winter minestrone

winter minestrone parsley pesto vegan

This recipe is part of the third iteration of the Yay for Earth challenge, 5 days of plant based, gluten free meals, and is in collaboration with Stevie of @stevieyaaaay.  Find her blog HERE.  Find the first challenge HERE and the second challenge HERE.

I find there’s nothing better than a big, cozy, warming pot of soup bubbling away on the stove- especially in winter.  I make endless variations of this soup depending on what’s in season, and what’s in my fridge that needs to be used.  Feel free to adapt as you wish- squash works great instead of the potatoes, or a small pasta (cook separately).  The pesto is optional, but honestly it is so worth it.  You can chop it all finely with a knife and mix by hand if you don’t have a food processor.

for the soup:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 small leek, sliced into half moons (white + light green only)
2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
1 can of tomatoes
4 cups broth
1 can/1.5 cups cannellini beans
1 bunch greens, washed and chopped

for the pesto:

1 bunch parsley
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
small lemon, zested + juiced

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot.  Add the onion and sauté 5-7 minutes, or until onion is softened and starting to brown.  Add the celery, carrot, and leek and a big pinch kosher salt and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.  Add the potatoes, tomatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the pesto.  In a food processor, place all ingredients + a big pinch kosher salt and pulse until a paste forms.  Taste and add more lemon, salt, or olive oil as needed.  Set aside.

Add the beans and greens and cook until greens are softened and beans are heated through, 5 minutes or less.

To serve, ladle into bowls and pass pesto alongside for everyone to dollop and swirl through their bowls.

 

last days of autumn

kids

As these last days of autumn go by and the days grow ever shorter up to the winter solstice, we’ve been distracting ourselves by getting outside as much as possible.  I can find myself really affected by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) during these periods of less sunlight, and find that a morning or early afternoon walk is absolutely a crucial, non-negotiable part of my daily routine for my mental health.  Even if it’s raining, windy or bleak outside, we bundle up and walk.  I look forward to these little pockets of our day, especially seeing the delight on the children’s faces when they find one sort of seasonal treasure or another- acorns, pretty leaves, a smooth rock, spotting a bird or squirrel busy at work among the trees.  The things that spark their curiosity and admiration are usually always the simplest things I often overlook as a grown-up.  Also, afternoon sunlight, if it peeks through, is just incredible and I find myself admiring the golden shadows it casts around the house or on our walks.  Finding pleasure in these small things makes life a treat.

afternoon light vase pumpkin

Yesterday I jolted awake, thinking frantically about garlic (yes, food, something I’m always dreaming about).  I had planted some lettuces, hardy greens and onions a while back and somehow had forgotten about garlic.  On some scratch paper, I wrote “Call Redwood Barn- is it too late to plant garlic?” and then laughed because that sums me up quite well- never planning and always a step behind.  I mourned a little about the garlic that could have been.  Happily, it was, in fact, not too late at all to plant garlic, and I picked up a few heads of Silver Rose garlic.  It’s supposed to be a long lasting variety with snow white outer skin that yields to beautiful pink-wrapped cloves.  I’m so excited to meet her in the spring.  The kids and I planted loads of them all over in between the plants we already had in.

garlic bread

I always adore a good soup, even in the sweltering 100+ heat of summer in the valley, but around this time of year is when I always have a pot on the stove or in the fridge, or both.  Soup is such a perfect food in that it is quite easy to make, tastes delicious, warms you up, and you can finish up any odds and ends laying around in it.  I often will throw a bit of leftover risotto, roasted or sautéed vegetables, end of the jar ferments and other such little bits into whatever soup I’m making.  I’ve got other soup recipes on the blog which you can find HERE, but today I’m sharing the one I made last night.  I made it before I went to bed, knowing that it’d only take me a moment and then I wouldn’t have to think much about lunch.  Plus, soup is one of those lovely dishes that only improves in flavor with time.  In fact, this particular soup is so simple that I advise to make it ahead in order to let the flavors really meld and bloom.  When eaten right away, it’s not as good.  I use water instead of broth here as the vegetables I picked up to cook this were so fresh and beautiful at the market just that morning.  If you prefer a stronger flavored soup, or produce on the declining side of life, I suggest making with broth (here’s my favorite broth concentrate to keep in the freezer this winter).

vegetable soup vegetable still life

This soup was inspired and lightly adapted by a recipe by Mimi Thorisson, which can be found HERE.  I always have fresh bay on hand from my grandma’s bushes, and I love its special flavor, so I’m always throwing a leaf or two or more in things- but feel free to leave out if you can’t source it or don’t want to.

To go along with the soup, we made some simple tartines which added some crunch and substance to the lunch- a simple green salad with vinaigrette, lentil salad, or a handful of cannellini beans into each soup bowl would make this delicious too.

simple vegetable soup table

simplest vegetable soup

(serves about 4 big bowls or 6 small bowls)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large leek, white+light green part only, sliced into rounds (save the dark green in your freezer with other scraps for broth making)

3 medium carrots, sliced into rounds

1 stalk of celery, sliced

3 small/medium red potatoes, scrubbed and diced

1/2 a head of napa cabbage (savoy or green cabbage is fine, too), roughly chopped

3 branches thyme + 1 bay leaf

4-6 cups water or broth (I used 6 but it will depend on your preference)

salt + pepper, to taste

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

Heat up the oil over medium heat in a large pot or Dutch oven.  Add the whole thyme sprigs and bay leaf, and all the veggies except the cabbage.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes until just slightly softened.  Add the water or broth and bring to a boil.  If using green or savoy cabbage, add it now and cook for 30 minutes.  If using napa cabbage, cook the soup for 20 minutes, add the cabbage, and cook for another 10 minutes.  Turn off heat, cool and let sit overnight (in the fridge or on the counter, up to you).  The next day, when ready to serve, heat up the soup.  Taste and add more s+p to your liking.  Ladle into bowls and sprinkle some chopped parsley in each one (we also like adding a teensy splash of white wine vinegar to our bowls, it just brightens the flavors a bit and doesn’t taste “vinegary”).

Other options are to add chopped cilantro + chile garlic paste, raw crushed garlic into the bowls before ladling the hot soup over, or adding a scoop of cooked chickpeas or white beans to each bowl.

radish tartine toast cheese

watermelon radish tartines

for each tartine:

one thicker slice of sourdough or other crusty bread

one slice cheese (we happened to have leftovers of THIS one, follow your heart smoked gouda is my favorite store bought one, or use THIS ricotta and just broil the bread and then swipe the ricotta on)

thinly sliced watermelon radishes, or whatever radishes you like/have

a little chopped parsley

a few toasted walnuts, broken into smaller pieces- toasted pumpkin seeds work nicely, too

chili flakes, I like Aleppo or gochugaru for their deep, umami flavor with mild heat- Piment d’Espelette also works wonderfully if you have that already

flaky sea salt

On each piece of bread, layer a slice of cheese on it and place under the broiler, letting it cook until fully melted and very bubbly + the bread is golden.  Remove from oven and layer over the radishes, sprinkle over the walnuts and parsley, and season to taste with flaky sea salt and a good pinch of chili flakes.  Enjoy while still warm.

butternut soup with crispy chickpeas

An easy, creamy, and delicious soup for fall.  Feel free to add more veggie stock if you prefer a thinner soup.  As always, season to your taste and make substitutions whenever you like.  At the bottom of the post, I’ve included some variations/options to try out if they call to you.  This recipe is part of the Yay for Earth meal plan/challenge II in collaboration with @stevieyaaay.  Access the recipe list/info on the meal plan HERE.

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for the chickpeas:

3 cups chickpeas (I used home cooked, but if you used canned, it’s 2 cans), drained well and patted dry

drizzle oil, enough to coat the chickpeas

seasonings- I like chili flakes, harissa, cayenne or hot paprika (anything spicy) and salt and garlic.  The spicy goes well with the sweetness of the soup.  But please use whatever you like!

for the soup:

2 tablespoons oil

1 onion, chopped

2 large sprigs thyme, leaves stripped, stems composted or saved for stock making

1 butternut squash or other orange fleshed sweet squash, or even sweet potatoes, mine was about 2 lbs.  Cut into small cubes.

1 apple (any kind except don’t use a tart green one), cut into small cubes.

1 can full fat coconut milk

2 cups veggie broth

s+p to taste, start with 1/2 tsp and add more as needed

optional nutmeg or cinnamon to make a more sweet/autumnal flavor

method:

Preheat oven to 400, and while its coming up to temperature:

-chop onions and squash

-toss chickpeas with drizzle of oil and seasonings, place on a single layer on a baking sheet.

Put chickpeas into the oven and set timer for 20 mins.

Meanwhile, in a large pot or dutch oven, heat up the oil and then add the onions. Sauté until softened and golden, about 10 minutes.

Add in the apple + thyme and sauté another minute or two till fragrant. Add in the butternut and veggie broth and simmer till tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and cook until heated through. Turn off heat and use an immersion blender or regular blender to puree. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

By this time the chickpeas should be ready, when ready to serve, add the chickpeas on top of the bowls of soup along with a sprinkle of fresh minced thyme.

Serve with a simple salad- I like arugula (1 large handful for every person eating) tossed with plenty of lemon juice and olive oil and either a sprinkle of vegan parm if I have it, or simple s+p.

options:

make it heartier: add a scoop of quinoa, rice, or serve with bread.

make it faster:  peel, deseed and cube the squash on the weekend.  Store in a sealed container like a mason jar in the fridge.

take it to the next level: roast the squash and then proceed with the recipe.  this will deepen the flavor.

less waste: rinse the seeds of the squash, pat them dry, and toss with seasonings and a bit of oil.  Roast on a separate pan while the chickpeas are roasting for a nice snack.

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a good pot of soup

kale minestrone Alice Waters soup fall

I’m writing this on a Friday, after I’ve cleaned out the fridge and made a minestrone with the remains of the produce….a few leeks, a carrot, couple stalks of celery, an onion, a little kale, the last of the beans I cooked this week.  Tomorrow is my shopping day and I like to have a clear as possible fridge, plus it reduces our food waste.  I love a minestrone as a nutrient dense breakfast, too (call me crazy but I love a good savory breakfast, especially since I usually eat it mid morning).

The word minestrone likely originated pre-Roman age, denoting “minor” and “largeness”- ie taking small bits of leftovers and making them into something big (pot of filling soup to feed everyone in this case).  Minestrone was originally born from a style of cooking called “cucina povera”, or kitchen of the poor, where literally nothing goes to waste and everything is reinvented.  I have watched my mother, my grandmother, my grandfather prepare and serve this soup a million times over, each cook with their own special techniques and twists that make it exactly their own, all the while honoring the ingredients they have- no running out to the store to get this or that.  The only constant is onion, garlic, and beans- “carne dei poveri” my family called them (meat of the poor).

spring Soup minestrone asparagus spinach

Zero waste doesn’t just mean reducing plastic waste, but also food waste- buying smarter, smaller, and using it all up from leaf to root.  It’s not a new concept- our ancestors did this for centuries- we have just forgotten.  Some examples of this in action: I save bean cooking liquid as a stand in for broth in soups, Heidi of @zerowastechica saves her pasta water for the same thing, @aintnoplanetb saves her fruit peels for fruity iced tea, I use pickling liquid from radishes for vinaigrette, save veggie straps for veggie broth, and so much more.  Broccoli stems and leaves are delicious, apple peels and scraps (if you don’t eat them all) can be saved to make your own scrap vinegar, citrus peels can infuse in vinegar for an all purpose non toxic household cleaner.

Veggie stock

frozen scraps for stock

Anyways, back to soup.  I love Alice Waters style of easy, intuitive cooking and her gentle instructions which urge you to learn how to cook from the look, smell, and taste of food instead of following a specific “recipe”.  So here’s her recipe for minestrone, with a few adaptations from me.  I hope you make your own version and enjoy its easy warmth all week.  Have a lovely weekend!

cold weather minestrone

makes 8 servings (or double and freeze in 3/4 full mason jars)

1 cup of dry cannellini or other beans, soaked overnight- 24 hours
3 tablespoons good olive oil (optional but adds to flavor)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped

2 ribs celery, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
3 cups water
1 leek, diced
1 small can of tomatoes (I used 1/2 a quart of my home canned ones, a scant 2 cups )
1/2 a medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped

optional: vegan parm to serve

optional: chopped parsley to serve, chili flakes to serve

Cover the beans with water and cook for 1-2 hours at a gentle boil until soft.  You can use substitute 3 cups canned beans you need to- don’t drain or rinse them. Reserve bean cooking liquid.

In a heavy bottomed pot (I used my Dutch oven) over medium heat, add:
olive oil, carrots, onion, celery.

Cook for 10 minutes or until tender and turning a bit golden.

Add the:
garlic, rosemary, sage, salt, bay leaf, tomatoes

Cook for 5 minutes

Add 3 cups of water, and bring to a boil

When boiling, add the leeks and squash
Cook for 15 minutes, or until the squash is tender, then add cooked beans, 2 cups of the reserved bean cooking liquid or more as needed, the kale, and cook another few minutes until the kale is softened.

Season with salt and pepper. If using, garnish with the parm and chopped parsley and chile flakes.

spring variation:

omit the celery and add 1 finely chopped small fennel bulb in its place.  Instead of the squash, and tomato, add 1/2 a bunch of asparagus and 1 cup shelled peas or chopped whole sugar snap peas.  Increase leeks to 2 instead of 1.  Instead of sage and rosemary, substitute fresh thyme, 2 loosely filled teaspoons.  Sub fresh spinach for the kale.  Serve with lemon wedges instead of the parm.

winter variation:

Increase celery to 2 stalks.  Omit the tomatoes.  Instead of sage and rosemary, sub 2 teaspoons loosely packed fresh thyme.  Instead of the squash, add 1 pound peeled, chopped turnips and 1/2 a pound of yellow chopped potatoes.  Instead of the kale, add in 1/2 a green cabbage, chopped into chunks- add it with the turnips and potatoes so it cooks down soft.  If the turnips you buy have good looking tender greens, chop those and add in to the pot in the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Optional: stir in 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast at the end.

sopa tarasca + an ode to beans

Giant white beans zero waste

If you do one thing this weekend, soak and cook a big pot of beans.  Beans are a great and cheap source of protein, and can usually be found pretty easily in bulk.  Even if you have to buy them in plastic, they still provide a lot of meals and energy for that one plastic bag.  You can use them in so many ways and they can become the basis for all kinds of meals: add to curries, soups, blend them into a creamy soup with sautéed celery/carrot/onion/garlic + herbs/spices and stock, eat them in a lunchtime bowl, puree them into a dip for veggies or a spread for wraps/sammies, eat them over toast, saute them with greens, turn them into veggie burgers…the options are endless!

We love all kinds of beans and legumes here, but our favorites are chickpeas for their versatility, giant corona beans for their large size and substantial texture, cannellini beans for their creaminess, and pintos + black beans for their flavor.  Any kind of beans you have available are great!  I try to find local varieties if they’re available for a lower footprint.  Experiment with new to you types.  Make cooking fun!  Also amazing are red lentils, which don’t need any soaking and cook in about 15-20 minutes.  They have been my savior for many a quick weeknight meal.

I have a giant container of local pintos I’m trying to work my way through, so this week that’s what I’m cooking.  Cooking beans from scratch is so much more flavorful and delicious than canned beans if you have the time.  I quite enjoy the ritual of soaking the beans, straining them, choosing the flavorings to add, and cooking them. It’s rewarding in some way.  Canned beans are wonderful assets too for when you forget to soak or you just need something easy and quick.

pinto beans zero waste

To cook beans, I soak 2 cups of them in plenty of water in a big bowl for 24 hours.  When they’re done soaking, I strain and rinse, then place them in a pot or a slow cooker with a chopped onion, smashed whole garlic cloves, and whole sprigs of fresh herbs.  You can also add things like whole peppercorns, dried chiles or broiled fresh chiles, smoked paprika, olive oil, or whatever you want!  I also add salt, about a 1/2 teaspoon for our tastes but you can omit or go more heavy handed.  I don’t believe the whole thing about adding salt making the beans tough.  I find that adding salt at the beginning seasons the beans all the way through.  One thing to note though is NOT to add tomatoes or other acidic ingredients until after the beans are soft.  The acid makes the beans not be able to cook properly and they will stay crunchy forever.  Cook 45 minutes- 2 hours, it really depends on how old the beans are and what variety.  Keep tasting for doneness and add more water as needed.  I store cooked beans either straight in the pot or in mason jars (in both cases, still in their cooking liquid).  If you eat the beans in an application like a grain salad etc where you will drain them first, try saving the cooking liquid- it makes a great flavorful base for soups.  Chickpea cooking liquid is a perfect base for vegan mayo, meringue, and I use it instead of oil in hummus to thin it out.  Cooked beans stored in their cooking liquid last 5-7 days in the fridge in my experience.

vegan pinto beans

Here’s some flavoring ideas, although in my opinion the best way is to experiment and go by your intuition- you can’t go wrong.

white beans (cannelini, great northern type varieties): garlic- I slice a whole head crosswise to expose all the cloves and throw it in like that + a generous sprig of fresh sage or rosemary, drizzle of EVOO and a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns + 1 dried whole chile, like chile de arbol or a teaspoon of chile flakes.  Here’s a whole meal plan I did devoted to turning a pot of white beans into a week of meals.

vegan Italian beans sage garlic Dutch oven

black beans:  3 smashed whole garlic cloves, 1 chopped onion, 1 dried chile of choice or canned chipotle pepper en adobo, and 1 big fresh sprig of oregano or epazote or 1 teaspoon dried mexican oregano.  This black bean soup is amazing, too.  We love black beans in tacos or bowls with sliced and baked or sautéed plantains + avo + a quick cabbage slaw, too.

Vegan bowl mojo verde Cuban kabocha squash

chickpeas:  I usually just cook chickpeas plain, as I like them to be a blank slate for hummus, curries etc.  I especially love this soup with chickpeas, and my lemon garlic hummus pasta with broiled peppers is a great way to use them too.  One of our favorite quick meals is this chickpea salad eaten either as a sammy or in tortillas or lettuce/collard wraps.  Sometimes I like to do a curried version with chopped apple, golden raisins, curry powder, and carrot.  This chickpea soup (caldo tlalpeño) is so tasty, too.

chickpea salad sandwich vegan

pinto beans: broil a whole jalapeño and a whole onion, halved, until charred in spots.  add it to the beans along with a few whole cloves of smashed garlic and a big fresh sprig of oregano or epazote, and a teaspoon of cumin.  Pintos are so good in burritos, tacos, enchiladas, blended into a soup.

With my pintos this weekend, I’ll first eat them probably my favorite way: just eaten in a bowl, straight from the pot, soupy and steamy with sliced fresh chile, chopped white onion, avocado, cilantro and radish.

Vegan sopa tarasca dairy free zero waste

Then with the leftovers, I’ll blend them into this creamy soup, spiked with smoky chiles and brightened with lime, a kind of sopa tarasca.  Here’s the recipe:

sopa tarasca 

ingredients:

4 Roma tomatoes

1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 large chipotle chile en adobo (more or less depending on your spice level) you can used dried, toasted + soaked anchos here too

1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

2 cups cooked pinto beans

2 cups stock (make sure this is a strong and tasty stock as this can make or break the soup as it’s so few ingredients)

3/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

3/4 teaspoon of salt (but amount will depend on how salt your stock is)

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

toppings (pick as few or as many as you desire): avocado, quick pickled onions or radishes, cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds, raw onion, hot sauce, lime wedges, crema (coco yogurt thinned with a little water + lime juice, zest, and salt) or cashew crema, baked or fried tortilla strips, chopped tomatoes, chopped jalapeños…..sky’s the limit.  With blended soups like this toppings are everything!

method:

broil the whole tomatoes under the over broiler or over an open flame or grill until charred on all sides- mine took about 8 minutes.  Make sure you rotate to get it evenly broiled.

Broiled tomatoes

Place tomatoes in blender with the chopped onion, garlic, and chipotle chile.  Blend till smooth.

Sopa tarasca vegan

Chipotle onion garlic tomato

Heat a pot with a tablespoon of olive oil in it (alternatively, heat without oil for an oil free soup) on high.  Pour in the blender mix (careful because it splatters, give it a good stir, reduce heat to med high and cook for about 3-4 minutes.  You can keep the lid partially covering it to minimize splatter.

Meanwhile, add the beans and stock to the blender (no need to wash in between).  Blend till smooth and add to the pot along with oregano, salt, pepper.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium low and let simmer 15 minutes.

Taste and add salt as needed.

Ladle into bowls and top with all your toppings and a heavy squeeze of lime.  Extend gratitude, smell, taste and enjoy!