Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lentil Soup - for all seasons

 I made this soup the other day because I needed a quick and easy soup.  Even though it is hardly "hearty soup season",  it was still so delicious and so worth sharing.  Please don't wait till fall to give this one a try!

This recipe was passed on from my mother in-law and I "tweaked" it ever so slightly to suite my cooking style.

Lentil Soup

1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 medium onion - chopped finely
1 clove garlic
2 stalks celery - chopped finely
2 carrots - chopped finely
1 red pepper (or any color of your choosing) - chopped finely
1 1/2 cups red lentils
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp sea salt
5 cups chicken broth or stock *
2 Bay leaves
1/2 lemon - juiced (about 2 Tbsp)*
1/2 cup fresh cilantro - chopped finely

In a 4 quart pot, heat the oil and add the onions.  Saute the onions for a few minutes.  Add the garlic, celery, carrots and pepper.  Continue to saute for about 5 minutes - or more.  This process of "sweating" the veggies brings out a richer flavour providing you are not burning the veggies.  Add the seasonings and lentils.  Stir for a minute to infuse the flavours. 

Add the stock and bay leaves and bring the soup to a boil.  Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and allow it to simmer for  20 - 30 minutes.  If you have the time, I would suggest simmering for a longer period (like 2 hours).

Just before serving, add in the lemon juice, cilantro and remove the bay leaves. We  like this soup served both hot and cold.  Try it and see what you prefer.

Cook's notes:
Finely chopped vegetables: My preference in a soup like this is to have all the veggies similar in size and in this case, that is dictated by the smaller lentil size.  They do not have to be tiny, but I prefer to cut my carrots in 4strips and then slice them to get quarter pieces rather than round coins.  You get the idea.

Chicken Broth: There is a chicken broth I found that is made without any sugars - yes, most chicken broth has added sugar. The problem for me is it is quite a bit more expensive so I opt for a cheaper, organic one that does have a bit of organic sugar.  A choice dictated by cost.  I do make my own stock as well without any sugars, but I typically save that process for fall/winter.  The store brand I like now is Pacific Foods Organic Chicken Broth purchased at Costco.

Stock vs Broth: Stock is made using bones and broth uses only meat.  Stock is usually "jelly-like" from the bone.  Either one are fine for soup but I would expect the stock has a deeper, richer flavour.  Maybe I will have to make my own to compare one day.
About the 5 cups...Most store-sold broths are 4 cups so this technically means opening two and having leftover broth.  So options are to add 4 cups broth and 1 cup water or you could try 1 cup apple juice in place of the water idea as well.  If you open the second carton of broth, consider freezing it for later use - just be sure to measure it and label the amount so you know exactly how much you have.

Lemon:  It may seem quite strange to add lemon juice at the end but I am learning that lemon juice "brightens" the flavour of many foods, including this soup.  I have left it out and thought it was fine but then added it in and wow!  I will add it from now on.   A"seasoned" chef once told me real lemon juice does not come out of a bottle.  Fresh really is best.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Apple Curry Grilled Chicken

Here is a recipe I have made over and over and over again.  And given the BBQ season is still going strong, I hope you will give it a try and enjoy it like we do.  Our favorite meal includes this marinade on chicken with grilled veggies, brown Basmati rice and grilled pineapple.  This sauce would also work wonders on pork chops, pork loin or even add a new zip to hamburgers.

This recipe is influenced by a favorite cookbook: Crazy Plates - Grill of a Lifetime

Apple Curry
Grilled Chicken

1 - 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup apple butter - Wellesley brand
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp Bragg Liquid Soy Seasoning*
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 - 1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice or applesauce (to thin out the sauce for eating)
* See Cook's notes

Mix all the ingredients together except the apple juice/sauce.  If you would like to marinade the meat, pour about 2 - 3 Tbsp of sauce over the chicken breasts to marinade for 30 minutes or more.    Use some extra sauce to baste the meat when grilling.  The other option we have been doing is to use olive oil and salt and pepper on the chicken to grill it and use the marinade like BBQ sauce, just add it as it finishes grilling.

With the extra marinade (that has not been in contact with raw meat), add about 1/4 - 1/2 cup applesauce or a Tbsp or two of apple juice to thin out the sauce and lessen the intensity.  Warm this on the stove top or in the microwave and use to add to the grilled chicken (and rice if you are serving it).

Cook's notes:
Bragg's Liquid Soy Seasoning is like Soy Sauce only much better for your body than Soy Sauce.  It is simply soy protein from soybeans and water and tastes like the soy sauce.  Another similar option to buy is also Tamarind Sauce.  One person once explained the difference between them like this: what pure maple syrup is to Aunt Jamima is what Bragg's Liquid Soy Sauce(or Tamarind sauce) is to Soy Sauce.  Yes, it is a little more expensive but most things that are better for you do cost more.  You can find it in the Health Food section of your grocery store.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Black Bean Brownies

Here is a brownie recipe that serves up great chocolate taste, not too sweet, yet fudgy texture along with a shocking surprise for your guests – yes, it really has a can of beans in it! I created my version of the recipe after being influenced by other recipes I found in my cookbook collection. Seems I can hardly ever follow a recipe as noted by anyone any more. Hope this one works for you or if you are like me….may it inspire your own creativity to make one to call your own!  BTW...if you have never tried a brownie like this, it is truly worth it.

Black Bean Brownies
1 (19 oz) can of black beans – thoroughly rinsed and drained
¾ cup butter – melted *
1 cup walnuts (used as separate ½ cup measures) – toasted
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup natural coffee substitute *
½ tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
¾ cup apple butter *
4 eggs

Notes for Success on this:
  • This recipe is completely mixed in a 14-cup food processor. If you only have a smaller food processor, make sure you puree the beans and nuts in smaller portions and then use a bowl and hand mixer for the remaining mixing.
  • Puree the beans and nuts to as smooth a texture as possible before adding too much liquid.
  • "Blend” and “Puree” are the same setting on my machine. The difference is pureeing is to take something whole and making it basically a paste (takes longer to mix) and blending is simply to mix several ingredients together (shorter time to mix).
  • Times noted for blending are approximate. I never time them but the idea is to have it well blended and smooth.
  • Please do not serve the brownies warm or from the oven as the bean flavour is strongest then. They store nicely in the freezer and are quick to thaw for serving cold.
Preheat the oven to 325F.

Using a food processor, add the black beans and puree for about 45 seconds. Add the melted butter and process for 1 – 2 minutes or until as smooth looking as possible. Add the ½ cup of walnuts and puree for another minute.

Add in the cocoa powder, the applesauce, salt and vanilla. Before adding in the coffee substitute, first add 1 – 2 Tbsp of water to the coffee granules to dissolve them in a separate bowl and then add to the food processor along with the apple butter. Blend for another minute. Add the eggs and blend the mixture for another minute or so.

Line an 11x15 baking pan with parchment paper. Pour the batter into the pan.

Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of toasted walnuts over the batter and gently tap them into/under the batter to cover them before baking.

Bake at 325 F for 20 – 25 minutes. (20 minutes makes a nice fudgy texture that we enjoy).  Cool completely before cutting.

Serve chilled and topped with plain yogurt and fresh fruit.

Cook's Notes:
Butter: If you find 3/4 cup too much, try decreasing the amount and increasing the applesauce(ie 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup applesauce).  I am not an official test kitchen and do not have time to just repeat baking to try all the small changes one could really make.  But the next time to do make this, I plan to try this combo myself.
Natural Coffee Substitute: I found this one at a bulk food store and it is 100% caffeine free.  It is made of roasted barley, rye, chicory, and beet roots.  It helps to mask the "beany" flavour.  You could always use other instant or strong coffee if you are not avoiding caffeine.
Apple butter: As always, my favorite choice is Wellesley brand.  If you do not have this available, you could use agave nectar or maple syrup as substitutes.  If in doubt, just email me and ask.
Baking Pan: If you do not have a pan 11x15 , feel free to try a 9x13 cake pan but add a bit more baking time...perhaps another 10 minutes.  I would not try a larger pan as the brownie is not very thick in a 11x15

Truly Delicious!