Archive for the ‘Vegetarian’ Category

Palak Chana Dal

February 19, 2019

I love Indian food. Love it.    And I’m overcoming my fear of making it at home. Tonight I actually tried something I’ve never even eaten in a restaurant. I love lentils.  They’re a great vegetarian, low/no fat protein source.  They need a whole grain to complete them, but you can get that an any point in the day.  It doesn’t have to be in the same meal.  Combine my love of Indian food and my love of lentils and you get dal.

There are LOTS of kinds of dal and LOTS of kinds of lentils. Red, green, yellow, black. Chana dal is actually a yellow split pea dal.  And it’s yummy!  There are many, many versions of this. I picked this one because it includes spinach.  I wanted a dish with extra vegetables so I’d have a one dish meal.  And let’s be serious.  I had a clam shell of spinach in the fridge and no plan for it.

Let me start by saying this is NOT a Tuesday night meal.  (Yes, it’s Tuesday night).  I suppose it could be if you cooked the chana on Sunday and did the rest on Tuesday after work.  I started this dish at 6:30, after I went to the gym and fed the pups.  I sat down to eat at 8:00.  Pretty ridiculous for a weeknight.  I thought it would take about half that time based on the recipe.

A few tips.  Where the recipe says to partially cover the peas as they cook, don’t.  You’re trying to get 4 1/2 cups of water to absorb into 1 cup of yellow split peas.  You can afford to lose some in steam.  Don’t bother to do your chopping and measuring until after you have the chana in the pot. Trust me, you have plenty of time to do the rest.  Serve it with rice or naan or some Indian pickles or some combination.  There’s some really good heat in here from the jalapeno and the ginger.  It needs some acid and some starch to balance it.  Some acidic wine is lovely with it as well. I mean, if you’re going to be chopping and stirring for 90 minutes, you should have some wine.

I will make another attempt at this, using a different recipe.  Not because I’m not pleased with the results. I really am! But because I can’t wait to try another version!  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy eating the leftovers.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 chana dal (dried split chickpeas)
  • TSP turmeric
  • TSP salt
  • 4½ water
  • TBSP ghee (use vegetable oil to make it vegan)
  • ¾ TSP cumin seeds
  • finely diced onion
  • 1 inch-long piece of ginger, grated
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 green chile (like a serrano or jalapeño), minced
  • tomato, diced
  • ½ TSP garam masala
  • TSP chile powder, like Deggi Mirch
  • A couple large handfuls of baby spinach
  • chopped cilantro, for garnis

NOTE: I bought the Deggi Mirch from Amazon some time ago.  I’m sure it’s available in local Indian markets as well.  The rest of this stuff is available in mainstream grocery stores. I did leave out the fenugreek leaves.

Here’s what you do: 4 servings (and here’s a link to the original recipe)

  1. Sort through your beans for any pebbles or debris. Rinse under cold water three or four times.

NOTE:  Don’t skip this step.  My chickpeas had kind of an odd smell as I rinsed them.

  1. In a large saucepan or pot, combine the chana dal, turmeric, salt, and 4½ cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 40 minutes (add more water if needed). The consistency should not be too thin or thick. If too thick, add more water. If too thin, simmer a little longer.

NOTE:  This took me 90 minutes, not 40.  A little less water?  Maybe, but you want the texture to be soft.  A little higher heat?  A little, but not a ton.

  1. Meanwhile, heat the ghee or oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onion and sauté until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chile and continue to sauté a minute or two until the garlic is golden but not browned. Add the tomatoes.
  1. Stir in the garam masala, and chile powder. Continue to cook until the tomatoes break down and are soft.


NOTE: The good news is that this can sit until the peas are ready without losing anything.

  1. Add this mixture to the pot with the chana dal.


  1. Bring the pot back to a simmer. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted.
  1. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with rice, naan, paratha, or roti.


How’d it turn out?

This is so, so good. The heat is warm and wonderful.  Nothing sharp and overwhelming about it.  The cilantro at the end is a nice green touch.  I had a little naan with mine, which has fantastic.  Rice would have been good too.  And I really think a quick pickle of radishes and onions would add a wonderful acidity. Maybe I’ll try that with the leftovers.

The only drawback?  90 minutes to make.  I’m interested to find out if another recipe goes quicker.  If you want to use this one, I’d say make the split peas one night when you’re eating leftovers from something else.  Finish it and eat it the next night.

Tomorrow is going to start with ice and snow so it’ll be a perfect day to have these leftovers for lunch!



Curried Chickpeas with Eggplant

February 11, 2019

This one’s for you my vegetarian friends looking for some spice!  Another winner from Melissa Clark’s Dinner.  Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients. It’s long, but the recipe isn’t difficult and most of the spices are things you probably have on hand.  The hardest thing about this is not eating all the roasted eggplant while you make the rest!

A few tips.  Do use a brush to apply a little oil to the eggplant.  I have one with silicone “bristles” because it cleans up easier than real bristle brushes.  Using a brush allows you to apply the oil evenly and very little of it.  If you try to pour a little and then spread it with your fingers you’ll use 2-3 times as much and have greasy eggplant.  Tip number two.  If you don’t have garam masala and you’re not starting an Indian cooking adventure, don’t buy it.  You can make a reasonable substitute with 1/2 t each of cumin, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper.

I made a few substitutions just based on what I had on hand.  I didn’t have a fresh chile of any kind so I added crushed red pepper instead.  And I don’t generally buy fresh tomatoes in February. With the exception of grape tomatoes, they’re pretty expensive and don’t taste like much this time of year in central VA.  I do have a basement full of summer tomatoes that I canned myself.  I’ll take those as a substitute for cooked winter tomatoes any day!  And I used canned chickpeas instead of homemade, because, well, the recipe said it was ok and in the make versus buy equation, chickpeas come out on the buy side every time.

The recipe recommends that you serve this with rice or flatbread if you’re using it as a main dish.  I don’t have any flatbread in the house.  I tried to buy naan over the weekend, but Wegman’s was out of all the naan except their store brand, which I don’t think is very good.  And no rice for me because in the last week I’ve eaten more rice than in the previous few months combined!  I’d recommend some bread or rice though.  The yogurt did a good job of balancing the heat, but a little something else would have been nice.  And it’ll stretch your dish a little further as well.  Maybe a little cucumber salad on the side would be nice as well.

What else.  Don’t skip the step where you cook the spices for a minute.  Giving them a chance to toast just a little really helps.  Also, I don’t usually like mint in savory dishes.  In my world mint is for juleps and tea, but it added a really nice sweet note in this dish.  I used spearmint, not peppermint, which I think is a good choice.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced and roasted
  • 1/2 a large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced or 1/2 t crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala (substitute described above)
  • 1/2 t paprika
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1/8 t cayenne pepper
  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes, chopped, or one pint canned tomatoes
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • lemon juice to taste

For garnish:

  • chopped green onions
  • chopped fresh mint leaves
  • plain yogurt (optional)

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in large skillet, then add the onions.
  • Cook until softened and golden, about 4 minutes.
  • Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
  • Add spices and cook for 1 minute, then add tomatoes, chickpeas and 2 tablespoons water.
  • Partly cover the pan and let the mixture simmer until tomatoes start to break down, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Add eggplant to the pan and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until sauce thickens.


  • Serve with any combination of the garnish, rice, and flatbread


North African Chickpeas and Vegetables

January 28, 2019

Let me start by saying, yes, I know how gross this looks.  And no, I did not know that it was going to look like this.  And yes, it tastes a LOT better than it looks.  Definitely not date food.  It’s brown and gross looking and it has 6 cloves of garlic.

This is from the Forks Over Knives cookbook.  It’s a cookbook for a plant-based diet.  I have no interest in being vegan, but I am trying to follow Michael Pollan’s adage, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  Slightly modified for me at the moment as, “Eat less, mostly plants.”  So, plants it is tonight.

This meal is a good candidate for the odds and ends in the vegetable drawer.  I think carrots would have been good.  Sweet potatoes.  Not Brussels sprouts.  The original has a pretty summery bend to it – zucchini, summer squash, eggplant.  I try to limit the out of season things I buy, particularly when there are reasonable seasonal substitutes.  You’ll see I hung on to the red bell pepper, and good thing.  You need some sweetness in the vegetables to balance the very lemony chermoula.

This recipe took longer to come together than I expected.  I roasted the broccoli, onions, and cauliflower.  An added step, but I think the added flavor, especially in the cauliflower is worth it.  And that stuff can be roasting while you’re chopping everything else and making the sauce so you’re not adding a ton of time.  The recipe for the chermoula calls for you to chop and mince the ingredients.  That’s silly.  You’re supposed to puree it in a blender.  No idea why you’d bother chopping the ingredients.  So that’s a time saver.  Sauteing the other vegetables takes about 10 minutes.  And then 10 more to put everything together.  Add a few minutes for starting the couscous in there. All in, I think it took me 45-50 minutes.

The roasting and sauteing vegetables you get.  You might be interested to know that the recipe calls for no oil.  You’re just supposed to add a little water while the vegetables cook so they don’t stick.  Now, let’s talk about this chermoula.  This is the North African part of the dish.  It’s an interesting combination of things, but in the end I mostly tasted the lemon and the cumin.  The tartness of the lemon kind of smacks you in the face and then the earthiness of the cumin follows.  It’s good, but it was a surprise.  I genuinely had no idea what this was going to be.  Certainly I had no idea what color it was going to be!

Here’s what you need:

For the vegetables:  use what you have, but make sure you have a few things on the sweet side. I used red bell pepper, sweet onion, broccoli slaw, broccoli crowns, and cauliflower.  And don’t forget the can of chickpeas.  Good protein.

For the chermoula:


  • 8-10 grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 C pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 1/2 lemons
  • 1 T paprika
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded

Put everything in a blender. Process until smooth.  Yep, that’s what it looks like.


Here’s what you do:

  • Roast broccoli, onions, cauliflower (20 minutes at 400 degrees)
  • Saute red bell pepper and broccoli slaw 5 minutes
  • Add the chickpeas.  Saute 10 minutes.
  • Add 1-2 T water as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking
  • Add roasted vegetables.  Saute 5 minutes.
  • Add chermoula.  Saute 5 more minutes.
  • Serve with rice or couscous.



Vegetable Drawer Pasta Friday

January 18, 2019

The plan is 10 miles in the morning so it’s Pasta Friday.  The plan is also to leave town on Sunday so it’s empty the fridge time.  I’ve been out two nights this week so there’s a fair amount still in the vegetable drawer and I pulled a bunch of it out to throw in my linguine.  The result?  Meh.  On one hand, pasta is always good, especially if you’re on a weight loss plan.  On the other, being at the mercy of vegetable drawer leftovers rarely results in greatness.

What did I have in the drawer you ask?  Broccoli slaw, broccoli crowns, matchstick carrots, roasted eggplant slices (left from the pizza), a few mushrooms, and a bunch of tiny tomatoes.  I selected the eggplant, mushrooms and tomatoes for the pasta, plus some onion, garlic, mozzarella, and spices from Penzey’s.  All good choices.  So why meh?  Everything in the pasta is on the mellow and sweet side. There’s no punch.  I might have been better off to pull some artichoke hearts out of the cabinet and swap out the mushrooms for those.  Hindsight is 20/20 of course.

I learned something else tonight too.  Ok, I didn’t so much learn it as I was reminded of it.  A “serving” of pasta is a lot smaller than I’d like to believe.


Overall, I’m going to call tonight a success.  I used up a bunch of vegetables instead of throwing them out.  I observed Pasta Friday without blowing out my healthy choices for today.

“Everyday” Red Lentils

January 13, 2019

I have developed a serious love for lentils prepared with Indian spices – dal, in many of its forms.  For this Southern girl, with weird food texture issues, it might seem an odd comfort food, but that’s exactly what it is.  So I’m always looking for new recipes. I found this on  It’s from Aarti Sequeira, so that seemed legit.  Whether it’s traditional or not, I love it!

I planned this as the wonderful cap to my “snow” day.  Sadly, I found out too late that I only had 1/2 C of red lentils so there’s only 1 serving of leftovers!  Frankly, I could eat this the rest of the week except that I have an eggplant thing on tap and a business dinner.  If you end up in this spot you could always serve it on rice to stretch it some.

This is super easy.  I was a little nervous about having to substitute mustard for mustard seed, but it worked out ok!  Other than that, I followed the instructions. I don’t know enough about cooking Indian food to monkey around with it but so much.  Could you use canned tomatoes?  I don’t see why not.  You’re cooking them down so not having the peels might be nice.  Could you use ground cumin?  Sure, but trust me on this, it’s not the same.  If you want to cook Indian food, invest in some cumin seed.  I was a little sorry I didn’t have a hot chili to add.  I like a little heat and it helps me not eat too much!

I think you could add rice and spinach to complete this one dish meal.  Lentils have protein, but they don’t offer a complete protein. Rice rounds that out.  And a leafy green is always a good idea.  I’ll do that for the leftovers.  I was so ready for these to be done that I ate them as is!

The one surprise for me was that adding salt too soon will make the lentils tough.  It took a lot of restraint for me to wait to add salt!

Here’s what you need:  serves 4-6

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  • 1 cup red lentils, picked through for stones
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • One 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 serrano chile, sliced in 1/2, optional

Tempering Oil (Bagaar):

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • Generous 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Here’s what you do:

  • Put the lentils in a strainer and rinse them under running water. Add them to a bowl, cover with water and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of water, the onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, chile, if using, and the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim any scum from the surface. DO NOT ADD SALT YET; it will toughen the lentils, thereby lengthening their cooking time. Lower the heat, cover the pot with a lid and gently simmer until the lentils are tender, almost translucent, and almost falling apart, about 30 to 40 minutes.


  • Whisk the lentils, releasing its natural starch, and mash some them so the mixture becomes thick. Add salt, to taste.


  • Tempering oil (bagaar): In a small bowl, combine the oil and mustard. In another bowl, combine the spice powders and cumin seed. Have all the ingredients ready because this will move very fast!
  • In a small skillet, over a medium-high flame, warm 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add seeds and immediately cover so you don’t get covered in spluttering oil and seeds! Add the spices. They should sizzle and bubble a little – that’s the blooming and it’s exactly what you want. Don’t let them burn. The mixture should bloom for about 30 seconds, no more.


  • Pour the oil mixture into the lentils, standing back so you don’t get hurt when the mixture splutters again. Stir to combine.


This is so good, y’all.  Really.  Every bit as much comfort food as mac and cheese or mashed potatoes.  And it’s vegan, for those of you who care about that.  It’s low fat and WW friendly.  Gotta love a comfort food that doesn’t make you feel the slightest bit guilty about over-indulging.  Enjoy!


Malai Palak (Indian Creamed Spinach) with Chickpeas

January 5, 2019

This is one of my favorite dishes.  I love Indian food and I mostly shy away from making it at home.  Much of my favorite Indian food has dozens of ingredients and almost as many steps.  This is serious cooking.  So, in a “build or buy” analysis, “buy” almost always wins.  Except for this.  The yum factor far exceeds any difficulty, and it’s not really that hard anyway.  Be prepared for some kitchen cleanup though!

I’ve made this dish twice before.  Once, as described in the recipe – just the spinach; and once using one of the given variations that adds paneer.  The spinach only variety is fantastic, but it’s not a meal.  It’s a side or a sauce.  With the paneer you’re getting closer to a meal, but it’s still really a side.  I wasn’t in the mood to think of anything else tonight so I had to make this my entire dinner, without just eating the whole pan.  I could have added some cubed chicken, but that would have meant an extra pan.  No good.  Aha, chickpeas!  Nothing to do but drain the can.

The recipe below is how I made it tonight.  You should know that the original uses heavy cream, not half and half. I just used what I had on hand.  The end result is slightly less thick, but still so, so good.  The original, which is from my Rasika cookbook, also calls for fenugreek powder.    I’m sure it adds some depth of flavor.  I’ve just never ordered any.

Here’s what you need:


  • 10-12 oz fresh baby spinach
  • 1/4 C (or  slightly less) canola oil
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • 2 T finely chopped garlic
  • 2 C chopped onions
  • 1 T finely chopped ginger
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped or Thai chilis to taste
  • 1/2 t ground turmeric
  • 1/4 C half and half
  • salt to taste

Here’s what you do:

  • Blanch the spinach (wilt in boiling water, submerge in ice water)
  • Drain the spinach well
  • Add spinach and 1/2-1 C water to a blender
  • Puree and set aside


  • Heat the oil in a large skillet until the oil shimmers
  • Add cumin and garlic. Stir 15-30 seconds (Do not burn the garlic)
  • Add onions, stir 5 minutes until soft


  • Add ginger, chilis, turmeric.  Cook 30 seconds


  • Add chickpeas and spinach.  (watch for splatter)


  • Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly
  • Reduce heat to medium, add cream and salt
  • Return to a boil and cook another 5 minutes
  • Serve as is, or with rice and/or naan


A couple of tips.  First, adding the chickpeas reduces the splatter factor quite a bit, but still be careful.  If your bare hand or arm gets splattered by hot oily spinach, it really hurts.  Second, time these 5 minute steps.  You need to give the flavors time to develop and the chickpeas time to heat through and soften.  It will feel like a very long time, but do it.

I can hardly describe how good this is.  The addition of the chickpeas was a very good call.  They provide good substance and have a wonderful creamy texture.  I served it over rice, but this is one of the rare cases where I think riced cauliflower might actually be just as good.  I’ll try that next time.  And there will definitely be a next time.  It’s all I can do not to eat the leftovers before I even put them away!



New Year Luck and Money: Vegetarian Style

January 1, 2019

In my little corner of the world it’s tradition to have black-eyed peas and collard greens to bring luck and money in the new year.  Sometimes I make them into soup; sometimes hoppin’ john; sometimes a side dish for grits or cornbread.  But there’s almost always been a smoked meat element – smoked turkey legs or ham hock.  I do love the flavor that smoked meats add.  So, this year is an attempt to get that flavor, or something very like it, without the meat.

There are a few choices for adding a smoky flavor without adding smoked meat.  You could actually smoke another ingredient.  I think the black-eyed peas could have been successfully smoked.  But that’s a lot of trouble.  I just wasn’t going to do that.  You can add liquid smoke to a dish.  This works well, but you have to be super careful with the amount. It can over power a dish quickly.  So, I picked option three -smoked paprika.  You get a little smoke and a little heat.  Good stuff.  And you only need one of the elements to carry the smoky flavor, the black-eyed peas in this case.

The peas contribute the smoke and the greens bring the heat and the acid.  Cook your greens with hot sauce and vinegar.  Then throw in some rice and you’re ready to eat!  I decided to stuff a couple of bell pepper halves this year just to change things up.  You could also mash up some peas and mix in the rest of the ingredients and make patties.  That seemed like a lot of trouble today.

For the peas:

  • 1 pint fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 t smoked paprika
  • water
  • salt

Cooking the peas:

  • Add all the ingredients to a small pot and bring to a boil
  • Reduce to a simmer and cook until the peas are soft, about 30 minutes

For the greens:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of fresh collards, stemmed and chopped (if you need some help with this, check here)
  • 2 C vegetable stock
  • 1 T Frank’s hot sauce
  • 1-2 T cider vinegar
  • salt

Cooking the greens:

  • Heat oil in a pan until the oil shimmers
  • Add onion, pepper, garlic and saute until vegetables are soft


  • Stir in collards


  • Add stock, hot sauce and vinegar
  • Simmer until collards are soft and most of the stock has cooked out, about 90 minutes

For serving:

  • Mix peas and greens.  Add rice if desired.

This is super comfort food for me.  I love the smoky, earthy, acidic, hot combination.  And I really liked the pepper.  I baked the pepper until it was just warm, but not soft.  The crunch of the pepper is a wonderful balance for the soft peas and greens.

I’ll be eating the leftovers for a few days and happy as a clam about it.  Here’s hoping this is the kick start my weight loss plan needs!

White Beans and Greens Soup (with or without ham!)

December 22, 2018

It’s been another long while since I’ve posted.  It’s the holidays so I’ve been cooking up a storm, but not very inclined to be on my computer.  I’ll try to catch up over the next week or so.  Well, not only have I been cooking up a storm, I’ve been eating (and drinking) like there’s no tomorrow.  Just this morning I had a HUGE brunch and mimosas with my friends from the SPCA.  Then I had a nap.  I knew I was going to want something for dinner, but decided that a non-potato vegetable might be in order.  Something light.  SOUP!

I spent some time this afternoon with Ruth Reichl and Melissa Clark, their cookbooks anyway.  I had it narrowed down to Thai noodle soup or avgolemono when I stumbled upon a recipe for Navy Bean and Ham soup with collards.  I know, navy bean and ham soup isn’t so light.  Usually it’s thick enough to eat with a fork and nary a vegetable in sight.  This one is different!  Melissa Clark delivers again.  And, of course, I made some adjustments.

While I didn’t need it to be super thick, I knew that mashing a few of the beans from a single can, as the recipe called for, wasn’t going to cut it.  I turned a second can of beans into a puree and added that to the soup to give it a little more heft. It’s still pretty light, but feels more like a winter main dish soup.

Now, traditionally you couldn’t possibly leave out the ham in a white bean and ham soup.  It supplies pretty much all of the flavor.  I had some country ham in the house, so I did throw that in.  However, because the primary spice here is paprika, you could use a smoked paprika and dispense with the meat altogether without giving up that smoky flavor!  With the vegetables and beans you’d still have a complete meal soup.

This is a 30-40 minute dinner start to finish, depending on your chopping skills.  Took me 40.  My knife skills are decent, but not speedy.  Because it’s soup, feel free to use pre-chopped frozen vegetables if you want. In fact, if you bought chopped vegetables and diced ham, this is a 25 minute dinner!

Here’s what you need:


  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 C diced onion
  • 1/2 C diced celery
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 C finely chopped carrot
  • 2 C chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 C water
  • 1/2 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 C chopped greens (kale and chard here, but collards, would work too)
  • 4-8 oz diced ham (optional)


  • 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can white beans, drained, rinsed and pureed


  • 1 T paprika (or smoked paprika)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • hot sauce garnish (optional)

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat olive oil in a stock pot
  • Add onion, celery, garlic, carrots
  • Saute until softened, about 10 minutes


  • Add stock, water, ham, peppers, greens, beans, puree.  Bring to a simmer
  • Add paprika, salt, pepper.  Simmer 15-20 minutes.
  • Garnish with hot sauce if desired.


How’d it turn out?

So, so good.  I feel almost healthy!  The recipe called for me to make cornbread croutons coated with hot sauce and butter.  I had no cornbread so I tried it with a potato roll.  Not so good.  Fortunately, I make cheese straws as part of my Christmas baking. They were perfect alongside my soup!

The greens and peppers maintain some nice texture against the creamy beans. The paprika is the perfect flavor to bring the soup to life.  I’m looking forward to the leftovers already!


Snow Day Lasagna Soup

December 9, 2018

It’s been too long!  I’ve done some cooking, some traveling, some eating out in the meantime.  But today is a snow day, which means kitchen time and binge-watching tv.  And, of course, taking video of the puppy’s first snow.  I love days like this!

An ad for something called “Instant Pot Lasagna Soup” came across my news feed last week.  I don’t have an Instant Pot.  I feel no need for one.  There was a link to a slow cooker version.  Getting closer.  But on a snow day, I don’t need a hands off solution.  I’m here.  I have time to stir.  And in this case, that’s the only difference between the slow cooker version and the stove top soup pot version.  The stirring.

How do you make a soup version of lasagna?  Basically, you make the goopy filling you’d make for a regular lasagna and add a bunch of liquid to it.  Soup.  The great thing about it is that the filling part can be anything you want. I used a combination of sausage, beef, and turkey in this one.  If you’d usually make a vegetarian lasagna, by all means, do that. Sub in veggie crumbles instead of the meat. This would be great with zucchini and mushrooms.  And what’s even better is that you don’t have to worry about whether it’s going to fall apart when you cut it.  It’s supposed to be soupy!

Now, let’s talk noodles.  Lots of options here too.  What kind of noodles?  I decided to use lasagna noodles broken into pieces.  You could use rotini or radiatore or baby shells, whatever.  You can cook them in the soup.  You can cook them ahead of time and add them to the pot.  You can cook them and portion them into individual bowls.  What you need to consider is your leftovers plan.  If you’re sure you won’t have leftovers, cook the noodles in the soup.  They’ll take on the flavor of the soup.  If you’re mostly sure you won’t have leftovers, but then again maybe, cook the noodles separately and add them to the pot. They’ll take on some of the soup liquid.  Beware that the noodles in the leftovers might be a little mushy.  If you’ve planned for leftovers, cook the noodles separately and put them in individual bowls.  You can either cook all the noodles you’ll need and just store them separately or you can cook fresh ones each time you have leftovers.

This stuff looks, tastes, and smells amazing.  Coming in from playing in the snow to this aroma is a gift.  Truly.  But I noticed that I didn’t have any vegetables.  And since I’m still not convinced that lettuce won’t jump up and kill me at any moment (Google romaine and e coli if you want more info on that), I decided to add some kale to the pot.  I got some end of season lacinato kale at the farmers’ market yesterday so I chopped and added most of the bunch to the pot.  If you’re going to add a hardy green to the pot, just make sure the soup is at a solid simmer.  You want the greens to cook, not just wilt.  If you’re using a softer leaf like spinach, a wilt will do just fine.

Hey now, you’re saying, the best part of a lasagna is the cheesy goodness!  Worry not.  You have a lot of options in the cheese department too.  You can add a dollop of ricotta to the bottom of each bowl before you ladle the soup in.  You can (and should) top each bowl with mozzarella and Parmesan.  Or both!  In this case I used SausageCraft Della Nonna sausage, which has some cheese mixed right into the sausage.  Yummmm.  If you want to make it extra special, use oven safe crocks so you can brown the mozzarella in the broiler before serving!

If you don’t have a lasagna recipe that you’re already using, feel free to follow this one.  This will make 4-6 servings.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 C diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 lb each, italian sausage, ground beef, and ground turkey
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 1 can (14 oz) or pint jar peeled tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 C dry red wine (save the rest for dinner!)
  • 1-2 t dried oregano
  • 1-2 t dried basil
  • 2-3 C stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1 small bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped

Here’s what you do:

  • In a medium pot, cook the pasta; set aside


  • In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil until it shimmers
  • Add the onion and garlic
  • Cook until the onion is soft
  • Add the meat; cook until it’s browned


  • Stir in the tomato paste


  • Stir in the tomatoes, wine and spices


At this point what you’ve got is lasagna filling.

  • Add the stock


Now it’s soup!

  • Bring to a simmer
  • Cover the pot and cook 30-60 minutes
  • Increase the heat to achieve a low boil
  • Add the kale


  • Reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes.
  • Add pasta to each bowl; ladle soup over the noodles
  • Add some mozzarella and parmesan


How was it?

First, it’s exactly as advertised.  It’s lasagna in a bowl!  Nothing to complain about there.  I really like the broken lasagna noodles. My advice – leave the pieces big enough that you really notice them.  It’s much more like lasagna that way.  And as delightful as the mozzarella is, it sticks to the spoon as much as anything.  I don’t like having to scrape it off with my teeth. I might try the leftovers with just the parmesan.  Or maybe cubes of fresh mozzarella instead.

If you’re going to add a kale or chard, add some extra stock or water as well. The greens soak up a lot of liquid and you still want it to be like soup.  I really liked the kale addition though.  I’d definitely do that again.

I’m super happy with my meat choices.  The beef and turkey were very lean and the sausage added just enough fat to add amazing flavor and a silky texture to the broth.  So, not a lot of fat and I didn’t miss it.  But I think I’d be happy with a vegetarian version too.

All in all, the perfect snow day dinner!  All the food groups; warm and comfort-y;  and only a bowl to wash.  I might even have some in the morning after the snow shoveling!

Cincinnati Chili, Vegetarian Style

November 26, 2018

I’ve been on a vegetarian jag the last several days.  Well, except for the breakfast bacon.  Still, most of my cooking has been vegetarian.  It wouldn’t kill me to lose a little weight and my cholesterol probably needs some work, so it seems like a good idea to cut back on the meat protein.  And just maybe it adds a little balance to the sugar heavy holiday diet.

I’m not a huge fan of meat substitutes.  If part of my quest is about reducing processed food, then food flavored and processed to resemble something that it isn’t, has to be included in that.  So, no false chicken patties or tofurkey or fake bacon.  That said, veggie protein crumbles seem acceptable because they’re replacing a meat protein morethan they’re pretending to be one.  Maybe.  I sometimes use them instead of crumbled ground beef or turkey in foods that are mostly about the sauce – spaghetti sauce, lasagna, and chili.  If it makes you nervous to do a wholesale replacement, just replace half.

Cincinnati Chili is flat out winter comfort food.  If you’re not familiar, it’s a dark, cinnamon, allspice, chocolate, no-bean, slightly soupy chili served over noodles and topped with onions and cheese.  Just think about that for a moment.  Yum.  Skyline Chili is the most famous version that I know of, but you can’t get it in my part of the world so I make it from scratch.

This version is slightly darker and more bitter than other recipes I’ve made.  It calls for an ounce of unsweetened chocolate. Probably half that much would do.  But every recipe is all about the spices.  There’s not much else in it.  A few onions, tomatoes and crumbled beef or veggie crumbles.  When you have a recipe that succeeds or fails on the strength of dry spices, plan to cook it a long time. That’s the only way those spice flavors really develop.

Feel free to double this.  It freezes great!  And it’s important to have some comfort food on hand for those winter days that don’t go like you hoped.

Here’s what you need:


  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 C finely diced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 T paprika
  • 3/4 t cumin
  • 1/2 t allspice
  • 3/4 t cinnamon
  • 1/8-1/4 t cayennne
  • 1/4 t cloves


  • 1 lb Boca veggie crumbles
  • 3 T tomato paste
  • 1/2 C diced tomatoes


  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 C water

  • 1 ounce unsweetened (Baker’s) chocolate, chopped
  • 1 T cider vinegar
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce


Whew.  That’s it.  Don’t be intimidated by the length of the list.  All the spices are ground and you likely have them in your house already.

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the oil in a heavy pot
  • Add the onions and garlic, saute 5 minutes
  • Add all the ground spices
  • Stir and cook 1 minute
  • Add crumbles. Saute until they’re thawed and covered evenly in spices.
  • Stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes, bay leaf
  • Add 1 1/2 C water and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened
  • Stir in chocolate, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and cook until much of the water cooks out
  • Add salt to taste
  • Add another 1/2 C water and cook until much of the water cooks out
  • Repeat until the chili has cooked 1 1/2 – 2 hours.  Make sure the chili is a little soupy at the end.
  • Add more salt as needed
  • Serve over spaghetti and top with diced onions and grated cheddar