Soups for thought

AriCooks, soups and stews

Although, for such a small cafe, we have a fairly extensive menu at Belinda, there are two items on our menu that are the back bone of the cafe’s business: soups and quiches. Every day we have at least two or three freshly made vegan soups. People always ask (for reasons of health and kashrut) if they contain cream or milk and are surprised when we tell them that none of our soups are made with dairy. Although I can’t give away any recipes, I will share a couple of soup-making secrets that contribute to their deliciousness.

Roi, serving a bowl of minestrone

1. Fresh ingredients: We get fresh produce delivered to the cafe every morning, and what looks best often determines what Mali (head chef) decides to turn into soup. No limp or frozen veggies, and absolutely no powders, bouillons, or artificial flavor enhancers. 

2. A good base: All of our soups are made with nearly-caramelized onions. We gently and slowly saute a large batch of onions in a lot of oil  each evening and use them in our soups the next day. They give the soups a wonderful depth of flavor.

3. All or partial puree: Nearly all the soups we serve (with the exception of the vegetable, minestrone and one or two others) are either partially or fully pureed. Pureeing part of the soup creates a rich body and the illusion of a cream-base.

4. Extras: Don’t be shy with the salt, pepper and other seasonings, and use coconut, (unsweetened) soy or almond milk if you really need an added cream-element.

Here are some excellent soup recipes from around the web (okay, they’re bloggers I know and love…), and a couple of my favorites from this blog as well. Stay warm & have a happy winter!

Miriam’s soup trio post, from her blog, Israeli Kitchen. Three easy, vegetarian/vegan soup recipes; jerusalem artichoke, tomato mint, and lentil soup, from one of our blogger evenings on the town.

Liz’s orange-lentil soup, an easy and delicious variation on a vegetarian classic. It was tough to pick just one off her awesome blog, so while you’re there, have a look around.

This sweet potato and cilantro soup from Molly, is wishful thinking for me, since we cannot get chipotles in adobo sauce here. Looks delicious.

Pumpkin soup with Thai curry, a recipe I adapted slightly from 101cookbooks.

This borscht recipe was an unexpected hit last year, and caused me to shed my childhood aversion to the Russian staple.

Vegetarian Kubbeh Soup for a Sweet New Year

AriCooks, Dairy Free, soups and stews, Tips and Tricks, Vegan, vegetarian

Just as our life in Tel Aviv had a Yemenite flavor from living and shopping near the Yeminite Quarter and Shuk HaCarmel, our life here in Jerusalem, a stone’s throw away from Machaneh Yehuda, smells and tastes of Iraqi and Kurdish cuisine. Our neighbors are immigrants from Kurdistan (now part of Iraq), whose children, grandchildren and great grandchildren crowd into their tiny apartment every Friday evening. Songs, prayers, laughter and delicious cooking smells waft from their balcony and kitchen window.

“This was a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in”, their daughter told me. “It was the kind of place where everyone was always cooking together and front doors were open from the time people woke up until they went to sleep.”

Although Nachlaot (and Zichron Yosef, a small offshoot of Nachlaot, where we live) is now home to all kinds of Jewish immigrants, as well as foreign workers from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, the Iraqi and Kurdish influence is still unmistakable. Up and down Agripas — the main thoroughfare between the outdoor market and the neighborhood — and within the shuk itself, one can find Iraqi flatbreads, stuffed vegetables, mustachioed men playing towleh (an Iraqi version of backgammon) and sipping small cups of strong coffee. If you are lucky, you will also find kubbeh. Stuffed with meat, chicken or vegetables, kubbeh are cracked wheat and semolina-based dumplings that are more or less the backbone of Kurdish cuisine. Joan Nathan writes about one Kurdish grandmother in her book, The Jews of Israel Today, who typically makes about 60 kubbeh every week for the Shabbat meal with her immediate and extended family. This is hardly unusual in this food-centric country, where many of the Jews who came to Israel from Arab nations in search of a better life are still alive and cooking.

Friday afternoons at the Cafe, my coworker Roie throws himself into a frenzy during closing trying to get to his granmother’s house that much sooner for steaming bowls of kubbeh hamousta — a homestyle stew with large chunks of vegetables and fat dumplings stuffed with beef. “What’s the rush?!” I tease him as he hurls dirty aprons towards the laundry pile and scrubs the espresso machine ferociously. “My grandmother’s kubbeh!” he replies, shoving his work clothes into his courier bag and dashing out the door.

Last Shabbat at my friend Julia’s house, my resolve to try my hand at real soup kubbeh (as opposed to the fried version, which I have made before) was finally solidified as I slurped my way through a bowl of her mother-in-law’s beet and lemon version. Although the results of my efforts were fruitful, there is so much to learn about how to make all the different varieties of kubbeh, I feel I could be experimenting for a long time before I really find my favorite recipes. I also may try to find my way into Roie’s grandmother’s kitchen for some tips….

Ari’s Vegetarian Kubbeh Stew, with inspiration from Joan Nathan, Vegan Start and the wonders of the internet.

Even food freaks like me fall into a rut from time to time. With all the upheaval in our life this past year, it had been some time since I felt I’d cooked something really adventurous. Although I would make some changes next time I attempt this stew (as indicated below) overall I was thrilled with the finished product here. 

For the Kubbeh filling:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

10-12 baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped

handful of parsley, finely chopped

salt and pepper

Heat a bit of olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the mushrooms and saute. Cover briefly to allow their juices to release. Add the parsley and cook until wilted.

Allow filling to cool while you make the kubbeh dough.

For the kubbeh dough:

2 cups fine bulgur wheat (Some recipes call for half fine and half coarse. I used all fine.)

2 cups semolina

flour

salt

warm water

Cover the bulgur wheat with salted warm water (a few dashes of salt will do) by about an inch. Let sit in a bowl for about an hour until the liquid has been absorbed (if your liquid gets absorbed too quickly, add more; you want well-hydrated bulgur for this recipe). After the hour, drain excess liquid and mix in the semolina. Begin kneading the dough, adding a bit of flour as you go. Knead until you have a pliable dough that is not too sticky — I would try to add as little flour as possible, but do what you have to in order to get a dough you can work with.

When you have a dough that you feel you can work with, take a plum-sized amount in your hand and shape it so it is concave with an even thickness all around.

Next take a teaspoon of the filling and place it into the middle of the dough.

Then begin to close the dough around the filling, taking care that none of the filling is poking out anywhere (risking kubbeh-eruption during cooking).

 Put your kubbeh in a container with wax paper or plastic between the layers. Cover well and refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

Now make the soup:

2 onions, chopped

3 celery stalks (leaves reserved) cut into a smallish dice

1 1/2 cups of butternut squash or pumpkin, cut into chunks

2 beets, peeled and cut into chunks

2 medium zucchini/magda/summer squash cut into large chunks

celery leaves, finely chopped

handful of parsley, finely minced

salt and pepper

juice of 1 whole lemon

olive oil

4-6 cups water or vegetable stock

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a wide soup pot over medium. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes. Add the celery and pumpkin and saute well until the onion begins to turn golden. Add the rest of the veggies, except the celery leaves and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and cover for a few minutes.

Add celery leaves, parsley, salt and pepper. MIx everything well and then cover with 4-6 cups of water or stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes.

Begin to drop the kubbeh into the soup — my recipe made about 20 kubbeh, and I used maybe half of them in the soup, freezing the rest for a future soup.

Simmer the kubbeh in the soup for one hour. Serve hot. Enjoy!

A pretty delicious weekend

cookies, soups and stews, Spring, Summer, Vegan, vegetarian

Sometimes it’s nice to just be with Jeff and Auralee on Shabbat. And make special things, like Jeff’s favorite Brazilian stew

and challahs that are round instead of straight

and fudgey, gooey, chocolatey cookies that are healthy (made with goat yogurt from the Shomron)

And then, get together with long-lost friends (who are no longer quite so lost at all), and have a picnic at the zoo with Shabbat leftovers and other yummy treats.

Here’s to a good week. שבוע טוב

Brazilian Black Bean Stew, remixed.

This recipe is something I used to make back in our Allston days. It came from a magazine that I clipped, pasting the recipe into one of my cooking notebooks. Although I can’t be sure, I believe is was Vegetarian Times circa ~ 2000 ish. The picture above is of the soup in progress, before adding the cooked black beans. Also, since it is stone-fruit season here, I used nectarines instead of the called-for mangoes, with excellent results.

1 Tbs vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 red bell pepper

5 tomatoes, chopped

1.5- 2 cups cooked black beans (I soak mine for 1 day and then slow cook in the crockpot overnight)

1 small hot green chili, diced

1 ripe mango, peeled and diced, or 2-3 nectarines diced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro

salt to taste

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for a minute before adding sweet potato, tomatoes (with their liquid), bell pepper, chili and about 1 1/2 cups of water. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender but firm, 10-15 minutes.

Stir in beans and simmer gently uncovered, until heated through ~5 minutes. Stir in the mango (or nectarine) and cook until heated though, about 1 minute. Stir in cilantro and salt. Serve hot.

Chocolate Walnut Cookies, heavily adapted from Veganomicon

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2/3 cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup goat yogurt

3/4 cup sugar (I like the brown, cane sugar)

1 egg

1/2 cup soy milk

2 tsp vanilla

2 tsp amaretto

4 oz bar dark chocolate, chopped small

1/2 cup walnut, chopped small

Preheat the oven to 350°F

In a large bowl, sift together flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, sugar, oil, yogurt, vanilla extract, and amaretto. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, in batches. Add chocolate and walnuts. When the batter starts to get too stiff to mix with a spoon, use your hands. The batter is sticky and and thick and your hands will get very messy and chocolate-covered, but as Isa and Terry say ,”worse things have happened”.

Wash your hands and line 2 baking sheets with parchment or grease with a little oil. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and press to flatten (it helps prevent sticking, if your hands are a bit damp). Place about an inch apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wonder Pot Success! and a Humble Soup

AriCooks, dessert, Quick Meals, soups and stews, Tips and Tricks, Vegan, vegetarian

Although I am grateful to my dad for unearthing a copy of the now antiquated (and somewhat irrelevant) Wonders of a Wonder Pot for its novelty and the mini-history lesson it provides, the cookbook itself is somewhat of a disappointment. Filled mainly with non-wonder pot recipes along with transliterations of Hebrew food words (for the new Israeli citizen), the few recipes Sybil Kaufman does provide for the actual pot are meat or cheese-laden with a heavy eastern European influence. In other words, not appetizing. The good news however is that by reading over the recipes — the desserts in particular — I was able to determine that nearly any cake or quick bread can be made in the pot without any major changes to the recipe. The first recipe I was eager to try out was my quick chocolate cake, an old standby around our house with a simple formula that is both parve and vegan.

Of course, having a dessert baking makes me feel that much more obligated to put a healthy dinner on the table, so I whipped up an easy lentil soup inspired by the ones we’ve been enjoying in the Yemenite Quarter. The soup, and in fact most Yemenite cuisine, is composed of surprisingly few ingredients. The addition of caramelized onions is Claudia Roden’s from her book Cooking of the Mediterranean, and the sorrel was my idea — a delicious addition if I do say so. Enjoy.

Humble Soup

This soup can be made thicker or thinner depending on your broth-to-lentils ratio. Serves 4-6

6-8 cups vegetable broth

1 1/2 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 – 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

3/4 tsp ground cumin

large bunch of fresh sorrel, arugula or spinach, washed very well to remove grit

1 large onion, thinly sliced

large handful of parsley/cilantro, finely chopped

Bring vegetable broth to a boil. Add the red lentils (picked through and rinsed) and simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils have broken down (sadly, they lose their bright, beautiful color, but are delicious nonetheless). Add salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and cumin to taste. Meanwhile, saute onions in a shallow pan until caramelized. Stir sorrel into the soup while it is still very hot — it will cook down quickly. Finely chop up parsley or cilantro (you can also do a mix) and serve soup over rice or as it is, topped with onions and herbs.

Wonder Pot Chocolate Cake (parve and vegan!)


First, make the batter for my favorite quick chocolate cake.

Spoon batter carefully into the greased and floured wonder pot (I dust with cocoa) and cook on an electric or gas burner over very low heat until done (~45 minutes).

avoid the hole...

Red Lentil Soup

AriCooks, soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Winter

Settling in…

It basically involves stocking the fridge and kitchen, making sure you have enough paper goods and blankets, scheduling meetings with various government agencies, getting a bank account and so forth. For me, it wasn’t really enough to keep that anxious-transitional feeling at bay, so after a week here, I got a job.

It’s a little retail gig, a few days a week. Just something to keep my hands occupied (there’s a lot of folding involved) while I figure out what the heck comes next.

Oh the unknown(s)…

Red Lentil Noodle Soup, from Ha’aretz, contributed by Doram Gaunt

This soup is comforting and hearty, without being too heavy or stew-like. Everyone in Tel Aviv keeps complaining about what a cold winter we’re having, and most of the time I have to turn my head so they do not see me laughing. If 57º F is cold (and that’s when the sun goes down), what would they think of Boston? That being said, apartments here are not equipped with central heating, and when you are sitting in your kitchen before midday, or at night, and it’s 60º F in the house, you don’t feel so toasty. This soup is a light meal on its own and is very soothing and warming whether you are snowed in, or just…in. I served mine over rice — which was quite tasty — you can also use noodles, as the recipe instructs, or just  serve it with some crusty bread. Enjoy.

Ingredients

2 tbs. olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

3 carrots, peeled and cut into stalks or cubes

2 cups red lentils

Sprig of rosemary (optional )

2 tbs. soup powder (I used an Israeli brand that has a lot of flavor and no MSG, if you would rather use vegetable stock, that would be even better! I would do 5 cups water, 5 cups stock)

10 cups water

The juice of a half a lemon

Salt and black pepper

1.5 cups medium, flat noodles, uncooked

Preparation

Fry the onions in the olive oil until golden. Add the carrots and fry for another minute or two. Add the lentils, stir and let them heat up. Now add the water, soup powder and rosemary sprig.

Bring to a boil, lower the flame and cook until the carrots are soft and the lentils are falling apart (around an hour ). Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add the noodles, turn the heat off and cover the pot.

After around ten minutes the noodles will be soft and will have released their starch, further thickening the soup. If the soup is too thick for your taste, dilute with water.


A stranger at home

AriCooks, soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Winter

on my way to the market this morning

When I was younger my family and I lived in many different parts of Israel, but never Tel Aviv. As a teenager, during high school and army prep camp  this city was the place my friends and I went to party, and where we changed buses at the massive Central Station on our free weekends. I never considered life in Tel Aviv beyond those places and it is strange to be here now, among them, but with a very different purpose and outlook than I had at 16.

There is no question that I feel at home in Israel. My comfort level in this place far surpasses the feeling I get when I wander the streets of Boston or Cambridge. The reasons for that are a little mysterious to me, and probably too complex to explore in this venue, but the point is: being here, now, is both familiar and foreign at the same time. It is home because Israel was always home, even when we lived in the States, and foreign because this city in particular is largely new to me and (more relevantly) because I was away for so long. To stay away from a place you love for eleven years  takes conviction and a sense of purpose. I was trying very hard to be at home elsewhere. In the process, Boston did become a home, filled with friends, family, jobs I loved (and ones I did not) and familiar places and memories. I am missing those things very much right now, and yet, Israel does not suffer in comparison. It’s strange.

Hamin is a dish that I ate at my agricultural high school and at people’s homes on shabbat in Israel. I grew up with something similar — cholent (my mother and many of our Ashkenazi friends made cholent for holidays and shabbat) but my Sephardic Turkish grandmother did not make anything like it that I can recall. Hamin is well-suited to the day of rest, because it can be left in a slow-cooker or on a hot plate indefinitely and grows tastier each day as the flavors meld. Coming up with a version that speaks to your family’s taste and background is part of the fun of cooking this dish.

Hamin חמין

There is no right way to make Hamin (Sephardi Cholent). Each ethnic group (and every grandmother) has their own version. Mine is vegetarian, naturally, and always includes potatoes and beans along with some tomatoes (or tomato sauce/paste), peppers and sometimes squash. In this recipe I added some winter wheat berries, since we are in the midst of what passes for “winter” here in Tel Aviv.

1 cup winter (hard) wheat berried, soaked overnight

oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2-3 small boiling potatoes (such as yukon golds), peeled and cute into large chunks (I cut mine into quarters)

salt, pepper, cumin

2 zucchini or magda summer squash, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 spicy pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)

1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 can of white beans in tomato sauce

water

5-6 cups spinach (washed very well)

1 cup golden raisins

wheat berries, after soaking

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a soup pot over medium heat, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes until they begin to soften, then add the soaked wheat berries, potatoes, salt and pepper (to taste), and a few pinches of cumin. Cook on medium, low, stirring occasionally for 7-10 minutes then add water to just cover. Bring to simmer and cook for another 15-20 minutes (until you can easily pierce the potatoes with a fork) then add the beans in sauce, zucchini and the peppers.

Cook, covered for about 15-20 minutes then add spinach,a handful at a time, covering the pot and cooking down between additions, and simmering until all the spinach in incorporated. Add the raisins, stir and cover the pot. Keep on low heat until ready to serve (the longer, the better).

Quiet

AriCooks, soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Winter

This is what limbo feels like: quiet, lonely, and kinda scary. And it’s only the beginning. I know that soon life will feel a little fuller, we will find a school for Auralee (if anyone has tips on that feel free to share, by the way), Jeff and I will start exploring school and work options… and so forth. But right now I feel like a ghost, walking the streets of a new city with so few connections or obligations tying us to this place. It’s a little liberating, but mostly I look forward to feeling like a whole person again. Cooking helps.

I went back to the shuk this morning — it was a much less crowded, more leisurely experience than it was on Friday (shopping at the shuk on Friday is for die-hards, tourists, and people who forgot to get something on Thursday) — where I happily collected the ingredients for this minestrone soup with basil cream. The recipe was adapted from something I found online when searching for “middle eastern basil dishes” and reminded me a lot of the soups I used to make for Jeff when we lived in Beer Sheva back in the day. Welcome home.

Quiet Minestrone Soup with Basil Cream

This soup will not win any awards, and it is far too humble-looking to ever be featured on the front cover of Saveur, but it is simple, homey, and packed full of nutritious vegetables. Do not skip the basil cream (you can use soy yogurt or soy sour cream as well), it gives the soup body and really amps up the flavor.

serve 4

for the soup

1 medium onion, chopped

3 small potatoes (yukon gold are good), chopped into soup-sized chunks

2 carrots, chopped

2 handfuls green beans, trimmed and cut into soup-sized pieces

1/2 a green cabbage, thinly sliced

3-4  plum tomatoes

water or vegetable broth

1 can (15 oz. or so) kidney or great northern beans

2 cups cooked pasta

for the basil cream sauce

handful of basil, finely chopped

2-3 Tbs parsley, finely chopped

1 cup shamenet, sour cream, yogurt or labane (I used goat ‘white cheese’, which is like thick yogurt)

grated hard cheese (parmesan, pecorino) to taste- optional

2-3  Tbs olive oil

salt

Make the soup

In a soup pot, heat a couple tablespoons of oil (medium heat). Add chopped onions, potatoes and carrots, plus a little salt, pepper and paprika, and saute gently until onions begin to soften. Add the cabbage, beans and tomatoes and saute a few minutes more, stirring to coat everything with oil. Then add water or broth to cover all the veggies by a couple of inches. Simmer until everything is fork-tender, and then add more salt and pepper (to taste) and some parsley if desired. When you are ready to serve, add the cooked pasta (I used shells) and let it simmer with the soup for a minute or two.

Mix together all the ingredients for the basil cream. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a generous dollop of the cream.

More with Guinness

AriCooks, Cooking and baking with Beer, soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Winter

I have to admit that there is something to be said for serving up a thick, meaty stew on a cold winter evening. Though I have been a non-meat eater for most of my life (partly because I do not enjoy the hands-on raw meat experience) I can appreciate that meat lends itself to cooking in a way that vegetables cannot when it comes to the flavor and texture of certain dishes. One such dish is stew. Though not all dictionaries define stew as containing meat, almost all do describe the dish as something that is cooked or simmered for a long time. As us cooking-folk know, if you simmer vegetables alone, for too long, you get mush (or a semi-tasty sludge, commonly referred to as “vegetable curry” at most Indian restaurants in the United States).

This is where seitan enters the picture. Not a year-round staple on our table, seitan — the product of kneading flour, water and vital wheat gluten until you get a tough, dense product that can be baked, boiled, stewed or sauteed for hours without disintegrating — does make a few appearances during the colder months because of it’s beefy qualities.

This recipe, which was inspired by an Irish stew from Gourmet Today, suffers very little from the substituion of seitan for beef, and becomes irresistable with the addition of Guinness both in the stew and along-side the meal. Enjoy.

Ari’s Irish Stew

Although I have made seitan from scratch in the past (it’s not difficult, just a bit of a process), store bough seitan is perfectly fine – The Bridge brand available at Whole Foods, is particularly tasty.

16 oz seitan, cut into 1-inch cubes,  moisture squeezed out

2 Tbs flour

salt and pepper

olive oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

3 carrots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbs tomato paste

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 Tbs worcestire sauce (there is a vegetarian version avaible at some markets)

1 cup Guinness or other stout

1 cup vegetable broth

2 tsp green peppercorns in brine (drained)

2 sprigs fresh thyme

Toss the seitain with the flour and a couple pinches of salt and pepper in a large bowl, unitl seitain is well coated.

In a large (oven-safe) sautee pan, heat olive oil on medium heat and add seitan. Brown the seitan on all sides, them remove from pan and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the pan and gently sautee the onion, carrots and garlic until onions begin to soften.

Add tomato paste, mixing it into the vegetables. Add seitan to the pan along with water, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the beer, broth, worcestire, peppercrons, and thyme and bring to a simmer, covered.

While stew is simmering, preheat oven to 350ºF. Put the pan in the oven and cook for 1-1 1/2 hours, covered– check after 1 hour to make sure too much liquid has not evaporated.

Serve with crusty bread, a simple salad, and more Guinness!


Beets, phase 2

soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free

Beets were not in my lexicon growing up. A couple of encounters with cooked beets or borscht as a child at other families’ dinner tables were not enough to turn me on to the somewhat extreme and exotic qualities of beets. Once I entered my twenties and began running out of unexplored vegetable territory (and learned that Jeff is a beet-lover) I found that I had few (if any) objections to a salad of mixed greens with cooked beets and goat cheese — a simple staple that has sustained us many an evening alongside a frittata or pasta dish. I was not alone obviously, the beet and goat cheese salad has become de riguer at almost every bistro in America– ad naseum. The time to find other uses for beets has clearly arrived.

Had someone informed the 9 year-old me that I would one day be loving this borscht recipe, as I let a spoonful of red liquid slip back into my bowl at Lauren Cheatham’s friday night meal, feigning ingestion of her grandma’s recipe, I would have snorted with disbelief (and then felt guilty for insulting her grandma). If I had a comprehensive list of positively revolting foods from my youth, borscht would have certainly been in the top ten, along with chopped liver, chicken, (weird, I know), lox (still hate lox), and smelly cheeses. Time marches forward and palates change. I used to love green olives and feel so-so about avocado, now the opposite is true. Besides, life would be pretty predictable if we let our 9-year-old selves plan the week’s dinner menu all the time.

juniper berries

Dr. Zhivago Borscht, from the Naked Beet

The Naked beet is a great blog I found through food52’s site when I was looking for Hannuka recipes. I am pretty much just cutting and pasting her recipe here, with a couple additional comments of my own.

SERVES 8

10 cups water

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (I used olive oil)

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

3 medium sized beets

2 medium sized carrots

1 large potato (1 yukon or 2 small red)

1 celery stalk, cut into thin moons

1/4 bunch fresh dill, minced

1/2-1 whole lemon, juice of

2-3 teaspoons salt

dash freshly ground pepper

12 whole juniper berries (optional) — what I would do next time, is tie the juniper berries in a cheesecloth satchel that can be removed before serving, biting into a juniper berry is very piney (like the tree), but they do add great flavor to the soup, so I would not omit them altogether.

1-2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon sour cream (per bowl)- we used tofutti

Set your pot of water on low heat. Add in 1 tbsp of oil, chopped onion, bay leaf and juniper berries. Peel the beets and cut them into halves if they’re small enough or into thirds or quarters if they’re very large. You want them to be of relatively equal size. Drop them gently into the water as you continue working on the rest of the vegetables.

Peel and cut the carrots into rounds, and for the potatoes, cut them into 1/2″ size cubes or small chunks. (I prefer my vegetables small as I find they distribute a lot better into individual bowls.) Add them to the pot as they’re ready. Then add the chopped celery and the juice of 1/2 of a fresh lemon. Bring your heat up and cook the soup until a fork easily pierces through one of the larger beet pieces; this should take about 15 minutes on medium low heat.

While the beets are getting tender, you should skim the soup from some of the foam that will form. By doing this, you will inevitably be taking out some of the oil along with it. Once you’ve skimmed it, put in an additional 1/2 tablespoon of oil.

Once your beets are done, scoop them out of the soup (bringing back into the pot any vegetables that might have clung to the beet) and let the beets cool for 2 minutes so you can handle them more easily. At this point, you can turn the pot to low heat. I’d advise wearing gloves for the next part so you don’t have to take beet stains off your hands. Using the large holes on your grater, shred your beets. Once you’ve grated all the chunks, carefully put all the shredded beets back into the soup pot and let this cook for an additional 10 minutes.

The soup should have a sweet tart taste. After the 10 minutes, add in the dill and taste the soup to adjust flavors accordingly. Add salt, a tad of pepper, and if the soup is still too sweet for you, another tablespoon or 2 of fresh lemon juice. Remember that if your soup is very hot, you will not taste the actual level of salt, so err on the side of less, as each time you reheat the soup, it will get slightly saltier. This soup is the perfect example of melded flavors getting better in the following days.

Notes (Naked Beet’s): Serve hot or cold, with sour cream or not, but eat this with black bread. If you want to make the soup a bit spicier, add thin slices of garlic to the soup before serving. If you want just a hint of garlic, then rub a cut clove over the crust of your bread. In the Winter, if you want to experience an even more authentic Russian meal, serve this soup with a side of mashed potatoes topped with sardines. Let the juices of the sardines drip into the butter- or milk-mashed potatoes. If you cook this in the Summertime, omit cooking with juniper berries and use a topping of cubed persian cucumbers or a hard boiled egg split in half.

Moroccan Stew for the Slow Cooker

soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Winter

In case I haven’t made it clear, there are very few things I look forward to about winter in New England. The quaint charm of fireplaces and first snow falls, quickly give way to long waits for the train in frigid temperatures, a drafty house, and too many days spent indoors. I will not pretend however that I don’t love winter foods. Stews, casseroles, thick soups, homemade breads and frothy warm beverages are just a few of treats we look forward to when the outside world becomes intolerable. In December we stock up on tea, coffee and hot chocolate and my slow cooker returns to its winter spot on the counter.

Last night we returned from our visit to the [warmer] south and were immediately catapulted back into reality with a Wednesday filled with school, doctors appointments, packing for our move and lots of work to catch up on. Luckily this morning, I had the foresight to plan ahead for dinner and threw together this recipe for moroccan stew. Fifteen minutes of chopping and sauteeing, will yield this delicious and hearty – but not heavy -slow cooker stew.

Moroccan-Inspired Vegetable and Chickpea Stew, from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, by Robin Robertson

1 Tbs olive oil

3 shallots, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 small yellow or red bell pepper, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tsp peeled, minced fresh ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp paprika

1/4 turmeric

8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups slow cooked, or one 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Once 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock

1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/2 cup mied dried fruit (apricots, apple slices, raisins, currants etc)

1/4 cup green olives, drained, halved and pitted

1 Tbs chopped parsley leaves

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic. Cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, and turmeric and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds to bring out the flavors.

Transfer the mixture to a 4-6- quart slow cooker. Add the green beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, stock and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on Low for 6-8 hours.

About 20 minutes before serving add peas and dried fruit.

When ready to serve, stir in the olives and sprinkle with the parsley. Taste to adjust the seasonings and serve hot.