool, dry place, they will last for weeks or even months. They really were a saving grace during the worst of the pandemic when we tried to only shop once every few weeks.

It’s true that it can often be dreary outside at this time of year, but our food can still be filled with color and flavor. This Winter Squash Lentil Soup has everything going for it in a one-pot meal. Add some bread and maybe a nice glass of wine or some herbal tea and happily call it dinner. Though I would never eschew a nice green salad, it isn’t actually necessary. The kale, chard or spinach that is added at the end will give you more than enough greens and is a beautiful contrast to the bright orange of the squash, carrots and turmeric.

I came across a recipe that looked appealing when I was surfing for ways to use up some lovely squashes I had picked up at the farmers’ market.

Winter Squash Lentil Soup

Nowadays, of course, many large supermarkets also have a good variety of winter squashes available. And I make a delicious curried butternut squash soup every Thanksgiving. But I had never thought about adding lentils before. As I have mentioned in several posts, my husband and I are eating a largely vegetarian diet these days, although we have no plans to give up meat altogether. It does mean, though, that I try to be very conscious of adding in plant protein whenever I can.

The original recipe looked good to me but I wanted to make some changes – as is my wont. So below is the recipe as I made it and it’s wonderful. However, while I used Red Kuri Squash, just about any other orange-fleshed squash would work here. Butternut, carnival or pumpkin squashes all would be delicious. I also chose to go with a chana dal or yellow split pea rather than the green or brown lentils called for in the original. Part of the reason was to maintain that gorgeous color, but I also love that the chana dal maintains its bite even with a long cooking. I always use it 50/50 in my green split pea soup for that reason. If you don’t have them, pretty much any lentil will do.

Not only can you control or adapt the soup to what you have on hand, but you can also decide if you are going for a mellow curried flavor or one that is more spicy. And if you don’t like peanut butter, you can substitute cashew butter or even almond butter. Fall and winter not only bring out the beautiful squashes but also the heartier greens. Dino or lacinato kale, Swiss chard in all of its varieties, collards, mustard or turnip greens. I happen to love beet greens, but it is difficult to come across really nice ones where I live and many grocery stores actually throw them out before they are ever seen by customers.

This hearty soup comes together pretty quickly, making it a nice anytime soup. And while it is rare for me to buy pre-chopped squash, if you are really in a pinch for time, many grocery stores do offer that option. Winter Squash and Lentil Soup can be made ahead and refrigerated. Just gently warm it and add the greens before serving, allowing them to just wilt.

This is a soup to enjoy throughout the fall and winter. It will banish the drears away.

Recipe

Winter Squash and Lentil Soup

Yield: About 6 servings

Ingredients

Winter Squash Soup

1 Tablespoon oil (Canola, coconut or EVOO)

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

1 Tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped – about 2 cups

1 large carrot, thinly sliced or diced

1 winter squash, about 2 pounds, peeled and cubed (about 6 cups)

1 Tablespoon yellow curry powder (hot or not or a mix)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 15 ounce can of coconut milk – full fat, preferably

4 cups of vegetable broth

1 cup of chana dal or yellow split peas (green or brown lentils will work but the color won’t be as lovely), rinsed well and sorted. If your lentils are older, give them an overnight soak. Drain them before using.

3 Tablespoons natural peanut butter without any sugar – smooth or chunky

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

2 good handfuls of baby spinach or kale

Optional Garnishes

Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

Chopped roasted peanuts or cashews

Sing Bhujia Masala Peanuts

Chakri

Fresh lime

Directions

Add the oil of choice to a largish pot or Dutch oven. Heat to medium high and add the chopped onions and salt. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes or until they begin to soften. Add the turmeric powder and curry powder and stir through for 30 seconds to bloom the spices.

Now add the squash, carrot, lentils, garlic and ginger and stir everything well, coating all of the veg with the spices.

Stir in the coconut milk, peanut butter and vegetable broth. Mix well and add in the cracked black pepper.

Bring the soup to a boil, then partially cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

If you are making this ahead, allow the soup to cool a bit. Using an immersion blender, partially blend the soup. You want to still see some of the chunks of squash. This can also be done in a standing blender. In that case, only blend about 3 cups. Be VERY careful if the soup is hot. Cover the top of the blender with a kitchen towel and do not overfill the blender. Start on a low speed to prevent the hot liquid exploding out the top.

Just before you are ready to serve, make sure that the soup is hot and add in your greens of choice. Depending on the kind of greens you are using, they may take as little as 3 minutes to wilt (spinach) to more like 20 minutes (collards). I used a Dino kale (lacinato kale) and gave it about 8 minutes. Garnish and enjoy! Leftovers can be refrigerated and will last about a week.

Lasagna Soup

Lasagna Soup

Lasagna Soup is the cure for the autumn drears that I need NOW! Easy comfort food in a single pot. Fall can be the most beautiful season. The trees are sporting their colorful adornment before the leaves dance off until the spring. The days can be beautifully crisp and clear, making walks in forest preserves a delight. OR, it can be grey, dreary and damp like it has been this whole week, making getting out of bed a major achievement.

These are the days that make me hunker down, burying my head in a good book with a pot of delicious soup bubbling on the stove. This easy Lasagna Soup gives me everything I need to conquer the drears. And it can be vegan or beefy and cheesy or something in between, made with ground turkey. With just a few swaps (included below) this comforting soup can make anyone happy. I mean, who doesn’t love a good lasagna – in a fraction of the time?!

I love a good lasagna and my mother made one of the best. But even with the no-boil lasagna pasta now available, it’s still a bit of a production. This soup won’t replace lasagna when I have the time and inclination to make it, but it definitely gives me a lot of that satisfaction in a much easier, quicker format.

When deciding to make this soup, I checked out a bunch of different recipes. It’s one of those things that wasn’t there a week ago and now is EVERYWHERE. Since most of the ingredients are pantry staples, it’s the kind of thing that can be made without a run to the grocery store. And thanks to the pandemic, don’t most of us have great pantries and a few things like ground beef, turkey or vegan crumbles in our freezers?

So if you are ready to rise above the autumn drears or simply just want a bowl of warming comfort, give this a try.

Recipe

Lasagna Soup

Servings: 4 to 6

Ingredients

Lasagna Soup

1 Tablespoon of EVOO

1 large yellow onion, peeled and medium diced

2 to 4 garlic cloves (I use 4), peeled and minced

4 cups of broth (Vegan, chicken or beef)

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

24-ish ounces of marinara sauce OR 24 to 28 ounces of diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)

1.5 teaspoons each: dried oregano, basil, onion powder

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper or to taste

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar)

13 ounces (390 g) soy veggie crumbles or vegan ground “meat” or 1 pound of ground beef or turkey

About 3 cups of roughly diced fresh mushrooms (button, baby bellas or cremini (They lend umami and great mouthfeel, especially if you are going with the vegan version.)

8 to 10 ounces of dried lasagna or Gigli pasta

About 2 big handfuls of fresh spinach (Optional but recommended) or thawed frozen spinach with extra liquid squeezed out

Lasagna Soup

Optional Garnishes

If you are not making this vegan, you can add a dollop of ricotta cheese or parmigiana before serving.

Ribbons or torn fresh basil leaves or chopped flat-leaf parsley

A few chili flakes if you want this spicier

Directions

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté until just becoming golden, about 7 minutes. If the onion seems to be sticking you can add a splash of water or red wine to deglaze.

Once the onion is golden, add the garlic, tomato paste and spices and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. (If using, you could also add the chili flakes here instead of as a garnish.)

Next add the ground meat or meat substitute along with the mushrooms, if using and cook for about 5 minutes or until much of the mushroom moisture evaporates. The mushrooms add a “meatiness” of their own. My mushrooms were very fresh and actually had almost no additional moisture, so I cooked them down enough to just begin to soften.

Lasagna Soup

Add the marinara sauce or canned tomatoes, vinegar and the broth. Bring everything to a boil and then add the noodles. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the noodles are al dente. Stir in the spinach until wilted, if using. Remove from the heat, garnish and enjoy! A great crusty garlic bread or focaccia and some nice red wine wouldn’t go amiss.

NOTES:

This recipe will produce a wonderful cross between a thick soup and a saucy pasta. If you have left-overs, you likely will need to add some liquid when you go to reheat it. We are not vegan so I did serve the soup with some real cheese. However, I have been googling and there are a number of pretty simple recipes for all kinds of vegan cheeses should you wish to go that route and they are not readily available in your local stores. Some are made with cashews and others with soy milk. Some day, simply out of curiosity, I may try one or two.

SD* Chickpea Burger

SD* Chickpea Burger

SD* Chickpea Burger works. The SD* stands for “simply delicious.” I love a good vegan burger. It’s not as a substitute for a meat burger. But as a delicious canvas for toppings, enjoyed in its own right. This SD* Chickpea Burger delivers. Unlike many bean burgers, this one gets beautifully crispy on the outside and does not fall apart with a mushy center when you bite into it. There are just four ingredients to the burger and they are pantry staples. What you do about the toppings is between you – and you!

The method used here is the same one used to make great falafel. Chickpeas are given a long soak, generally overnight (12 to 24 hours) and then they are ground up in a food processor. Now while this burger only uses a couple of flavorful ingredients, you could up the spice level easily enough if you choose.

I came across this burger recipe on YouTube and decided to give it a try. The only changes I made were to use both black and ivory chickpeas and to slightly simplify the method. My version uses one less bowl that I didn’t need to wash. Black chickpeas were a novelty for me and since I had them I decided to try it here. They are smaller than the more familiar ivory chickpeas, and perhaps have a slightly different flavor. Frankly, just using regular (ivory) dried chickpeas is fine.

The marinated artichokes are already seasoned and the oil-soaked sun-dried tomatoes add umami and great texture.

While you might be able to make this without a food processor, it would be pretty difficult to get the correct texture. Now this recipe makes 6 burgers. My 6’3″ husband ate two with corn on the cob as a side. I only needed one to be satisfied. We served the burgers on a toasted onion kaiser roll with beefsteak tomatoes from the farmers’ market, caramelized onions, radish sprouts, avocado and pickle. On the second burger my husband put some Sriracha Aioli on the bun. It was all delicious and I know that the next time I eat it, I’ll likely use other toppings like fast pickled onions and arugula.

SD* Chickpea Burger

Like falafel, the chickpeas you are using are only soaked – not cooked ahead of time. And no, canned chickpeas will not work here. In order to ensure that the chickpeas are fully cooked, do not make fewer but larger burgers. The SD* Chickpea Burgers will need time to cook through. I have not tried making them in the oven, which should work, but would likely produce a less crispy burger than one cooked in oil in a cast iron skillet. And in order to get that color and crispiness you might end up drying out the burger.

Because it is just the two of us, I plan on using the leftover burgers as my lunch during the week. They will last in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for much longer.

Brass tax: is this SD* Chickpea Burger likely to convert die-hard beef burger lovers? No. But is it a really good vegan burger enjoyed in its own particular glory? Absolutely yes. So if you are looking to add more plant-based meals to your diet, give this a try. Simply Delicious!

Recipe

Servings: 6 burgers

Ingredients

SD* Chickpea Burgers

1 cup dried chickpeas (Use organic!)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

12 to 14 ounces jar or can of marinated artichokes, drained (You can use the liquid as a base for salad dressing)

1/2 cup, drained sun-dried tomatoes in EVOO

Neutral oil for pan-frying (I used Canola)

SD* Chickpea Burgers

Directions

Soak the chickpeas 3 cups of water for 12 to 24 hours

Drain the soaked chickpeas. Then add them to a food processor with the salt. Pulse, scraping down the sides until the beans are finely minced and easily hold together when squeezed in your hand.

Add the artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes to the chickpeas and process until everything is ground up and evenly distributed.

Using your hands, form 6 burgers. Place them on a plate or in a container that will fit in your fridge, covered. Refrigerate for at least one hour or up to 1 week. This will help them hold together in the pan when cooking.

When you are ready to cook them, heat a heavy or cast iron skillet with enough oil to cover the bottom well. When the oil is shimmering, carefully add the burgers in one layer without touching each other. Do this in batches if your pan won’t hold them all. Cook for 4 minutes per side. DO NOT MOVE THEM AROUND OR SMUSH THEM DOWN! Carefully flip the burgers over and cook for another 4 minutes.

Garnish and enjoy!

Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)

Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)


Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira) is hearty and fragrant – a soul-satisfying one-dish meal. There are many versions of this soup – some with meat and others like this one, which is vegan. In some families it is traditional to serve this as the “break-the-fast” meal following Yom Kippur. But it could and should be enjoyed throughout the fall and winter. This is a make-ahead meal that only improves with a bit of age.

To show how vastly different our family traditions can be, my family’s break-the-fast meal was always bagels, lox and smoked fish. We came from New York via Russia Poland. But the truth is that I actually don’t like lox and smoked fish in the Midwest just doesn’t cut it for me. So, as I have with much of our diet during the rest of the year, I have adopted a more Middle Eastern/Mediterranean/South Asian food culture. And a heavily plant-based diet.

I came across a version of this soup on the Jewish Food Society website. It’s a wonderful site that has made it its mission to collect stories and recipes of the myriad Jewish communities across the globe. These are recipes that have been passed down through the generations, but which might have so easily been lost. Because so many of these families were forced from their homes under terrible conditions, it was easy for these unwritten treasures to have fallen by the wayside. While I have found that the recipes on the site are not always easy to follow, especially if you are a novice cook, the family histories alone make the website worth a visit.

While we Jews lived among the local communities, we also remained outside of them, keeping to our own traditions. Local cuisine was adapted to meet the laws of kashrut. Harira, Moroccan Chickpea Soup is a perfect example. Moroccan Muslims would eat harira to break the fast on Ramadan. Whereas many Jews ate it to break the fast on Yom Kippur.

The original recipe for this harira uses fine egg noodles and since I am not a vegan, I did as well. However, there is no reason why an angel hair pasta or spaghettini couldn’t be used instead. That is the only change required to make this wonderful soup vegan.

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Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)

If you choose to cook your own soaked chickpeas as I have done, you need to start the process the night before. If you prefer to use canned chickpeas, you can still make a delicious and hearty soup. I happen to enjoy cooking my own beans and use the liquid from the cooking process to replace most of the water called for in the recipe. It adds an extra level of nourishment and flavor and helps to further thicken the soup. Unless you are using organic canned beans, however, I would not recommend using the liquid. You could use water, as called for, adding a vegetable bouillon cube or you could use a vegetable stock.

After I had decided to make the recipe I found from the Jewish Food Society, I came across another version from My Jewish Learning, The Nosher. So I ended up doing what I usually do and took the elements that I liked best from both and then tweaked it!

My sister-in-law is from Morocco and I asked what her family’s tradition was for breaking the fast. She told me that their tradition was to eat an egg-drop soup before the fast and cake to break the fast, followed by a full meal. So whatever tradition your family follows – or if you are starting a tradition of your own, I definitely encourage you to fit this wonderful and incredibly soul-satisfying soup in there somehow.

For a version of harira with lamb: Harira – Moroccan Chickpea and Lamb Soup

Recipe

Yield: 6 servings

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Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)

Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained OR one 15 oz. can of drained chickpeas

4 Tablespoons olive or a neutral oil like Canola

3 medium carrots (or 2 large), peeled and cut into small dice or rounds

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 large onion, diced

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1 Tablespoon Harissa paste, or to taste (I used 2 Tablespoons of a milder Harissa and added a few crushed red chili flakes)

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup brown lentils OR 1/2 cup red lentils and 1/2 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed

4 large or 6 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped (If making this in the winter, use canned tomatoes, about 28 oz. can)

3 cups fine egg noodles OR angel hair pasta broken into thirds (About 4 to 5 oz. depending on the kind of noodle that you use)

8 cups of vegetable stock, OR water with a couple of bouillon cubes OR the cooking liquid from the chickpeas plus additional water

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

A large handful of cilantro and/or parsley, stems and leaves roughly chopped

Directions

If you are cooking your own soaked chickpeas, place the drained chickpeas in a pot with 1 teaspoon of salt and 4.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off any white foam. Cover and cook for 50 minutes at a simmer.

In a large pot, add 4 Tablespoons olive or Canola oil. Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery and cook for about 6 minutes on medium high heat or until softened. I like to add 1 teaspoon of salt here. I will probably add more later since it is a big pot of soup. However, if you are using broth or bouillon and depending on your Harissa, you might not need much more salt. You can always add it but you cannot easily remove it!

Once the veggies are softened, add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes.

Now add the Harissa, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper and stir through to coat everything well. Cook for 1 minute and then add the tomato paste to the bottom of the pot. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes.

If you are using your own chickpeas you can add them to the pot. I find that when I cook chickpeas myself, they retain their shape and bite even when cooked longer. If you are using canned chickpeas, you will add them in later. Your lentils are also added now. Give everything a good stir to coat with the spices and tomato paste.

Next add the tomatoes, broth, water or liquid from the chickpeas, the chopped stems of the parsley and/or cilantro. Don’t worry if there are some leaves in there as well. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. This can be done ahead.

When you are ready to eat, return the heat to a boil and add the noodles and canned chickpeas, if using. Simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and check your seasonings. The soup should be very thick, almost stew like. If you want it thinner then add more liquid. Add the juice of 1/2 of a lemon. Garnish with the chopped parsley/cilantro leaves.

Enjoy!



Flaky Flatbread

Flaky Flatbread with Fenugreek

These Flaky Flatbreads are fun to make and so versatile. Make them ahead and they reheat beautifully. While I make mine with a Bulgarian or goat yogurt, any yogurt will work, including non-dairy. And even though I brush mine with fresh garlic butter, you can use either a good EVOO or vegan butter instead. Recently, my husband was out of town and I made up a batch of these. I wrapped the leftovers in foil and reheated them in my toaster as needed. The outside got slightly crispy. And the layers flaked into these lovely fragrant pieces of dough that were perfect for dipping into soups and spreads.

Since I began doing more Indian cooking, I have become familiar with spices and herbs that I had not traditionally used before. Two of my favorites now are carom seed (ajwain) and fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi). Either one, or dried mint, cumin seed (or nothing at all) works wonderfully in this flaky flatbread. And because you control the seasoning, your flatbreads will be unique to you!

Unlike most breads, these flaky flatbreads don’t require any rising time. The dough comes together in just minutes. Then we let it have a nice rest until it becomes supple and easy to roll out. This resting time can be a 20 minute catnap or as much as a couple of hours. Your schedule can dictate the time. The longer resting time makes them a bit easier to work with, but I have made them both ways successfully. We enjoy these flatbreads at least once a week. They are the perfect compliment to Middle Eastern/Mediterranean foods as well as South Asian.

I came across many iterations of this basic recipe online so it is difficult to say exactly which one I ended up using. And the addition of the fenugreek and garlic butter is my own twist. How you use this flaky flatbread is only limited by your imagination. Leave out the garlic and this becomes a great bread for breakfast or snacking. Just add your favorite nut butter, smushed avocado or preserves. Smear on tomato sauce or pesto with the toppings of your choice and you have mini pizzas. Did I mention that this was versatile?

I am not going to claim that these are as healthy as the two ingredient lentil pancake/flatbreads that you can find all over YouTube. But eaten in moderation with an otherwise healthy meal, they are fine. And as much as I love a good lentil dish, these really do taste better than those pancake/flatbreads.

Flaky Flatbread with Fenugreek

Recipe

Yield: 8 flatbreads

Ingredients

2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus about 1/4 cup more for dusting the dough

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1.5 teaspoons fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) Optional, but recommended

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup plain natural yogurt (I like full-fat)

8 ounces melted butter

2 large garlic cloves, crushed Optional, but recommended

Directions

Measure out the flour, salt, baking powder and dried herbs, if used, into a medium bowl. Using a fork or whisk, mix everything together so that the salt, baking powder and herbs are well distributed. If the bowl is wider and shallower, it is a bit easier to work with, but any bowl will do. You can do this ahead and cover it until you are ready to make the dough.

Flaky Flatbread

Add the yogurt and mix through the flour until you get a shaggy dough. I found that it was easiest to use my hands for this. It should take only about 1 to 2 minutes.

Flaky Flatbread

Then using your hands, gently knead the dough until the moisture from the yogurt is distributed throughout and you end up with a smooth, moist dough. Depending on the shape of your bowl, it might be easiest to transfer the dough to your counter to work with. If you use a thicker yogurt, like a Greek or Icelandic yogurt, you might need to add a Tablespoon of water to the dough. Natural yogurts are more liquidy and preferable for this recipe.

Form the dough into a ball and place it back into the bowl. Cover it lightly with plastic wrap or a plate. This entire process from the time you add the yogurt to the time you form your dough ball should take no more than 5 minutes and possibly as little as 3 minutes.

Flaky Flatbread

Allow the dough to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes and up to 2 hours. It will not double in size. We are not using yeast. But the dough will become more relaxed and supple and will be easier to roll out.

When the dough has rested, remove it from the bowl and divide it into 8 pieces. Unless you are doing this for a living, just eyeball the pieces. It is not necessary to weigh them out to be sure that they are exactly equal in size.

Flaky Flatbread

Cup your hand over the dough piece and roll your hand in a circle against the counter to form a ball. Lay the pieces out on the counter or a baking tray or platter to make it easier to work with.

You want to work with one section or ball at a time. I found it easiest to put 1/4 to 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour in a shallow bowl or container rather than sprinkling my counter. I then slightly flatten the dough ball with my hand and dip each side into the all-purpose flour. If I need to double dip, I can. Any excess flour can be sealed in a container and used for the same purpose since no raw dough gets mixed in. I know, but trust me on this.

Flaky Flatbread

Years ago, a dear friend, now dead, gave me a wonderful marble rolling pin to use in making mu shu pancakes. I never actually used it for that purpose, but it is perfect for these flatbreads and I think of Marge with great fondness whenever I handle it. But any rolling pin or empty wine or beer bottle will work too.

Place the flattened dough ball on the counter or board and roll it out as thinly as possible. Don’t worry too much about the shape. If it is round or oblong, or even slightly misshapen, this will still work. I am no expert! Brush the dough lightly with some of the melted garlic butter. Then working from the longest end, tightly roll up the dough into a log. Perfection is not necessary! If butter got on the board or counter, just wipe it away with a paper towel. Otherwise the next ball will be difficult to roll out. It doesn’t have to be perfectly clean – just wipe up any excess butter or oil.

Then take one end of the log and curl it in on itself and keep doing this to form a flat snail. [See the speeded up video below] Lay the snail onto the baking sheet lined with a silicone sheet. If you don’t have that, you can use a sheet of parchment barely dusted with flour. Those with more experience may try to pleat the dough instead of folding it. This is something that I saw Chetna Makan do. The more folds that you have, the more layers of flakiness. But honestly, life is complicated enough!

Keep repeating this until you have 8 flat snails. Cover them with plastic wrap or a tea towel and allow them to rest for as little as 20 minutes or up to an hour.

Quick tutorial on rolling out flaky flatbreads
Flaky Flatbread

When you are ready to cook the flatbreads, set an untreated non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet on medium high heat. If you have a bigger pan, use it so you can cook several flatbreads at once. If all you have is a small skillet, don’t fret. It will take more time to cook everything, but it will work just as well.

Take one snail at a time, keeping the remaining snails covered while you work. Again, dip both sides of the snail into your reserved flour. Using your rolling pin, roll the dough out into an approximately 5-inch diameter circle. If it isn’t a perfect round, it’s okay. I have yet to achieve a perfect circle! Try to keep the roll from opening up. It seemed to work best for me to just flatten the snail a bit with my hand first before applying the rolling pin.

Once you have the circle rolled out, generously brush the surface with the garlic butter. Immediately pick up the dough and place it in the hot pan, butter side down. Then brush the top side with butter. If your pan will hold more than one flatbread, immediately roll out your next snail, repeating the above process. Each side takes about 5 minutes to cook. The dough may puff up a bit while cooking. That’s okay. Take a flat spatula, and gently press down on the top of the dough. You don’t need to pop the bubbles, but you don’t want them to get away from you or when you turn the flatbread over, it won’t cook evenly. All of the surfaces need to hit the pan.

You know the side is done when you have nice brown spots all over. If your heat is too high, the outside will burn before the inside is cooked. If the pan isn’t hot enough, the dough won’t really get that nice browned look that you are going for. As with pancakes, the first one out of the pan is never quite as good as the subsequent ones. I always go for the darkest bread at the bakery. So check your bread after 4 minutes to achieve the desired doneness.

When each flatbread is finished, you can place it on a baking sheet in a warm oven until you are finished and ready to serve. If you are not eating all of the breads in one go, allow the leftovers to cool and then wrap the rounds in foil. They will keep in the fridge for several days or even on your counter if your house is cool. When you are ready to eat them, warm them in the oven or a toaster. Do not microwave them!