Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Sesame Three Ways" Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

This recipe is one of those happy accidents that results from a combination of two things:  a half-empty fridge and a total lack of desire to go grocery shopping.  I had a whole bunch of carrots and sweet potatoes (don't ask me why) and almost nothing else to work with - and it turns out that's really all you need! 

If you keep a well-stocked Asian pantry, this soup is totally dirt-cheap and easy to put together.  If not, I would highly recommend investing in all the Asian ingredients that are called for (including the garnishes) because they are great staples, are found in lots of different Asian dishes, and make this soup incredibly flavorful and unique.   The tahini not only adds good nutrition (sesame seeds are packed with good fats and protein!) but also gives the soup a thicker, creamier consistency.   The soy sauce adds that wonderful, mysterious umami flavor and a complex saltiness.  The drizzle of toasted sesame oil really brings out the pure flavor of sesame and adds a toasty nuttiness to the dish.  I used black sesame seeds as a finishing touch because they added one more layer of sesame flavor and they look really beautiful sprinkled on the soup, but blanched sesame seeds or toasted white sesame seeds would work just fine.  Lastly, Sriracha is a spicy, garlicky and totally multi-purpose condiment that adds a nice heat and extra depth of flavor to the soup.  I used about a tablespoon per serving for a medium-strength heat.  Use more Sriracha if you like your soup really spicy.

"Sesame Three Ways" Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
serves 8

2 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs Sweet Potatoes, peeled and diced
1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup ginger, minced
1/4 cup mirin or white wine
8 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup tahini
2 T soy sauce

black sesame seeds
Sriracha sauce
toasted sesame oil

In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onions in olive oil until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add potatoes, carrots and ginger and cook until ginger is fragrant, about two minutes.  Deglaze the pan with mirin, then add stock.  Raise the heat to high and bring liquid to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover pot and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until potatoes and carrots are very tender, about 40 minutes.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, add a little of the hot liquid to the tahini and stir to dissolve.  Add mixture to soup and puree with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy.  Serve with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a drizzle of oil and sriracha sauce to garnish

Friday, January 13, 2012

Brown Butter Banana-Barley Porridge

One of the New Year's resolutions I made this year is to eat breakfast every day.  It is one simple way to set aside a little time to take care of yourself in the morning, because how many of us actually allow for fifteen extra minutes to just sit, eat, sip a hot cup of something, and enjoy the morning?  For me, that was a luxury I felt I could only afford on the weekends!  I have to say, though, after two weeks of sticking with it and never skipping the all-important morning meal, I feel great!  OK, I'll admit, there have been a few mornings where I've literally thrown some greek yoghurt and granola in a tupperware and eaten it in the car on the way to work... but I never let myself go hungry in the morning!  There is really something to be said for how much easier it is to stay energetic and focused when your tummy isn't rumbling.

Speaking of New Year's resolutions, I read this article over a week ago and I'm still thinking about it!  For those of you who need some extra motivation to stick to your goals this year, I would highly recommend reading it!  New York Times: New Years Resolutions Stick When Willpower is Reinforced

This recipe is a great thing to make on a leisurely Sunday morning, since it takes more time to cook.  You can easily double the recipe and have leftovers that make for a lightning-quick, filling and nutritous breakfast throughout the week.  It is also a great way to use up brown bananas!  Whenever I buy a bunch of bananas, and inevitably there's one or two that get too brown to eat, I freeze them and later use them in recipes like this (bananas can keep for about a month or two in the freezer but they do continue to brown when frozen so make sure to use them before they get overripe).  You can reduce your waste by preserving what you might normally throw away, and they act as a natural sweetener in recipes so you don't have to add sugar. 

Cooking the barley in water results in a lighter, wholesome-tasting porridge.  If you want your porridge to be a little more rich and creamy, use milk, or a combination of milk and water that's to your liking.  You might want to double the recipe in order to have leftovers that make for a lightning-quick, filling and nutritous breakfast throughout the week. 

Brown Butter Banana-Barley Porridge
serves 4

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 1/2 cups banana puree, lightly mashed
3 cups water (or lowfat milk, or milk substitute)*
1 cup pearled barley
sea salt, to taste
1/2 cup walnuts halves
maple syrup (optional)

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil and butter.  Cook until the oils sizzle and butter begins to brown and become toasty and fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Lower heat to medium and add banana puree.  Allow bananas to saute in oil until lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes.

Add water and barley and bring mixture to a boil, mixing often.  Reduce to a simmer and cook, occasionally stirring, until barley is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.  *Note:  If you use fresh bananas instead of frozen, amount of cooking liquid should be reduced by 1/4 cup or so.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange walnut pieces on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Serve the porridge hot, with the walnuts sprinkled on top and a light drizzle of maple syrup, if desired.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Greek Pizza

Happy New Year, everybody!  I think there's really nothing like entering a brand new year to get you motivated.  So many of us make plans to eat a little better, or maybe just cook at home more and eat out less.  January seems to be the one month when everybody is thinking about their health! 

So, in honor of New Year's Resolution-makers everywhere, I give you the Greek Pizza.  Not only is it a snap to put together, but it's also wholesome, light, high in protein, full of flavor, and very satisfying.  For the base of the pizza (and my daily legume fix) I used Palirria Giant Beans in Tomato Sauce.  When you mash the beans together with the sauce, it acheives a wonderful hummus-like consistency and the flavor is just marvelous - lots of bright tomato with hint of dill mingling with the creamy white beans.  The toppings are just an assortment of all the veggies I love best on a pizza.  If you haven't tried black cerignola olives, now is your chance to get some!  They are my all-time favorite olive for their rich meatiness and lightly floral flavor.  Kasseri cheese is the final touch, and is another must-try ingredient.  It is made with a blend of sheep and goat's milk and has a salty, tangy, complex flavor and it melts like a dream.  Feta would make a fine substitute, although you'll be depriving yourself of that nice, smooth, melty texture that Kasseri will give you. 

So, next time you have to get dinner put together at lightning-speed, give this simple recipe a try!

Greek Pizza
Serves 4

4 Whole Wheat Pita rounds
1 can Palirria Giant Beans in Tomato Sauce (hummus with a little extra olive oil is a good substitute)
1 can (14 oz) Artichoke Hearts
1/2 cup chopped black olives (black cerignolas are my favorite)
1 roasted red pepper, roughly chopped
4 oz Kasseri cheese, grated (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a small bowl, smash the beans in tomato sauce with a fork until no beans are left whole and mix until a chunky paste forms.  Drain artichoke hearts, cut off leafy ends and reserve for other uses (they are great in pureed soups).  Roughly chop hearts.

Arrange pitas on a work surface.  Assemble pizzas using 1/4 of each of the ingredients for each pizza:  spread bean paste on pita leaving about 1/2 inch around the edge.  Top with remaining ingredients in any order you like and place pizzas directly on the oven rack.  Bake until cheese is completely melted, about 6 to 8 minutes.