Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ethiopian Lentil Stew

    This one is for the adventurous cooks out there. I ate at an Ethiopian restaurant once and wanted to recreate it. So when I made this, we had a whole Ethiopian food experience night at my house. I made injera (the bread), doro wat (chicken stew), yataklete kilkil (ginger vegetable stew), iab (cottage cheese mixture), and yemesir w'et (spicy lentil stew).  As you see in the picture, the stews are very thick, and for good reason. You are supposed to serve Ethiopian stew in mounds atop a thin pancake like bread and eat it with your hands (tearing off strips of bread and grabbing parts of the stew. Won't it be fun to eat stew with your hands for once?
     I'm going to share the lentil stew (red mound in the picture) because, surprisingly enough, it was my favorite out of all of those and I had enough leftovers that I tried it a few ways. I also changed it the most from the original recipe.
     This recipe calls for a special ingredient "niter kebbeh" which is a spicy clarified butter that looks neon yellow. I went all out and actually made this (it takes a good 45 minutes) but you could easily use regular butter or oil and then just add some extra spices to the recipe and be ok. Don't omit the extra spices, they gave the dish so much extra depth, it was amazing. If you live nearby, I can give you my leftover stuff.
   You can liquify it more by adding chicken stock and make a good soup out of it (This was a good discovery since all the basic lentil soups I had tried lately have been only tolerable).   A cheater method to serving this the original way, if you don't want to make the fun ethiopian style bread (which is fairly easy and pretty fast), you can serve it with warm tortillas (this is how I ate leftovers and it worked fine).

Spicy Lentil Stew
1 C dried brown lentils
1 C chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 C niter kebbeh (or butter with dash of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and turmeric)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika (sweet or roasted is better)
2 C chopped tomatoes
1/2 C tomato paste
1 C chicken stock
1 C green peas (optional)
salt and black pepper to taste

Rinse and cook the lentils in water according to the package directions in a saucepan (they take a good 20-30 min to soften right, just don't add any salt or they will take longer). In the meantime, saute the onions and garlic in the butter. Add in all the spices to the onions and stir until fragrant. Add in the tomatoes and paste and cook 5 more minutes. Add in the chicken stock and simmer until the lentils are ready. Drain the lentils and add them and the peas to the tomato mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer until desired consistency (about 10 minutes more if you want it thick enough to sit in a mound on the injera bread, less if you want a soupier consistency).

Let me know if you want to know what recipes I used for the other things, and I can direct you to the sources where I found them. I promise it's a fun food experience for kids and adults alike.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

When searching for the perfect butternut squash soup recipe, my mind was stuck in a rut that butternut squash soup should incorporate apples. It just made sense. The autumn-ish flavors should go perfect together, blending sweet with wonderfulness that is butternut squash. Unfortunately, I've tried several versions but had yet to find the recipe that balanced it well-they often turned out too apple-y or blah. This recipe, however, used orange. I resisted the idea for a while, immediately thinking of ways to change it to apple, but then I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Oh Happy Day. I was actually impressed with the flavor combinations there. The red pepper gave it an extra little flair that I enjoyed. I will use this recipe now, until I find another way that seems close to the perfect one conjured up in my imagination.Try it's pretty easy, too! 

The hardest part is probably cutting the squash. Do it lengthwise like this.
Then remove the seedy part with the strings (like cleaning out a little pumpkin). It does require a little time to bake the butternut squash at the first, but after that is very quick. Baking the butternut squash decreases the need to do lots of hard work to remove the skin and it softens it enough that you can just scoop it out with a spoon. Just remember to hold it with a hot pad and not your hand as you scoop (it just came out of the oven!) My hands are notoriously always cold so they think they can get away with shenanigans like that...they can't. 

Butternut Squash Soup
1 medium size butternut squash
2 TBSP olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped onions (I used combo of red, white and green)
4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 cup orange juice (juice the orange you used for the zest)
1/2 cup low fat sour cream (or coconut milk for those with milk allergies)
1/2 cup roasted red pepper sauce (or red pepper puree)
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Cut whole butternut squash in half lengthwise and lay in baking dish, facing up. Clean out bulb portion of seeds and strings. Brush the top with olive oil and bake in oven at 475 degrees for 45 min. When done, scoop out flesh with spoon. Saute garlic and onions w/olive oil in a large saute pan until soft. Add chicken broth, orange juice and butternut squash flesh. Bring to a boil. Puree soup with food processor or blender (I used a handheld blender right in the pot). Add thyme and most of orange zest. Add a dollop of sour cream and red pepper sauce and swirl in. Garnish with a few red pepper flakes, fresh thyme sprigs and reserved zest. Makes 5-6, 1 cup servings.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Vegetable Soup

There are very few "only vegetable" soups out there, especially ones that taste good. I made sure this one was still packed with flavor.
My husband brought home this large bag of julienned potatoes, red peppers, and whole green beans that we have been trying to use all week. Of course, I decided this would have to be a good week to make a vegetable soup.

Vegetable Soup
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp oil
14 oz vegetable broth or stock (or chicken broth if you like)
2 cups water
1 diced potato
2 diced carrots
1 handful green beans, chopped
1/4 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped parsley

In a soup pot, saute the garlic in a little oil briefly then add the water. Add in all the veggies (except the tomatoes) and simmer 30 min. Then add the broth, tomatoes (juice and all) and spices. Simmer until the vegetables are soft enough for your liking. (We kind of like them a little al dente in our house so it took another 15 minutes or so, but some might want them very soft so it could take a little longer). Add a little more salt and pepper to taste and enjoy. I served it with a nice dark rye bread and salad.

Serves 3-4

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tom Ka Gai soup

To get things going on here, and get everyone excited about making soups, I decided to do an extra post this week!

This is one of my most often made soups. I tend to make it for company often because it's fun; different than your average soup. I'm addicted to Asian flavors and find this combination irresistibly delicious. I have seen versions of it at many restaurants but I find this recipe better than theirs.

When I first met my husband, he told me he did not like soups. I found that very odd and quite unfair. How could anyone make a blanket statement like that? I found out his only exposure to soups were from Campbell's and Progresso. So, I didn't blame him. This was one of the first soups I got him to try and he loved it! I think you will too. This recipe is loosely based off one I found in a Cuisine At Home magazine many years ago. It is also gluten and egg-free for any of you with allergies.

A few tips about this recipe before you start cooking:

1. Don't be afraid of or skimp on the ginger root or pepper, without them the soup lacks depth and "punch".
2. If you don't normally cook with fish sauce and coconut milk in your house, you can find them in the asian markets or in the asian food section in the normal grocery store.
3. Don't omit the heavy cream in the recipe. I know it seems insignificant but, believe me, it really is not the same without it. If you have a milk allergy, I would suggest using full fat coconut milk and maybe substitute 1/2 cup of the chicken broth with more coconut milk. That should help it.
4. If you like really spicy foods, go ahead and leave the seeds from the jalapeno in. I believe it has plenty of kick without them. The original recipe called for a serrano chile but my supermarket has a hard time keeping good-looking ones in their store and I often have a jalepeno around so.... oh, and use a fresh one, not the bottled kind.
5.  I personally love the lime flavor with it, but if you only have lemon, that actually works great too.  I've often done a mix of lemon zest and lime juice. If you can find all means, use a stalk instead and discard it before serving and your soup will be all the more authentic.
6. Cremini (or baby bella) mushrooms are the easiest to find and work great. I have used dried, and reconstituted, shiitake mushrooms and they were fantastic. You definitely need a darker mushroom to give it the right flavor...none of the white button kind will do.
7. I've tried making it a one-dish meal by adding in a starch (like potatoes or noodle) but found that it detracted from it. Instead, I love serving it with a nice crusty bread and salad.

1/4 cup shallots, chopped (or yellow onion)
1/4 cup green onion
1/4 cup fresh ginger, minced
2 tsp of lime zest
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP oil
2 cups chicken broth
1 can (13-14 oz) lite coconut milk
3 TBSP fish sauce
3 TBSP lime juice
2 TBSP heavy cream
1 TBSP white sugar
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 cups cremini or shiitake mushrooms
1 cup cooked and cubed chicken or turkey
chopped fresh cilantro and/or mint
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions, ginger, zest, and garlic in oil in a saucepan over medium heat for a minute. (smell the wonderful flavors) Add broth, coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, cream and sugar. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in japaneno, mushrooms and chicken. Simmer for 3 more minutes to heat through. Garnish each bowl with chopped herbs.

Makes 4-6 servings

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tortellini Soup

This soup has been a favorite for years. It has actually become one my go-to soups for sick days, because you can only have so much chicken noodle...and it's quick enough that even if you are the one that is sick, it's not a lot of work. It goes beyond the benefits of chicken broth and adds much more nutrient dense foods like tomatoes and spinach...and garlic, enough garlic to keep away vampires, let alone a bacteria. I met a woman once that told me she swallows a whole garlic clove every day to prevent sickness. Ack! I don't know how much I believe her. If so, she must have the largest throat capacity to handle that! I think I would gag on the first one and never go back. I'd much rather have this soup.. Since my husband and I have both been battling a nasty cold/virus for the last week or more, it definitely made it on my menu this week. 

Start out by sauteing the garlic in the oil. I know some of you may shy away from the quantity of garlic (I admit, I cut down on it the first few times making it) but don't skimp on it, especially if you have little baby sized garlic cloves. I promise it won't be overwhelming.  Garlic has a fantastic quality of mellowing out as it is cooked, leaving you with a warm, tangy-sweet yumminess, not the kind of potent, sharp taste that raw garlic has. After about a minute, before it starts turning brown, add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Add in your tortellini. Now I typically use frozen kind, because it is considerably cheaper, but when your grocery store decides to stop carrying it then you will be stuck buying the fresh kind, like me. Both are just as tasty. Once they are mostly cooked (about 5 minutes or 3/4 the time the package directions call for), add in the tomatoes and herbs with their juice and cook for several more minutes. 

Add in the spinach. Do not use canned or frozen, do not skimp on the quantity, and do NOT add in until just ready to serve (do not pass go, do not collect $200, etc). The point of adding it in right before eating is to just wilt it in the hot soup. Cook it any longer and it will get bitter tasting. It wilts down a lot so put in way more than you think and it will end up being just right. 


Tortellini Soup
1 TBSP olive oil
5 big garlic cloves (more if they are small), minced
1 quart chicken broth
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with juice
4-5 oz of cheese tortellini (about 1 cup)
giant handful of fresh baby spinach (roughly chop if using larger leaves)
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
3-4 turns of ground black pepper
fresh parmesan shavings (optional)

Saute garlic in oil for 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cook tortellini in broth about 5 minutes until mostly soft, then add in tomatoes and herbs and bring back to a boil for 1-2 more minutes. Right before serving, stir in the spinach and finish with pepper and parmesan. 

Serves about 4