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Winter soups: Dahl

Now that both of us are home most of the time (I’m working from home as a freelance writer & editor, and t! is taking some well-earned time off), we’ve had to re-jig our meal planning. When t! was still working in the city, I would make a big batch of casserole or stew each Sunday afternoon, and pack it into tupperware containers for him to take to work each day as his main meal of the day.

For the last little while I have been falling into the trap of worrying about what I was going to make for supper every evening around 4pm, and feeling like a failure every time I didn’t come up with something creative, healthy, and tasty. So we sat down and discussed it and made a meal plan that works for both of us, which includes making at least one casserole, one nice dinner, and one big pot of hearty soup each week.

So far it’s working pretty well, so I thought I’d share some of the recipes I’m using, starting with the hearty pulse-based soups (part of our meal-planning discussion included the observation that traditionally a farm kitchen would have a pot of split-pea soup simmering on the back of the wood stove all winter).

First up, Indian curried red lentil soup, or Dahl.

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 500 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 300-500 ml tomato sauce, or crushed tomatoes, or stewed tomatoes
  • 1 half can (approximately 200 ml) coconut milk
  • a chunk of fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger, but it’s much better with fresh)
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive (or other cooking) oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1  teaspoon cumin
  • 1  teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon salt
I make most of my soups, including this one, in a slow cooker / crock-pot, but I’ve included instructions for making it on the stove top as well:
  1. Mince the garlic and ginger, and dice the onion. Saute them in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions soften. Use a frying pan or small pot if you’re going to transfer to a slow cooker, use a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot if you’re going to cook the soup on the stove top.
  2. Stir in the cumin, turmeric, curry powder, cayenne and black pepper. “Cook” the spices with the onions for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.
  3. If using a slow cooker, dump the sautéed onions & spices into the slow cooker and deglaze the pot with some of the stock. If cooking on the stove top, add the stock to the pot and stir.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the salt, stir well. In a slow cooker, cook on high for at least 2 hours or on low for at least 4. On the stove top, bring to a boil and then simmer for 30-45 minutes. With either method, add extra water if the soup gets to thick and starts to stick to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Add salt if necessary, and more lemon juice and black pepper to taste.
This recipe makes 4 medium-sized servings (great as lunch with a side salad or some bread and cheese) and can be easily doubled.

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Pesto

We had a frost out here on Sunday night, and so I picked the basil – the only thing in the garden that would be affected by frost and needed to come in right away. The frost killed off the squash, tomato plants, and potatoes as well, but there were no tomatoes to harvest, the potatoes can be dug in a day or two, as soon as it dries out from the rain we had this morning, and I’ll go out to get the squash tomorrow, or as soon as it hurts slightly less to move. I’m still in the grips of this very annoying cold.

The onions, carrots, parsnips, and leeks didn’t mind the frost at all. In fact the parsnips are likely to be better and sweeter for having been frosted.

I plant a lot of basil to make pesto. We eat a fair bit of pesto, often on tortellini or other kinds of pasta for a quick meal when we’re in a rush, I also add it to salad dressings and marinade for fish.

Like with just about everything else in the garden, this year’s harvest was pretty pitiful. Three 8-foot rows yielded just barely 2 cups (packed) of usable basil leaves after I had picked off all the ones with brown spots.

Still, it whipped up into a small but very yummy batch of pesto which we will use over the next month or so. I’ll make some fresh homemade pasta to eat it with sometime later this week.

This is my standard pesto recipe:

6 cups basil leaves, packed
1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1½ cups olive oil
⅔ cup pine nuts, chopped
3-4 large cloves garlic
Salt & pepper to taste

With only 2 cups of basic leaves, I cut everything down to one third. I make everything in a food processor, chopping the garlic, then adding the basil leaves a bit at a time and chopping on fairly low speed. The pine nuts and cheese go in next, whirring them just enough to mix, and then I added the olive oil 2 tablespoons at a time until I got to a consistency I was happy with. Commercial pesto tends to be swimming in oil, and I like a lower oil-to-basil ratio so that the flavour of the basil is more pronounced. I ended up using about 10 tablespoons of olive oil.

I managed to forget to add the salt and pepper, not a biggie since I can add it to whatever I’m cooking with basil. But I highlighted the “Salt, pepper” line in my handwritten recipe book so that I’m less likely to forget next time. The salt acts as a preservative, as well as a flavouring, so should really be included if you want the pesto to keep well in the fridge.

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Sweet potato satay

This recipe is my adaptation of a recipe for “Groundnut Stew” from the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks for a Crowd cookbook, which was on sale at the Montreal Chapters for $10, and if it still is, I highly recommend you run out and buy it. The recipes are excellent, simple, and fairly easy to adapt to less-than-hoards of diners.

Ingredients:

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil or peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large sweet potato, cubed
1 can chick peas, drained & rinsed
2 cups tomato sauce or tomato juice
1 cup apple juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder (or more, to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 small chunk fresh ginger root, grated, or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons soy sauce

1. Saute the onions, garlic & cayenne in the oil until the onions are soft
2. Add the sweet potatoes and saute until the sweet potatoes brighten
3. Mix in the juices, salt, and ginger. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender
4. Stir in the soy sauce, peanuts and peanut butter and heat gently. Add extra apple juice or water if stew is too thick.
5. Serve over rice. Serves 4.

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Winter vegetable miso soup

This makes a wonderfully warming winter lunch and uses up the slightly wilted root vegetables that are languishing at the bottom of the veg drawer or the root cellar.  Serves 2, or keep the second serving for the next day.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • Small chunk of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 good double-handful of cabbage (Chinese or European), chopped
  • About a cup of carrots, turnip, parsnip, sweet radish, white beet, or any other root vegetable, sliced thin or cut into matchsticks
  • Fresh mushrooms, sliced or dried mushrooms, reconstituted
  • 4 oz firm tofu (about 1/4 of a ‘large’ (450g) package or 1/2 a ‘small’ (225g) package), cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons miso paste (to taste)
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (to taste)

– Stir-fry the onions and ginger in the olive oil.
– When the onions soften, add the root vegetables and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.
– Add the cabbage and cook until it brightens and wilts.
– Transfer the vegetables to a small pot.
– Add two cups of cold water, the miso paste, the soy sauce, the tofu, and the mushrooms. Stir until the miso paste dissolves.
– Heat on low until the soup steams and the tofu is heated through, but do not boil.
– Garnish with spring onions or chives.

I use a small, thick-bottomed pot for both the stir-frying and the soup, that way there’s only one pot to wash.

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Inspired by Clara‘s Depression-era recipies, I made this tonight and it turned out really very yummy:

Potato-lentil crock-pot soup

Ingredients:
2-3 cloves garlic
2 small onions
3-4 potatoes
1 cup brown lentils
olive oil
4 cups stock (beef or vegetable), or bullion cube & 4 cups water
Oregano
Cumin
Cardamom
Beef shank (optional)

Method:
(Each of Clara’s recipes begins with her browning onions and potatoes in olive oil, and then adding something to it to make a meal, so I did the same.)

Mince the garlic, chop the onion, and dice the potato.
Brown the garlic, and onion in olive oil.
Add the spices.
Add the potatoes.
Cook, stirring lots, until the potatoes start to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Rinse the lentils in cold water.
Put the lentils, cooked vegetables, stock, and beef shank if you have it in a crock pot.
Cook on high for 2 hours, stirring once after an hour.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4.

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Ingredients

2-3 lbs carrots, peeled or washed
1 cup red lentils
1 small chunk ginger root or 1 teaspoon dried
2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 (or more) cups milk

Method

Peel and mince the garlic.
Peel and grate the ginger.
Chop the onion small.
Sauté the garlic, ginger and onions in oil until very soft.
Stir in the curry powder and turmeric and cook, stirring constantly for a few minutes.
Scoop the onions, garlic, and ginger from the pan into a crock pot.
Peel or scrub the carrots and chop into 1-inch pieces.
Add the carrots, lentils, and stock to the crock pot.
Cook on high for at least 2 hours or low for at least 4 hours, stirring once after the first hour. Check that there is enough liquid, and add more if necessary.
When the carrots are very soft, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
Transfer to a pot and add milk to desired consistency, heat on low for at least 15 minutes, stirring often.

Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream.
Serves 6-8.

Notes

You can cook this in a pot on the stove top instead of a crock-pot. I like the crock-pot because you can safely leave it alone for a couple of hours while you do something else, and I believe they are more energy efficient.

This soup freezes well, but only if you freeze it before adding the milk.

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