CREAMY MISO KABOCHA SOUP WITH TURMERIC, LEMONGRASS & CRISPY LENTILS

It’s Winter.  There’s that bleakness in the air of people desperately craving Spring.  Although, we're closer to sunnier days than we were a couple weeks ago, we're still (unfortunately) in the thick of it.  Temperatures are unstable, snow storms & "frozen rain" have both been in the forecast this last week.  We’re all seeking a bit of comfort, in whatever way we can get it.  

I'm still calling it the beginning of the year even though it's practically (already) March.  Although it's passing quickly, the year so far has been an unprecedented one, in so...so many ways.  Not just “the world” / politically, but I’m personally feeling that “off-ness”.   When it’s time for change - transition - and it feels a little like growing pains.  Not really sure yet where to go with it all, so until then, I’m putting one foot in front of the other, and making soup.

CREAMY MISO KABOCHA SOUP WITH TURMERIC, LEMONGRASS & CRISPY LENTILS (gluten-free, vegan, grain-free) Serves 4-6

This soup is simple, delicious and the perfect warming bowl for these Winter months.  It may seem like a lot of ingredients, but in reality mostly requires a little chopping and adding things to the same saucepan.  If you don’t have fresh turmeric (or ginger) root, add about a teaspoons or so of the ground versions, taste it and decide whether you want more.  For the lemongrass, use the back of your knife to “bruise” the lemongrass - this helps bring out its flavor (don’t forget to remove before ou blend!).  Also, this would still be great without lemongrass, so feel free not to follow the recipe exactly ;)

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, divided
  • 2 medium carrots, medium diced
  • 2 celery stalks, medium dice
  • 1 bunch of scallions, roughly chopped
  • 2 in. piece of ginger root, minced
  • 4 in. piece of lemongrass, bruised then halved
  • 1.5 in. piece of turmeric root, diced
  • 6 cups of cubed kabocha (or about 1/2 a medium squash)
  • 1 (15oz.) can of coconut milk
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1/4 cup miso
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • About 1/2 cup cooked lentils
  • Greens, to serve

In a large saucepan, add 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium high heat.  After a minute, swirl oil around in the pan to coat the bottom, then add carrots, celery, scallions, stirring often for about 5-7 minutes or until they begin to cook down and scallions have softened.  

Then, add ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, and kabocha, cook the mixture for 2-3 minutes, then add coconut milk, water, miso and salt.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 25-30 minutes or until squash is softened (very easily pricked with a fork).  Taste the broth, it should taste flavorful (if it doesn’t, let it go another 5-10 minutes).  *Don’t forget to fish out your two pieces of lemongrass, if you choose to blend.  Then, use an immersion blender to blend until smooth, or add to a vitamix to whirl up.  Add the juice of one lemon, and stir to combine.

For crispy lentils:  Add 3 tablespoons or so (enough to coat your pan well) coconut oil to a skillet over medium high heat.  Once the pan is hot (hover your hand over the skillet to test), add cooked lentils in an even layer. (You might need to do batches for these, depending on your pan size, don’t overcrowd!)  Let them cook, stirring occasionally to keep from burning.  Add more oil if necessary, they should be “sizzling” in the oil to get them real crispy.  They will take about 2-3 minutes to get crispy, use a slotted spoon to remove and set over a paper towel-lined plate.  

To serve, top soup with freshly ground pepper, a handful of greens or herbs (cilantro or parsley would be great, I used baby arugula), and a small handful of crispy lentils per bowl.  It serves 4-6, depending on what you consider to be a “bowl” or if you’d like this as a meal, or starter.  Store the soup in a jar (beware, it will stain plastic) or tupperware, for up to a week (it hopefully won’t last that long).  The soup will thicken once refrigerated, feel free to use a few teaspoons of water when reheating, or keep it nice and thick.

CAULIFLOWER LENTIL GRAIN SALAD WITH PUMPKINSEED PESTO & PICKLED RADISHES (Gluten-free)

It’s been a busy and chaotic year so far.  I can’t believe it’s already July and that Summer is almost halfway over.  It really feels like I’ve blinked and missed it all.  So many exceptions to this year have caused an unusual lifestyle for me -  I have three sisters all engaged, all getting married this year…within 6 months of each other.  Naturally, they all live in LA (where I’m from), and I’m in all the wedding parties.  Anyone who has been part of one knows the…commitment they require on an emotional / physical / financial level.  So, I’ve been traveling a lot, to say the very least.  July is the first month I will not travel to LA since March.  

This 2016 lifestyle of mine has led me to understand certain things about my myself.  I could never be the kind of person who travels all the time and is never home (no matter how many amazing things I could see).  I am incredibly introverted (more than I thought I was) and require a substantial amount  of alone time.  Especially these days, there’s nothing I want more than to have no plans, to wake up early, to cook my meals leisurely and off the cuff.  With all the socializing and traveling, I’m craving aloneness and in a similar realm - slowness, which I can say I almost never want. I’ve always been the high-energy/high-intensity type who only has one speed.  But this shakeup of my schedule and lack of control (my usual nemesis), is causing me to turn the dial down a bit.

This salad came out of one of those moments.  A Saturday with no plans, a ton of vegetables and an appetite.  I spent my time, slowing down - leisurely making pesto, slicing radishes, etc.  These are the moments when cooking feels like everything to me. Those slow weekends when I’m alone in my kitchen - it’s what my soul requires.  So, maybe this salad seems like a lot of steps: pickling, processing, cooking, chopping, but for me - the longer it takes, the better.  It’s a weekend recipe - meant to be prepared with no timeliness at all and savoring each and every step.  It’s an ode to cooking - not just because it feeds you (and often tastes good) - but that there’s something else happening. I believe, something magical.

CAULIFLOWER LENTIL GRAIN SALAD WITH PUMPKINSEED PESTO & PICKLED RADISHES (gluten-free, vegetarian)

  • 1 cup quinoa, dried
  • 1/2 cup french lentils, dried
  • 1 lb. cauliflower, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 cup chopped medjool dates
  • 3 purple scallions, sliced
  • 3 large handfuls of baby arugula
  • 1-2 lemons, juice
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper

PUMPKINSEED ARUGULA PESTO

  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon, juice & zest
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup baby arugula, packed
  • 1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

QUICK-PICKLED RADISHES

  • 1 small bunch of radishes, sliced thin on mandolin
  • 1 fennel stalk, fronts & stalk roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander (seeds or ground)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, bring 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups of salted water to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Then set aside to cool. In another saucepan, add lentils with enough water to cover by 2-3 inches (salt the water, too).  Bring to a boil, then simmer (covered) about 20-25 minutes or until tender.  Drain and rinse.  Set aside to cool.

For pickled radishes: In a pint-sized jar, add radishes, fennel fronds, mustard and coriander seeds.  In a small saucepan, bring apple cider vinegar, water, maple syrup, salt and pepper to a boil.  Once liquid just boils, carefully pour into the jar, making sure radishes are completely covered in brine.  Cover and set on the counter to cool.  Once it’s cooled, store in the fridge.  They will be “ready” to eat in about an hour.

For Pesto: In a food processor, add pumpkin seeds, garlic, lemon (juice & zest) and parmigiano.  Process until desired consistency (I like mine more on the pureed side).  Then add salt, pepper and arugula. Pulse until entire mixture is green and arugula is well-combined.  While the processor is running, stream in about 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil or until desired texture.  Set aside.

Add cauliflower to a food processor and pulse until it resembles rice (you can use the same one as the pesto).  Add to a large mixing bowl with grated zucchini, dates, scallion, and arugula.  Toss together with quinoa, lentils and arugula.  Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice (to taste).  Toss together to make sure salad is well-combined.

To serve, top each plate with a generous dollop of pesto and pickled radishes.  For some extra decadence, add a drizzle of olive oil, but you don’t totally need it.  Serve immediately or save for later (the leftovers were still great on day 3).

CUMIN SPICED FRENCH LENTIL SALAD WITH ROASTED CARROTS

I've been pretty inspired by the work of Yotam Ottolenghi lately, as I know many of us are.  I've always been intrigued by his beautiful books and recipes, but recently fell in love with his story after hearing him (and Sam Tamimi) on Heritage Radio Network's TASTE MATTERS.  If you know anything about this man, you know his recipes and flavor combinations are LEGIT, both in aesthetic and taste.  He merges his Israeli heritage with the influence of the Western world and a serious understanding of vegetables.  Classic is not a word I would use to describe him, but I mean that in the best way.  He still manages to reflect a sense of cultural appreciation while making some pretty refreshing dishes.

Of all Ottolenghi's talent, I appreciate his boldness most.   Both his recipes and food philosophy don't easily fit into one box.  Although it is often vegetarian, he doesn't abide by that rule exclusively.  You may have noticed I myself have stopped labeling my eating habits as vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, etc.  What feels most important to me is experiencing food in the way that is most satisfying to me and leaving labels aside.  Usually, what feels right to you will resonate with others as well.  

CUMIN SPICED FRENCH LENTIL SALAD WITH ROASTED CARROTS (Gluten-free) Serves 4

LEMON CAPER DRESSING:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a small mixing bowl, combine olive oil, cumin seed, mustard, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 2 garlic cloves.  Add carrots to a foil-lined baking sheet, then drizzle dressing overtop, making sure carrots are well coated.  

*NOTE:I used a bunch organic carrots which are on the smaller size.  If yours are large, I would quarter them lengthwise, or you could just chop them in large chunks and roast that way.  Roasting time will vary.  

Add to oven and roast for 30-35 minutes or until super browned and tender.  Set aside.

While carrots are cooking, add 1.5 cups of lentils to a large saucepan with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and about 4 cups of water.  Bring water to a boil, then reduce to simmer (uncovered) and cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender, but not mushy.  Once finished cooking, strain lentils in a sieve to remove any excess water. Set aside to cool.  

In a small mason jar or bowl, muddle 2 tsp. capers, 1 minced garlic clove until broken down well.  Add the zest and juice of 1 lemon, a good pinch of salt (about 1/2 teaspoon), and a drizzle of olive oil.  Whisk together well. 

Add lentils to a large serving bowl and fold in the caper dressing.  Toss to coat well.  Add shaved onion, fresh mint, and parsley.  Top lentil salad with roasted carrots and a dollop of greek yogurt.  Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper to top.  Serve this salad warm, cold over greens or with toasted bread.  

CLICK HERE TO READ THE RECIPE FOR CUMIN SPICED FRENCH LENTIL SALAD!