Roasted Tomato and Beet Bisque

Check out that gorgeous pink, creamy soup!

Check out that gorgeous pink, creamy soup!

It’s starting to feel like Autumn here in Montreal and the end of summer harvest is in full swing. Tomatoes are selling off at the market for a fraction of what they normally cost, and bright bushels of beets are stacked row on row in front of fruiteries at every corner, tempting passersby with thoughts of warm borchts and savoury-sweet grilled beet salads. This recipe brings together the two in an unusual pairing that I am sure you will find as addictive as we do. It might seem odd, and I get it- beets and tomatoes, why would you do that? But trust me when I tell you, this recipe is so easy, healthy, cheap, and look at that colour! You are going to fall in love.

Bisque is traditionally thickened with a starch, such as rice or potatoes, before being strained and enriched with cream. In this case, I used raw sunflower seeds. They add the perfect creaminess and their subtle flavour is ideal for light vegetable purees such as this. We can thank the sunflower seeds for the pink colour, too! You could omit them, or substitute a starch as with a traditional bisque, or any unsweetened, neutral flavour plant cream will do. You can change the colour of the bisque to a lovely golden orange by using golden beets and tomatoes instead. This recipe requires no pot, just a slow roast in the oven and a trip through the blender. Go ahead and bake yourself some bread or pumpkin muffins while the oven is hot and the veggies are roasting. It’s that time of year!

It's also good straight out of the jar, just saying.

It’s also good straight out of the jar, just saying.

Roasted Tomato and Beet Bisque

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 large, flavourful tomatoes, cored
2 medium beets, peeled and sliced fine
2 small cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, raw
4 cups good vegetable stock, home made leek stock if possible
1 tbsp neutral oil
1 tsp salt
Pink or white pepper, or plain black pepper if that’s all you have

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking tray with a sheet of tinfoil

2) Arrange vegetables in the foil, drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with half the salt. Cover with another sheet of foil, folding the edges together carefully to seal. Place in oven and bake approximately one hour, until beets are tender.

3) Meanwhile, puree the sunflower seeds in one cup of the broth until perfectly smooth and not at all gritty. This may take several minutes, just give your blender breaks as needed.

4) When cooked, add the vegetables from the foil pouch to the sunflower puree with all their juices. Puree until completely smooth, slowly adding the water and scraping the sides as needed. Add remaining salt and pepper to taste. Bon appetit!

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Campfire Soup

Soup, boiling away happily

Too hungry to chop wood, just burn the log whole. Soup, boiling away happily.

Everything tastes better when you eat it outdoors. This is the simple truth captured in grill and patio furniture ads everywhere. Take a meal that would be way easier, more convenient, and likely more comfortable to prepare and consume indoors, relocate the whole shebang outdoors instead, and voila! You have a party. This is what you buy into when you go on a picnic, and when you purchase your Sims that 300, 000 Simoleon gazebo they’ve been eyeing. Eating outdoors makes food taste better. We believe it’s true, and so it is.  

This applies to camping, too. Except when you’re camping there are several, slightly less twee reasons for your appreciation for food. For one, you’re probably starving. Camping is a lot of work. Setting up tents, scrounging for kindling, chopping firewood, finding places to pee, getting in and out of layers constantly to keep warm enough without sweating (otherwise you’ll be cold at night). When you’re working hard without really realizing it (because you’re having so much fun!) you build up an appetite. Anything you cook will automatically taste better. All that fresh air helps too, as the more you are exposed to the elements, the more of your body’s resources are used up- you get thirsty and hungry faster outside. Lastly, you’re probably so busy that you’ve only started cooking when you’re hungry, not accounting for the extra time that fire building takes. As such, you’re only getting around to eating way past the point of being merely hungry, well into the murky and dangerous realm of being truly hangry

Then you add bad weather to the mix and things all get much, much worse. Building a fire in the rain is hard. Keeping a fire going in the rain long enough to boil a pot of water is extra hard, and sometimes impossible. Being wet and cold and hangry is a dangerous combination that I suggest you avoid under any circumstance, but which is nonetheless sometimes unavoidable in camping situations. When I was a Scout leader, in times like these, we’d pull out the Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup. Powdered chicken bouillon with extra salt added, flecks of dehydrated parsley, a distinct flavour of celery and small, quick-cooking wheat noodles. This salty, satisfying broth whipped up in five minutes flat, and, when smothered in saltines, was like mana from heaven for depleted, defeated campers. It wasn’t particularly nourishing, but when you’re camping, cold and hangry, it tastes like the most delicious thing you’ve ever put in your mouth. 

In coming up with this campfire soup, I was going for that same warm-you-to-the-bones, nourishing, wonderfully salty and savoury feeling. So, I started with my favourite salty, MSG-ridden seasoning, Vegeta. Go ahead and use something healthy if you must, but what you’re really going for here is a strong, salty chicken-style broth with flecks of parsley. I added a few real vegetables, small tofu cubes, and soup noodles, because I wanted it actually nourishing- not just tricking my body into thinking it was getting something worthwhile. Lastly, my new favourite addition to any brothy soup- matzoh. Matzoh holds it’s form in broth in a way that is satisfyingly chewy, almost like a noodle, and a far cry from the spongy, semi-dissolved mass that results from saltines left soaking too long. Without further ado, here is the recipe! It absolutely does not need to be made in cast iron, over a campfire, or eaten outdoors- but I promise you it won’t taste nearly as good otherwise.

Boil faster, darn it!

Boil faster, darn it!

Campfire Soup

1 block firm tofu, cut into 1cm/ 1/2 inch dice
1 large yellow onion, cut into large 1 inch dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3 mm thick rounds
2 stalks of celery, cut into 3 mm thick slices
2 minced cloves garlic
1/2 package of soup noodles
Vegeta or bouillon of choice, added to taste
3 tbsp Earth Balance, or margarine of choice
pepper
matzoh

1) Over a steady fire, heat your 8 quart cast iron Dutch oven

2) Saute your onion in the margarine until just starting to turn golden. Add the remaining vegetables and saute until just beginning to soften, stirring occasionally

3) Fill the pot to 2 inches below the rim, put on the lid and bring to a boil

4) When boiling, add soup noodles, tofu and broth powder, starting with about half of what you think you’ll need

5) When noodles are cooked, adjust seasoning and add pepper.

6) Serve steaming mugfuls with broken matzoh to grateful campers

 

 

Pho/Air-boat street food/etc.

Big bowl for pho for big Bear, little bowl of pho for little kitten.

Big bowl for pho for big Bear, little bowl of pho for little kitten.

When I was in my undergrad, I took a bunch of courses in the evening. There were two reasons for this, mainly that I refused to take morning classes, but also because the part-time studies department’s Philosophy classes tended to be more interesting. In those cool in-between months after the term started but before Winter came, I often failed to dress appropriately for the weather and would find myself shivering alone in the corridors waiting for evening classes to begin while sometimes falling asleep over my readings. It was at this time that I would get one of two things: a coffee and a chocolate chip oatmeal muffin from the only cafe that remained open for the night students, or a steaming-hot Styrofoam bowl of Pho from the little Asian vendor in the cafeteria.

I always asked for the vegetarian Pho, even before I was vegan, because it seemed like a much better deal- you got so many veggies! Tender-crisp bok choy, slivers of nappa cabbage, whole petals of oyster mushrooms, sprouts, carrots, peppers, and tofu, all in a fragrant broth with warming anise, clove, and black pepper. The whole thing was topped with a mountain of Thai basil and cilantro, and finally a wedge of lime. It was more expensive than the coffee and muffin, and while it had no chocolate in it, it was still the superior choice.

There is some controversy over whether Pho is related to pot-au-feu, the dish common to the French invaders of Vietnam. Westerners like to think of Pho as a fusion food. I think it’s more likely that the French simply assumed that their culture was the epitome of Culture, and thus interpreted the native Vietnamese dish in the only way their fragile egos could manage- as an approximation of the more familiar pot-au-feu. There is something decidedly un-French about traditional Pho as well, namely the way it was vended. No white linen table cloths, wine, or candles. Just hot street food, prepared with taste, nourishment, and efficiency in mind.

Pho was originally sold at dawn and dusk by roaming street vendors, who shouldered mobile kitchens on carrying poles (gánh phở). From the pole hung two wooden cabinets, one housing a cauldron over a wood fire, the other storing noodles, spices, cookware, and space to prepare a bowl of pho. Pho vendors kept their heads warm with distinctive, disheveled felt hats called mũ phở. (thank you Wikipedia)

I wonder if the Chinese food boat scene from The Fifth Element is at all related to the history of Pho? Some days, especially when it’s cold, I wish for certain conveniences out of sci fi like travelling Pho air-boats or teleportation.

It may be too early for you folks south of the border to be thinking of hot soups as an ideal comfort food, but here in the Great White North the nights have been getting quite chilly, and ominously gray skies have brought portents of Autumn and frost. Unless you have a magical Pho Boat coming your way, this recipe is the best thing to keep the chill out.

Come here, boat of tasty! I want all your deliciousness! But you can leave the terrible ethnic stereotypes behind...

Come here, boat of tasty! I want all your deliciousness! But you can leave the terrible ethnic stereotypes behind…

It took me a while to figure out how to make a good vegan Pho, and the trick is to take your time to treat the veggies right, and not worry too much about being traditional. This is your Pho, make it how you like it.

  1. Take a couple big yellow onions, peel the outer layer and halve them lengthwise. Cut a 5-inch stem of ginger root lengthwise. Blacken the outer layer both over a flame (broiler/element/blowtorch). Rinse away any flakes of char and set aside.
  2. Roughly chop five large, peeled carrots, and a couple cups of mushroom stems (any kind, preferably belonging to the caps you’ll use in the soup) and roast them in a pot with coconut oil until beginning to brown. This will take a bit of time, but keep an eye on it and have a beer to keep you occupied.
  3. Add to the carrots and mushrooms a couple of star anise, a couple of whole cloves, a 4-inch stick of cinnamon, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, a three-inch strip of kombu and several black peppercorns. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until fragrant, stirring constantly. Add the onion and ginger, then about 5-6 cups of low- or no-salt mushroom or vegetable broth- enough to cover with an inch or two to spare.
  4. Simmer until reduced by 1/3, then add a tablespoon or two of good tamari and/or vegan fish sauce. Strain well through a fine sieve. This broth can be kept in the fridge or frozen until ready to use.
  5. Cook medium flat rice noodles til tender. Add to big bowls of freshly-boiled broth.
  6. Prepare vegetables. Firm tofu, mixed fresh or dried/re-hydrated mushroom caps, tender greens, snow peas and peppers can be sauteed ever so lightly, then divided among individual bowls.
  7. Toppings should be served on the side, to be added with chopsticks to the bowls by diners. Scallions and red chilies finely sliced on the bias, whole cilantro and Thai basil leaves, wedges of lime and bean sprouts. Vegetarian hoisin, chili-garlic paste/sriracha, and seasoned rice vinegar should be offered as well.

To Eat: Pile on the herbs, sauces, etc. and barely stir them into the piping-hot broth. It will wilt the leaves, while maintaining some of their texture and providing lovely contrast between the spicy/sour/cool/herbal notes of the garnish and the warm/earthy/sweet/savoury notes of the soup.

Bon appetit!

Black Bean, Collard Green and Sweet Potato Stew

This recipe has so much healthy packed in each bite it would take waaay too long to go in to all the details. However, aside from the ridiculously good-for-you-ness of it all, it’s also DELICIOUS. This is a soup you can seriously over eat on. Especially if you enjoy it with the Cornbread Biscuits from Vegan Brunch like I did. I subbed half the flour with whole wheat, worked perfectly. This makes a nice big pot, perfect for a week with snow storms and -30 degree weather and things like that that make trips to the grocery store unreasonable.

Black Bean, Collard Green and Sweet Potato Stew

2 yellow onions, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb orange-fleshed  sweet potato, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 bunch collard greens, tough stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup corn kernels
2 cans black beans
1 can salt-free tomato puree or pieces
2 tsp minced chipotles in adoboe (more or less, depending on how hot you want it- mine were very hot, so start with less if you’re sensitive)
2 tsp roasted, crushed cumin (see note*)
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp Mexican oregano, or regular, if you can’t find it
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 vegan chicken bullion cube
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
To garnish, if you’re feeling fancy: cilantro, chopped avocado, a squeeze of lime, tortilla strips

Caramelize the onions slowly in the oil until golden brown, sweet, and fragrant. Add the sweet potatoes, cumin, and fennel, sautee for 5 more minutes until starting to brown. Add water to cover the vegetables, return to high heat and bring to a boil. Add all remaining ingredients except the collards. Reduce to a low simmer for at least 30 minutes. When all the flavours are deep and mellow and melded perfectly, add your collards and cook 10 more minutes, of until collards are wilted. Enjoy with cornbread biscuits, fancy toppings, or as is. It’s really delicious either way.

Smooth and Bright Chickpea Soup

I make hummus all the time, but I never really thought of making pureed chickpeas into a soup until I saw this recipe. What a great idea! However, being vegan, I can’t really puree chickpeas in stock and call it a meal… I mean 90% of the time hummus is the only thing I can eat at a non-veg restaurant, so I pack back a lot of lightly seasoned chickpeas. I need a little bit of oomph behind them to make them work preparing at home. So, this is my take on a creamy chickpea soup. The inclusion of fresh vegetables slowly cooked in olive oil goes a long way to making this dish truly satisfying.

Smooth and Bright Chickpea Soup
Makes 2 servings

1 500 mL can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1 head garlic, minced
black pepper, to taste
2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 vegetarian chicken-style bouillon cube (for 2 cups of water)
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
red chili flakes, to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low until uniformly soft, fragrant, and beginning to brown. Add garlic, pepper, and rosemary, cooking quickly for 1 minute. Add chickpeas, then fill the chickpea can with cold water and add to the pot as well. Bring to a boil, add the bouillon cube, stir and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then allow to cool slightly. Add the soup to your blender of food processor and pulse until just smooth- not the consistency of baby food, you should still be able to see some flecks of carrot, but it should coat the back of a spoon smoothly and not seem too fibrous. Return the pureed soup to the pot with the lemon and parsley, warm over medium heat until good and hot. Enjoy with some red chili flakes sprinkled over, some good crusty bread and a glass of Cabernet. Or water. Whatever floats your boat. 

Sweet Potato and Kale Stew

I have a thing for coconut curries with green and yellow flavours- tumeric, cilantro, lemon grass, cardamom, cumin. Orange winter squashes and root vegetables get elevated to new heights when their sweetness is offset with bright, aromatic notes. I make dishes like this often…. But this time I wanted something different. I wanted a wholesome, light, healthy stew with simple flavours and down-home appeal. This recipe started as an attempt to move away from what I usually do with big old sweet potato. The traditional herb seasoning and addition of hearty kale and split peas make this stew reminiscent of rustic French cooking… or that’s what I like to tell myself, anyway. My experience with French cooking is limited to the three years of home-study of my grandmother’s Julia Child cookbooks in my pre-vegan cooking days and a highschool class trip. Either way, this is exactly what I need when I’ve been abusing my body with too much salt and spice and fat. Good clean food.

Sweet Potato and Kale Stew

3 carrots, sliced thickly
3 stalks of celery, sliced
2 yellow onions, diced
8-10 cloves of garlic, minced, divided in two piles
1 very large sweet potato (the orange kind), peeled and diced
2 bunches of curly kale (though I’m sure any kind would do), stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup dry yellow split peas

Tied together with kitchen twine… or dental floss:
1 bay leaf
1 3-inch sprig of rosemary
2 3-inch sprigs of thyme
2 3-inch sprigs or parsley
1 tsp summer savoury

Splashes of low-sodium tamari
Juice of one lemon

Cook split peas according to package directions. Caramelize onions slowly over medium-low heat in a bit of olive oil. When translucent and golden (about ten minutes), add carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add sweet potatoes and enough water to cover all the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and add herb bundle. Simmer for about half an hour, or until vegetables are meltingly tender. Add split peas and kale, lemon juice and tamari to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until kale is cooked but still bright green.

This little one was very interested in the whole process. His brother and sister were somewhat less enthused about the strange lady making lots of noise in their kitchen.