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.

Chili with Chocolate and Walnuts

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Be willing to move forward and find out what happens next.                 – Frank Shorter

 

December. There have been dinner parties, holiday parties, office-gifting, coffee catch-ups, super big deal good news, all-day baking sessions, making food with 100+ teenagers with differing food tastes, several nights and days of not enough sleep and feeling too tired, and then news that is challenging, both personally and in the world. Last week was my last big work-related push of the year and each morning I woke feeling like I could sleep for another five hours. Then in my morning runs, I could tell my body was a little “down” in a way that is not depression or hard workout related. When the going gets tough and I’ve too many things on my plate, I tend to put my head down and stubbornly power through. Alone with myself in the dark and the cold and the rain, I could tell when I stopped powering through and listened that I really needed a break that involves not socializing or busy-bodying but genuine self-care, reading a good book, journaling, wearing slippers and workout tights all day, sleeping in, listening to good music, eating and drinking warm foods, and practicing “being gentle“.

 

Fortunately, I took the weekend and did some of the above. I’m banking those slow days now particularly, as there are giant changes looming ahead. Somehow, I’ve come to one of those transitory periods when all the big life things are shifting at the same time. I’ve only shared pieces of these changes with a few of my closest and I haven’t processed yet. Instead, I’m keeping my head by focusing on this step I’m in. The rest will figure itself out.

 

In the meantime, it’s Recipe Redux day, and like last year, we’re cooking from books. If you read regularly, it’ll be fairly obvious that I’m a mega-fan of David and Luise at Green Kitchen Stories. I love both their cookbooks and I’ve been cooking from their latest, Green Kitchen Travels, all year long. One of the recipes I’ve made several times is their super vegetable-heavy chili with dark chocolate and walnuts. I’m quite experimental with food and will gladly make something new every single day but I’ll periodically circle back to recipes if I find them particularly good. This chili is my absolute favorite and it is also infinitely variable. I’ve changed up the types of veggies used each batch depending on the season and what I’ve got. I tend to stuff it with more of the root vegetables this time of year like parsnips, celeriac, turnips, and rutabagas.

 

This is a chili to warm hearts and revive during this busy season of dark nights. William and I gobble it up when the need for chili strikes — and it is a great one to serve to a crowd.

 

Cheers. I hope your December is merry.

 

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Chili with Chocolate and Walnuts, adapted from Green Kitchen Travels

serves 6-8

2 Tbs. olive or coconut oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp. cumin 
1  fresh chili, minced (more if you like it spicy)
1 tsp. ground paprika
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 celeriac (winter), peeled and chopped or 2 bell peppers, (summer) red & yellow, finely chopped 
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and finely chopped
2 large stalks of celery with top greens, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups raw walnuts, very finely chopped
1 1/2 cups dried mixed beans (adzuki, kidney, black eye, borlotti), soaked and cooked or 3 14-oz. cans
2 14-oz. cans whole plum tomatoes, no salt added
1 cup water
2 tsp. salt
1-2 ounces 80% dark chocolate, broken in pieces

  • Start by preparing all the vegetables.
  • Heat oil in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven. Add onion, garlic, cumin, chili, paprika and oregano, and let fry for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spices smell fragrant. Be careful so they don’t burn.
  • Add celeriac, carrot, parsnip and celery, and let cook for another couple of minutes.
  • Add the chopped walnuts, beans, tomatoes, water and salt and let cook for 30 minutes or more.
  • Now add the chocolate, starting with a lesser amount and tasting as you go until it is “enough.” I usually use about 1 1/2 ounces. Stir the chocolate around carefully and let cook for 5 more minutes. Taste and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Serve in bowls with fresh cilantro, if desired, and homemade cornbread.

Roasted Zucchini + Tarragon Soup

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I have a loose policy that for every new purchase of clothing or books that comes in, at least the same number of clothes or books must go out, to be sold or donated. I generally purchase only books that will be used over and over again and I tend to check out those of interest at the library first, renewing them repeatedly until the library decides it is time to give another person a turn. Then– often–I won’t purchase the book, thinking someday instead, and I’ll get back in the hold queue and repeat the process until it is practically my personal copy anyway.

 

Somewhere in between being a teenager with aspirations of growing up to live in a giant house and drive a fancy vehicle, I veered sharply in the other direction and wound up aiming for minimalism instead. Clutter and “things” make me cranky. Whenever relatives call and ask if we would like an item they are getting rid of, I default to no. If the item is used only once a year or so, it is no longer worth the space and headache.

 
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Yet, I fail daily in keeping clutter to a minimum. I leave stacks of books in every room. Despite my library-tendencies, there are three fairly large and overflowing bookshelves in our small apartment and nearly all of them ‘belong’ to me. When I take a giant stack in to sell, I purchase two more with the profit instead of taking the change. There are clothes, too, in the closet which have not been worn in years, and in the kitchen, I aspire to make simple meals, letting the flavor and the freshness of our garden produce shine through. And then I go and make every meal (every meal folks!) overly time-consuming, with something like five or more steps and at least one appliance/gadget for each one. I almost went to culinary school. Twice. Given my affinity for recipes that should require several sous-chefs and an industrial dishwasher to boot, one would think I actually did. And if you can’t tell, I tend to overcomplicate just about every little thing I turn my focus onto.

 

I’ve been attempting (and struggling with) less steps and ingredients in meals lately, and mentally beating myself up about it. After listening to the most recent Pure Green Podcast episode, I realize I resonate so greatly with Jonathan MacKay’s style of cooking and food philosophy. Jonathan, the food editor at Pure Green Magazine, says,

I like food to be simple and complex at the same time. Complex because the textures and flavors are layered, but simple because they are practical to make and easy.

Listening to Jonathan share this and many more valuable tidbits made me realize I need to take a deep breath and stop trying so damn hard–in all aspects of life. It is okay–and often essential–for there to be many steps to make a great meal. It is okay for there to be a tension between leading a simple life and a complex one. It is okay to have more than I need, but infinitely less than I desire. It is just fine to embrace clutter and at the same time, strive to minimalize the accumulation of things.

 

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Roasted Zucchini + Tarragon Soup, serves 4-6
This zucchini soup is a double-remake of an old family favorite. I’ve revamped the original to make a simple gluten-free and vegan version that has a tangy cashew cream stirred into the end to round out the flavors and provide healthy fats. True to me, I added another step by roasting the zucchini rather than simply cooking it on the stovetop until soft. The result adds a nice complexity that is well worth it and makes for a soup which rivals my memories of the original. This soup is a great way to use up larger zucchini that have gotten out of hand, and fits right in with the August Recipe Redux theme of getting ‘back to the dinner table’ after the busy summer season. Growing up, we tended to slurp zucchini soup all summer long, but since this summer has been such a cooker, I’ve had little inclination for soup until now. I know we’ve at least a month left of true summer, but the winding down of longer days and the gear-up for school starting in a couple weeks makes it feel as if the season is basically over. We are nearly into my favorite time of year when all the late-summer harvests are colliding with the onslought of fall flavors, but until then, I’m holding onto these slower summer days and enjoying the bounty they bring. 
 
12 cups chopped zucchini
3 cups vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. fresh tarragon, minced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
1-3 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
 
  1. In a large baking dish, toss together the chopped zucchini, garlic, and onion. Roast until soft at 400 degrees F, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
  2. In a large pot on the stovetop, bring vegetable broth to a simmer. Slide roasted vegetables into the broth, add salt, tarragon, and pepper, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld slightly.
  3. Transfer squash mixture to a blender and blend in batches until smooth. Return to the pot and bring back up to a low simmer.
  4. Drain the soaked cashews and puree with lemon juice and water in a food processor until completely smooth. Add enough water so the mixture is slightly thinner than paste consistency.
  5. Stir the cashew cream into the zucchini soup, taste, adjust seasonings as necessary, and enjoy!