Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sorrel and Stinging Nettle Soup Recipe

This soup is divine. I cannot imagine a better way to eat your greens and to feel mom's warm hug at the same time. It is light, with a touch of cream, and a vague saline scent that evokes the sea. I had made a simple sorrel soup once before, a classic French recipe with pureed potatoes, but this time I wanted something lighter, a soup dense with only greens. I bought two bunches of sorrel, a plant with large, delicate, oval-shaped leaves that is rich in vitamins A, C, and E, and many minerals, too. Raw and cooked, sorrel tastes a bit sour, almost like the weed we called sour grass that I used to eat out of nearby wooded areas when I was a kid. Those of us who remember playing dodge ball, or kick-the-can out in the suburban street, and then later scavenging for edible wild goodies, pretending to make our own complete meals, might like sorrel raw, on sandwiches, or in salad. But I only had two bunches, and I wanted to use both of them in the soup.

My food coop is an emabarrassment of riches, particularly at spring time. I forced myself from buying large quantities of gorgeous organic produce, knowing I have a limited appetite, hours to cook, and pots to hold my creations. But when I saw the wild stinging nettle, I couldn't resist. Nettle soup is also French, often prepared similarly to the sorrel one, so a combination of the two might work well, I thought. It did. The sourness of the sorrel was mitigated by the nettle, and the soup remained greener than it would have with sorrel alone, as sorrel has a tendency to turn a bit brown during cooking.

The only caveat: be careful with the nettle! It stings. For real. Mine were trimmed and in a bag already, so I simply filled the bag with water to rinse the leaves, drained them, and added them to the pot directly. If you feel you need to trim the woody stems of yours, please use gloves, or you will end up with a painful rash that can last hours.

My husband said this soup reminded him of one his mother used to make when he was a child in Switzerland. She floated a poached egg on top, and hearing that, I saved the last bit in the pot for an experiment today. The only way this soup might top all expectations is with that egg! You may make this dish with only nettle, or only sorrel; you may add those potatoes or the egg (poached, or even hard boiled, sliced, and added as a topping). Experiment. I only hope that farmers' markets everywhere will be selling these greens so that all of you will be as satisfied and blissful as we were this week.

Sorrel and Stinging Nettle Soup

2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 bunches of sorrel, washed of all the sand, trimmed, and roughly chopped
1 medium bag of stinging nettle, trimmed and cleaned
6 cups of water or stock
3/4 cup half and half
about 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (add slowly, as nutmeg can overpower, but you want the essence of the flavor, so don't skimp, either)
2 teaspoons salt
(eggs, for poaching, if using)

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil or butter and saute the onion until translucent, but not brown. Add the garlic, and stir until it turns soft. Add the sorrel and the nettle to the pot, stirring so that it wilts. When it is all wilted, add the water or stock, and bring the soup to a bowl. Lower the heat, and simmer for about ten minutes, making sure the vegetables are cooked. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add the half and half, the salt, and the nutmeg, and simmer until all the flavors are combined.

If you are adding the egg, crack it into the simmering soup, and cook it until the white is set.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Raspberry and Blueberry Whole Wheat Muffins Recipe

Since I almost never eat anything I don't make, I began to miss baked goods. I am not a baker. I don't even really have a sweet tooth, but every now and then I have a craving for something cake-like with a touch of sugar. In my freezer was a bag of mixed berries that I generally sprinkle on granola, or blend into morning smoothies, but this week I put them to better use in these wholesome muffins.

I used whole wheat pastry flour, and substituted sucanat, a non-refined dried cane sugar, with all its molasses content intact, for the sugar. I nearly halved the amount of sugar called for in most recipes, and added a little maple syrup, so I think it's safe to say that this recipe is fairly healthy. It contains all of the antioxidants of the red raspberries and blueberries, and just a touch of dairy. I am warning you, though; these muffins are so outrageously delicious that after I photographed them for this entry, I subsequently downed three of them in a row. Mmm...homemade raspberry and blueberry muffins...what's better?

Raspberry and Blueberry Whole Wheat Muffins
(makes 12 medium-sized muffins)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour with the germ (that's what I have at the food coop; if you can't find that, use regular all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup sucanat (or, if you like things sweeter, any amount up to 1 cup. If you add more sucanat, eliminate the maple syrup.)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2/3 cup half and half (only because that's what I had in the fridge. You may use milk, if you like.)
2 cups mixed fresh or frozen blueberries and raspberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Grease a muffin pan with a little vegetable oil, or line the muffin cups with individual muffin liners.

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix gently to combine. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit more half and half or milk; if it is too wet, add a bit more flour. Gently fold in the berries. Be careful not to over mix!

Scoop the muffin batter into the muffin cups, almost filling them. Bake the muffins in the oven until the tops turn golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the middle of one comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Charmoula-Baked Tempeh with Beet Greens Recipe

One of my favorite cookbooks is one I gave to my sister for Christmas. She adored it, cooked through it, and the following Christmas, gave me a copy with stars beside her favorite recipes, and lovely personal notes about how to improve them. It is The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley, and it is fantastic. He was the chef at Angelica Kitchen in the early 90s, an East Village vegan restaurant, a place I went to from time to time, marveling at the fussiness of the orders from the clientele, and the patience of the servers. Even more than how I felt about meals at the restaurant, what I make from this book has bold flavors, interesting ingredient combinations, and make-again appeal.

My sister highly recommended a recipe for a Moroccan tagine with tempeh. I made it, preferred the tempeh on its own (as did she), and have made it repeatedly, without the tagine, over the years. This time, since I added beet root to the Millet and Quinoa with Beets and Scallions, I thought I'd use the beet tops in the tempeh. It resulted in more liquid in the pan after baking, but the flavors were great, and I had a beautiful looking dish when I piled the tempeh with beet greens on top of the grains with beet root for lunch. If you don't want to add the beet greens, don't. The tempeh is delicious on its own.

Thanks, Elif, for the great book. I wonder if my copy is as worn as yours.

Charmoula-Baked Tempeh
from Peter Berley, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

For the Tempeh:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, crushed (I use more, because I love garlic)
2 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 pound tempeh, cut into 1-inch cubes

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. To prepare the tempeh, whisk together the oil, water, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, salt, cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.

3. Arrange the tempeh cubes in a single layer in a baking dish. Pour on the marinade and cover securely with the foil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the tempeh has absorbed the marinade. Uncover and bake for several minutes longer to brown.

(If you are using the beet greens, wash them well, chop them into medium sized pieces, and add them to the tempeh before you cover the baking dish and put it in the oven.)

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Millet and Quinoa with Beets and Scallions Recipe

Again, this week, I made the kind of food I usually make for myself: no frills, healthy, quick to make. And again, I nearly discarded these recipes and photos because the food isn't sophisticated or decadent. Then I got a phone call.

It was my friend Jean, on her way to the store, asking exactly what type of lentils to use for last week's one-pot Swiss Chard, Lentils and Bulgur Wheat. I am heartened that my self-proclaimed non-cook friends are attempting some recipes, and it gives me the will to continue. Afterall, my blog is about getting people in the kitchen, and empowering those who lack the confidence to cook. It is about realistic recipes, saving money, and eating healthily. It is for people like Jean. So, Jean, take your sweaters out of the oven, and fire up your burners; here's another!

Millet and Quinoa with Beets and Scallions

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 scallions, chopped finely
2 beets, diced
1 1/2 cup millet
1 1/2 cup quinoa
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and saute the scallions until a little soft. Add the chopped beets and stir briefly. Stir in the millet and quinoa until all of the grains are coated with the olive oil. Add the water, and the salt and pepper. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat so the water is simmering. Cover, and cook over low heat until all of the water is absorbed and the beets are tender, about 30 minutes.

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