My Favourite Summer Soup

It’s green–the colour–and also very eco-friendly if you choose local organic veggies. I made this soup on Sunday after finding zucchini, cilantro and garlic at my favourite stall at the farmer’s market, Waratah Downs. Not that I came up with the idea this Sunday–I’ve been making this fabulous soup for years–but it has never been so good as it was using fresh local veg.  We had it for dinner with some grilled cheese sandwiches, and I froze enough for another dinner some time in the fall.  (Have I mentioned I LOVE my new freezer??)

So here is the recipe:

Zucchini-Cilantro Soup

1 tsp veg oil

1 onion, diced

approximately 1 lb or more of zucchini, sliced

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced (fresh if you can get it)

4 cups broth, or enough to cover the zucchini

large handful of cilantro, minced fine

Brown the onion in the vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Add the zucchini and let it get nice and brown in spots. Add the minced garlic and stir so it gets fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth. Let the soup bubble gently until zucchini is soft, about 15 minutes. Mash with a potato masher and then add cilantro.

Blend in a blender or with a hand blender–in a regular blender the zucchini will become very fine and the soup will take on a beautiful bright green colour. With a hand blender, it won’t mix in quite so well, but the soup will be just as flavourful.

Stir in some plain yoghurt if you like. Also if you are a lover of tofu, you can blend in some silken tofu, though don’t add too much or the flavour will dominate.

Enjoy with some grilled cheese sandwiches for a light and easy weekday supper.

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Frugal Vegan Soup

I love soup.  To me it’s just about the best food: simple, cheap, nutritious, low-fat, high-fibre, a great way to cram in some veggies, and it can be pretty eco-friendly too if you source your ingredients locally and from low on the food chain.

Yesterday I made a surprisingly good and super cheap soup that also turned out to be vegan!  I found a head of cauliflower marked down 50% at the Rideau Loblaws, so the total cost came in around $3 for a huge pot that served us for dinner, lunch, and I froze 2 servings for a simple supper down the road.

Curried Cauliflower-Bean Soup

2 tbsp oil

1 onion, minced

1 tbsp curry paste (I used Patak’s Madras paste)

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 head cauliflower, separated into florets

1 can cannellini (white kidney) beans

6 cups broth (I used McCormick’s Chicken flavoured vegetarian soup cubes)

Heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until lightly browned.  Stir in curry paste and garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Add cauliflower and brown it a little.  Rinse beans and add to the pot, then add 6 cups broth (or enough to cover).  Bring to a boil and then simmer until the cauliflower is very soft (15-20 minutes).  Puree and serve with toast or croutons.

You could probably add some yogurt to this for some extra creaminess but the beans make it very creamy and substantial.

Couscous

tabouliI mentioned yesterday that I recently bought a giant bag of Couscous from Grace Ottawa–ten pounds for ten dollars!  An amazing deal compared to the huge prices for tiny packages at the grocery store.  And now I have approximately 9.2 pounds of couscous left to eat.  Luckily I’ve got 1 year to do it.

The reason I’ve got 9.2 and not 10 pounds of it left is that we’ve eaten couscous twice so far this week.  It’s my new summer side-starch!  Like my search for a bread I can make that won’t raise the thermometer, I’ve also been looking for a starch I can prepare with a minimum of boiling/cooking (you may have noticed by now I’m a hopeless carb-o-holic!).  Unfortunately brown rice, though flavourful and filling, takes 45 minutes of humidity-inducing simmering.  Other starches like white rice, potatoes and pasta don’t need quite so long, but when I saw the couscous, I knew I had a winner.

Couscous is made of durum semolina, which is basically pasta, but instant couscous (the kind I bought–lucking out, it turns out, since I didn’t know there was a non-instant kind!) has been previously steamed and then dried, and this is why it can be prepared by simply pouring a cup of boiling water poured over it and letting it sit for 5 minutes.  While not terribly nutritious by itself, couscous extends and complements bean salads and other dishes remarkably well.  I like to add a dressing, and then any number of chopped up veggies and herbs; whatever I’ve got left over really!

Last night I threw together a can of mixed beans with some chopped red pepper, scallion, cucumber, cilantro, soy sauce marinated tofu, and the leftover sesame-peanut sauce I had from Thursday’s rice bowls.  I added a bit more lemon juice for a flavour punch, and stuck it in the fridge to blend.  It was a delicious and substantial salad that my girl and I ate out of the lid at the park for our supper.

Another couscous recipe I love is tabouli: a background of couscous highlighted with diced peppers, tomato and chick peas, flavoured with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic, with a ton of chopped parsley to blend it all together.  It keeps remarkably well, and is good as a dinner side, or by itself for lunch.

I’ll be looking for other couscous recipes to try this summer, so if you have one you love, please share it.  Hooray for no-cook summer dinners!

Tabouli (adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen)

1 cup couscous

1 cup boiling water

1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

1 med clove garlic, crushed

black pepper to taste

4 scallions, minced finely

1 cup packed minced parsley

1 to 2 tbsp dried mint (or 10 to 15 fresh mint leaves, minced)

2 med tomatoes, diced

1/2 to 1 med cucumber, diced

1/2 each green and red peppers, diced

1 can chick peas

Pour boiling water over couscous and let sit for 5 minutes then fluff with a fork. Meanwhile, blend together the dressing ingredients: salt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and pepper, and mix into couscous.

Add the rest of the veggies and stir.  Chill well before serving.

The “other” kind of tortillas

I didn’t mention yesterday but on Tuesday I actually went crazy and at the same time as making flour tortillas, I also made corn tortillas!  Bloggers, especially those living in New York City, really love their tortillas!  Here is a post about making corn tortillas on 30 Bucks a Week (thanks Tina!) and another on Homesick Texan.

I checked out Grace Ottawa after seeing it recommended on Ottawa Foodies as a place to buy Masa Harina–a specific type of corn flour that is recommended for making tortillas.  Sure enough, they had it (and many other wonders and goodies, which I will report on tomorrow) so I grabbed a bag of “Masa Mix by Mr. Goudas (2 kilos for $4) and made my way home.

Now these tortillas are also very delicious, and totally easy!  Even easier than the flour variety.  And the taste?  Well, I imagine the Mr. Goudas brand is probably not the height of flavour, but even so, they were completely delicious.  They smelled amazing and the texture was lovely and soft.  I can’t wait to try frying these babies to make hard tacos and home-made corn chips.

So, is it worth it to make your own tortillas?  Absolutely!  The flavour is incomparable, the ingredients are pronouncable and safe, they are fast and easy, and so CHEAP!  While I don’t see the corn tortillas replacing bread for me for summer wrap sandwiches (not like flour tortillas), I also don’t see myself spending another penny on Old El Paso any time in the near future.

I should add that I made them without the aid of a tortilla press, which Grace Ottawa also sells for $20.  I’m guessing a tortilla press would make them even thinner, and thus do even more for the texture and flavour.  I’m putting this gadget on my list of things to look out for at garage sales this summer.

Corn Tortillas

2 cups Masa Harina

1 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups warm water

Mix the masa harina with salt, then add water and stir until it comes together as a soft dough. Knead for a few minutes until smooth. Let it sit, covered, for 15 minutes. Divide into 12 round balls and then cover so they don’t dry out as you press and cook.

Next, flatten them into thin rounds using either a tortilla press with two circles cut from thick plastic wrap (like a freezer bag), or cover two heavy cutting boards with plastic wrap and use those to press the rounds.  Heat a heavy bottomed cast iron skillet on medium.  Cook tortillas 30 to 40 seconds on each side, or long enough to produce some browned spots on the surface.

Enjoy with your favourite tex-mex or Mexican food, or fresh from the pan with some butter and salsa.  Let me know if you try it!

Accidentally Vegan #2

IMG_1057Once again, I only realized this was vegan when I was about half-way through enjoying this bowl of total yumminess.  It’s a tofu rice bowl with sesame-peanut sauce, over brown rice mixed with shredded carrot. It’s like a little piece of Juice For Life imported from Toronto.

The great thing about this recipe was that it is CHEAP!  I threw it together from what was in my cupboards because I didn’t want to go to the grocery store at 4:30 pm last night.  I wasn’t really that sure about it . . . and neither was my partner.  But even he (tofu and brown-rice hater though he is) said “It was better than I thought it would be.”  Hm, thanks.  “No, I mean, it was good.”  High praise for a rice bowl coming from him!

Total cost?  I’d say maybe 4 or 5 dollars for the whole thing, which fed the two of us heartily, our toddler, and there’s a generous portion left over for tomorrow, as well as about 1/2 cup of sauce I can use for something else.  The nice thing about marinating tofu is that you don’t have to throw it out afterwards!

Oh, and though this recipe looks long, it is very very simple to prepare.  Don’t let the length deter you!

Sesame-Peanut Tofu Rice Bowl

Sesame-Peanut Sauce

5 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

5 tbsp soy sauce

1/4 cup natural peanut butter

2 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp grated ginger

2 tsp garlic teriyaki sauce or 2 cloves crushed garlic

1 tsp hot sauce

1/2 cup hot water

Put everything but the hot water into the blender and blend until smooth, gradually increasing the speed.  Then, with motor running, slowly pour in the hot water.  You could also substitute coconut milk for the water. I often use the whole can, which makes a very rich but yummy sauce for noodles or stir fry.

Tofu

Slice 1 package of regular tofu into 1/2 inch thick slices. Put tofu slices in 1 layer in a rectangle pan and pour sauce over.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, more if there is time.

Rice

1 cup brown rice

2 cups water

1 cup shredded carrot

Rinse the rice, then add the 2 cups water.  Bring to boil then simmer for 45 minutes.  Fluff, then let sit for 5-10 minutes (I used this time to grate the carrot). Shred or grate the carrot.  Add to rice & mix well.

To Serve

5-6 inches of cucumber, peeled if not organic

2 scallions, sliced very thin

toasted sesame seeds

Slice the cucumber into 2 1/2 to 3 inch long pieces, then cut in half lengthwise.  Place the half-rounds on the cutting board and slice lengthwise into several thin flat pieces.  Place one half-round piece worth of cucumber slices in each bowl, then fill with rice.  Spoon about 1/3 cup sauce over rice (I didn’t actually measure this), then place 2 slices of tofu on top of rice.  Sprinkle with scallions then sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Enjoy!

Summer Bean Salad

Summer Bean Salad
Serves 6 as a main, 8 as a side.
Ingredients:
1 cup frozen sweet corn kernels, thawed
1 large red pepper, diced
1 large orange pepper, diced
1 cup diced celery (can substitute 1 medium Lebanese cucumber or English cucumber, diced)
2 cans of beans, either mixed or black
Dressing:
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp finely chopped green onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
1. Combine all vegetables in a large bowl.
2. Rinse beans under cold water until water runs clear, drain well. Add to the bowl.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Add to bowl and toss.
4. Serve cold. Keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days.

My friend and co-worker Jordan often brings this delicious-smelling and -looking bean salad to work.  We are very lucky that she has generously donated her recipe which is frugal, cheap and easy!  Note that while this is the “original and best” recipe, the type of beans, and the type of veggies you use can be variable.

She also mentioned you can add a cup (dry measure) of brown rice, cooked like pasta, to make this into a more substantial main.

Serves 6 as a main, 8 as a side.

Ingredients:

1 cup frozen sweet corn kernels, thawed

1 large red pepper, diced

1 large orange pepper, diced

1 cup diced celery (can substitute 1 medium Lebanese cucumber or English cucumber, diced)

2 cans of beans, either mixed or black

Dressing:

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp chopped cilantro

2 tbsp finely chopped green onion

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Combine all vegetables in a large bowl.

2. Rinse beans under cold water until water runs clear, drain well. Add to the bowl.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Add to bowl and toss.

4. Serve cold. Keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days.

The latest sourdough experiment

My last two sourdough attempts (see Sourdough and More Sourdough) gave me two delicious loaves that were flat as a shoe.  I was determined to improve the rise this time in hopes of achieving something I could have with poached eggs.  That is the ultimate: poached organic eggs (the fresher the better) on fresh sourdough bread . . . heaven!  My other loaves were just too little to hold all of the runny yolk, making the eating process a little messy.

So I made two adjustments to my dough.  First of all, after doing some research online I read that a too-wet dough can sometimes be slack, and in fact I had been finding my final dough quite loose and not easy to shape into a nice firm loaf.  So this time instead of using the maximum amount of water in the recipe as I had been doing, I went with the minimum.  It resulted in a much firmer dough that shaped into a lovely loaf.

The second thing is that the only “white” organic bread flour I can find still contains the germ.  It’s basically like whole wheat without the bran.  Again, after some online research, I discovered that the phytates in whole wheat flour can affect gluten production.  I would also imagine if there’s all that germ in there, it must mean a lower percentage of starch and gluten than regular white flour.  

I am still not completely comfortable working with this flour.  It has never made a beautiful Windowpane even after kneading for over 20 minutes!  So recently I’ve been kneading for around 7-8 minutes and stopping when there is the slightest semblance of a windowpane.  One website (the amazing baking911.com) recommends adding some Gluten Flour (also known as Vital Wheat Gluten) to the flour to boost the gluten percentage of the flour.  I tried this–I added 1 tbsp, or 1/4 oz of Gluten flour to the final dough.  The dough definitely felt more springy when I was kneading it, and though it never got silky-smooth, the gluten did seem to develop more properly than it had been.

I also made a third adjustment, which was to use a smaller loaf pan for one of my loaves. 

The result?  Definite improvement!  The loaf in the smaller pan especially rose higher, and though I haven’t cut into it yet, I would imagine the crumb is slightly less dense than my other loaves have been.  

Next time I will try adding 1/2 oz of Gluten Flour to the mix.  Can there be too much gluten???  I will also keep an eye out for a second smaller loaf pan, so I can gain that height advantage on two loaves instead of one.  

The experiment continues . . .