Roasted Sweet Potato + Beet Soup

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Sometime in the early months of 2013, I discovered a whole new genre of food blogs. At the time, I was coming home from work to an always empty house, laying on the floor for an hour to re-calibrate from my day, working myself into a 30 minute or so run, and then reading a couple food blogs over dinner (usually a sweet potato, roasted during that run, with black beans, salsa, and a pile of greens), working another couple hours just to survive the next school day, and falling into bed into a deep and dreamless sleep before my alarm clock wrenched me out and up and into another day that was much the same. I was exhausted and unhappy — but I was learning so much and I could tell if I could just keep putting one foot in front of another and trust my intuition, I’d end up in a better place. Also, I was learning a new way to eat and cook and it’s safe to say in my years-long shift in eating, a major one was slowly taking place.

One of the blogs I discovered during that time was Sarah Britton’s My New Roots, and it was from her that I first learned about the “holy trinity of flavor,” or what I’ve now learned is referred to as FASS. Personally, I like to call it the four corners of cooking.

Sarah shared about an experience in her cookbook of a chef thinking her soup was bland and teaching her that every dish needs to have an acid, a salt, and a sugar, or will taste a little less than ideal. This is Sarah’s holy trinity of flavor. In the four corners, a fat is added to that trio, to make FASS. For each of the four components, a little can go a long way.

 

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It was soup week this last week in my cooking lab for nutrition, and we experimented with refining the four corners of our recipes. Flavor is a very personal thing, but I found that very simple recipes with few ingredients, a little fat, an acid, a sweet note, and some salt can work wonders in making a recipe taste delicious. After eating different types of soup for several days and using William as my second taste-tester, I felt the need to share the humblest of soups from this week. I say it is humble but it was also the one that absolutely hit the spot, more than once, after coming home late from long days of work, hard runs, and commuting.

I wrote up a description about working with the four corners of flavor for class this week, and because I think everyone should cook with flavor, I’ll share a rendition of it here: First, when refining flavors, make sure the dish is at the temperature you will serve it at, as the flavors will change, depending on whether you are tasting it hot or cold.

 

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For any given recipe, it is likely that a fat source as either butter or an oil will likely be used in building the base. The fat type can add flavor, if it is intended to, or if added near the end as either a cream or nut cream, can add mouth feel and a change in texture as well. Adding a fat such as lightly toasted and chopped nuts can also be a flavor-enhancing garnish to round out a finished recipe.

As an acid component, a squeeze or two of lemon juice or one of the many types of vinegar can be added. The small amount of acid added at the end of cooking will enhance and sharpen the other flavors of the dish.

Salt, the third component, is likely the most important, and can really heighten the other flavors. The right amount of salt is a very personal thing, and it can easily be overdone to the recipe’s detriment, so add it in small amounts and taste as you go. You will know when you’ve added the right amount.

The fourth corner is sugar. Depending on ingredients, you might already have a sugar component. For instance, in this roasted vegetable soup, the roasting of the vegetables prior to adding them to the broth brought out their natural sugars through the process of caramelization. For this soup, I did not need to add any additional sweetener. The sweet flavor balances and rounds the soup and also will satiate the appetite, which is why if it is missing from a meal, we often finish wanting more, even though we’re physically full.

 

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Roasted Sweet Potato + Beet Soup, serves 2-3
Feel free to use whatever root vegetables and beans are on hand or desired. Recipe adapted from Eleonora Gafton. 

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 sweet potato, medium dice
1-2 large beets, medium dice
1 large carrot, roll cut
2-3 small turnips, medium dice
1/2 large yellow onion, medium dice
1 clove of garlic, minced
4-5 cups vegetable broth
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, minced
1 1/2 cups cooked black-eyed peas
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice, as necessary

  • Place all diced vegetables on a large baking pan and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
  • Roast them in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
  • In a large pot, add the roasted vegetables and herbs, along with the broth and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Season as needed with additional salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve with fresh chopped parsley, and if you’re in the mood, fresh baked scones or cornbread.

Curried Tofu and Apricot Chutney with Basmati Rice

Curried Tofu and Apricot Chutney with Basmati Rice

 

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I was at my Food Action Team meeting the other day and the intro question was posed, what is your favorite way to cook tofu? Admittedly, I am a somewhat newbie when it comes to making tofu. I’ve only (mostly) mastered it in the last year or so and I still turn to cookbooks for ideas on the best way to get the texture down. I know I’ve done a somewhat good job when William, who like me had decided he did not like it, has really taken to it. A few hours before sharing at my food group about how I made this tasty baked tofu using a dry rub (a new method for me), I received a text from William about how tasty his tofu lunch leftovers were. He’ll only eat leftovers if they were particularly good the first time.

The whole idea that I’d be sharing a great way to cook tofu around a kitchen table with a few long-time vegetarians listening in is slightly humorous. I’ve been getting a lot of messages lately about not being afraid to be myself and I’ve been hearing them loud and clear. Eleven years ago, I was the girl who was proudly sporting a homemade PETA (People for the Eating of Tasty Animals) shirt around my high school. I wasn’t into eating a whole lot more meat then than I do now, but as president of my FFA chapter, having just sold the champion market steer at the county fair, and having been nicknamed the Queen of Agriculture by some of my teachers, I guess I thought I had an image to uphold. Or I really wasn’t in touch with myself.

The biggest lesson I am slowing learning is how to let go of the long-standing public face I put on that either does things to uphold a standard/appease my community or alternatively (and more often) closes down and reveals nothing. Instead, I’d like to put more effort into getting curious, saying yes to new experiences and people, trying new foods I’ve deemed off limits or don’t like, and maybe not be so guarded when others want to be let in. I might stumble and fail for a while but like my experience with tofu, there’s the strong possibility that eventually I’ll get it right.

 

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This whole tofu experience was inspired by Runnin SriLankan, a fellow Recipe Redux blogger. Since this happens to be The Recipe Redux’s birthday month, we’re celebrating by making or getting inspired by each other’s recipes.

Shashi shared her Curried Mango Pork Chops a while ago, and my creative juices were immediately flowing to remake the whole thing into a rice and tofu bowl with a curried fruit chutney when our local summer stone fruits come into season. I’ve been super anticipating the local apricots which are available here at the beginning of summer so the apricots are a key component. Made into a savory-sweet chutney, spiced up with notes of curry powder and smoked paprika, and served alongside rice, carrot curls, and dark leafy greens, this is a really lovely meal for either a weeknight or a slower weekend evening.

Enjoy!

 

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Curried Tofu and Apricot Chutney with Basmati Rice, serves 4

Cooked Brown Basmati Rice

2-3 large carrots

1 large bunch kale or other greens

1 lb. firm or extra-firm tofu

Dry Rub:

1 tsp. smoked paprika

2 tsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

Apricot Chutney:

3/4 tsp. curry powder

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1-2 Tbs. honey

2 cups diced apricots (about 6)

Directions:

  1. In a small dish, combine the dry rub spices and set aside.
  2. Drain and press the tofu for at least 30 minutes. Then, slice it into cubes. Lay out in a single layer in a baking dish and then toss the dry rub to coat all sides.
  3. Bake the tofu in an oven preheated to 400 degrees F for 20 minutes, stirring/flipping the cubes halfway through.
  4. While the tofu is baking, make the chutney in a small saucepan by adding the diced apricots, curry powder, paprika, ginger, raisins, vinegar, salt, and honey together. Bring to a simmer and allow the ingredients to meld together and become thick. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. While the chutney is simmering and tofu is baking, use a vegetable peeler to make long curls with 2-3 carrots. Set aside and chop the kale or other greens.
  6. Remove the tofu from the oven when crisp-baked and then serve with rice, carrots, greens, and a spoonful (or several) of apricot chutney.

 

The Pittsburgh Salad

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The summer before my senior year of college, I took a leadership class required for my degree. Our main text was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and from it we created a personal mission statement as one of our first assignments. I created a poster-size version of my mission statement at the time and I’ve since carted it around from home to home, always finding a special place to make it visible. This morning, the poster fell off the wall and I picked it up, re-read those words and realized, despite the distance of years, I would not change a single thing about the mission I crafted for myself that summer.

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I was gently reminded in re-reading that no matter my fears and unknowns, if I’m living my mission, I’m on the right track.

  • Listen to God. Live His plan.
  • Be active. Think healthy.
  • Cherish family. Do small acts to support positive, loving relationships.
  • Be a role model. Help others to achieve personal success.
  • Be a supportive and giving friend.
  • Appreciate nature. Do small tasks to ensure long-term ecological health.
  • Live in the moment. Right now. Enjoy it!

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Have you created a personal mission statement? If so, what is on it?

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The Pittsburgh Salad, serves 2 as a main dish

Last week, I was in Pittsburgh for a nutrition educators’ conference. It was the first time I had traveled long distance in years, spending several days with neither car nor kitchen, and I wondered how I would find the food options given my dietary constraints and vegetable-heavy tendencies. Within a few blocks of the conference, I discovered not one but two AMAZING salad bars. Normally, when I envision a salad bar, I think of Subway without bread–iceburg or romaine lettuce concoctions with pale tomatoes, dry shredded carrots, processed meats, and sketchy dressings. This was not the case. There were a gajillion freshly prepped and creative toppings to fit all sorts of eating preferences and lonnng lines out the door around lunch time. I found myself returning three days in a row because I only wanted to eat these salads. Without further going on about my hippy-dippy affinity for kale, quinoa, and beets, I’ve reconjured a variation of my favorite Pittsburgh Salad. Enjoy!

2 cups chopped kale

2 cups mixed greens

1/2 cup cooked and cooled quinoa

1/2 cup finely diced raw beets

1 medium yellow zucchini, chopped small

1 medium carrot, shredded

Grilled Tofu (below)

1/4 cup Honeyed + Spiced Pecans (below)

2-3 Tbs. Honey-Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette (below)

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the greens, quinoa, beets, shredded carrots, grilled tofu, and pecans.
  • While the grill is still warm from the tofu, toss the chopped yellow squash in the container that the tofu marinated in, gently moisten with the remaining marinade, and slide onto the grill. Cook until just beginning to soften, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the grill and toss in the salad bowl with the remaining ingredients.
  • Toss the salad ingredients with the desired amount of vinaigrette and serve.

Grilled Tofu

6-7 oz. extra firm tofu

1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

3/4 tsp. honey

1 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika oil (or  use a mild-flavored oil and a dash of smoked paprika)

  • Wrap the tofu block in several sheets of paper towels and set on a cutting board near a sink. Stack several heavy objects on top to press the extra water out, and let sit for 30-45 minutes.
  • Unwrap the tofu and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  • In a glass container with a lid or tupperware, gently mix the vinegar, honey and oil. Toss the tofu cubes into the marinade, close the lid, and shake to coat. Marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  • Heat a stovetop grill, slide tofu cubes on, and close the lid. Grill until char marks begin to form, about 4-5 minutes. Quickly turn the cubes to grill the other side and cook for 3-4 minutes more.

Honeyed + Spiced Pecans

1 1/2 cups raw pecans

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

pinch of cayenne powder

pinch of dried thyme

1 1/2 tsp. olive oil

1 tsp. honey

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread pecans on a large baking pan and roast until fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.
  • In a small bowl, combine salt, thyme, pepper and cayenne.
  • In the baking pan, drizzle the pecans with oil and honey and toss well to coat completely. Sprinkle with the spice mixture and toss again.

Honey-Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 Tbs. honey

2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs. whole-grain mustard

1 Tbs. finely diced fresh basil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small container and shake to mix thoroughly.