Split pea soup

Continuing with my run of trying new foods and eating like someone who has no teeth, I tried split pea soup tonight.

Sure, it’s not the most attractive soup, but it’s really yummy and hearty, perfect for a winter weeknight dinner.

I thought this recipe turned out great. It’s full of flavor, including a little sweetness from the carrots.

Split pea soup
adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1/2 pound split peas
1/2 cup diced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
5 cups water

Heat the olive oil over medium in a soup pot and saute the onions, garlic and carrots until the onions are translucent. Sprinkle on the salt, pepper, and oregano.

Add the water and half the split peas, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Add the rest of the peas and simmer for 40 more minutes.

Voila, easy peasy soup. Har har.

I also loved the shake I made on Sunday when I had almost nothing left to eat in my refrigerator.

It was one cup of frozen mango chunks, two cups of unsweetened almond milk, a tablespoon of flax meal, and a teaspoon of agave nectar. The extra almond milk did the trick (it only has like 40 calories per cup).

While we were out running errands on Sunday we decided to go to Oakland and try Blue Bottle Coffee, which we’d heard so much about.

Since I’m off caffeine (though I did notice they had decaf beans), Mike tried an iced coffee and got some beans to go, and reports that it’s awesome. Love their packaging, too.

I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to give up coffee, but I thought I would struggle more with my attachment to Diet Coke. Lately, I haven’t wanted any at all. In fact i don’t even put lemon in my water or make tea very often anymore. Mostly I just want plain water, which is pretty strange for me.

Two weeks down, two more to go…

Juice-it-yourself breakfast

Now that I’m on two liquid meals a day I figured it was time to break out the juicer.

This thing is powerful. When you turn it on it sounds like a lawnmower. It’s a little scary, but it does the job.

What comes out is a little scary, too. First it’s this multilayered colorful juice, and then when you mix it all together it becomes the color of pond scum. Not so appetizing, but the weird part is that it does actually taste good. If you’ve ever bought a Green Machine juice at the grocery store you know what I mean.

So anyway, here’s my recipe. Never thought this is what my breakfast would look like.

1 apple
1 lemon
2-3 carrots
2 big kale leaves
2 ribs celery

I tried adding pineapple once and it was a little too sweet.

For dinner I’ve been having a really yummy butternut squash soup. I bought organic squash, and they turned out to be the brightest orange color and full of flavor. I roasted one squash (cut into chunks) with a couple of carrots and one apple. Then I sauteed some onions and celery, added four cups of water, a little apple cider vinegar and turmeric to my pot plus all the roasted veggies, and blended it all with my immersion blender.

It came out so well. There was no need for cream at all. I tried having a chilled avocado soup, too, but it wasn’t very good. It just made me think I was eating a bowl of salsa with no chips.

My other discovery this week is that it’s fun to blend red and plain quinoa together to add a little more color to your meals.

Next week I tackle lentils. I know you’re excited.

‘Clean’ snacks

The weekend was pretty brutal. I must have been detoxing from something because I had a throbbing headache, sore throat, and a low fever. I didn’t want to do anything but rest. The book tells you not to take pills for headaches, so I just had to ride it out. At times I felt like quitting the whole thing, as the whole point is to feel good. But today I finally broke through it and started to feel better.

I’ve had a lot more energy and way less hunger today, which is such a relief. I went to the store and stocked up on more ingredients that will help me be more creative in the kitchen. Now my vegetable drawer runneth over!

I love buying ingredients I’ve never worked with before. Have you ever had adzuki beans?

I’ve also never cooked with coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature but melts in your hands). If you get some on your hands it’s like lotion!

And let’s face it, this is the most important part of any cleanse.

I also trashed some temptations.

Over the last few years I’ve slowly been breaking my attachments to certain processed foods, and I’m still working on it.

I had been getting pretty frustrated over the weekend at feeling like I was eating the same things over and over, especially for snacks. You can only eat so many handfuls of nuts and fruit. So I thought I’d share some other recipes for quick snacks that you can pop in your mouth if you need a little energy or want to satisfy a sweet tooth without eating refined sugar.

(Use organics where you can.)

Hummus and carrots
adapted from the Clean book

2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Add a little extra water for smoothness.

Brown rice crackers
adapted from Clean‘s recipe book

1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
I pinch each of dried oregano, basil, thyme, and black pepper

Mix flour, salt, herbs, and oil together in a bowl until you have coarse crumbs.

Mix in water until the dough forms a ball.

Roll out on a baking sheet to 1/4-inch thick and score it so you will be able to break apart the crackers.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes, or until the edges start to get brown. After the crackers cool, gently break them apart.

Raw fruit/nut balls
adapted from my own recipe

1/2 cup finely grated coconut
1 handful pecans
2 handfuls almonds
1 handful dates (make sure they’re pitted!)
1 handful raisins

Toss all of the ingredients into your food processor and process until the nuts have turned into fine pieces and the mixture is starting to clump together. The smoother the better, in my opinion. Roll them into 1-inch balls.

If you like, you can roll them in a little extra coconut.

Chocolate almond butter balls
(they’re kind of like Nutella!)

1/2 cup almond butter
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Combine ingredients in a bowl, and roll them into 1-inch balls. Keep them refrigerated, so they hold their shape.

(I realize what these look like, but they taste much better than they look.)

Raw coconut macaroons
from Fork in the Road (I like to halve the recipe)

3 cups shaved coconut
1 1/2 cups raw cacao powder
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup coconut oil
Pinch of sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or until firm. Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls (or use a mini scoop). They can be dehydrated too, if you like.

I also just wanted to say that I had never realized how dependent my diet was on wheat. It seems like it’s in everything. I have a whole new appreciation for those on a gluten-free diet, and I will try to put more gluten-free recipes up here.

Watermelon basil pops

I made two popsicle recipes for a story recently, and I thought I’d share this one with you because it’s so easy. And they’re really good!

The hardest part was tracking down a popsicle mold. Even though it’s still hot, everyone is moving to their fall inventories.

The one I ended up with is a little dorky, but I did learn that you can make adult-looking popsicles in shot glasses.

The original recipe called for cilantro, but since I had a basil tree growing in my side garden, I decided to switch out the herbs.

Watermelon-Basil Pops
adapted from Self Magazine

3 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
4 basil leaves

1. Dump all the ingredients into a blender and pulse to combine. You might need to stir the mixture a little at first.
2. Pour the watermelon puree into popsicle molds and freeze for at least 3 hours. If you have trouble releasing the pops, dip the mold in warm water first.

Unfortunately, the pulp kind of sank to the bottom, giving these a kind of Bomb pop appearance, but they still tasted really good.

Ratatouille revisited

I decided yesterday that with our garden veggie haul it was time to make ratatouille. It’s not the most beautiful of dishes, but it’s one of the best ways to enjoy your produce. And it’s sort of like a relish. You can put it on anything!

The recipe I use is an adaptation from Julia Child, so I think it’s legit.

But this time it was different. I got to use my brand new mandoline slicer!

Friends, you have got to get one of these. I feel like I just went up a level as a cook or something.

I used it to make 1/8-inch zucchini slices. I zipped through a whole zucchini in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately my eggplant was too soft to use in the mandoline. But I look forward to making many slices and strips in the future. I’m thinking it would make a cold noodle salad a lot better.

So for ratatouille, you roast the zucchini and eggplant slices in the oven while you saute onions, peppers and garlic. Meanwhile you peel and slice your tomatoes, and separate the juice. Then you add the tomato slices to the peppers and onions, cook a few minutes, then add the juice and turn up the heat until most of the juice evaporates.

Then you layer it up in a casserole dish like a lasagna and bake for about half an hour. The recipe calls for turning up the heat partway through baking, but I didn’t think it was necessary.

In fact, I don’t think you really even need to separate the tomato juice and pour it on later. I think you could probably throw everything into the pan and cook it at once and it would still come out good. Just try to remove all the tomato seeds.

If I had to do it over I think I’d double the recipe, too. It’s a lot of work for one tiny pan of veggies. Even if it is a relish, Mike and I still eat it like it’s at least a side dish.

DIY microwave popcorn

This was like a revelation for me. And it’s so simple it’s ridiculous.

I have been addicted to these little packs of lime and salt popcorn for snacks.

But then I read something (maybe in Readymade?) about how you can make your own microwave popcorn in a paper sack.

So I tried it, and it worked. And then I felt dumb for not thinking of it myself.

Here’s what I did:

I got a bag of regular paper lunch sacks and some popcorn kernels (these were tiny, so you might have to adjust the time for bigger kernels).

I put 1/4 a cup of kernels in a sack and drizzled on about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Don’t worry if your bag gets oily. It’s supposed to.

Then I microwaved it for two minutes, stopping it when I heard the kernals slowing down (it was about a minute and a half).

The popcorn came out just fine. I got a lot of old maids the first time, but haven’t since. I tried popping it for a minute and 45 seconds once, but then I got a bunch of burned kernels.

After it comes out, salt it generously. You could also use it to make a snack mix or caramel corn or popcorn balls or whatever your heart desires!

Roasted beets with goat cheese

This has been my go-to side this week, now that we have fresh beets in the garden.

I’ve always found beets to be a little too strong tasting. I’ll eat a few, but then I’ll start to pick them out. But this recipe has given me a whole new appreciation for beets. I think the difference is that I finally cooked them long enough to caramelize, so they became more sweet than beet-y, if that makes any sense.

The addition of goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic dressing just makes them even better.

The only sad part is that our beautiful chioggia beets lose most of their color when roasted. But I still get to enjoy the swirled patterns every time I cut one open.

So all you do for this recipe is wash the beets (as many as you want), trim the ends and cut off the greens.

Then you can peel the outer layer of skin if it’s too rough.

Cut the beets into 1/4-inch slices, place them on a cookie sheet and drizzle on a little olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. You will be tempted to take them out too soon, but don’t. You want them soft, with slightly curled edges.

When they’re done, let them cool a few minutes, and cut the slices into 1-inch pieces. Sprinkle goat cheese on top (I like Northern Prairie Chevre’s black pepper version) and drizzle with a little balsamic dressing.

Rhubarb lemonade

I sure hope you’re not sick of rhubarb yet, because I have one more recipe for you. A few years ago, when I was new to rhubarb, Mike made this lemonade recipe, and it was just fantastic. We’ve made it a few time since then, including last night when we spiked it with rum and took it to a party. I suggest you do the same, if you get a chance!

Rhubarb lemonade

8 stalks rhubarb, chopped
8 cups water
1 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Bring water and rhubarb to a boil in a big pot. Let it simmer for about half an hour, then turn of the pot and let it sit until cool. Strain out the rhubarb. Add lemon juice and sugar and stir to combine.

Serve over ice cubes with a sprig of fresh mint. You can also add carbonated water to make it fizzy.

African groundnut stew

After reading Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” (a sweet Christmas gift), I was feeling a little guilty for providing you with a handful of recipes for refined sugar and processed pastries and not much else. One of my resolutions for 2010 is definitely to add more healthy recipes to my repertoire.

I dug out some of my biggest, most beautifully illustrated cookbooks to try to find some recipes to try (I’d also just finished “Julie and Julia”, so was even more inspired). But after flipping through page after page, not much was jumping out at me. So I went back to my old standby, the Simply in Season cookbook. Which you are probably tired of hearing about, but I’m telling you, it’s a godsend.

Though it’s winter, I flipped back to the autumn section and found about a dozen recipes I’d like to try. How about Red Lentil Coconut Curry, Savory Squash Bread Pudding, Butternut Bisque or Broccoli Gratin? They all sounded good to me, but I landed on this vegetarian groundnut stew for dinner because it called for 3 cups of tomato juice and 2 cups of green beans, both of which I had in the fridge, and I was anxious to use them up.

I also know, from the many recipes I’ve made out of this book, that in addition to helping you cook seasonally and locally, the recipes always tend toward the healthy and unprocessed side. They’ll sneak beets into a dessert or use ingredients like bulgur, persimmons and orzo that I sometimes forget even exist.

In the case of this stew, there’s not even veggie broth in the recipe. Instead, the tomato juice, combined with apple juice make up the liquid. The only thing I changed when I made this was to omit the fresh ginger, because I didn’t have any. It tasted fine without it. I was skeptical at first, given the orangish color and strong smell of cabbage wafting from the pot, but when it finished cooking it was really delicious. With a little brown rice, it was super filling for a vegetarian dish.

I ended up using an organic butternut squash for this, and much like the organic yams we always buy, the color was much richer than a typical squash.

In fact, the squash was so orange that it stained my fingertips when I cut into it. I was worried it wouldn’t cook through in just 30 minutes or so, but it was perfectly done, and a little bit sweet, mixed with the apple juice. It reminded me of the dishes we used to eat when we had an African restaurant in town (alongside fried plaintains, yum).

I have one more tip, too. If you’re trying to eat more grains, like brown rice, and we definitely are, think about getting one of these microwave rice cookers. Ours seems to cook brown rice perfectly every time, and shaves at least 10 minutes off the cooking time.

Vegetarian Groundnut Stew

adapted from Simply in Season

2 cups onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups winter squash, chopped (I used butternut)
2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups tomato juice
1 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon ginger root, peeled and minced
2 cups green beans
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Saute the onion and garlic in the oil in a large soup pot. Toss in the squash and cabbage, and sprinkle in the cayenne pepper. Season with salt.

Stir that up, then add the tomato and apple juices, and ginger, if you like. Cover the pot and simmer over medium for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, start cooking your brown rice. You’ll probably need about two cups dry to get enough for the whole pot.

Add the green beans and cook 10 more minutes.

Then stir in the peanut butter, and turn it down to low before you serve it.

Homemade applesauce

Even after I made apple crisp and caramel apples, our supply of apples was still bursting out of the crisper drawer, so I decided to try making my own applesauce.

I perused a few recipes online and decided on this one from Food Network. It seemed like most recipes were almost exactly the same: peel and core a bunch of apples, cook them in sugar, lemon juice and pie-type spices, then blend them in a food processor or food mill (a kitchen item I don’t actually have!).

I liked this recipe for the addition of apple cider, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks. Although next time I would eliminate the brown sugar. The sugar from the cider is plenty for sweetness.

Though the peeling and chopping took some time, I was impressed by how easy it was to make my own applesauce. Just like the caramel apples, it would make a great take-away gift, poured into a cute jar and tied up with ribbon.